This Page

has been moved to new address

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
/* Primary layout */ body { margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; text-align: left; color: #554; background: #692 url( top center repeat-y; font: Trebuchet;serif } img { border: 0; display: block; } /* Wrapper */ #wrapper { margin: 0 auto; padding: 0; border: 0; width: 692px; text-align: seft; background: #fff url( top right repeat-y; font-size:80%; } /* Header */ #blog-header { color: #ffe; background: #8b2 url( bottom left repeat-x; margin: 0 auto; padding: 0 0 15px 0; border: 0; } #blog-header h1 { font-size: 24px; text-align: left; padding: 15px 20px 0 20px; margin: 0; background-image: url(; background-repeat: repeat-x; background-position: top left; } #blog-header p { font-size: 110%; text-align: left; padding: 3px 20px 10px 20px; margin: 0; line-height:140%; } /* Inner layout */ #content { padding: 0 20px; } #main { width: 400px; float: left; } #sidebar { width: 226px; float: right; } /* Bottom layout */ Blogroll Me! #footer { clear: left; margin: 0; padding: 0 20px; border: 0; text-align: left; border-top: 1px solid #f9f9f9; background-color: #fdfdfd; } #footer p { text-align: left; margin: 0; padding: 10px 0; font-size: x-small; background-color: transparent; color: #999; } /* Default links */ a:link, a:visited { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : none; color: #692; background: transparent; } a:hover { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : underline; color: #8b2; background: transparent; } a:active { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : none; color: #692; background: transparent; } /* Typography */ #main p, #sidebar p { line-height: 140%; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 1em; } .post-body { line-height: 140%; } h2, h3, h4, h5 { margin: 25px 0 0 0; padding: 0; } h2 { font-size: large; } { margin-top: 5px; font-size: medium; } ul { margin: 0 0 25px 0; } li { line-height: 160%; } #sidebar ul { padding-left: 10px; padding-top: 3px; } #sidebar ul li { list-style: disc url( inside; vertical-align: top; padding: 0; margin: 0; } dl.profile-datablock { margin: 3px 0 5px 0; } dl.profile-datablock dd { line-height: 140%; } .profile-img {display:inline;} .profile-img img { float:left; margin:0 10px 5px 0; border:4px solid #8b2; } #comments { border: 0; border-top: 1px dashed #eed; margin: 10px 0 0 0; padding: 0; } #comments h3 { margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: -10px; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-transform: uppercase; letter-spacing: 1px; } #comments dl dt { font-weight: bold; font-style: italic; margin-top: 35px; padding: 1px 0 0 18px; background: transparent url( top left no-repeat; color: #998; } #comments dl dd { padding: 0; margin: 0; } .deleted-comment { font-style:italic; color:gray; } .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


31 March 2007

how lucky I am

artichoke risotto

This happens often.

Yesterday, someone I met found out that I am marrying a chef. She squealed and asked me, “Does he cook for you, after he comes home from work?”

Almost embarrassed at all my riches, I nodded, a little secret smile on my lips.

“Oh, you lucky girl!” she squealed, and clapped her hands. “You are so lucky.”

I know it. Every day, in some new fashion, fortune comes rushing up to meet me.

In the early afternoons, I drive the Chef to the restaurant. Lately, we have been gesturing to each new green leaf emerging, as we drive through the Arboretum. Laughter fills the car, along with rollicking music. An entire morning of reading, eating, and talking about food trails behind us, a memory on the hill where we live. An entire day of cooking lays before him, a day of writing before me, after we split off from each other. Those moments of driving are the time in between, when we are most close, and aware of how fortunate we are to have found each other. We still kiss at every stop light.

Most days, I buy him coffee, throw my arms around him one more time, and leave the restaurant after a few moments. He’s in work mode, and I’m itching to start typing. The impending time apart only makes the meeting in the evening sweeter. We have our routine, as familiar now as the feeling of holding each other’s hands in the car.

On Thursday, however, we arrived at the restaurant a little early. I wanted to take some photographs in that blue-tinged light bouncing off the lake, just outside the windows. As I bent down to take a photograph of fish, he came around the corner of the kitchen with a grin on his face.

“Do you want some risotto?”

Who’s going to say no to this?

The night before, the Chef had reveled in the pleasure of cooking a winemaker’s dinner. Once a month, or more, he tastes wine in the afternoon, swirls it around his mouth, and swallows. By the time he has finished, he already has an idea forming. The local winemaker, or representative for a company that imports great wines, trusts him to create the food that will complement the wines, perfectly. After some small pondering, he does. And then people come in, anticipating, for six courses of the Chef’s food, and wines to match each course. They leave sighing and smiling. At the end of the night, the Chef bounds out from the restaurant to meet me, his arms wide, his eyes excited. He loves making people happy with his food.

On Thursday, just past noon, he had a little food left over from the night before. He loves to feed me. He loves to see my reaction to his food. Giggling a little, he disappeared into his small kitchen. I heard sizzling and steaming. I smelled the familiar comfort of salt, stock, and butter. I sighed, my eyes tearing up a little. How did I find this man?

In a few moments, he emerged from the kitchen, grinning his sideways grin. In his hands, two large, shallow bowls. He set them down on the bar, one in front of me, and the other in front of the empty chair to my left. I looked inside. A small mound of steaming risotto, studded with artichoke hearts. Surrounding it, a sherry vinaigrette, and the first miner’s lettuce of the season. I leaned in and wolfed down the steam with my nose. Light as sun through green leaves, pungent as the earth finally giving up its smell again, peppery and yearning. It smelled like spring.

Spontaneously, I took out the camera to capture it. He’s used to me. Taking photographs, instead of diving right in, is my way of honoring the food he has prepared for me. It’s my way of saying grace.

While I snapped, he ran back to the kitchen. He came back with pan-seared sea scallops, dusted in sorghum flour.

I looked at him, free of words, only smiling. I kissed him, urgently. And then we both leaned down to our plates.

Lucky? Oh yes. I know I am.


This afternoon, we received a particularly beautiful letter from a reader. She mailed it to the restaurant, and we were grateful to read it together. After we looked at each other in astonishment, at her kindness, we went back to his kitchen, together.

He drew artichokes on his white board, he mimed putting a handful of salt into a pot, and he demonstrated how to push risotto in a pan, gently. I wrote it all down. As he started to fillet the ono he had ordered for the fish special that night, I asked him to talk. He dictated this recipe to me. I prodded him with questions. We work as a team this way. He has the history of making food every day in his hands and brain. I know how to ask him for more details. (“But how will people know when it’s done? What will it look like?”) We love this.

This recipe may seem lengthy and time-consuming. But believe me, it’s worth it. And what could be better than an afternoon in the kitchen, making up a risotto that could make someone you love feel lucky to know you?

We want you to have this recipe. (And Cari, if you are reading this, we especially want to share this with you.) I shouldn’t be the only one who can eat a lunch like this.

Artichoke stock

4 globe artichokes
1 medium-sized carrot
2 ribs celery
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
½ cup white wine

Cut off the top one-half inch of each artichoke. Peel off the outer, spiny leaves and discard them, until you reach the softer, yellow leaves beneath them.

Pull all the yellowy leaves off the artichokes (do not take off the heart) and put them into a stockpot.

Add the carrot, celery, onion, and white wine to the stockpot. Cover the artichokes with water. Bring this to a boil and turn down the heat to allow the leaves to simmer for half an hour. Remove from heat.

The stems and the risotto

1 lemon, juiced
3 additional lemons

1 yellow onion, peeled and fine diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 to 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup parmigiano-reggiano

Trim the stem of each artichoke, as though you are peeling a carrot, with a paring knife or peeler. Repeat this with the other stems. Put the stems into the stockpot with the juice of one lemon.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. (Use about one-half cup of salt to a large stockpot.) Juice the three lemons and add the juice to the boiling water, and then throw the lemon rinds into the water as well.

When the water has come to a boil, add the artichoke stems and hearts into the water. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes, or until a knife can pierce a stem easily.

Toss the artichoke stems into ice water and let them cool completely. Drain them.

Remove all the fuzzy leaves until you reach the artichoke hearts. When you reach the artichoke heart, cut it in half. Chop each half into quarters. Slice the stems into small slices. Set aside.

Bring a large skillet (about 12 inches) to heat on a burner set to high. When it has reached full heat, add the oil and butter. When the oil and butter run around the pan easily, add the onions and garlic. Sauté them on medium-low heat until the onion has turned soft and translucent, about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the fresh thyme and cook for one minute more.

Add the Arborio rice and cook it for two minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the grains are entirely coated. Add the white wine and cook it until is reduced by one-half. (Stir the rice gently, ever so gently, by slowly pushing it or gently tossing it in the skillet. If you beat up the rice by stirring it too vigorously, the rice will release all its starches and turn the risotto glurby.) This should take about five minutes.

At this point, add the artichoke stock to the rice, a cup at a time, stirring gently. (Imagine that you are trying to put a baby to sleep with your stirring.) Stir and stir until the stock is absorbed into the rice. When the liquid is absorbed, but not dry, add more stock. Continue this process with all the stock until it is all absorbed.

Taste the rice. It should be chewy and soft, but not mushy. It should have no crunch to it. Season the risotto with salt and pepper, and taste to see if you need more.

Add the cream, the artichoke hearts and stems, and the parmigian-reggiano cheese. Stir it all gently until everything is completely incorporated.

Scoop up the risotto and place it into bowls for your eager guests.

Serves six.

28 March 2007

four. and more.

chocolate cake for Elliott

"Shauna!" he called to me from his living room. "Let's play!"

During the first year I kept this website, there was really only one boy in my life. Mr. Baby. The little guy. Mister Pister. Elliott.

Elliott besotted me from the moment of his birth. On March 23rd, 2003, I sat in a waiting room, watching Steve Martin hosting the Oscars, on a tiny tv screen, bolted high up on a wall. But unlike every other year, when I listened intently and made sarcastic remarks about every bad dance number, that year I didn’t register what transpired on the screen. I sat forward on the plastic couch and waited. When I heard the elevator doors open down the hall, I left the confines of that little room and left the fake world of the Oscars far behind.

When I held the little guy in my arms, his red face immediately familiar, his fist waving in the air, love flooded me. From that moment forward, I could not imagine loving anyone as much as I loved my nephew, who was all of thirty minutes old.

Anyone who has been reading this website for more than a year knows how much I love my nephew. Whether it was cooking quinoa, or picking blackberries in August, playing Mousie and Sneezy, or eating homemade corn tortillas with him at El Puerco Lloron after an afternoon of watching jellyfish at the aquarium, this kid had a starring role in this website. Besotted, I tell you. Besotted.

Well, I’m still just as crazy about the little kid as always. But, you may have noticed — Elliott hasn’t shown up on this site as much as he used to dance across its pages. It’s not that he is any less interesting — he’s more hilarious, and more of a person, every time I see him. It’s not that I love him any less — when he leaves my house after a visit, I have a little ache in my gut, wondering when I will see him next. It’s just that, well, Elliott has been supplanted, just a bit.

It turns out that love only expands. When I thought I could not love any more, I found out that I could. Now, there is the Chef.

Really, do I need to write anything more about him for you to know? Not today.

Instead, I will tell you that when I looked up from my feet the other day, as we walked around the pond, and saw Elliott’s small hand reach up and grab his Uncle Dan’s hand, as we tried to make our way to the gate? Well, everything expanded, again.

This weekend, Elliott turned four. When we asked, he put four fingers in the air, slightly askew from each other, and said, “At one time, I was three. But now I am four, because today is my birthday!” Well, not quite, little guy. He had three or four birthday celebrations, involving family, and a room full of sticky-handed children delightedly shrieking, and a quiet Sunday afternoon gathering. We attended the last one.

Celebrations don’t require much to make them joyous. Elliott emerged from his bedroom, with a goofy grin upon his face, and scooted across the living room on his tip toes, his hands cupped downward before his chest. After we all applauded and laughed, he ran back to his room to pause for a moment before his next big entrance. A series of silly walks like no other — marching exaggeratedly, sidling sideways toward the woodstove, a rollicking gallop while he looked to the left and skyward. I’m not sure who taught him to do these — perhaps his absurd grandfather — but he cannot be stopped from silly walking now. No one’s really trying to stop him.

And as we all took a walk, in the incipient sunlight of spring, Elliott ran away from my camera. After a lifetime of every cute outfit and emerging expression being documented with digital cameras, Elliott has suddenly grown tired of being captured. He turns away from the visual inspection now. Spontaneously, I called out to him, “Elliott, would you like to take some photographs?”
“Sure!” he chirped, as he raced back to me across the grass. Eagerly, he reached out his hands and touched my camera, gently, completely assured. I followed him as he looked at the display on the back and took pictures of what he noticed. He noticed everything. Shadows on the grass, a stick in the ditch, a yellow plastic parachute man hanging suspended from a tree — they all received his attention. Damned if he isn’t a good photographer, especially for a four-year-old.

I am not the only one taking photographs now. His hands are large enough to hold the camera, and his gaze steady enough to see me through the lens.

So much has changed, however. The Chef is with us now, a part of the family, someone else who likes to play. My parents talked with him about our wedding. Merida — who has also shown up on the pages of this website many times — joined us for the afternoon on the island, and announced to my family that she will be moving back to New York soon. I already knew, and I am happy for her, because it is the best decision for my friend. But hearing it said out loud, in Elliott’s house, my heart did a little turn. And late Sunday evening, when we headed back to the ferry, I didn’t have the impending sense of doom, of school starting early the next morning again, because I am no longer a teacher.

When Elliott took a nap on the couch, I had to take a picture of his feet, poking out from behind the pillow, because they could have written the definition of cute. But later, at home, when I looked at the photo, I couldn’t believe how big they have grown. There’s not a stitch of baby in him, anymore.

Everything changes.

Last year, for his birthday, I wrote a piece about Elliott. In it, I worried out loud — how could I explain to him the way I have to eat? What would it feel like to turn my mouth away from his proferred cookie? How do you explain gluten-free to a three-year-old?

Well, it turns out that the four-year-old already knows.

On Sunday, the little guy invited me to play in his bedroom, which he calls “Elliott’s living room.” When we started playing with the animals (or “aminals,” as he says, and I prefer), he looked up and said, “Where’s Uncle Dan?” Happily, the Chef wandered in to play, as well.
Sprawled out on the floor, the Chef said, “I’m going to sleep now,” and started mock-snoring. (This always cracks the little guy up, almost as much as crossed eyes or wiggling ears.) Elliott crawled onto my lap, as I sat in the chair, and climbed over the bars of his crib.
“Let’s sweep!” he announced, his arms in the air.
We all closed our eyes and pretended to sleep.
This didn’t last long.
Elliott opened his eyes, jumped onto his mattress, and said, “Wake up! It’s summertime! It’s summertime!”
When his uncle said, “Wait, what happened to spring?” Elliott stopped jumping and seemed to consider this.
After a moment, he said, “It’s summertime!” And started jumping again.

We both laughed.

Elliott looked at us, his eyes alive, and said, “Today is a special day.” (Try to say the word special through pursed lips and a lot of spit.)
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s a special day because today we are going to the bakery.”
“Really?” I said, exaggerating, and willing to pretend. “What are we going to get?”
“We are going to get a gluten-free treat!” he shouted, his arms thrown wide.

I had to turn my head, so he didn’t see the tears in my eyes.

I don’t know where he got this. We haven’t been coaching him on gluten-free foods. Every food we make, when we are at his house, happens to be gluten-free, but I haven’t explained what that means. When we were playing the “icky foods” game at Thanksgiving, I did ask if the enormous jawbreaker were gluten-free. And he replied, with great glee, “Yes, this is gluten-free!” (Imagine that the u in gluten is pronounced like oooooooooh, and you will understand why the Chef and I say that phrase in that manner, to this day.) However, that is the last time I have mentioned gluten-free to him.

Did he pick it up by osmosis? Or has he just heard people mention the phrase gluten-free around me enough to know that when we go to the bakery, Shauna gets a gluten-free treat?

You were right, little guy. That was a special day.

(Oh, and according to Elliott, gluten-free bagels involve two cups of sugar and a pound of mushrooms. Translate this to a recipe and let me know how it works for you.)

Happy birthday, Elliott

And later, for his last birthday celebration, we ate some chocolate cake. I had made it that morning, at the last moment, from a mix. (Pamela’s gluten-free chocolate cake mix, to be precise.) Normally, I make everything from scratch, with fresh ingredients, from our own recipes. But that morning, the Chef and I woke up late, and lay in bed with the paper and sunlight streaming through the window, rather than making food for hours.

Elliott didn’t mind. In fact, he didn’t even want the frosting I had forgotten to make. Instead, he said, “I want a big piece! And a glass of milk.” And so you shall have it, my love.

As wonderful as it is, this world of cooking and discovering food, sometimes it is enough to eat an unfrosted chocolate cake from a mix, made in a glass Pyrex pan, at the last moment. The cake was moist, dense as a homemade brownie, and each bite a childhood memory of chocolate come rushing back to the mouth. Elliott certainly didn’t care that it was gluten-free. He cared even less that it was made from a mix.

He just fixed his eyes on those four crayon candles and concentrated his hands on the table. With a little beat to make a wish, he blew with all his force, and his new, four-year-old focus. They all went out, together.

May your every wish come true, my dear nephew.

24 March 2007

the gifts we give each other.

red cowboy boots

Every day, I feel blessed.

I have my health (thanks to discovering that I have celiac disease), I have work I love to do (you are reading it here), and I have the love of my life, the most adorable, gentle man I have ever met. How I found the Chef and a book deal in the same year is beyond me. Truly, every day, I count my blessings.

But some days, it seems, are more blessed than others.

Last week, I put up a post about eating a plum. Oh, it was more than that, of course. I wrote about the low-key but vibrant wedding that the Chef and I are planning, and the rings that we found, spontaneously, at Pike Place Market. They cost us less than $40, and we are thrilled. When I wrote that piece, I wrote it from my heart, which was spilling over with happiness. In a particular way, I wrote it for myself, and for the Chef, as a memory of that magic, mundane day. But I also wrote it as a way of giving back, to all of you who have sent us good wishes and come by here every day, to see what we are eating and how we are loving each other. It was a thank you, really.

I had no idea that I would be saying a huge thank you, an astounded thank you, just a week later.

You see, in the middle of that post, I put a link to a pair of red cowboy boots. As I wrote then, "...honestly, it’s not going to be a fancy wedding. We’re going to have paper plates and cups, blankets arrayed on the grass for instant picnics, and bouquets from the farmers’ market. No favors in matching colors, no garter or throwing of the bouquet. The rehearsal dinner will be a barbeque in our backyard, with both families and our closest friends eating burgers and potato salad. The day before, we’re having a miniature golf tournament. There will be no monogrammed cuff links or tuxedos, or matching bridesmaid dresses. I would wear red cowboy boots to my wedding, if the pair I want wasn't so darned expensive."

I have always loved red cowboy boots. There's something so alive, so declarative, so fierce about them. Somehow, when I imagined getting married, I always pictured myself in red. It's my color, the color of blood and laughter (you should see my cheeks after a belly laugh) and passion and life and summer flowers and everything that is vibrant and alive to me. I love red. But when the Chef asked me to marry him, he asked if I would wear white. It's an allusion, you see, to a song we will have played at our wedding. Of course, I said yes. But what about the red?

So when I saw those boots, I imagined myself in them. That's why I put up a link in the post. Because I wanted people to see the kind of day I would have if I could afford those dream boots.

Those red cowboy boots are sitting on the floor behind me as I write.

You see, in one of the most astounding acts of kindness ever given to me, one of you readers bought me the cowboy boots the next day.

I still have the shivers, thinking of this.

She wrote to me (and she has given me permission to publish this):

"Shauna – I LOVED your recent post about your low-key wedding make me smile every day and I think the way you live your life and look at the world is just fantastic.

However, as a soon to be published writer of a gluten-free book and a [former] teacher, I realize that in our society you are not blessed with monetary wealth to the degree that you should be. If you were paid in an amount that directly reflected your value as a person and the beauty of what you create, you would be richer than you can imagine....It pains me to think that someone who gives so much should have to marry her sweetheart wearing anything other than the exact shoes that make her heart sing....

Enjoy them on that day (if you want to) and for years to come. I felt all warm and smiley and excited just thinking about doing this … I got the idea when I read your blog entry today and followed the link … and from the excitement I felt I knew that I just had to do this for you. It made me so happy to give you something, because you never ask for anything from your readers, you just share and share and create more and more beauty each day. Here is the universe bringing something back to you. You deserve it.

Someday I will come up with my sweetheart and dine at the Impromptu Wine Bar and say hello.

Take Care,


It has been a week since she sent me this email, and I still have not found the words. Astounded? Astonished? Dancing with pleasure? Humbled? Thrilled to my toes? Those aren't even close.

It grew even more difficult to convey my gratitude when I found out what Kristin does for a living. I assumed that she had some extra cash, a comfortable life with lots of spending money. (Those boots were expensive!) But that's not the story, either. You see, it turns out that Kristin is a policewoman. A uniformed cop. And she tells me that I am not paid what I am worth? My goodness.

Goodness. Maybe that's the only word for all this.

There is such goodness in this world.

Thank you, Kristin. For the rest of my life — at my wedding, on the book tour, on our honeymoon in Italy, and all the adventures yet to come — I will be wearing those red cowboy boots. And every time, I will be telling the story of your kindness.

And as you might imagine, those of you reading, I have invited Kristin and her sweetheart to our wedding. The Chef immediately agreed. I hope that she will be dancing with us in July.

Thank you.

* * *

One email like that would be more than enough for a day. However, I put up that piece, I received a bombardment of beautiful comments and an equal number of lovely letters. That day, I did nothing but read and sit at the computer, open-mouthed. Truly, I don't know what to say.

One, in particular, however, left me sobbing. The following letter has changed my life, in ways I cannot (nor will not attempt to) explain. I know that, if you read it, this letter will change your life too.

The author of this letter has chosen to remain anonymous, but she has given me permission to print this.

Please, read this letter. Not all gifts come wrapped in boxes. Sending this to me was one of the kindest acts this writer has ever performed. And she didn't even know it.

"Hi Shauna,

I came across your blog when doing research for a friend diagnosed with Celiac, around the time you started writing about the Chef. I keep coming back because of your love story, and the amazement you describe when you talk about your relationship with the Chef, resonates so deeply with me. I just feel compelled to let you know that I know that feeling. I don't have the way with words that you do -- but I want to try to explain -- I just feel compelled to, I hope you don't think that's odd!

My first taste came when I met and fell in love with Mike -- a man who made me laugh so hard my ribs ached, and who had a way of looking at me that made one eye crinkle up and it made me melt. I swear I fell in love with him and knew I'd marry him on our first date -- at a quiet cocktail lounge in the West Village. I remember sipping my drink (an apple martini -- how 2000!) and listening to his stories and his jokes... I had never been so content to listen to someone talk about places I'd never been and people I'd never met. And then he stopped short -- midsentence -- and said, "I talk too much." I laughed -- no, no -- keep going. And he said, "I want to know everything about you... tell me your story." I eeked out a few awkward basics, and for each one, he greeted it with such acceptance and wonder and he made me feel like anything I had to say about where I came from and where I grew from was important, and sacred... funny and meaningful.

That was in early 2000. In June of 2001, we returned to that same cocktail lounge and he proposed to me. Of course, I said -- "yes." (but no tatoo, thank you!)

In September of 2001, I lost my wonderful Mike in the terrorist attacks in New York... 5 months before we were to be married. I have no words to tell you the feeling of that day, and the days and weeks and months following. After a routine morning -- a leisurely walk with the dog together (what a crystal blue day it was), a latte enroute to the subway, a quick and rushed kiss goodbye to make it to work on time -- and I was alone, and Mike was gone.

Acquaintances sometimes have a strange curiousity about my story, although they'd never ask questions of me for fear of hurting me, I suppose. Sometimes I just wish they would; because it helped (helps) to talk about him. Instead, they would ask my big brother, and he has become the narrator of my story, it seems... recounting that day and my panicked phone call to him (when I could finally get through.) The way he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge (against the sea of people walking away from the city) to find me and help me... and the way I collapsed on the sidewalk after having to call Mike's parents to tell them he had not been heard from. My brother picked me up out of my crumpled, crying heap and almost chanted, breathless and shaky, in my ear, "You are strong. You are strong. You are strong."... over and over ... because, as he remembers, he had no idea what else to say and it was the first thing that came to mind. After all, what do you say to your little sister when something so unthinkable has shattered everything, and you are the only one there in the moment to pick up her pieces?

He and I walked the city and checked every safe list, every makeshift triage, every hospital.... strangely, I don't remember this at all. I don't remember where we went, or what I saw or who I spoke to. I don't remember coming back to my apartment that night... but I do recall sitting on the couch, staring at the muted TV, while my brother made all the phone calls I could not bear to make.

My brother called our parents to update them because I couldn't... sitting near him I could hear my mom's wail come through the phone. I couldn't bear to speak with them myself just then... I couldn't bring myself to listen to my own father cry upon hearing that his 28 year old daughter was likely a sudden widow -- before she even got married. That Mike -- the one he could talk sports with, the one who liked to help with the yard, the one who brought good beer when he visited, the one who asked him for my hand in marriage "as any good guy should out of respect to a father" -- was probably gone.

I do remember in the days and weeks after, there was an almost magnetic attraction between people who had lost loved ones. I would be on the subway, lost in my own thoughts... when someone would put their hand on my arm and say, "Who did you lose?" The lump in my throat would make it difficult to speak; and I would just say, "Mike." I'm sure they were looking for a response that was some label -- brother, friend, husband, co-worker.... but to me, Mike was Mike.

Mike's remains -- fragments, really -- were identified with DNA taken from his toothbrush. That toothbrush that had seemed so symbolic and meaningful the first time he left it -- made him a fixture in my apartment and served as the first suggestion of permanency between "us." Soone after he left it there, "my" apartment became "our" apartment.

I couldn't bear to be there. My best friend took an unpaid leave from her job in Atlanta to come and move in with me for a month. She slept in my bed with me just so I didn't have to feel the emptiness of "his side"... she walked my dog when I couldn't gather myself enough to get dressed... she force fed me nutritious food and quite honestly, even completed my work for me so that I wouldn't lose my job, which believed I was "working from home" for a while. When I received the phone call about Mike's remains; and allowed my mascara-ed tears to ruin her shirt. She helped me synch with her deep breaths when I thought I would choke crying... "In... and out.... in... and out... that's it, Aim..."

She took half of what I was carrying saying, "it's not as heavy if we both carry some."

Have you ever known such a gift? It is humbling.

Eventually, I was able to function -- almost normally on the surface. But as you can probably imagine, I spent the next couple of years post-9/11 grieving profoundly... trying to understand why, missing Mike terribly... trying NOT to allow fear and grief and anger to make me less amazed at the world around me, what it offered, and what I could offer to it.

In 2003, I was slowly moving on, but quite certain I'd never find what I had with Mike. I would "settle", I decided, for dating... for working... I bought fabulous shoes and acted all Carrie Bradshaw...

And then... I met Matt in December of 2003. He changed everything.

Everything you write about the Chef is how I feel about Matt. And, how I felt about Mike -- and how I thought I'd never feel again when I lost him. How incredible, how amazing... that I was blessed with this feeling twice.

To sum up Matt is so hard.... one way to describe him is to tell you how he reacted to being with someone who'd experienced the loss I had. He never thought twice of the framed picture I have of Mike and I in my apartment. He allowed me to talk about him -- ASKED about him sometimes, even. He came to dinner with me when Mike's parents were in town. He remembered his birthday, the passing of our "wedding date" that never happened... he allowed me my space, my memories, and my grief. He suggested that a candle be lit and a prayer be said in Matt's memory on our own wedding day. He is patience and compassion personified.

In a way, it reminds me of the acceptance you felt when the Chef recognized, acknowledged your need to be gluten-free. It was a sense of taking me "as I am", and seeing what I could offer despite (or maybe because of) everything.

He helped me realize that loss doesn't mean you don't love again. And that the "second gift", so to speak, doesn't have to be any less sweet, surprising, wonderful, as the first.

Sometimes, in my dating days, it felt as if everyone I went out with treated me with kid gloves... afraid I was too fragile, too broken... maybe wishing I'd get over it already... hoping they'd be the one to help me forget and move on. Matt never required that I "forget" or "move on"... only that I live in the moment with him. Rather than treating me like I was the "young and frail almost-widow", he treated me like a strong, capable woman who had overcome a lot and was still positive... still looking to love and be loved... still able to be open, and still able to live fully.

Sometimes Matt will look at me in a way that wraps me in warmth and acceptance and kindness... he makes me feel equal, whole... with him, I was never damaged goods... and to boot, he has a really cute British accent. :)

It seems silly for me to share all this with you. But I guess your posts about the Chef -- and today's about your planning your wedding -- made me remember. Made me think. And made me so grateful for the gifts I've been given that I needed to share. The way that your posts make me well up with joy and recognition made me want to tell you that I KNOW, gosh do I really, really KNOW the feelings you describe. There was a time when I never thought I'd know them again, and now I do...

And, we are expecting our first baby -- due in September. If that doesn't make you amazed with the world, I don't know what would....

I wish you and the Chef all the happiness in the world as you celebrate the incredible gift of each other."

There are no words.

Thank you.

buttermilk currant scones

Buttermilk Currant Scones, adapted from The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook

Daily, I am astounded by the generosity of this community. The mere existence of food blogs is a beautiful gift. How else would we be able to peek into each other’s kitchen, grab a whiff of baked goods, and gather ideas for our own meals? Without food blogs, we would have to buy cookbooks, all the time. My wallet, alone, thanks you all for doing the work you do.

A few weeks ago, I checked The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook out of the library. Filled with fascinating recipes, this book is a compendium of great ideas from some of the country’s best bakers, including our own David Lebovitz. Every page intrigued me, including recipes for warm pear tart, five-spice angel cake, and applesauce gingerbread. I was so excited by the idea of chocolate budini — a flourless Italian pudding — that I showed it to the Chef, and he promptly put his own version of it on the March menu. Reading a book like this may seem like cruel torture for someone who is gluten-free, but it is the opposite. Whether we use gluten-free flours or all-purpose white, we are baking. And in many ways, I feel like a far more creative, involved baker now than I did when I could just dump some wheat flour in a bowl and go from there.

Even before I went gluten-free, I had never attempted scones. They felt too daunting, a task for a more experienced baker than I considered myself. Now, I don’t let anything stop me. In fact, I awoke one Sunday morning, read the paper with the Chef in bed, and then turned to him and said, “I’m going to go make us some scones.”

After eating these, he said that he felt blessed.

Buttermilk Currant Scones

1 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1 cup almond meal
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup cornstarch
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup currants
several pinches of turbinado sugar

Combine all the dry ingredients together and stir them well. Sift them into a large bowl. Set aside.

Cut the butter into small pieces, dropping the pieces into the flour mixture as you cut. The pieces should be no larger than your thumbnail. Once you have cut all the butter, combine the butter pieces and dry ingredients with a pastry fork (or your fingers). Once they are all blended well, and the mixture feels like bread crumbs, then you are done.

Combine the buttermilk, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla extract together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in. Slowly, stir the liquid in a counter-clockwise pattern, from the center out, until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the wet. When everything feels combined for the first time, stop. Add the currants.

Put the dough into the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. This is important.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Take the scone dough out of the refrigerator. Divide the dough in half with your hands, and then divide it again, until you have a ball about the size of the palm of your hand. Flatten the ball, slightly, and shape it into a scone-like shape. (That might mean something different to each person.) Sprinkle the top with a bit of turbinado sugar, and put that scone onto parchment paper (or silicone mat) on top of the baking sheet. Repeat until you have finished with all the dough.

Slide the baking sheet into the heated oven and bake the scones for fifteen to eighteen minutes. (In our oven, it was more like eighteen.) The scones are done when you can put in a toothpick and have it come out clean, as well as when the top is warm and browned. Allow the scones to cool for about five minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes about eight scones.

21 March 2007

oh, the honeymoon

polenta, sausage and pasta sauce II

We thought we knew where we were going on our honeymoon.

Honeymoon. The sound of it alone makes me feel a little glowy, like the pale-yellow sunset out the window as I write. After nearly four decades of being on this earth, I had nearly given up hope of meeting that man of my dreams. Now, not only have I met him, and have been living with him for eight months, but also he exceeds my dreams. We eat well, we have our health, and we regard every day as a laughing adventure. We are deliberately planning a low-key, goofy wedding, surrounded by people we love and enormously good food. It won’t cost much — we found the navy-blue blazer he wants to wear on that day at a rummage sale, for five dollars. Neither one of us stands on ceremony or walks through life with that many expectations. Why would we need an elaborate honeymoon?

Well, call me a girl, but I still want a honeymoon with him. Call him a girl, but the Chef still wants a honeymoon with me. We live well, but we both work hard. Two days off together, with no work to do, is a rare vacation. There are always stories to write, menus to plan, food to buy, emails to answer, and phone calls to return. He’s a chef — they may work harder than any professional I know. And I’m a freelance writer now, without a regular paycheck. There is always work to do.

The thought of ten days together, doing nothing but eating and walking and laughing and other honeymoon activities? Oh, yeah.

So, early on, we decided where to go. At first, we thought of Ireland. He’s an Ahern — as one of the readers of this blog put it recently, “He has a bit of the Paddy in him.” Oh yes. James is of Welsh derivation, apparently, but I’ve a good chunk of the Irish in me too. He has never been to Ireland. I went for a week, with Sharon, bouncing along the green fields in a little green rental car. I’d go back in a heartbeat. But Ireland without a Guinness? Oh.

Besides, we really want to go somewhere where we will eat well and be inspired. Of course, we would be inspired in Ireland, but the food? Well, food — it seemed to me on my visit — is not the primary sensory pleasure of the place.

We bandied about ideas, but then we both thought of it: road trip. Feet up on the dashboard, windows open, music going loud, and the wind in our hair as we sing. The thought of it made us both giggle, immediately. But where? We decided to follow the trail of great food. Then, it arrived, the idea that latched onto us for months. Seattle to Portland, one day to stuff as many meals as we could stretch into us. A jaunt over to the ocean, where we could fall asleep with the roar of the waves, and take picnics on the sand and lay in the sunlight for hours. Driving down the coast, the immensity to our right, music flying out the window. Into California, where we would tour the wine country, end up in Napa Valley, and eat at the French Laundry. After a bit, we’d wriggle over to San Francisco, eat at Zuni Café, meet up with food blogger friends, and end our trip in Berkeley with the meal at Chez Panisse I have always imagined.

We knew we would spend the entire drive up I-5, heading home, reminiscing about every bite.

Perfect, right? The Chef dreams of the perfect demi-glace, and I am endlessly happy with discovering new foods. Friends, good food, great wine, the ocean, driving while laughing, and eating at two of the best restaurants in the world — that’s a honeymoon.

We started researching places to stay. We started saving every penny we could. We planned ahead to plead with friends and acquaintances to help us get reservations. We had a plan.

That’s the funny thing about plans. They sometimes just go astray.

Really, I blame Jamie Oliver. I’ve been overly happy about the man for years now, and his enthusiasms and recipes have inspired me innumerable times. However, before I met the Chef, I wondered: is Jamie really that good? Maybe I’m just a naïve girl home cook, who likes a male chef who looks like he’d make me laugh. But when I started showing Jamie to the Chef, I realized I had been right all along. In our house, watching Jamie Oliver dvds is referred to as “crack.” The Chef confirmed it: that Jamie Oliver knows what he’s doing. Watching Oliver’s Twist isn’t a light diversion around here, because the Chef is always inspired and goes into work mode. (Thank goodness for South Park and SVU.)

So really, it’s Jamie Oliver’s fault that we changed our plans. The Chef bought me a copy of Jamie’s Italy for Christmas. Seduced by the photographs in sun-washed colors, I started making meals from it nearly every night. His radicchio and arugula salad is going to be with us every spring, for years. His caprese salad photograph inspired me to tear off pieces of fresh mozzarella with my fingers from now on, instead of neatly slicing it. One night, the Chef made us a version of Jamie’s hunter’s chicken stew, spontaneously. It tasted so redolent of the earth and tomatoes and sunlight in the dead of winter that we were both astonished. The Chef put his own version of it on his menu the next month. There was sausage carbonara, salt cod soup, sage and anchovy fritters, and a magnificent sausage and green lentils with tomato salsa.

Seriously, you should purchase this book.

Every morning, as I dipped into its pages, I read passages to the Chef as he tried to read the paper. “Since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve been totally besotted by the love, passion, and verve for food, family, and life itself that just about all Italian people have, no matter where they’re from or how rich or poor they might be.” Ten minutes later, I would nudge the poor Chef as we lay in bed, and interrupt his sports-page moment. “Honey, listen to this, ‘I wanted to find the food of the real Italy — not the place that conjures up images of olive groves and lemons — and to celebrate the recipes from the people I met along the way, from fishermen to family bakers, from the street full of mamas making fresh pasta to all those taking part in the local pasta competition in the town square. I wanted to experience for myself the spirit of Italy that makes cooking and eating absolutely central of family life, whichever part of the country you find yourself in.'” And then the Chef would look at me, and the photograph of what I planned to make us for dinner that night, and he would throw the covers back and climb out of bed. He had to make us breakfast, that minute.

It’s a dangerous book.

We both agreed. Someday, we would go to Italy.

Italy kept creeping into our lives. A friend of a friend who came into town. Friends at the restaurant for New Year’s Eve celebration, and one of them told us how much she loved the area of Italy where she grew up, Abruzzo. After I turned in the book, I turned back to reading. The first book I raced through was Eat Pray Love (I cannot recommend it enough), where Elizabeth Gilbert spends the first third of the year in Rome. I read more of that to the Chef in bed than I had Jamie’s Italy. The cover of one month’s Gourmet and a NY Times Wednesday food section arrived and seemed to leer at us, enticing us to come closer. Italian sausages and bottles of wine and lovely cheeses started sneaking into our home.

One evening, while I was still working on the book, I was editing a description of a meal I ate in Florence, the one weekend I visited the country. I shouldn’t tell you too much about it now — the story made it to the final draft — but suffice it to say that it involves a thunderstorm on the piazza in front of the Uffizi, the statue of Zeus staring down at me, and an unexpected plate of fresh smoked mozzarella. As I re-read it, I nearly started to cry. The experience was direct, and simple, and all about the ingredients. Writing it made me want to go to Italy, that minute.

Finally, our dear friend Merida (whom I have referred to on this site for years as my dear friend, but that pronoun is no longer true), came over one Sunday for movies and morir sonando. She was flipping through Jamie’s Italy, and we were espousing its glories. We were all oohing and ahhing again. Merida — in her infinite wisdom — looked up at us and said, “Why don’t you just go to Italy for your honeymoon?”

Oh. Somehow, it had never occurred to us.

Well, there’s the money. We don’t have that much. And there are the passports to renew and the clichés to overcome and the language barrier. But mostly, it’s the money. The Chef and the writer? We’re rich in living, not in cash.

But, Merida said the clincher: “Look, you two are hoping to have kids soon. Road trips? You can do those with kids. But a trip to Europe? Once you have the kids, that’s going to be on hold for awhile. And how often do you have a honeymoon? Go.”

And so, we looked at each other. Something felt released. We both smiled, and then giggled. “Of course,” we said. “Let’s do it. Let’s go to Italy.” We hugged each other, and then we hugged Merida. Sometimes, in life, you have to take leaps, and make decisions that don’t feel rational on the surface, but resonate underneath.

And just this morning, we started laughing, on our drive to the restaurant, remembering. The Chef’s restaurant, Impromptu, changes its food focus every three months. The cuisine he was creating when we first met? Italy. This is why, in one of his first emails to me, he told me that he had to do some research on Tuscany that night. Feeling emboldened by our first kiss the day before, I made some suggestions to the Chef:

“Tuscany? Don't forget -- chestnut honey on pecorino. It's unbelievably good. Just a little drizzle. There's also smoked buffalo mozzarella. Spinach gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce. Fava beans sauteed in olive oil, with truffles. Pappa alla pomodoro. Chicken breast stuffed with fresh ricotta, ribbons of basil, and sun-dried tomatoes. Caprese salad. How about chianti ice cream?”

This is why the first food the Chef ever fed me was white beans braised in great olive oil and rosemary. The first time I ate dinner at his restaurant, he fed me Italian food.

There it is — Italy for our honeymoon.

However, it turns out that deciding to go has been the easiest part. Right now, we are hounded by a desperate question.

What part of Italy should we visit?

We know one thing only — we want to go to Rome. After reading Eat Pray Love, I have to walk those streets with the Chef. Our friend Francoise insists that Rome is her favorite city in the world. And the Chef? Well, he was an altar boy when he was young. Of course, we have to visit the Vatican.

Okay, that’s two or three days of the honeymoon. But where do we go next?

You see, it seems that everyone who has gone to Italy has fallen in love with the area he or she visited. Judy told us, “Go to Sicily. There are stands with fresh mozzarella by the roadside.” And I could tell by her face as she re-lived the memory that this had been one of the best trips of her life. Nina said, “Bologna. The best meal I have ever eaten was there. I even have the business card from that restaurant still. I’ll give it to you. Bologna.” Okay, put that on the itinerary. The man I hired as my accountant, when he heard our story, said, “You have to go to Emilia-Romagna. Here, borrow my copy of this book.” And he ran into his kitchen and dug out his copy of The Splendid Table, which he put into my hands proudly, as though he were handing over a bible. I read it for ten minutes and added Parma, Modena, and Reggio to the list. Anna grew up in the Dolomites, and she insisted we had to visit.

We both started growing a little dizzy.

But wait! There’s Naples, where pizza as we know it was born. (The Chef insists, however, that pizza was actually invented in Greece. “It was,” he just told me. “The Italians just put red sauce on it.”) Certainly the Chef needs a slice of real Neopalitan pizza. Maybe there is even a pizzeria making rice-crust pizza for me. Italians, as I understand it, have a higher incidence of diagnosed celiacs in their culture than does the US, and a much more advanced understanding of how to cook great food gluten-free than almost anywhere else in the world. Paradoxically, I might be safer in the land of pizza and pasta than other regions of the world.

You see, that’s all we really want. We want to eat. We want to eat the best tomatoes in the world (many people have assured us that’s in San Marzano). We want to eat sardines and mussels fresh from the ocean. We want to eat gelato every day. We want fat lemons, warmed in the sun. (Sorrento.) We want to drink truly great espressos. We want great cheeses and creamy risottos and crispy polenta and just-caught poultry and meals in tiny little trattorias and restaurants that only the locals know about. We want to eat well and memorably.

Some people go to Italy for the art. I’ve stood in front of the David, by myself, for half an hour, and I am satisfied with that. Some people are suggesting we go to Venice and ride in gondolas, or go to the island of Capri, for the romance. I’m sure that both places are stunning, but our romance takes place over a plate. We want to avoid the tourist spots, as much as possible. We want to live like Italians for ten days. We want to eat Italy.

Is that Sardinia? The Cinqueterre? Umbria? Siena? Padua? Bari? Puglia? Positano? Portofino?


We have some time to make up our minds. We have decided, sanely, to enjoy our wedding and all our friends and family visiting, in a spacious manner. We’re going to be married in July. We’re going on our honeymoon in September, after the tourist season has ended (and just before the book tour). This will also give us some more time to save money for the trip. (If people want to give us gifts for the wedding, we are hoping they will want to contribute to the honeymoon instead.) This might be the trip of our lifetime, and we want to do it right.

But still, we need your help. Does anyone out there have suggestions? Where have you eaten well in Italy? What have been some of the most memorable meals? If you have been reading this site for awhile, you probably know us pretty well. Where would we enjoy our time most?

We thank you, in advance, for your kindness.

And if nothing else, we can promise you this: we will come back with photographs, stories, and glorious new recipes inspired by our time there. You can count on it — we will be sharing them with you.

Crispy polenta with fennel sausage and tomato sauce

polenta, sausage, and pasta sauce

While we have been pondering where to put our feet on Italian soil, we have been cooking. The Chef made dishes for me nearly every night for weeks, when I was finishing the book. He came home after an eleven-hour work day to stand in front of the stove and cook again. But once I turned in the last draft (for the moment), I started standing in front of the stove instead. Since we decided to go to Italy, it has been polenta and pasta sauce galore around here.

This dish is the culmination of all those experiments. The Chef taught me how to make polenta well, much better than I had been making. Tomato sauce from canned tomatoes isn’t nearly as brilliant as the sauces made from fresh tomatoes, but the taste is a teasing reminder in the dead of winter. And sausages, in little irregular-shaped patties, are much easier to make than you might imagine.

Last week, when I made this all for dinner, the Chef stood in the kitchen, eating and groaning at the same time. He didn’t stop chewing and scooping more food into his mouth for awhile. When he did finally come up for air, he looked at me with avid hunger and adoration in his eyes, and said: “Baby, this is good.”

Sometimes, that’s all I need.

Fennel sausage

1 pound ground pork (the best and freshest available)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
¼ cup fennel tops (those leafy greens at the top of the white bulb), minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped fine
½ yellow onion, fine diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Mix all the ingredients into the ground pork. Put your hands in the pork and really mix it all in. Set the bowl full of sausage meat into the refrigerator and let it marinate for at least two hours before cooking.

When you are ready to cook the sausages, preheat the oven to 450°. Put a skillet on high heat. Shape the sausage meat into small balls —perhaps two inches across — and pat them each down to make small patties. When the pan has come to its full heat, put in a tablespoon of canola oil. When the oil runs around the pan easily, like water, add the sausage patties. Cook them on high heat for three to four minutes, or until they are browned. When they have browned on the first side, flip over the sausage patties and immediately put the skillet into the hot oven. Allow the sausages to cook until they have reached an internal temperature of 160°. They should be sizzling and enticing at this point. Pull them from the oven.

Crispy polenta

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ yellow onion, small diced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup polenta
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/3 cup grated parmesan or Asiago cheese

Set a saucepan on medium-high heat. When it has come to heat, add the oil. When the oil has become hot, add the diced onion and cook it for a few moments, stirring occasionally. When the onion starts to soften and release its smell, add the rosemary and garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Within five minutes, everything will start to smell wonderfully redolent.

Add the milk and water to the onion and herbs. Stir. Allow the liquid to come to a boil. Immediately add the polenta and stir it all together, turning down the heat to medium to medium-low. When the polenta has thickened, and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan (the time will vary, depending on the kind of polenta you are using), pull the pan from the heat. Add the salt and pepper, as well as the cheese. Stir it all in. Immediately pour the polenta into a casserole dish or roasting pan. Use a rubber spatula to spread the polenta out evenly, about one inch thick. Put the polenta into the refrigerator to chill, for at least two hours.

When you are ready to cook the polenta, preheat the oven to 450°. (If you are making this entire dish, you will do this simultaneously with the sausages.) Cut the polenta into thick wedges or triangles. Bring a skillet to heat, and then add a tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil. When the oil has come to heat, add the polenta wedges to the skillet. Cook the polenta for three to four minutes, or until the underside has browned. Turn over the wedges. Cook the polenta on the other side for two minutes, and then immediately transfer the skillet to the hot oven. Cook for about five minutes, or until the inside of the polenta has reached its heat.

Tomato sauce

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 small, dried red chile, seeds removed and chopped
1 small nub ginger (about one-inch long), peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
28-ounce can whole tomatoes (try San Marzano tomatoes)
splash red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Put a large saucepan on a burner, on medium to medium-low heat. When the pan has come to heat, pour in a glug of olive oil. When it has heated, add the chopped onion, the garlic, and the chile. Cook them for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. When the onions have softened, and the garlic smells warm, add the fresh herbs and ginger. Cook for a few moments more, until the herbs have released their smell. Chop the tomatoes and add the chopped tomatoes, plus the juice from the can, into the saucepan. Turn down the heat to low and let the tomato mixture simmer for at least twenty minutes.

Put the tomato sauce into the blender and puree it all together. Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of red wine vinegar. Taste. Perhaps add a bit more, until it tastes perfect to you.

Return the sauce to the saucepan and let it simmer again. Add a glug of good olive oil, and taste again.

Now, to put it all together….

Ladle a small portion of the tomato sauce onto a plate.

Place a wedge or two of the crispy polenta on top.

Throw some sausage patties around it.

Sprinkle some drops of your best-quality olive oil on top. Add some fresh mozzarella, if you wish, as well as some shredded parmesan. Top with fresh herbs.


17 March 2007

the joys of simple food

quesadilla at midnight

Dear Cooper,

You haven’t met me yet, but you will, come July.

Your uncle Danny (whom I call the Chef on this website) talks about you all the time. Your dad is his brother Pat, you see. Pat, the Olympic skier, and now the man who put you on your first pair of skis a couple of months ago. You had flame-red hair and a big, lopsided grin, your small teeth as white as the snow. You hunched down over bent knees as you started to soar down a little hill. Your uncle saw that picture and teared up — another Ahern skiing boy is born. I saw the pictures of you when we were visiting your Granddad and Grandmother in Tucson, last month. They are so proud of you.

That’s a great family you’ve been born into, kid.

Everyone in Tucson wished you could have been there with us. I know your dad had to work at the ski area, and you had visited Tucson only a few weeks before. But still. Think what fun you would have had, with all your uncles and aunts making a fuss over you. And I would have happily kneeled down on the floor to play blocks or read you a book. I just can’t wait to meet you.

You see, there is a photograph of you above our stove. Every time your uncle makes us food, late at night, after he has returned from his restaurant, he looks up at that photograph — the top of your lip smeared with a crayon-made moustache — and sends out a little kiss to you. And next to you sits a photograph of Elliott, standing on a chair in his kitchen, contemplating the quinoa on his spoon quite seriously.

Elliott is my nephew, my dear-hearted, wonderfully particular, nearly-four-years-old little boy. From the day he was born, Elliott was my favorite person in the world. He dances with words, shimmies his way into every part of my brain, and waltzes out the door after a long visit, without knowing just how much the memory of him will tap across my mind. Yesterday, he was visiting me for the afternoon. The first thing he did was run into the bedroom I share with your uncle, climbed onto the bed, and bounced on the top of the covers for ten minutes. I watched his little, white-socked feet spring up from the mattress, his toes pointed downward, already anticipating the soft return, and saw his hair flop up from his face with every leap. He kept grinning, an open-mouthed smile that made me giggle.

And later in the afternoon, when he was standing in our kitchen, mixing yellow and blue food colorings in a glass of water, his mom told him that we were ready to leave for the store, to find him a toy. (He isn’t old enough to know that we were only going to the local Goodwill, and the scuffed red rocket he clutched to himself only cost four dollars.) He stood up, his eyes excited. And then he paused for a moment, to contemplate. Suddenly, he thrust his arms out, into the air — an expansive gesture, embracing the moment — and said, “And Shauna can come too!”

My goodness, I love him.

You and Elliott will meet soon. You will meet in one of the most important weekends of our life: our wedding. You probably have no idea what that means, do you? A few weeks ago, I took Elliott aside after a long walk in the forest behind his house, and I said, “Do you know what? Uncle Dan and I are going to be married. We are going to have a big party in a park, with all our friends. And we would love for you to be there.” He nodded gravely, and let out an airy little “…yes….” I don’t think he understood. And he’s over a year older than you. So you don’t have to understand.

But on a day toward the middle of July this year, your uncle and I would like you to put on your brightest Hawaiian shirt, and a pair of cowboy boots, and walk a little distance, holding Elliott’s hand, toward the two of us. I’m going to be wearing a white dress. Your uncle will be wearing a blue suit, and we’ll both be smiling at you. Somewhere in your small hands, you’ll be carrying these silver rings.

Last month, I was holding Elliott on my hip, pointing to the photographs on our refrigerator. He always laughs when he sees himself, and he recognizes his grandma and granddad, whom he adores. Then, he saw the picture of you there, your hair gleaming red and tousled, your hands clutching a rock you liked from the garden. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“That’s Cooper,” I told him.
“Cooper,” he repeated, solemnly, curving his mouth around the letters of your name.
“Cooper is Uncle Dan’s nephew,” I said, pointing to the man standing behind me. “Maybe one day you could be his friend.”
Elliott paused for a moment, to think. And then, in his sweet, small voice, he said, “Yes, I will be his friend.”
I looked around at your uncle and saw the tears fill his eyes, immediately.

So, don’t be upset if you see us both crying, on that sunny day in July, as you walk toward us. We will both just be happy, you see.

Last week, your uncle called your house to say hello. You — just like Elliott has — go in and out of liking the phone. Mostly, when he calls every week, you just listen on the end, your little breaths hitting the sound recorder. Once, after he had moved into this house, your uncle put me on the phone too, the both of us listening. That’s how I heard you say your first word to him: “…book.” That made him tear up too, to hear your voice.

I remember the first sounds Elliott made that sounded like words. He sometimes pointed to the lamp above the chair in which we sat, and with every force and urgency he could muster, sputtered out, “Dight!” I can still remember the delight of hearing that d, the explosive force of the t at the end of the word. I knew what he meant.

Now, his voice is thin and reedy, sweet and pleading. I wonder — every day now —whether your uncle and I will meet our own children. I wonder what their voices will sound like in my ears.

Last week, when your uncle talked to you on the phone, you said your first sentence to him. Your father had stopped at a little Mexican take-out place for dinner, and he had just given you some food before he asked you to step to the phone. Apparently, you said, “I have a quesadilla, and it is good.” While your uncle talked to you, amazed to hear an entire sentence, you munched away, contentedly. All he could hear was the sound of your chewing.

And the first sentence you ever said to him was about food.

He called me just afterwards, to convey the conversation. He was a little misty still, his voice a little ragged. You see, every one of you in his family (and now every person in my family — we’re all one family, joined by the two of us, now) is so deeply important to your uncle. He’s pretty sensitive to life, moved by everything, making jokes about everything else. But his family? And you? You are all, without a doubt, the most important part of his life.

That’s part of why I love him so. He loves his food, he works hard, and he treats people well. But in the end, the only thing that truly matters to him is the people he loves. I feel blessed to be one of those people.

Your uncle is a good man, Cooper. I hope that one day you will be a man as good as him.

All of this is how, last Saturday night, we ended up at a gargantuan grocery store, at nearly midnight, searching out the ingredients for quesadillas. This store was cavernous, with cold fluorescent lights, and almost no one there. But the two of us were laughing hard and discovering food on different aisles. As he walked through the produce section, he walked with his hand on my butt. (You’re going to have to be a lot older before you realize what fun that is.) That’s one part of being with someone you love this dearly — anything can be a joy.

We rushed home, talking about families and nephews and customers in the restaurant all the way up to our home. And then we cut up chunks of avocado and grated soft cheese into a small hill on the plate. We opened the jar of salsa and flipped up the lid of the sour cream. He sautéed us some slices of steak. I took the corn tortillas out of their package and started to heat them in the skillet.

These tortillas were made by a company called Mission. This definitely won’t mean anything to you for awhile, but I can eat them because they are gluten-free. Not only are they made of corn, but the company has taken the care to label them and explain their manufacturing process on their website. Later, when you are older, you might understand how loved it makes me feel to know that someone is taking care of me like this.

Sometimes, the best food is simple, spontaneous. If we had planned ahead, we might have made our own salsa, from scratch. We could have ground up chiles and bought better cheese. It’s easy to make corn tortillas by hand. There are a dozen ways we could have made this meal more gourmet. And I could have made some again the next afternoon, just to take this picture in the best light.

But you know what? The best food is always shared with people you love. Just that day, I had gone to my friend Francoise’s house. When I entered, she jumped up to hug me, and gestured widely at the table, where Adriaan sat. She said, “We are just eating lunch. Would you like to join us?” And so, she raced into the kitchen to cut up an avocado, and dribbled it with balsamic vinegar. She sliced a tomato and sprinkled sea salt on it. A handful of greens, a squeeze of lemon juice. On the table, some hummus. That was all I needed. It was a tremendous meal. Not gourmet, not good enough to write about in a fancy magazine. Just good.

And when I told your uncle about what Francoise had done, he said, “That is a good woman.”

Because you were eating a quesadilla, and told your uncle about it on the phone, we sat in our bedroom, after midnight, eating hot quesadillas just off the skillet. We made jokes about Napoleon Dynamite (“Get your own damned quesadilla!”) and held each other’s hands. Sour cream and avocadoes spilled out both sides of the tortillas, and we both moaned with the messy pleasure.

Thank you, Cooper, for inspiring such joy in us.

It’s amazing how much we all affect each other in this world.

See you in July, buddy.

Your soon-to-be aunt Shauna

14 March 2007

the first plum of spring

first plum of spring

The Chef and I bought our wedding rings the other day.

We were meandering through the Market, making our way through the sparse crowds, pausing to gawk at the daffodils bunched in white buckets. Spring is nearly here. It’s inching toward us, ready to pounce upon our heads in sunlight-through-trees-full-of-green ease. As we passed the produce stands at the mouth of the Market, we saw the first asparagus of the season, and spring salad onions, and purple artichokes with long stems. Policemen on horses smiled at children near the bronze pig. Down the street, the blind piano man banged out a bouncy tune on his upright. The sun shone.

We were holding hands, walking down the cobblestone streets of one of our favorite places in the world.

I haven’t spoken much here about the wedding planning, although there are stories I could tell. Mostly, though (and I hope I’m not tempting the wedding gods by saying this), it has all been so easy. We agree on everything, and especially that we want to enjoy every moment of this. We will be married in the middle of a green field stretching toward the water, in one of the most expansive parks in Seattle. Friends and loved ones have volunteered their talents for nearly aspect of the wedding. Monica will be taking the photographs. Gabe will take some movies with his new HD camera. Daniel has said to us that anything we want from his gorgeous garden is ours for the wedding. There will be magnificent music: Kari and Bruno play cello and violin for the Metropolitan Opera; Kristin plays a kick-ass bass and sings her jazzy heart away; the Chef’s sister and brother-in-law will sing and play mandolin for the ceremony. We’re even hoping that Bill Frisell will be in town, because he would love to play for us. Other than that, a friend of ours who works at Sosio’s — our favorite produce stand in the Market — will bring his DJ equipment and play the hundred and one songs on the iPod that make us look at each other meaningfully or dance.

Ours is probably going to be the only wedding in history to have the theme from South Park as part of the dance mix.

And of course, there will be food. Glorious, gluten-free food. The chefs at one of our favorite restaurants in Seattle will probably make us a few dishes, as a backbone. Other than that, we’re having a potluck. That’s right, a gluten-free potluck. Everyone who can will bring a dish to feed ten people. (I’ll write a post about this later, the planning involved, and how we are going to try to make it an allergy-free wedding.) Everyone we love also loves food. And I just love the image of a tent full of tables laid out with food for hundreds, made by the people who love us.

But honestly, it’s not going to be a fancy wedding. We’re going to have paper plates and cups, blankets arrayed on the grass for instant picnics, and bouquets from the farmers’ market. No favors in matching colors, no garter or throwing of the bouquet. The rehearsal dinner will be a barbeque in our backyard, with both families and our closest friends eating burgers and potato salad. The day before, we’re having a miniature golf tournament. There will be no monogrammed cuff links or tuxedos, or matching bridesmaid dresses. I would wear red cowboy boots to my wedding, if the pair I want wasn't so darned expensive.

My wedding dress? I haven’t found it yet. I’ll know it when I see it, just as I did with my love. I’ve been looking at dresses, but I have found that I am horrified by anything that looks like a wedding dress (and by the price). The other day, in our living room with friends, I leaned into the kitchen and said, “Hey sweetie, tell Tita and John why I can’t wear a train and high heels.”
He chuckled. “Because you will trip and fall in the field, and I will laugh at you.”
I laughed out loud. “So would I.”

Actually, that wouldn’t be bad.

As much as possible, we want to be relaxed and laughing. Oh, there’s no question that we will both be crying. That Chef — he may have beautiful blue-sky eyes, but they are even more beautiful when they are filled with tears. That’s often. Just thinking about walking down the makeshift aisle we will fashion in the field, with all the people I love sitting in the chairs gathered before the enormous tree, threaded through with Tibetan prayer flags and red streamers — well, I’m sitting here on the couch, crying.

But mostly, we want to be laughing, relaxed.

That has been the wedding planning, as well.

And so, on Monday, we were walking through the Market. We wanted to look at some jewelers, to see if anyone made the simple silver bands we envisioned. Nothing too fancy, just clear. After all, I bought my engagement ring for myself, a year before I met him, for ten dollars. His engagement ring came to us free, in a wondrous story I’ll have to save for another time. We just couldn’t imagine spending that much money on our rings. All we wanted was rings that felt right to us.

We wandered, with no real purpose in mind, other than to see. Once or twice a week, we bop down to the Market before I take him to the restaurant, in search of new spices or squid ink or fresh fennel. Those days, however, require darting, and parking in the thirty-minute load zone. This time, we could just experience.

Years ago, I had a boyfriend who lived two blocks from the Market. Even though he had money and good taste in food, he wasn’t long lasting. Every time I went to his apartment, he had the best cheeses laid out for us on his table, a lavish spread he had concocted from a quick stroll through the Market. That food tasted fantastic. However, when he and I walked there once, I tugged at his hand like a kid, my eyes wide at all the life offered, and said, “God, I never grow tired of this place.”
He looked at me with a world-weary gaze and said, “Really? I mean, it’s lovely, but I’m never amazed. I guess I just come here too often.”

We broke up not long after that remark.

The Chef, however, is as big a kid as I am. He is nearly always amazed, never jaded. We don’t have to explain to each other. He just tugs at my sleeve to point out the banks of tulips, new this week. I nod my head at the smell of the sausages sizzling behind a counter. We squeeze our hands and smile in each other’s eyes when we see a pink-cheeked baby with a green wool cap. We laugh. Our eyes are open.

We looked at all the stalls, trying on rings and looking intently. None of them was right. We weren’t worried. After all, we weren’t really going to buy our rings that day. Doesn’t it require a thorough research, hundreds of rings, a few exasperating shopping trips before it becomes clear?


We wandered downstairs and passed Sunshine Jewelry. I smiled — one of the first emails he had sent me was titled Good Day Sunshine, after the Beatles’ song. (If you don’t know our Beatles connection, read this post.) It’s a dinky little stall, with hundreds of rings and bracelets jammed into the cases, a hundred choices we would never make. But in the back, a tray of simple silver rings. The chatty owner pulled them out for us, told us how many couples she had helped, and offered us a dozen different rings. None of them worked. They came close. And then we both put rings on our fingers. When I looked up, I saw his eyes, filled with tears. He saw mine, misty and smiling. We had found our rings.

It seems that everything is this easy between us.

Best yet — these beautiful silver rings, together, cost less than my age.

We’d rather save our money for the honeymoon than spend too much on rings.

Afterwards, he clutched the little silver box in his pocket, to make sure it didn’t fall out. We walked upstairs to Sosio’s, to find food for the slide-show party at our friend Daniel’s house that night. When we saw baby eggplants, the Chef’s eyes widened. I knew he had found something in his mind. I let him find it, in the stand. I turned, and then I saw them. The first plums of the spring.

Immediately, my mind raced back to three years ago, about this time. Only two months after my terrible car accident, I had barely made it out of the house, other than going to school to teach or hobbling to the hospital for physical therapy treatments. The earth had turned toward spring without my noticing. In terrible pain, and terribly lonely, I didn’t know the way out, other than to keep going. One day, I finally took a day off school. I slept in, ate a good meal, and drank an entire pot of coffee, slowly. Even more slowly, I made my way down to the Market. With enormous care, I sat in Le Painier, sipping on a hot café au lait and eating a croissant. (This was pre-gluten-free, obviously.) Hobbling, tenderly, the pain in my back quieted for a moment, I made my way to Sosio’s, and I found the speckled plums of spring. I bought one, juicy and studded with white dots like the Milky Way against a dark country sky. When I reached home, I bit into it, and it seemed as though the universe opened to me. Winter was finally over. I was emerging from the darkness.

Slowly, I came back to myself. As I reached for a plum, I spotted the Chef, dancing among the garlic and onions. Tears rose to my eyes again, this time in buoyant happiness. Three years ago, I was so enormously alone. I didn’t even know that the Chef existed. That day, we had just bought our wedding rings.

“Sweetie, can we buy a plum?” I asked him. It’s too early, really, to be eating plums. These were grown in Chile, and I normally shudder at the numbers of food miles required to make it to my door. But this, it seemed, was a special occasion. The first plum of spring? That’s our way of celebrating.

When we reached home, happy and laughing, I went into the kitchen to put away the food. The sun shone through the skylights onto my fingers. I cut open the plum. The firm purple flesh yielded to the knife, to reveal the pink-orange fruit, aglow beneath it. I ran over to the Chef, who was sitting by the computer, and I handed him a thin slice of the plum. We clinked our plums together, like champagne glasses. “To finding our wedding rings,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “I love you.”
“I love you, pumpkin.”

No plum has ever tasted so sweet.

09 March 2007

on why I write this site

golden raisins

I don’t know, sometimes. Actually, let me re-phrase that sentence.

Often, I don’t know.

Keeping this website is one of the joys of my life. There are others:

— waking up in the Chef’s arms, and snuggling into that warmth
— that first cup of coffee, much later in the morning than it was last year
— walking around Greenlake when the rain has just ended, the sun bright on grey
— sitting in silence with myself
—the sound of Elliott’s bright voice in my ear, the first phone conversation in weeks
— rounding the corner and seeing the front of the restaurant, my love jumping out the door and bounding toward me, his arms open wide

And of course, a thousand other moments, besides.

But I love coming here, sitting down with a blank white page on the screen, wondering where the words will lead me.

Writing beats within me, my fingertips drumming on the keyboard, words whirling around in my head, sentences singing out, the story just beginning and suddenly I know where it will end. In the three huge bookshelves in our bedroom, my years’ worth of journals takes three full shelves. And after all that time, I’m not entirely sure how to articulate why I have this strange habit.

Mostly, words flail and flounder, like a fish just caught, its gills a splash of rainbow color on the worn wooden pier.

I don’t know are the three most powerful words in the world. Think of the courage it takes to really say that, and mean it.

I don’t know why I write, but I know that I must write. (I can’t go on, I go on — this used to be my favorite quote of all time, in a land much darker than this one.)

“We write to live twice.” — Virginia Woolf

That’s part of it. Sometimes, a moment is resplendent in the living, and then it is gone. Only memory, irrevocably changed by it. The first time he said I love you (my favorite three words), never to happen again. By writing it, I close my eyes and enter into that strange state, almost channeling, where I will myself to experience it as fully as I can. And then I plunge my hands under those waters and type in a sleepy swimming dream of a hope that those words will come close. When I read them, mostly I remember that state, rather than the moment itself. But sometimes, those words come close.

Returning. That’s part of why I write.

And letting go. That’s part of the process. Once I have written something, I will never re-live it the same way I did before. Instead, a story I have written becomes not only the experience, but also the story I tapped out into words. In some funny way, I can feel the urgency of that memory slipping away from me, like hot food sliding down my throat.

Bear with me — I’m not sure what I’m saying yet.

I’m not going to try to chop it into tiny pieces.

I write.

I breathe. I love. I write.

But why do I write this site?

When I was first diagnosed with celiac, in late April of 2005, I started this blog out of enormous joy, an energy I had never experienced before. And mostly, a wish to share — all my stories and food discoveries and questions being answered — so that other people might find a way through this too. The day I started this site, I signed up for this name, spontaneously. When I had been so horribly, dreadfully ill for months, a friend of mine who came over frequently to take care of me said. “We’re just going to have to call you the Sick Girl.” When I was finally diagnosed, and I explained what it was, she immediately said, “Well, now you’re the Gluten-Free Girl.” With Dorothy’s lilting teasing voice in my mind, I chose a domain name.

How could I know that I would see that phrase on the cover of my first book?

I guess Gluten-Free Woman doesn’t have the same ring.

Where was I in May of 2005, when I wrote the first entry here? New to everything gluten-free. Eager to return to the kitchen after years of making as little as possible. Weak as a kitten, but growing. Almost desperate to learn. Near messianic in my fervent wish to teach everyone around me about my new diet. A high school teacher. Single.

And now?

This week, I saw my name in a book (Heidi’s) for the first time, saw my name in a magazine for the first time (the March issue of Natural Health), received the cover of my first book (I can’t share it yet, but it’s beautiful and unexpected; I cried. My god, I have a book coming out.), found the second half of my advance in the mail, and started work on another major writing project. (I can’t tell you. Yet.)

I am stronger than I have ever been in my life, both in body and mind. I have cooked so many meals that I cannot keep track of them all, even with a food blog. The sun wakes me up, instead of the alarm clock.

And in almost four months, I will be marrying the man who makes me happier than I ever dreamed possible.

Much has changed.

I have changed.

The life I led before I met the Chef has started to feel not my own, like a vivid dream I wake from, and only stray images remain through the day. The self I was before I stopped eating gluten? I am not her.

And so, it seems to me, the reasons I write this site have changed as well.

Of the dozens of emails I receive every day, some contain querulous cries. Why can’t you make your recipes dairy free, since I can’t eat that either? Where should I go to eat gluten-free in Seattle? Why don’t you write about gluten-free packaged food? Why do you go days without even mentioning gluten — isn’t that what you are supposed to be writing about? Aren’t you giving out recipes anymore?

I answer them, as fast as I can. Sometimes, they sit for days, because I cannot keep up. Sometimes, they sit there, because I don’t know what to say. I love the comments, the letters, the feedback. But this website cannot be all things to all people. The thought of pleasing everyone leaves me trembling.

However, without knowing it, slowly, I started writing here as the Gluten-Free Girl, instead of Shauna.

Hi. My name is Shauna. Right now, it’s Ms. Shauna Marie James. Within a few months, it’s going to be Mrs. Shauna Ahern. And on the cover of my book, and in any publications, it’s going to be Shauna James Ahern, just so you’ll recognize me. And me? Who will I be then?

I don’t know.

Every day, I think of a story from a Korean Zen master’s book. He wrote about the Buddha, sitting under the bodhi tree, before he became THE BUDDHA. And as he sat, he asked himself, continually, “Who are you?” And always, the answer came back. “I don’t know.”

When I write as the Gluten-Free Girl, there’s a pattern, a comfortable place, like the dent in Archie Bunker’s chair. My words sit there, and those of you reading might recognize them. Hopefully, you recognize something in yourself. But when I write to that pattern, when I write as the Gluten-Free Girl, I lose myself. Whoever that is.

It’s a funny gig, having a food blog. We’re all aware of each other, keep track of what is being discussed. And admit it, those of you who have blogs — don’t you always look to see how many comments or how many visitors that other food blog is receiving? It creeps in. That competition. The constant looking-over-the-shoulder, the wondering if we are writing often enough or well enough or in an easy-to-digest form. That food blog self-consciousness — it’s as gawky as a seventh-grade girl. And as stultifying as that girl’s insecurities.

Sometimes, I want to write about something other than food. Like the moment last night when Merida and I were watching Stranger Than Fiction in my bedroom, and we both grew quiet, and I started crying at the end, unexpectedly. It felt like our little discovery, all our own, the two of us together again. Or this afternoon, when Francoise and I sat across the table from each other, our water glasses empty, talking about Willa Cather, and how much her grounded-in-the-earth, fundamentally alive prose made us both want to sing from the rooftops. Or the sound of my phone ringing, that cheesy version of “When I’m 64,” and I just know it’s the Chef, and I leap into the kitchen to talk with him.

None of that really fits in a food blog.

Then, why write about food?

Well, I love food. I love the singular moment, when I take a bite of something so tremendous that I lose myself. I cease to be shauna whatever-her-last-name-is. I certainly cease to be gluten-free girl. I am just breathing and biting and alive.

It’s so easy to be complicated about food. What is the best restaurant in town, at the moment? Where do we find the best olive oils? Which grocery store has the best produce? These are, sometimes, interesting questions to me. But in the end, I don’t really care. I care about this moment.

I can still taste the tart, faint sweetness of grapefruit pulp between my teeth.

For me, food is about joy, about connection with people, about dropping pretense and just being. That I am gluten-free is essential to my health. Every single photograph and word on this site is gluten-free. But for me, it is clear now: going gluten-free was just a way to find food, in its real state.

I am not a journalist. I am not a food writer. I am not a book author. I am simply here, and I am writing.

The longer I write, the simpler my sentences. The more I cook, the more I am focusing on the most basic techniques. The longer I love my dear Chef, the fewer words we use.

What am I saying?

A couple of weeks ago, I decided (without knowing it) to write this site for myself again. I have been taking photographs of food, close-up, just ingredients, mostly. Partly because I am learning, more deeply, that a passion and respect for the basic ingredients matters more than any recipes or techniques. But also because, when I am looking through the lens at cracked black pepper, I am merely someone who notices. That feels like the most awake writing I can do. And also the most urgent.

Before a few weeks ago, I planned posts in advance. I wrote several drafts before I posted them. I thought I should keep to a schedule. I started to think of this site as a way to market my book. I was writing as Gluten-Free Girl.

Whoever you think that Gluten-Free Girl is, you’re probably wrong. Yes, I am joyful and alive and loving and grateful and always come back to the yes. But I also, sometimes, look in people’s grocery carts and make judgments. I use the f-word and make fart jokes and love talking rudely with my love, in the privacy of our home and in the car with the windows rolled up. I still burn the garlic, sometimes, when I’m not paying attention.

I’m not the Gluten-Free Girl. I don’t know who she is.

This is the most honest piece I have written here.

When I was a teacher, I always began the first day of class with the same word: ineffable. “Incapable of being expressed in language.” How much of life is ineffable? I’d ask the students. They’d give their own answers. Mine? About 98%. Most of life is utterly beyond the reach of words.

But I still try.

The only way this website can continue to be a joy for me? (And frankly, therefore, for you.)

This is not a food blog. (Ceci n’est pas une pipe.) This is not a personal diary. This is not the site that has won awards or spawned a book or the one you visit every few days.

This is what it is. And that? As I try to keep saying, I don’t know.

All I do know is this. I want to keep noticing. I want to always be amazed. I want to slow down, so I can see everything. I want to keep loving. I want to keep changing.

This is the site where I will try.

See what a handful of golden raisins, scattered across a plate, can start in the mind?