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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.


At 1:44 AM, Blogger Ilva said...

Reading this post makes me remeber how I was wept off my feet,we were swept off our feet when I met marco. And it is as right now just as was then. We too moved in together after a month and we got married within the year. that's 17 years ago and I don't regret it a second and YOU wont do that either. If it's right, it's RIGHT! Go for it and be happy!

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Sasha Lynn said...

So now that I'm bawling at my desk in happiness for you!

The night I met my husband, 12 years ago, I told my roommate I was going to marry that man. It took him much longer to figure it out, but I knew from the first moment.

Blessings on you both!

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Tea said...


It just gets better and better, doesn't it?

Hugs to you both. You make me happy.

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tale! Thanks for sharing and I hope that you can savor the love in your new home.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yay! Your love story is precious and wonderful, and I think we all know the need to keep that close and special and just for you. That you share it here makes me feel priveliged, and I'm so damn happy for you, someone I've never even met. Thanks for sharing your stories with us, all of them. They've given hope to so many of us out here going through our own tranformations, you know. And that recipe - sounds divine! It might just tempt me to eat bacon again someday!

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Allergic Girl® said...

wonderful story--thank you for sharing and what an amazing year for you!

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely story/life. I appreciate you put into words which few people are lucky to find. I highly recommend marrying a man who cooks.

Sure it confuses the neighbors to see me out mowing the lawn, pruning the trees, or replacing shingles on the roof, but then again - they don't come home to salmon with fresh dill, orange cous cous and 3 pepper salads. Before I met my chef - my stove was a good place to store my text books when they weren't strewn across the table of my tiny one room. Long live the chef, and thank goodness mine came into my life!

I could not help thinking there's a great tee-shirt logo idea in your words...."Dances with Skillets."

Be happy in life.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met my husband online, and it didn't take me long to realize he was something special. It is hard to describe that feeling of knowing. I would've married him the day I finally met him. I'm so glad you've found this level of happiness and love. I'm happy for you both!

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Angela said...

Shawna and Danny,

You make me smile and your lovely writing rekindles the love that I have for my husband! There is nothing like true love, and I am so happy that you have found it!

I would love to see you and Danny work out some recipes together with specific choice ingredients. For example... I get a box of farm fresh veggies (from a friend's organic farm) on my doorstep during the summer. They are FABULOUS, but a lot of times I am stumped by them and just don't know what to create...
(this week I have sweet onions, Japaneese Eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, basil, sweet corn, tons of zuchinni, crook neck squash and patti pan squash, red cabbage, carrots, etc.) I am sure that you and Dani could look in my pantry and fridge and make something fabulous in no time... when I am left blank.


At 3:01 PM, Blogger Food Allergy Queen said...

Ooh, what is that yummy-looking roast thing NEXT to the salad?

Thanks for the recipe. It suits my food issues as well as yours and looks dee-lish.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely story! Beautifully told!

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Soul Kitten said...

Rock on lady! Saw your spot on Food Network and I said "Hey! That's my friend!" ... you're every gluten free girl's friend -- keep it coming!

Congrats on the dual shack up ... my man and I just took the same plunge.

Ain't it heaven? To just come home. And know you can sink into someone who gets you?


At 5:48 PM, Blogger Kathy G said...

Beautiful story. I'm so happy for you!
You remind me of a couple I know who love to cook together! It's so romantic. :)

At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shauna I am so happy for you! Your story is so moving, thank you for sharing it with us.
Congratulations on finding the Chef. Cheers!

At 11:17 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

"Shauna and the Chef" is to Seattle as "Cooking for Mr Latte" is to New York? (sorry, apparently I've written one too many book proposals! LOL) It's been clear from the outside that you two are having fun, which is fun to watch. (and I say this as someone who was out picking blueberries bareoot by flashlight with someoneElse at 3am recently because we really wanted some) Be happy. Love well.

ps--i came here looking for recipes for a party and now i'm totally distracted! need tiny desserts and a pie crustish thing for an onion tart...

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be able to articulate your feelings so that others can just "see" is a wonderful gift! I'm glad I stumbled across your blog - may you continue to be as happy as you are now.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Radness! ha ha. I like that.
Good goin'.

At 11:10 PM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

Look at all that love and bacon! And listen... no fire alarm is going off.

happy happy love Shauna! And her's to having our minds and hearts open to all the possibilities of life!

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Ben said...

I've been reading your blog for a long time Shawna and this really touched me - it was such a heartfelt story! Thanks so much for writing and sharing ...

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Rachael Narins said...

So beautiful. Like you. I am speachless. Thank you for such a wonderful give hope to all us single girls!

At 9:28 AM, Blogger funwithyourfood said...

thank you for sharing that. I think it really touched us all and we're glad to hear you're filled with glee :)


At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just delighted for you both. Thanks for the salad recipe. Wanted to let you know -- the poached eggs link isn't a link yet.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger laceybediz said...

As a seattle-based, gluten free foodie/ nutritionist--- I LOVE your blog-- and I love that you incorporate love!!!


At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met huzzleban via Craigslist (thank you Craig Newmark!). I could tell three days later he'd been hit by the freight train, but I was a little more resistant. I'd been in love before, you know, and I wasn't sure I believed in the lightning bolt (yes, yes, mixed metaphors, whatever). I asked him to marry me one year to the day later. I'm still as crushed out on him as I was five years ago.

My man doesn't cook, he dances. That's good enough for me.

Here's to love and to love stories! It's so nice to know that we're not the only crazy ones.

When is FoodTV showing your spot??

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Alice Q. Foodie said...

What a great story! Love is a wonderful thing - especially in the beginning - enjoy it!!

At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As my former-chef husband says when I ask him how he made some creation taste so good, "It's made with love." It makes the difference!
Can you please post Chef's restaurant name? It is almost my birthday and I would love to have a new GF place to go in Seattle. ~thanks, Kris

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I ask my former-chef husband how he made something taste so good, he says it's "made with love." It makes all the difference.
Can you please post the name of Chef's restaurant? It is almost my birthday and I would love to try a new GF place in Seattle. ~thanks, Kris

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Amy Jo said...

Although you say that you do not have the words to describe love at first sight, I would have to say that you did a damn good job. I fell in love with my husband at first sight at the age of 21 and we have been together for 14 years now. We are more in love every day. Thank you for sharing your love of Chef, and of food, with all of us. You write wonderfully and I look forward to each of your entries. And since my son is allergic to gluten (although not celiac), I love your recipes.

Thank you....Amy


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