This Page

has been moved to new address

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
/* Primary layout */ body { margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; text-align: left; color: #554; background: #692 url( top center repeat-y; font: Trebuchet;serif } img { border: 0; display: block; } /* Wrapper */ #wrapper { margin: 0 auto; padding: 0; border: 0; width: 692px; text-align: seft; background: #fff url( top right repeat-y; font-size:80%; } /* Header */ #blog-header { color: #ffe; background: #8b2 url( bottom left repeat-x; margin: 0 auto; padding: 0 0 15px 0; border: 0; } #blog-header h1 { font-size: 24px; text-align: left; padding: 15px 20px 0 20px; margin: 0; background-image: url(; background-repeat: repeat-x; background-position: top left; } #blog-header p { font-size: 110%; text-align: left; padding: 3px 20px 10px 20px; margin: 0; line-height:140%; } /* Inner layout */ #content { padding: 0 20px; } #main { width: 400px; float: left; } #sidebar { width: 226px; float: right; } /* Bottom layout */ Blogroll Me! #footer { clear: left; margin: 0; padding: 0 20px; border: 0; text-align: left; border-top: 1px solid #f9f9f9; background-color: #fdfdfd; } #footer p { text-align: left; margin: 0; padding: 10px 0; font-size: x-small; background-color: transparent; color: #999; } /* Default links */ a:link, a:visited { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : none; color: #692; background: transparent; } a:hover { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : underline; color: #8b2; background: transparent; } a:active { font-weight : bold; text-decoration : none; color: #692; background: transparent; } /* Typography */ #main p, #sidebar p { line-height: 140%; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 1em; } .post-body { line-height: 140%; } h2, h3, h4, h5 { margin: 25px 0 0 0; padding: 0; } h2 { font-size: large; } { margin-top: 5px; font-size: medium; } ul { margin: 0 0 25px 0; } li { line-height: 160%; } #sidebar ul { padding-left: 10px; padding-top: 3px; } #sidebar ul li { list-style: disc url( inside; vertical-align: top; padding: 0; margin: 0; } dl.profile-datablock { margin: 3px 0 5px 0; } dl.profile-datablock dd { line-height: 140%; } .profile-img {display:inline;} .profile-img img { float:left; margin:0 10px 5px 0; border:4px solid #8b2; } #comments { border: 0; border-top: 1px dashed #eed; margin: 10px 0 0 0; padding: 0; } #comments h3 { margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: -10px; font-weight: normal; font-style: italic; text-transform: uppercase; letter-spacing: 1px; } #comments dl dt { font-weight: bold; font-style: italic; margin-top: 35px; padding: 1px 0 0 18px; background: transparent url( top left no-repeat; color: #998; } #comments dl dd { padding: 0; margin: 0; } .deleted-comment { font-style:italic; color:gray; } .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


27 March 2006

Hi, my name is Shauna, and I am.....

the Market IV, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to food shopping.

You know how some women are so slavishly excited about shopping for shoes that, when they pass a tiny boutique with impossibly tall shoes on little stages, their friends have to pry them away from the window with stern admonitions about not being able to afford any more pairs? Well, that’s not me. The other night, some friends of mine and I were talking about the big birthday I have coming up this summer. And thinking Carrie Bradshaw, I joked: “Hey, maybe someone will buy me a pair of Manolo Blahniks!” My friend Paul said: “I don’t see you in those. It’s more likely to be a pair of Keens.” It’s true. I like shoes. I do. I’m still a girl. But I just can’t stand high heels. I don’t see the allure. So that makes my ears deaf to the call of the shoe store window.


Some women must buy new clothes, every season, or have that adorable little blouse in the window, or reel with horror at the idea of wearing the same outfit twice. I buy all my clothes at thrift stores. I have my own sense of fashion, and I only buy designer labels. It’s just that every piece is ten dollrs or less. And so last season. Actually, I don’t think I’ve brought a single new-to-me piece of clothing into my house in six months. I suppose I should go looking again, but there’s always something better to do: make a meal, feed friends, laugh loudly. Later. So, luckily, I’m not drawn into Nordstorms for their half-yearly sale like a zombie who needs fresh meat.

This saves a lot of money.

Bookstores and record stores are always dangerous, of course. But somehow, either my entire memory of the twenty-two new albums I wanted is wiped clean by the rows upon rows of music available to me, or I just can’t balance that stack of books I want to read piling up in my arms with the bill building up in my checkbook. So in both places, with some difficulty, I can practice restraint.

But in grocery stores? Farmers’ markets? Little shops dedicated to oils and jams and spices? Forget about it — I’m a goner.

I’ve always been happy while slowly sauntering down a long aisle of little jars filled with thick tapenades or symmetric cans of tomato sauce or an expansive selection of soups. Walking through a grocery store promises fragrant foods, chewed and savored, soon. Every new category of food — breakfast cereals; expensive juices and cold drinks; olives and capers stuffed into glass bottles — evokes memories and inspires possibilities. The produce section brings dark-green zucchinis standing at attention, vibrant artichokes blooming in profusion, and round-bottomed eggplants just begging to be fondled.

Gourmet Garage veggies

Let’s not even talk about the cheese section. I’ve been known to linger so long there, sampling sharp bites and soft nibbles from all over the world, that all the employees know me by name and push the most expensive cheeses to the front of the case when they know I’m coming. That is me at my most addicted, not able to move, wanting it all.

Then again, there is also the chocolate aisle.

So I’ve always been happiest in a food store, far more contented than in the Gap or Barneys or even Elliott Bay Bookstore. Food is so primal, deeply sensual, and provides such immediate gratification that I can sometimes walk through a farmers’ market in a fugue state of orgiastic possibilities. Look at all that fruit!

However, since I’ve had to go gluten-free, and started this website, even I have to recognize that my favorite shopping habit may be growing out of control. After all, whenever I spy something luscious that doesn’t contain gluten, I can’t help but grab it. Truthfully, packaged gluten-free cookies or pretzels no longer intrigue me, the way they did when I was first learning to eat this way. I can bake those at home now, almost without thinking about it. Instead, it’s the tiny tastes and decadent pleasures that capture me every time.

A bottle of pomegranate molasses in a tiny Middle Eastern shop in Pike Place? Of course. Neal’s Yard cheese at $22 a pound? Well, David did just extol its virtues a few days ago; maybe there’s a tiny sliver for sale. Marcona almonds, direct from Spain? Perfect for my Friday-night dinner party. Fig spread from Dalmatia? Oh, it’s so expensive, but I’m sure it’s gorgeous. Green tea with mango, basmati rice from India, grey sea salt from Brittany? How could I not treat myself, when I have to go without gluten?

And of course, since I’m keeping this website, and so many of you are writing to me, asking for particular recipes, or advice on how to eat gluten-free, I feel a real tug — nay, a true responsibility — to sample any food that doesn’t have gluten. How else can I recommend the world’s food to you if I don’t eat little nibbles of it all?

There’s such a comfort in the pattern of discovery. In Seattle, I’m blessed with a plethora of choices for food shopping, so much so that I can make my rounds on a rotating basis and never feel like I’m stuck in a rut. Whole Foods on an errant Saturday afternoon. Central Market — my new favorite — when I’ve planned ahead enough to make the fifteen-minute drive north. Metro Market when I’m in a rush. Wait — I haven’t been to PCC for weeks. And of course, on a nearly-daily basis, Ken’s across the street keeps calling me in. Now that it’s spring, I’m back to wandering the stalls of the Market (Pike Place to those of you who don’t know) three or four times a week. And soon, all the farmers’ markets will unfurl their fruits and vegetables for us all to peruse, and I will be perfectly happy, once again.

How could I ever grow tired of this?

I’m not ashamed. I’m only admitting it — I’m in love with food shopping. I’ve never felt so alive as I have this past year, eagerly reaching for every new food I had never eaten before. Like Amelie, I’d love to plunge my fingers into barrels of beans, run my hands along spiny vegetables, and savor the sounds of everything around me. If I could, I’d stand in the middle of the Market, eyes wide open, arms spread wide to embrace it all, taking in every smell and texture, then dance down the aisles, humming to the food tune always playing in my mind.

marmalade salmon

Broiled Salmon with Orange Marmalade/Dijon/Wasabi
adapted from Cooking Light

One of the benefits of being a total food-aholic is that my pantry is -- quite frequently -- wonderfully well-stocked. Truly, I must have the most interesting, perpetually kept pantry of any person who lives alone that I know. No scrimping here -- why would I wait until I have more people in the house to live well? With all my food wishes fulfilled (sometimes), I have the chance to experiment and play with recipes that call for a number of wacky ingredients. Like this salmon.

I must admit, my favorite way to make salmon is still a simple broil, with lemon juice, fresh garlic, and olive oil. But since I eat so much salmon, I like to play around sometimes. And here’s a dish worth fooling with, something to make any Sunday evening far more scintillating. Its succulence and surprising sweetness, cut by the heat of wasabi and ginger, will make everyone as happy in eating as you were in buying the ingredients.

two salmon fillets, preferably wild king salmon from Alaska
one-half cup orange marmalade (splurge and buy the best, please)
one tablespoon Dijon mustard
one teaspoon wasabi (or, buy wasabi/Dijon mustard)
one teaspoon fresh, minced garlic
one-half teaspoon salt
one-half teaspoon cracked black pepper
one-half teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Preheat the oven to broil. Place the salmon on a tin-foil-covered baking sheet.

Mix all the ingredients, besides the salmon, in a small bowl, and stir them well. Spoon half the marmalade delight over the salmon. Use a pastry brush to coat the salmon.

Put the salmon under the broiler for six minutes, or until it's bubbly. Immediately brush the remaining marmalade mixture over the salmon and broil for a remaining two minutes. The inside will still be a slightly darker pink than the rest of the fish, but the salmon is now succulent and ready to eat.

23 March 2006


Elliott loves trees II, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I returned home from school today, I found a message on my machine, in a sweet, little voice: “Happy Berfday.” In the background, I could hear my brother say, “Tell her it’s your birthday. Tell her how old you are.” And then, Elliott said: “I am free!”

Today is my nephew’s third birthday. Three years ago, this little reddened force of life entered the world. I remember being in the waiting room at the Ballard Swedish hospital, watching Steve Martin deliver the opening monologue of the Oscars, listening for foosteps down the hall to signal that the baby had arrived. Soon enough, there they were. My sister-in-law was wheeled down the hall on a gurney and my brother appeared with a blue bundle in his arms. What? How was it possible there had been no baby and now there was a baby? My brother put the blue blanket in my arms, and I looked down, expecting to cry. I cry at certain Sex and the City episodes, so how could I be expected to live that monumental moment without crying? But to my surprise, I didn’t cry. Instead, I just looked into the wide-open eyes of this squirming, physical presence, mesmerized. Now, I know that babies have a short-lived awareness, a fierce attention, just after birth. But then, I was simply amazed. There he was. All of him there. Elliott.

He is alive, this kid. When I race up the steps of my brother’s house and open the door, I find Elliott’s face waiting to see mine. He squeals and bounces up and down on his knees, lifting his arms to the ceiling so I can scoop under his arms and twirl him around and around. He throws back his head and laughs, his face the only constant in a dizzy, spinning world out of focus. We splash in puddles on our walks through the forest, his yellow boots bright against the dark muddy water. We play hide and seek for at least an hour of every visit, he doggedly determined to hide in the same place -- under the covers; behind the door; in the closet -- every single time, announcing it to me, because he knows that I will wonder aloud where Elliott is hiding, then throw back the covers with a flourish and say, “There he is!” And he will laugh with delight, bright peals of giggles rising against the darkness outside.

Every time I see him, he has a new verbal habit. Lately, when he wants my attention, he says, “Know what? Guess what?” And this is usually followed by a call to play with diggers, or to dance to the Wiggles. He “reads” books to me, carefully mimicking the story of Cowboy Small, which he has heard a hundred times before. Or, he asks if I will read a book to him: “Will you talk those words on that page to me?” When we reach the page where it says, “Flippity Flip!” he nearly throws himself off the couch laughing. When we play with the decrepit cowboy doll from his mother’s childhood -- the one who has lost all his limbs but one leg, so we have dubbed him “Hopalong” -- Elliott imitates my father’s silly voice and says, “I am CON-fused.”

Luckily, Elliott has all his limbs, swinging free and striding forward.

Elliott striding forward

Now, I could write about this hilarious little guy for pages, but I won’t. After all, this is a food blog. And, I have written about him before. And again. I could tell you about his new habit, when we are “sniffing” food in the pantry, of asking for the Dagoba hot chocolate tin, then fishing out the little “rocks” of clumped-together chocolate, carefully cutting each one in half with a table knife, then wetting his finger to grab the chocolate pebble and put it in his mouth. Or how grateful he is for food, when we eat together, and always says, “Thank you for cooking dinner, Daddy.” Or how he likes to look at this website on the computer when I come to visit, and points at the pictures to say, “You have brought us food.”

Lately, though, I’ve been realizing that food will be a problem for me with Elliott, soon. Not his enjoyment of it, his discovery of it, or his appetite for it. But, specifically — gluten. I mean, how do I explain to a three-year-old, when he offers up his crumb-encrusted face, that I need to wait until I’ve washed him off before I can give him a kiss, or else I might grow sick?

At his birthday party recently — his parents took him to California to visit relatives for his real birthday, and thus we had to celebrate early — Elliott was packed high with elated energy. Every person whom he loves in the world, all in one room. When I arrived, he turned his attentions to me. Quickly, he asked if I could cut him another piece of cake. (Sneaky little devil.) I did, put it on his plate, then went to wash the flour off my hands. When I returned to him, he was ensconced in his treat, his mouth full of sweetness, happily chewing. He looked up at me, spread his arms wide, and said: “I love cake!” His enormous enthusiasm made me laugh, as always. I agreed with him — cake is good. Then, he leaned his fork into the cake, cut a bite, and lifted it toward me. “Do you want some of my cake, Shauna?” Of course, I said no, told him, “That’s yours, Elliott.” I’m sure he wasn’t upset -- more cake for him. But I was upset. Sad to have to turn down such sweetness.

At some point, I’ll have to explain it to him, or else he’ll be disappointed that I don’t want to share in his treats, confused that I turn down his gifts. He’s too young, now. He just wouldn’t understand. Hell, it’s hard enough for me to explain it to adults, much less someone who has just turned three. But I know what I’ll call it when we do explain it to him.


A few months ago, my brother, sister-in-law, Elliott, and I were in their car, driving toward the community sing-a-long for Christmas on Vashon Island. I was sitting next to Elliott, who was humming in his car seat, but talking to Andy and Dana in the front seat. Someone who reads this website had written to me, asking if I ever had gluten nightmares. I do. It’s a strange phenomenon, but just after I was diagnosed with celiac and stopped eating gluten, I had nightmares of eating bagels. In the middle of a dream, I’d catch myself eating a pretzel and wake up in a cold sweat. The worst one, I told them, was on a night I had been staying at their house, on the blue couch in the study. I dreamed so vividly that there was gluten stuffed between the cushions of the couch that I woke myself up by crawling off it and running toward the window. We all laughed, then went on to another conversation. A few minutes later, Elliott started giggling. We stopped talking. I turned toward him, and said: “What’s so funny, El?”
He giggled hard, almost to the point of incoherence, as he said, “You woke up and walked because there was glupit in the curtains!”
We all laughed too.
He refers to this, once in a while, in unexpected moments. “Glupit in the curtains!” he’ll shout, probably because he knows I’ll laugh so hard. We’ve taken to calling it glupit as well. Maybe I should just change the name of this website to Glupit-Free Girl.

So, someday, I’ll have to explain to Elliott that I cannot have the warm cookie he helped to make, the one he’s holding up to me, because it has glupit in it. I’m sure he’ll understand, eventually.

But in the meantime, here he is. And it gives me more happiness than I can ever convey — just to be with him. At his birthday party, as one toddler friend after grandparent after friend had to leave for the ferry, he looked sad for a moment, then said: “But Shauna will stay.”

Yes I will, little guy. Here I am.

Happy Berfday, Elliott. You are free.

oranges lit by sun


A few weeks ago, when I was on Vashon with the little guy, he looked at me and said, with real glee: “Let’s make fruit salad!” Apparently, he and his mom have been cutting up fruit and throwing it into a bowl, and calling it fruit salad. This entices Elliott to eat more fruit -- it’s mixed up together! So I stood in the kitchen with my brother, and Elliott standing on a chair, cutting up fruit into uniform pieces and putting it all in a large, plastic bowl. Andy and I both cut, quickly. Elliott’s sole contribution was to reach into the bowl, grab a piece of banana or orange, and say, “Can I eat this?” By the time we were finished, we only had half a fruit salad, because Elliott had eaten the rest.

When I lived with the CFP in London, we ate lavish fruit salads nearly every day. Even in the dead of winter, mangoes arrived in a black cab from Harrods. Extravagant, and a bit ridiculous, these fruit concoctions were still wonderfully satisfying. The real secret was a Tahitian vanilla bean, stripped of its innards and snipped into pieces. All of it went in with the fruit, then sat in the refrigerator, marinating and slithering into all the slices, until the fruit salad tasted richer than it actually was. Winter, spring, or summer -- this secret makes every fruit salad decadent.

Of course, you could use any combination of fruit you have on hand for this. It will all taste divine.

two Minneoloa oranges, peeled (try rolling the oranges before peeling)
two ripe bananas, peeled
one ripe mango, stripped of its skin
one pint strawberries (when they are in season), leaves topped off
one-half pint blueberries, ripe and juicy
three kiwis, peeled
juice of two limes
zest of two limes
one vanilla bean (Tahitian, if possible)
two tablespoons organic cane juice
one teaspoon nutmeg

° Cut all the pieces of fruit into uniform size, about one-half-inch cubes (or small enough bites for a child). As time-consuming as this might seem, the uniformity of size will make the differences in textures even more interesting. Put the fruit into your favorite bowl.
° Cut down the center of the vanilla bean with a small, sharp knife, then peel back the bean’s skin. Carefully, scrape the gritty innards of the vanilla bean into the bowl. Next, snip the vanilla bean into the tiniest pieces possible, using your best kitchen shears.
° Add the lime juice, lime zest, organic cane juice (or regular sugar, if you wish), and nutmeg to the fruit. Stir it all up, gently.
°For the fullest, richest taste, allow this concoction to marinate in the refrigerator overnight before serving. If you wish, fish out the bits of vanilla bean before serving.
° Wait for your guests to rave. If you truly want to be kind, top the fruit salad with a dollop of creme fraiche.

20 March 2006

the simple joys of spring

asparagus, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Sometimes, the best pleasures are the simplest.

This morning, when I woke up, the sun had already risen. The sky was high and clear with light, washing everything clean with its clarity. After months of waking to darkness and struggling to school in lavender light at best, this morning opened my entire body wide. Yesterday, my dear friend Meri and I took a long walk around my neighborhood, marveling at the warmth of the air along our arms, which were bare against the sun for the first time in months. We heard someone running his lawnmower along the grass of his front yard, from blocks away. We both said, "It's spring."

I was punch-drunk on spring air.

It has been a long, dark winter. And as much as I tried to be a good Buddhist, and remind myself that there needs to be darkness and cold to make us appreciate the warmth and light in the world, I had to remind myself far too often for my taste. In other words? Winter just plain stunk this year. Rain, unceasing, cold down my back, the grey slatting light never enough to quell my hunger for sunlight (or even enough to take decent photographs most days), long mornings of darkness, more darkness at 3:30 in the afternoon, everyone logey or depressed, being surrounded by people at half-masts of energy and exuberance, nothing but root vegetables, an almost insatiable desire for baked goods, and all that damn rain -- this was the winter. Try as I might, I just don't like the winter as much as I do spring and summer.

But today, it's spring. Officially, spring. Boys are bouncing basketballs against the sidewalk as they walk home. People's chests are opening outward, like buds unfurling into flowers. The Seattle sky stays light in the west until nearly seven now. There are barbeques burning in the afternoons. People's faces have opened into easy smiles again. I've turned off the heaters. My entire body wants to say "ahhhhh.............."

Soon, the farmers' markets will rouse to life, in all my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle. On the weekends, I'll be able to buy mushrooms from local farmers. Baby peas will appear in my green salads. Tender artichokes, muscular arugula, and then the first batch of spring goat cheese -- they will all be here soon.

And strawberries.


On Friday afternoon, I walked around the Market (that's Pike Place to those of you who don't live in Seattle), grinning at being back. Somehow, during the winter, I never make it down to the Market. But in the spring and summer, I'm there three times a week, shopping there instead of the grocery store. On Friday afternoon, the warm air propelled me along, across the cobblestones, past the long tables filled with buckets of tulips, down the walkways crowded with the first tourists of the season to my favorite produce stand: Sosio's.

This highstall is buried deep in the Market, past the tentative steps of most of the tourists. The people who work there know how to slap paper bags against their thighs until they smack open. They also offer the first tastes of the season to anyone who walks by, then stops. Most of the time, I go there without a plan of what to cook that night. I simply say, "What's good right now? What will be good tonight?" Then, they let me nibble and sample, letting early spring plums ramble down my throat until I cannot stand it anymore. I need some.

On Friday, when I asked what was best that day, the friendly man serving me simply pointed to the strawberries. Full as pregnant pauses, more lurid red than anything in nature the past four months, and dotted with seeds that were destined to stick in my teeth, these strawberries looked splendid. I had to have some. I took a bite, expecting pale fruit and only a hint of strawberry taste. I nearly cried when an authentic sweetness came rushing to my tongue instead. With subtle warmth, a high clear taste, as rushing sweet as a first kiss at the end of the evening —— these were strawberries.

It's really spring.


asparagus II

Throbbing with spring green taste and the mellow sweetness of balsamic vinegar, these wonderful soft bites never fail to delight me. Recipes don't have to be complicated to satisfy, completely. This time of year, I roast asparagus in good olive oil and balsmic vinegar nearly every day. I nibble up the long spears, hot out of the oven, as an afternoon snack. If, somehow, I manage to restrain myself and save some for the next day, I slice them up for salads with slivers of parmesan cheese, or toss them in egg white scrambles with smoked salmon. Somehow, roasted asparagus is spring to me. This year, I'm going to gobble it all up.

one bunch of asparagus, of medium thickness
one tablespoon olive oil
one tablespoon balsamic vinegar
one teaspoon kosher salt
one teaspooon cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°. Set a large pot with an inch or two of water to boil.

Cut off the thick, woody ends of the asparagus and rinse each of the spears. When the water comes to full, roiling boil, throw the asparagus spears in the water. Let them cook for thirty to forty seconds, no more. (This is also called blanching.) Lift them out of the water.

Immediately toss the asparagus spears with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. (And honestly, the measurements above are only a guide. Toss them all in to your taste. Don't overdo the balsamic vinegar, however. You want the depth and unexpected sweetness of it, but not the acrid tang of too much vinegar.) Place the coated spears on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. Place this in the hot oven on the top rack.

Cook the asparagus for about ten minutes, or until they are sizzling audibly and have become soft enough that a fork will go in easily. Don't overcook, or they will wither into themselves. Let them be a vivid spring green. Eat, immediately.

17 March 2006

Finnegan, begin again.

Irish soda bread, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I have so many Irish stories that I could sit here all day, telling them. That is one of my most enduring, favorite parts of the Irish people I met while I was in Ireland -- the stories. They're a nation full of storytellers, warm and open, hilarious and boisterous. I felt at home there.

Later, maybe tomorrow, I can fill this space with stories of driving across Ireland in a rented green car, of a St. Patrick's Day parade in a tiny coastal village involving senior citizens dressed as Barbies, and playing on a softball team with Irish players, all of them smoking and not giving a rat's arse about the game, just waiting for it all to be over so we could go back to the Broadway Dive, drink Guinness, and sing along to U2 as we sat on the barstools.

And then, there's always James Joyce.

"And yes I said yes I will yes."

But for now, I'm just going to share this recipe I concocted yesterday, based off a dozen recipes for Irish soda bread I've been studying the last few days. I'm making an Irish feast for friends tonight. I won't be serving corned beef and cabbage. That's just for Americans, the same ones who wear shamrock stickers on their cheeks and enormous green top hats. Instead, there will be whiskey cheddar cheese, a fresh herb salad, a lamb and beef stew, champ, and a strawberry pie. (That last one probably isn't Irish, but it's finally spring, and I want to celebrate.) We'll be eating hunks of this bread with our cheese, laughing and telling stories.

Tomorrow, there will be more. Finnegan, begin again.

adapted from a Whole Foods recipe

I may not have eaten corned beef and cabbage in Ireland, but I certainly had my share of soda bread. Dense and flaky at the same time, slightly sweet and the perfect bread for crumbly cheddar cheese, this gluten-free soda bread tastes a little like a big scone, and a lot like home.

one cup sweet rice flour
three-quarter cup teff flour
one-quarter cup tapioca flour
one tablespoon sugar
one teaspoon xanthan gum
one teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon baking powder

one cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water for fifteen minutes
one cup buttermilk
six tablespoons butter, melted
one egg

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a small souffle dish for a round loaf or nine-by-five-by-three-inch loaf pan (the standard size) for a square loaf.

Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir them together until you have a consistent mixture.

In a second, smaller bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together. Make a small well in the dry ingredients, then slowly pour the wet ingredients into the well, then stir until just combined. The dough will be quite sticky, but it should not be too dry.

Form the dough into the shape you desire, then place it in the baking pan. Bake for thirty minutes or so, or until a butter knife inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

14 March 2006

why I won't eat McDonald's fries anymore

McDonald's fries I, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I have eaten my fill of McDonald’s french fries.

Not recently, of course. I haven’t actually eaten in a McDonald’s in years. But when I was a kid, growing up in Southern California in the 1970s, I keened and ached to sit under those golden arches and smack down on those salty, crispy fries. One of the best elementary school field trips was the day my class walked from the cement playground in semi-even lines to the McDonald’s three blocks away. We were allowed behind the gun-metal countertops, given a tour of the overheated “kitchen,” and watched the frozen, skinny fries being dunked in bubbling oil, coming out golden perfect. We all clamored for fries. They gave us each a free order of fries, which made having to wear the hair net perfectly worth it.

Like nearly every American kid born after 1950, I ate at McDonald’s more than I can count now. The best part about long road trips with my family was waking up in the morning in a crummy motel, knowing we could drive through a McDonald’s for breakfast. Mom and Dad would pull the plastic lids from styrofoam containers of weak coffee and slowly wake up in the front seat. My brother and I would douse our perfectly sized pancakes with overly sweet syrup from a little square, plastic pack, then lick it off our fingers for hours. The square sausage pattie — filled with little gristle pockets and salty fat — echoed the shape of the syrup packet, echoed the shape of the sytrofoam package it all arrived in, echoed the shape of my stomach when I had finished eating my breakfast. Afterwards, I always wondered why I had looked forward to it so much, when my stomach hurt and lurched for hours on the road after eating it. But the next morning, there we were, waiting in line to speak to a weary employee through the scratchy McDonald’s speaker.

At home, we only lived ten or fifteen blocks from McDonald’s, so at least once a week, my mother threw up her hands and gave in to the pleading. We left the kitchen and drove to McDonald’s. (Yes, we drove. This was LA, after all.) Sometimes I ordered Quarter Pounder, and sometimes two little burgers. (I never liked the Big Mac, mostly for the stringy shreds of lettuce that hunger over the side of the bun, and for the lurid color of the special sauce.) Later, I started ordering the Filet of Fish, a sudden change on the always-the-same menu when I was a kid. But always, there were fries. Golden, crispy, best when hot from the oil, rather disappointingly flubby when lukewarm, better yet when slathered in salt and slightly-sweet ketchup we had to squish from almost-impenetrable little packets we had to gnaw at with our teet —— McDonald’s fries were always the best.

Except once.

One night, we were sitting in the plastic molded chairs at McDonald’s, mindlessly chomping on our food. We always inhaled it, our taste buds subsumed by the grease and salt, our senses overwhelmd by the overpowering experience of fast food, our eyes glazed and staring forward. I ate and ate my french fries, feeling sated, then that familiar feeling of too full. But I kept eating. When I reached my fingers in for the last bits of fries, I felt something unfamiliar. Something with a hard edge. I peered down into the bottom of the white, grease-stained bag and saw something black. Something large, withered, and fried. I pulled it out of the bag and peered at it.

It was a fried cockroach. There was a fried cockroach at the bottom of my french fries.

When my outraged parents demanded our money back, the greasy-faced employees simply gave us coupons for more McDonald’s food.

When I was in my twenties, I stopped eating at McDonald’s. I lived on a rural island off Seattle, where no chains existed. I became a vegetarian and started eating far more healthily. I began cooking, seriously, for the first time. I left the McDonald’s habit far behind me.

But once in a while, I’d start to jones for that taste: the hot crispiness, the insatiable saltiness, the golden taste. Every once in a while, I’d duck into McDonald’s for an order of french fries, including at the McDo just off 4th Street in New York, when I lived there.

The last time I ate at a meal at McDonald’s was under duress, when my friend and I were trying to recover from an unexpected trauma. Sharon and I had been driving across the country for a good swath of the summer of 2002. Every stop centered around food, of course. We took detours and tiny roads instead of the highway for the potential pie in the Amish country of Indiana or the enormous greasy breakfast in Wyoming. In the course of two weeks, we had successfully avoided any chain stores, hotels, or restaurants. But there we were, east of Burns, Oregon, in the flattest, dullest country either one of us had ever seen. And we were running out of gas. Frantic, we looked for any sign of life. There was none -- just flat, grey scrubland, in a place so barren even the prairie dogs decided to stay away. We were starting to despair.

Finally, we saw a tiny, one-pump gas station in the distance. Grateful, we pulled in. A frowsy, middle-aged woman came out and started pumping our gas. Laconically, she said, “You two going toward Burns or coming away from it?” When we told her we were going toward it, she nodded, gravely, then said, “Watch out for the grasshoppers.” Befuddled, we paid her and drove away, relieved to know that we could drive without worrying about running out of gas.

About ten minutes later, as we were singing along to some jaunty song, we both squinted into the distance as we drove along. “What is that?” one of us managed to say, pointing to the brown cloud on the flat road before us. Before we could figure it out, we were in it. Grasshoppers -- hundreds and hundreds of them -- swarmed the road and hovered above it, which meant they launched themselves right into our car. All I could hear was thwack! thwack! thwack! as their hard exoskeletons smacked against our windshield. We couldn’t see for the dimming of the sun, blotted out by a plague of grasshoppers attacking our car. As they dive bombed the car, smashing against us, Sharon and I both screamed. Sharon covered her eyes with her hands. And she was driving. For a few moments, it felt like we were in The Ten Commandments, and Charlton Heston was mad at us. Luckily, after about a thousand yards, mysteriously, the plague of grasshoppers dissipated, and we were left on a bare, flat road again.

(In front of us was a motorcyclist without a helmet. I don’t want to imagine what driving through that patch was like for him.)

Still freaked out, Sharon and I drove into Burns. The first thing we saw was a McDonald’s. Sharon begged me to stop there and buy some food. “I just need some comfort food after that,” she said. I agreed, the memories of childhood road trips still in my mind. We opened the car doors, only to find dozens of dead grasshoppers spilling from the windshield onto our laps. Sharon screamed again. We raced inside.

I ordered a hamburger and a chocolate milkshake, plus a super-size order of fries, of course. It had been years since I’d eaten at McDonald’s. And how did it taste?

Like rancid grease. It sat heavy in my stomach, immediately. The milkshake was too sweet. The hamburger bun was soggy. And the fries? They made me feel a little sick, somehow. After our traumatic experience, I was not comforted.

I haven’t been in a McDonald’s since then.

So it isn’t much of a loss for me to find out that there is gluten on McDonald’s french fries. Possibly. Recently, just a few weeks ago, McDonald’s quietly acknowledged, with a little check mark on one of the pages of their website, that one of the flavoring agents in the oil in which they cook all the french fries is derived from wheat and dairy ingredients. Apparently, people have been asking for years, saying that they are growing sick from McDonald’s french fries. The monolithic corporation has been denying that there is gluten on the fries, thus negating the physical experience of hundreds of people, and also ensuring that people who shouldn’t be eating gluten are getting it, in a hidden way.

Why? Well, according to McDonald’s Director of Global Nutrition (there’s a title), "We knew there were always wheat and dairy derivatives in there, but they were not the protein component," she said. "Technically, there are no allergens in there. What this is an example of is science evolving.” Doublespeak. Thanks for deciding for me.

Thanks to the Food Labelling Act of 2004, which went into effect this January, the packages of many foods are now quietly being changed, making it easier for those of us who have to avoid gluten. It still says only “wheat” on the side of the package, but that’s a start. I support those companies that are being honest now. And at least McDonald’s is being honest. Now.

Are the fries gluten-free? McDonald’s claims that they are, after testing. The Gluten Intolerance Group, an organization I respect, has issued the following statement:

The flavoring agent added to the oil during par-frying is possibly suspect, however until information is provided on testing of the flavoring agent we cannot say if it is a problem or not. The flavoring company has stated to
McDonald's that the flavoring has no allergenic proteins and since McDonald's policy is that the fryers used fry the French fries are dedicated and only used for potatoes, this would mean the fries are gluten-free. McDonald's is expected to make an updated statement about this situation in the very near future. We anticipate that it may include information about recent testing.

Choosing to eat any food is always the individual consumer's choice. If you feel uncomfortable with this information, it is ultimately your choice to eat the fries or not.

Does that make the fries gluten-free? I have no idea. Maybe? Probably. Could be.

I’m writing about all this to let everyone reading know: it’s hard to be gluten-free. There are so many choices, so many ways to grow sick. I feel remarkably upbeat about this, 90% of the time. My life has been changed, enormously, since I went gluten-free. But sometimes, I grow weary, thinking about how hard all this is.

What I do know is that having to be gluten-free also forces me, rather joyfully, to be mindful about what I eat. When I went into a McDonald's for the first time in years, just to buy the fries you see in the photograph above (I threw them out right afterwards), I was struck by how bedraggled, greasy, and sad everyone in that restaurant looked. Eating at McDonald's isn't mindful. Syrup-seeping breakfast in a styrofoam package? Crunchy fried cockroaches? Insects thwacking against the windshield, followed by the feeling of a bowling ball in my stomach?

No thanks. I'll pass.

10 March 2006

crisp, buttery bites on a wintry night

chocolate shortbread III, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

It’s a dark and stormy evening here in Seattle.

(Remember how Snoopy began every novel he attempted to write, while perched on the sloping angles of his doghouse, with “...It was a dark and stormy night.”? As a little kid who wanted to be a writer someday, that stuck with me.)

March slipped in with hardly a whimper, pale slivers of sunlight sliding through the clouds occasionally. One day last week, I actually wore a t-shirt as I walked around in the incipient spring air, introducing my skin to the sky again. For nearly ten minutes, I drove around town with the windows down, the breeze carving shapes in my hair. The craggy Olympic mountains shattered the fog one morning last week, jutting in pink edges against the pale morning sky, every edge in sharp relief. And I stood at my living room windows, a cup of coffee in my hand, not moving. Suddenly, everything felt wider than the narrow grey of January.

Spring is coming. The farmers’ markets will be open soon. Fresh asparagus will shimmer green and inviting at small stalls. Pale tulips will give way to vivid colors and throng the long tables of Pike Place Market in rows of white buckets. Spring green buds will burst out of slender branches. Winter will fade into memory. We’ll all feel alive, chattering on the sidewalks, emerging from our caves and turning our faces toward the sun.

We will. But not yet.

Today, in the transition between afternoon and evening, the skies began to glower an angry grey. Rain smashed down on the heads of people scurrying from the dry cleaners and bakery toward their cars. Bright light flashed against the sky, such an unusual sight around here that I didn’t recognize it as lightning until the thunder rumbled over my head. For fifteen minutes or so, snow flashed across the path of light made by the streetlamps. Everything bowed down to the winter leaving, with a loud, fist-shaking imperative: look at me.

A perfect night to stay in, curl up under the red-fleece blanket on my couch, and watch movies. A perfect night to give into a March evening in Seattle. A perfect night for chocolate shortbread.

Winter may not be gone yet, but I’m waving it goodbye with both hands. And then using those hands to roll out crisp, buttery cookies filled with rich chooclate intensity.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Shortbread, adapted from Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen

chocolate shortbread

Some images and places are indelibly Seattle for me: the sight of black coffee about to meet my lips; Mount Rainier appearing unexpectedly, looming over the land; the swath of Puget Sound that opens up as I drive out of the tunnel and onto the viaduct; peaches in July at Sosio's produce stand; the dappled path of trees in Discovery Park.

And Tom Douglas.

I adore Tom Douglas; I really do. When I first moved to Washington State, back in college, my idea of luxury, gourmet dining was a birthday dinner at the Dahlia Lounge. Fat crab cakes, little salads of exotic greens, and of course -- that triple coconut cream pie. I can't have the crab cakes or pie anymore, but I still love the Dahlia Lounge. And all the other Tom Douglas restaurants in town: Lola; Palace Kitchen; Etta's. You can't go wrong in any of them.

I love that Tom Douglas is self-taught, instead of culinary-school trained. I love his openness and love of food and the celebration of Seattle he sings in his every cookbook. This is my town. This is my kind of man.

These gluten-free chocolate shortbread cookies are an adaptation of a recipe I found in his Seattle Kitchen cookbook. They spread more thin than a traditional shortbread, but they have a wonderful density, a real back-of-the-molars bite to them. Shadows of chocolate dance along the bright palettes of butter and sugar, making these far more interesting than a one-layered sugar cookie could ever be.

For an extra kick of intensity against the cold air, try a cocoa powder flavored with chiles and cinnamon, like Dagoba.

one cup unsalted butter, softened (the better the butter, the better the cookie)
one-half cup sugar (organic cane sugar makes a great crunchiness)
one teaspoon vanilla extract (make sure it's gluten-free)
one-half cup unsweetened cocoa powder (splurge on a quality one -- it's worth it)
three-quarter sweet rice flour
one-half cup teff flour
one-quarter millet flour
one-quarter tapioca flour
one-half teaspoon xanthan gum
one-half teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325° and pull out your favorite baking sheet. If you have a silpat, use that for these cookies, on top of the baking sheet. If not, then a skim of parchment paper might do nicely.

In a large bowl, mix all the flours, xanthan gum, cocoa powder, and salt together. Set this aside. (Note: if you don't have all these flours on hand, I'm certain a basic gluten-free flour mix would work well here. Remember, however, that teff creates a fabulous texture for baked goods.)

Mix the softened butter and sugar together until they are just creamed. Do not overmix this -- that will make the cookies spread across the silpat when they are cooking. After they are just creamed, add in the vanilla and give the whole mixture a whirl. Add in the flour and cocoa powder mixture until it has combined well. (Note: at first, this might look crumbly dry and impossibly worng. Don't worry, and especially don't add any liquid. Keep stirring -- or better yet, use your KitchenAid for this work -- and let the magic happen. Soon, it will be a consistent dough.)

Dust the surface of your kitchen counter with rice flour, or another gluten-free flour. Roll out the cookie dough to one-half inch thickness. Use your favorite cookie cutter -- I used a square ravioli press, if you want to know the truth -- to make the shapes and place them on the baking sheet. Repeat this until you have used all the dough.

Bake these in the oven for about fifteen minutes, or until they feel firm to the touch (but not rock-hard). Take them out of the oven to cool on the baking sheet for five minutes or so until you attempt to transfer them to a wire rack. The cookies will probably be a little fragile, a little temperamental. Go gentle on them.

Nibble and chew, savoring the taste, while gazing out the window at the cold air below. You'll feel better.

Makes about twenty cookies.

08 March 2006

the best gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free food you will ever eat

babycakes chocolate cake, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

As I walked the streets of the Upper West Side during my trip to New York, I was disarmed to see so many Starbucks.

Now, don’t misunderstand me — I don’t see Starbucks as the evil empire. Hell, one of my best friends works at the corporate office here in Seattle, and she has informed me that Starbucks spends more money on health insurance every year than they spend on coffee. Impressive. They provide a service to the world, functioning as everyone’s third place, that space of comfort away from home and work. They installed comfy couches and fake fireplaces, and the people came flocking.

But does there really need to be a Starbucks every five blocks between 116th and 34th Street? And why are they all full, all the time? Doesn’t anyone in New York have jobs?

(And why does Starbucks have to over-roast their coffee?)

One of the only disappointments of my recent trip to New York was finding how corporate the place has become. A block in the 90s looks like the same in the 80s looks like a block near Lincoln Center: Starbucks; Gap; Barnes and Noble. Throw in a nail salon, a sushi restaurant, and a pizza place, and there’s the entire block.

There are twenty more times independent bookstores and local music stores in quaint little Seattle than there are in all of Manhattan.

Even the grocery stores feel as though they are shaped from the same enormous cookie-cutter mold. D'Agostinos, Gristedes, and the Food Emporium -- they lurk on every other block, all with rather dispritingly limp produce and ill-lit aisles. Whole Foods has clearly invaded Manhattan, and that's an improvement over the other chains, in my opinion. But they also stalk like giant behemoths, a dazzling warehouse, a mini-mall of organic food, every one the same, and every one too expensive. My friend Kari and I stopped in the Whole Foods at the Warner Center on 57th Street to stock up on groceries for dinner that night, and I nearly fainted from the sensory overload.

Times Square (godawful)

Is it any wonder that this neon-blinking atrocity, which Hershey has continuosly blaring in the middle of Times Square, feels like a metaphor for me of how corporate parts of Manhattan are?

Of course, there are still independent food producers left in Manhattan. It's such an enormous place with a thousand little pockets of concentrated blocks, that there will always be a tiny store selling one item. Murray's Cheese Shop on Bleecker. Il Laboratorio del Gelato on Orchard Street. Yonah Shimmel, the Downtown Knish on Houston Street. It's always the independent food producers who interest me most. And frankly, their food always tastes better than the food of even the most enlightened chains.

I have discovered, since I had to go gluten-free, that most of the people who make gluten-free foods make great food. They all started with a sense of urgency, a real desire to make food that lingers in the memory with unexpected pleasure. Those foods come with fervency. A woman starts baking gluten-free cookies in her home kitchen. Everyone remarks, "These are fantastic. I wouldn't even know they are gluten-free!" Driven forward by the sense of joy her food is giving people, she starts delivering to local coffee shops. And then she decides to open her own bakery.

babycakes outside IV

I'm so glad that Erin McKenna followed that winding path, following the fervor of needing a memorable gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free cupcake. If she hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to eat at Babycakes.

Babycakes is simply the best little bakery I have ever stood inside. Tiny as a mini-muffin, Babycakes is just around the corner from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, on Broome Street. It makes sense that Ms. McKenna opened her daring little bakery in this neighborhood, historically the land of immigrants and enormous hopes. (And also some of the best food in New York.)

It's an improbable story. Told three years ago that she can no longer eat gluten or dairy, Ms. McKenna decided to cut out sugar as well. Most of America, of course, would immediately cry: "What else is there to eat?" Well, so much more. Determined to still eat comfort foods after a lifetime of birthday parties and baking with her mother, this feisty young woman started experimenting with agave nectar and cold-pressed coconut oil as ingredients. A whiz in the kitchen, she impressed her friends with how genuinely fabulous it all tasted. And thus, a bakery was born.

Ah, but not so easy. The loan she tried to take out for her small business fell through. And even though the little shop is no bigger than a thimble, really, this is still Manhattan. So she and her co-workers have been pulling twelve-hour days, working for little pay, and essentially just praying that people will come in.

People are coming in.

When I was there with my friends Monica and Gabe, people strolled and sauntered into the place at a steady pace. And how could they resist? The place is just so darned adorable -- there's no other word for it. There's a certain kitschy, girly sensibility to the bakery. The women behind the counter wear pink, candy-striper aprons. The walls are a pleasing pastel palette. And everywhere are nostalgic signs from the 1950s, talking about frosting shots and the inability to please everyone.

babycakes sign

As an indpendent woman in 2006, I feel blessed that I have choices that my grandmother and mother never had. They were obligated to be in the kitchen, cooking away all day. But me? I choose it. I have that luxury. For me, the signs and sensibilities of Babycakes were a way of paying homage to that generation, winking at them as we bake.

The morning I was in Babycakes was magic. After a brittle cold winter week, we had a warm Saturday morning. Everyone who walked into the bakery began smiling. I have to say, though, I'm sure that the enveloping smell of warm chocolate cake and tart lemon cupcakes mingling in the air enticed the smiles to emerge. Everything smelled wholesome and decadent at the same time.

We ordered a chocolate chip cookie and two cupcakes. Somehow, we resisted the gooey chocolate cake resting on the top of the counter. I had to take a photograph and let that take the place of throwing my mouth down and gobbling it all up in one bite. I restrained myself. But it smelled that good.

My friends and I walked out of the store, and into the sunlight. We took photographs on the sidewalk and laughed at ourselves. We bit down into our treats and murmured about their goodness. The cookie was crisp and thin, filled with oozing chocolate. And the cupcakes? Well, since I had already been to another gluten-free bakery that morning with my friends, and I was headed for a plane that afternoon, I let Monica take them home instead of eating them on the spot.

She reported joy upon eating them.

I ate well and gluten-free in a number of places in New York during my whirlwind eating tour. But in the end, I like Babycakes best. I only wish that I lived in the neighborhood, so I could visit its warmth more often. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and I want to support my sisters. But it’s clear that these women are — in spite of the money worries, the small space, and the tremulous feeling of the unknown — having a great time. And in the end, isn’t that what we hope to do when we make food? Make a mouthful of joy for someone.

Give me a Babycakes over a Starbucks any day.

248 Broome Street
between Ludlow and Orchard

independent food awards

I have awarded Babycakes this honor as part of the Indpendent Food Festival and Awards, of which I am proud to be a part. Here is a precis of the idea behind the award from our host, Hillel of Tasting Menu:

Food can be a wonderful part of life. A growing legion of people in the world think of every meal as an opportunity for a great experience. And yet, sometimes it seems like an ever shrinking number of people actually make great food. tasteEverything is dedicated to the idea that the more people share their great experiences, the more likely it is that the people who make great food will prosper and increase in number.

For more great food and opinions about it, check out the awards all week at Taste Everything. Go and read, then support your local food producers.

06 March 2006

sweet and savory

gluten-free madeleine, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I know. You’re probably thinking: Shauna, you’ve been home from New York City for over a week now. Isn’t that longer than you were there? You’re still writing about your trip? Aren’t you cooking? Don’t you have any more recipes for us?

(Goodness, you have a lot of questions.)

Yes, my dear readers, I do. And I’ll return to them soon, complete with new photographs. (Preview? Chewy, gluten-free peanut butter cookies.) But it always seems to take twice as long as the time I’m in New York to let go of my time in New York. So be patient with me, as I continue to reminisce.

Besides, there were just so many great places for this gluten-free girl to eat...

As anyone who has been reading this website knows, I’m not big on trying to find replacement foods for the orginal, glutenous foods I grew up eating. In this past year, I’ve spent most of my time discovering foods I never knew existed, or learning to cook polenta well, or focusing on the basics and perfecting them to exquisite tastes. I don’t miss packaged baked goods, or even the artisanal ones made at the bakery down the street from me. They don’t even really appeal to me anymore, especially now that I feel like I have a handle on gluten-free baking at home. So, during my trip to New York, I didn’t find myself wishing I could have a scone in a coffee shop or a little nibble of a cookie for dessert.


gluten-free ginger cookies (Happy)

Happy Happy Happy

Months ago, I told my friend Monica about Happy Happy Happy, a completely gluten-free, dairy-free bakery on the Lower East Side, after I read about it on Celiac Chicks. She reported back with fabulous results, thrilled to finally find some gluten-free baked goods in her neighborhood. After we had the spectacular lunch at Mogador, we wandered down First Avenue, more excited with every block at the thought of gluten-free cookies and baked goods. We crossed Houston Street and started laughing in the sunshine. Nearly elated, we walked down Allen and found... was closed.

Happy Happy Happy is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. (And according to their website, they are now closed until March 20th.) So if you’re going to go -- and you should -- plan your visit for the weekend. Otherwise, you’re going to have your mouth watered up for sweets and have nowhere else to go.

Luckily, I had one weekend morning in Manhattan before I had to fly back to Seattle. This time, Monica, Gabe and I walked to Allen Street in the sunshine, and walked into Happy Happy Happy. And we were, especially Monica and I, since we have to eat gluten-free. We ordered a chocolate-banana scone, two madeleines, and a mudslide cookie. And coffees. Happy Happy Happy not only sells coffee with its baked goods, but it also offers house-made soy milk. Nothing in the place has any gluten or dairy in it, you see. And for those of us who have to avoid either one -- or both -- this teeny sliver of a bakery is quite the boon.

The madeleines made perfect coffee-dunking cookies. The scone didn’t really have the flaky consistency of a real scone, or much softness. If you referred to it as something else, however, you’d enjoy it. And the mudslide was small, but dense with chocolate. After all those sweets, it was almost too rich. Now there’s a concept -- so many gluten-free treats available that I could turn some down!


Puff and Pao

One of the happiest times I had on my trip to New York was the cold morning I wandered around the Village by myself, searching for hot coffee and stumbling on fabulous food places. Desperate to find a good cup of coffee, I walked from street to street to street. When I finally gave up, I found Puff and Pao instead.

This tiny, sunny shop on Christopher Street sells cream puffs (forbidden) and paolitos (gluten-free). They also make them in separate ovens, so there is no cross-contamination. Paolitos, or paos as the shop likes to call them, are little cheese puffs. These were made from manioc flour and filled with New York cheddar or English farmhouse cheese.(Pao de quijo means bread of cheese.) Bite-size -- if you work hard to restrain yourself, you can make each one last for two bites -- and crispy, these were my most delicious discovery of the trip.

Standing in front of the glass case, I couldn't believe my luck. All these choices! There were chorizo paos, Chinese scallions paos, sweet Maui onion paos, basil paos, sun-dried tomato paos, and cracked pepper paos. Plus, about ten more. I just couldn't decide. So ordered a dozen.

I sat in the sunlight and bit slowly into each little pao, savoring the taste, and the light, lovely texture. How could I not love something packed with cheese, crispy on the outside, then wonderfully chewy inside? Especially when it was gluten-free.

Sigh. I could eat paolitos every day. Why does Puff and Pao have to be so far away?

I guess that just means another trip to New York soon.

Happy Happy Happy
157 Allen Street
(just below Houston Street)
(212) 254-4088

Puff and Pao
105 Christopher Street
212-633-PUFF (7833)

That's almost all of the New York reports. There's one more coming, on Wednesday. Come on back for that, when I reveal my favorite gluten-free place in all of New York City.

02 March 2006

the glee of gluten-free in NYC

Risotteria, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I was in the East Village last week, walking up 1st Avenue from Monica’s apartment on 5th Street to Danal on 10th street, I counted twenty-two restaurants in five blocks. I’m sure I missed some, too. (Sadly, Danal wasn't open for breakfast on a weekday morning, which is just one more reason to go back to New York soon.) And the array of choices: Peruvian, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Indian, Venetian, Moroccan, pizza galore, hippie organic fare, and a restaurant devoted only to desserts. (Ah, I tried to make into Chikalicious, on Shuna’s recommendation, but no go. One of my friends said that she has tried three times, but no room. I’m determined. So is she. We’re going to make it in some day.) That’s one of the parts about New York I love most -- the sense that the world is hunched on one city block, vying with each other for money, but somehow managing to exist together. Also, as a foodie, I’m dazzled. Much as I love Seattle, we don’t have any Ukranian diners open all night.

When I was staying with Gabe in Brooklyn, I was knocked out by the choices in his neighborhood: between Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill, a few blocks down from Carroll Gardens; mostly, it’s the Bergen stop on the F train. Lower to the ground than Manhattan, and filled with so many independent filmmakers and struggling musicians you could have hit them with a stick as you walked down the sidewalk, this neighborhood offered such a pleasing spread of eating choices that I grew a bit dizzy. We had a fabulous late breakfast -- with a bowl full of crispy thin French fries to accompany it -- at Cafe Luluc one day. It resonated with my taste buds for so long that I was tempted to just go back the next day, but Gabe insisted we stroll. Ack! The choices. I knew that I had really lost my mind to food blogging when I almost insisted that we eat at a corner restaurant with windows on three sides because the light would be ideal for photographing the food. When Gabe told me the food actually tasted better in the dark, funky place, I reluctantly agreed. He was right. Those chicken sausages with carmelized apples were fantastic.

When I was in the Upper West Side -- my old familiar home -- I could barely see sometimes for the food memories rising up before my eyes. Rotisserie chicken from Flor de Mayo, where the Cuban half of the menu is much better than the Chinese side, even though all the cooks and waiters are Chinese. Turkey burgers and giant green salads with thick balsamic vinaigrette from Metro Diner on 100th Street. Barney Greengrass for bagels and lox. Sal and Carmine's for a slice. Le Pain Quotidien for crusty breads and bowls of cafe au lait. When I met Carlos for brunch the first morning I was in the city last week, I was almost happy that Isabella's was packed, as usual, and we had to try somewhere new. With so many choices, I wanted a new food memory from this trip. We both relished the well-spiced Spanish omelettes at Cafe Frida -- and the bottomless cup of coffee, since I had not slept on the plane -- and as a whim, we ordered guacamole made fresh at the table with hot, homemade corn chips. Ah, I was back home.

With all these choices, unexpectedly, I found myself feeling grateful that I cannot eat gluten. At least that narrowed down the possibilities a bit. There were no H&H bagels -- and yes, I will admit to feeling a certain amount of nostalgia when I walked by the store on 79th and took in a whiff of that ineffable bagel smell. But that’s where it ended -- nostalgia. Thick slices of cheese pizza, folded over once; crispy potato knishes from Zabar’s; pasta puttanesca in Little Italy — they were now invisible to me. Instead, I focused on small restaurants that served food in season, ones that felt relaxed instead of rushed, restaurants with a definite sense of place. How did it work out? Beautiful.

I ate a wonderfully spicy Thai meal at a place called Seeda Thai, somehwere in Long Island, just off the E train at Jamaica Station. Actually, I couldn’t tell you where it is exactly, because Cindy drove me there, and even she needed the GPS system attached to her dashboard to navigate us there. But we walked in toward the end of the evening, grateful to leave the bitter-cold air, and found an entire Thai family spread out among three tables, eating their own dinners after an evening of making them for other. Our waitress listened carefully when I told them what I had to avoid (watch out for soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, or Maggi seasoning), and fifteen minutes later these generously sized plates of spicy seafood and jasmine rice arrived at the table. My first night in New York, and I was warm, full, and healthy.

Monica and I stopped for lunch at Cafe Mogodoro on St. Mark’s Place, where I ate the most tender, lovely lamb tagine I have ever eaten. Slightly sweet with golden raisins, with a touch of chewiness from the slow-cooked chickpeas, this lamb tagine was easily my favorite gluten-free dish in a traditional restaurant that I ate all week.

My friend Jackie and I wandered up Amsterdam, talking fast and trying to catch up on a year’s worth of stories. Without hesitation, I was heading us toward Genarro, my favorite tiny Italian place on the Upper West Side. I remember spending many a night in line, in the cold, waiting for the appetizer platter to appear on my table. When we arrived, I was shocked to find that the sliver of a place had become a solid chunk, now three times its size. Luckily, the food still smelled rich with garlic, prosciutto, and parmesan. And it didn't disappoint. We shared a good bottle of wine, and I ate sauteed chicken breasts stuffed with provolone cheese and oven-roasted tomatoes. Wen I showed the photo of this restaurant to my three-year-old nephew today, he said, “That was good food you ate, wasn’t it?” I’m training him well. Yes, it was.

Still, as well as I ate in places that don’t advertise gluten-free food, nothing could compare to eating at the three restaurants in Manhattan where I was handed gluten-free menus before I could think about ordering anything.

gluten-free breadsticks II


There’s simply no expressing the glee I feel when I walk into a restaurant and see gf all down the menu. I know that there is no way to express it, because Monica and I spent nearly our entire meal at Risotteria blathering to Gabe how great it was to be in this extraordinary place. The other part of the meal we spent exulting and exclaiming. Gluten-free breadsticks! Gluten-free beer! (A honey beer from upstate New York, slightly carbonated, which was disconcerting. It didn’t taste anything like the thick IPAs I used to drink or micro-brews I loved. But it was beer, and I was drinking it.) Gluten-free pizza! Risotteria is what it sounds like: a risotto restaurant. And much more.
Slim in size, so that you have to sidle to your table, this restaurant had every table filled, with people waiting three deep, the night I went to visit. And every table had at least one gluten-free customer, beaming, savoring her meal even more because she knew she was going to be well by the end of it. The women who had the table before us were in their 60s, two of them gluten-free, and all of them celebrating. “You won’t believe how good it is,” one of them said, as they passed us. “It’s my birthday, and I knew this was the only place I wanted to go.” We three wished her a happy birthday, then dove for the corner table they had just left. And then, something transpired that hasn’t happened to me in a long time in a restaurant: I had to look at the menu for five minutes before I knew what I wanted. Not because I couldn’t find anything that could be gluten-free, but because I had such a plethora of choices. Did I want a pesto-mozzarella panini on rice-flour bread? A pizza with anchovies? A spinach salad with goat cheese? Risotto with porcini mushrooms and gruyere?
In the end, we ordered a pizza, a pesto risotto, and a spinach salad for the table, and split them three ways. Gabe thought the food tasted fine -- then again, his parents had been in town for the week and had taken him places like Prune for dinner every night, so his taste buds were elevated -- but he clearly didn’t quite understand why we were so excited. We didn’t need him to understand, Monica and I. We were in gluten-free heaven. And then we had the carrot cake, which made us rise even higher.

Gobo II


A few years ago, I stumbled onto Gobo, in the Village, on the recommendation of a British friend. He had an impeccable food sense (read: really picky) and a strong stubborn streak for fiercely independent places. He was right, in this case. Gobo has a meticulously beautiful aesthetic, with warm lighting, long tables, and Buddha statues interspersed throughout the dining room. I enjoyed that dinner more than any other in New York during that visit three years ago. This time, now that I have to find gluten-free food, I assumed they might be able to help me, given their vegetarian mission.
So my friend Kari and I sat down for lunch. After she took off her coat, I asked her where she had found her elegant scarf. "France," she said, surely referring to one of the many trips she makes to France with her fiance.
"Ah, of course," I said, already laughing. "Those French. They do everything well."
At this moment, our tall, blond waiter approached the table and leaned down toward us obsequiously, and said, in an outrageous French accent, "'ello. My name is Matthew. I will be your waiter...." Before we could unfreeze our faces, he broke back into his flat American twang. "Nah, I'm just kidding."
I knew we'd be okay.
Much of the menu, as I scanned it, seemed possible. They serve organic, vegetarian food in small plates, from a variety of cuisines around the world. It's not quite raw cuisine, but it's close. After all, they call themselves "Food for the Five Senses," and that's not an exaggeration. More is at play at Gobo than simply serving customers meals, fast. There are organic juice cocktails, Vietnamese spring rolls, slow-cooked Malaysian curry stews, and desserts bereft of refined white sugar. I thought I would be fine.
But still, I had to ask. So I went into my typical spiel, a little obsequious myself, but firm. Before I reached the point where I have to explain what the heck gluten is, Matthew looked over my head to the hostess and said, "Honey, can I have the gluten-free menu?"
Oh my. I never knew how happy this would make me, before I stopped eating gluten. To have a restaurant that truly cares about food care enough to know the meals that I can eat? Well, let's just say I'm a generous tipper.
Better yet, when I asked the waiter if I could take pictures -- explaining about my website and why I write about this -- Matthew said, "Wait, what's the name of the site?" I gave him this address, and he said: "Oh, my best friend can't eat gluten. She's on your site all the time."
Now that was exhilarating.
And the food? Superb. We lingered for a long time, with avocado tartare, rice-pasta lasagna in a dark red sauce, and pineapple soaked in rum caramel and topped with vanilla ice cream.
This is not deprivation.

Gobo avocado tartare


I don't have any photographs from my meal at Rice, because the lighting is moody dark with little candles, the tables shoved in close together, and the entire place smaller than my apartment. No matter. Can a good meal exist even if I couldn't document it. You bet. Gabe suggested this place, for a dinner with our friend Yael and her boyfriend, Adam. He didn't know if I could find a gluten-free entree, but I assumed that with a name like Rice, I'd probably be fine.
Turns out I was right.
This lovely little restaurant is based on different kinds of rice: basmati, thai black, lebanese, and bhutanese red, to name a few. There are more than a dozen pan-Asian dishes, like chicken satay, Thai coconut curry, and even jerk chicken wings. I felt a little dizzy with possibilities when I read the menu, but I knew better than to decide anything before I asked.
The hip, sly waitress -- Rice is in Nolita, a small area of relentless trendiness that tries to act nonchalant -- looked at me through her tiny, black glasses when I started to explain gluten, then said: "Hold on a minute." When she came back, she handed me a small menu. I nearly cried when I saw what was written on the front: "Gluten-free Menu for Celiacs." Wow.
I was suprised to see that I couldn't order the Indian chicken curry with mango, bananas, and yogurt. What could be in there? But she explained that they used just a touch of flour to thicken the sauce. Thank goodness I asked. And for those of you reading who can eat gluten, imagine having to investigate every mouthful of food you eat. If you can imagine it, you'll understand why I felt in such safe hands at this place.
I ordered a thick corncake with queso cheese and spicy tomatoes. Instantly, I felt fine. The spices burst forth with bold intensity, each of them singular, all them working together. The warm lentil stew arrived on top of "green rice," which is rice infused with cilantro, parsley, and spinach. Wash it all down with a good bottle of spicy red wine and the laughter of close friends, and you have a damned fine meal.

Ah. Great meals in my favorite big city, all of them created by people who love food, people who wanted to make sure I enjoyed the tastes without spending the next days feeling ill. This gluten-free girl is feeling buoyantly grateful.

There are more places, of course. New York is an enormous city, so it contains a higher number of places that serve gluten-free food than almost any other city in the US. If these places don't work for you, try Sambuca, on West 72nd, which readers and fellow foodies recommended to me heartily. Next time. There is also Peter's Diner on the Upper East Side, which has an entirely gluten-free breakfast menu. The apparently fabulous Bistango has a gluten-free menu. Swanky Asia de Cuba on Madison Avenue caters to gluten-free customers as well.

And I'm certain I will find even more choices the next time I return to New York.

270 Bleeker Street

401 Avenue of the Americas (we all know that's 6th Avenue)
(there's also another one on the Upper East Side now)

227 Mott Street
(plus, three more locations)