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28 November 2005

in which I have a change of heart

beets and goat cheese, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I was reaching for a plastic bag in the produce section at Metro Market the other day, I was suddenly struck by an absurdity. Printed on the bag, in big green letters, was “5 a day!” The store was cheerfully exorting customers to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Really? Do people really need to be reminded of this? I forget, but I guess we Americans do need the reminder. Or more likely, the teaching. I remember an isolated moment from the Oprah show sometime last year. I don’t remember what the show topic was, because I could only remember this moment, frozen in horror: a woman in the audience admitted that she ate mostly fast food, all week long. And the only vegetable she ever ate was the potatoes in the french fries. And she wondered why suffered such bad constipation? I stared at the television set in cringing embarrassment. Not for myself, but for our entire culture. What are we doing to ourselves? Where have we gone wrong? Today, a dear friend of mine was telling me about her Thanksgiving weekend, and she said, “In four days of eating, there wasn’t one green.” I’m sure hers wasn’t an isolated case. But how did we become this bad? Why do we need to be cajoled to eat our vegetables, when they can be so damned good?

I know I don’t. I thrive on vegetables and live on fruit. During the summer, I gorge on fresh rasberries, let the peach juice dribble down my chin, walk through Discovery Park with blackberry juice staining my fingers dark purple, and make watermelon sorbet from scratch, spontaneously. But during the autumn and winter, I live on vegetables.

I ate vegetables all weekend long, as I was trying to recover from my unexpected glutenized Thanksgiving Day feast. Without knowing why, when I’m feeling under the weather from hidden gluten, I turn back to vegetables. I made garlic-buttermilk-smoked cheddar mashed potatoes on Saturday night. (Even if you think you had your fill of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, you need some of these.) Brussel sprouts hash, with fresh chicken stock, lemon juice, and poppy seeds, a la Molly. When my friend Monica came over on Saturday afternoon, for a long, lovely visit, I set a mushroom sautee in front of her: chanterelles, criminis, and Italian parsley, all done in a touch of olive oil, on high heat. God, the depth of it. I flash sauteed green beans with almond slivers and sea salt. Fresh spinach. Salads with pomegranate seeds. Carrots. Everything fresh and redolent of health.

butternut squash

And then there was butternut squash. I adore butternut squash. In fact, I ate roated butternut squash every day of the four-day weekend. Making that rich flesh dense with sweetness and orange goodness is so easy. Simply cut the beige-skinned gourd into chunks, remove the seeds, sprinkle with good olive oil, a bit of smoked paprika, and sea salt. Then, throw it into a 400° oven for half an hour or so, until the chunks of pale-orange flesh yield to the touch, soft and ready for eating. Take it out of the oven, let it cool, then start peeling back the skin with your fork. Why would you need anything else?

If you’ve grown tired of eating it plain, try some butternut squash soup, with onions, pears, dark cider, a vanilla bean, and half and half. (Apparently, I live almost entirely on Molly's recipes.) Top it with a bit of grated gruyere, and you don’t need to eat anything else. I made this last soup from Orangette last night, and I don’t need to cook anything else for days. Singing of autumn and far-reaching possibilities, the soup only darkens every day, the layers of taste reaching farther down onto the tongue, sweetness, a bit of piquant bite, the onions flooding the taste buds, and everything right with the world.

Really, who could have a problem with vegetables?

Well, I did, when I was a kid. And I think that’s where most of us have stayed: stubbornly in place. Learning to love vegetables takes an open mind, a willingness to change. For some people, that comes slowly. I didn’t learn to like tomatoes until I was in the least likely place, a pub in south Surrey, in England, in 1982. And this after I had been tempted with fresh, juicy tomatoes in southern California, all my life. It took me until I was sixteen, with a soggy tomato in front of me, until I thought, “Ahh, I like this.” And I haven’t been able to stop since. I can’t imagine my life now without tomatoes.

Still, during my entire adulthood, people have asked me, “Are there any vegetables you don’t like?” Well, yes, I’d say. There are. And I’d rattle them off, like scripture off the tongue, my trinity: cauliflower, beets, and lima beans. Blech.

This was, as far as I was concerned, sacrosanct. Why change now? There are plenty of vegetables for me to make. No need to like them all.

But that’s what I love about this gluten-free diagnosis. Instead of being a closure, it has opened me up so entirely that I feel like a different person now. And I like this one even more. With restrictions in food necessary for my health, why shut down on everything else? Why not try them?

If you’ve been reading, you know that this is the autumn I learned to love cauliflower. Not just accept it, or like it, but love it. It turns out the trick is roasting. Whether it’s with smoked paprika and cooa powder, or olive oil and sea salt, in indiviual florets or sliced thin, cauliflower just coos to me now. I see it in the store and head toward it. When I was forced to eat it raw, or boiled, I turned out my tongue and said blech. Now, I’ve changed.

But beets? Come on, those things are horrible. My mother loved pickled, canned beets when I was a kid, and she’d try to push them on every salad I ate. Oh no. Canned beets really just shouldn’t exist. It was the smell that always made me want to retch. Something of loamy earth, covered up by syurpy sweetness. A sharp blow to the nose. And the flubby texture, the bright-pink color, the tang it left in the back of the throat. Blech.

Over the past years, people I love have tried to convince me I need to like beets. Daniel roasts them at nearly every party, and lays them out in spectacular displays, like his garden. I nod and smile, and agree to nibble on one. And even though they clearly taste different than those canned monstrosities, the wave of memory always overpowered me. And I’d put them down. I’d try. I would. But I just couldn’t do it.

Couldn’t I just not like beets?

beets and scallions

Last week, my friend Pete came over for lunch, and he brought me food presents. Organic potatoes he’d picked up at the farmers’ market. Scallions from his garden. And two beets he’d plucked from the earth that morning. Sweetness. Now, the potatoes? Gorgeous. They deserve their own post, and that they will have. I love those little tubers like my own life. And there are so many ways to make them. And some of the ones Pete brought me were bright pink inside. Of course I ate those right away. The scallions? Lovely and languid and clearly home grown, because they didn’t look like neat little soldiers bundled up with a rubber band. Those I took with me to Thanksgiving and slipped them into the ill-fated gluten-free stuffing. Still, that wasn’t the scallions’ fault. And what I did taste of it, the scallions made a difference. But the beets? i didn’t have the heart to tell him how much I loathe beets. I just smiled and said thank you. Took that picture of them laying on the table. And then forgot them for the rest of the week.

But on Saturday afternoon, feeling gripy in the belly and woefully low on energy, I decided to roast some more butternut squash. In its softness and wonderful density of flavor, it helped me through the worst of the gluten-induced woes of the weekend. And on a whim, I decided to roast the two beets along with it. I peeled off the thick skins, watched the juices stain my fingers red, and warded away the bad memories of the smell. I massaged them with meyer lemon olive oil and good herbed sea salt. And then I set them in a 400° oven, along with the squash. About half an hour later, when the squash was soft and sizzling, the beets were more tender, but entirely soft. I took them out anyway, then set them aside.

Later, after Monica had left, and the beets were no longer hot, I sliced them up, on a whim. They looked so lovely, cut thick, their dark red flesh gleaming. That afternoon, I had made up a new version of the Cafe Flora goat cheese marinade, but this time with tomato vinegar and cilantro, instead of balsamic and basil. And so I served myself some thick, roasted beet slices, like crackers, with acrid, gorgeous goat cheese. Ah god. I could feel years of resistance slipping from my shoulders. I gobbled up both beets in five minutes flat. I'm never looking back.

Okay, I can change. I now officially like beets.

What’s next? Lima beans?


Meyer lemons are a gift of the gods. Actually, they come from China, originally. (If you'd like to know more about them, read this spiffy little interview from the wonderful The Splendid Table. Chefs have known about them for decades, but they're only entering the public consciousness in the past five to ten years. Honestly, they're one of my favorite fruits, and we're entering Meyer lemon season right now. Watch for recipes redolent of them here, soon. But even in the off-season, there is Meyer lemon olive oil. I've been buying mine from, and I've been spreading it on everything I can imagine. Imagine roasted chicken with this. Ach, du lieber. Buy some today.

3 tablespoons Meyer lemon olive oil
1 tablespoon good herbed sea salt, like Vignalta
fresh cracked pepper to taste

°Peel the skins from the beets, taking care to save as much of the flesh as possible.
°Massage the olive oil on the beets, slowly, being sure to cover every part of the flesh.
°Sprinkle the beets with sea salt and pepper.
°Slip the beets into the a pre-heated 400° oven. Cook for about half an hour, or until the beets are tender without being too soft.
°When they have cooled, slightly, slice them, thickly. Top with your favorite goat cheese. I used goat cheese, tomatoes, capers, garlic, tomato vinegar, olive oil, and cilantro. The cilantro cuts the inherent sweetness of the beets beautifullly.

25 November 2005

a gluten-free Thanksgiving? Well...

pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

You know, I had every intention of this being a gluten-free Thanksgiving. After all, I remember every Thanksgiving of my life before this one, laying around in the late afternoon with my stomach overly full, my throat constricted, my head pounding from the pain, and a general feeling of malaise invading my system. We all overeat on Thanksgiving, right? That’s why I felt like such a dragged-out, run-over specimen of a being for most of Thanksgiving day.

But that was years past. And this year, for the first time, I would have an entirely gluten-free Thanksgiving. After all, this isn’t a lifestyle choice, a whim, and certainly not an attempt to cut carbs. With celiac disease, even the smallest amount of gluten can make for miserable days. And of course, keeping this website, and doing the continuous research to keep myself up to date for all of you reading, makes me even more aware of where gluten may lurk. It’s funny, how many people write to me and admit, “You know, I cheat sometimes, and I always pay for it later.” I’ve never been tempted to “cheat,” just sneak a taste of that cake or a bite of that pastry. Who would I be cheating besides myself? After being so inordinately sick last year, I know exactly how gluten can make me feel. So I’ve lost my taste for it. Traditional pasta no longer looks good to me. No chance for this gluten-free girl to grow sick.

After all, I took great precautions. The night before Thanksgiving, I made the pumpkin pies at my house, in my own pie plates, so there would be no chance of cross-contamination. And I have to say, with more experimenting since September, I’ve developed a pie crust recipe I just adore. (Recipe at the bottom of this post.) It’s flaky, tasty, and just enough bite to feel like real pie. I love making pumpkin pie, tossing in the cinnamon. And this year, I ground my cloves fresh, which shone through in the pie. That was a triumph.

gluten-free bread

And I attempted to make my own gluten-free stuffing. For most of my life, my mother cooked the entire Thanksgiving dinner by herself. And every year, what I looked forward to most was her gorgeous, simple stuffing. (By the way, apparently the distinction between stuffing and dressing is that stuffing is cooked in the bird and dressing outside of it. But I don’t care. Even though we haven’t cooked the concoction inside the bird in years, for health reasons, I still refuse to call it dressing.) Just soft bread cubes, butter, onions, celery, sage, and plenty of pepper. That was the taste of Thanksgiving for me. I always felt sorry for the families with “weird” stuffing, with apricots or walnuts or sausages or pears. That’s not stuffing. So on Wednesday night, I baked a loaf of gluten-free bread. In fact, I made two. In the bread machine, I made a loaf with the Gluten-free Pantry French Bread and Pizza Mix, my old standby. And in the oven, I made a loaf of the Pamela’s Wheat-Free mix, a new addition to my kitchen. The Pamela’s loaf had the feel of real bread, and a slightly sweet taste I find wonderfully appealing for sandwiches. But the bread-machine loaf had that silky-white texture I associate with the bread for stuffing. So after making the loaf, I cut it into cubes and browned it in a 250° oven for another hour and a half. This gave it a little crust, a little crunch. Good for stuffing. So it took me about five hours to produce a little bag of bread cubes, but it felt worth it.

box of food for Thanksgiving

On Thursday morning, I loaded up my car with my box full of food (including the cranberry relish I had made, a butternut squash, scallions, apples and pears, and chicken stock) and drove to Vashon, one of my favorite places in the world. The same width as Manhattan island, this green swath of land in Puget Sound is actually two miles longer than Manhattan. And yet, only 9000 people live there. Imagine 9000 people on Manhattan. The fir trees and madronas buffet against the water. Driving down the main highway, you only stop five times, and that’s with stop signs. There’s not a single traffic light on the place. Having lived and taught there for five years, I know the place like the recipes I never have to look up in a book. I just drive, and smile. And of course, my brother, sister-in-law, and darling nephew live there. When I’m in their house, my cheeks hurt from all the smiling, and my stomach aches from all the laughing with Elliott. Time stops, in the best way. I live in the moments when Elliott and I are imagining together. And so, on Thursday as well. I had offered to cook half the meal, add some new dishes, to make sure we had fancy vegetables and more gluten-free food. But my brother insisted on cooking almost everything, since it was his house. So no real cooking for me. Just a quiet family time, which I loved. The rain pattered on the skylights after a week of low fog in the sky, and it sounded like home. When Elliott napped, we played ridiculous word games and laughed so hard we all leaned out of our chairs precariously and let the tears squeeze from our eyes. It was shaping up to be a lovely Thanksgiving.

But after all that work, and being as careful as I could be with the food, I still got sick from gluten contamination. How?

Well, my brother made his stuffing, then washed out the skillet for me to make mine. Did he wash out the pan enough? Perhaps. When he put the tinfoil on my glass pan of gluten-free stuffing, did he still have flour on his hands? Maybe. He made his own gravy, then cleared a spot on the stove for me to make mine, with gluten-free flour and Kitchen Basics chicken stock. (By the way, thanks to Suzanne from Indiana for that suggestion. It’s fantastic.) But was there still flour flying in the air from his vigorous whisking? Did I get all the flour off the whisk before I started making mine? I don’t know.

onions and celery for stuffing

I do know that the last-minute details of cooking Thanksgiving dinner is often a bit of a frenzy. Everything finishes cooking at the same time. In the flurry of finishing my gravy, and laying out the cranberrries, and dumping a jar of green olives in a bowl, I didn’t notice that Andy had set my pan of gluten-free stuffing and his pan of regular stuffing side by side. Or that they were in the exact same glass pans. But I did notice, when I went into the kitchen to pile my plate with food, that someone had already used the spoon from the regular stuffing in mine, by mistake. There’s my contamination. I looked at it, in horror. I tried to take a spoonful from the other side, with a new spoon, but it probably wasn’t enough.

Why didn’t I just skip the stuffing? Well, I already had to skip the turkey. What? Turkey has gluten in it, you’re thinking? No. Of course not. Except....My brother and sister-in-law had bought a fresh turkey, and they decided to roast it in a plastic poultry bag. As I was finishing my gravy, I watched my dear brother take the turkey out of the oven. I remarked on how lovely and brown it looked, then stared again at the bag.
“Hey Andy, what’s that white stuff in the bag?” I asked him.
“Oh, it’s flour. The manufacturers suggest you throw a couple of tablespoons of flour in there to make sure the skin doesn’t stick,” he said, with no hint of recognition in his voice.
I stared at him. And stared at him.
And then he looked at me, his eyes growing wide, and said, “Oh shit.”

He and my sister-in-law had put flour on the turkey. The one part of the Thanksgiving dinner most likely to be gluten-free—and this one had flour on it.

Now, my brother and sister-in-law love me. They know all about the gluten-free thing, since they both read this site. (Hi, you guys.) And I know they never had any intention of shutting me out of the Thanksgiving turkey. But that’s how hard this is. Even the people who care about us sometimes just don’t make the connection. And then we gluten-free folks have to go without. Again.

They both felt bad, but I backed off from it immediately. No point in making a fuss. And for ten years, when I was a vegetarian, I ate entire Thanksgiving meals without turkey. But still.

[Don’t feel too bad for me, though. Today, when I left the island, I drove straight to the movie theatre to meet Francoise and her family. After seeing Pride and Prejudice, we returned to their lovely home for tea and conversation. When I told Francoise this story, she immediately pulled the leftovers of her enormous turkey from her refrigerator, and insisted on cutting me half. So I didn’t lack, in the end.]

An hour after dinner, I started feeling exhausted. Bloated. That horrible sinking feeling of eating too much, my stomach filling immediately. I had to lie down on the couch, while my sister-in-law’s brother played with my nephew instead. My face felt hot. I could feel the headache rising. And my gut began reacting, almost immediately. Somehow, I’d ingested some gluten, and now I was paying for it. How? I’m still not sure. I’m pretty sure it was the cross-contamination from the other stuffing. And it’s possible I ate one cube of regular bread. When I was putting the glass pans away in the refrigerator, I grabbed one more bite of my stuffing, flecked with pepper and infused through with sage, and thought, “Actually, that does taste pretty damned good.” But almost immediately, I thought, “Uh-oh. That didn’t taste right.” Why didn’t I color-code the stuffings? Why didn’t I insist on putting them in different parts of the kitchen? Why didn’t I make a fuss and make all my own dishes in spite of my brother’s wish to treat the entire family to food? Well, because I’m learning. And there are so many gluten-free lessons to learn. This is a path, a practice, a continually unfolding journey.

I didn’t tell my family that I was sick. I didn’t want to ruin the evening. There were so many beautiful moments besides it—talking with my parents, or basking in the gratitude of having my fabulously imperfect family, or giving my nephew a joyful splashing bath—that it felt small. Thanksgiving, after all, is about the being together, the moments of uncontrolled laughter, the board games, the rain on the roof, the imaginings of a two-year-old, the reminiscing conversations, the long hugs. Imperfect as the meal was, and as quickly as my gluten reaction rose, it was still a lovely day.

However, I’ve been sick all day. And I will be again tomorrow. I know the pattern. Terrible flashes of headaches. Enormous strains of lethargy. Foggy brain. Significant grumblings in the intestines, and more. The old pain in my side. A fullness in my stomach, rising up through my throat, almost choking me. Bloatedness in every part of me. Joint pain. And no appetite. This will be with me for most of the weekend. All this because of a possible errant bread cube. Or a cross-contaminated spoon.

This is hard, this being gluten-free. If you’ve been reading, you know how joyful I am about it, how much of an adventure I consider it, how much this has changed my life. Mistakes happen. And if I’m sick for one weekend, on a low level, it gives me enormous empathy for the person I used to be, the one who always felt like this, who suffered for years for no explanation. And for all of you reading who suffer with me on this. There are a lot of us out there. We aren’t just crazy.

The entire experience has set me thinking. About how careful we all have to be, when we eat in restaurants or go to friends’ homes. Because, if even my dear brother and sister-in-law put flour on our turkey without it occurring to them what that might do to me, how much damage can busy kitchen staffs do? I feel as though I am educating everyone I meet about gluten. And I have to be absolutely vigilant. No slipping.

But it also struck me how, in enacting old Thanksgiving traditions, I broke my own gluten-free rule. For months, I’ve been writing here, and living it in my life: don’t look for gluten-free substitutes of the same old foods. Branch out. Make sharp tastes and memorable bites from foods that are naturally gluten-free. I’ve been living that, in action, every night, with dozens of dishes made from amaranth or quinoa or fresh vegetables or rice. And after all this experimenting and throwing in spices, I’ve come to adore that food more than any other I ate before it. I don’t miss bread.

So why did I make a gluten-free stuffing, as close an approximation of the old stuff as I could?

Because of tradition. Thanksgiving means roast turkey, mashed potatoes, bread stuffing, gravy, and rolls. Right? Well, with the exception of the turkey (most times), everything else relies on flour. And it’s bound to be a problem for those of us who just can’t eat gluten.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. Starting with this Christmas, and every holiday after it, I’m going to make celebratory feasts. Not the same old food as always, but rich, decadent foods with enormous bodies of flavor. Swiss chard gratin. Cassoulets. Braised lamb. Brussel sprouts in browned butter. Sweet potato puree. Crisp salads with goat cheese and pomegranate seeds. Cornbread. Roasted nuts. And, since I’ve mastered the recipe, pumpkin pie with a gluten-free crust.

I’m going to start a new tradition, not feel chained to the old ones. Because--and here was the biggest surprise for me--even if I hadn’t been glutenized, I just didn’t enjoy the meal. Not that my brother isn’t a good cook. He is. He did a great job. It’s just that the tradtional Thanksgiving meal is a plate of food that all tastes pretty much the same: starchy, mashed, salty, and full of flour. And after all these fresh foods and innovative ideas turned into moaning mouthfuls, I just wasn’t that interested. And in the end, the food I enjoyed most in the entire day was the butternut squash I roasted with sea salt and olive oil in the early afternoon, just enough to tide us over until the big dinner. That, and the piquant cranberry relish, is the taste that stuck with me. You never could have told me this before my celiac diagnosis, but Thanksgiving was far from my favorite meal of the year.

So once again, this experience teaches me. From now on, I’m following my own way home.

23 November 2005

a bevy of gluten-free thanks

cranberry thank you, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

My dear and lovely people:

Here I am, the day before Thanksgiving, making a loaf of gluten-free bread for my first Thanksgiving without real bread. The cranberries are ready to boil soon. And the pumpkin pies are starting to smell like the cinnamon-ginger goodness they're bound to become. Outside, that clear blue sky beckons. We're all alive. And in the midst of the darkening winter, this light.

It's funny to me, how everyone grows caught up in Thanksgiving, as though it's all about the stuffing, or stuffing as many people around the table as possible. Even without bread, this feels like the season. It's not just the crisp air, the excitement of two days off of school without work, the heartbreaking thin light of winter. And it's not even about the food, which is quite the statement for me. Even more than ever now, I realize this national holiday is about the gratitude. This has been an extraordinary year for me. In a storied, hilariously full life, this year soars above the rest. The year I finally found health. The year I started this website, and everything good that spill forward from it. And the year I have felt most alive in my life.

Gratitude spills out of me these days, as easily as my laughter. And words can never express how deeply grateful I am to have you all in my life. Here is a woefully incomplete list of why I feel gratitude surging through my chest today:

--for friends who adore food as much as I do, friends who bring me organic potatoes from the farmers' markets spontaneously, friends who discuss recipes endlessly with me, friends who introduce me to pomegranate molasses and great olive oil and new brands of dark chocolate, friends who eat my meals with complete attention and grunting approval, friends who fill my email inbox with encouragement and love and stories, friends who are at the center of my life, my second family, my soulmates (all 128 of them and more). My beloveds.

--for my family, who play a mean game of Apples to Apples on the holidays, who offer me constant support and teasing taking the mickey out keeping me in place comments, who try all my recipes, who read this website, who gave me the DNA to exist, and who provided me with Elliott.

--for the internet, which keeps me occupied all day long, informs me on a daily basis about what can keep me most healthy, keeps me writing, makes me take photographs, and connects me to all of you reading.

--for all of you.

--for celiac disease, which has informed me my entire life, without once informing me of its existence until last spring. Without it, I wouldn't have this life, as it is, or this website.

--for quinoa, red peppers, garlic, goat cheese, organic polenta, mushrooms, soy milk, poached eggs, sauteed spinach, corn tortillas, cranberries, figs, oranges, cassoulet, roast chicken, bananas, dark chocolate, ice water, red wine, fresh-cut ginger, millet fritters, and for the fact that I still have so much more to taste.

--for the sunlight on my fingers as I type this right now.

--for right now.

Right now is enough.

I hope that everyone reading this enjoys a Thanksgiving filled with an extraordinary ease of mind, languid days, and a vivid sense of being alive. Oh, and board games. Those are important too.

All my love,

CRANBERRY, CHERRY, AND PORT RELISH, adapted from Cooking Light, November 2005

There's nothing like the tart sweetness of homemade cranberry relish to wake you up and remind you to be grateful for having tastebuds. In a sea of lovely, mushy tastes of Thanksgiving, a good cranberry relish can be a life raft, a remembrance of the piquant tastes of previous days.

This year, I've made a cranberry relish with depth and bite. I've adapted a recipe from Cooking Light, but it's quite different. Expect photographs soon.

1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
1/2 cup of port
1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice
1/2 cup of dried, tart cherries (I like the Trader Joe's dried Rainier cherries)
16 ounces of fresh, organic cranberries
1 teaspoon of grated orange rind
1 small capful of vanilla extract

°Pour the first four ingredients into a saucepan. Stir, on high heat, until it comes to a boil.
°Add the cherries. Cook for one minute. And don't cut it short.
°Pour in all the lovely, every-shade-of-red cranberries. Stir them about until it comes to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then cover the pot with a lid. Preferably, you'd use a clear glass lid. That way, you can watch the cranberries simmer, then start to pop, then spread. It's a wonderful sight, particularly if you grew up eating cranberries with the can ridges along the side. Simmer for ten minutes.
°Take the pan off the heat. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla extract.
°Put the cranberries into a large plastic container and chill overnight.


21 November 2005

the Monday round-up of great gluten-free recipes of the week (plus an adorable nephew shot)

Elliott and Mousie II, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

These days leading up to Thanksgiving? Somehow they're more frenzied than last week, clutched and cluttered, bunched and uncomfortable. But they don't have to be. If we can just relax, and make the days spacious, the Thursday of all-day cooking can be a relief.

That hasn't been my way this week.

This weekend, I cooked for nearly 24 hours straight. Most of it was planned, some of it unexpected. All of it joyful. A little exhausting.

I began the weekend on Vashon. For nearly two days, I played with my nephew. We enacted the epic saga of Mousie and Sneezy. Elliott and I played this for nearly twenty-four hours. Mousie is a small rat puppet, and Sneezy is a black labrador retriever puppy (stuffed version). They put on their swim diapers and swim through the ocean, which sounds like Burbledy-burbledy-burb. They sniff for food. ("I have found pineapple!" shouted Elliott, in the guise of Mousie, on his hand. "Here is some for Sneezy.") And they play with their diggers. (Elliott is now pronouncing this Digggerrrrrrrrrruzz.) They like to splash and play together. And then Mousie turns to Sneezy and says, "I love you very much, Sneezy." And Sneezy has a hard time talking for the lump in her throat.

They also fed each other scrambled eggs, which were delicious.

You might imagine why I had a hard time leaving on Saturday. (And why, incongruously, I have posted the photograph above, even though it has nothing to do with food.) Intent on taking a 10 am ferry, I somehow didn't make it onto the boat until 3. Considering the fact I still can't drive, it was a long series of bus rides home. Toward the end, we drove through near darkness. It was 5 pm, I had friends coming over for dinner, and I still hadn't shopped.

Thankfully, all these months of cooking has made me efficient. And I wanted this to be good, because it was a dinner for my dear friends, Amy and Paul, who recently announced their engagement. Here's what we had:

--aged pecorino romano cheese with chestnut honey
--Drunken Goat cheese from Spain on hazelnut crackers
--braised leeks with roasted garlic (with chicken stock and white wine)
--roast chicken with lemon zest, rosemary, and garlic
--roasted potatoes with rosemary and olive oil
--gluten-free sugar cookies

(Here, an explanation. I'm trying to make a vivid, nearly perfect gluten-free sugar cookie for you, dear readers, for the holiday season. This was experiment batch #2, with less salt and lemon zest this time. But I botched it when I added two eggs instead of one. Too cakey. Delicious. But not quite a cookie. The next one, I'm thinking, will be the one. And then I'll post it up here, soon.)

The weekend really was a festival of food. Unexpectedly, on an emergency basis, a family of friends were in town, and they came over for breakfast on Sunday. At 8 am, with the kitchen still a mess from the joyful night before, I whipped together a banana bread, a huge scramble of smoked salmon, dill, and goat cheese, and some roasted potatoes. Pots and pots of coffee. It was lovely to see them, even with the circumstances, but there went my slow Sunday morning time. Spontaneously, an hour after they left, another friend stopped by for coffee, just an hour after they left. And we talked and talked and laughed for so long that I made us both lunch. (Leftovers from breakfast, but they were new to him.) Wonderful to see him. Truly. But it meant more cooking.

But then, after his departure, after only a two-hour break, I had two more friends over for dinner. Yikes. At least we all cooked together. Another roast chicken, with local, organic potatoes my lunch friend had brought me from the University farmers' market, organic polenta with goat cheese and roasted asparagus, gluten-free stuffing they had made the night before, and a lovely canteloupe salad with lime juice and lemon verbena. Everything tasted vibrant and alive, and I love these friends. But by the time they left, I was exhausted!

While I wouldn't recommend this as a pre-Thanksgiving ritual, it has been a beautiful series of meals. And now, the thought of cooking all day Thursday feels like no big deal. Maybe this is a good way to go....

Still, Thanksgiving can inspire sadness and dread for those of us who can't eat gluten. What will we do without stuffing? Well, I have a recommendation for you on that one, as well as some tasty gluten-free recipes from around the web this week. Some of them may be non-traditional, but they all look great. And since the edict to eat gluten-free can result in life opening up, instead of shutting down, I thought I'd share some of the treats I've seen that I just can't wait to try. Who knows? They might show up on my family's Thanksgiving table on Thursday:


Rachael has really outdone herself here, with a piquant, tempting bowl of nuts. When was the last time you roasted nuts with rosemary? I have to try these tonight, and if I love them (that wouldn't surprise me), I'll have to plop them down on the already-groaning table on Vashon, later this week.


Aun at Chubby Hubby has a beautiful photograph of creamed corn in a copper bowl, which would be enough to make anyone desire it. Add to that the fact that corn probably was the staple food of the first Thanksgivings, instead of that dratted old wheat, and you have an elegant way to celebrate without making yourself sick.


Honestly, I don't know why anyone ever complains about brussel sprouts. Remember when we were kids, and these green globes were threatened as punishment? That kind of punishment I could stand. I adore these vegetables, slowly simmered in browned butter. A friend of mine simply described his previous night's dinner, with a loving description of the brussel sprouts in particular, and I could taste them in the air. Well, if you feel like me, you have to check out this post by Molly. The dear woman not only has mono, but she's also inventing these fabulous foods. I would love to eat these Brussel sprouts at my Thanksgiving dinner.


Now, this one showed up on Heidi's 101 Cookbooks nearly a month ago, but I have to bring it back to your attention for the festive day. I attempted this decadent recipe--complete with whole cream and a vanilla bean--with butternut squash, and I nearly fell over. But Heidi assured me they're even more beautiful with sweet potatoes. Well, who can resist this?


If you grow tired of all the tastes of Thanksgiving--gorgeous, but somewhat the same--why not try this soup from Too Many Chefs? This chickpea and onion soup started life as a chickpea and leek soup, but it was switched. I love the fact that it started from an original recipe by Jamie Oliver, but was modified and handed down from blogger to blogger. And now, I'm presenting it to you.


Now, I don't want to brag, but I am proud of the fact that I've learned how to make a darned fine gluten-free pumpkin pie. If you didn't see the post I wrote about it in September, click on the above link, and I'll be happy to show it to you. After all, what would Thanksgiving be without pumpkin pie? I'm glad I don't have to imagine it.


A new friend of min, Olivia Lorenzo, is a great delight. She and her boyfriend were the two friends over here on Sunday night, the ones who introduced me to canteloupe with lemon verbena and lime. She's an incredible cook. A few weeks ago, they had me over for an Indian feast, for which they had been cooking for days. They made six, homemade chutneys. And they finished with a delicate rice pudding covered in organic rose petals they had grown in their garden. Olivia and I could talk about food for hours, comparing notes and recommending little nooks in which to buy obscure gourmet foods. On top of that, she grew up in Napa Valley, in a family of winemakers, so she and her boyfriend always bring over the most impeccable wines to dinner. I feel blessed to know her now.

It turns out that she has been working on her own gluten-free recipes for years. In fact, she's been compiling an allergen-free cookbook for people who still truly love gourmet foods. I've been urging her to start her own website, and she might, soon. But in the meantime, she was kind enough to share her recipe for gluten-free stuffing with us all, just in time for the holidays. (It is written in her own words.)

"Yes, you could stuff your turkey with a rice-based stuffing, but for
many families, there is just no substitute for the traditional bread
stuffing. Yet if you or your guests have any gluten sensitivities, or
even sensitivities to MSG, store-bought stuffing mixes will not serve
the purpose. So what’s the food-sensitive cook to do?

This stuffing is such a convincing bread stuffing that now I always
serve it, even to groups where no one has a gluten or wheat
restriction. Literally no one has ever noticed the substitution, so I
have no qualms about suggesting that it replace your family recipe.
This recipe works well as both stuffing (cooked inside the bird) and
dressing (cooked outside the bird), but as it reheats beautifully and
so little in the Thanksgiving repertoire does, I prefer to make it the
evening before as dressing, then reheat. It’s good for days afterward,

If your holiday table will include vegetarians, omit the bacon and
cook as dressing; it’s still delicious. If you will be serving vegans,
omit the bacon and use vegetable shortening instead of butter. The
vegan version is a bit drier, but still tasty.

Gourmet Tip: Despite the name, water chestnuts are not in fact nuts;
they are tubers. The name is derived from their appearance. Unused
water chestnuts should never be stored in the can, or they can develop
a metallic taste. Store them in enough water to cover in a plastic or
glass container in the refrigerator. Change the water in which they
are stored daily.

8 cups gluten-free bread (rice bread works best; 1 loaf of Ener G Rice
Bread will yield 9 cups of cubed bread.)
3 cloves garlic
2 medium white or yellow onions
1 bunch celery
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts
3/4 pound bacon
1/2 cup (1 stick) non-dairy margarine or butter (if restrictions permit)
3 tablespoons poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2-cup chicken broth, or 1 cube bouillon dissolved in 1/2-cup water
(omit salt, if using bouillon)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Slice bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread in a single layer on a baking
sheet. Bake in oven for 40 minutes, or until dry and crispy. (If you
have the time, you can achieve a similar effect by leaving the laden
baking sheet to dry out overnight.) Set aside.

Peel and mince garlic. Dice onion and celery. Drain water chestnuts
and chop into small cubes. Slice bacon into 1-inch lengths.

Melt margarine or butter in a large frying pan over medium heat, being
careful not to allow it to boil. Add garlic, onion, celery, water
chestnuts, and bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion
is softened, about 5 minutes.

Add poultry seasoning and pepper. Stir to mix.

Add bread cubes, stirring until well coated. Cook, stirring, for 2
minutes, to add crispness. Remove from heat, add broth or water and
bouillon mixture, and toss until combined.

Stuff the mixture into the body and neck of the turkey, or place in an
oiled baking pan. If cooking outside the bird, cover with foil and
bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees.

Makes approximately 12 cups, enough to stuff a 12-15 pound turkey
comfortably and leave over a small container’s worth of dressing to
bake separately."

So, with a good, gluten-free stuffing, incredible mixed nuts, a variety of soups and fabulous vegetables, who could complain about having to be gluten-free for Thanksgiving?

Not me. That's for sure.

19 November 2005

a celebration in juicy red

seeds of pom, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I was a kid, we lived in one house longer than any other. 1715 Westwood Place, in Pomona, California. The rhythm of that address often repeats in my head, a mantra I can’t quite shake. No matter how many places I have lived in the world, that one feels like the most enduring. A little box house, nothing special except that it was ours, with swarms of memories, too many to write here, and some I don’t want to share.

But there was something unusual about that house: in back, crowded up against the cement patio, was a pomegranate tree. It shadowed the small square of grey where I learned to rollerskate, around and around on my large, clunky wheels. And in the fall, my arc was cut shorter by the splat of murderous red etched onto the grey. That tree grew so many pomegranates that we could never eat them all. Overly large and ready to split, they fell to their deaths, cracked on the cement, splayed open. The bluejays came by to steal their seeds. And the patio was smeared with sticky red, until the torrential rains of December came and washed it all away for another year.

This pomegranate tree, along with the avocado tree in the backyard, in the pounded-down dirt of a small Southern California lawn, seemed normal to me. They were what I knew. Early on, I regarded the exotic as daily, necessary, something like home. When I first traveled to Ireland, I was astonished to discover that I couldn’t find any vegetables besides potatoes. Now, I adore potatoes. These days, they are daily on my plate. But an entire lifetime with nothing but potatoes? And Nic, the Irish nanny for the CFP, ate her first avocado in London, which had been brought to the house in the back of a black taxi from Harrods. I can’t imagine my life without avocadoes.

And I can’t imagine not knowing pomegranates. Their fleshy seeds, rich in red, juicy in the mouth, seem completely normal to me. Hard to extract, perhaps, but that made them all the more worthwhile in my eyes. They also looked like little magenta teeth to me. And I adore their harsh sweetness, the crisp crunch of the little seeds that seem to not yield at first. They have the texture of cartilage, a bit. They need concentrated chewing. And after the first burst of overpowering taste, like little fists pounding at the inside of the mouth, the flavor drops away and they become mainly texture. A lingering. Memorable. Nothing else like it.

For some reason, however, I hadn’t been eating pomegranates for awhile. In New York, and in London, they were only offered at far more exotic prices than I could afford. Maybe I just resented having to pay for a fruit I used to be able to pick out of the hazy sunshine above my head, for free. It’s possible they simply disappeared from grocery stores for awhile.


But they’ve made a resurgence. And how. Pomegranate juice, as you probably know, is the latest health fad in food. Rich in antioxidants, as well as taste, pomegranates have supposed benefits longer than I can list here. (If you want to know more, try this.) Squat, curvy bottles of the rich purple liquid started showing up in the refrigerated portion of the produce section a couple of years ago. At nearly $5 a bottle. It’s too powerful, by far, to drink straight. It’s best if you cut it with water or another juice. But still, that’s just too fricking expensive to pay for juice.

However, the ubiquitity of the bottles sold by the Pom Wonderful company seems to have inspired the re-emergence of the pomegranate in traditional grocery stores. (However, most of them seem to have the Wonderful label on them, meaning that one company is selling the fruit and the juice. Excuse me if I sound silly, but I just hate the corporatization of produce.) Now, nearly every grocery store I have been in this autumn stocks them in fat pyramids of lumpy red globes. And I’ve been eating them all autumn.

Eating pomegranates became far easier when I read this helpful post from In Praise of Sardines on how to remove the seeds without dealing with the pith. It looked so remarkably easy, and good for removing aggression, that I immediately pulled the pomegranate from my organic produce box and tried it myself. It works. And how. And then I read this post about pomegranates by Shuna from Eggbeater, with a photograph of her whacking the fruit with a heavy-handled knife. (She’s fierce, that one.) Possibilities of pomegranates danced in my head. Simply, I tossed the juicy seeds in spinach salads with goat cheese. I could eat one of those salads every day. Believe it or not, pomegranate seeds are gorgeous in homemade guacamole. And I thought about juicing them, instead of buying the little bottles at exorbitant prices.

But then I discovered pomegranate molasses.

pomegranate molasses

Okay, maybe the entire foodie community has already discovered pomegranate molasses, long ago. But it just started creeping into my consciousness. Molly mentioned that she had carried a jar back from Manhattan on one of her last jaunts. Hm, if it’s that special, why am I not eating it? I noticed it in scrumptious-looking recipes in Cooking Light. I usually quite like their recipes. What did they know that I don’t know? And finally, after my foot had been broken, my friend Dorothy brought me a little jar of the elixir. She had been so obsessed with the idea of cooking with it that she had bought a jar online, probably for ridiculous prices. How kind of her to share with me. She’s like that, Dorothy.

So I dipped my little finger into the dark liquid, and sipped from its tip. A wave of that tangy, assertive sweetness from pomegranate seeds, followed by the dark allure of molasses. Bright and alive, no blandness here. And it lingered, long after I had sucked the last dregs from my finger. I knew right then that I had to cook with it.

I’m certain there are a thousand uses. I tried a bit in my nonfat Greek yogurt, and it made me smile, divinely. And I hunted around online for further recipes. Finally, I settled on my own modification of a Turkish dish a colleague had told me about, when she recounted stories from her time in Turkey. When I told Dorothy about it, on our morning car ride to school talking about food, she exclaimed she had made something like it from a Cooking Light recipe last year. Well, that was enough for me. I wasn’t making it entirely. Just dancing with something already in place.

That night, I had Meri and Eric over for dinner. There were a dozen little dishes, a flurry of appetizers, and me standing flushed and expectant in front of the stove. We three know how to laugh, and so we did. Repeatedly. Eric grew up with a fairly traditional palate, so he always looks askance, and almost grimaces, when I tell him what I’m making. But this autumn, I’ve managed to introduce him to foods he never would have eaten before. And he always ends up smiling, or pounding his thigh with how good it tastes. And so, that night, no exception. When I told him I was making chicken thighs, with cashews and pistachios, quick braised in lemon zest and pomegranate molasses, he stared at me. But when he took his first bite, he looked up to the sky for a moment, then groaned with the gorgeous taste. Immediately, he raised his wine glass. Meri and I did too. And here’s the toast he gave us: “To the night that Shauna is now officially not kidding around.”

Thank you, Eric. I do believe you're right.

Chicken Thighs with Pomegranate Molasses

I don’t know why it has taken me this long to learn to cook chicken thighs. Dense with taste and filled with flavor from the fat, these are the perfect part of the chicken for braising. Somehow, after eating this recipe, chicken breast just seems so bland now.
This concoction takes so little time that you’ll be amazed at the multiplicty of tastes within it. And it’s sure to impress your most recalcitrant guest.

4 chicken thighs (organic if possible)
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
1 large white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup of cashews
1/4 cup of pistachios, raw and unsalted
zest of one lemon
juice of that lemon
4 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 teaspooon of salt (or to taste)
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock

°Slowly heat two tablespoons of the olive oil, along with the butter, in a heavy saucepan or skillet. When the beautiful mixture has become hot liquid, add the chicken thighs. Brown them, quickly, just a minute or two on each side. Set them aside. Keep warm.
°Add the onion to the leftover oil and butter, and cook until soft. About two minutes in, add the garlic as well.
°When they are both soft and golden, throw in the nuts. Stir these continuously until they are golden, about five minutes. Don’t leave them for a moment. They’ll burn, easily.
° At this point, add the chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Bring this to a boil. Add the sugar. Heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
°Bring the chickens back. Place them in this fragrant bath and simmer them, on medium-low heat, for about twenty minutes, or until they are tender.

16 November 2005

some of the lesssons I've learned from traveling gluten-free

Casbah, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I’m at home, I no longer worry about eating gluten-free. After all, nothing with gluten comes into my house. Ever. When I step through the door of my upstairs apartment, I breathe easy. Here, I just feel alive. Here, I’m just thinking about what’s in season. Should I make millet or quinoa? Seafood or chicken? Soup, spontaneously? Ah, these are the decisions I love.

But traveling gluten-free can be a bit of a trial. After all, every cafe serves muffins, scones, and cookies. Certain restaurants beckon with bread or pizza. And airports are simply a nightmare.

So if you have to eat gluten-free, and you’re planning a trip soon, here are a few lessons I’ve learned lately, to make life a little easier.

Plan ahead.

Before this year, whenever I went traveling, I always packed my suitcases the morning of my trip. I’m not kidding. Even when I was going to London for six months on a 6 am flight, I was packing at midnight. But those days are over now. These days, I have to bring all my own products.

If I forget to pack my own toothpaste (I use Tom’s cinnamon at the moment), I just can’t be sure that the friend I’ll be staying with will have gluten-free paste for my teeth. If I forget my prescription Ibuprofen for my broken foot, which took me forty-five minutes to obtain at the drugstore because they had to call the manufacturer to make sure it didn’t contain gluten, then I have to rummage through my friend’s medicine cabinet. And then find that I can’t take that brand, and have to be in pain instead.

Long before the day I leave, I also go online to some of the celiac forums, and put up a question about traveling. Hey, I’m coming to your town. Where do you eat? What restaurants would you trust? Are there farmers’ markets anywhere near? Anyplace I should definitely avoid? People are enormously helpful at the Delphi forums, the forums, and the Brain Talk forums. I’ve had dozens and dozens of questions answered there. My Los Angeles trip was sprung on me so spontaneously that I didn’t have a chance to ask there, but I will before I go to New York or San Francisco.

(And if anyone is coming to Seattle, let me know.)

Pack your lunch.

I can guarantee you this: if you are going through an airport, there will be nothing there for you to eat. And I do mean nothing. Airports are filled with bad food anyway: greasy, breaded, and overpriced. But you’ll find, fairly quickly, that everything in airport stores and restaurants seems to have gluten in it. There are a few possible exceptions. Smoothie shacks seem to be sprouting up these days, and they probably don’t have gluten. But you never know. And unfortunately, the awareness level about gluten in airport concession stands isn’t high. It probably isn’t worth the risk.

And airplane food? Well, since they seem to have cut down on their meal service in general, it’s nothing but the little bags of pretzels and the roasted peanuts. Pretzels, obviously not. But even the peanuts are suspect. Some roasting methods for nuts involve gluten. And the peanut package I saw this weekend included MSG on the list. So there goes that. [Update from a reader, much appreciated: it's now increasingly clear that MSG in products produced in the US no longer contain gluten. Whew. But you can't be sure about the food made outside the US. And besides, I always have that icky reaction to MSG anyway. Why ruin a trip with that?]

But really, you’re not missing much. When was the last time you actually enjoyed food at the airport or while hunched into a narrow airline seat? Instead, pack yourself a beautiful packed lunch for the trip. While everyone else is looking miserable and wishing those packages of peanuts had been bigger, you can pull out pieces of sashimi, a bowl of potato soup, or a smoked salmon salad with quinoa. Or at the least, a Bumble bar and some kiwi fruit.

This weekend, I also packed a bag of food for my time at Sharon’s house. Now, if I know anything, I know that there will always be food at Sharon’s house. However, there was no guarantee that she’d have anything gluten-free simply laying around. Sharon loves cereal, and so do I. But since I’ve only found about five cereals in the world that I can eat (including the humiliating-for-me, but extra-tasty Peanut Butter Panda Puffs), the chances that she’d have any of them on hand was pretty slim. And since I’m used to waking up at 6 am every morning, I was always up for Sharon or Matt. Before our big breakfasts out, at 11 am, I’d feel a little peckish. That apple, or a handful of cashews, or some dried apricots, came in handy for the early morning. I just felt better, knowing that I wouldn’t have to go hours and hours without eating. You’ll have a much better trip if you do the same.

Bring a cell phone.

I can’t believe that I’m advocating cell phones. It took me years to buy one, and then only reluctantly. I dislike the way people talk about the most personal details of their life on a city bus, or shout in the middle of a store. We are becoming more boorishly behaved because of this new technology.

However, if you can’t eat gluten, and you are traveling, they are remarkably handy. How? Well, say you’d like to eat some scrumptious packaged dessert with your friend at the gourmet store. You look at the list of ingredients, and it looks fine. But how do you know? Well, every company seems to have a 1-800 number on the back of the package. Whip out your cell phone and call customer service. Tell them that you are on the verge of purchasing their fine product, but you need to know that you can eat it first. You’d be amazed at the alacrity with which they search for that information for you. If they are reluctant to tell you or ignorant of it, that’s good for you to know as well.

(And if you verify that a product is gluten-free, let me know. I’m starting a definitive list for this site.)

Choose your restaurants well

You’re traveling. You’re going to be eating in restaurants. And that means a little bit of risk. Of course, you have to tell your waiter or waitress about your gluten allergy. If you’d like some tips on how to do this, check out the post I wrote on this during the summer. Hopefully, you’ll find a restaurant that already knows what gluten is, based on the recommendations of people online, or friends. And then hope for the best.

Or, you could make life even easier for yourself. I have found two categories of restaurants that deal with gluten-free diners far more easier than others.

1. Choose a small restaurant that truly cares about the quality of its food.

When I went to Angelina Osteria this past weekend, I knew I’d be fine when I saw the place. Warm, well-lit, and about twelve tables. With a small restaurant, renowned for its fresh, seasonal tastes, you’re also going to find chefs and waiters that truly know food, who care about food, deeply. They know what gluten is. They’ll direct you correctly. You may pay a little more than for a fast joint, but it’s worth it. First of all, you’ll have an intelligent waiter who will take time with you to make sure your dining experience is excellent. And secondly, the food will be far better. Don’t you want your eating experience to be memorable?

It helps if you go at a time of day that’s less busy than others. 5:30 for dinner, instead of 7. That way, they have the time to cater to you more carefully.

2. Choose cuisines that are naturally (more) gluten-free.

Don’t be a dummy. Don’t go to a pizza place and ask for anything gluten-free. Don’t go to a cheap pasta place and sulk because you can only eat a salad. Branch out. Try foods you wouldn’t normally eat, in cuisines that don’t use much gluten in the first place.

Indian food is your friend. Indians use lots of “alternative” flours, like chickpea, on a regular basis. And they have for hundreds of years. Avoid the naan, stick to the papadum (traditionally made with chickpea or lentil flour), ask if they use anything like asafoetida that could contain gluten, then dig in.
Thai food, with its constant use of rice and rice noodles, is one of the most illuminating foods in the world, dense with tastes and vibrant in the mouth. Just ask about their use of soy sauce and fish sauce, ask if they can use a clean wok, and then you can eat. [Further update, thanks to resourceful reader Tracy, much appreciated: be sure, as well, to ask if that restaurant uses Maggi sauce in their food. If so, tell them not to use it. For more explanation, check out the comments section on this post.]
Mexican food, especially the more authentic restaurants, use mostly corn tortillas. (Flour tortillas are mostly a gringo invention anyway.) Wheat flour doesn’t appear often. You still have to ask. You can’t assume. But you’re far more likely to find something scrumptious on the menu if you eat Mexican.
Seafood restaurants are likely to have something for us, pretty easily.
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are much more urgently aware of food issues than traditional restuarants are. In my experience, waiters and chefs in vegetarian restaurants are fairly likely to be aware of what gluten is, and where it lurks. And they're pretty universally friendly.
And then there’s Vietnamese food, which is one of my favorites. Just today, for lunch, I had an enormous bowl of pho soup with my new friend, Pete. (He’s just extraordinary. The only straight guy I have ever met who loves food, cooking, and kitchen implements as much as I do. We wave our hands in the air as we talk and laugh so hard we nearly choke. He’s an unexpected joy.) And I was struck anew, at how much I love this food, especially now that I’m gluten-free. Rice noodles floating in a beautiful broth, slender slivers of beef, crunchy sprouts, basil leaves, and peppers so hot they made Pete sweat out of his forehead. (Those are optional.) On a cold winter’s day, a bowl of Vietnamese pho is just glorious. There’s no suffering there.

Now, there is no avoiding this: every time you eat in a restaurant, you are taking your chances. This is why I don't do it often. Gluten is hidden in almost everything, it seems. But if you choose your restaurants well, ask lots of questions, feel free to pester every employee in the place (because it's your right, and you should), then you should be in pretty good shape.

Involve your friends in the process

If my trip to Los Angeles hadn’t been a surprise for Sharon, I would have called her long in advance and asked if she could buy one of my gluten-free cereals for me. I would have asked if she could have some fruit or cheese or fresh vegetables already in the refrigerator. She would have been happy to oblige. (And those of you reading who can eat gluten? Remember this when you are the hostess as well.) We all want to feel welcomed. When someone buys me a gluten-free product, or bakes me gluten-free brownies, or even just says, “Hey, I noticed that PCC has quinoa pasta. Have you tried that yet?”, well, I just feel loved. And your friends should make you want to feel loved.

When Sharon and I went out to eat, I never demanded that she order something without gluten. That would have been rude. But because she loves to order two dishes and share (that way, we each have twice as many options), she simply decided to order dishes that would be gluten-free. Because of this, at every place we ate, I experienced a wealth of pleasure.

Accept your sorrow.

Here’s the deal. I have an amazingly cheerful attitude about this. So many of you mentioned this in your comments and emails, and you seem to be amazed. I can promise you, I’m not faking it. Discovering that I have celiac disease and that I can no longer eat gluten has bloomed into one of the biggest blessings of my life. I’ve never felt healthier. I’ve never eaten better. And I have this beautiful website, and all of you reading, because of it.

But you know what? Sometimes, the fact that I can’t eat gluten? It just sucks.

When Sharon and I walked into tiny bakeries or little cafes, I breathed in the smell of the fresh-baked bread, and I felt a catch in my throat. Silly as it may sound, I felt genuine grieving. Sometimes, it strikes me: my god, I’ll never eat bread again. And a little depression settles in my chest. Or horror. Or disbelief.


I’m never tempted to “cheat,” however, as some of you asked me. Who am I cheating but myself? I know exactly what gluten does to me, and it’s no good. And why would I want to spend my vacation feeling exhausted, cranky, wracked with headaches, and suffering from diarrhea for days? No thanks.

Instead, I simply accepted my sorrow. Instead of berating myself that I was being silly, I simply felt it. There’s a quote from Camus I love, one that informs me every single day: “The only way out is through.” If you truly just allow this sadness to arise, and don’t push it away, it dissipates immediately.

On Friday morning, Sharon and I were crossing the street on Sunset Boulevard. We had just ducked into a little bakery, filled with delicate pastries and beautiful breads. Sharon wanted a little sweet after lunch. I knew I couldn’t partake, but I was happy to go along. She bought two little lemon sugar cookies, crisp and slightly browned. So there we were, on the street, walking slowly to the sidewalk on the other side. And she bit into one of the cookies, and she exulted, “Oh my god, this cookie is so good.” She wasn’t trying to make me feel bad. She just couldn’t help it. Our entire lives of knowing each other, we’ve talked about our food, and how good it is. She just couldn’t stop. I know her voice well. I could tell from her tone just how good those cookies probably were. And for a moment, I felt lonely. Apart from her. And sad. But by the time we reached the curb, I was fine. There was so much goodness in the day. And besides, there I was at Sharon’s side. What was I going to do——sulk the day away and waste the time with her? No thanks. Instead, I felt it, then moved on.

I suggest you do the same.

Give yourself a treat.

All that being said, you deserve a little treat when you’re traveling. I seek out gourmet stores and farmers’ market. And when in doubt, when the money allows, I bought myself tidbits of food I wouldn’t normally eat. A Vietnamese coffee in the middle of the day. And at the Casbah Cafe, a package of dried apricot paste from Syria. I’ve never had it before, but now I’m addicted. This morning, I tried a small square of it with a semi-soft goat cheese rolled in basil. Oh my goodness, that was great. And I have to say, I think that singular taste would probably be far more memorable than the one of those cookies.

Still, I’m working on a gluten-free recipe for lemon-sugar cookies. After all, a little discipline breeds creativity.

So there you go. Just a few tips for gluten-free traveling. Have a good trip! And don’t forget to write.

15 November 2005

eating gluten-free in Los Angeles

sweet corn salad, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Today, I realized, with a start, that it has been six months since I stopped eating gluten. Actually, it’s a little over six months, since it was April 30th when I officially started living gluten-free. It’s a marker of just how easily I have adapted to this, how joyfully, that I forgot to mark the occasion. I feel like a pro now.

This doesn’t mean that I stop thinking about it, ever. I have to check the label of everything I eat. I have to be a nuisance in every restaurant I visit. And keeping this site keeps me on my toes. Especially when so many of you who are newly diagnosed write to me for advice, or celiacs from the around the world write to share recipes with me. I’m daily grateful for these connections. And I feel a responsibility to research the latest details, cook more fabulous food, and take the most luscious photographs I can to remind everyone of this: living gluten-free is not a punishment. In fact, it’s a path to freedom.

On yesterday’s post, cookiecrumb left a comment that set me thinking: "It's so brilliant, reading your blog, to learn of the things you can eat that are gluten-free, yet carby and delish. Corn. Beans. Fruit. Bet you aren't really missing much with your new diet." Well, exactly. Thank you, cookiecrumb, for putting it into the words I had forgotten to find. I’m not deprived at all on this diet. I’m just alive.

So, in the spirit of sharing the joy, I’d like to show you a few of the meals and treats I ate in Los Angeles this weekend with my dear friend, Sharon.


Sharon lives in Silverlake, just off Sunset. The hipster capital of the world, seemingly. Everywhere slouched tremendously slender young men and women, dressed in thigh-hugging pants, holey shirts that probably cost a hundred dollars, gigantic sunglasses, soft-soled shoes, and fabulously dissheveled hair. Oh my. And of course, everyone looked tremendously bored, suffering for perpetual ennui. All the while they furtively worked on screenplays, or talked to their agents on their cell phone. Ah, LA.

But one of the best parts about Silverlake is the Casbah Cafe. A small corner store on Sunset, this place is cool without trying too hard to be so. The back half of the shop is filled to the brim with Moroccan shirts, yerba mate cups, and glittery pink slippers. Filled with light and slow moving, the Casbah feels like an oasis of sanity in the midst of the throngs pressing against the inevitablity of aging and not being famous, just outside.

And their coffee is pretty great. That’s saying something for a Seattle girl in Los Angeles.

Since Sharon and I woke up late enough Friday morning (after talking and laughing well into the night on Thursday) that breakfast had blurred into lunch, we walked straight to Casbah. And even though the menu, written on the glass cases filled with dates and olive breads, was mostly off limits to me, I found what I wanted pretty quickly. A sweet corn salad, with black, wrinkled olives, fresh tomatoes, and tuna. It arrived in an enormous bowl, mounded with vegetables and a light vinaigrette that danced on my tongue. With the sunlight filtering through the bamboo blinds, and Sharon across from me, this was a deeply satisfying meal.


The Cheese Store of Silverlake

Later, after strolling through small stores with hip clothes, intriguing antiques, and startling window displays, Sharon and I felt a bit peckish again. And she was eager to share her favorite food store with me. The Cheese Store of Silverlake is stocked from floor to ceiling with gorgeous gourmet foods from around the world. Vosges chocolates. Arborio rice from Italy. Apricot toffee. A local candy maker called The Little Flower Candy Company that makes sea salt caramels, vanilla caramels, and (my favorite) cinnamon-sugar marshmallows. Ah. Barrels of olive oils. Persimmons. And then, the cheeses. Sharon and I bought two small slices of two cheeses, each. I found some Drunken Goat, from Spain, which I simply adore, and Sharon had never tasted it before. She wanted me to try the Bar Durro, a hard cheese with a nutty quality. We stocked up on little gifts of food for ourselves, and we nibbled on them all weekend.

Have you ever tried the Vosges fire-red chocolate? If not, then you should. Rich, deeply textured chocolate, layers of taste, with a little zing of spice at the last. Heaven.


warm octopus salad

Since I had been so richly treated to this glorious weekend by Sharon’s dear boyfriend, Matt, I wanted to give Sharon my own birthday present. What else could I give her but food? I decided, spontaneously, to treat her out to a lavish dinner at one of the best places in Los Angeles. (Well, the best within our price range.) But which restaurant? She likes one called Blair’s, in Silverlake, but it didn’t open for dinner until 6. And we had to be eating at 5:30, in order to make it on time to Matt’s sketch-comedy show at the Friars’ Club in Beverly Hills. (Yes, I do have a strange life.) Well, we consulted a charming guide book called Eat. Shop. LA, written by a charming woman from Portland, who writes a series of Eat. Shop guides for major cities on the West Coast. I love the Seattle book, so when I saw a copy of the LA guide at the Casbah, I convinced Sharon to grab it. After much consultation, and staring at the photographs of the food, we chose Angelina Osteria, ostensibly because the writer explained that her pickiest food friend in LA liked only one restaurant, and this was the one. How could we resist?

When I called in the early afternoon to make a reservation, the woman on the phone announced cheerfully, “I’ve got nothing open tonight.” Nothing? Not even at 5:30? Maybe she heard the disappointment in my voice and took pity, because after a beat, she said, “Okay, if you arrive exactly at 5:30, we’ll fit you in.” Hurrah!

And hurrah it was, because this was an extraordinary meal. Angelina Osteria is a warm, Tuscan place, with exquisite food based on what is fresh and in season. So many choices, including gluten-free choices. I told our ridiculously handsome Italian waiter that I couldn’t eat anything with gluten in it, and he looked a little confused, but we made our way through it. How to choose? Luckily, Sharon and I are sharers. Our entire time of knowing each other, 23 years now, we innately decide to order two separate meals and split them down the middle. So that night, we ordered two appetizers:

warm octopus salad on a bed of arugula, with baby cherry tomatoes (pictured above)

braised artichoke hearts with garlic, olive oil, and parsley

By the time these had arrived, Sharon and I were already wonderfully happy. To be in such a place, together, unexpectedly. And then we tasted our food.

“Oh god,” Sharon moaned. “This is really good. You have to try it now.”

She was right. The artichokes were deeply flavored, perfectly tender. And the octopus was better than I had ever eaten before, not a touch of rubber eraser texture to it. We ate a few bites each, then traded plates, back and forth, until we had cleaned our plates entirely. I would have licked up the artichoke marinade if I could have.

Sharon at Angelina Osteria

And the entrees? Well, you can see them on the table between Sharon and me on this table:

warm duck breast with balsamic vinegar, with a side of perfectly sauteed spinach

seared ahi tuna drizzled with parsley pesto, with a side of eggplant and wild mushrooms

Everything tasted wonderfully fresh, the textures outrageously dense and light at the same time, in season, just picked, made for us. We couldn’t stop cooing over our food.

And dessert? Ah, dessert. Well, Sharon had a simple panna cotta, topped with a raspberry. The best one she’s ever eaten outside of Italy, she said. And I had three small scoops of vanilla gelato, with a perfectly pulled espreso poured on top. We didn’t talk for awhile. We even stopped sharing. We just leaned over our food and ate intently. My god.

We walked out onto Beverly Boulevard, happy and humming.


spinach omelette at Madame Matisse

The next morning, Sharon and Matt and I went to one of their favorite breakfast places, Madame Matisse. A tiny sliver of a restaurant on a corner of Sunset, this French bistro-style place had a red and white awning and little tables outside. Since this was November in Los Angeles, the air was about 74 degrees. Of course we’d sit outside. In the middle of the menu, I found what I wanted, immediately. An omelette, with spinach, mushrooms, goat cheese, and salmon. Sharon had one too, but with asparagus instead of spinach. Matt ordered the meat and cheese extravaganza. We sat and chattered happily, watching the hipsters go by, discussing the previous night’s show, sipping our coffee eagerly. The food arrived, and we all dug in. Not extraordinary. Just damned good. Everything fresh, again. And by this time, we were so hungry that I almost forgot to take a picture of it. I managed to save a small corner for the shot above.

scene in a coffee cup

And play with the reflections in my coffee cup.


Vietnamese soy cafe

I can’t visit a city without visiting a farmers’ market. Just down from Madame Matisse was the block-long Silverlake Farmers’ Market. Small in comparison to my local stomping grounds (Ballard or the University Farmers’ Market), this one was still sweet. Even sweeter for being in the middle of LA, somehow. Sharon stocked up on fresh corn and flowers. And I stopped to sample fresh bean curd at the Vietnamese Soy Cafe stall. Wow. I’d never tasted such supple, subtle bean curd, lightly flavored with ginger. I thought about ordering a glass of pennywort juice, since the woman running the stall told me it would clear out every toxin. But in the end, I chose more toxins: Vietnamese coffee, with sweet condensed milk. Ah, a small slathering of heaven.


Sharon thought we were going to be making dinner together Saturday night. After all, she reads this site too, and feels jealous of all the other people coming over to eat. But Matt had told me there would be a surprise party, and I assumed that meant dinner. But we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Still only 4:30 or so, too early for restaurants to open, where were we going to go? Matt insisted that he wanted to find us a snack, to tide us over for dinner. Sharon and I were both a bit confused——why a snack when we were going to eat a big dinner——but we trusted him. Of course, it turns out that he wanted to sneak out to fetch the Paul McCartney concert tickets he had bought for us, and slip into Sharon’s car to leave us further presents in the glove compartment. And he needed something fast. So he picked us up some food at Baja Fresh.

Now, it’s hard to imagine eating gluten-free, and eating well, at a fast food restaurant. All that batter and breading and dipping and oil. But this chain, which I really didn’t know well, specializes in fresh Mexican food. No preservatives or months-ago boxes of ingredients. Sharon suggested I try the bare burrito, all the ingredients of a burrito——spicy chicken, black beans, rice, pico de gallo, and cheese——without the tortilla. As we sat in the living room of their apartment, eating from the bags Matt had brought us, I was impressed. Fast food never tastes like this.

And then we shrieked when we realized the surprise.

So now, the taste of Baja Fresh will always be associated with the joy of knowing we were going to see Paul McCartney in concert, and Matt had given this to us.

You see? There’s no deprivation in living gluten-free.

[If you'd like to see more of my photographs of my trip to LA, click here.]

Casbah Cafe
3900 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2242
(323) 664-7000

The Cheese Store of Silverlake
3926-28 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, California

Angelina Osteria
7313 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, California

Madame Matisse
3536 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.

14 November 2005

surprise! It's Sharon in LA. And Paul McCartney still rocks!

Sharon in LA, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Life's so wonderfully surprising.

Two weeks ago, when I had just sprained my ankle (and broken my foot, it turns out), I bemoaned the fact that I couldn't walk onto an airplane and fly to New York. That vacation had been planned for months, and it disappeared into the grey November sky. Instead, I had to lay on the couch, wounded, my song gone.

You couldn't have told me that day that two weeks later, I'd be in Los Angeles, my dearest friend by my side as we sang along with Paul McCartney in concert.

Let me explain.

Sharon has infused my life with laughter, a thousand connections that make no sense to anyone else, and abiding, unconditional love for the past 23 years. How is that possible? How did we grow old enough to have been friends for nearly a quarter of a century? We met in Southern California, when I was in the tenth grade, and she was in the seventh grade. Sharon's older sister was one year above me in high school, and we became friends. Of course, I met her kid sister, several times. But at the time, Sharon was still in junior high, which is an impossible divide for a high school kid. When I was sixteen, I lived in London for a year, with my family. Among a hundred other hilarious adventures, I met Paul McCartney that year. Always a Beatle fan, I had become a swoony, impossibly-in-love-with-a-pop-icon, gushy, near-obsessive 16-year-old. When I met him, my face flushed bright red, as red as ripe tomatoes in July. And he was a real mensch, dear and kind, standing on Oxford Street for fifteen minutes with his wife Linda, leaning forward to listen to me babble, smiling at my family. I hadn't thought I could love him more, but it turns out I could. I skipped down the street afterwards, as happy as a girl could be. When I returned to sunny Southern California, Sharon was in the ninth grade. Her sister told her that I had met Paul, and she had to hear about it from me. I can still remember everything--from the look of the hazy sunshine coming down in the 400 quad and the maroon lockers outside the classrooms to Sharon's shy face hidden behind thick glasses--about the moment I met Sharon again. We began babbling about Paul, right away. And instantly, we were friends.

We've been best friends ever since. I don't think we have ever gone more than a few weeks without talking, and that was only once. These days, we chatter every day, laughing through our cell phones, discussing every litle detail of our lives. We lived in the same apartment in New York for years. She came to visit me in London when I lived with the CFP. We drove across Ireland in a little green car. She and I drove to Vermont to look at hillsides covered with firework leaves every autumn. We made our way across the United States in a rental car, slowly, and with wacky stories at every stop. We drove down the coast of California, the wind blowing our hair through the open windows, listening to Wings as we looked for the ocean. We have been with each other in every important moment and mundane day. And we've joked, since we were sixteen, that we'll end up in the same nursing home, rocking on the porch, laughing and talking about Paul McCartney's butt.

And eating. Because, you see, if Sharon and I have shared anything these past twenty-three years, it's food. We are both utterly, without question, passionately devoted to food. We talk about food on the phone, in lavish detail and multiple enthusiasms. We cook meals in separate states and report to each other about what worked. We advise each other about new delicacies the other should try. Sharon's the one who started me on fig balsamic vinegar, chai lattes, and chestnut honey on pecorino romano. We reminisce about meals: the sticky toffee pudding at Tea and Sympathy; sandwiches at Le Pain Quotidien; Pad Thai at Thai Tom. I always tease her about this: when Sharon and I are in the midst of a gorgeous, sumptuous, eyes-closed-it's-so-good breakfast at a little country bed and breakfast somewhere on a relaxed weekend away, she'll moan, then look at me and say, "Where are we going to have dinner?" Not lunch. And not even dinner that night. But the next night. Because all the other meals in between are already planned and dreamed of. After all, this is the woman who, as a girl on a car trip with her family, kept a journal which consisted of: "For breakfast we had ______. For lunch we ate ______. For dinner we stopped at ________." And in our epic cross-country road trip, nearly every story we still tell each other has to do with food. The Italian beef sandwiches we ate in Chicago, hunched over the trunk of the rental car. And the splatterings stayed on that white car until the thunderstorm in Wyoming. The milkshakes at the Yellowstone drugstore in Shoshone. The picnics and greasy breakfasts and cheese curds in Wisconsin. We made a short film of the experience, and every shot that wasn't scenery was a shot of Sharon either doing a little jig or eating pie. We're pretty different in so many ways, but we're connected at the heart through our love for each other and our love of food.

So I hate the fact that she lives in Los Angeles. Why can't she live in Seattle, next door to me? Well, she's an actor, a stand-up comedian, brilliant at it, still trying to make it in Hollywood. And since she's one of the funniest human beings I have ever met, who can leave me in paroxysms of giggles, doubled over on the floor, on a moment's notice, she really should pursue it. (Anyone reading? Hire her. Immediately.) But there's only so much the phone can serve us. And I miss her when she's not around.

Last week, her boyfriend called me, unexpectedly. Before I tell you this story, I want to show you Matt's photograph. He deserves to be recognized. So here's Matt, standing on Sunset Boulevard with Sharon:

Sharon and Matt I

Matt is also a struggling actor. Of course. So he doesn't have the brilliant income he might wish. But still, he's one of the most genuinely generous people I've ever met. And when he called me, he proposed this plan. Sharon's birthday is next week, but he wanted to surprise her a week early. And he knows her well enough to know what she would most want: a weekend with me. So--get this--he bought me an airline ticket to come down to LA for the weekend. Even better, Sharon had no idea about the plan.

So, on Thursday evening, I hobbled onto a plane to Los Angeles. Well, first I was driven in a Lincoln town car to the airport, by a jovial man who turned out to be editing his church's cookbook. So we talked food all the way to the airport. And when I was on the plane, in the bulkhead seat so I could prop up my swollen foot on the little wall before me, the man next to me asked about my ankle. We started talking. Turns out he lives in San Francisco, where the plane made a stop before LA. Before long, we were talking about the joys of Zuni Cafe, Chez Panisse, the farmers' market at the ferry terminal, Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and French Laundry. (He had lunch there this year. I'm so jealous.) Everywhere I go, people start talking to me about food. And I happily participate in those conversations.

By the time I arrived at the restaurant where Sharon was waiting, I had worked myself to a fever pitch of excitement. When I sidled up to her in the booth where she was sitting with Matt, she looked so utterly shocked that her entire face froze. She couldn't speak for a full few minutes. She just opened her eyes wide, tears welling up instantly, then started shouting, "What is happening?" When she finally fully comprehended the fact that I was there, standing before her, the first thing she said was, "Oh no! The kitchen just closed! We can't order you any food."

I didn't care. There was plenty of gorgeous, gluten-free food to be had all weekend long. And I'll tell you more about it, in the days to come. Sweet corn salad at the Casbah. Seared ahi tuna and warm duck breast at a beautiful Tuscan restaurant on Beverly Boulevard. Spinach omelettes and great cups of coffee at Madame Matisse. Goat cheese and cinnamon-sugar marshmallows and dried apricot paste and Vosges fire-red chocolate. I'll share photos and stories tomorrow, or the next day.

But pardon me if today is not a traditional food blog entry. No recipes here, except the recipe for happiness Matt shared with me. Flying to LA and being with Sharon was exactly what I needed. I'm no longer mopey about my broken foot. I stood in the sunshine of Sharon's presence for two and a half days, and I'm feeling fine.

And there were more joys to come. Matt had told me that he was throwing Sharon a huge surprise party this weekend, and that's why he wanted me to be there. Absolutely. Great. Except he lied. There was no party. Instead, he surprised us both. Late Saturday afternoon, he showed up with food from Baja Fresh, and several pieces of paper. Sharon read them silently, her eyes growing wide, then started shouting, "Tonight? Tonight?!"
And I shouted at her: "What? What's happening?"

Matt had bought us tickets for the Paul McCartney concert happening that night. In fact, he had bought these tickets back in June, when they had first gone on sale. He had been planning this for months. He knew how much we loved this man, and he wanted us to share the experience together.

We jumped up and down and smothered him in hugs and chastized him for the money he must have spent and squealed like 16-year-old girls. "You are the best boy I know!" I shouted at him. It's true. He really is. For corn sake, he bought us fifth-row tickets to Paul McCartney.

So there we were, in the darkness, with 20,000 other Paul fans, screaming those deeply familiar lyrics as loudly as our voices would allow, and we still couldn't hear ourselves over the music. And we danced. I danced in the aisles, with my cast, abandoing myself to the joy of the moment. At the beginning of each song, Sharon and I looked at each other, eyes wide, then shouted, "I love this song!" And we did. Every one of them. Dear old Paul may be 63 years old, but he still knows how to rock. And hard. He played for three straight hours, every great Beatles song and solo work I love dearly. Some of the greatest songs ever written, played for us, by the man who wrote them, who seemed to be having as joyful a time as we were. Imagine screaming "Helter Skelter" with 20,000 other people. With your dearest, longest-standing friend by your side. The friend you met when she was fourteen, because she wanted to hear about you meeting Paul McCartney.

All the parts of my life connected together this weekend. And I didn't even know I was going to be in LA a week before, when I lay on the couch in pain.

Life will never stop surprising me. And I'll never stop smiling at it all.