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31 July 2005

the sweetness of life

cardamom chai cupcake, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I tell people that I can't eat gluten (because I'm waving off slices of pizza or tastes of homemade treats), they look at me, confused. When I explain why, and that I'll never be able to eat it again, people always exclaim about three foodstuffs I'm missing: bread, beer, and baked goods. And my response?

Bread. Well, I can make my own now, and it's not bad. There are plenty of amiable substitutes at stores, and there's always the crunchy cinnamon toast from Kaili's. Besides, when I know just how sick the pernicious gluten makes me, I no longer look at bread lovingly. I have lost my taste for baguettes. C'est la vie.

Beer. Whatever. It's true that a cold beer on a hot day, especially on the back deck of my friend Julie's house, usually hit the spot I didn't know was gaping. And when I'm in Sitka, I normally drink enough glasses of Alaskan Amber to fill me for the year. But you know what? Beer always made me really, really sleepy, and a little bit sick. I thought everyone had that reaction to beer until I started asking around this spring. And besides, I prefer a deep-bodied Merlot or Shiraz from my favorite wine store anyway. No loss.

Baked goods. Um....yeah. Sigh.

I've always been a baking girl. I was famous for my chocolate chip cookies long before I could spell chocolate correctly. When I lived in New York, several friends called me Pie, because I made apple pies for fun and called people to come over for slices of it along with glasses of milk. "You didn't make the crust," they'd say in wonderment, to which I'd laugh at their astonishment. Of course I made the crust. My mother came from a Pennsylvania Dutch background, and she taught me how to crimp a pie crust when my hands were still growing. And there were dozens of loaves of pumpkin bread, Christmas cookies laced with nutmeg and a haunting sugar frosting, cakes for friends' birthdays, and a new recipe on the next page. I love to bake. I have multiple rolling pins, more cookie sheets than I can count, and an avid interest in whether I should use baking powder or baking soda.

That doesn't just die.

Besides, I live just down the street from Macrina Bakery, and everything in there is ineffably good.

So yes, I'll admit it. I do miss scrumptious baked goods. It's not like I should be eating them all the time anyway, but I have to be honest. I miss a warm chocolate chip cookie, warm from the oven.

And besides, some of the gluten-free commercial baked goods just don't do it for me. There are quinoa macaraoons, kosher meringues, and mixes that contain no foods that could possibly be an allergen. And I know that people who can't eat sugar or dairy or corn or soy or nuts of any kind are daily grateful for the presence of these companies. Still, I can eat nuts and dairy (now), and I want a real cookie. Sorry.

Pamela's cookies are famous in the gluten-free community, and I've already eaten more than my fair share. They're dense as shortbread, more sticky than regular cookies, and taste distinctive. They just taste a little too healthy to me, a little too earnest. Still, I tip my hat to their ubiquitous presence in almost every grocery store.

You may be thinking what is natural: make your own. I'm trying. I'm experimenting with gluten-free recipes. A couple of weeks ago, I made my first batch of GF chocolate chip cookies. They didn't taste bad. A little too much baking soda. But the taste felt familiar in my mouth. However, they spread like a puddle fed by rainwater. The finished cookies were the size of my head.

I'm not done yet. Maybe by next year, I'll be the master of GF baking.

But in the meantime, there are some pretty good substitutes.

Everything made by the Gluten-free Pantryrocks. As I've mentioned before, their Country French Bread and Pizza Mix is my daily flour. I'm not kidding--your life is going to be so much easier if you simply buy a 5-pound bag, put it in your flour canister, and pretend you're using that stuff you used to mix without thinking before you stopped eating gluten. All their mixes are good too, and there are so many left to try. I'd just give up and use these for all baking in the future, if a) gluten-free food in a bag weren't more expensive than homemade, and b) if I didn't love to experiment with baking so much. Try them.

WOW Baking, a new company in Seattle, makes GF cookies so damned good you wouldn't believe they're store bought. They're great cookies, not great GF cookies. Especially the ginger molasses one. They insist on using real butter, sugar, and all the good, gooey stuff that makes baking what it is. The fact that each cookie costs $2.19 is a real drawback, however. An occasional splurge, and no more.

Every one of the mixes by The Cravings Place have made me squeal with delight when I tastes the finished project. And, they're dairy and nut free! Last week, I made a cinnamon coffee cake that made everyone stop talking and eat with delight instead. And several times, I have made the muffin mix, once with pumpkin and golden raisins, and once with zucchini. Moist, dense and light at the same time, and damned fine muffins. But once again, the price tag--$5.89 for a bag big enough to make nine muffins--yikes.

At the moment, my winner is The Flying Apron Bakery, which made the cardamom chai cupcake you see pictured here. A small, local bakery in Seattle, it is run by a father and daughter team. A few years ago, they started making vegan treats, most of them gluten-free, out of a little space underneath Cedars restaurant. Lines started to form. Even before I had given up gluten, I used to stop for their tahini cookies after my stroll around the University Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings. Now, they make baked goods at their much larger retail store downtown, in Pioneer Square. And some of the best coffee shops in town carry their cookies and bars, which is a wonderful surprise when I wander in for a soy chai. I found this cupcake at the Food Co-Op in Port Townsend, earlier this week. I recommend them, entirely. Well, they could probably use a tad more xantham gum, as the goods grow too dry and flaky pretty quickly. But, if you buy it the day they make it, there's no mistaking it for anything other than what it is: a damned fine baked good treat.

So there is hope. As with everything else in my life, I know how to walk this path: feel what I feel with no restraints, then move into the next movement clear. So yeah, it really stinks that I'll never eat a Macrina treat again. But now, there's Flying Apron. And so much new left to discover.

For example, next Saturday (the 6th) is my birthday, so I have to figure out something for my own cake. If anyone has any surefire suggestions, let me know!

30 July 2005

how to eat GF in a good restaurant

caprese salad, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Earlier this week, I drove up to Port Townsend, a Victorian town perched on the hill, overlooking blue water and the Olympic mountains. I've been there before, nearly every year. And every year, the food astounds me. But of course, this year, I had other food concerns besides the proximity and price.

Luckily, eating gluten-free in PT is blissfully easy. My friend Kristin and I ate at T's restaurant this year, a swanky Tuscan place with an open kitchen and impressive wine list. To be honest, we went because she had a 50% off coupon. But I would go without the bargain.

Here's what I have learned about trying to eat gluten-free in restaurants:

Go at an earlier hour than the typical dinner rush, or a later one. If you see bustling activity within the restaurant, go back a little later.

Be solicitous and slightly apologetic about your dilemma. ("I'm really sorry to be a bother, but...") You're going to have far more success this way than if you are demanding or anxious. It sets the tone of reciprocity right away.

At the same time, don't hesitate to be meticulous about this. Know what you need to avoid, and what they need to do to make you feel good, and ask for it in a clear, specific tone. This communicates to the waitress that you know what you are doing and you are trying to help them.

Thank them if they are kind. Extra gratitude if they already know what gluten is. A few kind words about the service makes them feel good about their work.

Tip them well, if they were helpful and the food left you feeling strong.

Let them know, immediately, if they did something wrong. (A lot of mediocre places bring a hunk of bread on top of your salad, even if you have explained.) Leave a small tip and a clear explanation. Then, don't go back. Let them know that too.

Feel happy if you found a place with great food and understanding waiters.

Here's another tip for you: go to restaurants that truly, truly care about the food. So many gluten-free people I read about online refuse to eat out at all, or only go to enormous chain restaurants that have a few entrees marked with gluten free. All power to those chains for doing that, but I never would have eaten at a chain restaurant before this diagnosis, and I'm not going to now. I much prefer small, intimate places with gourmet sensibilities. Places where the waiters feel like partners in the process, rather than people simply run off their feet. Restaurants with arugula and great olive oil always in the kitchen. These places know what gluten is. They know how to avoid it. And they would never cook with anything pre-packaged in the first place.

T's is such a place. The woman at the front desk was immediately kind. When I started to explain about the gluten, she already knew all about it. She pointed out the entrees that were already gluten free, then went back to the kitchen to ask about the specials. Kristin and I shared the caprese salad with balsamic/port reduction you see here. I smiled through my entire chicken saltimbocca. And the blueberry panna cotta, with local blueberries for the gelee, left us happily moaning.

And I didn't get sick at all.

Every time I eat out and leave with a contented tummy, I'm a happy, gluten-free girl.

So don't be afraid to eat out. If you have more questions about the specifics you need to know, consult this excellent source. Or email me. I'll be happy to help. No one should go without good food.

28 July 2005

gluten-free apricot-cherry crisp

apricot-cherry crisp, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.
Ah, the joys of summer.

Seattle hot today (mid-80s, and everyone talking about it). After two hours of kayaking on Lake Union with my friend Julie, looking at that open sky, I knew I needed to cook tonight. I've been reading nothing but food blogs lately, and my mouth has been watering for days. It may be hot, but it was time to turn on the oven.

I'm especially blessed to live in Seattle on these summer days. We have the most incredible produce in the world. The farmers' markets are filled with such fresh abundance that even the fruit and veg at the gourmet co-op feels a few days old. On days like this, I just don't understand why Americans have a hard time meeting their daily veggie requirements.

So this evening, my friend Meri and I made a meal.

First, we ate a spinach/grapefruit/avocado salad, with pine nuts and a champagne vinegar dressing. Add some hummus and nut crackers on the side, and you're sated for a bit, just enough to cook some more.

We constructed the corn quiche in a tef crust that I had read about here, but I substituted this for the traditional wheat. Gluten-free products, I have discovered, are far more crumbly, less cohesive, and a little more demanding of my time than traditional flour. But that's just the joy of the challenge. I added a bit more butter and about a half cup more water to the crust, and I put it in the freezer for ten minutes to rest, since GF flour seems to behave more when it's cold. Instead of tabasco sauce, I used a wheat-free piquante sauce. *Yikes, it's hot. Beware* And we shaved corn cobs for the kernels, cobs that were so juicy that corn juice showered on us both. There was a flurry of flour on the kitchen floor after I made it, but it was all worth it.

Take a look at this if you want to see it.

Sorry there isn't any left for you to eat, however. We ate it hot, and then we ate some more when Amy came over later. She loved it too. We all agreed that the tef crust is outrageously good. Better than traditional crust. Because it was so crumbly in the making, I had to pat it into the pie pan. It was thick, but still soft. More manageable than traditional crust. Hearty without feeling too healthy. Slightly sweet. And the eggs were a mile high. I used shaved asiago cheese instead of the swiss cheese, and it gave the quiche an extra depth. I'm going on a picnic tomorrow, and I'm sure the leftovers will go fast.

Last, we ate apricot-cherry crisp straight out of the oven. Okay, we waited a few minutes, but it still steamed as we ate it. We couldn't wait. The apricots had been fit-to-burst juicy in their original form. In the crisp, they had exploded and oozed into the rest of the dessert. The cherries stayed intact, which gave the entire crisp a rosy glow. And the crumble topping, made with GF flour again, tasted of brown sugar and nutmeg. We never missed the white flour.

I'll post the recipes tomorrow. Now, I have to tackle the dishes.

Okay, here's the crisp recipe, sort of cobbled together from a lot of sources, so I guess it's mine. Make it with fresh fruit for your company, and there's no way they could complain!

Fruit part:

Slice ripe apricots into quarters. (about a pound) Make sure they are juicy and ripe, not mealy.
Pit bing cherries. (again, about a pound) This is time-consuming, but it's worth it.
Mix the two together, with liberal dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and gluten-free vanilla.
Throw in some chopped, crystallized ginger (Reed's is gluten-free, if they have it where you live.)
Stir in half a cup of sugar, or more to taste. (In summer, the fruit should be sweet enough.)
Let it all sit for a bit and marinate, while you make the crisp.

Crisp part:

I really didn't use a recipe for this, as I went on instinct. So the proportions will change according to the size of the crisp you are making.

1 cup of GF flour (I like the GF pantry French bread and pizza mix.)
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
cinnamon, nutmeg to taste
pinch of salt
one stick of cold butter, cut into tiny pieces

Mix everything together but the butter. Using either a pastry fork or the food processor, blend in the butter until the dough looks like a crumbly jumble of peas. Spread this over the fruit (I used a 9 by 9 pan) and put into a 375 degree oven for about an hour. It's done when the juices are spilling, the fruit is tender, and you just can't wait one more minute to take it out and eat it.

So there you go. I made a blueberry-peach one this past weekend, and it was gorgeous. You really can't go wrong with crisps. I'm starting to enjoy them more than pies!

27 July 2005

splendid grains

During my brief jaunt to Port Townsend (more on this later), I found a copy of The Splendid Grain. Splendid it is. Written by Rebecca Field, an obviously thoughtful writer on whole foods, it's bursting with brilliant ideas on how to cook with the unusual grains. Translation: the gluten-free grains. Yes, there is one section of the book that will remain pristine and stain free in my kitchen: wheat, barley, rye, and oats. But everything else is safe. And everything sounds delicious.

Can you taste these?

Strawberry and Blue Corn Waffles
Southwestern Cheese Sandwiches with Sweet and Hot Pepper Sauce
Quinoa Tarts with Kiwi Sauce
Jicama and Buckwheat Salad


This is one of the parts I love best about this diagnosis and the gluten-free life I'm living now: the constant discovery. I can't eat gluten, but I'm gobbling up knowledge. Ravenously. I can't stop trying new recipes, far more daring concoctions than my old standbys. I've always been a good cook, but before my diagnosis, I was eating the same, plodding meals, over and over. Not anymore.

And there's something deeply satisfying about exploring grains and foods from around the world, learning about the history of tef in Ethiopia. (Fascinating.) Somehow, this feels like honoring the experience of people other than Americans. And I'm happy to do that, protesting narrow-mindedness by eating. My favorite form of social protest, actually.

Given how much of a foodie I am, I love that my new life means that I'll soon be eating popped amaranth for breakfast or making tef flour in my coffee grinder. Never could you have told me that this would be my life.

By the way, my quest to find this book began when I read the recipe for corn quiche in a tef crust from the excellent website 101 Cookbooks. If you are a voracious foodie like me, and you haven't been to visit her website yet, you are hungry without knowing it. Go there. Now.

25 July 2005

homemade hummus

sea salt
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.
Whoever invented hummus deserves my undying gratitude. Unfortunately, man or woman, I have no idea who it is. However, every time I take a generous mouthful, I bow to you.

I could live off chickpeas every single day. Thankfully, now that I am living gluten-free, I am eating more and more of them (also called garbanzo beans), and in better recipes.

Before the diagnosis, I used to fling the Trader Joe's original hummus tubs in my shopping cart without thinking. But when I realized in horror that even those have gluten in them (why? this makes no sense to me), I had to make my own.

The shadows bring out the light.

I stumbled on a great recipe for homemade hummus in Karen Robertson's Cooking Gluten-Free. I highly recommend this book. It's filled with gourmet recipes, which I truly appreciate, since some of the people I have met who eat gluten-free insist on also eating taste-free. These are recipes compiled by a true gourmand, who also knows enough great chefs across the country to include delectables from Tom Douglas and someone from Aureole. Yum. Plus, she lives in Queen Anne, somewhere around here, only a few blocks from me. So, huzzah!

I hope that is enough raving that she won't mind that I include the recipe here:

--one can of chickpeas (you can make your own, and I'm sure it's more gratifying, but I still use a can)
--five tablespoons of tahini (I use Maranatha roasted organic)
--three tablespoons of olive oil (try the Sicilian one I linked to in an earlier entry. you're not going to believe it.)
--the juice of two lemons (I'm big on lemons)
--two to four cloves of garlic (I'm even bigger on garlic, so it's four to five for me.)
--half a tablespoon of sea salt (see note below)
--1/4 cup of reserved liquid from chickpeas

That's the basic entry. Whirl it all up in the food processor and you're done. I like it chunky and recognizeable, but you might want to pound it around some more.

Also, you can add anything you want. Lately, I've been pouring in kalamata olives and handfuls of cilantro. YUM.

On top of all this, hummus is a perfect protein. No need to combine with anything else, other than Ener-G sesame pretzels or Trader Joe's soy and flaxseed chips. Oh goodness.

p.s. A note about sea salt. I'm a raving loonie when it comes to this stuff. It's only in the last year that I even ventured into the expensive bottles of salt area of the store. I'll never go back to regular salt again. Twice the flavor with half the sodium. It makes all foods pop out. My latest find is the one pictured here: Vignalta from Venice. Buy it. You won't believe how good it is.

23 July 2005

Central Market in Shoreline

Central Market
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

On my way home from Kaili's yesterday, I stopped at the Central Market, another place I had heard about in rave reviews. Once I realized that it was just a giant grocery store, and not an entire city of food, the way it had been described, I calmed down and started shopping. In the bakery section, I ran to a refrigerator unit that stood under an enormous, dangling sign: "Vegan and Gluten-Free Desserts!" My god, has the world morphed into a gluten-free one for my benefit? Most the desserts were merely vegan, but they did have a good supply of Flying Apron bakery goods. I love their work, but I can buy them on 50th and Roosevelt. And besides, they deserve their own post soon.

The grocery store part of the store really is just ordinary. They don't even have any gluten-free cereals! However, they have an extraordinary array of Asian foods, rivalled only stores in the International District here. I saw an en enormous pickled radish the size of a small baseball bat, flourescent yellow and shrink wrapped in the refrigerated section. It frightened and fascinated me. And I did buy some edamame from China that I cooked today. YUM.

But the shining glory of the place, and why I'll go back, is the produce section. An entire warehouse of organic fruit and vegetables. And not just the ordinary ones, or the ones we consider exotic at other stores. Mizuna leaves. Thai eggplants. Dark green leafy plants I had never heard of, and no idea how to cook them. (If you'd like to see more photos of the fruit, take a look at my flickr account.) A jolly man was dispensing bites of fruit at its peak, and I happened by as he was handing out golden cherry tomatoes. I don't even like those in any other time of the year, but I raced to the part of the produce section for an abundant pint of them.

I went home happy.

homemade jam

Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last week, I made eleven jars of raspberry jam. (It was supposed to be twelve jars, but apparently the portions I spooned into the mason jars were too generous. Oh well.) Only I would do this: never having made jam before in my life, I decided to make it at 10 at night, when the kitchen was cluttered with dishes to be done, and me in my favorite tank top (BUDDHAFUL stretches across the front of it) that I didn’t really want to stain with splotches of red. But I had bought a flat of organic raspberries at the farmers’ market that day, and I suddenly realized I should probably make them the day I bought them. My 74-year-old friend, Mary, gave me the recipe for freezer jam as we bobbed in the pool today. (Hydrofit at the Magnolia outdoor pool, on a clear blue-skied day, genuinely hot, and 60 people in the water.) And I went right from there to Ballard, where they close off several cobblestoned streets to all the local farmers, selling their homegrown cheeses and wines, fit-to-burst peaches, and gorgeous Rainier cherries. Every week now, since I returned home from Sitka, I meander over to the famers’ market on Sunday, and I always enjoy it. But that day, the sun shone fiercely, not a cloud in the sky, and I watched everyone’s mood lighten with each passing moment. My downstairs neighbor came with me, and at a certain point, she turned to me and said, “Have I just been hibernating beneath a rock for months? How have I not been here yet?” I don’t know. I’m glad she came. A Jamaican man played the steel drums on the sidewalk in front of the peaches. Another man with shades stretched across his face played the electric guitar, contorting his face to emote. And a pale man handed out free balloons shaped into animals, although the little kids all seemed scared by them. And there was a moment in the middle of it all, when a plastic bag stuffed with fresh fruit dragged on my left arm, and the sun shone through my smudged sunglasses, when I could feel my body open to all this happiness and just let go into it.

Somehow, I can taste all this in the jam now.

I’d never made jam before, but now it feels like time. Since I got the gluten-free diagnosis, and I’m feeling healthier than I ever have in my life, I’ve been cooking continuously. The other day, I bought a bottle of olive oil from Sicily so exquisite that the shopkeeper had me taste a spoonful, without any accompaniment. It tasted like sharp green olives, warmed by the sun. I closed my eyes to taste it better. So I made homemade pesto, with organic basil and toasted pine nuts, and the olive oil melding it all together. Yum. Hummus with lemon juice, kalamata olives, and cilantro. I could eat that every day. Quinoa pasta. Arugula salads with local goat cheese. Sauteed chicken salad with parsley and scallions. And now, this jam, which tastes like raspberries, warmed in the sun.

There’s something deeply satisfying about these domestic tasks. When I was younger, I had no time for them, thinking them something that women in the 50s did. (My brief, angry feminist phase.) But now, I realize that cooking food, doing the dishes, and (now) making jam, are just meditative acts. And considering that I’ll be giving most of these away as gifts, it’s just another way to love people.

I never would have made jam if I hadn't found out I can't eat gluten.

Kaili's sourdough

Kaili's sourdough
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I finally went to Kaili's yesterday.

For months, I've been reading about Kaili's Kitchen. After all, it is the only completely gluten-free restaurant in the US. And it's in Seattle! (Well, really, it's Edmonds. And that's not really Seattle, but let's not split hairs for now.) Online, at the Delphi forums, and the forums, everyone raves about Kaili's. In fact, it has disturbed and saddened me to see that many of the people posting who live in Seattle will ONLY eat at Kaili's. Not that she doesn't deserve our patronage, because she does. It's a noble effort, to make an entire bakery and restaurant for gluten-free food. Brava! It's more that I'm saddened that people would be afraid to eat out at all. I'm going to do something about this. But more about this later.

Let's just say it came with fervent recommendations.

But not everyone loves Kaili's. When I first mentioned it to my acupuncturist, because he was thrilled I had finally found an answer to the illness even he couldn't figure out, he said, "You know, I went there with a friend of mine who has to eat gluten free. I'd go back, only because I want to support my friend. It's a little like a mom and pop place, less like fine dining. It's like....a family-run IHOP." Ew. Not my kind of place, really. And when I met with a nutritionist at Swedish Hospital, who knew more about celiac disease than anyone I have ever met, she said that she really appreciates the food at Kaili's, but she doesn't like the service. "It's like they don't need to serve you promptly, because they know they're the only gluten-free restaurant." Hm.

So it was with excitement and trepidation that I drove up to Edmonds yesterday. In so many ways, I'm like a little kid still. If I know that I'm going somewhere I've never been before, even if it's just up 99 to Edmonds, I grow fluttery inside, thinking about it. The sun was shining on my fingers as I drove, and I had stopped at my favorite coffee shop on the upper part of Queen Anne for a iced soy chai latte, and I was on my way. Aurora is lovely as you drive along Greenlake, and see flashes of blue water glinting light as you pass the grey barricades. And then there's the PCC. But after that, it's hard to see the beauty. Run-down motels clearly intended for one-hour customers. Defunct businesses, the For Lease signs faded from the rain. Strip clubs called The Love Shack. Factory-like cemeteries. Casinos squeezed into a city block. It's a bit degraded and sad. And then there's the enormous Krispy Kreme store partway up, reminding what you can no longer have.

But no matter. Because once you cross the county line into Snohomish, you've hit Edmonds. And suddenly, everything is green and gleaming again. Turn left on 205th, happy to be off the stop and go traffic, and you're nearly there. Let the car gently take the curve of the road, and then you'll see the sign for Firdale Village. Turn into the strip mall, and there you are.

Kaili's is in a strip mall? Granted, the little mall they call a village is surrounded by green trees and tasteful housing communities. But still, the gluten-free restaurant that everyone raved about online is actually a little building just across from a nail place and a movie theatre.

I walked in, expecting to see crowds of grateful customers, gobbling up gluten-free sandwiches. But the restaurant was empty. Plasticized red-checked tablecloths, mismatched chairs, plastic flowers. Everything a bit scattered, a bit dusty. But damned if it didn't smell good in there. The front door opens onto the bakery. Walk another step and you've walked into the oven. Three metal shelves held a small assortment of gluten-free commercially made products. Good, but I've seen more elsewhere. The real center of the place is the bakery.

A middle-aged woman with two young children stood with her checkbook open. None of the employees noticed me, or at least paid me any attention, but she did. "Is this your first time at Kaili's?" she asked me. When I said yes, a bit confused, she said, "Oh, I'm so happy for you." Sweet. I love how much of a community this gluten-free group is. It's like we're all family, immediately. Another woman wandered in, equally confused as I was as to why the employees completely ignored us. (Perhaps my nutritionist was right.) She wanted bread, and rolls, and it wasn't until she was paying that she learned it was all gluten free. Interesting--even "normal" people are buying this food.

I decided not to stay for dinner, since no one else was there. Instead, I wandered over to the freezers, where a bounty of misshapen and obviously handmade food awaited me: rosemary rolls; chicken pot pie; pepperoni panini. Bagels? They have gluten-free bagels? I had to buy those, even if they were the size of a dime. I grabbed cinnamon bread, and a small bag of even smaller scones, and made my way back to the warm bread smell wafting from the kitchen. Just as I was about to pay, the man working there pulled a fresh load of sourdough bread out of the ovens. I had to buy that too.

I talked to the woman there, finally, a sweet and obviously overworked young woman. Turns out that she's Kaili's daughter, and she says business has been slow lately. (Come on, people. If you're raving online, go back.) I told her that I'm coming back for lunch, bringing friends. I want to interview Kaili for my book. (But that's another story.)

Back in the car, I couldn't drive until I had taken a bite of that warm bread. I tore off a hunk of the sourdough and sank it into my mouth. Ahhhhhhhh. Bread. That's all my brain could think: bread, bread, bread. It tasted like dense, chewy bread. Real, homemade bread. And then I had to take picture of it, which you see here, with the hunk torn out.

It didn't last long. I ate another chunk on the car ride home. And then I sliced it up and froze it when I returned home. Along with the bagels and scones and cinnamon bread. But not before I toasted a slice of that, and then delighted in the crunching sound in my ears as I ate. Gluten-free bread that actually crunches when you toast it. All is well with the world.

So everyone was right. It is a bit mom and pop, the service is indifferent, and it's in a strip mall in Edmonds. But, it's worth it. Gluten-free bread that fills my mouth with delight. Will wonders ever cease?

the bounties of summer

red peppers
Originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Sun on my skin smells like freedom to me. Especially now that my skin is healthy brown after months of being ashy grey. I adore the summer. Sometimes people outside of teaching like to tease us that we have extra-long vacations, and therefore have no right to complain about our jobs. But it's not a vacation. It's a second life. I'm a second self in summer: more expansive, more forgiving, more creative. It's the life I like.

Especially this summer, when I'm finally healthy.

Summer goes so slow and fast at the same time. Most days feel languid--I wake at 9, read The New York Times, go to Hydrofit at 11, then plan the day from there. Usually, like tonight, I'm up until midnight, writing, the clarity of the day within me. I like this schedule better than 6 am bleating alarm clock, ride the bus to school in the dark, spend the day behind because there are so many tasks to fulfill by the end of the day, then have half an hour to write. No one can be creative on demand. At least I can't. So it's only in summer that I fully feel like a writer.

Especially this summer, when I finally have mental clarity after years of fumbling through brain fog.

During the summer, we all eat better. The farmers' markets in Seattle are a bounty of berries and goat cheese, apricots so juicy that they drip over your hand as you bite them, fat bouquets of sun-warmed dahlias for $10, and pungent arugula with dirt still clinging to the roots. The salmon was caught last week instead of being frozen, the eggs are bigger in their cartons, and the sun is out until late so we pretend we live in the Mediterranean and eat late into the evening. During summer, I can live on a half-pound of spinach sauteed in sea salt. Raspberries out of the carton that stain my fingers red. A smidgen of real blue cheese, made from goat's milk, on a farm fifty miles away from this city center.

(And this one, made by Les Fromages D'Anne Marie, is made without any bread or gluten at all. I asked. Repeatedly. And they knew what gluten was. So far, this is the only blue cheese I have been able to find that is gluten-free. And oh, oh, my--you want some. Go to the Ballard Farmer's Market next Sunday.)

This is enough. It doesn't take much to make food explode, then drip in slow tastes when I pop it into my mouth. Yesterday, coming home from the Magnolia Farmers' market, I couldn't resist the lure of the flat of raspberries on the seat next to me as I drove. I popped one in, expecting sweetness. What arrived instead was a tart sweetness, liquid, filling my mouth so completely that for one second I was completely overwhelmed by the taste of it. The taste filled me so entirely that I started to cry. I nearly had to pull over to the curb.

Winter never tastes like this. Summer is grace, in food form.

And especially this summer, when I'm glorying in all the foods that are naturally gluten-free, instead of feeling deprived. Sockeye salmon sauteed in Meyer lemon grapeseed oil and chunks of garlic. Lamb's ear lettuce salads, with arugula and dill, doused in shallot vinaigrette. Dagoba organic chocolates, this time cherry flavored, with gluten-free stamped right on the back. Homemade coleslaw, the cabbage thickly cut, with wasabi mayonnaise. The possibilities are endless. And every day, I feel filled with joy at the thought of eating, knowing that I'll no longer be sick, haggard, exhausted, cranky, or ready to slump over and give up on my body.

This summer, I'm alive.

13 July 2005

Aloo Gobi!

Daniel called me at the last moment, the sun's light starting to shift toward golden-orange as it arched over the mountains. Late evening. I had just returned from the airport, dropping off Gabe after a whirlwind visit. We had eaten gluten-free, but not that well. After all, we had sat in front of Macrina Bakery for hours, nursing iced coffees as we talked about his screenplay (translation: he read it to me, then I pointed out everything that was hackneyed or flabby). I enjoyed the conversation enormously, but all the while, I kept whiffing the baked goods from my memory. Those apple tartelettes still taunt me.

So when I returned home, I intended to make a big salad, prepare something gluten-free and healthy. And then Daniel called, pleading for me to come out to dinner. "It has been weeks, Shauna," and he was right. He's one of my favorite colleagues at work, and I'm used to seeing him between every class. But in the summer, time stretches weirdly, and I hadn't seen him since the last day of school. "Besides, we're going to Indian near you, at the top of Queen Anne." Okay, I can be tempted.

Well, the tastes may have tempted me, but this was no dare for me. I have always loved Indian food, but I hadn't yet ventured out to try it gluten free. Well, it turns out that Indian food is the gluten-free girl's best friend! Wheat is far more rare in India than in our own, super-saturated-with-white-flour culture, so most Indian recipes use flours that sound strange to Americans. Chickpea flour, for instance. While I couldn't have the garlic naan that arrived steaming to the table, I could eat the papadums, a thin, wafer-like cracker, dipped in golden chutney. Daniel is a vegan, so he appreciates how picky I have to be. We ordered the saag paneer (spinach and Indian cheese), aloo gobi (cauliflower doused in fiercy curry sauce), and one more vegan dish I can't remember at the time but filled me with delight.

Better yet, the waitress in this place was wonderfully accomodating when I told her all about the gluten-free thang. When I asked her if there was any wheat in any of these dishes, she looked almost offended. Of course not! When I explained that the food they prepared for me could not touch any surfaces where the naan or other foods were prepared, she smiled and waved her hand. That's taken care of. Their English is excellent, and they are thrilled to see you there.

Best of all, I was able to take great delight in the food I was eating, the spirited conversation I was having, and never once worry that I would get sick.

You should go.

8 Boston Street
Seattle, WA

(If you don't know the address, it's at the top of Queen Anne Hill, diagonally across from the Starbucks. Of course.)

11 July 2005

the glories of the farmers' market

I'm back in Seattle, eating well, feeling well. Alaska was a blessing, and I managed to not accidentally have gluten more than once, right at the beginning. Glorious Sitka--I'll write more about that in here later. But now, after a week of readjusting to city life, I'm happy to be here too.

I'm still learning more and more about gluten-free food and how to live this healthy life. I continue to feel it's all a blessing. Yesterday, I went to the Ballard Farmers' Market. This is one of the wonders of Seattle--the weekly farmers’ markets. Nearly every neighborhood in Seattle has one running, from May to October. On Sundays, several streets in Ballard are blocked off to traffic. White flags wave in the breezes. People stroll with dogs and kids, everybody smiling. And there are thirty or forty booths, filled with fresh rasberries, spicy arugula, golden beets, and goat cheeses. Hippie-looking women sell hand-crafted candles and pink sandstone jewelry. And there are hot crepes, pizza slices from brick ovens, and sauteed Asian vegetables. Men with long hair talk philosophically with their short-haired girlfriends. And everyone looks like they live in Seattle: little makeup, fresh-scrubbed faces, wide-open glances, dressed in environmentally friendly clothes, and kind. Sometimes, a little insufferable with how earnest they are trying to be. But the peaches are so juicy that they drip down my fingers when I eat them. The blueberries burst open. And the bing cherries taste sweeter because I know this is the last week of the year I can have them. I came home with a bag full  of fresh fruit, a handmade blue cheese, and a bouquet of sunflowers. You have to come see it for yourself.

So this afternoon, for lunch, I had a giant salad made entirely of fresh greens and local produce. Arugula, sliced French radishes, ripe avocado, soft goat cheese, kalamata olives, some fresh lemon juice, and olive oil. And my new secret weapon with anything to do with vegetables: Vignalta sea salt. It's from Venice, Italy, local sea salt mixed with rosemary, sage, and pepper to preserve the summer's flavors. I have found it at Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market in Seattle, but I'm sure you could find it in most gourmet grocery stores. Try it. You'll like it. I also had a dash of it on the organic corn on the cob I ate with the salt, with just a touch of clarified butter.

Anyone who complains about the gluten-free diet needs to come to my house in the summer. This is about abundance, not being denied. I've never eaten so well in my life.