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10 September 2005

when in doubt, throw a gluten-free potluck

canned fruit, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

You know you have good friends when they bring homemade, canned fruit to your parties.

Last night, I had a big party at my house. What was the occasion? Nothing in particular. Summer’s over, autumn is here. I finished my three days of all-day faculty meetings, and just being done with those was enough to make me want to celebrate. Bring on the students—I can’t wait to see them now. It’s September. It was a Friday.

I find, these days, that I need little reason to celebrate being alive. After a near-death car accident, a year and a half of pain, and then the hammering winter and spring before the celiac diagnosis, now that I’m healthy, I feel like bounding into the air most of the time. On the phone a few moments ago, my parents told me a story from when they visited my two-year-old nephew this morning. They had brought Elliott some little figures that bend and wiggle. Elliott picked one up—the one wearing bright pink and orange, arms and legs akimbo, looking like it was dancing—and said, “That one’s Shauna!”

Yep. That feels about right these days.

When I lived in New York, I had to go out to a restaurant or bar to meet friends. With eleventy billion restaurants on every block, there’s never a lack of somewhere to go. But mostly, New Yorkers don’t cook. They eat out for every meal, even if it’s just grabbing an egg sandwich at the corner bodega for breakfast. This is why grocery stores were mostly depressing, the produce wilty and saggy, the aisles grey from broken lights. And so, of course I’d meet friends for sushi on 78th Street or Indian food on 6th Street or coffee at the Grey Dog on Carmine Street. Everything revolved around food, but someone else was always making it for me. And when I did decide to cook, or make pies, and invite people over, people were so amazed to have eaten food made by a friend’s hands that I was a little overwhelmed.

But in Seattle, almost everyone cooks. Oh, we have a plethora of fabulous restaurants, and I’ll write more about them here as I go. But now that I’m eating gluten-free, and I have to be especially vigilant because of the celiac diagnosis, I’m just not eating out that often. And especially after Katrina and its aftermath. I want to save my money and use it to help other people. I’d much rather eat the food made by my foodie friends’ hands.

So last night, I had a party. I invited twenty friends or so, and I asked them all to bring gluten-free food. If you are just learning how to eat gluten-free, I highly recommend this idea to involve everyone in your life in this process. Last week, I sent out an email, asking everyone to bring his or her favorite gluten-free recipes:

Let's celebrate the coming of autumn, and the fact that we're alive. Party
at my house.

This Friday, September 9th, at 7 pm.

Gluten-free potluck. What does this mean? Vegetables, meats, tofu,
cheeses, rice, corn, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, tamari sauce, made in a
hundred dozen combinations. No traditional bread, pasta, or pizza. No
wheat, rye, or barley, or anything derived from it. It's really not that
hard, though. There's so much great food that doesn't contain gluten. (If
you have any questions, just ask me.) I've been cooking up a storm this
summer, so I can promise some great food from this kitchen.

Please bring the wine or beverage of your choice.

Music, good conversation, and lots of laughter are a given.

I'd love to see you here. Come on by, if you can.


My friends know more about what it means to eat gluten-free than the average American, mostly because I just can’t stop talking about it! But I’m always happy to help people understand more. And besides, as I keep writing here, eating gluten-free doesn’t have to be boring or arduous. It just means great food.

salt cod tart

I made us homemade hummus and rice crackers. More slow-roasted tomatoes. (I put them in the oven in the morning, before I left for another day of school meetings. My goodness the house smelled good when I walked through the door.) A big pan of ratatouille. And finally, the Provencal salt cod tart I had read about on Orangette several weeks ago. I’ve been longing to make it, with its slow-simmered tomato sauce, and the salt cod mousse made with creme fraiche. It seemed like summer to me. But the original recipe called for puff pastry, and that was right out. And I still haven’t figured out how to make a decent gluten-free pie crust. But last night, I tried it. Of course, I came home from meetings and started cooking, all late afternoon and into the evening. I mis-timed it. When the first guests walked in the door, I was still boiling the salt cod, after soaking it in cold water in the refrigerator for days to release it from the salt crust. The oven was heating at 425°, I was scurrying around the kitchen looking for ingredients, and I had to wipe the sweat from my brow with the closest kitchen towel. More guests. And by then, I was making pie crust with the Gluten-free Pantry Perfect Pie Crust mix, which seemed fine. Until I realized I had used the entire package in the dough and didn’t had no extra gluten-free flour left. So I had to roll out the crust on baking powder.

Thank goodness these are some of my closest friends. And they all know each other. And they had brought good wine. So they congregated in the living room, gathering in small circles to talk and laugh while I wrestled with a gluten-free dough.

The few gluten-free crusts I have made have done the same thing, so now I have come to expect it. For whatever reason, it seems impossible to roll out the dough entirely without everything breaking apart. I should have chilled the dough in advance, since that seems to calm it down. But in the midst of the chaos, there just wasn’t time. So I pieced together the dough in large bits and patted it down in my trusty white pie pan. Thank goodness I had made three hundred regular pies before the celiac diagnosis, so I know how to work the little darlings. I lay down the tomato paste, simmered for an hour and gorgeous with the garlic. And then the cod mousse I had whirled together in the food processor. It smelled briny and slightly sweet at the same time. I patted down the top crust as several friends stood by, drinking wine and laughing with me. Into the oven, and finally I could sit down. Half an hour later, we had salt cod tart. (Or “Fish pie!” as Paul kept shouting out, trying to annoy me.) And oh, was it worth all the scurrying and sweating. It was simply soft and crumbly. One layer melted into the next. The fish mousse had a hint of its former salt, but not too much. It tasted like a little pillow of pastry, savory and strange enough to be familiar. I’m definitely making it again.

lentil salad

But certainly I wasn’t the only one to make great food. Meri came up the steps of my house bearing a warm, spiced lentil salad, ringed with slices of lemon. Dorothy made this intensified roasted red-pepper soup, and David carried in more hummus. Paul and Amy brought a platter of caprese salad: thick slices of mozzarella cheese, rounds of beefsteak tomatoes, and fresh basil. Anne and Rick made a lovely lentil salad and flourished a plate of fresh-picked raspberries. And strawberries! Rick had picked fresh strawberries in September. When Anne fed me one, I nearly fell to the floor from the taste. Sonora brought homemade pakoras with chickpea flour, with a spicy garlic-mint sauce. Liz came in with gruyere cheese, on which we drizzled the chestnut honey. And more and more and more. Eric brought in salad makings. And a present for me. A large jar of peaches canned by his mother, and a fat jar of sweet cherries, canned by his great-aunt Beatrice. Wow. Now that’s a friend.

We ate and talked and laughed and told stories. And as someone said, as we sat with our full plates balanced on our knees, “Everything just tastes so good. When we used to have our brunches, we’d just throw together some food. But having to think about making something gluten-free, we all made such great food!” I agree.

So if you’re just learning to eat gluten-free (or you have been for awhile and you’re stuck in a rut), throw yourself a potluck. Make sure you have foodie friends, willing to cook. And if not, it’s time to make some new friends!


At 3:43 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Sounds like a very fun and exciting food night! Great idea for a different type of potluck!

At 7:58 PM, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

As usual, I felt like I was there having fun with the rest of your friends.

At 12:00 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

Joe and Ruth--

You would both be welcome at my parties any time!

At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna, do you have any of Bette Hagman's books? Her second book, which I think is called 'More from the Gluten-Free Gourmet', has the most amazing recipe for pie crust ('Donna Jo's Dream Pastry'). I've been using it as my standard for years, and people always ask me for the recipe (not knowing it's gluten-free, of course!). If you'd like I can email it to you (or you can get the book on amazon - it's available used from $1.44!).


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