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31 October 2006

Happy Halloween, little guy.

Elliott, my glorious little nephew, is old enough now -- at nearly four -- to truly enjoy Halloween. What does this mean?

Last night, as we were all walking down the darkened streets of downtown Vashon, Elliott looked up at my sister-in-law, then looked down at his little plastic pumpkin receptacle, then said, "Mama, I want to get more and more candy!"

Way to go, little guy. You have joined the rest of American culture.

Halloween on Vashon was truly extraordinary this year. Since I became an adult, I've felt blasé (and perhaps even a bit hostile) toward Halloween. After all, the holiday seems to be an excuse for drunkenness and people trying to outdo each other with clever costume ideas. No thank you. And after I was about ten, I no longer felt comfortable parading around neighborhoods, asking for candy. But this year, I did, again.

This year, I went trick or treating with Boingy the Super Kitty.

Elliott decided a month ago that he would like to be a black cat for Halloween. "But not a scary one," he said. "A nice cat, soft and friendly." Well, who could resist that? But, after weeks of asking to put on his cat costume nearly every day, the little guy began to elaborate on his character. He became Boingy the Super Kitty, the cat with lasers attached to his claws. "You might even see him flying in the sky sometimes, actually."

(Elliott has decided that actually is his favorite word in the English language, and he spills it through nearly every sentence he utters these days. "I would like to go play in the car, actually. Actually, Mama, I would like you to put on my costume now, actually." The Chef and I sprinkled our conversations with it throughout the day, without ever intending it.)

Every day, for the past few weeks, Elliott has asked his dad, "When is Halloween, Daddy?" When my brother would reply — in about ten days — Elliott would come back fifteen minutes later and says, "Has it been ten days yet?" To say he was kercited really was an understatement. It was as though he had already eaten his night's candy, every day.

So, how could the Chef and I resist the chance to spend Halloween with the boy? The Chef happened to have the evening off from work, and he loves my nephew. In fact, he has been referring to Elliott as his nephew for months now. This man. Oh, this man. The way he loves children, and Elliott in particular, just flattens me. The look in his eyes when we talk about the children we want to have? It gets me, every time.

It turns out that Elliott needed a babysitter for the day, since his daycare had fallen through, unexpectedly. So, the Chef and I rose at 6 to catch a 7:05 ferry, to take care of the boy. That's love. And, once again, I was struck by the thought: I used to wake up at this time every day. How did I ever do it? Writing full-time fills me with delight, as well as a full-night's sleep.

There were hundreds of wonderful moments with the boy, including a walk in the wintry woods. But the best part of the day was the hours after darkness.

Vashon — my dear old home — does Halloween right. The police close off the main highway in town, as well as many of the arterial streets, to cars trying to pass through. This makes the tiny business section of the island a child's paradise. Every business, from the office supply store to the hunter's pub, is decorated for Halloween and manned by an employee with a big bowl of candy. One of the real estate offices had an entire pirates' dungeon in their office, complete with skeleton prisoners and pirates in striped tights fighting with plastic swords. There were horse and carriage rides down the main drag, as well as an inexplicable performance artist piece with dancers dressed in white horse masks pushing lit-up white baby carriages. (I don't know any more than you.) And everywhere, kids in costumes, demanding candy.

My brother dressed up as such a realistic grunge guy, complete with a long black wig, that one of his fourth-grade students who spotted him on the street nearly froze in terror.

There was also a solid line of horse dung down the middle of the road. "Don't be scared, Evan," Elliott told his best friend. "That's just poop."

Boingy the Super Kitty was alternately kercited or terrified by the festivities. His hands were cold (it was only 29° here last night; brrrr!). The big kids were too big and swarmed over him in a manic attempt to fetch another miniature chocolate bar from the camera shop's scary woman in a mask.

However, when all else loomed large and surreal, Elliott comforted himself the way we all do on Halloween. He pulled a lollipop from his plastic pumpkin tub, asked his mama to unwrap it, and popped it in his mouth.

He even offered one to me, once. Thank goodness, Toosie Roll pops are gluten-free.

All this joy and absurdity set me thinking, however. How hard it must be for a kid with food allergies on Halloween. Every kid is clamoring for candy, and your mom has to inspect every brand before she will allow you to put it in your plastic pumpkin. Do you have a nut allergy? There goes nearly every packaged candy. Can't eat gluten, like me? There are few and far between. The holidays are just another reason to feel set apart.

Well, at least there is always the comfort of Tootsie Rolls, actually. By now, every kid in the country has a sore belly from too much candy, anyway. But I'm grateful that all Elliott has to worry about on Halloween night is cold hands, big kids, and the plastic wings of his Boingy the Super Kitty costume being bumped too hard and falling off into the road.

30 October 2006

spreading awareness of celiac disease

olive bread, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Hi, my name is Shauna, and I have celiac sprue.

Those of you who are regular readers of this website won't be surprised by the statement above. In fact, you may be wondering why I am bothering to repeat it again. You want to know why?

Sometimes, I can hardly believe it myself. Even though I keep this website, and I am writing a book about my gluten-free experiences and recipes, and I educate someone about celiac nearly every day, it seems — I still have to shake my head and say it out loud.

It's not because I miss gluten. In fact, the sight of glutened treats does absolutely nothing for me anymore. (Okay, occasionally when the Chef has bread with one of our fabulous midnight meals, I feel a little twinge of missing it.) Something in my brain seems to have switched off. I don't want gluten. After all, a few crumbs ingested inadvertently can make me sick for two days. Why would I want that?

No, instead, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this. After all, I had never heard of celiac disease before I was diagnosed. I had been sick and weak and anemic and prone to catching every cold for decades. No one ever uttered the word celiac. I did not hear the word gluten until I was in my late twenties and starting to make bread from scratch. When I was a senior in high school, I took an advanced anatomy and physiology class, where we dissected cadavers. I remember, as a senior, doing the dissections for other students, including a study of the intestines. Still, I never had any idea that food could damage my intestines the way they did for most of my life.

If only the awareness of celiac sprue had been as widespread as it is now starting to be, I could have been spared so much suffering.

That is why I keep this website. That is why I have a segment on the Food Network right now. That is why I am writing my book. I want to help everyone else.

Since October is Celiac Awareness Month, I'd like to do my part for those of you reading who come here for the photographs, the recipes, and the love story. Those of you who may have mystery ailments and not know what is causing them. You might just have celiac disease and not know it....

Celiac disease is a genetic intolerance for gluten — the elastic protein in wheat, rye, barley, triticale, kamut, and spelt — and it can damage the small intestine for years, silently, or at least in a language that most of us do not know how to recognize. People with headaches dismiss it as stress, those with achy joints wonder if they are experiencing early arthritis, and women with gynecological problems blame it on the hormones. Yet, each of these can be symptoms of celiac disease. For various genetic reasons, the celiac’s body reads gluten as a toxin and attacks it. The antibodies go after the gluten but attack the small intestine instead, leaving it incapable of absorbing proper nutrition. At best, this leaves people feeling exhausted, anxious without knowing why, and always catching colds. Worse yet, it can lead to cancer of the colon and a triggering of other autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes or thyroid problems.

According to the National Institute of Health, celiac disease is the most under-diagnosed disease in the United States. For years, medical schools taught erroneously that celiac disease was a childhood disorder, as rare as 1 in 3000 people. A prominent doctor in Seattle told me, after my diagnosis, that he spent a grand total of five minutes learning about celiac disease in medical school. Now, it is understood that 1 out of 133 Americans suffer from celiac disease. (And the numbers seem to be shifting, as the medical community understands this more thoroughly.) That means there are 2 million people in the United States who should be living gluten-free. Only three percent have been diagnosed — that means millions of people floundering in pain and discomfort for decades without knowing why.

We can change that number, as awareness of celiac disease grows, exponentially. How many of you know someone — a sister, an uncle, an old boyfriend — who had to avoid gluten? Frankly, I have not met anyone yet who is isolated from this. We are all in this together.

Since I started writing this website, a dear friend and my cousin both realized they had celiac disease after hearing my stories. And I have heard from a number of you who stumbled on my site through another food blog, and then realized that you needed to ask your doctor about celiac as well. Maybe you — that's right, you — reading this now have celiac sprue and you don't even know it. If this little piece of writing triggers recognition in one person, I'm happy. Two million people suffering for no reason simply will not do.

If any of this sounds familiar, or you would just like to know more, take a look at this fact sheet, entitled Do I Have Celiac?, from the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness. Also, for a thorough, scientific write-up of this dilemma, take a look at the write-up on celiac from the National Institute of Health.

(And I'd like to say thank you to Kelly and Kim from Celiac Chicks, the ever-cool women from New York who urged me to speak out about this. You rock.)

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to share another bit of good news, all in the name of spreading awareness. Starting with the December issue, I will be the regular columnist about living gluten-free for the relatively new magazine, Allergic Living. Published in Canada, but available by subscription in the United States as well, Allergic Living is a smart, well-written publication for those of us with food allergies. Instead of focusing on what we cannot eat, Allergic Living focuses on how good life can be, even with dangerous allergies. As you can imagine, I agree. The editor, Gwen Smith is an excellent editor with a respected background in journalism. The magazine is a great read. I'm honored to be part of the team.

If you would like to see a preview of my column, you can read it here. If you would like my recipe for the olive loaf you see pictured above — and it tastes better than it looks — well, you are just going to have buy the magazine!

Or, wait for the publication of my book, Gluten-Free Girl, next fall. But really, that's just too long to wait, isn't it?

29 October 2006

almond butter cookies + choocolate chips = good

almond butter cookie, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

There's an old hostessing adage that says when you are having people over for a party, you should only serve them tried and true favorites. In other words, never conduct food experiments on your guests.

Well, we don't live by that rule in this house.

This afternoon, the Chef and I had a party. A handful of friends came in and out the door, toting cheese and onion dishes, wines from the Columbia Valley, white bean dip, and clams made up in a spicy red pepper liquid. Brandon came up the stairs with more presents from Goodwill in his hands, including six of these fabulous wine glasses without stems, which the Chef and I have been coveting for months, but worried they were too expensive. Brandon found them for 39 cents each at the thrift store for us. Oh, that Brandon. No wonder Molly is marrying him.

I love throwing parties. Clean the house (even up to the last moment), simmer a soup, toss a salad, and put on music — voila! It's party time. Quinn and Alison, Traca, Brandon, Lisa and Mane, Jeff and Daniel — these people more than fill a room. We marveled at the weirdness of the weather ("Baby, it's hailing outside! It looks like snow!"), discussed politics, and traded suggestions of restaurants that captivate us. Mostly, we gathered in the living room and laughed until the light grew dim.

The Chef put together a soup we have been testing for the book: curried carrot with cranberry chutney. Believe me, it will be worth the wait for that recipe. I made a wild green salad with pomegranate seeds and a fig balsamic/lemon olive oil dressing. That went fast. And halfway through the party, I made these cookies.

After I posted the peanut butter cookie recipe a few weeks ago, I found a barrage of comments on the website from readers eager to try more kinds. Someone suggested almond butter. Another suggested jam on the top. They simmered in my mind until I tried it today.

There was silence in the room as everyone ate these. Then, oh yes, we said. Oh yes.


Where the flourless peanut butter cookies taste silky soft, these have the density of shortbread. There is something marvelously mellow about them, the almonds not asserting themselves too much in the mouth. Simple as laughing with friends, they taste more difficult than they are to make. Chewy, slightly nutty, a small sweetness, with a few crumbles left over on the tongue -- these are well worth making.

Before I put the first batch in the oven, I told Brandon I was going to top them with my favorite marmalade (more on this tomorrow). He agreed, but he wanted to try chocolate instead. Inspired, he ran across the street for chocolate chips. We dropped them in little clusters on the indentations of the cookies, then baked them for one more moment. A little like chocolate ganache, as Traca suggested. A lot like goodness we could all endorse heartily. It's worth making this new recipe for guests.

one cup of almond butter
one cup of white sugar
one egg
two teaspoons of baking powder

Cream the almond butter and sugar together by mixing them well, until they have become one coherent mixture. Add the egg and stir. Add the baking powder and stir. The dough should be one lovely almond ball, all the individual ingredients transformed into something else.

Roll a piece of dough half the size of your palm into a solid ball. Dunk it in sugar and roll it around until it is covered and shimmering. Fill a baking sheet — preferably covered with a silpat, or parchment paper will do — with the balls of dough. Press them down with a fork for that traditional tine pattern. Place them in a 350° oven, which you have been heating for at least fifteen minutes.

Bake for nine minutes. Take the baking sheet out of the oven, press down on each soft cookie with the back of a spoon, and watch a little indentation form. Take a few chocolate chips and place them in that divet. When you have accomplished this with all the cookies on the baking sheet, put the sheet back in the oven for one minute. (Or, until the chocolate chips have started to melt a bit at the edges, quivery, almost liquid.)

With a butter knife, spread the melted chocolate chips across the indentation in the cookie. Lift up. (Good luck not licking the knife.) Carefully, move the cookies to a cooling rack. They will be a bit fragile at this point. Let the cookies cool for ten minutes. Then, you may serve them to your guests.

Makes a dozen cookies (or more, if you can stand to make them smaller).

28 October 2006

autumn, splayed out

chanterelle, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Every Saturday, late morning or early afternoon, the Chef and I pass the mushroom stall at the University District, then double back. Even though Jeremy or Christina will be delivering another bag full of mushrooms to the restaurant later in the week, the Chef might just need some that night for the fish special. Or for pickling, then placing them in a paté. Or maybe we just want to say hello, again.

Jeremy and Christina run Foraged and Found Edibles. For the most part, they make their living by digging in the rich earth of the woods around Seattle, and finding the best mushrooms growing at the moment. (When mushrooms are not growing, they take catering jobs.) They sell chanterelles and lobsters, oysters and porcinis, whatever is yielding itself to their hands that week. And then they make their rounds of the best restaurants in the city, walking in during the afternoon, before dinner service, and handing over mushrooms only hours away from the forest to the chefs ready in their kitchens.

Including my Chef.

I love these two, the way they have made their living through food. And their mushrooms are incredible. These chanterelles? Mmmmwhaah. (That's the sound of me kissing my fingers into the air.)

Also, they're just plain beautiful.

27 October 2006

mussels are gluten-free

mussels close-up, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

After yesterday's loooong and lovey-dovey post — I just couldn't help it; the Chef and I are getting married! — this one will be brief.

I have only this to say about the mussels the Chef is making at his restaurant right now, the ones with cream, Dijon mustard, and fresh rosemary:


26 October 2006


yes ring, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

“And yes, I said, yes, I will Yes.”

Back in February — a lifetime ago, now — I got my first tattoo. Surrounded by friends, I sat, waiting, for a man with tattoo-festooned arms to ink a design onto my arm. A simple design, so simple that this East Village professional was a little annoyed that he had so little to do. Yes. In small, plain letters, on the top of my left wrist, I had yes permanently inked onto my skin.

Why? There were, of course, so many reasons. I wanted it placed there so I could look at that word instead of a watch. Whenever we look at our watches, we are saying no. I want to be somewhere else. Oh god, I’m late. I wish this would end. They are all ways of denying the moment as it exists. I felt a shift happening in my life. I wanted to look at yes instead.

In February, I had just finished my first book proposal and sent it off to New York, hoping a fabulous literary agent would like it well enough to sign me. I had been writing this site for nine months, and I was waiting for something to be born. I had been writing all my life, and I knew it was time to jump into the world of full-time writers. I didn’t know the way, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted to say yes to what my gut said,d what my life wanted. I wanted to say yes.

But I was starting to say no. Not to writing. Never to writing. But I was ready to say no to dating. At 39, my 40th year loomed large. Even though I had rich stories of loving relationships and horrendous blind dates both, I just couldn’t seem to find anyone to match me. The entire process exhausted me. It seemed my energies were going elsewhere — into writing, into food, into helping people through both of these means. I was ready to throw away the possibility of ever finding someone to marry.

However, after my trip in New York, I decided to open myself to it, one more time. Several friends of mine there looked resplendently happy with partners they had met through online dating. Even in the bitter cold, I noticed couples walking down the streets of Manhattan and felt jealous. And at the core of me, there is always hope.

So I remembered the end of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, the last line of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a book so important to me I had read it four times. Thinking of her husband, with whom she has been struggling, she remembers again when they met, and how he asked her to go out with him, and she said, “And yes, I said, yes, I said, yes.”

I said yes. I said it on my wrist. I went home, I signed up for, and I tried again.

At the end of April, I met the Chef.

“yes” — with an underline

When I was a high-school teacher, I wrote words all over the margins of my students’ papers. Sometimes they were directives to change confusing sentences. Sometimes I encouraged them. But once in a great while, when a student wrote a sentence so authentic and direct, so startling and real, I ceased to be the teacher correcting a paper. I became again another human being, responding to a connection I felt in that writing. And then, I wrote yes, with an underline beneath it.

I felt that way the day I met the Chef. April 26th, in the late morning, at a coffee shop filled with sunlight. And when we saw each other, we both recognized each other. When we began talking, we felt like friends. Sure, there was enormous physical attraction, but that was not the deepest flavor. Instead, we felt comfort. We laughed, mostly. We slipped into the conversation like sliding into warm water, and we haven’t left yet.

Talking with him felt like keeping my hand wrapped around a warm cup of coffee. That conversation tasted like potato-leek soup, like apple crisp, like goulash just out of the oven. We wafted vanilla and sugar between us. We devoured each other’s words, and every one of them felt like yes.

And when he hugged me, at the end of our first date, I almost started crying. It felt that good. He held me, his arms strong around me, pressing me into him. And in that moment, I honestly felt all the loving that would follow, all the days together, all the laughing and comfort. That moment is when I said yes to him.

Six months later, he says to me, nearly every day, with awe and appreciation in his voice, “ I have been waiting for you all my life.” And I want to write yes, with an underline, in the air. I feel the same. There might be other lifetimes between us before this. Who knows? I only know yes. I only know how much I love him.

Soulmate is a word I once would have thought read like a cliché in my students’ papers, back when I was alone. But I’m not a teacher anymore. Now, I believe in soulmate, now that I have found mine.

Yes — with an exclamation point, which is laughter

When I laugh, uncontrollably, I shout out yes! Laughing is one of the places I feel most alive, all my senses open, everything playing. That was in my mind when I had the tattoo put on me too. Yes!

The other night, after a day full of writing for me, and a day full of cooking for the Chef, we were cuddling on the couch. A gorgeous dinner, glasses of good red wine, South Park on the dvd. We have a South Park love, we like to say, which is just as terrifying and hilarious as you can imagine. We love its daring, its wordplay, its bawdy humor. We love laughing, and it makes us laugh.

The Chef and I skip down the street, spontaneously, frequently. We are ridiculously silly. We call each other ten times a day and speak in silly, high-pitched voices to say not much at all. We have a thousand inside jokes. We tease each other relentlessly. And mostly, we love laughing with each other, our bellies full of giggles, as much as we love eating together, our bellies full of food. It’s one of the ways we are alive together.

So, the other night, we were cuddling on the couch, happy and sleepy. Just before I fell asleep, he looked at me, with that devilish glint in his eye, and then he attacked me. His fingers reached into all the places he knew would most move me, and he dove in with full force. He tickled me. He tickled me so hard I thrashed and screamed, giggling and saying, “Stop! Stop!” He knew I didn’t want him to stop. It felt good, in that delicious thrill of a way that the love of your life deciding to be a little kid and give you enormous delight feels good. He giggled at me, thrust his face into me, and made me explode with giggles. I laughed so hard I started shouting, “Yes!”


Yes to being alive.

I first thought of this tattoo after I survived my car accident. Wracked with pain, unable to spend more than a few hours out of bed for months on end, I made the conscious decision to maintain my joy for life. When pain seared my bones, I reminded myself where the pain came from, and how easy it would be for me to not be here. I was alive. It was enough.

When I lay on the couch a year later, weak and enfeebled, back to pain but a different kind, not sure why I was withering away, I still noticed the early spring light coming through the windows. I still said yes to life. When I found out it was celiac disease, and all I had to do was stop eating gluten to find my health again, I never thought of all the foods I had to live without. I thought only, yes. Yes to being alive. Yes to all the foods that do not contain gluten that I can eat. Yes to food and being awake and my body healing.Yes to all of this.

The other evening, the Chef stood at the same window where I strained to see light in the midst of illness. I was across the room, typing. With enormous enthusiasm, he urged me. “Sweet pea, come look at this sunset!” I ran to him and saw the purples and oranges streaking across the sky. He put his arm around me and squeezed my shoulder. Struck again by his un-jaded appreciation of the moments of beauty in our lives, I said to him, “I love how much you adore life, my love.”

He looked at me with his eyes wide and said, “Of course I do. I’m alive. What’s not to like?”

We both understand near-death experiences. We both seize opportunities as they rise. We dance in the kitchen. We kiss every chance we have. We see every day as an adventure. And we eat our dinners with such enormous gusto that you would think it was the last meal for both of us.

We both know. It could be the last meal. We never know when we are going. We like being here now.

Yes to every moment as it arises.

After a difficult life, years of loneliness, a near-death car accident, and discovering that I cannot eat gluten, I have learned. I have learned to say yes to every moment, accepting it as I can, instead of always decrying it, wishing it were something different. After all, every moment is the only time I am ever going to live that moment. I had yes tattooed on my wrist to remind me.

The Chef knows how to live this way too. He lives in his body, instead of dwelling only in the ether air of his brain. Spending all day living in his senses — chopping onions, making veal stock, dreaming up soups and fish specials for hours at a time — makes him practical and alive. He doesn’t think too much. He just greets the day as it arrives to him. I never thought I’d meet a man like this.

He sticks with me in the hard moments — and they do happen, even though they are infrequent — because he knows that I will stick with him. We are committed to each other.

When we are running, and I am sweating and panting, near exhaustion and ready to give up, the Chef comes running back toward me. He sees the doubt in my face, and he steps to my side and touches my belly. We smile at each other, no words necessary, and fall back into rhythm. I have another reason to keep going.

We want to have babies together. We knew that from the start. The Chef loves children. He smiles at every child under five on the street, and they all smile back. He has ten nieces and nephews, who are some of the dearest people in the world to him. He held the first one in his arms when he was thirteen years old, and he says he knew at that moment that he wanted to be a papa.

We began talking about having children only a month after we met, on a bus ride going home. Spontaneously, with no real intention of having this conversation, we began talking about how much we each wanted to have children. At a certain moment, I turned toward him, and said, “Are you talking about children theoretically, or are we talking about our children?”

Here was a moment, arising unexpectedly. He could have denied it, and shied away from this conversation. But not this man. Instead, he says yes.

“I want to have children with you,” he said.

We giggled and kissed. And then we began talking about our children. These children are going to love food, I said. We bandied back and forth about all that we wanted to give them. And then, taking a moment, his eyes filling with tears, he said, “We are going to teach our children to love humanity.”


Danny's ring

Yes, yes, oh yes.

I also wanted yes tattooed on my wrist because yes is what we humans cry out in the middle of the night. It’s what we say in the middle of ecstasy. It’s how we affirm we are alive.

The Chef says yes. He takes care of me. I take care of him. He holds me, in the middle of the night, in the morning. He holds me when I am sick from accidentally getting gluten. He holds me when I am tired at the end of the night, my head on his lap as we lay on the couch, he stroking my hair. I hold him back too. We say yes, together.

Yes through a magnifying glass.

The most powerful reason I wanted that tattoo in February — I didn’t admit to anyone at the time. It felt private, a little silly, and all mine. But still, it was there. It had been since I was fifteen and first became a Beatles fan.

The story goes that when John Lennon first met Yoko Ono, he met her at one of her wacky art shows. As he toured around the strange white shapes, he came upon a ladder in the corner. At the top of the ladder, the ceiling. On the ceiling, a magnifying glass dangling down. As he climbed up the ladder, he expected to see something in the magnifying glass like Stop the War, or Fuck You. He expected it to be incendiary and confrontational. Instead, when he reached the top of the ladder and peered through the magnifying glass, he read, in teeny tiny letters, yes.

He climbed down the ladder and went to meet the artist. Apparently, they spent the entire night talking, two soulmates finally meeting each other. And at dawn, they ate a bowl of cereal and kissed. They were in love. They were never apart.

When I was fifteen, and first read this love story, I thought, “I want one of those!” As I grew older, I grew more jaded about love at first sight, but some part of me still believed. I still wanted it. Relationships waxed and waned, but none of them felt right. I was still looking for someone who said yes.

And so, when I got the tattoo, I thought of this story again. And as silly as it sounds (and it even seemed so to me), I wanted to mark myself with that love story. I thought, “If he is out there, somewhere, that man who’s going to love me fully, he will recognize me when he sees me. He will know this story, and he will know.”

On our first date, the Chef noticed my tattoo. He recognized it. He told me about this later. I didn’t know it at the time. On our third date, as we sat in a park outside Pike Place Market, feeding each other triple cream cheese and kissing, he held my wrist and asked me, “Tell me the story about this.” I started to say all the reasons I have written here. But I noticed that I didn’t want to tell him the John and Yoko story. I wanted him to know it first.

After I had run out of all the other reasons, I started, slowly, “And then there’s this story about John Lennon….”

“And Yoko Ono?” he said.

Startled, I couldn’t talk for a moment.

“You mean the ladder story,” he told me. I nodded.

I told the story, even though it was clear he knew it. When I finished with “…they finally kissed, and they were in love,” he looked at me with tears in his eyes. And then he leaned in for a really long kiss.

“Oh yeah. All right. Boy you’re going to be in my dreams tonight.”

On the first night we spent together, he looked at me and said, “Now it’s time for you to see my tattoo.”

Puzzled, I said, “You have a tattoo?”

He nodded, then slowly took off his shirt. On his upper arm, he has a tattoo of John Lennon. He got it when he was twenty-one.

I just stared at him. You have John Lennon on your arm, I kept saying. You have John Lennon on your arm.

“And you have Yoko on yours,” he told me.

That was when I knew. That long phase of my life — of not feeling well and wondering at my place in life and being alone — was finally done. And the next one, equally long, if not longer — of feeling alive and knowing where I belong and loving this man — had just begun.

I knew it.

Yes, I will.

The first time he asked me, he did it by accident. It was June 18th, Paul McCartney’s 64th birthday. He had been playing me “When I’m 64” for weeks, so we marked the moment. At the end of the evening, he made us a gorgeous dinner. Pan-roasted beef tenderloin, on mashed potatoes, with a port-balsamic-veal stock reduction sauce, with balsamic onions and soft chevre on top. Ay god, this man. Just before we ate, he started to slice up some bread to go with his meal.

Now, he had been eating bread in my house for weeks. By this time, it was our house, anyway. I never complained if he ate gluten. I wanted him to say yes to any food he could eat. But if he eats bread, or drinks beer, we have to wait until he has brushed his teeth before we can kiss. Just the breadcrumbs in his mouth would make me sick.

And so, that night, feeling particularly close to him, I complained for the first time. “Oh, do you have to eat bread tonight?”

Without really turning around, he said, “Honey, you’re marrying a chef. You’re going to have to get used to the fact that he’s going to eat bread.”

What? I said. I turned him around and looked in his eyes, already smiling. “What did you just say?”

He turned red, and said, “I’m going to eat bread.”

We danced around in the kitchen, giggling, not saying it. After all, we had both known, and had been hinting at it, since our first night together. But he had just spoken it out loud. Sort of. He would find his time. We knew where we were going. We didn’t need to be there yet.

Together, we sat down in the living room to eat our dinner. He put on a South Park, the episode called “Cartman’s Mom is a Dirty Slut,” to be precise. I started laughing immediately, and then I took a bite of the food.

Gorgeous, glorious love. Layers of taste, like years together. Every flavor alive. Yes.

He watched me eat his food, as he always does. And when he saw how much I loved it, and thus loved him, he put down his plate. “Oh what the hell,” he said. And then he got down on one knee before me.

Yes, I said. Yes.

We didn’t tell anyone then. He wanted to ask my father’s permission, and he hadn’t met my parents yet. It had only been six weeks since we had met.

A month later, the night I returned home from Sitka — after two weeks of miserable missing each other so physically that we both knew, without a doubt, that our love was real — he made that meal again. He planned it this time. We asked each other. We slipped these rings on each other’s fingers, and we haven’t taken them off since.

And the rest is ours. Some things have to be private.

I haven’t said it here yet, even though some of you have guessed. I am saying it now. I said yes. So did he. And yes, I said, yes, I will Yes.

Today is our six-month anniversary. He is sleeping beside me as I write this, his John Lennon tattoo above the blanket, his sweet face smiling in his sleep. Soon, he will wake up, and I will read this to him, his anniversary present. And then, I will post it, and we will finally let the world know.

16 July 2007.

our rings


And even though it has been months since he asked me, and the rings feel so familiar on our fingers that we could have been born with them on our bodies, he still asks me every day. Every day, he asks me.

And every day, I shout or giggle or whisper or kiss him my answer:

Yes, my love. Yes. Yes, my dear Danny. Yes, I will marry you.


25 October 2006

bread crumbs

bread crumbs, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Did you know that as few bread crumbs as this can make me sick? That any person with celiac could have a reaction from this small cluster of crumbs?

More on this story later.

24 October 2006

WOW brownie

WOW brownie, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

WOW is right.

Sometimes, buying food from a local food producer costs more money than buying mass-produced food. A start-up company in Seattle, called WOW Foods, makes truly delicious gluten-free cookies. These cookies — ginger-molasses; chocolate chip; peanut butter — are the size of a large man’s hand. In other words, they look like the chewy cookies that people who can eat gluten buy in their favorite local bakery. Each cookie costs about $2.50. You may be thinking — yikes! But think about it. How much would you pay for a treat at the bakery?

Why are WOW cookies so expensive? They are made with organic ingredients, the best-quality butter, the finest vanilla flavoring in the world, and natural cane juice, instead of bleached white sugar. These were conscious choices by the people who created the company. All those ingredients cost money. These cookies are worth it. If I am not making gluten-free cookies myself, I buy from this local, small business that insists on making the best cookies they can. That they are gluten-free is essential to my health. That I am supporting people who truly care about food is vital to my mind.

And now, WOW Baking is making brownies? And they are available for sale at the store across the street from me?

Life is good.

23 October 2006

fresh ginger

fresh ginger, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

My dear friend Cindy is visiting town from New York. Happily, her project management conference happened to be in Seattle this year. (Or was it that she chose to attend the conference solely because it was in Seattle? I'm not going to tell.) She and I have been dear friends for nearly seven years, squealing with delight when we see each other, talking faster than anyone else in the place ever could, and laughing happily at the sound of each other's voices. She is gorgeous, stylish, generous beyond belief, and constantly, abundantly joyful. She also has a wicked sense of humor, if you're worried she's a sap. Born in Nigeria, but raised in Great Britain, Cindy has this trilling accent that manages to sound full in her mouth and light at the same time. Whenever she calls me, she stars off by saying, "Hello, gorgous." And whenever I say something with which she particularly agrees, she slaps me on the shoulder and says, with enormous emphasis, "Do you know what I mean?" in that accent. (Of course I know what you mean, dear. I said it!) I adore her, and having her here in the city is giving me boundless energy.

Of course, she had never met the Chef until this visit.

Cut to the chase. They adore each other. The three of us sat over dinner, devouring each other's words and dining on the stories. By the end of the evening, both of them said to me separately (Cindy when she and I made the girlish both-of-us-go trip to the bathroom, the Chef on the car ride home), "My god, he/she is so real." And best of all, we were really a trio, not a lovey-dovey couple and a friend. I adore the way the Chef adores my friends. It makes me love him even more.

Of course, everything these days makes me love him even more.

On top of all of Cindy's gorgeous qualities, she also happens to adore food. I don't mean like food. Enjoy food. Savor food. I mean, she ADORES food, the same way I do, the same way the Chef does. I knew we would never run out of conversation. Destined to visit the Chef's restaurant on Tuesday, we needed some dinner downtown on Sunday night, close to her hotel.

I knew just where to go. Wild Ginger.

Two years ago, when Cindy came for a visit, we spent an entire, delectable evening at this theatrical, pan-Asian restaurant. I say theatrical because the place is enormous, with levels of seating, airy spaces rising to the ceiling, swanky bars, and perfectly set tables. And the food. Oh, the food. Seared ahi tuna bruschetta. Lychee nut martinis. Roasted duck with little buns and plum sauce. Cindy and I sat there all night, laughing and talking, and we didn't finish eating our mango sticky rice until nearly midnight. We have talked about that night ever since.

So of course we had to go back. However, this time I had to eat differently. Could they accomodate me?

Yes, they did. Beautifully. And I'm writing this now — with a cheesy picture of ginger I took last night — so all those of you who must eat gluten-free know there is another option in Seattle. (Besides the Chef's restaurant, where you should go first.)

What I loved most about our meal at Wild Ginger — aside from the company — was the thoughtful, thorough service we received from the staff. This is a restaurant that values great food, and they have hired waiters who know that food well. When I mentioned that I cannot eat gluten, in my usual way ("I'm so sorry to bother you but....cannot anything with gluten...even a small amount...get violently ill in your restaurant."), our waiter sent over their specialist.

Jennifer is, apparently, allergic to almost every food. That made her the perfect detective for my meal. Cindy and the Chef were kind enough to order gluten-free meals as well, so we could share the Hong Kong scallops, the herb-crusted sea bass, the banana peppers stuffed with crab and shrimp, the Bangkok Boar satay skewers, and the beef curry. Jennifer knew every ingredient of every dish, and when I asked, "Could we have this?" she shook her head, or nodded. Then, she went back to enormous kitchen and personally inspected the cooking of every dish.

At this point, our waiter, Tyler came over to ask if we needed anything else. I told him, effusively, how happy we were with everything, particularly the way they had taken care of me. Humbly, he said, "Well, Jennifer is allergic to everything, and I'm absolutely paranoid about any of my customers getting sick. So you have the best team."

I love them.

Going to Wild Ginger proves to me again that it is entirely possible to eat gluten-free in a restaurant — even an enormous restaurant that feeds over 600 people a night — and eat well. More than well — exquisitely.

I know that many of you gluten-free readers are afraid to eat in a restaurant, or go only to chain restaurants that have special gluten-free menus. Respectfully, may I suggest? Please, stop that. If you choose a truly extraordinary restaurant that truly cares about the food, and you stand up for yourself when you order, you have a fabulous chance of eating one of the most memorable meals of your life.

Cindy and the Chef agree: gorgeous.

22 October 2006

finally, a breakfast that does not involve eggs

Bob's Red Mill Mighty Tasty Gluten-Free Cereal.

Brown rice, buckwheat, corn, and sorghum. Gorgeous.

And when I gave a bowl to the Chef to eat, loaded up with organic maple syrup, roasted cashews, and dried cranberries, he looked up at me from his bowl and said, "This is good."


(Of course, that was yesterday. He's in the kitchen making eggs over easy right now. But tomorrow, we'll go back to hot cereal and actually eat some whole grains!)

21 October 2006

It is official.

the contract, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Yesterday, something momentous happened.

The contract for my book deal arrived in the mail.

It is official. My book will be published next fall.

After doing a little dance around the sun-dappled living room — and calling the Chef as I did — I sat down and signed all eleven pages of all three copies of the contract. Then, I drove down the hill to the post office and put them back in the mail.

It's official.

Completing an entire manuscript — with 100 recipes — in only four months could be daunting. But not for me. Not right now. Now, I am simply kercited.

(Here, an explanation. My three-year-old nephew, Elliott, could not say the word "excited" for months on end. He could not wrap his little mouth around it. Instead, he said, "I'm kercited!" Everyone in the family has picked it up, including the Chef. He's family now too. In fact, the Chef and I have simply started adding ker- to the beginnings of all words. "I'm ker-happy!" he told me, when I called to tell him the news.)

I could say more, and I will, as this process continues. However, I have a book to write. Tonight, I am finishing the rough cut of chapter five. This is the chapter I am writing about all the gluten-free grains available to us, with stories of my horrible elementary-school education included. (You'll understand why when you read it.) I'm putting the finishing touches on the recipes tonight.

Would you like to eat....

date-pistachio amaranth pudding

warm millet gingerbread

quinoa summer tabouleh

roasted black cod in "forbidden" black rice flour

barbeque pork with aromatic jasmine rice

kalamata olive bread

sorghum rotis

roasted red pepper, sweet corn, and goat cheese quiche

Well, you can — next fall, when you can buy a copy of the book!

20 October 2006

more sweetness for the weekend

lemon olive oil cookies, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Yesterday, the skies lowered with grey clouds all day. Busy writing, I didn’t consciously look up for nearly an hour in the middle of the afternoon. When I did finally raise my head, I noticed that the window screen before me was flecked with raindrops. The trees across the street were tossing their heads and letting down their hair. The sun was only glimmering weakly behind the clouds, already starting to descend. It was 4:30 in the afternoon and starting to grow dark.

It’s that baking time of the year.

During the summers, I rarely want to turn on the oven. After hours at a farmers’ market, I want to eat food fresh, and whole. A chunk of creamy avocado on a slice of crusty, gluten-free bread, with a thick slice of tomato and green leaves of basil. Who needs anything more? This summer, when the evenings grow cool in Seattle fairly quickly, I had all my hot entrée needs met by going to the Chef’s restaurant. Braised baby short ribs with crispy polenta, a sour cream and cumin sauce. Prawns and scallions in an almond-garlic sauce. Seared lamb chops with garlic potatoes. Why would I turn on the oven when I could eat food like that? And when I didn’t eat at the restaurant, the Chef was the one to come home and turn on the oven. Why should I bake under those circumstances?

But these days, I have been seized by the need to bake. Peanut butter cookies. A roasted red pepper and goat cheese quiche with a millet-teff crust. Banana bread made with nutmeg and vanilla yogurt. Apple pie made with three different kinds of apple and an almond-meal crust. There is something about that cooling air and yellowing leaves, the gathering darkness and thoughts of the holiday, that make me turn to baking.

And besides, this year, I have the Chef to kept fed.

It’s daunting to cook for a professional chef. Even though this man would be blissfully happy if I made some hummus and gave it to him on crackers, I want to feed him more fully. And while I have happily let him cook us dinner every night for months on end —after cooking for ten hours straight at the restaurant — I can feel everything shifting, a bit. Maybe it’s that we have been with each other for long enough — and love each other so thoroughly — that I’ve stopped worrying that my food isn’t good enough for him. If everyone is afraid of cooking for a professional chef, then the poor chefs never eat.

And beyond that, I have simply missed the kitchen.

So, while he is feeding lucky people in the evenings, I take a break from writing and make us something simple. Lentil soup. Homemade corn tortillas with seared steak, fresh guacamole, and roasted tomatoes. Roast chicken with potatoes and gravy. He is happy and satisfied. And sometimes, nothing makes me happier than feeding this man.

Plus, I have been baking for him.
The man can bake. There’s no question. But so can I. And so lately, I have been inventing baked goods, left and right, for the good of the book, and for him.

When I first made him the peanut butter cookies, his eyes grew wide, and he jumped up and down. Then, he decided to make them at the restaurant, and improve on them.

[Here a side note: I am actually writing this at his restaurant, in the afternoon, before anyone comes in for dinner. He called me into the kitchen a minute ago and said, “Do you want a peanut butter cookie? They just came out of the oven.” I took one bite, and then my eyes grew wide, and I jumped up and down. We are well-suited for each other, obviously.]

A few weeks ago, I took a little jaunt to ChefShop, one of my favorite food resources in the world. A fabulous online store, ChefShop is physically located in Seattle, just five minutes from our home. That makes me one lucky girl. Among the other delectables and goodies I found on their shelves, I spotted a Sorrento lemon olive oil from Italy. When the knowledgeable staff member put it into my hands, and began to tell me the story of how the olives and lemons are crushed together, my brain snapped to attention.

Lemon olive oil cookies.

I had never seen a recipe. I had never baked with olive oil before. And yet, I just knew that I had to make them. The idea sprang forth from my head fully formed like Athena from Zeus. I ran home and threw ingredients into my Kitchen-Aid, trusting my instincts.

At the end of the evening, when the cookies had cooled, I drove to the restaurant, scurried in, and walked toward the Chef, the cookie in my hand headed right for his mouth. He took one bite, happily. I knew what they tasted like -- chewy, tangy with lemon, rich in complexity of flavor because of the depth of that olive oil -- because I always tast them before I give them to him. He looked at me in amazement, his eyes growing wider than the cookie in my hand, then said, “Yes please. More.”

Luckily, I had several more in the car.

I’m so happy it’s that baking time of the year.


I'm certain that some of the magic of these cookies comes from using that particular type of Sorrento lemon olive oil. It's green and fruity, and it truly smells like lemons. I recommend that you order a bottle. If, however, you don't have that type of oil, I think this would still work with a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Just bump up the lemon zest and juice.

I originally used plain, non-fat yogurt in this recipe, which is what this version calls for. This allows the cookies to crisp up a bit, and at least give the illusion of being healthy. However, in subsequent batches, I used sour cream instead. Yum, yum good. Those cookies are a bit chewier and far richer. If you are making this for a treat, I would use sour cream. That's what the Chef recommends as well.

1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt (make sure it's gluten-free) or sour cream
1/4 cup lemon olive oil (or the best quality olive oil you can afford)
1 egg
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/2 half cup white rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup fresh ground almond meal (fresh ground tastes best)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350°.

First, combine the yogurt and olive oil well. Stir in the egg, then the lemon juice and zest, to make a coherent mixture.

Next, combine all the dry ingredients together. Slowly, fold the wet ingredients into the dry. The dough will be sticky. In fact, you might have dough all over your fingers by the time this process is done. Oh darn.

Form small balls with the sticky dough and roll each ball into sugar. This will make the finished cookies crunchy and shimmery. Place on a baking sheet covered with a silpat, or a layer of parchment paper.

Cook for twelve minutes, approximately. The cookies will be soft at this point, but they will feel fully formed. Let them sit on the baking sheet, on the top of the oven, for about five minutes.

Carefully, move the cookies to a cooling rack. Let them sit there for another five minutes, during which time they will harden in the air.

Now, try not to eat them all in one sitting.

Makes nine large cookies or twelve rather smaller ones.

19 October 2006

Do prunes taste like plums?

how do I reach?, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

One of the gifts of being a full-time writer is that I have time to procrastinate in truly useless ways.

Don't worry -- the writing of the book is full-speed ahead. In fact, with any luck, I will be halfway through the manuscript at the end of next week. The contract for this book deal requires me to write quality prose in voluminous quantities every day. Luckily, this matches my temperament just fine. Tell me I can't make a challenge, and damn it, I'm going to do it!

However, any act of creativity requires a certain degree of procrastination. That's where the best ideas emerge. Someone once said -- and if you can remember who, let me know please; it's driving me crazy -- that writing a book requires a lot of looking out the window time.

Well, instead of looking out my window all the time, sometimes I look at my site meter. Endlessly addictive, this activity allows me to know how many people are coming to this site, and from where. For all of you who have sought me out deliberately, by typing in "gluten-free girl" or "celiac blog" or "gluten girl Shauna" on Google or Yahoo or MSN, then welcome!

Some of you have come to this site because you have typed in a desperate search like "Do potatoes have gluten?" or "Do pomegranates have gluten" or "Does yogurt have gluten." I hear your pain, and the answers are no, no, and sometimes. Still, it makes sense that you have landed here. I hope you return.

But lately, my favorite game with myself is to look at my site meter and pick out the oddest, most improbable searches that led people here.

For example, just this morning someone found my site by typing in, Do prunes taste like plums? Now, this kills me. Why would anyone type that? Why not just eat a prune and find out through your own sensory experience? But, well, if that unknown person is still on that search, then yes, prunes do rather taste like plums. They are plums.

I have been having such fun reading these ridiculous searches that I thought I would share a few with you....

Of course, I have lots of hits from anything with the word free in it, such as:

free snowman soup labels

Free Soups at Eat Park

There are an inordinate amount of hits from the Middle East, at least ten a day, for the phrase "Free Girl." I can only imagine this site is a terrible disappointment to them. That is, except for the one person in Iran, last summer, who came by one day, then returned to this site every day at the same time for at least three weeks. Maybe he has celiac!

And then there are the strange hits for anything with girl in it:

How do you explain why you love a girl

That is the ineffable question, isn't it?

Creative ways to ask a girl to dance

Hop on one foot while spinning counter-clockwise, singing to her in Swahili.

Girls on fire

Why does anyone want to see this?

girls injured foot pics

I still receive at least one of these a day, as far as I can tell. And by the way, in response to the soldier in Iraq who asked me to send him more photographs of my broken ankle from last year? I'm sorry, no. Ew.

dodger girl costume

That was one of my dreams as a kid. It never came true.

girl meat roasted alive

This one truly terrifies me.

Girls cooking naked

There won't be any of that on this site!

And worst of all,

the ugliest girl on earth


the truly odd

Gimmick sunglasses blowtorch

“heat miser” sheet music

How to make parchment paper coffee old looking

nail salon upper west side home visit

love bite recipe

aggressive career women

And finally, some lovely, poetic phrases that inexplicably landed people here:

everyone emerged to the room

summer picnic poem

on plane with Paul McCartney

Don't I wish!

Finally, to the person who reached my site by googling, "I just had to come by" -- I'm glad you did. I hope I didn't disappoint.

Come on back, everyone. (Unless you want pictures of girls on fire with broken ankles, okay?)

p.s. Just as I about to post this, I clicked over to read some of my favorite food bloggers -- another excellent way to procrastinate against writing. To my delight, I found that Shuna from Eggbeater put up a post yesterday about this same odd phenomenon. Shunas and Shaunas -- they think alike.

18 October 2006

duck confit

duck confit, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The Chef made these at the restaurant the other afternoon. I walked in with cups of coffee -- milky and sugary for him; straight black for me -- and saw them by the window.
"What's that?" I shouted, hoping he could hear me over the searing noises in the kitchen.
"Duck confit. Or, at least, it will be."
I leaned my head down and smelled. Oh my. Warmth, garlic, the pungency of rosemary and sweet herby scent of thyme. Coriander seeds. I hadn't expect that.
Duck confit -- gluten-free. I wanted some.
"Patience," he said.
I'm not always good at that. I want the resplendency of what I see before me, in me, right now. But I didn't complain. I waited.

He made the duck confit for a special party. Apparently, it was fantastic. Men were moaning in the dining room. But I still haven't eaten any. There were not a single bite left over.

Soon, he says. Soon.

(Then again, I can't complain. He is in the kitchen as I write this, on his day off, making us salads with butter lettuce, cranberries, shaved parmesan, and champagne vinaigrette. Also, the veal goulash is bubbling in the oven. Yeah. I know.)

17 October 2006

autumn in Seattle

autumn in Seattle, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The Chef and I were driving away from the Market, windows open and music playing. I took in a deep sniff, then sighed. "My god, the inside of this car smells incredible," I said.
He laughed his little devilish giggle. "Yeah. I farted."
I slapped his arm at the stoplight, smiling.

The inside of that car was heaven. We had just been to World Merchants, my favorite spice store in the world. I'm lucky -- it's just a few steps away from the Market, only a fifteen-minute drive away from our home. Inside, glass jars filled with cardamom, Madras curry powder, and Saigon cinnamon. The Chef and I were there for quite awhile, buying spices for his restaurant, inhaling the smells of Turkish bay leaves, dukka from Syria, and five-spice mix from China. When he put the jar of cloves up to my nose, I closed my eyes and took it all in. Truly, I nearly fainted from the sweet, earthy smell.

That is how we started our morning (outside the house).

So we were driving, the smells of allspice mingling with cinnamon and flavoring the fennel. Everytime we reached another stoplight, he either asked me to bend down my head and smell another spice, or he kissed me. Most of the time, both.

At a certain point, we both laughed. We seemed to both realize how ridiculous this behavior would be to most people of the world. We smelled and compared and thought of recipes on the spot. Cinnamon ice cream with the spicy Saigon cinnamon, the one with the kick. Smoked duck breast braised in lapsang souchong tea. Curried carrot soup. Thank god we both love doing this. It's a joy, a relief, a constant surprise to love someone who is so entirely alive to life, through food.

As we passed the park, the one with the trees aflame with color, flushed through with sunlight, I looked up at the leaves, the blue sky. And I had a sudden rush of understanding. This time last year, I would have been in school, grading more papers, spending all day inside, preparing hour-long lectures I didn't really want to give. I would have been alone in it, waiting for the end of the day to do what I truly loved to do. And here I was instead, driving with a fully relaxed body, just after noon, the car filled with the alluring smells of food to come, and the love of my life beside me.

I have never been so happy in all my life.

16 October 2006

a bottle of brew I can imbibe

gluten-free beer II, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Early morning, St. Patrick's Day, 1999. Sharon and I are driving on the west coast of Ireland, in a green rental car. Winding along a narrow, one-lane (at best) road along the ocean, we are in awe of the vastness. We roll down the windows and listen to the sound of no humanity at all. Green fields, short rock walls, sky -- that is all that greets us. Something in the silence feels holy.

Suddenly, coming over a rise, I have to stop the car abruptly. Sharon lets out a little terrified squeal. In front of us, blocking the road, a white horse. He is placid, chewing on some grasses, and staring right at us. Tentatively, we open the doors and walk toward him. He does not move. He is the chief of this land. We approach him with hands wide open, and offer him some of the carrots we had left in the car. Sharon pets his neck. I take pictures.

We gently coax him out of the road, so that we can continue on our way to Clifden. When we clamber back into the car, Sharon says, "My god, that was so amazing. It was like something out of mythology." I look at her, and she looks at me. And then we laugh, at the absurdity of the remark, and at the joy of our day together.


Early October, 2006.

I feel a similar sense of awe and disbelief when I walk by this white horse at Whole Foods. Gluten-free beer. Gluten-free beer? Gluten-free beer!

Back in February, I had my first gluten-free beer, at Risotteria. It was a honey ale, and it tasted like sunshine going down my throat. No matter that it was a little too sweet for my taste -- I always was a dark, Guinness-y kind of girl. It was beer, and I was drinking it. But that brewery, Ramapo, lives in upstate New York. I have never seen their beers over here on the left coast. So, I relegated myself to drinking beer when I visited New York.

There I was, in the Whole Foods in Seattle, walking by their gluten-free baked goods table, and I spotted this white horse. Toleration Ale -- what a name. Of course, I had to buy it. Even though it did cost a whopping $8.50 for 16 ounces.

It was fairly sweet, which is to be expected, since it is brewed from sugars. Underneath the sweetness was the taste of hops -- summertime, grainy, familiar. A little citrusy burst at the end, as well. It went down easy. The Chef and I put our feet up on the coffee table, ate our fabulous dinner, and drank a beer as we watched a baseball game.

Watch out for white horses. They always seem to signal something extraordinary.

15 October 2006

four and a half minutes of me

roast potatoes, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

It happens every day. When I walk into the grocery store across the street from us, one of the clerks exclaims, "Hey! I saw you on tv last night!" Sometimes, I see people stare at me on the sidewalk, trying to work out how they know me. Did I go to high school with them, long ago? Am I their childhood babysitter? Or do they just think they know me from seeing me on television? A few weeks ago, at a wine tasting at the EMP, a lovely wine rep looked at me and said, "I'm sorry. I don't mean for it to seem like I'm stalking you, but are you the Gluten-Free Girl?"

Wow. That was a marvelous conversation -- and an authentic person -- but it is just plain weird to be recognized this way.

Since July, the Food Network has been running a one-minute segment about me, used as an interstitial during certain programs. Three times a day. I can always tell when I have been on television again, because so many of you come to the site.


When the wonderful people at SeeSaw Studios flew up from Los Angeles to spend the day filming me, I felt enlivened. Spending the day at the farmers' market with a boom mike behind me and an enormous camera on me, I didn't feel self-conscious. Why? Because I knew I was doing this for you, for all of you reading. I wanted to spread the news -- gluten-free means freedom. It means saying yes, instead of no. And it means feeling like part of this world, instead of always slightly apart from the norm.

That's my life, I have realized: saying yes to the world through food.

Plus, I'm a ham. I had a blast.

The funny part is that I still haven't seen the segment on TV. I have a dvd of it, and sometimes the Chef likes to drag it out when people come over. "Have you seen Shauna on the Food Network? Well, watch this!" I can't really watch myself anymore. Instead, I watch him beaming as he sees me.

Most of my closest friends have not seen the segment yet. And of course, those of you who live outside the US don't have the chance to see it.

Well, now you do.

Thanks to the lovely Lia -- whose new food blog, This Little Piglet, is a lovely, tart surprise -- I can now guide you to the segment. Lia let me know that the four-and-a-half segment now lives on the Food Network website, permanently.

So, if you would like to see me in my kitchen, being goofy and waxing poetic about the joys of potatoes, just click on this. (You'll see the logo for this website on the right-hand side. Click on that to play it.)

And, when you see me on the street, wave hello. I promise to wave back, especially if I'm at the market and have potatoes in my hands.

14 October 2006

soft and warm and full

butternut squash flan, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

As I sat writing, trying to describe the taste of great olive oil, the Chef plopped down this tray of butternut squash flans. This metal tray, tested in his oven a hundred dozen times, was burnished and crackled. It felt ancient.

When I saw them, I oohed and said, "Oh my god, can I have one?" He smiled, because he loves how much I love his food. But no. They were for the restaurant. He was trying out the first batch for his new menu, a monthly revelation.

I admired the smooth surfaces, noted the cracked ones, and grabbed the camera. The light falling through the large windows felt so urgently vivid. I captured them before I ate one.

Last night, I turned to him in his little restaurant kitchen, and said, "You know, you still haven't given me any of that flan." He nodded, his eyes snapping open, and smiiled his slow grin at me. Before he started serving it, he tweaked the recipe three times. Even though he had been serving it, and all the plates had come back clean, he would not let me eat one until they were done.

Finally, it was time.

He prepared an order for me. He ran a hot knife around the edges of the flan, tipped the little metal cup onto a clean white plate, and flipped the plate over. After a solid thwack, he turned the plate up toward the light. There it was -- a perfect flan, solid and just a big jiggly. Around it, he placed toasted pecans, then drizzled some of the sherry gastrique. The plate passed toward me.

I sat on the patio, under the heat lamp, alone in the glimmering light of twilight. My fork dove in.

Soft. Warmth. Full taste of butternut squash, the quintessential taste of autumn. Slightly sweet, with layers and depth. Something pungent, wonderfully smooth. The taste escaped, down the sides of my tongue.

I dipped the next bite in the sherry gastrique, dark brown and drizzled. It tasted of roasted onions, somehow, even though there were no onions in it. "That's the carmelization," he told me, hovering at my shoulder, watching for my reactions. The sharp bite of vinegar, the yielding kindness of sugar. All of it dancing in my mouth.

I leaned up my face to kiss him in the darkness.

He grinned and walked back to the kitchen.

I turned, once more, to my plate.

-- one of the appetizers being served this month at Impromptu
-- and of course, it's entirely gluten-free

13 October 2006

yum yum -- peanut butter

peanut butter cookie stack, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Look at those cookies. Aren't they gorgeous? Can you believe they are gluten-free?

So many people settle for lousy food with no real taste, because they believe that is all they will find when they have to eat gluten-free. I'm here to tell you -- silly. These peanut butter cookies are some of the best I have ever eaten. In fact, I cannot have them around the house too much, or else I will nibble on one after the other while I am typing away. However, for special days....

I made up this recipe, about a month ago, after catching the last half of a sentence of a woman on the street. As I walked past her on the sidewalk in Madison Park, I heard her say, "...don't need flour to make peanut butter cookies..." She walked into a store with her friend, and I didn't hear the rest.

It doesn't take much more than that for my mind to start racing.

In the middle of the afternoon, when the sentences stopped singing and my mind felt clogged, I walked into the kitchen and pulled out a jar of peanut butter from the refrigerator. The Chef was at his restaurant. No one else was in the house. If this small experimental batch turned out to be a disaster, who would know?

They were anything but a disaster.

The next night, Molly and Brandon came over for dinner. In fact, it was the night we ate pork chops with plum sauce. I had a few peanut butter cookies left over, sitting on the metal kitchen shelves. Want to try one, I asked?

Last week, Molly emailed me and asked, "Hey, can I get your flourless peanut butter cookie recipe one of these days? I keep craving them..."

Of course, my dear. Here you are.

However, if you want a real treat, you should eat dessert at the Chef's restaurant. He loves these peanut butter cookies so much that he started making them himself. He serves a little stack of them with chocolate mousse and a bittersweet chocolate sauce, as a parfait in a martini glass. Now that is decadence.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

One cup creamy peanut butter
One cup white sugar
One teaspoon baking powder
One egg

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cream the peanut butter and sugar in a bowl. (As much as I love my KitchenAid, I have found that this is a hand-stirring job). Beat in the baking powder. Add the egg. Mix until it is all well combined.

The dough will be sticky, so be prepared to get your hands messy. Roll some dough into a ball. (How big? That depends on you. I have found, however, that the smaller these cookies are, the better they hold together. Eat two instead of one!) Roll the ball into white sugar. Line a baking sheet, covered in parchment paper, with sugary balls of dough.

Bake in the oven for about ten minutes. You will know the cookies are done when they feel coherent, but still a little soft. Take the tray out of the oven and let the cookies rest for at least five minutes. Afterwards, carefully transfer them to a cooling rack. After ten minutes or so, they will have hardened and be glistening with sugar.

Eat them.

Makes ten to twelve cookies.

12 October 2006

why I love the Chef: he makes me gluten-free bread

the chef and gf bread, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

A few weeks ago, I wandered back into the tiny kitchen of the Chef's restaurant in the afternoon. Something warm and enticing drew me in, something besides the promise of kisses. It smelled oddly familiar in there, a smell my nose hadn't wolfed down in years. I had to know.

When I walked in, I saw him, grinning, that little-boy enthusiasm in his eyes. And in his hands? A loaf of warm bread. Crusty, yeasty homemade bread. He held out the red terrine pan to me, so that I could bend down my head and smell. When I lifted my eyes to him, he saw the tears in them.

"Sweetie, what is it?" he said, his face a sudden scrim of worry.

I couldn't talk for a moment. Then, I gulped out, "You made me bread."

The loaf you see here came from a mix by Mona's Gluten-Free. Mona's, located in Woodinville —— just a few miles outside of Seattle —— has been making great gluten-free mixes for years. I'll tell you more about them soon, but suffice it to say that the mixes work well. The Chef infused this particular loaf of bread with dried lavender. Later, he made lavender toasts, then topped them with smoked salmon mousse he made himself. I dined off that for days.

A week later, I went to the restaurant to have dinner with a friend. As she and I chattered and drank wine, Deb put down a basket of bread between us. I didn't even look at it. I'm used to blocking that out. However, Deb turned toward me, and said, "The Chef sent that out for you." I folded back the white napkin and saw it: slices of warm, crusty bread, for dipping in olive oil. Gluten-free.

I nearly cried again.

This is love.

11 October 2006

little quotidian moments of joy

pearl onions, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

For months, my dear friend Gabe and I did not talk on the telephone. It’s not because he lives in New York and I live in Seattle, a thousand heartbeats of miles away from each other. It’s not because he’s recording an album while he’s cutting his latest short film, while I am writing an entire book in four months at the same time I have fallen hopelessly head over heels in love, more deeply than ever in my life. Years ago, that would have kept us up talking, late into the night, the phones growing hot upon our ears. Why don’t we talk to each other, then?

Because we have so much to say.

The longer we go without talking, the more we have to say to each other. We always could talk on the phone for an hour or two, and still just feel as though we were warming up. But these days, with the sunlight shifting so fast in both our lives, we could talk for ten hours and not be done yet. When he flew out for my birthday, we promised we would converse on the phone soon. We promised to not let the stories clog up our minds until we could no longer remember them. We promised to talk.

Of course, it has been months since then. We haven’t had a full conversation yet.

How have we been sustaining our friendship? (After all, “Grief appears when communication fails.” — Karl Jaspers) We have been talking in short bursts. He emerged from his dungeon of an editing room and called me to tell me about the frustrating shots that were out of focus. I drove to the restaurant to pick up the Chef at the end of the night, put that dratted headset on, and called Gabe from my cell phone. He was in the Bay Area, for a dear friend’s wedding, and we talked fast, for fifteen minutes, about her love. We leave extensive voice mail messages for each other. We feel part of each other’s lives.

I don’t know why I have to keep learning this.

It used to be, I would keep voluminous journals, for months on end. Faithful to the page, I wrote out every day as though it could save me. However, if life intervened, and I missed a day or two, I quickly let the blank space reign supreme. Why? Because I felt this responsibility to make up for lost time. To compensate for my silence with brilliance, or at least twenty pages of writing. To make amends with that next piece. It took me years to realize nothing had to be perfect. Just to drag the pen across the page was enough.

For years, I swore to myself that I would start a regular exercise program. And to make up for the years of being a lollygag on the couch, in my early twenties, I would do more. I would run a marathon! Do yoga every day! Stand on my head to increase my circulation! Lift weights! Look as good as the girls in magazines and feel even better! What did that mean? I stayed on the couch, thinking about starting the next day.

The more cluttered the living room grew, the more I had to devote the entire day to cleaning everything, waxing the furniture, making the windows squeaky clear, and finally find the Feng Shui arrangement of my furniture. And then, of course, I lay on the couch, imagining myself picking that towel off the floor, over and over.

These days, however, I fill a page every day with little notes about the food the Chef and I are eating and cooking, funny things my nephew says, and the cast of light through the window in the late afternoon. Most of it is not in complete sentences. However, every day, there is a new page for instigating memories.

In the mornings, the Chef and I drive to the Arboretum, lace up our shoes, and take a slow walk/run through the leafy green. I’m slow. I complain, sometimes. I’m not going to be running any marathons -- perhaps ever -- but I’m thrilled to be ambling down the grass without my knees hurting. All my life, my knees were creaky. I could tell you when it was going to rain the day before it started. But since I stopped eating gluten, I have no creaky joints. And so, I am trying to run, for the first time in my life. I am finding my own stride. When I grow tired and sweaty, and think I cannot run another step, I look ahead of me and see the Chef, haloed by sunlight, surrounded by trees with red and orange leaves, and I just have to keep going.

And right now, the living room is just neat enough to not goad me into thinking I should clean it, instead of writing a book.

You see, I’m writing a book. Every day, I delve into the unknown and come up with some sentences I like. I can’t promise greatness, but I am making progress. Last night, I finished the rough cut of the fourth chapter, which puts me 1/3-of-the-way through the manuscript. I’m thrilled. Last night, I arrived at the Chef’s restaurant and jumped and down in front of him, then did a little soft shoe dance on the sidewalk in my red clogs. I can’t wait for you all to read it.

The only way I can write an entire book in four months is to remind myself that I am writing for all of you reading this now. And to let myself be imperfect. In the last weeks before I deliver the manuscript, I will be editing and revising until I am nearly going blind. But for now, I am somehow writing in short bursts and potent images, like my brief conversations with Gabe.

As I used to tell my writing students — and now I have the chance to practice it, instead of merely talking it — the secret to writing is to write. Every day. Without fail. Freely, with arms wide open.

Here I am.

Except, lately, I’ve been missing this blog. I haven’t been here every day. I haven’t been taking slow steps. I’ve barely been writing here at all.

Part of the fault for this lies with the Chef. If only he didn’t fill my days so completely with love.....

But part of this lies with me. The more aware I am that I am writing a book, the more I feel I must write something profound for this site. Something soaring and simple, sarcastic and sublime. And the fact is — I just don’t have the time, these days.

Besides, as I have realized, I miss too much when I try to tie up things neatly. These days, I am learning so much about food that I cannot possibly convey it all into my manuscript. I want to share it with you instead. I’m making cookies, and finding new ingredients that immediately become favorites, and eating gluten-free products that fill my belly, amply. There is no room for all these digressions in perfect little posts.

I always think of this quote from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is describing this terrible speech class he had to endure. Whenever anyone made a speech, and the sentences diverted from the stated topic, the entire class had to shout Digression! But, as Holden says, “I always liked the digressions best.”

And so, you’re going to see a few changes around here at Gluten-Free Girl. In a few weeks, you might just see an entirely new look. But starting today, I’m going to be posting daily again, the way I did when I first began. But most days, I won’t be posting long, elaborate essays. Sometimes, it might be a recipe without an explanation or description. It might be a story I over-heard at the farmers’ market. I might share a cooking tip, a quote, a paen to autumn vegetables. Most of the time, it might just be a photograph of food.

The other afternoon, I was sitting in the Chef’s restaurant, writing on the laptop while he made veal stock in the kitchen. As the smells waftted to me, and I was just about to ask him to tell me exactly how to do that at home, he came out from the kitchen with a strainer full of pearl onions. He had just blanched them, and he needed them to cool before he moved onto the next step of a recipe. Casually, he lay them down on the rack by the window.

For a moment, I had no words. The sun shining on the onions was so limpid and kind that I had to stop. Without thinking why, I fished around in my bag for my camera. Within a moment, I had taken this photograph.
I love this photograph. I don’t even know why. It just feels like this autumn to me.

You see, the thing is, I don’t have a recipe involving pearl onions, at the moment. I could concoct one, just to use this picture. Instead, I offer it to you. Make of it what you will.

So, come back every day, and discover what I have to share. I’d love to hear from you, too. If you have a great recipe for pearl onions, let the rest of us know. If not, just enjoy.

It feels good to be back. Welcome to my imperfect digressions.