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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.


At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see you recovering adventuresomely. It's inspiring!

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

As usual, I love getting lost in your posts....and as for beets, I've only recently allowed myself to like them roasted too.

Thanks for sharing.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Shauna,
would love Molly's recipe for brussel sprout hash! I'm just learning to enjoy them again.
Glad you're feeling better.

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Impressive that you can bring new vegetables onto your palate.

At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw that Oprah, too. Scary!

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Jennifer Maiser said...

Hi Shauna -

Just a quick hello to say that I am really enjoying reading your blog. I am a latecomer to the party but have been hearing such good things about your blog (from the likes of Shuna and Sam and Elise and the rest of your v. large fan club. You should be paying that Shuna a promotion fee - she won't shut up about you ;) ).

GF food is a subject that is near and dear to my heart as my best friend since junior high school has been GF since I met her 20 years ago. I could tell you lots of fun stories about trying to explain to people in the 80's what gluten was, or why she couldn't eat it. The best one was my mother looking a poor waiter who was being flippant about answering questions in the eye and saying "if that soy sauce has wheat in it, she will DIE." The memory of it is funny because my mom had this total deadpan look on her face and my friend and I (also a Jen) were mortified 13-year olds. The waiter quickly backed out of his claim that the soy sauce was wheat free.

You're doing a great job of talking about your experiences and keeping us all entertained ... what a great addition to the food blog world!

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Molly said...

You've been busy, girl! Mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, butternut squash every which way, and now, conquering the world of beets! Luscious, my dear.

P.S. Glad you approved of the sprouts and the soup!

At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Shauna, you are the food muse--inspiring many to wonderful feasts of good food.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Travis said...

great post! I'm the only vegetarian I know, and it can be a little discouraging over in Tokyo when people tell me I should quit (japanese and non-japanese alike)

Ever tried fava beans? Over here they're called soramame, and look very similar to lima beans. I've really grown to like them, and I bet you might like lima beans if you make them like they make soramame over here!

At 12:26 AM, Blogger Kimbie said...

You'd think that people would appreciate fresh fruit and vege being so readily available, enough to eat 5 serves a day. However, a friend of mine sent me this:

I'm sure the women mentioned in this article don't have that problem because of too much fruit and vege ...

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

Shauna, I enjoyed reading this. I understand what you mean about beets. I've generally always seen them as that gelatinous, otherworld red color on the salad bar and my response is always the same: no way. However, a part of me always suspected that it wasn't the beets' fault...whoever cooked them could probably make something MUCH better!

As a side note, I was laughing when I watched this week's episode of Medium on TV because one of the daughter's was having a sleep over and one of the girls coming over was intolerant of gluten. The mom had to buy all of these unusual snacks and find a gluten-free pizza place. Guess who was on my mind while I watched? :p

Also, on the topic of poor eating habits, we just watched Supersize Me. If you haven't seen it yet, you absolutely should. It was better than we expected.

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three comments:
1. As an experienced and long-time beet-eater and beet-roaster, I feel I may advise you NOT to peel the beets before roasting them. Just rinse them but leave everything on, including the long-tailed root (you may cut if if it bothers you but it is not necessary). Then you roast the beets in aluminum foil. No smearing is needed, you want the pure taste of sweetness of roasted beets. Trust me. When they are done, their skins just peel off without any problem. It is hard to peel them before roasting and you lose too much precious flesh.

2. Your posts would be much nicer if they were a) shorter b) less preachy. I hope you don't mind that I say this.

3. The key to being gluten-free is the quantity control. A speck of flour dust will not make you sick. Do you realize there is so much flour in the air in every bakery you go to?Every supermarket?
Your Thanksgiving story makes me think you overate or maybe you ate things that were hard to digest together. Are you sure you have C.D? Did you have a sample taken and examined?

I say live and let live. A tiny speck of flour will not harm you.

And good luck to you.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

I want to write responses to all the lovely comments above, and I will. But first, I have to address Anonymous.

You can say what you want about the way I roast beets. And if you feel my writing is too long or too preachy, then you don't have to read it. Nothing obligates you to be here.

However, your comments about gluten, flour, and CD are not only dismissive, but they are also ignorant. Yes, a bit of cross-contamination of gluten can make us sick. Not just me, but everyone who has celiac disease. That's why this is so darned hard for us, as a way to live. Before I was diagnosed, I might have found this all hard to believe too. But that's why we learn. That's why I am writing my story.

I know some people who get sick when they walk into a bakery because of the flour in the air. And I know people who have refused to eat in a restaurant for fifteen years because of this dilemma. You simply do not understand.

I did not overeat at Thanksgiving. In fact, I ate very little, because the gluten reaction makes me feel overly full. And I did not eat food that was hard to digest together, just the standard Thanksgiving fare.

Yes, I do have celiac disease. I was tested, sampled, and diagnosed by two different doctors. They are the ones who started me on this path. And both are respected medical doctors.

Your attitude is not only ignorant, but it hurts the millions of people who are struggling with this. A tiny speck of flour will harm me. And many others.

It's too bad you chose to leave such a thumping attack and not identify yourself.

I suggest you educate yourself.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Hi Shauna,
I was going to comment on your wonderful post, and it really was wonderful (beets are a favorite of mine...and I will bridge my fear of lima beans when I have a splend recipe from you in my hands), but then I read the comment by 'anonymous' and I feel sick inside that someone could be such an ignorant, nearsighted, uneducated and spiteful JERK, and have the audacity to not even leave their name and own up to their comments. I know that you won't take those comments personally, because you are far too strong and bright of a woman to be bothered by such a petty person with obviously low self esteem, and because you know that there are many people out there that are thankful that they can come here, learn more about a serious disease, and bask in your rich and colorful pictures and writing.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Travis said...


I don't agree with much of what anonymous said. I see legitamcy in CD and believe that you have been diagnosed.

Point 2, however. You do write quite long posts. And while there is an archive section, it can sometimes be difficult to find a specific posting. Is there anyway you could incorporate an expandable post hyperlink, like on Clotlide's blog? I've tried to do it on mine (because I also write long posts)and am still working out some bugs. All the info is on the blogger help menu. There's also this blogpost I've seen that explains in pretty good detail.

At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love the long posts! and you're not preachy. i come to this website for the wonderful writing and gorgeous photos. but try lima beans again. i hated them as a kid, too, but i tried them again recently, just with butter, salt and pepper and they were so good and not at all like i remembered.

At 7:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, stop the whining already. I happen to write from a perspective of a 50 year old CD patient (how do you think I stumbled on this page?) so I have my own legitimacy and indeed, I have been educating myself for a long time.

There are many hungry people in the world, all the feasting and eating and then writing about it is almost indecent. I know many people blog but just think about it. Just think about it. It really, truly verges on the indecent. What a wonderful life you have. Don't complain, just post recipes and skip gross-looking photos if at all possible.

I don't have an email to supply, all you critics. My name is Jeff. I do not think I need to supply my address and my credentials, do I?


At 9:27 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


Thank you. What other way is there to rebound but with a leap?


Thank you, my dear. I always love seeing you here.


Thanks for reminding me. I had forgotten to link to Molly's fabulous recipe. It's up there now.


Oh heavens, life's too short to always be saying no to beets!


Oh good! I thought I had imagined it. I know. How could anyone eat fast food for nearly every meal? Blech.


Thank you so, so much! I love your website, Life Begins @ 30. (And I have to say, I agree.) You really made my day with this comment. And yes, I do owe a check to Shuna, for her t-shirt that is. I just can't wait to come down to San Fransisco and meet all of you. And I can only imagine how hard it was for your friend in the 1980s. The good part about having such a late diagnosis of celiac is that it's so much easier now to live well.
Thanks for stopping by!


Oh, my dear, I always approve of your recipes. I must have made at least fifteen dishes off your site by now, and they have all been spectacular!


Thank you, sir. I love that you're doing the same with your gluten-free website. Life is a feast, even when it's just a plate of brussel sprouts. It doesn't have to cost much, or be fancy. Just being here is enough.


I do love fava beans. I just discovered those fully this summer. And I'd love to have some in Japan with you. (still, I just don't know about lima beans.)


Okay, that was a horribly informative article. Blah! Who knew that would be a problem. (Everyone should read that one.)


Oh my goodness, there was a gluten-free character on a mainstream, network tv show. And they actually worked it out for her? Hooray. And oh yes, I did enjoy Supersize Me. Wait, is enjoy the right word? I certainly learned from it.


Thank you for your support, my dear. Thanks for reading, as always.


Thanks for the suggestion. You know, I'm really ambivalent about those expandable post hyperlinks. As much as I love Clotilde, I don't like having to click on it to continue reading. Sometimes, I want the whole piece, and the recipe. I'll think about it. We all have our writing styles. And I'm a writer by trade, a storyteller. I write at length. It's okay to skim. I don't mind. However, I am playing with ways to make the site more easily searchable. The search bar in the top left of the site helps if you know what you're looking for. On winter break, I'm going to fiddle some more.


Thank you, my dear. And I'm quite certain that lima beans are probably in my future. After all, I have to keep an open mind about it all.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Thanks for the link, and the connection to Ms. Molly's site! How wonderful to have found such great and supportive help online for those who need it. I check your blog daily as I get closer to taking the next step to being completely GF.

Thanks for always being upbeat about what can be a terrible and overwhelming problem.


At 1:40 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

Don't you dare shorten your posts! I come here for your particular brand of lyrical look at life via food and love your slightly rambling style. You've made what many would consider a restriction into the framework for an adventure and I count on you for an excuse to sit with a cup of tea and ignore the world for a few minutes.

Jeff, if I may be so bold as to comment on your comments. First, I don't believe that you are online and have no email address. You may choose not to supply it, but can you at least be honest about it? I'm also somewhat amused by your coming here, claiming to have CD (but not in your initial comment where it might have been appropriate if you were going to attack Shauna's representation of her health status.), and being a bit of a snark, then returning to say people are "whining" when they call you on it--just seems sort of rude. Like you were after that sort of response. (If you were a vegan would you go to meathenge and rag on Biggles? Or being a carnivore, do the same to vegblog?) I hope you don't mind that I say this. grin

I have found that Shauna provides one of the better blogs for inspiring people who don't necessarily have a ton of spare cash to eat better. Beets, after all, are dirt-cheap (you may all groan at the pun) and easy to grow in a substinence garden. What better way to help people who may feel left out of the food fun than with inexpensive and easily available ingredients prepared healthily?

I would invite you to get a blog of your own Jeff, and discuss issues surrounding deprivation v. wealth as it pertains to food. I am interested in these issues and would be happy to read another person's perspective on the subject. And if you want someone to rank on about their feast-drink-blog life, there are much better targets. Heck, I am going to be talking about dinner at the Herbfarm in the next day or two; now there's some obscene feasting in the face of world hunger. (But I also gave to the food bank again this month so there's balance in the world after all.)

dragging post back on topic We had roasted beets at the Herbfarm, Shauna, with smoked black cod, savoy cabbage, and bacon. They were peeled before being roasted and had that rich sweetness that borders on alcoholic. Reminded me of heliotrope in late summer in its intensity.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Ziz said...

Get a life "Jeff"

Your complaints are infantile and ridiculous.

At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't think that a 50 year old would need to learn the lesson "live and let live." Most of us learned that in kindergarten. I can't understand anonymous complainers/attackers with chips on their shoulders. The internet is full of them! AND they all have email addresses!

Now to focus on the positive...

Shauna - I love your writing style, as I've told you before. As bloggers, we have to blog for ourselves not for our audience. Otherwise, it's not authentically "you." You've let your personality and style shine through this site for months now and tons of us flock here daily to see what you have to offer and we keep coming back. :)

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear all,

Indeed, I am a 50 year old man with CD. I wish it were not so. I avoid food with gluten. That's what I do. I can go out with friends to almost any restaurant and I am able to have a meal without bringing everyone's attention to me. Heck, when I go out with clients, they DO NOT KNOW I have CD. I choose my foods carefully and I know what not to get. Sometimes a simple salad with olive oil and lemon juice dressing is just fine.
Shauna wrote a story of how she went to a restaurant, interviewed waiters about gluten (poor, ignorant souls! they should be familiar with ANY medical condition that their unfortunate offerings could exacerbate). Then the waitress told her that the place where the bread is cut is near a drawer with silverware and that she always goes home covered in crumbs. She in effect WARNED Shauna about it. Shauna took a risk and was sick and sick after this experience.
Why, oh why did she eat there?
She could have asked for a cup of tea and then go back home and feed herself.

Shauna's blog is in a public space, she chose to put it out here. I choose to write under an anonymous option (because I do not have an e-mail address other than my work and no, you are NOT getting my work e-mail address. A public blog invites comments. Shauna can delete mine if she wishes, that's up to her. But why not be simply gracious and appreciate that I told her beets are much easier to peel AFTER roasting (and you don't waste as much precious beet flesh), that her posts were too long (lord, they are! come on, people).
Lastly, this is my personal pet peeve when it comes to public school teachers (I assume this is where Shauna teaches): once you are out in public, your spelling must be impeccable. Sorry, I have very high standards. San Francisco, a major city in the USA is spelled SAN FRANCISCO, not San Franscisco, as Shauna spells it throughout her blog. There may be kids (her students?) reading it, there may be the kids of others. A teaching profession is a great responsibility and once you go out in public, you are responsible to have good spelling.

Do not be mad, Shauna, just change the spelling and try, just try roasting your beets and THEN peeling them. You will never go back to the nasty job of peeling before roasting.


At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next time you have your CD antibody tests, I would bet you a $1000 that they are not negative simply because you choose to eat out and based on what you wrote you don't seem to be careful about cross contamination issues. Sometimes I get upset with Shauna because I think she is not strict enough with her diet and her choices with restaurants, etc and there are people new to CD reading her blog. I think it's time you do some more research on the CD thing before you spout off in public. Having CD doesn't mean that you understand the intricacies of the gluten-free lifestyle.

I'm glad you finally tried beets. They are indeed delicious roasted with or without the skin.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


Thank you again, my dear.


Ah, to have been at the Herbfarm with you. That sounds gorgeous. And you can count on plenty of my usual, rambly posts. I couldn't stop those.


Thanks for your support. I appreciate that.


Thank you, dear. I'm always so happy to see you here.


Thank you for weighing in. This is, of course, a journey. And there is so much to learn. I don't profess to know everything, and I rely upon the wealth of expertise you, and others like you, share with me here.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger k said...

I just stumbled upon this post while looking through your recipe index and had to comment. Yes, what is it about people who don't eat vegetables? I was a pretty picky kid, but now I embrace veggies more than anything else. Sure there are a few that still don't work for me, but I try to experiment, just as you seem to be doing. Why do the majority of people not realize what they are missing out on???

Thanks for providing good recipe inspiration for all those veggies!


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