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26 April 2007

first words become a year full of conversations

do you want some coffee with your sugar

These are the first words I ever said to the Chef: “Do you want some coffee with your sugar?”

Really, I can’t believe I was such a snot.

Let me back up. Right around this time of year (or April 16, 2006, to be precise), the Chef first contacted me through the online dating service to which we were both subscribing. He winked at me. (This is pretty funny, considering that he is incapable of winking with his left eye, in real life. He tries. But he just ends up blinking both eyes, hard.)

I could have missed him.

You see, I had already canceled my subscription to that site. Six weeks of online dating had yielded only confused men, guys who didn’t make me laugh, and sad men who really needed a therapist instead. Fed up and ready to give up on dating entirely, I quit the site. “But you have five days left!” they said to me, in repeated emails. I didn’t care. Everyone they sent me seemed pale and strange. No more.

Curiosity got the best of me. Thank goodness for curiosity. The day before my subscription lapsed entirely, I went back to that email, just to check it, one more time, before I retired from dating. There were twenty or more emails and winks for me to peruse. I have to admit — I went through them with a certain smug satisfaction. “See? I was right. I don’t like any of these guys.”

His was the last one on the list. I swear. And when I saw his photograph, I paused. Something about him felt familiar. He looked warm and open. I hesitated — I was done! But always, I have hope. I clicked on his profile, and then I saw he was a chef.

And my first reaction? “Oh shit, now I have to meet him!”

He loves it when I tell this story.

We wrote back and forth, for ten days, talking about food and family. We couldn’t meet right away, because my best friend was visiting from LA. So we wrote. And he read this site. We made plans to meet for coffee.

That morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling of excitement in my gut. I tried to talk myself out of it — every other guy had been such a disappointment — but it kept bubbling up inside me.

It’s the same way I feel every night, when I drive toward the restaurant to see him, after a long day away from each other.

I arrived at the coffee shop early, to work on some writing. In fact, just before he walked in, I published this piece about helping my friend Sharon through her broken heart. (I know the date says April 23rd, but I post-dated it. I actually finished it just before my love arrived.) And so, I sat at a table, nursing a black coffee, writing.

When I saw him through the window, he looked so familiar.

He came in and stood in line for coffee. I caught his eye. I waved at him. And then I went back to my writing.

He loves my writing. Every time I read to him, he grows a little teary. He holds me and says, quietly, “You are such an amazing writer, sweet pea.”

Even then, I thought it a little odd that I felt so comfortable keeping him waiting. Shouldn’t I jump up and start conversation? It didn’t feel necessary, all that jumping and preening and pretending to know each other. I knew he’d come over, soon enough.

He walked toward me, and then he veered toward the bar to fix his coffee. At this point, I rose, to say the opening pleasantries. But by the time I had reached him, I saw the steady stream of sugar falling into his latte. And so, before I ever said hello to him, I slapped him on the arm and said, “Do you want some coffee with your sugar?”

I can’t believe it now.

But he loved it. He loves what a smart-ass I am.

At least half our days together now are spent laughing at some goony remark the other one has made. He has this breathy giggle, and I laugh like a hyena being choked when he sets me going. We hold each other, our backs arched, or my head falling toward his chest. That’s the best part of any day: laughing together in bed.

And now, those words sit in our sugar bowl, as a reminder every morning of the day we met.

We met this day, last year: April 26th. Today is our one-year anniversary.

As anyone who has read this site for more than five minutes knows, I adore the Chef. And he adores me. We are more than two people in love. We are lovers, we are each other’s best friends. We are partners, in everything in life. We are true companions.

This morning, we went back to that coffee shop, around the same time we had first met. He poured more sugar in his coffee and waited for me to poke him and make fun of him. We kissed each other. And then we sat across a small table from each other and talked about what this year has brought us.

This has been, without a doubt, the most spectacular year of my life. And for the Chef, as well. I could write about him all night, and never be done.

Instead, I will simply say this.

No one prepares you, in all the love stories and love songs and sappy poems and greeting cards, for what real love really is. Love is in the tiniest gestures and most fleeting of moments.

True love is feeling joyful because he is happy. I had no idea what fulfillment it would give me to see him bounding toward me, fully embodying his body, arms open and utterly alive. The Chef has come into himself this past year. When I met him, he was a smoker. He smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day, for sixteen years. (It’s a restaurant thing.) After we had fallen in love, and I knew that he was every love song come true for me, he quit. I told him, “I want to grow old with you. I want to have children with you.” And he stopped. It was hard, but he did it. It has been eight months since he had a cigarette. I am so proud of him.

He is my breath.

A few months in, when we were first engaged and fully giddy, I thought about what it might feel like to be here: one full year together. It felt monumental, then.

But today? In all the best ways, it feels utterly mundane. We marked it — all day long he has been calling me from the restaurant to say Happy Anniversary — but there is no celebration besides our being together. After all, if the luck stays with us, this will be the first of many years together.

Also, we celebrate every day. Every morning, when we first wake up, we turn toward each other and say, I love you. We have promised ourselves — we will always do this. And since last year, April 26th was on a Wednesday, we start every Wednesday (sometimes at 12:01 on Tuesday night) by saying “Happy Wednesday, Sweetheart.”

I love the way he feeds me. I love feeding him.

Tonight, I am making him the dinner I wrote about in the headline of my online profile: roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and flourless chocolate torte. He’ll help me do the dishes. There will be dancing in the kitchen.

And tomorrow morning, we will start the first day of year two.

24 April 2007

How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back

the cover of my book

There are certain moments in a woman’s life that she will remember forever. The first time she hit a baseball over the left-field wall. The first time she had her heart broken by a nerdy guy in glasses or a dashing basketball player an impossible four years older than her. The first time she talked about sex with her girlfriends, with knowing innuendo instead of giggles behind her hands.

The moment when she moves out of her parents’ house. The first time she flies to New York. The day she lands the job she has always wanted.

The first time she meets the love of her life. The moment when he proposes. The moment she finds her wedding dress, anticipating the day when she marries him.

And for me, along with those memorable moments, I can now add one that I know I will remember the rest of my life: the time I first saw my book on Amazon.

* * *

As a kid, I always dreamt of being a writer. One of the literary kinds. Not the one whose books would be produced in thick, cheap paperbacks that fall apart halfway through the read. No, as much as I thrilled to the sound of The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, I had higher aspirations.

The characters who thrilled me most when I read my stacks of books, one after the other, on long summer days? Of course, it was the plucky girls who later became heroines.

I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, read all those Little House and Village and Plum Creek books in one big gulp, devouring all the words I could find. I loved her moxie, even though I didn’t know that word then. I loved how she battled all the boys on the playground, and stood up for justice with her small fists and big mouth. I have to say that all the love stuff with Manly sort of bored me as a child. Those seemed like far less interesting adventures than her childhood on the prairie had ever been. (Um, I understand all that love stuff better now.)

I identified with Harriet the Spy, hunched into her hooded sweatshirt, furtively writing in her little black notebook. I would have done that too, if my mother had let me prowl around the neighborhood by myself. But the idea of being able to sneak into apartment buildings and crawl into dumbwaiters was as much of a fantasy for me as the idea of living on the untamed prairie in the 19th century. I did once own a orange-hooded sweatshirt, though. Mostly, I wore it in my room, while I read.

They say that every girl goes through a horse phase. Not me. (Other than reading Misty of Chincoteague, of course.) Along with a small bevy of girls around the globe, I fell in love with Jo instead. Especially when she rejected that sap, Laurie, and forged ahead to craft solidly written stories, published in small magazines. When she first saw her name in print, I wanted to cheer. That’s going to be me some day, I said to myself. Hell with the sappy boys — I want to write books.

I wrote on little scraps of paper I hid under my mattress. And felt like Francie Nolan, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, who knew how to make happiness from a bowl of ice cubes, two cracked peppermints, a book from the library, and the shaded space of the fire escape on a hot day. I tried to make happiness for myself by watching everyone around me, like she did.

Any freedom I ever felt as a kid was the freedom I found in the pages of books. I devoured them, one after the other, like the potent nectar that some Tibetan monks taste to reach enlightenment. Anything would do. Manuals on how to fix cars, long before I could drive one. The sides of cereal boxes. Pamphlets slid under the door by pairs of Mormon men dressed in identical ties. Words transported me out of the house for a few moments. But mostly, I read books by authors who had once longed for the world the way I did. People who could show me worlds I didn’t know yet.

I gamboled through Victorian England, and trudged through New England winters, and gazed on the plains of Africa. By the time I was eleven, my three favorite authors were Dorothy Parker, John Cheever, and Somerset Maughm. You do the math. I was a strange little child, perpetually reading in the semi-darkness, long after the light had faded from the room.

So, after all that reading, all those books — or actually, after reading my first book, long ago, before I had the words to say it — I knew that I wanted to write. And not just write. I was going to write the books that transported everyone else away. And they’d make my book into a movie, and I’d never have to borrow books from the library again.

I have no idea if they are going to make a movie out of my book, and frankly — I’m not sure I’d want it now. But I can share this with you, dear readers (I’ve read Jane Eyre more times than I can count. And, dear reader, I’m marrying him.). Holding the cover of my book in my hands? And now, seeing it for pre-order on the world’s largest book site?

Well, that little girl is cheering, right now.

* * *

Originally, the title of my book was going to be A Life Beyond Wonder Bread. Whenever I told anyone that, a smile formed on her lips. It made people laugh. I love that.

But the problem is — we couldn’t use that title. You see, Wonder Bread may have gone out of business in the US, but the name and the bread were bought by a corporation in Mexico called Bimbo Grupo.

They probably wouldn’t like the stories of horrified nostalgia for all the godawful processed food we all ate back then, and how it was silently making me ill. My publishers, wisely, decided we had to start again.


Immediately, the good people in the marketing department decided that the book should be called Gluten-Free Girl, after the name of this website. At first, I resisted. I want to be known as a woman, not a girl. But, after a brief time, I relented. I did choose the name, originally. I like alliteration. And there’s something timeless and childlike about my journey, and how I live today. In a strange way, this is a story of growing up. And so. That title.

The subtitle? Oh my. That took awhile longer. I had backs of envelopes and pages of yellow lined paper and little strips torn from the newspaper with sudden inspiration. I don’t remember them all now. Some of them I advocated for, strenuously. They seemed vital at the time.

After being told no, and the marketing department countering with something I just couldn’t accept, I took a rest. I thought about other things. And then I called Tita.

Tita is one of my oldest, dearest friends. She has enough common sense for ten women, plus two. Whatever she says, I remember, and it changes me. She has known me for fifteen years, and she has watched this entire journey unfold. When I asked her for a subtitle, she thought for a moment, and then said: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back.

There it was.

This has been a journey, a story of transformation. I loved food, from the moment I could eat it. But that food didn’t always love me back. Throughout my life, I was frequently sick, mostly fatigued, and sometimes at war with my own body. After I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and I stopped eating gluten, I finally learned to find food that would feed me.

This book is a love story. It’s the story of a love affair with food, and finding everything that I can eat, joyfully. It’s a story about slowing down, and appreciating my life. It’s a story about forging a new relationship with my body, and learning to love the life I have. It’s a story about eating local, eating organic, and eating in season. It’s a story about loving the time in front of the stove, dancing. It’s a story about developing recipes and devouring stories. It’s a story about finding the self I never was, for the first 38 years of my life, and reveling in that self.

And of course, it is an actual love story as well. It can’t surprise anyone to know that the last chapter of this book is about meeting the Chef.

And so, in all those ways, this is the perfect subtitle (or perhaps, even the real title): How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back.

(The other part of the subtitle? And How You Can Too? Well, let’s just say that I didn’t choose it, and I couldn’t seem to make it go away. Make of it what you want.)

* * *

For a while, I felt a little squeamish about marketing the book boldly. As much as I love sharing stories and writing here, I’m actually quite uncomfortable with trumpeting myself. I’d rather let people find what they will, come back here if they want. To tell truth, the book has been up on Amazon for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t announced it until now.

However, here’s how I feel now, after much writing and thinking and talking with other people. If I were just writing a cookbook, or a book of essays, I might not shout from the rooftops: my book is for pre-sale! I would probably allow the publishers to do their thing, and I would just do what I could to sell some copies.

But I can promise you this: I am not doing this for myself, alone. Sure, I want to sell books. I’d like to keep living this life with the Chef, loving each other, eating well, and writing about it. And of course, that little girl who is still with me cannot wait for the book tours and media appearances. I’m not ridiculous enough to say I’m not enjoying this.

But I wrote this book, and I am going to be marketing it, for one urgent reason.

I want to help everyone to finally recognize his or her own story.

As I write this, I am sitting on the couch in our living room, the same couch where I lay for hours every day, two years ago this month. For months on end, I was shattered with tiredness, shrieking with headaches, unable to eat, wracked with pain. This time of crisis followed years of lassitude and mild depression, grumbly medical problems and feeling removed from myself. I never knew what it was like to feel good.

After I was diagnosed, and stopped eating gluten, what has changed in my life? Everything. Absolutely everything.

I feel great. I eat well. I found my way. I dove into my passions and came up grinning. I met the Chef. I know real love. I know myself. I love the world more than ever before.

And I am determined to bring this chance for transformation to as many people as I can.

One out of 100 people in this country has celiac disease. 97% of them do not know it.

Think of the good we could do in this world with the energy that will be released when all of us know who we are, and we are healthy.

And so, I’m going to be singing this book from the rooftops. Everyone I meet knows someone who cannot eat wheat, or gluten, or other foods. We are all touched by this.

We are all in this together.

I hope, for these reasons, that every one of you buys this book. And that you tell your friends.

There, I said it out loud.

* * *

That little girl who read books on hot days, alone? Who dreamed of being plucky and stalwart and published in a magazine some day?

She cannot thank you enough.

21 April 2007

testing recipes

orange-almond cake II

I have been spending a lot of time in kitchens, lately.

Of course, I generally spend time in kitchens. There’s something deeply comforting about that space. The warmth of the oven wafting through the room, the windows bright with light, the assorted smells and visual presents — everything lends itself to welcoming. When we are home, the Chef and I spend half our time in the kitchen. At parties, we are happy when everyone gathers there, together. That means our guests are happy.

But lately, I have been spending more time than usual in kitchens.

Last week, the Chef’s assistant — who comes in to help him prep and prepare food during dinner service on Thursday through Saturday nights — had to leave town unexpectedly for his grandfather’s funeral in Oklahoma. Without anyone else to help, he would have been “in the weeds” for days. And so, what else could I do but offer my services? I’m working on a piece about this, trying to find the words for my awe of him (my god, the man dances) and my exhaustion (writing means more meandering and sitting down than chefing). He amazes me, even more now. How he works in his tiny kitchen to produce such food? Wow.

When I haven’t been in the Chef’s kitchen, making mixed green salads and large cheese plates, I have been in our kitchen, testing recipes. The copy-edited manuscript of my book arrived in the mail the other day, and there goes any free time. Luckily, I still like the book, even with a few months’ distance. Even better, I have good eyes, enough to go through the thousand minute marks in red and purple ink, indicating hyphens and questionable spellings. I have a lot of work to do.

Along with the typographic work, I have been testing recipes. Actually, that’s not an accurate phrase. I have been re-testing recipes that I tested ten times before. There will be 29 recipes in the final book, along with a thousand suggestions for how to make food from your senses and what inspires you. Every one of those recipes represents a dish that I have made more than a dozen times. Every one of them has been gone over by the Chef, carefully, with a hundred tiny amendments that make them all better. And right now, they are being tested again, by friends and colleagues who are new to the curried carrot soup, blackberry sauce, and chilled millet salad with roasted jalapenos, mango, and silvered jicama. I can promise you this — the recipes in my book will be good.

They will be good because I’m still working on them. I won’t let a single one be published until I know that anyone reading can make that recipe and be successful. I want everyone to eat well.

The chocolate-banana bread? It's quite a bit different than the one I first published on this site. And the result? Heavenly choirs should be singing right now. The Chef took one bite last week and said, "Damn, girl. You want to marry me?"

Along with this, I am also making new recipes, all the time. The Chef has made his restaurant entirely gluten-free. (Have I mentioned this before?) That means the desserts, too. He makes his apple crisp with a sorghum flour mix I concocted for him. He chooses crème brulées and pots de crème, because they don’t need flour. I will never be able to express just how much this moves me.

The Chef is a master. Truly. Desserts, however, are not his first forte. He’s unusual, because he does it all. He starts with the stocks, and he makes everything from scratch. In a larger restaurant, he would have a pastry chef. But at Impromptu, there is no room.

So now, I have become his pastry chef.

At home, all month long, I make one gluten-free dessert after another. We talk about what he might want, and then I try to concoct them. Since he makes up the menu new, every four weeks, I test recipes for him for three weeks straight. And then, together we choose the best three, and he starts making them for customers.

This month, for example, he is offering a sweet yogurt sundae, with cardamom, saffron, and toasted pistachios. Sometimes he tops it with rosewater, and sometimes with a honey from Hawaii. When my friend Amal had dinner there last week, she said, “This tastes exactly right. It tastes reminiscent of a rice pudding my grandmother used to make me.” That made the Chef smile.

He is also doing chocolate-ginger pots de crème, with fresh-made whipped cream and mint.

And there are rhubarb-meringue tartlets, with a gluten-free crust.

Yeah, not bad.

Last week, I tested a recipe that we will probably adapt for next month’s menu. This orange-almond cake comes from the Rose Bakery cookbook, which has been the darling of food bloggers all winter long. I can see why. Not only is the book laid out sumptuously, but the recipes also look smashing. On top of that, they offer a number of gluten-free recipes, mostly involving nut flours. Of course, I had to try.

This cake is fantastic. But recipes are a funny thing. They are an inert form for a living process. Every kitchen is different, of course. When I first attempted these, the thirty-five minutes of baking that the recipe stipulated turned into fifty minutes in my oven. I was late for dinner with two of my dearest friends anyway, so I grabbed the most-done one from the oven and turned it off to let the rest of the cakes finish baking in the cooling oven. (And I couldn’t quite remember turning off the oven, so I spent the entire evening wondering if the house would burn down before I could return home with the Chef.)

So here’s what I’m offering. I’d love to hear your opinions on this cake. As I made it, pretty straight from the recipe (with one cup of hazelnut flour instead of all almond, as they suggested), these cakes were spectacular. Moist and dense, they danced on the tongue with citrus-goodness toes. After a day of sitting out, they were even better. They won rave reviews from two-year-olds and forty-year-olds alike.

But part of me wonders if they wouldn’t be better if I cut one of the cups of almond flour with a cup of gluten-free flour (probably a sorghum/white rice/tapioca combination). After all, they were so moist and dense that few people could eat more than a slice. I could have waited to test this new idea before I showed this to you. But I’m wondering if someone else wants to try it and let me know.

The process of publishing recipes should be as interactive as making them.

Let me know what you think. But for now, I’m headed back into the kitchen.

Orange-almond cake, adapted from Rose Bakery

You have a variety of choices here for baking pans. At first, I used four small loaf pans (not the mini ones, which I found later). This worked well, but they still took a long time to bake. You could also use a cake pan, but apparently the cake is a little too delicate to make a large, whole cake. This recipe works best with a number of small cakes. I stumbled on my favorite variation — a small Pyrex bowl from the 1970s, which I found at Goodwill the week before. This little round cake turned out the firmest, with a lovely moist crumb. If you have a few small bowls that can go in the oven, I suggest using those for this recipe. Again, experiment and let us know what you think.

2 navel oranges
1 lemon, large
6 eggs
2 ¼ cups baker’s sugar (this is an especially fine sugar, made specifically for baking)
4 ½ cups almonds, ground fine and sifted through a fine-mesh sieve
1 cup hazelnuts, ground fine and sifted through a fine-mesh sieve
1 teaspoon baking powder

unsalted butter and rice flour for greasing the pans

Preparing the oranges and lemons
. Wash the oranges and lemon well. Put them in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a small simmer. Allow them to simmer for one hour.

When the oranges and lemon have become soft and easy to pierce with a knife, take them out of the simmering water. Transfer them to a food processor and pulse them until they have become a purée. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the pan(s) you have chosen to use.

Putting together the batter. Beat the eggs and sugar together, until they are just combined. (This is easier in your KitchenAid, but make sure you do not over-cream them if you are using a machine.) Fold in the orange and lemon purée and combine together.

Combine the almond meal, hazelnut meal, and the baking powder. Fold one-third of that mixture, slowly, into the rest of the dough. If you are doing this by hand, you will develop your bicep muscles, because it will take awhile to incorporate the nut flours into the liquid mixture. Repeat this with the rest of the nut flours, slowly.

Pour the liquid into the prepared loaf pans (or whatever other pans you have chosen). Slide them into the oven.

Bake the cakes. Bake for about 35 minutes, and then check the cakes. You might have to go longer, if your oven is actually emitting less heat than you imagine. Check one of the cakes with a toothpick inserted into the middle. When it comes out clean, and the tops of the cakes feel firm, pull the cakes from the oven.

Cool the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for at least fifteen minutes before you attempt to move them. Carefully, transfer them to a wire rack. Allow the cakes to cool completely before you slice them with a serrated knife.

These are especially good the next day, as that gives them a chance to harden a bit. We put a simple glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar over the cakes, and our friends were thrilled.

Feeds eight people (if they can resist having a second slice!).

19 April 2007

shouting about vegetables

the bounties of spring

I don't know anyone who grows as excited about vegetables as the Chef does.

One afternoon, when I walked toward the restaurant with his coffee, he gestured me inside, wildly. "Look!" he shouted, his eyes wide. "Look at what arrived!"

Inside the restaurant, splayed out on the floor, were more than a dozen boxes of produce. The Charlie's truck had arrived in the brief ten minutes when I had been gone. Each week, and sometimes twice a week, a man in a large white truck brings organic and local produce, the latest in season, to the Chef's restaurant. It's one of his favorite days of the week: the produce delivery day. The morning of those days, I sense his anticipation. We always leave for work a little early that day.

But on this particular afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, he was especially excited about the delivery. Inside were the first vegetables of spring.

"Ramps!" he said, pulling the long green strands from the box. "Smell."
Before I met the Chef, I had never heard of ramps. Now, they have come to symbolize spring to me. Originally appearing wild in the southern part of the United States, they are now cultivated widely. Floppy and vivid green, they smell something like a particularly pungent onion and some ripe garlic.
The Chef loves them.

"Asparagus!" he shouted. Now that this delectable has been around for a couple of weeks, asparagus has grown more ubiquitous in the markets. But on that day, I hadn't seen one in my hands in ten months or more. I stared at the little buds nestled in the tips of the asparagi, marveling at nature again.

"Sweetie, look, it's English peas." Firm and green, these had the crisp bite of a green vegetable that no winter-time morsel can ever provide.

The same day, we had stopped at the seafood store, and he had picked up a box of the first halibut of the season. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but before I went gluten-free, I had no idea that fish had a season, as much as vegetables. Now, we eat what is offered, when it arrives.

Excited by these bounties, the Chef ran back to the kitchen with the vegetables he had pulled out for me to see. He came back with this black plate, arranged with greens and firm-fleshed fish. "Take a picture!" he said.

And so I climbed up on a chair, and looked down at the bounty before me, through a camera lens. It's spring, my love was beside me, bouncing on the heels of his hiking boots in his excitement, and there are — hopefully — many more seasons to come.

I snapped this picture.

16 April 2007

an ineffably good egg

the perfect fried egg

There’s something about food that brings me back, immediately, to the necessary sensualities of life. The smell of fresh fennel as I slice it for a salad? It releases me from thinking about those bills I should pay or the emails I want to answer. The crunch of the crust of the brownies I just baked? If I stop to listen, that sound (crunch, then a soft thud) becomes the entire world for a moment. Food helps me to be alive.

Still, even I need a break. After all, I write about food, think about food, talk about food with the Chef, and most of all — I eat food. He feeds me, well. If you added up all the words I spoke or wrote all day, I’m sure that at least 50% of them would have to do with food.

The spring sunlight was flying through the windowpane. And even though I always have more work to do, I decided to do something I haven’t been able to do in months.

I read a book, on the couch, in the afternoon.

When I was a kid, I could sit on the couch, my legs tucked under me, and read one book after another, like a bowl of Tootsie rolls slowly disappearing. One night, after I was supposed to go to bed, I waited until my parents had checked on me on their way to bed, and then I pulled out my book. In order to read the biography of Helen Keller I wanted to devour, I had to lean out of my bed and twist my neck toward the little lamp in the hallway. With the book suspended above my head, I read the entire book in one night. Always, always, I had a stack of books next to my bed.

But these days, I don’t read nearly as prodigiously as I did when I was a kid. I love words and stories just as much as I always did. It’s just that I don’t have the time for indolent afternoons, my feet dangling over the arm of the couch, my arm stretched out toward the coffee cup. This — the best year of my life — hasn’t brought much nothing-doing time.

Still, I am inspired by my fellow writers. We need to read. The copy-edited version of my manuscript is coming back to me soon, and then I’ll be buried in my own words again. I wanted to sink into the warm waters of someone else’s vision of the world.

Too bad I couldn’t swim in it for long. Sprawled on the couch, I reached for the book I had found at the library the day before: Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine. (I can’t seem to stray too far away from food.) This biography follows the life of Bernard Loiseau, the three-star chef in France who killed himself in 2003. Sad, complex story and sentences that drew me in.

But about ten pages in, I read this description:

"Place a lump of fresh butter in a pan or egg dish and let it melt — that is, just enough for it to spread, and never, of course, to crackle or spit; open a very fresh egg onto a small plate or saucer and slide it carefully into the pan; cook it on heat so low that the white barely turns creamy, and the yolk becomes hot but remains liquid; in a separate saucepan, melt another lump of fresh butter; remove the egg onto a lightly heated serving plate; salt it and pepper it, then very gently pour this fresh, warm butter over it."
— Fernand Point, as quoted in The Perfectionist

Forget the book. I had to cook.

Goodness knows we love our eggs around here. But I’ve never been a big fan of fried eggs. Fast and crispy, greasy at the edges, and always faintly tanging of the grill they recently left, fried eggs in restaurants never made me grab my fork. A bad flu when I was sixteen made me swear off fried eggs for decades. (You don’t want to know why.) And since I never ate them, I never grew good at cooking them.

This description enticed me. It seemed fussy and perfectionistic, and I’m neither of those. But the afternoon was beautiful, I had nowhere to be, and I wanted to try it. The Chef has been teaching me through doing — knowing the right techniques makes an enormous difference in the food. Why not?

Fifteen minutes later, I still had not eaten my egg. But I had been standing by the stove, all that time, watching, fascinated. The clear of the egg had seeped into creamy whiteness. The jiggly yolk had stayed in place and grown more sunny. There were no burnt edges or greasy bits. Before me lay the archetypal image of the fried egg.

After I drizzled warm butter over the egg, I had to take a photograph. Flecked with pepper and studded with salt, this egg seemed as glamorous as any egg I have ever seen. And with one forkful in my mouth, I was convinced.

This fried egg really tasted like an egg. It was rich and full, bereft of anything else other than egg. It was, simply, the best egg I have ever eaten in my life.

The Chef sent me a message after I told him: “The best egg you’ve ever eaten? And I didn’t make it? Cry.”

Oh, he will learn to make it better than I can, I’m sure. But for right now, I am the egg woman.

14 April 2007

a woman in white, I shall be

tuna bowl

I found my wedding dress.

Slowly, a niggling worry was creeping in. After all, it is almost three months until we are married. (And every time one of us says that out loud, we giggle, like little kids delighted by the toy dangling above us.) The wedding planning goes as easily as breathing. The rings arrived in our life. We figured out where to have the ceremony — unexpectedly, on the beach, instead of in a vast green field. People are planning to fly in from all across the country, bearing dishes of gluten-free food and good wishes. And we have figured out some absurd touches that will make this a day that is entirely our own. Relaxed and laughing — that’s how we want to be.

It amazes me how many people say to us, “Oh, if you can survive the wedding planning, you can survive anything!” What? We haven’t disagreed once or encountered even a little tug of tension. We talk. Then again, we both know that, just as it is with cooking food, whatever mood you have when you are creating, that mood will tinge itself into the final creation. We want it all to be joyful, and spontaneous.

And for godssakes, we’re having paper plates and beach volleyball at our wedding. There will be no personalized wedding favors or matching bridesmaid dresses here.

Still, this is more than just a potluck at our house on a Sunday afternoon. We both believe in the beauty of ritual. After all, every day, the Chef chops onions in the same way, beginning with a ritual of the fingers. And every day, I sit down at this computer, and begin to flex my fingers on the keyboard, diving back into the words. There’s a joy to joining the procession and repetition of form that is inherent in all weddings.

“Will you marry me?” he asks me, nearly every day.
“Yes, I will,” I answer, my smile still enormous.

Saying it to each other that day will be an extension of our everyday lives. At the same time, we will be echoing the millions of people before us who have promised to choose love. We want to do the same.

To that end, I will be wearing white at our wedding. Oh sure, it’s an outdated custom, and the time-sworn symbolism of it won’t be true. But, there’s still something breathtaking about a woman in a white dress, in the middle of summer. It’s a visual archetype, now.

Besides, the Chef requested it. As he keeps saying, “No matter what you wear, you will be the most beautiful woman in the world.” Ay god, this man. But specifically, he wants me to wear white because of a line in this song. Even though I always imagined that I’d wear red at my wedding, when he asked, I said yes.

And so, the search for the dress.

I may have adopted the idea of the white dress, but I quickly came to realize that I couldn’t wear a traditional dress. I just don’t want to look like the pouf ball at the top of a dandelion. I want to look like myself at our wedding.

Besides, have you seen the prices of these dresses? Ghastly.

There are several wedding boutiques here in Seattle. Back in October, I visited one with my dear friend Cindy, who was in town for a conference. Since she’s one of my bridesmaids, I thought, “Okay, I should do some of this wedding stuff.” We entered the sanctum of two shops (that’s how they make you feel, as though you should speak in hushed tones all the time) and entered my idea of hell.

In one store, they made me put on a hairnet and wear white gloves before I could try on a dress. That way, I wouldn’t actually taint the silk and satin with my skin. Sure, I’ll admit it: seeing myself in a floor-length white gown brought tears to my eyes. I’m really getting married, that dress said to me.

But it bunched in the wrong places, and it felt like a costume instead of my dress. The women started talking about the girdles I would need, and the tiny strappy shoes and the frilly underthings and the $200 veil. I started to feel sick.

And when they showed me the pricetag of the dress — over $2000 — my nausea turned to laughter. Are you kidding me?

Cindy and I left, quickly.

Looking at wedding dresses online only increased my ire. And my dismay. Why would I want to look forlorn because I have to drag forty pounds of silk behind me? Or pouty, shoulders forward, with swirls of satin thumbtacked to my hips? Or pretending to be a flamenco dancer?

Oh, I was ready to wear a sundress, or a big skirt and a tank top. Forget it.

But still, I'm a woman. Of course I want to feel beautiful on my wedding day. And the parts of me both tugged. I want it to be simple, inexpensive, and me, one part shouted. The other kept saying, Yes, but you're only going to be married once. You need more than a dress from Target. It didn't help that many of my older women friends, people whom I trust for their candor and quirkiness, kept saying, "Shauna, you want a dress that you'll hang in the closet and never wear again."

Couldn't we just elope?

Luckily, I was saved by the unexpected, once again.

I had been looking in thrift stores. I had been asking around for seamstresses. I had played with the idea of buying an inexpensive dress online. But none of it felt right.

In all my searching, one name kept emerging: Champagne Taste, in Kirkland. First of all, Kirkland is "on the east side," a territory I never venture into, if I can help it. (This is, of course, an artificial divide. East of Lake Washington means more suburbs, Microsoft, big cars, and a place nothing like my taste. And a store called Champagne Taste? There is absolutely no way I could ever find my wedding dress in a placed called Champagne Taste, I kept saying.

Then again, a little thought niggled in my head, you never thought you would meet the love of your life online, either.

A day of teaching writing to sixth-graders drew me over past the Lake. What the hell, I thought. I'm going over there anyway. I'll just stop into Champagne Taste so I can cross it off the list of places I have to look.

Come to think of it, that's exactly the same mindset I had when I met the Chef.

When I walked into Champagne Taste, I almost started laughing. Rather than the shi-shi place of faux refinement I had feared, I found a store cluttered with clothing in all the corners. Purses were piled on the floor. Shoes were askew at the feet of different dresses. There was a winsome chaos to the place, something slightly shabby and human. So much for expectations.

As I walked to the wall of wedding dresses in protective plastic, I listened to the two women customers circling the store. “Oh my god, we’re free!” They told the two women running the store — both of them quite a bit older than I had expected, with frosted hair — that they were having a “sister day.” These two sisters had ditched their husbands, leaving only notes about leftovers in the freezer, and hightailed it for a day of inexpensive manicures, shopping, and dinner out. They were perhaps the jolliest people I had met in a long time. (And the loudest.)

The wedding dresses I saw were beautiful, but still far too costly. If I had been searching for one of those grandeloquent dresses featured in wedding magazines, but at half the price, this would have been the place. But I was not. I saw a plastic shelving unit stuffed with inexpensive veils, so I turned my attention to them instead.

One of the happy sisters turned the corner and walked into my nook. I saw, for the first time, that she was wearing a terribly fake gold piece on her forehead, a loud imitation of what Indian women wear. “Do you know what this is?” she asked me, suddenly.

Startled, I answered. I told her about bindis and their significance.

“Hey!” she shouted from across the store. “We found the right person1”
When she turned back to me, she saw me fingering a veil (I was still puzzled as to how to wear one). “Wait a minute!” she shouted again. “Are you getting married?”
When I mumbled that I am, in July, she actually grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me to the front of the store. “She’s getting married!” The three other women in the store — all of whom were in their early sixties — perked up and moved into action.
“What do you want?” one of the owners asked me. “What kind of dress are you picturing?”

I spluttered, not prepared for all this attention. “Well, simple. Simple, simple. No gee-gaw, no frou-frou. Something elegant, but really just a beautiful white dress.”
The owner seemed to jump a foot, so eager to grab a dress from the back that she nearly tripped. She came out, within a minute, holding three dresses in my size.
The first one was good. Actually, better than anything I had seen so far. I was just about to reach out for it, so eager to be done that I would have taken good enough. But then she unveiled the second dress.

It turns out that your wedding dress — just like your love — is easy to spot. You just have to sift through a lot of them before you can see it clearly.

The women all insisted that I try it on. “We want to see what you will look like on your wedding day!” So I slipped it over my head, and it slid right on. When I emerged from the dressing room (just a cubicle with a tattered curtain), for the first time in my life, I felt like Cinderella at the ball. They all oohed and aahed, and I couldn’t help but blush.

There I was, wearing the dress in which I will marry the Chef.

And can I be gauche and talk about money? It cost me less than $150.

The sisters left, waving behind them and singing out loud. The owners helped me find a veil, in under three minutes. I paid them, grinning all the while and talking a mile a minute about all the stories of us and the kind of wedding we are having. They smiled. They must see this all the time.

And then one of them asked me what I wrote. I told her about this site. She jumped again. Her daughter is getting married soon, and her new mother-in-law has celiac. They have no idea what to feed her. Perpetually, this is a small world.

Before I drove away from the store, I called the Chef, and told him, “I just bought my wedding dress.” It was silent on his end. For a moment, I thought we had lost our cell phone connection. And then I heard him sniff. I had made him cry, and he couldn’t talk.

I didn’t describe the dress to him. I can’t describe it to you. He reads this site every night, after all. And he has asked, sweetly, that he not see the dress, or me in it, until the moment I walk down the aisle.

Of course, my love. Of course.

One thing is for certain about this: I know him. And so I can say, without a doubt, that when the Chef sees me walking toward him, in that dress, he is going to be crying happy tears.

Oh hell, we all know that I will be too.

Tuna Bowl, inspired by The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

The day I came home from buying the wedding dress, I ate this dish for an early dinner. We had seared some ahi tuna the night before, and I decided to try this. Jerry Traunfeld, who runs the Herbfarm, is a genius at light dishes that taste full and decadent. He described his version as sushi without the packaging. I had been meaning to try this for days, and that day seemed like the time.

Let me make this clear — I did not eat this bowl of rice and veggies because it had as few calories as possible. I am not panicking because I need to fit into my wedding dress. Sure, for the first six months we loved each other, the Chef brought home food from the restaurant every night, and cooked for us. We seemed to be on the all-cream and butter diet. However, life evens out. We’re eating lighter now, especially because it’s spring. We both insist — we follow the food that the earth offers in the moment.

Along with ghastly expensive dresses, what I saw repeatedly in bridal magazines and related horrifinalia, was the following: Bridal Boot Camp! What Not to Eat Before Your Wedding! How to Lose Twelve Pounds in Ten Days! Be the Smallest Size You Can For Your Wedding Day!

Poppycock. I’m clearly voluptuous, with curves and flesh. The Chef loves me that way. I do too. I walk. I do yoga. I eat well. I’m fit. But more than that, since my car accident, and the celiac diagnosis, I am grateful to have this body. I’m alive.

And so, there will be no glycolic peels or frantic running routines or a joining of the gym. Instead, there will be love and laughter and conscious food choices. There will be tuna bowls, with all the bounties that spring has to offer.

Aromatic jasmine rice

1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
2 glugs rice wine vinegar
½ stalk lemongrass
1 chunk fresh ginger
1 pat butter
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in your rice cooker. (If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can do this in a pot, but watch it instead.) Set it on cook and wait for it to be done.

Fish out the ginger and lemongrass and fluff up the rice.

Sesame dressing

½ cup toasted sesame oil
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespon wheat-free tamari
2 teaspoons garlic, minced

Put the ginger, rice wine vinegar, wheat-free tamari, and garlic in a blender. Turn on the blender and start to pulverize the ingredients. As it is processing, slowly add the sesame oil and canola oil to the blender. When the entire concoction has blended together well (which is called emulsifying), turn off the blender. This will give you plenty of dressing, which will store in the refrigerator for weeks.

Seared tuna

Find the best piece of ahi tuna that you can find. Ask your seafood person to cut into one-inch thick pieces.

Heat a pan to the highest heat imaginable. Put a tablespoon of canola oil into the pan and let it come to heat.

Place the tuna steaks into the pan. Cook for one minute on the first side. Flip the tuna steaks over and cook for one minute off. Immediately, take the tuna out of the pan and onto a plate. The outside should be seared and warm, and the inside cool.

The final tuna bowl

Take a scoop of rice. Place a few slices of the seared tuna on top. Add some of your favorite vegetables and herbs.


Grilled radicchio
Fresh chives
Sautéed red pepper
Sautéed mushrooms
Sliced fennel

Or anything else you like.

After you have arranged the plate in a way you love, toss a small amount of the dressing on top, and toss.

Eat. You will be amazed at how filled you will feel with something this healthy.

12 April 2007

the grace of asparagus soup

asparagus soup

Sunday afternoon. Sun shining through the skylights. The Chef and I are in the kitchen, music playing in the living room — Stevie Wonder, as I remember — and we are dancing. Our knives are chopping little staccato rhythms on the cutting boards. Our hips are swaying to the songs and our happiness at being together. Friends are coming over in a couple of hours. We have the day off.

He is chopping the stalks of asparagus, just come into season. The woody bottoms he scoops into a metal bowl. The tender tips he sets aside. He starts with an asparagus stock, which he tosses together faster than I had imagined. I walk to the living room to turn up the music — Rufus Wainwright now — and when I have returned, he has already finished. "How did you do that?" I ask him, incredulous. He just grins. Today is not the day for lessons or recipes. It is Sunday, and we are cooking.

I return to the ginger cupcakes I had concocted that morning. They need a lemon glaze. The dishwasher needs emptying. We haven't mopped the floor in days. Who cares?

Our friends are due soon. We have stopped to dance — to the Marc Cohn song we are playing at our wedding — and look in each other's eyes. We dance like seventh graders, solemn and barely moving, our feet shuffling, slightly. And then we laugh. He makes a joke I could never explain outside that moment, and I laugh so hard I double over.

We go back to the kitchen.

The sun shines, but the clouds are moving in. Luckily, we aren't going anywhere. Within a few moments, the house will be filled with people we like, including a three-year-old who will absorb all our attention for several hours. What does it matter if it rains?

But the guests aren't there, quite yet. We are alone, and laughing. And when I look over, he has finished the vivid green asparagus soup. It gleams and seems like grass, condensed, in color. He swirls it with the ladle, to stir it one more time, before he lets me take a taste. It's sunlight through green leaves, the peals of giggles from a three-year-old, a certain earthiness, the taste of spontaneity. Only a few weeks out of the year for asparagus, and we are eating it, fully. He's laced it with pepper, for a little kick. Not thin and reedy, the way some asparagus soups sit in the mouth. This one has presence.

I have no recipe. I didn't take notes. He wants to play with it, still, before we publish it.

But sometimes, recipes are over-rated. The food is only a way to connect us, these stories that sing through my head.

10 April 2007

how do you make a meal in this car?

her car

I heard the Chef sigh, first. We were driving towards Greenlake, on a beautiful spring day. Immediately after the sigh, he said, "Oh, I wish we could help that old woman." I looked behind me to see a woman in her 70s or 80s with four grocery bags. She had left three of them behind her and was walking twenty feet forward to lay down the one bag. Then, she went back to get one more and move that one forward. I immediately circled the car around and parked. We didn’t have a choice.

We hopped out and said, "Ma'am, can we help you?" She resisted at first, her back hunched against us, but she eventually let us help her carry them. (She wouldn't take a ride in the car.) I thought we were just helping an old woman with her bags.

She talked, in a meandering mumble. Her stories were a little loopy, a bit circular and paranoid. Complaining neighbors, Metro bus drivers closing their doors on her hand before she descended the stairs, Arabs across the street claiming that they owned her house. I leaned in as close as I could to her furrowed face,, but I could only hear about half of it.

I looked for a food bank, since she had mentioned one. She had pointed to an old magenta sweater in one of her bags, saying that she wanted to give it away to someone. But this was a residential street, with lovely Craftsmen homes, only a block away from the lake. One of the best neighborhoods in Seattle. I looked for a food bank, but I couldn’t see one. And then she stopped.

She pointed to a banged-up house, scuffed and boarded up. The steps toward the porch were gone, covered by that flexible orange sheeting that construction workers use. I stood there looking, and then I glanced at the Chef. Neither of us understood. Where did she sleep?

When we asked her, she turned away from her story of the neighbor complaining about the driveway and the tree she had planted ten years before. She pointed, quickly, and then dropped her hand. We turned around and saw it.

She lives in her car. This woman in her 80s, on a tree-lined, upper-middle-class street in Seattle, lives in her car. It is an old Lincoln, stuffed full of cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and detritus. It was impossible to see where she slept, since the driver’s seat was covered in stuff, but that's what she insisted: she sleeps in the car. Her car is parked in front of her old house, where she lived for decades. From what I could gather, she has been living in her car for over a year.

The Chef and I stood there with her, letting her say what she needed. She said that her social security check was cut to $135 a month, and she has no choice but to live there. (She also claimed that a prostitute on Lake City Way stole her card.) We both leaned in to hear her, because her mumblings were pretty quiet. When I asked her if we could find her some help, she shook her hand at me. Eventually, after I persisted, kindly, and said I would like to call someone in the city to come out and help her, she said, "Okay, dear."

She wouldn’t tell me her name. I don’t know any more of her story.

When we walked away, she was slowly tottering her bags to the car, one by one. She had been to the food bank, which had taken all morning. The bus she had taken back home was the wrong one, swooping away from her usual route. So she had been walking for blocks the way we had seen her, before we stopped.

One of the images that has haunted me all afternoon? They gave her a cantaloupe. Some part of me thought — well, at least she has fresh fruit. But then the other part of me thought, how is a woman with little-to-no space to sleep in the driver's seat supposed to eat a cantaloupe?

As we walked away, the Chef and I held hands, and were silent. When we looked up at each other, we both had tears in our eyes.

When we had to stop at Whole Foods, for out-of-season fruit for a photo shoot I was doing for the summer issue of a magazine, we both felt a little disgusted at all the gleaming bounty.

When we reached the restaurant, I immediately called every city agency I could think of. Homeless shelters — although she wants more than that, I should think. Public health — they informed me that the funding for their eldercare outreach has been cut, and thus the office no longer exists. I finally spoke to someone in the mayor's office for the elderly. He was kind, but he was also resigned. "I think I know who you're talking about. Does she have a white car?" He hasn't been able to check in with her for over a year, but his hands were tied. Unless she has reached complete dementia, is in terrible medical condition, or asks to be institutionalized, they cannot do anything. He has a senior home he could get her into today, but she has to ask for it. He said my call has put her back on his radar, and he's going to do what he can. "We're aware of it," he told me.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her all day. Neither has the Chef.

We take so much for granted.

I don’t know how this story ends. I don’t know that I ever will.

09 April 2007

daily gluten-free food photo: bacon press

bacon press

Finding the Chef was enough. How could anything compare to waking up and seeing his fce next to mine in the morning, the sun coming through the windows? We have nothing to do for hours but read the newspaper, laugh and eat something scrumptious for breakfast. Really, this is enough.

But sometimes, there are also presents.

My dear friend Sherry — she of the fierce passions and huge laughs, two daughters and one more on the way, eternal wonderings, and one of my favorite people in the world — sent us a beautiful engagement present last week. One was dear and thoughtful, perfectly suited for two people who love food and each other. The other was this: a bacon press.

Guess which one we love best.

Ostensibly, this heavy metal pig is meant to be pressed down on bacon as it cooks. But the beautiful bacon from A & J's cooks up wonderfully, equal parts crispy and chewy, every time. Besides, how could we besmirch this lovely pig?

So there it sits, next to the coffee pot, up against the mortar and pestle, reminding us every day how absurd and beautiful this world really is.

07 April 2007

Play ball!

baseball and food

I thought I was going to marry Steve Garvey.

When I was eleven years old, I wanted nothing more than to play baseball. My brother and I played catch in the backyard, my father hit me pop flies, and I stepped onto the green field to the roar of the crowd more times in my mind than I care to remember at this moment. If you had asked me then what I would become, I would never have guessed former-high-school-teacher-now-full-time-writer-marrying a Chef. Nope. I would have told you, boldly, that I had only one wish: I wanted to be the first woman in the major leagues.

I still wish it happened, actually.

But at the time, I also would have settled for marrying Steve Garvey.

Now, I cringe a bit. My god, the man looks generic, with his chiseled chin and pleasing grin. It mortified me later to find out that he was doing local informercials in Los Angeles and making motivational speeches. Apparently, he still is. And that hair — a giant swoop of Brylcreem (but wiped off afterward), neatly parted on the side. A Santa Ana wind couldn’t have knocked that one out of place. But when I was eleven, he seemed so handsome in his crisp white uniform. Plus, he played first base, where I have resided at nearly every game of my life.

It wasn’t just Steve Garvey. Really, it was the Dodgers. At eleven, just hitting puberty and full of fervency, I loved the Dodgers. No, I really, really loved the Dodgers. I listened to Vin Scully call every game on the radio. I ate Dodger Dogs outside of the ballpark. And when the games were televised, I sat in our wood-panelled den, in front of the television, wearing my baseball glove.

When Tommy Lasorda said that he knew his veins ran Dodger blue, I always nodded my head. I was theirs.

(If you don’t believe me, take a look at this photo of me and my dad, after one of the games. I apologize in advance for my father’s shorts and tube socks. It was the late 70s, after all.)

But then came October. 1977. Those damned Yankees. Reggie “Fucking” Jackson is how I still refer to him. I don’t want to talk about it.

Here is one of the most wondrous parts of spring, however, besides the asparagus and green leaves. Baseball starts again. Everything begins, fresh. By the spring of 1978, I blamed the Yankees, and I believed in my Dodgers. Even though I was nearly twelve, I had changed in that break over winter. What had happened? I saw a photo of Steve Garvey’s wife, Cindy. Um, no. She was a Barbie doll, come barely to life. Really, Steve, is that who you choose? Well, then you’re not the man for me.

You take life powerfully hard at eleven and twelve.

That year, I switched my allegiances, from Steve Garvey to Ron Cey. Ah, the Penguin. That’s what they called him, since he had a little bow-legged waddle. He wasn’t fast, and he sure wasn’t pretty. But he slammed down into the bag with his entire body when he stole bases, and he came up smudged and grinning. That man worked hard.

So, the season of 1978, I imagined being Ron Cey’s daughter. (I didn’t want to marry him. I had moved onto Mikhail Baryshnikov and Steve Martin for those aspirations.) I imagined him taking me to Dodger Stadium, and letting me sit in the dugout while I wear my pint-sized Dodger uniform. I had the best seats, right above first base, for every game. And within a year, I could be a ball girl and fetch errant foul balls.

That didn’t happen either. And the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the series once again.

Really, I don’t want to talk about it.

Baseball has stayed with me, but never with the same fervency of those years. The Dodgers drifted, and by the time they made it back to the playoffs, there was no more Davey Lopes or Rick Monday. The faces, unfamiliar, failed to inspire me at sixteen.

But baseball always beat within my heart. I played it (my hitting specialty is blistering line drives over the third baseman’s head) and watched it and talked it, sometimes. I’ve never been one to memorize box score minutiae, but I can tell you about all the greats. And if you’re ever in a room with me where a television is showing a ball game, don’t expect to keep my attention. My head drifts over there, no matter what I do.

When I lived in New York, however, I rooted actively for the Mets.

The last year I lived there, the Seattle Mariners played the Yankees in the playoffs, and I knew it was time to come home. I was ready for a home-town team again.

The Mariners? Well, they pretty much stink. They have an incredible talent for drafting young players with enormous skills and then trading them just before they become great. The last three years of Mariner baseball have been abysmal.

But still, there is that baseball beginner’s mind at work, always. In spring, anything is possible.

This is why, on Monday, you might have seen me walking toward Safeco Field. The Chef was on my right, holding my hand. My friend Pete walked to our left, as openly giddy as the two of us. Every block or so, from our impossible parking place twenty-two blocks away, one of us stopped to pump our fist and say out loud, “Baseball!” (Okay, that might have been mostly me.)

I should have known when I saw the first man, scraggly and pleading, holding a cardboard sign: “I need tickets.” Actually, I did know, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. (I hope that’s not a precursor of the Mariners’ season.) After the fifth sign, we all looked at each but didn’t say it. We waited until we had the confirmation from the harried ticket taker: sold out.

Sold out? A Seattle Mariners game? Sure, it was opening day, but these were Seattle fans. At least one-third of them appeared to be women wearing too much makeup and reeking of too much perfume, eager to please the man behind whom they tottered on their high heels. Hey, we deserve your tickets!

I have never been to an Opening Day game in my life. The Chef and I have never been to a baseball game together. It was meant to be….a disappointment.

Luckily, I was walking with two of my favorite men in the world, men as remarkably buoyant and able to rebound from disappointments as I tend to be. So we couldn’t get in — at least we were together.

We ambled across the street to the Pyramid Ale House, where we assumed (correctly) that television screens would sit fixed on any open space. We settled in for some food and plenty of conversation, each of us watching the game, transfixed.

Do you sense any difficulty in this? What is a gluten-free girl supposed to eat at an alehouse?

For that matter, what does a gluten-free girl eat at the ballpark?

I’ll have to let you know about the latter when we try again, later in the season. But at the alehouse across from the ballpark, where nearly everything is beer battered and beer braised and draped in all the glory of everything that is beer? Well, not much.

Normally, the Chef and I go to restaurants with plenty of choices, the freshest of foods, chefs who truly care about sending out the best plate imaginable. This isn’t that kind of place. But it is the perfect place for watching the ball game with friends.

So I had the easiest choice for a celiac who eats meat: a hamburger. When in doubt, go with the beef. Tell them no bun, of course. Remind them of this, strenuously. Warn them of how sick you will grow if you eat any gluten, and this might persuade them to ask the line cook to wipe down the grill before he cooks your burger. No fries for you. Why? Well, even though potatoes are blessedly gluten-free, the fries are dunked in oil where battered fish and onion rings are also submerged. The cross-contamination would make you sick for days. Settle for a salad, and remind the waiter that you don’t want those orange-colored croutons you see on someone else’s plate. Remind him of this, again and again. Choose oil and vinegar, on the side, for your dressing, because you don’t know what bottle they are pouring the glurby ranch dressing from, anyway.

And of course, you could grow annoyed that you didn’t get into the game when you were looking forward to Opening Day. And you could suffer with a sore throat because you have to yell over the sound of the crowd in the alehouse every time there is a strikeout. And you could certainly sulk that you are eating a plain hamburger with a salad without an interesting dressing when you eat so well every other day. And the fries? Who knew you would have to forego fries when you had to give up gluten? Certainly, you could choose to make this a lousy day.

Or, like me, you could laugh your way through it. You could enjoy the closeness you have with the love of your life, and your dear friend, and watch them talk sports moments from the past over you, and grin at the two of them becoming friends. You could cheer with the crowd when the Mariner phenom Felix Hernandez sets up more than a dozen strikeouts in one game. You could feel grateful that you can eat at all, and afford this food, and eat a hamburger in a restaurant without growing sick.

And you could vow to learn to make the best possible fries in your own kitchen someday.

Most of all, we were there. We were laughing. We were cheering.

And baseball is back again.

Play ball!

04 April 2007

daily gluten-free food photo: spring onions

spring onions

That green.

All winter long, the sky and trees and everything in between just beamed out bleakness. Most of the time, they barely murmured the muted colors. The cold wind along our cheeks, the lashes of wind tousling my hair, the unending grey that skimmed the surface of the sky but seemed to be all of it up there. This year, winter in Seattle seemed to last forever.

For the first three months, I wasn't complaining. "Look, honey!" I shouted and tugged at his sleeve. "It's snowing!" We walked in it, turned our faces toward, and shifted our bodies to warm each other up. Everything was new.

But by March, even the two least jaded people in the world looked out the window at morning snowflakes and said, "Again?"

Finally, it's spring.

Do you know what I always notice about spring when it arrives? The earth has smells again. In winter, everything goes dormant, even the scent of itself. Driving along now, with the windows open, I notice the smell of the dirt as I drive by it. And the grass, just cut, feels like intoxication.

And the other noticing, day after day? A return to green. Driving through the arboretum, I see another tree with trembling new leaves upon its branches. "Look, sweetie!" I say, tugging on his sleeve. "That tree has leaves now!" They are almost all there now.

Spring, most of all? A return to green vegetables, besides kale. A few weeks ago, we turned the corner at the Market and came upon these — the first spring onions we had seen.

Everything lets out a sigh of relief this time of year.

03 April 2007

daily gluten-free food photo: pine nuts

pine nuts

Salty, creamy goodness.