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27 December 2005

the little gifts of Christmas

grape chutney, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I love Christmas as an adult. With no hint of religious guilt (I'm a Buddhist and I'm celebrating what?) or need to buy all the gifts in the world to prove my love (my family and I finally decided on calm, with one or two presents each), Christmas this year was just the chance to relax, lay on my parents' comfy couch reading our new books (this one I bought for my sister-in-law was the most popular, with loud guffaws coming intermittently from the living room), and play with my nephew.

Oh yes, there was plenty of time on the floor with Elliott, throwing balloons at the Christmas tree, sharpening pencils, and giggling at the phrase "flippity flip." I didn't say we had a normal Christmas. We had our Christmas.

Aside from the books I bought for the family, I also gave a different Vosges chocolate bar for each adult: a Black Pearl bar with ginger and wasabi for my brother; a Barcelona bar with almonds and grey sea salt for my mother; the Red Fire bar for my father; and a Naga bar for my sister-in-law, with curry powder and coconut. And, I also made a small jar of Meyer lemon sea salt for everyone. This is the easiest gift in the world, a trick I learned from Jamie Oliver when I was laid up with my bad ankle. Simply crush your favorite plain sea salt in a mortar and pestle with the zest of two Meyer lemons. When it's all bashed up and blended, lay the lemon salt on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil and let it rest overnight. Or, if you're in a hurry, bake it for a bit in a 200° oven, until it has all dried. It's slightly sweet and deeply redolent of lemon. And you could do this with any fresh herb you like. Impress your friends. And make your salmon sing.

My mother didn't quite know what to do with herself when I showed up on Christmas Eve afternoon with four boxes of food and condiments from my kitchen. She's a great cook -- she's the one who taught me -- but she has been in pain these past few years, and she never really cooks. My dad tries, but, you know. Since I couldn't count on their kitchen being stocked, I brought my own with me. And, as I do here, and with all my friends, I danced around, showing them all my finds. "Have you smelled this sea salt? Look at the color of this pumpkin seed oil! Oh, and we'll have to make this hot chocolate, because it's just transcendent with the chiles and cinnamon." My parents were a little dazzled, and delighted. My mother ordered my father to write down all the names. Who knows? Maybe they'll start cooking again soon.

But the find of the week for me was this spectacular grape chutney from Tuscany. When I had stopped in at Les Cadeaux Gourmet, my favorite gourmet kitchen shop on Queen Anne Avenue, a few days before, Seis opened a jar of this, pulled out a spoon, and had me try some. (He's a talented chef with an abiding love for food, and I never grow tired of asking him for suggestions.) That's all I needed. A densely spiced chutney from the Piedmont region of Italy, it's filled with pears, quinces, fig, pumpkin, and plenty of grapes. And it's spectacular. That one taste danced on my tongue all day.

This chutney is only one of the many spectacular food finds imported from Italy through Ritrovo, an importing business in Seattle, dedicated to small farms and long-standing food traditions. From their website:

RITROVO imports are distinctly “small farm” products created by food artisans throughout Italy who emphasize organics and small-batch production. They champion the use of local, often limited crops and heirloom varietals. Many raise the ingredients for their products on their own farms using family recipes.

I love supporting any company that puts money into organic, local growing. And especially one that brings me food this good. I've been living on their Dr. Pescia honeys since August, and I recently started using this fruity, green olive oil. It makes everything taste of summer. And next, I have to try their truffle salt. Ach. This is what I have discovered on this gluten-free odyssey: splurging, just a bit, on the very best ingredients, makes everything taste extraordinary. I never miss bread rolls or cookies. I've never eaten this well. Ritrovo is halping to make the food from my kitchen spectacular. You should try some of their foods as well.

So, I cooked for two straight days. Pork roast with sour cream/horseradish sauce, plus the grape chutney from Tuscany. Mashed potatoes. Sauteed slivered brussel sprouts with Meyer lemon zest and poppy seeds. Butternut squash with smoked paprika. Chocolate financiers. Pancakes with gluten-free flour. Cranberry sausages. Slow-cooked scrambled eggs. Standing rib roast with an herbed sea salt and cracked pepper crust. Braised fennel. Seared broccolini with pumpkin seed oil and slivered almonds. And gluten-free sugar cookies. Everything tasted great, even though the sugar cookies spread faster than bad news in a small town. (Maybe if I'd read this post by David Lebovitz first, they would have been wonderfully still.)

And best yet, I didn't grow even a bit sick. Everything made me feel wonderfully whole. This is the first Christmas of my life in which I didn't feel totally bloated, logey, and ready to nap at 3 pm. I've never felt so good on a holiday. After Christmas Eve dinner, I felt fed. I felt happy. I felt like there was still a little room, because I didn't eat that much. The tastes were outrageous, and that was enough. And I finished out the evening later than everyone else, who had retreated to bed long before. So I lay in the bedroom at my parents' house, reading Ruth Reichl and feeling grateful for my health.

Making gluten-free feasts for the people I love, starting new food traditions, and ending up wonderfully well? That's one hell of a good Christmas.


At 7:34 PM, Blogger Travis said...

you should also try mattcha salt if you haven't yet. They often use it on tempura or sashimi over here.

another really good use for a table condiment yuzukosho, a mixture of yuzu rind and green chili pepper. it's used pretty often here, and is really good on grilled foods, but can be used for just about anything. For some pictures and a recipe follow this link:

At 12:38 AM, Blogger Travis said...

jumping back in here. just read your teff post, and wanted to talk about the 'better grains' idea commented.

I don't think people that enjoy these kinds of grains think they are necessarily better more than they think corn or wheat are better than each other. Some think that the world has become too dependant on too few varities of crops and monocultural farming practices. Efforts to reintroduce or preserve grains that have fallen into disuse is to maintain diversity in our staple supply. That way, if one grain suffers some diseasae we won't suffer from famine, etc. And as a postitive side effect, giving us a wider diversity of choices and flavors in the things we eat.

I'm saying this with no sources to back me up, and I'm probably preaching to the choir, but there it is, FWIW.

At 6:21 AM, Blogger Ilva said...

Sounds like a really nice Christmas Shauna! I hope you will have New Year's Eve just as nice!

At 6:59 AM, Blogger J said...

what a christmas! sounds delicious...

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

This sounds more like a culinary adventure vacation than Christmas! How fun that everyone got to try different things. Did your parents like the foods?

At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems a bit of an abnormal Christmas in that nothing went wrong (food-wise), nothing burned, nothing curdled etc. The Brussel sprouts with poppy seeds combo seems vile to me --- and I love both B. sprouts and poppy seeds, but NOT together.
Lots of odd mish-mash stuff in this meal but I am glad everyone was happy, no one passed out and everyone got along.:)

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Shauna said...


I haven't tried mattcha salt or yuzukosho yet, but I will. I love trying new foods and seeing how they change my life.

And I agree with you, completely, on that teff issue. There's no reason for us to narrow our lives, rather than open them out. Thanks for writing about that.


Yours sounds lovely too. I wish a wonderful New Year for you, filled with free time to cook and write and take photographs.


It was delicious. I hope yours was too. I'm certain, knowing you, that it was!


My parents did like the foods. They were quite happy to try everything. My brother and sister-in-law ate everything too, although they have wider tastes than my parents do already. It was great fun to share with everyone.


It was a lovely Christmas. I'm sure everyone's had kitchen disasters on holidays, but this one was lovely and calm.

The brussel sprouts and poppy seed recipe comes from Molly, at Orangette. It calls for just a slight sprinkling of the poppy seeds at the end, and it is spectacular. Try it:

At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yipee-- good health. What a wonderful gift indeed.

At 9:05 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

Sounds like another marvelous day with the munchkin (oh and everyone else too). Glad you had such a tasty holiday.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Cate said...

The grape chutney looks great; what an interesting twist, and I'm sure it was perfect with the pork.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger MizD said...

Huzzah for a non-bloaty Christmas! (Always a challenge in my world as well!)

I'll have to check if our local gourmet store carries Ritrovo products and see if we can't splurge on some of that grape chutney. Mmmm!

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Colaptes auratus said...

I don't cook as much as I'd like (or is probably good for me), yet I am very glad to now know about the gourmet foods store on top of Queen Anne. At the very least, I think I should be able to find good gifts for others there - and that's a wonderful thing!

Thanks much and I am glad to hear how warm, healthy, and lovely your holiday seems to have turned out!

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


You've got it, my dear. Feeling good and being able to actually enjoy the food? The best part of all.


I know. I had to remind myself to talk to anyone else besides the nephew. I hope you had a wonderful holiday.


It was perfect with the pork! Grape chutney is kind of a misnomer, because it has about twenty fruits and nuts in there. It just tastes like dark fruity goodness.
Hey, good work you're doing over there on your site.

Mrs. D --

We should start a new holiday card industry. Have a happy, non-bloated Christmas! I hope yours was.

Blurgirl --

Oh yes, you should stop by. And let me know when you're going to be in the neighborhood. We could have a cup of coffee together.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Rose said...

Oh you gave them one of my favorite chocolate brand bars, Voges Haute Chocolat!

The meyer lemon sea salt recipe sounds wonderful. Ah, Jaime makes everything so simple, easy and fresh!

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


I'm with you, my dear. Aren't those Vosges chocolates the best?

Ah, the meyer lemon sea salt really is spectacular. And lord knows I love Jamie Oliver. I feel like such a thirteen-year-old when I talk about him!


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