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31 August 2006

(Gluten-Free) Blog Day 2006

Whole Foods pizza crust, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last year, on the last day of August, I woke up dreading the start of school. Weary and wary, I clicked onto my email after imbibing several cups of coffee. I really didn't need the caffeine, it turns out, because what I found waiting for me in my email -- and the stats counter of my website -- woke me up, immediately. On Blog Day, 2005, dear Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini recommended me to her readers. They arrived at my humble little site, just barely two months old, in droves that day. I was honored and floored. In fact, I remember throwing my hand over my mouth in disbelief, then jumping up and down on this blue exercise ball I use for my office chair. "Me?!" I wanted to shout, like Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas. "You chose me?"

A year later, I'm honored to say that readers are still coming by in droves. Maybe some of them are repeat readers from Clotilde's site. Hundreds of other blogs have since listed me on their links list. There have been awards and recognitions beyond what I could have envisioned then. I have a literary agent now. And there is the Chef, who is far better than the love story in words I have been sharing here. But enough of you have been commenting on those stories here that I know it's reading well and drawing people back. (So strange to think of my own life as a good story, but there we are.) Somehow, my little blog has become one of the recognized websites in the world. I don't know how it happened, but I'm grateful.

Now that it is Blog Day, 2006, I would like to recognize some sites that have been catching my eyes. Literally, there are dozens I return to, again and again, many of which were birthed within the last year. Everyone should be reading Tea and Cookies, for example. And how could I not recognize the greatness of Shuna at Eggbeater? But if I start the list of blogs I love, I will be here all day. No one wants to read a post that long. (Believe me, I realize that I have written some longs posts in my time, but this one would top them all.)

And so, for the benefit of the swarms of you who have been coming to this site after seeing my spot on the Food Network, I would like to offer a slightly different view this year. This year, I am honoring Gluten-Free Blog Day.

To my knowledge, when I began this site in May of 2005, mine was the only gluten-free blog in existence. I'm sure I could be wrong, but believe me, I searched for friendly faces after my celiac diagnosis. A friend of mine who is a painter always says, "You must create what you wish you could experience." And so, I did.

Now, however, I am happy to report that there are plenty of us out here, writing up our recipes and sharing our stories. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are more and more recognized in this culture. I'm thrilled if my little segment on The Food Network has spawned even more awareness. (And from the letters I have been receiving,I gather that you are all happy it has too.) But I am certainly not the sole expert, or even an expert at all, on how to live gluten-free. We are not alone.

Recipes from a Gluten-Free Goddess

Karina consistently inspires me with her beautiful food and her awareness of the world. She is a painter, a poet, and a sensitive woman, who shares herself in pithy prose and gorgeous photographs. When she began her blog, Karina was living in a small town in New England. Now, she is living in northern New Mexico, and her writing and photography has grown even more expansive under that enormous sky.

She focuses mainly on vegetarian foods, made simply. And I have to sigh and say how much I agree with her tagline on the top of the blog: "Life is short. Make every day delicious."

I am Gluten-Free!

Ellen has a naturally curious attitude toward life, full of enthusiasms and eagerness to tackle her gluten-free lifestyle. After all, look at the way she declared herself in her blog title! As she takes gluten-free baking classes and makes gluten-free waffles from scratch, she shares herself with us. Clearly, as is true for all of us who are living gluten-free, Ellen is living a process of discovery. She is consistently cheerful and willing to try any food, as long as it doesn't contain gluten. As well, her website offers a lengthy list of places to obtain celiac information and gluten-free food products.

Wheatless Bay

This is a blog the way they once were: daily; in shorthand; and mostly meant for personal use. The couple from Southern California that runs this blog is clearly keeping this website as a record for themselves, of what they have eaten and how they have grown. However, for anyone who needs to eat gluten-free, this is an invaluable resource for food ideas.

I like their philosophy: "We eat well as a gluten-free household. With a few exceptions, our philosophy is that eating excellent foods that just happen to be gluten-free is a more satisfying approach than modifying baked goods to lackluster results. The cuisines of the world are full of more fabulous (and co-incidentally gluten-free) dishes than we could ever eat in a lifetime, anyway."


Gluten A Go Go

How could I not love a blog with a name like that?

"Sheltie Girl," as she calls herself, lives in New York state and has been living gluten-free since she was being treated for breast cancer. As is true for many of us, she was discouraged at first. As is true for a growing number of us, she decided to put that frustration into creation instead.

"I have been so disappointed in the gluten-free bakery items that I have found to purchase, or some of the gluten free cookbooks that I checked out from the library. In frustration, I decided to try out my own recipes and my blog my adventure. As I find new products to purchase, I will include our family's taste test results here too."

Check back for more of her eating adventures.

Something in Season

Finally, I could not complete this list without mentioning Brendon. He and his Dear Wife (DW on the blog) clearly eat well. I love Brendon's emphasis on farmers' markets, eating local, and eating in season -- those are passions dear to my heart as well. He has a voracious appetite for life, and I'm certain that everyone reading will enjoy his discoveries.

That's five. There are -- wonderfully -- more than five other gluten-free blogs in the world. I couldn't include them all. However, if you live in New York, in particular, I would like to recommend David Marc Fisher's blog, Gluten-Free NYC, as well as the fabulous stylings of the Celiac Chicks. Those girls have been publishing their website for nearly three years now, far longer than me. Their site has never really read as a personal blog, however. It's far more professional than that. I have been relying on it all along.

And just under the wire, before I posted this, I received an email from a new blogger named Elwood City, who has just begun publishing a blog called Gluten-Free Gastronome. She is on a mission to learn how to bake, using only Jowar flour (or sorghum flour, as it is more commonly known). Now there is something I never tried.

That's what I love about this gluten-free web world. It is spacious enough for everyone.


I have to admit, I am spoiled rotten around here. The Chef takes care of breakfast every morning, in lavish attention to detail and taste sensations. At night, after we drive home from his restaurant together, he breaks out the most interesting food in the fridge and makes up dinner on the spot. Every time, that meal astounds me.

So, I am not doing nearly as much cooking these days as I did this time last year. Luckily, there are still lunches, and late afternoons to make soups and try out new recipes. Every day, I am still in the kitchen, concocting and playing, listening to music and dancing in front of the stove.

However, it has been unseasonably warm this summer in Seattle. Even I find myself rarely wanting to cook in the hottest part of the day. Mostly, when I am my own, writing, I make elaborate salads, or I nibble from the fridge. Even, sometimes, I throw together food that arrived in packages. (I know. I am aghast as well.)

If I am going to eat packaged, gluten-free food, I still want it to be the best. And so, for the late-summer pizza you see pictured above, I used a pizza crust from Whole Foods. As much as I may disdain chains, I cherish the fact that Whole Foods has created an entire gluten-free bakeshop and supplies the nation's stores with wholesome gluten-free goods for us to buy. Of course, given that supply is limited and demands enormous, the prices are exorbitant. However, once in awhile, I splurge. These pizza crusts are worth it. They are flaky and chewy, with a good crunch when they are almost burnt.

Amy's Foods rock. That's as bluntly as I can put it. After a childhood of eating overly salty tv dinners, I never thought I would recommend frozen foods on a gourmet, gluten-free food blog. However, the frozen foods from Amy's Kitchen taste much better than the ones I ate in childhood. Even before I realized I had celiac, I ate these when I was in a rush. And in the first few months after I was diagnosed, I relied on them. They have an entire line of foods marked gluten-free, as well as a section on celiac disease on their website. For those of us who have to eat gluten-free, this is packaged food without any guilt.

And so, rather than a recipe, per se, I offer here a gluten-free late lunch, based on the tastes of late summer. It satisfied me.

One gluten-free pizza crust from Whole Foods
One-quarter cup of Amy's puttanesca pasta sauce
A handful of heirloom tomatoes, picked at the peak of season and sliced
Fresh mozzarella cheese, enough to cover the pizza crust
Fresh chevre
A drizzle of good olive oil
Fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. After fifteen minutes, throw in the pizza crust for a few moments, bare and baking. Pull it out when it starts to brown.

Spoon the pasta sauce on top, letting it soak in a bit to the browned crust. Try a few more spoonfuls. Layer the thick slices of fresh mozzarella on top, in concentric circles, or any pattern you want. Dollop on the fresh chevre. Drizzle on the olive oil, liberally. Perhaps you might want some salt and pepper. At the last moment, layer on sprigs of whole thyme.

Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and you just can't stand it any longer. (That will probably be between eight and ten minutes. Stand by the oven to watch it.)

Eat, contentedly. Savor it. Slowly.

30 August 2006

when life hands you plums.....

Italian plums I, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Autumn moves through the air these days, even though it is just past the middle of August. In the mornings, the sun rises just a touch later than it did last week. The warmth of the day feels like an echo, an old memory instead of a present moment. The sky over the Olympic mountains settles into darkness more quickly than it did in June, when light lingered until well after 10 pm. Within a few weeks, summer will clearly be done.

Normally, I flinch against these days, these days of transition and fleeting sunlight. The incipient chill in the air signals the end of long days of freedom and a return to the alarm clock. This summer, in particular, has been so extraordinary that I simply don’t want it to end. Long mornings with the Chef, eating gourmet breakfasts and reading the paper, studying menus of our favorite restaurants online, walking through the neighborhood holding hands and chatting happily. We flew to Tucson for a birthday trip with his marvelous parents, three days of laughter, driving around the neighborhood in a golf cart, and lightning storms that split the desert sky in half. We drove to the coast of Washington, sipping on Slurpees and singing, then drove in go-karts, played miniature golf, and trash talked with each other during video games. (Also, there was the ocean.) We have walked in the long grass of Discovery Park in the late afternoons, sat atop the grassy hills of Gaswork Park at midnight, and lingered long in the sand at Madison Park beach after he is done cooking for the night. We have laughed and looked into each other’s eyes and stayed up late at night talking in bed. We have eaten better than I have ever eaten in my life.

Why would I want summer to end?

But if the Chef has given me anything — besides wide-open love — he has taught me to appreciate the moment even more than I did before. When we were driving away from our home the other day, and the cooling winds of autumn came through the sun roof and ruffled our hair, I instinctually flinched. Before he could notice me, he shouted out, with school-boy glee, “It’s fall!” When I started to complain, he looked at me and said simply, “Comice pears. Wild mushrooms. Butternut squash.” I laughed and felt immediately better. Oh, that’s right. The earth has its reasons.

With this in mind, I was stopped at the front door of Ken’s Market when I meant to go in to buy milk. Sitting in a little bin before me? Italian plums. I discovered these last year, in between summer and autumn, when I was new to the joys of farmers’ markets and buying fruit when it had just become available. I bit into their dusty skins and swallowed their slithery flesh for days on end. Inspired by a story in The New York Times, I made an incredible plum crumble that made everyone moan. I made it again. And then, Italian plums disappeared from the stores and stalls of the farmers’ markets, and I had not seen them since.

I don’t eat anything out of season anymore. I stick to that rule, steadfastly. Before I went gluten-free, I did not pay attention to my food the way I do now. In fact, I often bought pale tomatoes in January, their fat pink globes taunting me in the taste. Now, I only eat fresh tomatoes during this time of year. Soon, they will be gone. I miss them, in January, when I dream of that plump red goodness. But when they return, I devour them until I am sated, happy for the chance to eat something when the earth wants it to be eaten. And so, when I saw the Italian plums for the first time this year, I snatched up a pound immediately.

Then I walked back home and made some plum crumble for the Chef. He moaned and smiled and asked for more. I love making food that he loves.

A few days later, by some wonderful coincidence, a 33-pound box of Italian plums arrived at our door in the arms of a Fed-Ex man. Now, I know this doesn’t happen often — it has certainly never happened to me before — but this is one of the unexpected joys of having a food website. I am often sent free food and promotional items. Most of the time, I make no mention of that food in these pages, because it simply doesn’t meet my standards. But who could refuse a 33-pound box of Italian plums? This nice man named Eric read my website awhile ago, noticed how glowingly I wrote about my Italian plum crumble, and offered to send me some of the Italian plums from Blue Mountain Growers in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, the farm he represents.

There must be something about the sun of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, because these Italian plums are gorgeous. Their dark purple skins are stretched taut across their fleshy yellow innards. Every bite brings globules of juice and tartness. And I can strip every shred of flesh from the little wooden pits, so that nothing remains but the echo of dusky plum taste. I could eat five or six at one sitting, and not yet be done. I have.

Still, even if we eat ten handfuls a day, the Chef and I could not possibly finish a 33-pound box before all the plums go mushy. So we have plans to make jam. We have been handing out bags of plump plums to friends and employees at the neighborhood coffee shop. We have eaten enough crumble that we grumble at the thought of taking one more bite.

Driving the Chef to work one day, I said to him, “What do I do with them?” He suggested a savory sauce, softened and sweet, for on top of meat.
“Pork,” I said immediately. And he nodded his head vigorously. I had chosen well.

And so, on Friday, my dear friends Molly and Brandon ambled up the stairs of our home. Sadly, the Chef was at his restaurant, cooking food and making people happy. But we raised glasses of champagne in his honor. We were happy with each other. We sat at the little table by the window and gawked at the vivid red streaks above the Olympic mountains, as the sun set earlier than it had the day before. We talked of difficult friends and literary agents and catering jobs and computers. We laughed. There was a romaine salad with a lemony dressing. There was chocolate mousse. But first, there was the plum sauce, warmed and slightly sweetened, which I had made with the Chef’s cell phone instructions. It lay draped across seared pork chops. (Brandon ate his over a grilled piece of polenta, since he has never eaten a piece of meat in his life.) We dipped our forks into its jammy goodness, then filled our mouths with the taste of early autumn.

No one was complaining about the end of summer any longer.


plum sauce on pork chops

I can't help it. Whenever I hear the phrase "pork chops," I always think of this moment from the Brady Bunch when Peter Brady said slyly, out of the side of his mouth, "Pork chops and applesauce." What was the reference? I only vaguely remember something about him pretending to be a hard-boiled detective. But I have remembered the intonation so well that I still mutter "...and applesauce" every time someone says pork chops.

(Don't even let me mention the word phenomenon and a certain little rhythmic song from Sesame Street. If you are about my age, your brain is singing it right now.)

And so, perhaps this recipe will help me extricate that broken-record repetition from my mind. Pork chops and plum sauce. The tartness of Italian plums, with a resilient sweetness, softened by warm butter, enhanced by puckery orange juice -- this sauce lingers in the mind long after it is gone. Long after these chops left our plates, long after Molly and Brandon left our house, the taste stayed with me. Pork chops and plum sauce. It has a certain resonsant ring to it.

Now, if only I could invent a phenomenon sauce.

Two tablespoons of high-quality, unsalted butter
One red onion, finely diced
Twelve Italian plums, slivered into quarters
A handful of sugar (about one-quarter cup, if you want to be fussy)
A glug of white balsamic vinegar (two or three tablespoons)
Half a glass of orange juice (or half a cup)

Melt the butter over medium-high heat, being careful not to brown it. When it has melted and becomes bubbly, tip the diced onion into the skillet and stir it frequently. As the onion becomes soft and translucent, add the slivered plums and sautée them for a few moments. When the plums have started to grow soft and sag, add the handful of sugar and the glug of white balsamic vinegar. Stir and cook, simmer and allow the plums to become fully softened, until the flesh yields easily to the fork. Add the orange juice and stir and sautée some more, until the entire mixture has congealed and smells so good that you can no longer resist it.

Spoon the plum sauce over pork chops you have seared in a skillet, then thrown in a 500° oven until they have reached at least 155° degrees. Enjoy the crispy bits and juiciness even more with this plum sauce dripping down the sides of the chop.

Say aaaaahhhhh.

Serves three, amply.

19 August 2006

Love in Every Bite

DSCN8304, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Sometimes, all it takes is one bite.

For weeks on end, the Chef and I had been moony in love, head over heels, dazzled and dancing, happy as clams. And not just any weeks, but weeks of swooning every night, eating in the best restaurants in Seattle, making roasted chicken in my kitchen, sampling potato-leek soup with truffle honey and parsley in his. Days felt like dog years — stretched out into happiness and secret inside jokes and mouthfuls of food so satisfying that we simply looked at each other and smiled. Weeks felt like months, because we packed so much living and loving and laughing into every day. We were in love and we knew it by heart.

And we had only known each other for a month.

In one of those rare twists of fate that yields only happiness, after the most spectacular year of my life, I was given more. The most spectacular gift of all: real love.

We both fell in love at first sight. Call us ridiculous romantics if you want. We don’t care. We know. Since we met online, we had been writing for weeks before we met. Before we met, he had read most of this website — certainly a fairly strong indication of who I am. When we finally met in a coffeeshop in Seattle, early spring sunlight seeping through the windows, and saw each other across the room, we knew. It may have taken us weeks to admit it out loud, but we both knew within a minute. How? He just felt familiar. He felt like a friend. He felt like someone I already knew. Like the sweetness of sunlight breaking through the clouds. Like my favorite pair of jeans, worn down comfortably in all the right places. Like my favorite recipe, the one I instinctually start to make when I need everything to feel easy and taste like layers of joy.

I knew, immediately. Honestly. Throughout my life, I have listened to other people’s love stories, avidly. And whenever couples in love — sometimes for twenty years or more — told me they knew at that first meeting, I always interrogated them, “How did you know? What did it feel like?” They always spluttered and wandered, trying to wrap their words around the ineffable. No one could ever explain it to me properly. So forgive me if I cannot explain it to you now. All I can say is that it felt like a sigh of relief, like breath, like a taste of something deeply familiar and yet new at the same time. It felt as though everything in my life shifted, and I was finally standing on solid ground.

He has told me repeatedly that he felt the same. He felt that he loved me already, before we met. But he hesitated, because how much can anyone trust words on a page? However, I know now that he hung my photograph above the hood of his restaurant stove before he even saw my face in person. When he saw me in person, he knew. We met in a coffee shop, and I sat at a table, working on a piece for this website, content to let him come to me. (You see, I already knew we would be spending years talking. What was the rush?) After standing in line, waiting for his grande latte, he moved to the station with the sugar and milk. At this point, I moved toward him, to finally say hello. But I looked at the glass container of sugar in his hand, pouring a white stream of sweetness into his milky coffee, for at least thirty seconds. Without hesitating (or even saying hello, really), I slapped him on the arm, and said, “Hey, do you want some coffee with your sugar?”

(And immediately afterward, I thought two things: “God, that was rude. And oh damn — I just hit him on the arm, so now he knows I like him.” And immediately afterward, he thought, “Oh god, she’s a smartass. I’m in love.”)

So you see, our love affair began with tastes: dark and rich, full of creamy goodness, and wonderfully sweet.

After two weeks of this — and other stories I do not want to share here, or at least now — we uttered I love you into the darkness above us at the same time. We danced to songs that instantly became ours. And we did dishes in each other’s kitchens after three-course meals we had made together.

So, six weeks after meeting each other, we had already done so much living that we felt as though we had been tasting each other’s voices for months on end. We smelled each other’s stories and ran our fingers along each other’s laughter and heard each other’s jawlines and saw through the layers of years and right into who we had been as children. This was far more than love. This was it.

After the first night at my home, when we were taking the bus together downtown in the morning, we were nuzzling into each other sleepily. I was happy just to feel his shoulder under my cheek, smiling. Suddenly, he nudged me. I raised my head, then saw his finger pointing toward the couple in front of us. Leaning in as they obviously had been for sixty years, this older couple was still listening to each other talk. The Chef pointed toward them, then whispered into my ear, “That’s us when we are 85.” I started, then wiped the tears from my eyes. I knew he was right.

A few weeks later, after giggling and watching passengers together and whispering in each other’s ears, we stepped off another bus, headed toward something unknown in the sunlight. Before I left, I heard the man with the white cane and a sweet smile on his face say loudly, “There goes that couple in love!” Even a blind man can tell how much we love other.

(And yes, I swear that story is true.)

And so, when we spent our first long weekend together — the both of us free from work for a few days — we already knew we had years ahead of us. What was the rush to say what we would do next when we knew? Why not sway with the taste of what we were experiencing instead?

But the weekend was glorious, in the most mundane way. We went on long walks. We read the Sunday paper in bed. We went grocery shopping, which always excites us. We watched the South Park movie and episodes of MASH. We talked and danced and laughed. For days, I cooked for him, since he cooks for ten hours a day at work. He was patient. I’m not as good as him. However, no one ever cooks for him, since he’s a professional chef. He was truly grateful for my Moroccan lentil soup and fresh crab and scrambled eggs. I watched his eyes close in pleasure, and I felt more gratified than after any piece I had ever written.

However, by Monday night, he could no longer stand it. “I’m going to cook for you,” he said. When I protested that I wanted him to not have to work, he said, “This is not work. I want to cook for you. Sit down and watch.” And so I did. I watched him chop up slices of bacon into tiny pieces, all of them even. I watched him sautée and whisk and mix and wilt. I watched him lean back and dance with a skillet, as he tossed the food without a spatula. (Ooh boy, that impresses me.) I watched him wind his way through our meal, smiling.

There was a piece of pork tenderloin, wrapped in bacon and sprigs of rosemary, seared fast then thrown under the broiler. But honestly, neither of us paid too much attention to that. Instead, the Chef kept saying, “Wait until you try this salad.” He was making some French concoction, with frisee and bacon and a poached egg. (I’m a poached-egg girl, which he didn’t even know then.) He asked me to sit down on the couch, and wait. So I did.

When the plate arrived before me, the spidery frisee sitting crouched on the plate, the poached egg glistening and jiggly, and the indescribable smell of warm bacon vinaigrette wafting up toward me (warm and rich and touched with vinegar), I nearly fainted. He grinned as I moaned out at the sound of it. We put on the dvd of one of my favorite comedians in the world, and we started to sit back and relax.

And then I took my first bite.

It tasted like France, my first taste of freedom, walking down the Champs des Elysees by myself. It tasted like childhood, with the sharp taste of smoked bacon. It tasted like comforting Sunday mornings, with the poached eggs. It tasted like a bite of vinegar, a crunch of pale lettuce, a richness of mustard, a depth of something I couldn’t quite name. It tasted like love. It tasted like the life between us, and everything yet to come.

“Oh F——,” I spluttered, then looked over to see the Chef beaming at the sight of me enjoying his food.

And then, without planning it or thinking about the consquences of the question I was about to ask, I said to him, with urgency, and a hint of irritation that it had taken me this long, “Would you just move in with me?”

And tears formed in his eyes, then he said, “Okay. Of course I will.”

And so, he did.

To tell the truth, this happened months ago. We rise together every morning, then make a fresh pot of coffee. I pour milk into his cup and watch it swirl in creamy wisps in the blackness. And then, I reach into the blue sugar bowl for some white sweetness. Before I left for Sitka, I left him little notes on pink Post-It arrows, all throughout the house. In the sugar bowl, I left him a note, “Would you like some coffee with your sugar?” It still sits there, and every morning I see it and laugh before I bring him his overly sweet coffee. The Chef has been living with me long enough that it feels almost like a distant dream — the days when we didn’t know each other. We have made a life together, and it daily tastes of joy.

Why have I been holding this story? After all, there were days when I first started this site that I made something for dinner then posted about it that night. But, now that I have so many readers, and my segment is running on the Food Network three times a day, and thus I am being wonderfully bombarded with fan mail (I’m going to answer all of you; I promise), I’m suddenly aware of how public site this website is. And, now that I’m daily, deeply in love with a man who makes my heart leap with joy, I feel the need to protect him, and our lives, a little more closely. He is happy to show up on these pages. In fact, it thrills him to bits and moves him to tears every time he reads one of my posts. Still, most of what happens between us needs to be private. So, you may not hear about everything right away. But you will, eventually.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this image. When the Chef comes home — to our home — from a day and evening of creating in his restaurant kitchen, he immediately enters our spacious kitchen and stands in front of the stove. I have stopped protesting that he shouldn’t cook again after all those hours of work. He wants to cook for us. And every night, as he steps back and dances with the skillet, he makes up something new for us. A different recipe every night, made up on the spot. And with his permission, I’m going to start giving them to you, on the pages of this website.

That’s the thing about real love — it only spreads outward. Like the way he wanted me to taste this marvelous salad, and it compelled me to ask him to move into my home. Our home, now.

Our home.


Frisee salad with warm bacon vinaigrette and a poached egg

One head frisee
Two slices of high-quality, smoked bacon
One tablespoon canola oil
One shallot, peeled and finely chopped
Four teaspoons red wine vinegar
One-half teaspoon Dijon mustard
Two eggs
Pinch of salt and pepper (to taste)

Remove the core of the frisee lettuce. Wash the frisee thoroughly, then dry it entirely (with either a salad spinner or an absorbent towel). Let it stand on the counter while you complete the rest of the process.

Cut the bacon slices into 1/2-inch pieces. Sautee them in the tablespoon of canola oil until the bacon pieces are crispy. Take the bacon pieces out of the bacon fat and set them aside. Save the reserved bacon fat for later use.

In the same skillet, with a skim of bacon fat at the bottom, add the finely chopped shallot. Sautée the shallot pieces until they have absorbed the bacon fat and have turned translucent.

Add the four teaspoons of red wine vinegar into the pan with the shallots. Whisk the mixture to loosen the goodness of the shallots at the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the Dijon mustard. Take the mixture off the heat, to ensure the mixture does not begin to reduce.

At this point, begin to poach both eggs. (For a sure-fire technique for poaching eggs, check this link.) This should take about four minutes.

Pour four tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat into the skillet. (If you do not have four tablespoons, because the bacon you chose was lean, then make up the difference with canola oil.) After a few moments, whisk the mixture of shallots-vinegar-and-mustard into the heated bacon fat. Whisk vigorously until it as become a coherent mixture. Season with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Lightly dip your finger into the vinaigrette to taste for seasoning. Adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste. (However, leave it a little less than perfectly salty. The bacon pieces will add more salt to the melange of tastes in your mouth.)

Heat the vinaigrette to a lovely warmth (one to two minutes). Add the washed frisee to the pan with the warm vinaigrette and toss it around until it begins to wilt. Add the reserved bacon pieces to the mix and toss it all with tongs. When the frisee is coated, and there is no more vinaigrette in the bottom of the pan, remove it from the heat.

Arrange the frisee on two plates, then drizzle any leftover drops of vinaigrette over the top of both. Place a poached egg on top of both piles of frisee, with a pinch of salt and pepper on top. (If you want a special treat, set aside a few pieces of bacon earlier, then place them on top of the poached eggs.)

Be prepared. This salad could change your life.

06 August 2006

"It's my birthday too, yeah."


My entire life, I have been writing and saying that series of numbers. I have written it on applications and forms to be filled. I have repeated it like a mantra when people have asked. And last spring, when I was so deathly ill -- before my celiac diagnosis -- I must have responded to the question with those numbers at least one hundred and fifty times. "What is the date of your birth?"


That makes today my 40th birthday. That's right. I am forty years old today.


Seemingly, much of this culture doesn't shout a hallelujah about turning forty. In the past few weeks, I have seen more greeting cards than I would care to remember about how to lie and be perpetually 39. Why? What is wrong with growing older? It just means I have lived.

After surviving last spring, the terrible time of lethargy and pain, I celebrate every day. I celebrate the fact that I'm alive, and kicking, and dancing. Going gluten-free was not a punishment for me. It was liberation. Since that spring, I have been spinning with energy, and singing.

And what a year 39 has been. Writing this site, finding new friends, gliding on the happy sighs of a life fully alive for the first time in my life. A literary agent, a spot on the Food Network. And then, gloriously, the love of my life, a dream man who makes me sigh with happiness every day -- the Chef. How could life be better?

How could it be better? Well, I'm going to keep living it to find out.

Lately, I've been quiet on this site. I returned from Sitka and just dived right in. I'll write more soon about what I have been doing -- a trip to Tucson to meet the Chef's parents; a reorginization of the house; cavorting in the sunshine with friends and family -- next week. Promise. Mostly, I was busy writing, finishing the absolute last draft of my book proposal. (And now? It's done! it's done! All fifteen copies are sitting in my agent's office, waiting to be sent out to editors. Fingers crossed, everyone. I'm hoping that you'll be hearing about a food memoir/gluten-free cookbook soon.) After typing in tiny bursts throughout the day, for days in a row, I just needed a break. So I ate and played with the Chef and lived my life without writing about it for awhile.

But I have to return soon. I have been so moved by the barrage of emails I have been receiving from people all over the country, after they saw my spot on the Food Network. I have been overwhelmed and enlivened by every one of them. It's clear to me how many of us are out there, doing our best to eat gluten-free and make our way through the world. So many of you have written to say that my spot made you feel encouraged, and hopeful, about the possibility of gluten-free living moving into the mainstream. I'm honored that I could do anything to help. And if you have written to me, and I have not written back yet, just know that I will. I have been taking the time to write to every one who writes to me, because you have been pouring your personal stories into my inbox for me to read. Thank you.

I would like to share one of the most eloquent comments I have received lately, something that brought tears to my eyes:

"My wife Jessica was diagnosed with Celiac in 2005. Since then we have bounced around the supermarket trying to find products without gluten. Sadly as most of us know most things have gluten in it in some form or another.

The other day we were watching the Food Network and saw your plug on the Power of Food. My wife teared up and looked at quote what she said..

"Honey..............See...Im normal"

My eyes swelled with tears and we both hugged one another and had a good laugh and cry. Thank you for your hard work and keep it up. There are those of us out there who truly appreciate the efforts you have gone through.

Thanks again."

My goodness, with experiences like these, how could I mind turning 40? Thank you, Daniel. I'm so happy that I could help.

So mostly, I greet the day with a Hallelujah. In the morning, I danced around the kitchen to "Birthday" by the Beatles, which the Chef called in and requested from our favorite radio show, Breakfast with the Beatles. Every year, from the time I was sixteen, I have listened to that song on my birthday, first thing in the morning, when I put it on myself. This year, for the first time, someone played it for me.

My dear friends Sharon and Gabe flew in for my birthday, from Los Angeles and New York City. Even though I have known Sharon for more than half my life now, we have not been together on my birthday since 1988. Gabe and I have been in separate places on my birthday for the past ten years. And of course, I have never celebrated a birthday with Danny, the Chef.

You see, this time last year, I sent out an email announcing my three-day, hell-of-a-bash, 40th birthday party. I called it, "To Hell with the Wedding Party." Since I couldn't seem to meet anyone who seemed my match, and I was so joyfully aware of lucky I am to be alive, I just decided to give up on that elusive search for the mate. Hell with it. Who needs a wedding to bring all my friends from around the world together?

Well, it turns out, I had to change the name of the party. Now, it's just a hell of a bash. It has been a beautiful weekend so far. Gabe, Sharon, Monica, and I went to Dan's restaurant on Friday night, where he has debuted his new Spanish menu for the month. We laughed on the patio, in the twillight air, then leaned down together over the food. And then we moaned, all of us, and stopped talking, so we could eat. Prawns with scallions and a garlic almond-puree (pictured above). Pork tenderloin stuffed with chorizo sausage, brined for days in cloves and sugar, then roasted, accompanied by saffron risotto and an organic heirloom tomato sauce. Lamb chops dusted with cumin and coriander, alongside roasted eggplant and a cucumber yogurt sauce. Braised black and white beans with a warm bacon vinaigrette and fried sage leaves. Chocolate mousse with amaretto. Ay god. I couldn't imagine a more beautiful birthday celebration, my dearest friends in the world with me, and the man I love more dearly than I ever imagined making us this food.

And this morning, there have been flowers, Beatles songs, and a breakfast of roasted red potatoes, wilted spinach, poached eggs, and perfectly sauteed bacon. (No fire alarms set off in my kitchen.) Much laughter. Soon, we are all heading to Discovery Park, where friends, family, and former students will fill an enormous green field with laughter and stories.

Of course, there will be plenty of great, gluten-free food.

8.6.06. Forty? Fabulous.

stay tuned to this spot for the recipe for a summery watermelon salad, perfect for a birthday picnic.