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31 December 2006

peace and joy

the two of us, happy, the day before the book is due

2006 has — without a doubt — been the most spectacular year of my life.

2006 was the first full year of living gluten-free, and thus being the healthy self I had never known, the self I have always wanted to be.

2006 is the year I attended the IACP, landed my wonderful literary agent, and signed a contract for a book deal with Wiley. This was the year I let go of teaching and finally, after an entire lifetime, became a full-time writer. Words can barely tap at the surface of that happiness.

in 2006, I met wonderful food bloggers, made wonderful, wonderful friends, and remained perpetually grateful for this community.

In 2006, I ate sunchokes, miner's lettuce, foie gras, sweetbreads, and persimmons for the first time in my life. I want more.

In 2006, I had yes tattooed on my body, permanently.

And of course — the most burning and essential part of the year, more important by far than anything else on the list — I met the Chef in 2006. This is the year we first fell in love. And this is the year, blessedly, that we both quickly came to realize that we will live many, many years together. (If life continues to bless us, that is.)

There have been sadnesses and annoyances. I am perpetually misty-eyed when I read the newspaper and see the way this human family is treating itself. No life, no matter how glowing, is lived alone.

However, forgive me if I don't dwell on those sad notes right now. Today, I am only feeling blessed and grateful.

Tomorrow, on the first day of the new year, I am sending my manuscript to the publishers. You will hear much more of this in two days, when it is done. Suffice it to say that I could be frantic and panic-stricken. Instead, I am feeling calm and happy. I have worked hard — harder than I have ever worked on anything before — and the process has filled me with joy. This morning, the Chef and I took an almost-hour-long walk around our neighborhood. Before, I would have been hunched over the table, desperate to wring every last minute out of the process. But, with him by my side, I am breathing easy. Alive.

In 2007, we will be married (July). My book will be published and sold across the nation (October). Those two events would be enough to fill ten years. Along with those, who knows what will come? I have some ideas, but I'm not saying now. We're just going to let life take care of itself.

I can promise you this — you will hear about this year to come, with photos and recipes to accompany.

Thank you to everyone reading. You have filled my life with enormous joy. Honestly, I cannot imagine my life without this website. My life, as I know it now, simply would not exist without those of you reading.

Thank you.

In a few hours, I am headed to his restaurant, where a dozen friends will be having dinner with me, all of it made by his hands, to celebrate the book being (nearly) done, and the new year. I hope that you are all finding a way to celebrate that brings you peace.

May we all have peace. The Chef and I would both like to wish everyone reading a spectacular new year. I hope that there are a thousand memorable mouthfuls in your life this next year. We all deserve such joy.

26 December 2006

sneaking some time for a photo overview, Christmas 2006

Christmas 2006

This Christmas: the best food we have ever eaten; a frenzy of presents; hilarity. Stories galore.

It was our first Christmas together, the Chef and I. My family adores him. My mother adores his cooking. I can't believe my luck, again and again. We just couldn't stop giggling.

Certainly, my dear nephew Elliott was the star of the show. My favorite moment is when he opened his plastic, pretend chainsaw, which Santa brought him. A few weeks earlier, he had cried when Daddy said it was too expensive to buy. After his initial surprise and delight, he looked up from his chainsaw and said, "But I think this is too expensive for Santa, too."

Oh, that kid.

Prime rib with veal stock-port-balsamic reduction sauce. Roast pork loin with mustard sauce. Gluten-free bread. Fingerling potatoes roasted in duck fat.Sugar cookies. Chocolate blocks. Ginger bites.

Oh, and some hilariously competitve games of Apples to Apples

I could go on and on, but I must go back to the book. I'm writing it for all of you reading.

We hope your holidays have been restful, and filled with the delight of a little guy discovering that it is finally, actually Christmas morning.

24 December 2006

peace on earth


The Chef and I are preparing to leave our home for the Christmas festivities. On the table, ready to be packed: smoked paprika; truffle oil; Maldon sea salt; golden balsamic vinegar. There are ginger cookies, rolled sugar cookies, chocolate blocks, the Chef's mom's Christmas cookies, fudge, and sugared pecans. Waiting to be cooked, an enormous pork loin for tonight, a prime rib so large that I could use it as a battering ram. The Kitchen-Aid is going too, since I'm making rosemary bread for dinner. And of course, there are presents and gift tags and the camera.

We are kercited. It is our first Christmas together.

With the holiday, and the impending deadline of my book, we may not be here for awhile. So we would both — the Chef and the Writer — like to take this chance to say,

peace to you all.

Remember, as John says, war is over, if we want it.

Thank you for your presence in our lives. Happy Christmas, everyone.

Danny and Shauna Christmas 2006

22 December 2006

even with the deadline, there are cookies

ginger cookies for Christmas

(We're thrilled that this recipe is being featured at's roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit today.)

No time to write a story. Pushing against the deadline, Christmas. Breathing. Still refusing to grow frantic. Instead, I will stay mostly silent here. I will simply say...

these are fantastic.

Read this, then start baking, right now.

, adapted from Chez Panisse

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup molasses
1 1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 1/2 teaspoon strong cinnamon
3 teaspoon dried ginger
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Combine all the dry ingredients together. If you have a stand mixer, use it here to mix the flours together well. Move to a separate bowl.

Put the softened butter into the mixer and whirl it around, just a bit. Add the sugar and cream the butter and sugar. Not too much, however — too much will make the cookies spread. ADd the eggs and molasses. Combine everything until has become a coherent mixture.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix them until they are just combined, and no more. Stop the mixer.

Prepare a loaf pan by placing a piece of plastic wrap on the bottom, with at least two inches of overhang on either side. Spoon the cookie dough into the loaf pan, then smooth the surface with a spatula. Cover the top with the plastic wrap. Put the loaf pan into the freezer and freeze overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the loaf pan from the freezer and take the log of dough out of the plastic wrap. Carefully, cut thin slices from the loaf of dough and lay them on a silpat on the baking sheet. (If you don't have a silpat, use parchment paper.) Bake for ten to twelve minutes. The cookies will feel slightly soft to the touch, and possibly underbaked.

Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for at least ten minutes before you try to move them. Transfer them to a cooling rack. Allow them to sit there for another fifteen minutes before eating. (Really. You have to try!) At this point, you can leave the cookies this size, or you can cut them into smaller rectangles for little spicy ginger bites.

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21 December 2006

only one day left...

the chef in his new apron

Today is the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. Somehow, this day feels more potent to me than Christmas or New Year's. I like the quietness of it, the fact that it is not tainted by hordes of shoppers so desperate for that one last present that they are running each other down in the parking lots at malls. Instead, this is the earth, slowly tilting on its axis, inexorably moving toward summer, and more light.

Some of you might have thought, "Oh god, the shortest day of the year. It's so dark." I just think of the Beatles line, "It's getting better all the time (couldn't get much worse)."

Besides, there are so many gleams of light against the dark night sky.

My eyes can hardly believe it. Every time I check back with the donations page for Menu for Hope III, I do a doubletake. Last year, everyone involved felt thrilled to have raised $17,000. As of this post, the total is nearly $45,000. If anyone needs a little glimmer of light in the darkness, there it is.

You still have tonight, though. As we sit in the darkness together, how about reaching out one more time for Hope? As those of you who are regular readers know, the offering from this website is a full dinner at Impromptu Bistro, with me, wine included, all lovingly made by the Chef. And of course, everything can be gluten-free.

Many of you have already bid on this one. I can't wait to meet the winner and share an evening with you, candles flickering on the table, illuminating our food. But there is still time to bid. And there are so many other prizes! Why not reach out, one more time, tonight?

The photograph above is of the Chef, with his new apron. We ordered them for him the other day, black with crisp white pinstripes. He couldn't decide — should he wear it around his waist or around the neck? He tried it both ways, so many times, that I didn't know who was the girl in the room. Watching his happy pride, the way he brushed the apron straight to his knees, and seeing the way he felt uplifted by this small addition to his uniform — well, I just had to take his photograph.

This is one of the reasons I love him so. He takes such enormous delight in tiny details.

Wouldn't you want a meal made by someone who lives like that?

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19 December 2006

recipe testing by candlelight

recipe testing by candlelight, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

"Sweetie, how many quarts does that stockpot hold?"
He ferrets around in the kitchen for that lovely pot that Brandon bought for us at Goodwill, the holder of many sumptuous soups these past few months. He turns it over and looks at the bottom. He knows from the feel of it, but he wants to check to make sure.
"Six quarts," he says as he walks toward me again. I type it down, then go back to adjust something I wrote earlier. He settles down beside me again, and we go back to it.

Busy, so busy. These past few days have been a delicious whirlwind. On Thursday night, Seattle and environs suffered a vicious windstorm that knocked hundreds of thousands of people out of power and heat. Awakened at 1:30 in the morning by a low electrical hum in my body, I lay in bed in the darkness, the Chef asleep beside me, then clutched the bed as the gust of wind rattled the house side to side. I felt like a kid again, when I was awoken in the darkness by a small earthquake. A Southern California kid, I stayed awake only long enough to suss out the magnitude. If it felt small enough, I fell asleep again in the midst of it. But this windstorm felt like something different.

We were supremely lucky. Our little neighborhood of Seattle was relatively unscathed. High on a hill and mostly lovely homes, our little corner of the world lacked the dense tree covering that make this area heartbreakingly beautiful. We didn't lose power — we found out later that our street was the dividing line. Every street east of us was out of power, all day long. We felt guilty for missing our internet for a few hours.

Better yet — and a little bit guilt-inducing — the neighborhood of the Chef's restaurant was out of power for two full days. An enormous fir tree crashed over the fence of the rich people's golf course, slammed on electrical lines, and destroyed a line of electrical poles. On a normal day, this would have been repaired by the end of the afternoon. But with nearly a million people out of power (and some still tonight, for the fifth night in a row, in freezing temperatures), that neighborhood by the lake just didn't take precedence.

The Chef didn't have to work for two days. That, plus our normal weekend (Sunday and Monday) meant four days together. What did we do? Well, lots of lovely activities, of course. But mostly, we worked on recipes.

It's a good busy, because it involves sitting on the couch with the laptop on my knees and the Chef's head on my lap, as we work out recipes for great macaroni and cheese or cream of mushroom soup. We pop up to taste onions sautéed to the point of softness or smell fresh-cut ginger and compare it to the dried stuff, or fill a tablespoon with kosher salt to see how much 1/8 of a cup is. And then we return to the computer, giggling at the joy of this. We're a real team.

I liked the food I made before I met the Chef. Friends and family raved about the recipes when I made them. However, there simply is no comparison to the first drafts I originally printed on this website and the finished recipes that will be in the book. Not only that, but a full third of the recipes will be for meals the Chef has made for us at nearly midnight, after a full day's work. We have invented dishes and combined flavors and imagined worlds in which everyone can eat this well, and gluten-free.

As my brother said to me, laughing, last month, "How exactly did you think you were going to write this book before you met him?" I don't know, now. It feels meant to be. We both feel it. We are blessedly happy, and we want to give it all back as great food for anyone who wants to read the book. (And the next one.)

The Chef has all the skillfull techniques from the training at his culinary school, and the eighteen years of working at splendid restaurants around the country and in Seattle. But I know how to take those techniques, his nearly two decades of dedicated muscle memory, and turn them into sensory images that any cook can understand.

These are going to be kick-ass recipes.

How about beef tenderloin with crispy polenta, fried avocadoes, and a poblano-sour cream sauce? All gluten-free, of course.

Chestnut honey ice cream? Baked goat cheese with chervil, parsley, and tarragon? Bouillabaisse? Chicken enchiladas with homemade corn tortillas? Sorghum bread? Potato leek soup?

There will be about 85 recipes from which to choose.

The photograph you see above is the dinner we had on Friday night. Unlike most in Seattle, we didn't have to eat by candlelight. We chose it. On our new plates, the roast chicken with lemon I have talked about on this site many times, the roasted cauliflower with smoked paprika and Mayan cocoa powder, a tender quinoa made with chicken stock, and all of it with a red wine sauce. Over on the saucers, a mixed green salad with a golden balsamic vinaigrette and soft goat cheese.

As a friend of mine said recently, "Shauna, you sure are spoiled." I know. I know. We both feel blessed. And like I said, we want to give that back, as much as possible.

You're going to love these recipes, if you buy this book. They are going to be Chef-tested, and every one of them gluten-free.

And while he has been working today at the now-opened restaurant, I'm working on the last chapters, eight hours in a row.

The manuscript is due two weeks from today. I'm going to make it. The draft will be imperfect, of course. What isn't? That's why I have an editor, after all. But I'm proud of it. It's unusual — and near impossible — to be required to write an entire manuscript in four months. I can. I have.

And the first week of January, I am going to sleep like a baby!

15 December 2006

on loving a man and his mother's cookies

(We're thrilled that this recipe is being featured at's roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit today.)

When you choose to love someone, you accept more than one person in your life. Truly loving someone means inheriting an entire world.

The moment between two people is dear, more powerful and tender than any people outside those two will ever understand. This shared life is ineffably beautiful, a little universe of two. But if it’s true love, that universe starts expanding, pretty quickly.

The holidays are approaching. Family time. Your parents beam with happiness when they find out that he does not have to work on Christmas Eve, and thus everyone can have two full days together for games and food. His father sends out the Christmas letter to the four brothers and sisters, and the two of you, and he officially welcomes you into the family by including you in the gift exchange. The two of you trade tears at the way you have been accepted.

And then he tells you that his mother makes him cookies, every year. She has been making the same cookies for forty years, or so. No one has ever made them for her. So the two of you conspire, and you make two different batches, with different gluten-free flours, until they look fantastic. Late at night, he takes a bite of the last batch, and tears form in his eyes. “These are my mom’s cookies,” he says, and hugs you close.

No baking has ever felt this good.

The next day, you put together a package, and send a tin of the cookies to Arizona, overnight. All day, the two of you giggle, wondering when they will receive it. The next afternoon, as you are driving to the restaurant, the cell phone rings. He answers it ands smiles wide. After a few moments, he passes the phone to you.

His mother exhales, “I just can’t believe you did this!” She says of the photograph of the two of you that you tucked into the box, “We are going to put this out for everyone to see. I’m sure that we’ll look at it on Christmas Eve and cry.” You feel more grateful than you can say, but you also love how familiar her voice is now, enough that you know she is holding back tears as she talks.

His father comes on the line, and thanks you, profusely. He asks how your book is coming, and you assure him that you’ll make the deadline. Of course you will. And then he says, of the cookies: “These are gluten-free? Well, then I don’t need any damned gluten! These are great.” And you grin, because here is a man nearly eighty years old, and he is still open enough to allow himself to change. You hear the man you love in his father’s voice, and more than anything, you just hope that you have the chance to love that man until he is eighty.

It is the first holiday season the two of you share, and his parents approve of your gluten-free cookies. This universe you share together — it feels enormous and beneficent.

And then you share it with everyone reading on the internet.


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white rice flour
½ cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup each roasted hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 300°.

Cream the butter and powdered sugar in a stand mixer, or by hand. Cream them until they are just combined, and then one beat more. Over-creaming butter and sugar in gluten-free cookies makes them spread, horribly. Add the vanilla extract and mix it in.

Combine the rice flour, tapioca flour, and almond meal in a large bowl. Sift the mixed flours for a soft texture. Add the sifted flour to the butter, sugar, and vanilla mix. Mix until just beaten in.

Add the three kinds of nuts to the dough and mix until they are well integrated into the dough. Refrigerate for at least one hour before forming into cookies.

Form small blobs of dough, as large as the width of the palm of your hand. Gingerly, tenderly, roll them out to small logs. If the logs of dough form little tails, more narrow than the rest, snip those off and start again. Place them down carefully on the silpat on a baking sheet. You should be able to fit about fifteen logs of dough on the sheet.

Put into the oven and bake for eighteen to twenty minutes. The cookies will be firm to the touch, with a bit of give, when they are done. Sieve powdered sugar over the tops of the cookies, and then put a bit more on. Set the baking sheet aside for ten minutes. Do not attempt to live the cookies yet. However, the cookies might have spread, just a bit. Gently, using a metal spatula or your fingers, pat the edges of the cookies back into place. Let them cool on the baking sheet. After ten minutes, gently lift the cookies onto a cooling rack. Let them sit for at least an hour before eating. (I know — good luck.) These hold together and taste best when you let them sit overnight.

Makes about fifteen cookies.

13 December 2006

on recovering from a pernicious flu, gluten-free

The raging sore throat has settled into a dusty patch at the back of my throat. Malaise has given way to a modicum of energy. The pounding earache is only a little pulse of pain.

I might just be on the mend.

Last week, besieged by a miserable flu, I relented. Frayed along the edges of flu for four days, I finally faced the truth — you’re sick, you silly Shauna. Give in to it.
And yet, I had to let out a little sad sigh before I collapsed, letting you know why I wouldn’t be offering up words every day here.

You saved me.

I’m serious. I’m so moved by this community.

The doctor helped, and he seems to be right. This was a bad virus, and I just needed to rest it to the ground. However, when I asked him about treatment for my piercing earache and the lymph nodes in my neck swollen to the size of kumquats, something beyond ibuprofen and sleep, he shrugged and said, “Anything your grandmother might have recommended.”

Um, my grandmother, sadly, never offered me a single helpful word. What to do?

Ask you.

Here is what has been nursing me back to health, from the best of your comments and suggestions, in case anyone reading might be fighting that creepy feeling in the back of your throat and along your muscles:

hot baths with lavender
. Ah, yes. I love the delicious thrill of extending my toes into soapy water, then slowly lowering the rest of me in. Somehow, when I’m busy, baths feel like a distant memory. When I am sick, they are a necessity.

Hot lemon water with ginger and cayenne pepper. There’s something soothing about lemons and heat. Fresh ginger (I pulled out the dried one for the photograph, because I had run out of all the fresh ginger from using it this week1), a touch of honey, and a dash of cayenne pepper for a kick. I must have drunk twenty-two cups of this in three days.

Gargling with salt water. Old trick, I know, but a good one. This works. Just don’t swallow.

Reed’s ginger brew. The Chef brought back a bag full of bottles of this, the first morning I finally admitted I was sick, after a trek to the store for healing supplies for me. I love the spicy carbonation, and it makes me feel like I’m drinking beer again!

Oranges and satsumas and kumquats — oh my
! Citrus fruits rock. I love peeling them and stripping the pith and feeling the squelch of juice in my mouth. Vitamin C, of course, helps too.

Sleep and more sleep. The first day, when I finally gave in, I slept all day long, with little feverish waking periods rapidly followed by more sleep. When the manuscript is due and I have a hundred things let to do, this felt decadent. But the next morning, I awoke feeling halfway to human again. To that end, I was happy to discover that Nyquil is gluten-free. Yeah!

Chicken stock
. The Chef made me quarts and quarts of it. I drank it hot and turned it into soups and slurped up more until my throat started feeling not so sore.

Sex and the City and Law and Order: SVU.
Someone suggested, wonderfully, all six episodes of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, in a row. If I had not watched that, just before meeting the Chef, I would have indulged again. Besides, I could only watch in little bursts before I fell asleep again. The Chef, however, has hooked me on SVU, which I had never seen before. Beware: if you watch it before going to bed and taking Nyquil, you’re going to have weird dreams.

Comments from my readers. When I would wake up and see that several more of you had sent in suggestions, I felt loved. And when I could start writing again, I felt a fervent urgent desire to write, for you. Thank you.

The Chef’s love. Sorry, everyone else, you can’t have this one. But hopefully, you have someone equally tender and solicitous. My entire life, since leaving my parents’ house, when I have been sick, I have done it alone. This time, I woke to him kissing me, walked into the kitchen to find breakfast made, answered the phone to tender questions and silly jokes. I have never felt so loved. That has to build the immune system too.

Saying yes. About the middle of the first day, when I was feverish and fretting about losing a day of writing time, I looked down at my wrist and say it again: yes. Yes, I have the flu, it seemed to be nudging me. And, what are you going to do, fight it? Part of the reason I had that tattoo emblazoned on me is to remind me: say yes to every moment as it arises, even if you don’t like it at first. Here I was, perniciously sick. Would I make myself any better by shouting no, no, no — I can’t be sick?! Silly Shauna. Say yes. Accept. Surrender.

I think, in the end, that made the biggest difference.

Well, that, and the hot toddies.


1 good-sized shot of Scotch
1 tablespoon sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
enough hot water to fill your cup

Pour the Scotch and sugar into the cup. Stir. Squeen the lemon juice in and listen to it sizzle against the alcohol. Fill the cup with hot water, just enough to cover if you want this strong, all the way to the top if you like your toddies weak. Stir. Drink.
Repeat, every night, until you are rested and wide-eyed with energy.

POSTSCRIPT, literally: Many of you have written to me, in the comments and on the flickr page, to warn everyone reading that Emergen-C is not safe for celiacs. Apparently, the raspberry and mixed berry have sometimes been found with traces of wheat in them. Or is it the other flavors? I've only had a few Emergen-C packets in my life, and one of them on the first full day of the flu. I haven't had a reaction. Then again, maybe I would have been better that day without that one packet. Best to be on the safe side and ignore them completely.

11 December 2006

a fabulous dinner helps those without food

a menu for hope, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Smoked black cod with fingerling potatoes, sautéed leeks, and remoulade. Lamb chops with endive and black pepper vinaigrette. Squid ink risotto with Dungeness crab, Jerusalem artichokes, and a Madras curry vinaigrette. Bananas and pineapple flambéed in rum.

Doesn't it just make your mouth water?

It is hard to remember, in the midst of imagining this incredible meal, just how many people are hungry. Of course, I don't mean the kind of hungry I am now, wondering about breakfast. I mean, hungry.

Food bloggers think about food. Most of us also think about the absence of food.

I am acutely aware, every time I post a piece on this site, of how lucky I am. Even with bread gone bad, or days of feeling wretched and not being able to eat, I am blessed. And I want to give back.

This year, food bloggers around the world are banding together to participate in Menu for Hope III. Last year, the collective group raised over $17,000 for UNICEF. This year, we are giving to the UN World Food Programme, and we are hoping that we can raise far more this year. Come on -- it's the holidays. Let's go for double of last year!

We all give what we can. Some of my fellow food bloggers are offering free photography lessons, chocolate tours of Paris, copies of their books, and more and more and more. There are so many options. Please, choose one.

This year, I am offering what I can. This year's prize is.....

Dinner with the Gluten-Free Girl at Impromptu Bistro

As many of you know, I have fallen madly in love with the Chef. You will too, after you eat his food. This year, as our offering for Menu for Hope, we invite you to have dinner at Impromptu Bistro in Seattle.

Whoever has the winning bid for Gluten-Free Girl on Menu for Hope 2006 will have dinner with me at Impromptu. This means, of course, that you need to be in Seattle to collect the prize. However, visitors are as welcome to bid as residents of the rainy city.

Your dinner will include appetizer, entrée, and dessert, as well as wine to accompany each course. That might mean Penn Cove mussels with rosemary, Dijon mustard, and cream, followed by roast pork with a kumquat chutney, sweet potatoes and apples in a red wine sauce, finished up with Meyer lemon panna cotta.

If you need to eat gluten-free, you are in for delight, as the Chef can prepare anything on the menu for you. Here, you can eat with ease, because nothing will make you sick. And even if you do not need to eat gluten-free, you are guaranteed a splendid meal.

I will be there with you, thrilled to meet you and share this food with you.

If you wish to give, here are a few simple instructions as to how:

1. Go to the donations page at First Giving. Donate at least $10. Every $10 bid gives you one raffle ticket for the prize of your choice. If you would like to win the prize from this website, enter in this code: UW16. That number is vital, as you won't be able to win this prize without it. So, again, that's UW16. Enter that code in the Personal Messages section.

2. Why not try again? Or enter another raffle? There are so many prizes. You could finish all your holiday shopping this way.

3. Be sure to leave your email address, or otherwise there is no way of contacting you. (Imagine the organizational nightmare of this endeavor!)

4. Check back to the First Giving page frequently, just to see how we're doing.

5. Finally, on January 15th, check in at Chez Pim for a list of all the prizes and their winners. Also, whoever wins the prize for this one? Email me as soon as you can, so we can set up our delicious evening!

Whew. That's it.

Well, not quite.

If you would like to see a list of all the prizes avaiable on the west coast of the United States, check in at Sam's site, Becks and Posh, for a giant round-up.

Pim,at her site, is keeping a tally of every single prize in the world! Sheesh!

Please give, everyone.

If you have been enjoying the growing love story on this site, or the sound of the food at the Chef's restaurant, or just want a great meal with someone who is eager to meet you, I hope you will consider this offer.

(Wait a minute! Now I sound like I'm shilling for Ronco!)

Food. Wine. The Chef. A great cause. What more could you want?

08 December 2006

this poached chicken breast is....

poached chicken breast, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

the only food I ate all of yesterday.

The Chef made me an emergency quart of stock in the morning, before going off to work. He also brought me ginger ale and lemons and oranges and fresh juice. Sweetly, he brought all of them to me with tender concern in his eyes. That made me feel a little better, for a few moments.

You see, at the worst time imaginable, I have grown sick, very sick. During the fall, I flirted with having a cold, and skirted the edges of flu for a few days last week. Each time, my healthful eating and adoring honey brought me back from the brink. This time, however, there was no going back.

This is the first time I have been truly sick since I stopped eating gluten. Damn, I guess gluten-free does not mean germ-free!

The doctor said, yesterday morning, that my raw sore throat, ear ache, swollen glands, and fevers are probably just a viral infection. When I told him all that is going on, and especially that I have a manuscript due to the publishers in three and a half weeks, he smiled and said, "Well, that might have something to do with it, don't you think?"

Yes. I'm sure he's right.

This past week, I have been terribly, terribly sad about this story, which makes my flu feel superfluous. My vivid imagination spiraled into their story, and I could not shake the feeling of grief. I know that many of us felt the same. The only gleam in all that darkness was watching the way people came together through the internet, this quixotic, beautiful community.

I'm so grateful to have a body that can feel malaise and pain. Still, I think the sadness weighed me down, along with the deadline.

And so, I'm taking a break for a few days. Doctor's orders. I'll be back when I'm better, when my throat doesn't ache with a slaking rage. I'm hoping that today I will feel well enough to prop the laptop on my knees and work on the book. If not, it's more sleep for me.

Until I'm back, talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: best gluten-free methods for fighting the flu.

I could use some.

06 December 2006

sometimes, i fail.

bad bread, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Most days, I artfully compose my photographs of food so that I catch the light with a perfect gleam. See the reflection of the sky through the skylights on that egg yolk? Ah, there's a perfect accident. Golden light, just before dusk -- these days about 3:30 -- falls softly on the little table by the window, and I run toward it with my latest baked-goods creation. If some morsel of food we ate the night before tasted fantastic, I save at least a slice of it to drive it to the restaurant and take pictures by the window. And then I eat the rest for lunch.

Food bloggers? We're a weird bunch. We take photographs of our food, and we write about the tastes, and then we leave comments on each other's sites to say how much we enjoyed their version of the process. Truly — odd. (Wonderful, of course. But I say that because I'm swimming in this water all the time, and I don't know how to come to shore.)

However, most of the time, we tell you about the successes. I certainly do here. The gluten-free cookie that tastes like its predecessor, but better. The lamb stew that made us both sing. That one bite of black cod that changed my mind forever about black rice flour. You would think, from reading this blog, that it's just one food orgasm after another over here.

Well, as far as the kitchen goes, that can't possibly be true. At least, not most of the time.

Last month, the entire food blog world went seemingly insane for this no-knead bread recipe, published in the New York Times. Oh, the raptures! Luisa made me want to try it, when she wrote, "Yes! A fantastic recipe! Something to rave about! Finally. What a relief." Looking at her bread, I knew I had to follow her lead. Deb at Smitten Kitchen crafted a gorgeous loaf of bread with one hand, since the other arm was in a sling at the time. Lindy at Toast raved about how light and feathery and perfectly easy this was bread was to make. And for goodness' sake, look at all these photographs on flickr of people who made this bread successfully. Certainly, with all my skill and determination, I should be able to concoct a successful version of this easy-peasy bread recipe. Right?

In one word: no.

Let me say that a little more clearly: no, no, no. Big nada. Nope. Out of the realm of possibility. Kerplunk. Forget about it. Don't waste your time. Uh-uh.

Obviously, that recipe relies upon the long strands of gluten that stretch and sway in the dough as it rises. Without gluten, what do you have?

Friends sometimes tease me that I keep my Louisville slugger in the living room. They think I leave it in the corner in case there are burglars. They don't quite understand that I just love my baseball bat and all the triples I have hit with it. However, maybe I should make another batch of this gluten-free no-knead bread and keep it around in case there are burglars. One swing of this blam-so-hard-you-could-break-a-tooth-with-it simulacrum of bread, and that burglar would be out cold.

I used to love chewing on gum when I was a kid. I'd keep a pink wad in my mouth at all times, just to blow bubbles. If I chewed on a slice of this stuff all day I still wouldn't be done with it. Bubbles? No. Gummy substance that tastes like no food in nature. Yes.

The Chef wouldn't even use the two loaves I tried to bake breadcrumbs. He said they might break the blade of the food processor.

Damn it. I wanted that bread.

Not being able to convert this into a gluten-free recipe makes me feel like I'm in the seventh grade again, and everyone is raving over his or her flashy new Nike shoes, and my family just cannot afford a pair.

Damn you, gluten!

Oh well. The only silver lining in this little grey cloud? At least I can save you the trouble of attempting it. Seriously, don't bother.

p.s. Several of you have written to me, in the last few days, worrying that I am starting to grow frustrated or giving up on making great, gluten-free bread. Not at all, my friends. Not at all. In fact, I wrote this essay in a snarky voice, because it was so damned frustrating to thwack that bread against the side of the counter and not have it move. But failing? That won't stop me. In fact, I welcome it.

Thanks to Sasha for these quotes:

‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’— Albert Einstein

‘To develop working ideas efficiently, I try to fail as fast as I can.’— Richard P. Feynman

‘Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.’— Mahatma Gandhi

05 December 2006

how he made me cry

the Chef's pizza, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last evening, I sat on our couch, next to the Chef, with tears rolling down my cheeks.

I looked up at him, honestly moved and unable to convey it fully with words, and said, "You made me pizza."

In our hands were slices of gluten-free pizza, the crust from a mix by Mona's with olive-oil embellishments from the Chef. On top, roasted orange and yellow peppers, carmelized onions, fresh mozzarella, rosemary, and a decadent treat — an heirloom tomato out of season. All day long, he had been looking at me and saying, "I'm going to make you pizza!" And then, he did. He mixed the dough and rolled it right and pushed it with his capable hands into the corners of the baking sheet. He would want you to know that we don't have a proper pizza tray yet, or a cutter, or any of the other embellishments he would like to try next. That didn't bother me.

Instead, I took a bite of the crust: chewy with a familiar bounce against the teeth; dense and yeasty; a willing sopper for the olive oil soaking into it. And on the bottom, an unexpected crunch. Only unexpected because no gluten-free pizza crust, in my experience, ever has that shattered-by-the-teeth bottom, the crisp and crackle of a truly great pizza. This one did. I mean -- look at this crust. It tasted like pizza. No, it tasted like truly great pizza. It tasted like love.

When I thanked him, I saw his face, blurred through my tears, soften. And he said, "I don't want you to feel any different because you have celiac. I want to be able to make you any food you want, and have it taste the way you want. It may take awhile to make some of them right, but I'm going to do it. Because I want to feed you."

Oh, my lovely kumquat. (Thanks, Shuna.) Does anyone wonder why I am marrying him?

And then, today, there was leftover pizza for lunch.

04 December 2006

gingerbread men— oh my

gingerbread men, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Every December, for decades of my life, I made dozens and dozens of gingerbread men. Nearly every weekend, I found myself at the end of each evening with piles of crispy ginger cookies toppling on baking racks and flour all down the front of my shirt. In fact, for years I just baked myself unconscious all throughout the holidays, just coming up for breath in January, spent and determined to never bake again. Somehow, every year I forgot the frantic fracas and went back to it.

Of course, when I first found out I had celiac, I figured I would never bake again. Within three days, I gave my flour-dusted copy of the Pillsbury baking book to my dear friend Dorothy. I tucked my recipes for holiday cookies in the back of a drawer. I was determined to live my life without baked goods.

Now, of course, I think — how silly. There is a natural process to this journey. At first, shock and horror, along with a small spring of hope at the life Iwe might have. And then, as we start to truly feel well for the first time in our lives, there arises a determination to do this right, all fervency and fabulous zeal. A bit of grieving, continual surprise, a little anger, a sense of discovery — we can cycle through them all and stay longer in some than others. Finally, there is acceptance. And we just live.

Honestly, at this point, I think about living gluten-free all day long, but it’s only because I am keeping this website, and writing a book, and marrying a chef who has worked to make his restaurant safe for those who are living gluten-free. If I were feeding myself, and not writing about this, I’m not sure I’d be identifying myself so much this way. I’d just eat the food I know is safe and think of other things.

I’m so grateful to be aware of this. I really loving helping anyone I can, any one of you reading who needs to live gluten-free.

I find, therefore, that I have a natural affinity for anyone else who makes gluten-free food, who wants to educate and help other people. This is why I like Lisa Shaw so much.

Lisa runs a gluten-free baked goods company called Mona’s Gluten-Free. Back in September, she and her company launched their gluten-free mixes into the larger market beyond their Woodinville store, and they held their launch luncheon at Impromptu. In honor of the occasion, Lisa invited representatives from local co-ops, health food stores, and grocery stores to eat with her and talk about living gluten-free. I felt honored to be invited as well. It was an extraordinary moment: being at the Chef’s restaurant, with people who must avoid gluten, all of us able to order whatever we wanted off the menu, and talking freely. The same way I feel an immediate affinity for my fellow food bloggers, I feel an instant ease with anyone who eats gluten-free.

The Mona products are great. The Chef has used the baguette mix many times to make gluten-free bread at the restaurant. I respect and admire the work Lisa has done.

But when she sent me her mix for gingerbread men, my respect sky-rocketed to adoration. Oh my god, these are fantastic. They put tears in my eyes. I have eaten far too many in two days.

Once I came to acceptance — and even an embracing — of my gluten-free lifestyle, I started to disdain the use of mixes. After all, when I baked with gluten, I would never have made something from a box or bag. Once I had experimented with gluten-free flours and started to mix a little bit of this and a little bit of that, I felt above a packaged mix. I haven’t had one in the house since the Chef walked in.

But I’ve changed my mind with these gingerbread men. I want to make another dozen tomorrow and send them out to friends as presents. (Okay, I have to wait until January this year to give my gifts, as the book is due first.) I want to eat another one right now.

Crisp with a chew, spicy with nutmeg and ginger, wonderfully dense in texture in all the right ways, these cookies rise up and form little ginger people perfectly. Last night, I made a batch, frosted them (ha! No one ever said I was Martha Stewart), then took them over to Molly and Brandon’s for a little celebration dinner. They were both impressed. Brandon, who is a little obsessed with the science and reasons why of food, and thus a tough critic, took a bite and said, “There is absolutely no indication that these are gluten-free.”

I have to say, I agree. They are simply damned fine cookies. They’re even better for breakfast the second day.

And so, I’m going to say something I have never said on this website — buy these. If you have an interest in ginger cookies, you must buy a bag of these. Don’t waste any time. It’s that holiday baking season again.


For years, I did not know how to make a proper buttercream frosting. Oh, it tasted good. How could it go bad with butter and sugar? But it was always too runny, a little too soft to do anything but spread it densely with a knife.

Yesterday, as we were walking into the restaurant, I asked the Chef how to make it. “Well, you start with softened butter….”
“You mean melted butter?” I said, hopeful I hadn’t always been making a beginner’s mistake.
“No, that would ruin it,” he said.


He was right, of course. If you let the butter sit out until it is naturally soft — instead of being impatient and melting it in the microwave the way I did for years — this buttercream frosting should come out wonderfully thick and ready to be stuffed into a pastry bag.

And by frosting gingerbread men with a pastry bag and thick-enough frosting for the first time in my life, I was able to make naughty gingerbread people for the Chef when he came home.

½ cup softened butter, not melted but yielding to the touch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk (if you want to be truly decadent, use heavy cream)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

Cream the butter in a stand mixer (or your biceps, if you wish). Add the vanilla and milk and stir until the mixture has become coherent. Slowly, add the powdered sugar, in little dribs and drabs. Only add the powdered sugar until the frosting is the thickness and consistency that you desire. (Please use the above measurement as only a rough estimate.)

Stuff the frosting into a pastry bag and ice your cookies in any pattern you wish.

03 December 2006

i love kumquats.

kumquat chutney, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I love kumquats.

I love the word of the thing. Kum-quat. So much fun to say. During the three months of my student teaching -- oh so many years ago now; those 14-year-olds are now 30 years old! -- I taught a lesson on the sounds of words, as a warm-up to high-school poetry writing. (Honestly, they weren't as maudlin as you might have expected.) We worked on assonance -- wavy and sleigh -- and consonance -- crack and cacophony -- and how to truly listen. Feeling first, then literal meaning afterwards.

The first day I introduced this way of being, I stood in front of my new class and said, "Kumquat!" They looked at me as though I had said something dirty. "Kumquat," I said. "Isn't that a great word?"

Turns out that not one kid in that class had ever eaten a kumquat, or even seen one. They thought I was speaking moon man language. When I told them about these adorable little citrus fruits, the only ones that allow you to eat their skins, they were supercharged with energy. Every day, one of them shouted out, at some inopportune moment, "Kumquat, Ms. James!" I seem to remember a day in which the entire class of 28 14-year-olds began chanting "kumquat. kumquat. kumquat." I laughed, every day, with them.

On the last day of classes, at the end of the school year, they presented me with cards and flowers. The class that so loved our wordplay dance with citrus nominated the shyest kid to step forward. He made a little spee about how much they had loved being in my class. And then he pulled his hand from behind his back and presented me with....a bag of kumquats.

They have never tasted that sweet again.

Besides the memories, and the forceful resonance of the sound of the word, I also love the thing itself. I mean, look at the kumquat. Squat, green flaring into orange, a little nipple on top, rippled and flecked skin — this fruit has nothing to offer but itself.

The other day, when the Chef and I walked into the restaurant for the afternoon's work, we were delighted to see that the produce delivery had already arrived. Among the bags of spinach and handfuls of fresh herbs, I spotted a box with a flare of orange peeking up from its depths. Kumquats.

He grinned and went into the kitchen. Half an hour later, this kumquat chutney arrived. He planned to serve it that night with roast chicken. Just a spoonful of it brought all these memories rushing back.

He insists that it's more a marmalade than a chutney. But I can't help it, I like the sound of chutney better. Kumquat chutney. Now there's a sound I love.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups kumquats

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, forming a simple syrup. The moment they boil, put in the kumquats and reduce the heat to low, allowing the kumquats to simmer. When they are glistening, and everything has thickened -- probably about twenty minutes -- you have kumquat chutney. (Or marmalade. But really, say kumquat chutney. Fun!)

02 December 2006

this makes it official.

Save the Date Card, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

This is the proof for the Save the Date card we envisioned, which a lovely local designer is making a reality for us.

When I first pulled the photo from the blue envelope, I welled up with tears. Oh, I love him so. He has guided me home.

When he first saw the side with the words, he started to cry, in his kitchen. He didn't need to say a word.

This makes it official. We really are going to be married.


01 December 2006

the first day of december

Meyer lemons, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Here it is. The first day of December.

Yesterday was the last day of November, which makes it the last day of NaBloPoMo (or National Blog Posting Month, for those who remain uninitiated). That means that I posted something every day for a month. Actually, it wasn't nearly as hard as that might seem, as I had been posting daily since the middle of October. However, you would think that with my manuscript due soon, I would have been posting pithier and pithier pieces as the days of November dwindled. Strangely, the posts grew longer, with more recipes, as the month diminished. Why? Writing here has been a balm for me. When my head starts to throb at the thought of all the work still before me, I just type in little stories on this site. I have loved the daily contact, and all your comments. Six to eight hours of writing a day can grow a little lonely when it is just me, sitting in this room, on the blue exercise ball, in front of the computer. The Chef's frequent phone calls and all the emails from you lovely readers has kept me grounded in this sea of words.

Tomorrow, however, is December 2nd. That makes it one month to the day before my manuscript is due to the publishers. Oh. My. God. If I told you just how much work remains to be done between now and then, you could faint. (And I don't want to be responsible for that weirdly shaped bruise on your chin when your face hits the desk in front of you.) People, I am really up against it now. Wow.

(in a little whisper, i will say this: i work well against a deadline. i actually sort of like the big push that is required now. i know i can do it. i will.)

So, as much as I love writing these romantic, silly, sensory impressions and plenty of food posts every day, I have to slow down this month. I'll be here, writing. Send out a little hello, if you want. I may not write back until January, but I would sure love to hear from you.

I promise — there will still be words and photos here every day. But it might be a lot of photographs, and they may not all be of food. Maybe snippets of conversation, without any context. An occasional cookie recipe or two. Whereas this blog is normally Faulknerian-length prose, December will be the month of haikus.

Thank you all for reading. Wish me luck.

I will need it.

30 November 2006

leftovers that left us happy

meyer lemon ricotta cheese, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The Chef doesn't care for leftovers.

Oh, he'll protest about this statement. He would never say it out loud. But every time we are wondering what to eat for breakfast, and I say, "Well, we could use that polenta I saved in small squares and fry it up into cornmeal mush," he'll scrunch up his face, then shake his head. The other night, we bought a fresh chicken and he made an incredible barbeque sauce with aromatic rice. We both oohed and ahhed as we laughed over Letterman. Last night, he said, "What's for dinner?"
"Well, we have the leftover quinoa from last, and we could do something with that. And there are the drumsticks leftover from the chicken," I said, trying to put a bright voice on what I knew would disappoint him. It was nearly 11 pm, snowing, and I just didn't want to stop at the store when we had food in the house.
He sighed, then made the best of it. And then, of course, when he roasted the chicken with olive oil and black rice flour, plus lots of pepper, he still managed to make it taste different than it had been the night before.

It's not that he is that picky. It's just that he loves food so thoroughly that he wants to experience a new taste every day. This is a man who crafts an incredible menu every month, worries about it for days before he starts it, loves experimenting and refining in the first days of the month, and then is bored with cooking it after week one is done. He keeps me on my toes.

Before I met him, I was perfectly willing to mull over the same stew for days on end. After all, I had made enough to feed a small army of semi-starved soldiers, and I lived alone. I had no choice but to munch on the same meal all week. But the Chef has this uncanny ability to know just how much food to make to create one filling meal and no more. Whenever he makes stock, he throws in bones and vegetables with seeming abandon. But when he pours the finished stock into the jug in which we keep stock, he has just enough to fill the two-quart container and no more.

Every time, I say, "How do you do that?"

So to the Chef, the idea of eating leftovers for several days is anaethma. Why not plan ahead and make just enough food for that night, then eat something entirely new the next night?

I am learning so much from him.

When I made the cream puffs with the meyer lemon ricotta the other day, I had far more cheese than cream puffs. What was I going to do? Well, I could have made another batch of cream puffs, but we had eaten our fill for that day. (I gave most of them away. Living the writing life is just too much temptation to nibble on cream puffs all day long.) What could I do?

Well, one thing on my side about food is that I am not afraid to throw ingredients together and make up dishes on the spot. I play. The Chef is entirely playful in his life, but his extensive culinary training makes it impossible for him to cook with the utter abandon with which I cook. That's how I have crafted most of the recipes on this site: with a what-the-hell attitude.

When he was at work, the afternoon following the cream puff evening, my mind suddenly uttered this: baked ricotta. Someone must have made it before, but I had never run across it before. Instead of searching for a recipe, I rushed to the kitchen and threw together what made sense to me: the leftover meyer lemon ricotta, an egg, and some more sugar. Without thinking too much — a process that usually stops me — I just threw it in the oven.

I should have followed my nose. I smelled the light lemony waft, the sweetness that followed, and then a definite over-warmth. But I was busy writing, deep in a paragraph. By the time I came to my everyday senses and remembered the ricotta, it had dried out, not the moist spread I expected. In fact, when I touched it with a spoon, it cracked like the top of a creme brulee.

However, when it cooled, I realized my folly had been smart in the end. A fork dragged across the top scraped the baked ricotta cheese into soft little fluffs. They looked like finely diced hard-boiled eggs. But they were sweet and lemony, like little beams of light against grey clouds. I loved them.

The next morning, I took them out of the refrigerator without the Chef noticing. I piled some on top of my hot cereal and invited him to take a bite. "Hmmmm....hey, that's good. What is it?"

I smiled.

This morning, I folded some into the crepes I made us for breakfast. Three days in a row with the same food, and he wasn't complaining.



Make the ricotta cheese the day before. In case you missed it, here is the recipe for that:

12 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
juice of three Meyer lemons
zest of three Meyer lemons
½ cup sugar

Combine all the ingredients together. When they have mixed well, put the ricotta mixture into a fine-mesh sieve and set it over a bowl. Let the ricotta sit in the refrigerator overnight. By the next morning, all the water will have drained from the ricotta, leaving a firm, lemony ricotta.

1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar

When this has finished, add the egg and sugar and integrate all the ingredients together.

Plop the ricotta mixture into a small baking pan, forming it into a rounded shape in the middle. It will probably slump a little during baking. Don't worry. This doesn't need to look perfect.

Cook in a preheated 350° oven for ten to twenty minutes. Check the cheese, frequently. If you want it soft — and yet still baked — with a spreading consistency, take it out after twelve minutes or so. If you would like it a bit drier, so that you can crumble it, leave it in for longer.

Makes about a cup and a half of baked ricotta cheese.

29 November 2006

It's snowing!

the Chef in the snow, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled post about gluten-free foods and various baked goods to inform you of this fact: it's snowing!

The news reports said it would only be freezing rain. We girded ourselves for the return to drizzly grey, incessantly. Instead, about 8 pm, the snow started swirling under the street lights. I called the Chef. He slipped outside. They closed the restaurant early, and I drove to pick him up, slowly.

On the drive home, he guided me. I had never driven in real snow before. But with him by my side, I feel like I could do anything.

At home, we danced in the snow, stuck our fingers in the street to see how much snow had accumulated (about two inches, or up to our middle knuckles), and threw snowballs at each other. He made the mistake of saying I threw like a girl. He got it in the chest. We giggled.

We can't help it. We're so giddy hopelessy in love, little kids and fully adults.

I'm convinced of it — living a life of food, where we dwell in our senses instead of the theoretical part of our brains makes us feel more alive. Everything tastes good.

Now, we are inside, after taking these goofy photos of each other. There is chicken roasting in the oven, sizzling in its own juices behind me. Red quinoa bubbles in chicken stock, with mustard and red wine. Baby bok choy, pumpkin seed oil, and a good bottle of wine.

See what the snow brings?

28 November 2006

when Chez Panisse calls...

gluten-free cream puffs, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The other day, the Chef and I were driving toward his restaurant, ready for another day at the office (as he would say). It was the day after Thanksgiving, the day of feasting and overeating, so you would think we would be sated on food talk. Oh no. Not us.

He had printed off that week’s menu from Chez Panisse, and he was reading it to me as I drove. As is true for most chefs, I’m sure, my Chef is obsessed with other people’s menus. He stops at the front window of any restaurant we pass, even the ones we know are mediocre, and studies the specials and lists of entrees. We look up our favorite restaurants online and see what they are serving. The Chef would never copy a dish directly, but this studying does inspire some fabulous ideas of his own. (It’s much like me reading novels and MFK Fisher and other people’s blogs.) It’s an essential part of what we do. We never work alone.

So there it was, the day after Thanksgiving, and he is reading me one inspired dish after dessert after meal. Neither one of us has ever been to Chez Panisse, but both of us have always wanted to go. (Oh, perhaps the honeymoon?) As soon as I came to know the world of good food, I knew of Alice Waters and her endeavors. Of course, as soon as I started reading David Lebovitz’s wonderful, snarky blog (and then met him!), I knew that I wanted to go where he used to be the pastry even more. The Chef? It is one of his biggest dreams, to eat within that home.

He read fish dishes and local vegetables and inspired choices, all of which sounded fantastic. But I don’t remember them, because I heard something that made my gut twinge open. Meyer lemon cream puffs.

“Meyer lemon cream puffs?” I said, as we slowed to a stop light.

“Yep,” he said, intending to go on.

I didn’t hear anything else after that. Inside my head, I just heard, Meyer lemon cream puffs. Meyer lemon cream puffs.

The Chef saw my face and laughed. He knows me well now. He knows when some idea has taken hold.

I love Meyer lemons. Last year, I invented a Meyer lemon sorbet, which I have made many times since. I made simple syrups with Meyer lemons, lemon meringue pie with Meyer lemons, and sprayed their juices over meats and salads. When they were gone, I missed them. But now, it’s Meyer lemon season again. I’m in heaven.

Now, I have never made cream puffs before. I have only eaten them on special occasions. They always seemed like confections that only master bakers could make, even before I could eat gluten.

But in a continuing series of explorations in yes since I was diagnosed with celiac, I knew that I could not go the rest of my life without making cream puffs. Paradoxically, because they would be gluten-free, I did not feel any compulsion for these to be any good. No one expects that much of gluten-free baked goods anyway, right?

Last night, the Chef looked over my shoulder as I stirred a påte a choux, or a warm pastry dough, to form into puff pastry [oops! that should read cream puffs. thanks, lee]. Just the phrase påte a choux would have intimidated me before my celiac diagnosis. But now, I just know it’s water, butter, a bit of sugar, and salt, plus gluten-free flours, heated in a pot. That’s it. He helped me to know when it was done, how to cook the flour a bit more. And when I had finished the pastry dough with the eggs, he helped me shape the pastry into little dollops and slip them on the silpat. And then we watched them rise in the oven, hot puffs rising golden and warm, like little pockets of hot air amidst the cold.

And with the meyer-lemon ricotta, slipped between the cooled pastries? There they were — Meyer lemon cream puffs. I’m sure they were not nearly as good as the ones they served at Chez Panisse. But you know what? They were good. I could eat them, and I made them. That’s a damned fine feeling.

GLUTEN-FREE CREAM PUFFS WITH MEYER LEMON RICOTTA FILLING, adapted from Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten-Free Baking

½ cup water
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup white rice flour
1/8 cup sweet rice flour
1/8 cup tapioca flour
2 large eggs (or perhaps 3; see notes)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Spoon the water, butter, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as the butter is melted, add the gluten-free flours. Stir and stir until the ingredients are incorporated together. A crust will immediately develop on the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry — this is what is supposed to happen. That crust is a sign you are on the right track. When the mixture is complete, and has become a ball of dough, keep stirring and cooking for a minute, so that you can cook the flours in the ball of dough. Set the pot aside.

Move the ball of dough to a stand mixer. (I’m sure this will work if you mix it by hand, but we have a KitchenAid.) With the mixer running, drop one egg into the pastry dough and let it run until the egg has become incorporated. Drop the next egg into the dough, and continue to mix until the second egg has incorporated. (If it still doesn’t look right, add a little of the third egg.) Add the vanilla and stir.

The dough will be soft, but not runny. Ideally, you would spoon the dough into a pastry bag and push out little cream puff shapes on the baking sheet. However, two spoons will also do. Take a spoonful in one spoon, then scoop under it with the other spoon, shaping and molding, back and forth between the spoons until you have formed a soft, rounded shape. Drop it carefully onto the baking sheet. (Ideally, you’d use a silpat here. If you don’t own one, be sure to butter that baking sheet.)

Mix the remaining egg and milk together, beating lightly. Carefully, brush this over the tops of the cream puff dough.

Put the baking sheet into the oven and bake the puffs for twenty to twenty-five minutes. You will know they are done when they have puffed up and out, and the tops will be golden brown. Also, you should be able to tap the bottom of one and hear a hollow sound. Pull them out of the oven and set them aside to cool.

Fill with your favorite filling. For the Meyer lemon filling, see the ancillary recipe below.

Makes about ten cream puffs.


12 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
juice of three Meyer lemons
zest of three Meyer lemons
½ cup sugar

Combine all the ingredients together. When they have mixed well, put the ricotta mixture into a fine-mesh sieve and set it over a bowl. Let the ricotta sit in the refrigerator overnight. By the next morning, all the water will have drained from the ricotta, leaving a firm, lemony ricotta. Spoon this mixture into the cream puffs to make Meyer lemon cream puffs.

27 November 2006

a slice of warm cornbread on a cold night.

gluten-free cornbread, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last night, it snowed in Seattle. For those of you who live in the Midwest or the Northeastern part of the United States, this may not sound like much to you. But here, in our lovely grey-skied city, snow is an event worth mentioning. It seems to snow only once or twice a year, if that. Some years, it never snows at all.

(Of course, that means that anyone who drives here in the snow is suddenly a big, panicky ninny. More people abandon their cars by the side of the freeway in two inches of snow than I can tell without being embarrassed for my fellow Seattleites. The Chef, who comes from Colorado originally, continues to be amazed.)

This month is just a few showers short of being the rainiest month in Seattle history. That’s over 15.33 inches of rain, folks. It has poured and lashed and blown sideways and drenched us and continued, unrelenting, for twenty-five days straight. Normally, I proclaim proudly that Seattle rarely lives up to its outside reputation of raining all the time. Pshaw, I want to say. It’s practically balmy here. But you know what? This month? I was ready to take an ax to a tree and start hewing wood for an ark. Sheesh.

Yesterday afternoon, however, the black clouds loomed over the mountains, the sky swirled with wind, and the air nuzzled against our skin with cold fingers. The Chef looked up and said, “It’s going to snow today. You watch it.”

About four in the afternoon, as we drove back from an hour-long stroll through one of our favorite grocery stores, I saw white flakes swirling in front of our headlights. “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” Imagine me driving, and clapping my hands in front of my face in a dozen little claps, bouncing up and down in my seat. After the Chef put a hand on my leg to remind me to not do all this while I drove, he also giggled. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was laughing at me. A man from Colorado, driving in a car with a woman who grew up in Southern California, exclaiming over twenty-five flakes of snow.

But, it turns out, he was simply delighted. He loves how much joy I take in life. He loves how happy the simplest moments make me. He enjoys it because he reacts to life the same way. So, he was merely laughing near me.

Several hours later, after we had cleaned the kitchen and prepared dinner, we looked outside to see all the sidewalks covered in snow, the streets slicked with white, and flurries dancing under the street lights. “Hey, let’s go for a walk,” he suggested. Absolutely.

Bundled up and holding hands through heavy gloves, we walked down our familiar sidewalks transformed into white silence. We shook tree branches, remarked that the shadow of snowflakes on the ground looked like gnats dancing in abandon, and stuck out our tongues to taste the new snow. Seriously, we were like a montage sequence out of a romantic comedy. I know — we’re pretty sickening.

However, it didn’t take us long to turn to thoughts of food. “You know what I would love on a night like this?” he said, squeezing my arm. “Chili and cornbread.”

“Oh yes,” I said, our pace quickening simultaneously to reach home faster. “With sharp cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream.” He had already started marinating the pork tenderloin, so we would have to save the chili for another day. But the cornbread? We had all the fixings. Half an hour later, we were eating.

The night didn’t feel so cold after that first bite.

GLUTEN-FREE CORNBREAD, adapted from a recipe on the PCC website

½ cup white rice flour
¼ cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup sorghum flour
¾ cup cornmeal (like you would use to make polenta)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons rich, high-quality honey
2/3 cup plain, gluten-free yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons melted butter

Turn the oven on against the cold and let it preheat to 400°. Grease a square or round baking pan with your favorite oil or butter.

Mix the gluten-free flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set that bowl aside.

Measure out the sour cream, butter, honey, and melted butter. Mix them all together. Whisk in the eggs and beat them all together until the liquids have become a coherent mixture.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir it all together until just moistened.

Pour the cornbread batter into the pan and bake the cornbread for twenty minutes, or until the top has reached the golden color you desire. Let it cool for a few moments.

This cornbread is particularly good with soft butter and the same honey you used to make the batter.

Serves six.

26 November 2006

seven months.

seven months, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Late this morning — actually, pretty close to noon — the Chef and I left our bed and walked into the kitchen. Yes, we slept in late. But mostly, we lounged together, all morning long, listening to Breakfast with the Beatles and reading the newspaper. We both work hard — ten-hour days sometimes — so it was a welcome relief to finally have a Sunday with nowhere to go, no friends to see, no activities planned. We could be for each other.

When we finally emerged into the kitchen, the Chef took a look in the refrigerator. “Honey, I’ll be right back,” he said, his voice echoing into quiet down the stairs. I made us some strong coffee and checked my email. A few moments later, I heard him come into the kitchen as I typed away at the computer. When I turned toward him, I saw him pull two champagne flutes out of the freezer.

He had been to the store, to buy us navel oranges, and a bottle of champagne. While I ran over to kiss him, grateful for every moment, he squeezed some orange juice, then poured us mimosas.

“Happy anniversary, baby,” he grinned at me, clinking our glasses.

Oh, this man. How did I get so lucky?

Today is our seven-month anniversary. Last month, I posted the essay about us getting married. Today, our celebration has been more private. I am told that after we have been together for ten or fifteen years, we might not mark every 26th of the month. But you know what? I’m pretty sure we will. Because we were in our late thirties when we met and therefore lived most of our lives alone, because we have both been through hard times enough to appreciate the lives we have, and because we are both just ecstatic little kids at living those lives — we are going to keep celebrating. Every morning, we say I love you, the first moment our eyes are open. And every day, we say what has moved us. We are not waiting for later. He makes me tear up with his constant thoughtful actions, he makes me laugh hard seventy-four times a day, and he makes me the best food I have ever eaten. How could I not love this man?

We clinked our glasses and drank our toasts to each other. And then he set out to make us breakfast: gluten-free eggs benedict with prosciutto and hollandaise sauce made on the spot. Oh god, I cannot describe it. Eggs benedict in a restaurant never tasted like this.

And the rest of the day? Grocery shopping. Cleaning the kitchen (as you can imagined, this one is well-used). Eating a gluten-free cornbread I made up on the spot. Walking in the early darkness, through snow that has just begun to fall.

And at the moment, he is putting the finishing touches on a pork tenderloin he has been marinating for hours, in meyer lemons, ginger, clementine juice, tamari sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and cilantro. I am writing by his side, in the kitchen. He just dipped his finger in the reduction sauce he has made from that marinade (plus rice wine vinegar and chicken stock) and ran over to me to let me taste it. I felt like a baby bird, being fed from above. That taste — earthy, slightly sweet, unexpected depth, layers upon layers of surprises — it tastes like him.

It doesn’t require much to be happy in this world. It certainly doesn’t require a lot of money. We’re not rich, in cash at least. But in living? We feel like millionaires.

Anyone who tells you that living gluten-free is deprivation? Tell that person to change her mind. It’s just being alive.

Happy Anniversary, baby. I love you, forever.

25 November 2006

a palate cleanser

red pear, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I walked into the restaurant yesterday afternoon, bringing the Chef a big cup of coffee before I drove off to write all day long, I kissed him. And then he handed me one of these.

"Would you like a stark red crimson pear?" he asked me as he kissed me again.

His produce delivery had arrived, boxes of organic salad mix and locally grown herbs and arugula for the fish special. He had asked for five pounds of these, for poaching with the flourless walnut cake. Instead, they had sent an entire case. He had some to spare.

I took a bite, of its crisp sweetness, the skin a startling red against creamy white flesh. I smiled. It was the perfect palate cleanser after all that Thanksgiving food.

I drove off smiling, headed towards my writing.

24 November 2006

some of what I learned on Thanksgiving this year

gluten-free stuffing, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Every day, I learn more. And from yesterday's festivities:

-- make the pumpkin pies the night before Thanksgiving. Usually, I do this, without fail. This year, I was so busy writing and making cranberry relish and catching up on correspondence that I forgot. Just plain forgot! This is why I woke up at 7:12 in the morning, with a start, and bolted into the kitchen to make a pie crust, almost literally in my sleep.

-- if you run out of rice flour for that pie crust, a little teff holds it all together. The crust will be beige-brown before you bake it, but it will taste just as good.

-- waiting two hours in a ferry line to reach Vashon is infinitely better with the Chef in the car. Between kissing, laughing, telling stories of childhood Thanksgivings, and listening to familiar music, that time raced past us like the fat raindrops on the windowsill.

-- instead of worrying about composing a shot carefully, raise the camera to your eyes to capture it just as you see it. That's what the Chef did in this shot of the turbulent water off the front of the boat, spontaneously. Beautiful.

-- when you run out of regular sugar, powdered sugar really won't substitute in a pie. I should have remembered, because the morning before I had to use powdered sugar in the Chef's coffee. He said it made no difference. In a pumpkin pie, it makes a difference. Later in the day, Elliott took a bite of my pumpkin pie, turned to his mother, and said, "I want a piece of our pie, Mama." Oh well. At least it wasn't the gluten-free crust he did not like.

-- if you have another piece of the only slightly sweetened pumpkin pie, it actually starts to taste better than the regular pie. We eat too much sugar anyway. Rearrange your taste buds and you don't miss the sugar.

-- gluten-free stuffing, cooked with toasted cubes of the baguettes from the Gluten-free Pantry's French bread and pizza crust mix, is tremendous. Just tremendous. No one missed the gluten.

-- watching your one true love and your brother in the kitchen, cooking together, can stop your heart with happiness, for a moment.

-- the notion that one has to rise at five am to put the turkey in the oven — thus increasing the myth of mother as martyr — is poppycock. The Chef cooked our turkey in just about two hours, and it was golden-brown and juicy.

-- family feasts are moments of grace, when you are with the right people, in the right moment. That split second before everyone raises the forks and digs in? That is bliss.

-- gluten-free gravy that your fiance cooked, encircling mashed potatoes made from little butterballs that your brother grew in his garden, is a sight that will remain in the mind forever.

-- three-year-old nephews can dominate a family dinner with more delight than any other person.

-- when said three-year-old nephew asks you and your honey (his soon-to-be uncle) to pretend to eat baked slugs, stinky socks, limburger cheese, and piles of wasabi, you throw yourself into it and contort your face, just to hear him laugh. When you look over and see your favorite man beside you, holding your hand, and scrunching up his face to look as much a fool as you do, you fall in love with him even more.

-- it is possible to have an entirely gluten-free, gourmet Thanksgiving dinner, with not a hint of deprivation, and everything tasting of love.

-- your first Thanksgiving with the love of your life, with your family whom you adore, all of them together, as natural as breathing? Joy.

And how was your Thanksgiving?

23 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving, to everyone reading.

This year, I am so filled with gratitude that I cannot begin to list it. This year, I would like to say, simply: thank you.

For everyone reading who has written to thank me, to share recipes and ideas, and to inspire me to keep posting gluten-free goodness as often as I can: thank you.

For everyone who has written in the last few days -- and even today -- to tell me that you made your first gluten-free Thanksgiving with the recipes we have posted in the last week: thank you.

For my family, my friends, my book publishers, my agent, the clerks at the grocery store across the street, the people who have grown my food for me, the world: thank you.

And of course, my gratitude toward the Chef coming into my life this year knows no bounds. I have no words. Just, thank you, my love.

I hope that you all had a Thanksgiving filled with laughter, memorable food, and an ease of mind that allowed you to be here fully today.

The Chef and I would like to wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. We hope you felt filled with gratitude toward the world.

22 November 2006

a simple recipe for cranberry chutney

cranberries, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I know — it's the day before Thanksgiving. In fact, as I type this, it's after 11 pm the night before Thanksgiving. You have probably already made your cranberry sauce. In fact, some of you may have given in to temptation and bought those terrible cans of cranberry sauce, the stuff that comes out with the rings of the metal tin embedded in the sides. Ay god, that stuff is awful, once you have tasted real cranberrry chutney.

But, just in case you are still wondering what to do with those bags of cranberries, here's a simple recipe the Chef just showed me how to make. In fact, our batch is cooling in the refrigerator right now. So you see -- after 11 pm the night before? That's not too late.


1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 bags cranberries (or about six cups)
1 tablespoon citrus honey
zest of one orange

Bring the orange juice and sugar to a boil. When it is rapidly boiling, add the cinnamon stick and cranberries. Turn the heat to low and stir the cranberries, constantly, at first.

After ten minutes or so, the cranberries will start to pop and break down. Continue to stir, but a little less frequently now. Leave the pot uncovered to speed the process along.

After about half an hour, the cranberries will have popped, released their liquid, and started to reduce. At this point, add the honey and the orange zest, then pour the mixture into a casserole dish and spread it all out to one layer. Refrigerate overnight.

Serve at Thanksgiving dinner.

Makes enough for eight people.