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30 November 2006

leftovers that left us happy

meyer lemon ricotta cheese, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The Chef doesn't care for leftovers.

Oh, he'll protest about this statement. He would never say it out loud. But every time we are wondering what to eat for breakfast, and I say, "Well, we could use that polenta I saved in small squares and fry it up into cornmeal mush," he'll scrunch up his face, then shake his head. The other night, we bought a fresh chicken and he made an incredible barbeque sauce with aromatic rice. We both oohed and ahhed as we laughed over Letterman. Last night, he said, "What's for dinner?"
"Well, we have the leftover quinoa from last, and we could do something with that. And there are the drumsticks leftover from the chicken," I said, trying to put a bright voice on what I knew would disappoint him. It was nearly 11 pm, snowing, and I just didn't want to stop at the store when we had food in the house.
He sighed, then made the best of it. And then, of course, when he roasted the chicken with olive oil and black rice flour, plus lots of pepper, he still managed to make it taste different than it had been the night before.

It's not that he is that picky. It's just that he loves food so thoroughly that he wants to experience a new taste every day. This is a man who crafts an incredible menu every month, worries about it for days before he starts it, loves experimenting and refining in the first days of the month, and then is bored with cooking it after week one is done. He keeps me on my toes.

Before I met him, I was perfectly willing to mull over the same stew for days on end. After all, I had made enough to feed a small army of semi-starved soldiers, and I lived alone. I had no choice but to munch on the same meal all week. But the Chef has this uncanny ability to know just how much food to make to create one filling meal and no more. Whenever he makes stock, he throws in bones and vegetables with seeming abandon. But when he pours the finished stock into the jug in which we keep stock, he has just enough to fill the two-quart container and no more.

Every time, I say, "How do you do that?"

So to the Chef, the idea of eating leftovers for several days is anaethma. Why not plan ahead and make just enough food for that night, then eat something entirely new the next night?

I am learning so much from him.

When I made the cream puffs with the meyer lemon ricotta the other day, I had far more cheese than cream puffs. What was I going to do? Well, I could have made another batch of cream puffs, but we had eaten our fill for that day. (I gave most of them away. Living the writing life is just too much temptation to nibble on cream puffs all day long.) What could I do?

Well, one thing on my side about food is that I am not afraid to throw ingredients together and make up dishes on the spot. I play. The Chef is entirely playful in his life, but his extensive culinary training makes it impossible for him to cook with the utter abandon with which I cook. That's how I have crafted most of the recipes on this site: with a what-the-hell attitude.

When he was at work, the afternoon following the cream puff evening, my mind suddenly uttered this: baked ricotta. Someone must have made it before, but I had never run across it before. Instead of searching for a recipe, I rushed to the kitchen and threw together what made sense to me: the leftover meyer lemon ricotta, an egg, and some more sugar. Without thinking too much — a process that usually stops me — I just threw it in the oven.

I should have followed my nose. I smelled the light lemony waft, the sweetness that followed, and then a definite over-warmth. But I was busy writing, deep in a paragraph. By the time I came to my everyday senses and remembered the ricotta, it had dried out, not the moist spread I expected. In fact, when I touched it with a spoon, it cracked like the top of a creme brulee.

However, when it cooled, I realized my folly had been smart in the end. A fork dragged across the top scraped the baked ricotta cheese into soft little fluffs. They looked like finely diced hard-boiled eggs. But they were sweet and lemony, like little beams of light against grey clouds. I loved them.

The next morning, I took them out of the refrigerator without the Chef noticing. I piled some on top of my hot cereal and invited him to take a bite. "Hmmmm....hey, that's good. What is it?"

I smiled.

This morning, I folded some into the crepes I made us for breakfast. Three days in a row with the same food, and he wasn't complaining.



Make the ricotta cheese the day before. In case you missed it, here is the recipe for that:

12 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
juice of three Meyer lemons
zest of three Meyer lemons
½ cup sugar

Combine all the ingredients together. When they have mixed well, put the ricotta mixture into a fine-mesh sieve and set it over a bowl. Let the ricotta sit in the refrigerator overnight. By the next morning, all the water will have drained from the ricotta, leaving a firm, lemony ricotta.

1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar

When this has finished, add the egg and sugar and integrate all the ingredients together.

Plop the ricotta mixture into a small baking pan, forming it into a rounded shape in the middle. It will probably slump a little during baking. Don't worry. This doesn't need to look perfect.

Cook in a preheated 350° oven for ten to twenty minutes. Check the cheese, frequently. If you want it soft — and yet still baked — with a spreading consistency, take it out after twelve minutes or so. If you would like it a bit drier, so that you can crumble it, leave it in for longer.

Makes about a cup and a half of baked ricotta cheese.

29 November 2006

It's snowing!

the Chef in the snow, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled post about gluten-free foods and various baked goods to inform you of this fact: it's snowing!

The news reports said it would only be freezing rain. We girded ourselves for the return to drizzly grey, incessantly. Instead, about 8 pm, the snow started swirling under the street lights. I called the Chef. He slipped outside. They closed the restaurant early, and I drove to pick him up, slowly.

On the drive home, he guided me. I had never driven in real snow before. But with him by my side, I feel like I could do anything.

At home, we danced in the snow, stuck our fingers in the street to see how much snow had accumulated (about two inches, or up to our middle knuckles), and threw snowballs at each other. He made the mistake of saying I threw like a girl. He got it in the chest. We giggled.

We can't help it. We're so giddy hopelessy in love, little kids and fully adults.

I'm convinced of it — living a life of food, where we dwell in our senses instead of the theoretical part of our brains makes us feel more alive. Everything tastes good.

Now, we are inside, after taking these goofy photos of each other. There is chicken roasting in the oven, sizzling in its own juices behind me. Red quinoa bubbles in chicken stock, with mustard and red wine. Baby bok choy, pumpkin seed oil, and a good bottle of wine.

See what the snow brings?

28 November 2006

when Chez Panisse calls...

gluten-free cream puffs, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

The other day, the Chef and I were driving toward his restaurant, ready for another day at the office (as he would say). It was the day after Thanksgiving, the day of feasting and overeating, so you would think we would be sated on food talk. Oh no. Not us.

He had printed off that week’s menu from Chez Panisse, and he was reading it to me as I drove. As is true for most chefs, I’m sure, my Chef is obsessed with other people’s menus. He stops at the front window of any restaurant we pass, even the ones we know are mediocre, and studies the specials and lists of entrees. We look up our favorite restaurants online and see what they are serving. The Chef would never copy a dish directly, but this studying does inspire some fabulous ideas of his own. (It’s much like me reading novels and MFK Fisher and other people’s blogs.) It’s an essential part of what we do. We never work alone.

So there it was, the day after Thanksgiving, and he is reading me one inspired dish after dessert after meal. Neither one of us has ever been to Chez Panisse, but both of us have always wanted to go. (Oh, perhaps the honeymoon?) As soon as I came to know the world of good food, I knew of Alice Waters and her endeavors. Of course, as soon as I started reading David Lebovitz’s wonderful, snarky blog (and then met him!), I knew that I wanted to go where he used to be the pastry even more. The Chef? It is one of his biggest dreams, to eat within that home.

He read fish dishes and local vegetables and inspired choices, all of which sounded fantastic. But I don’t remember them, because I heard something that made my gut twinge open. Meyer lemon cream puffs.

“Meyer lemon cream puffs?” I said, as we slowed to a stop light.

“Yep,” he said, intending to go on.

I didn’t hear anything else after that. Inside my head, I just heard, Meyer lemon cream puffs. Meyer lemon cream puffs.

The Chef saw my face and laughed. He knows me well now. He knows when some idea has taken hold.

I love Meyer lemons. Last year, I invented a Meyer lemon sorbet, which I have made many times since. I made simple syrups with Meyer lemons, lemon meringue pie with Meyer lemons, and sprayed their juices over meats and salads. When they were gone, I missed them. But now, it’s Meyer lemon season again. I’m in heaven.

Now, I have never made cream puffs before. I have only eaten them on special occasions. They always seemed like confections that only master bakers could make, even before I could eat gluten.

But in a continuing series of explorations in yes since I was diagnosed with celiac, I knew that I could not go the rest of my life without making cream puffs. Paradoxically, because they would be gluten-free, I did not feel any compulsion for these to be any good. No one expects that much of gluten-free baked goods anyway, right?

Last night, the Chef looked over my shoulder as I stirred a påte a choux, or a warm pastry dough, to form into puff pastry [oops! that should read cream puffs. thanks, lee]. Just the phrase påte a choux would have intimidated me before my celiac diagnosis. But now, I just know it’s water, butter, a bit of sugar, and salt, plus gluten-free flours, heated in a pot. That’s it. He helped me to know when it was done, how to cook the flour a bit more. And when I had finished the pastry dough with the eggs, he helped me shape the pastry into little dollops and slip them on the silpat. And then we watched them rise in the oven, hot puffs rising golden and warm, like little pockets of hot air amidst the cold.

And with the meyer-lemon ricotta, slipped between the cooled pastries? There they were — Meyer lemon cream puffs. I’m sure they were not nearly as good as the ones they served at Chez Panisse. But you know what? They were good. I could eat them, and I made them. That’s a damned fine feeling.

GLUTEN-FREE CREAM PUFFS WITH MEYER LEMON RICOTTA FILLING, adapted from Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten-Free Baking

½ cup water
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup white rice flour
1/8 cup sweet rice flour
1/8 cup tapioca flour
2 large eggs (or perhaps 3; see notes)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Spoon the water, butter, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as the butter is melted, add the gluten-free flours. Stir and stir until the ingredients are incorporated together. A crust will immediately develop on the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry — this is what is supposed to happen. That crust is a sign you are on the right track. When the mixture is complete, and has become a ball of dough, keep stirring and cooking for a minute, so that you can cook the flours in the ball of dough. Set the pot aside.

Move the ball of dough to a stand mixer. (I’m sure this will work if you mix it by hand, but we have a KitchenAid.) With the mixer running, drop one egg into the pastry dough and let it run until the egg has become incorporated. Drop the next egg into the dough, and continue to mix until the second egg has incorporated. (If it still doesn’t look right, add a little of the third egg.) Add the vanilla and stir.

The dough will be soft, but not runny. Ideally, you would spoon the dough into a pastry bag and push out little cream puff shapes on the baking sheet. However, two spoons will also do. Take a spoonful in one spoon, then scoop under it with the other spoon, shaping and molding, back and forth between the spoons until you have formed a soft, rounded shape. Drop it carefully onto the baking sheet. (Ideally, you’d use a silpat here. If you don’t own one, be sure to butter that baking sheet.)

Mix the remaining egg and milk together, beating lightly. Carefully, brush this over the tops of the cream puff dough.

Put the baking sheet into the oven and bake the puffs for twenty to twenty-five minutes. You will know they are done when they have puffed up and out, and the tops will be golden brown. Also, you should be able to tap the bottom of one and hear a hollow sound. Pull them out of the oven and set them aside to cool.

Fill with your favorite filling. For the Meyer lemon filling, see the ancillary recipe below.

Makes about ten cream puffs.


12 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
juice of three Meyer lemons
zest of three Meyer lemons
½ cup sugar

Combine all the ingredients together. When they have mixed well, put the ricotta mixture into a fine-mesh sieve and set it over a bowl. Let the ricotta sit in the refrigerator overnight. By the next morning, all the water will have drained from the ricotta, leaving a firm, lemony ricotta. Spoon this mixture into the cream puffs to make Meyer lemon cream puffs.

27 November 2006

a slice of warm cornbread on a cold night.

gluten-free cornbread, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last night, it snowed in Seattle. For those of you who live in the Midwest or the Northeastern part of the United States, this may not sound like much to you. But here, in our lovely grey-skied city, snow is an event worth mentioning. It seems to snow only once or twice a year, if that. Some years, it never snows at all.

(Of course, that means that anyone who drives here in the snow is suddenly a big, panicky ninny. More people abandon their cars by the side of the freeway in two inches of snow than I can tell without being embarrassed for my fellow Seattleites. The Chef, who comes from Colorado originally, continues to be amazed.)

This month is just a few showers short of being the rainiest month in Seattle history. That’s over 15.33 inches of rain, folks. It has poured and lashed and blown sideways and drenched us and continued, unrelenting, for twenty-five days straight. Normally, I proclaim proudly that Seattle rarely lives up to its outside reputation of raining all the time. Pshaw, I want to say. It’s practically balmy here. But you know what? This month? I was ready to take an ax to a tree and start hewing wood for an ark. Sheesh.

Yesterday afternoon, however, the black clouds loomed over the mountains, the sky swirled with wind, and the air nuzzled against our skin with cold fingers. The Chef looked up and said, “It’s going to snow today. You watch it.”

About four in the afternoon, as we drove back from an hour-long stroll through one of our favorite grocery stores, I saw white flakes swirling in front of our headlights. “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” Imagine me driving, and clapping my hands in front of my face in a dozen little claps, bouncing up and down in my seat. After the Chef put a hand on my leg to remind me to not do all this while I drove, he also giggled. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was laughing at me. A man from Colorado, driving in a car with a woman who grew up in Southern California, exclaiming over twenty-five flakes of snow.

But, it turns out, he was simply delighted. He loves how much joy I take in life. He loves how happy the simplest moments make me. He enjoys it because he reacts to life the same way. So, he was merely laughing near me.

Several hours later, after we had cleaned the kitchen and prepared dinner, we looked outside to see all the sidewalks covered in snow, the streets slicked with white, and flurries dancing under the street lights. “Hey, let’s go for a walk,” he suggested. Absolutely.

Bundled up and holding hands through heavy gloves, we walked down our familiar sidewalks transformed into white silence. We shook tree branches, remarked that the shadow of snowflakes on the ground looked like gnats dancing in abandon, and stuck out our tongues to taste the new snow. Seriously, we were like a montage sequence out of a romantic comedy. I know — we’re pretty sickening.

However, it didn’t take us long to turn to thoughts of food. “You know what I would love on a night like this?” he said, squeezing my arm. “Chili and cornbread.”

“Oh yes,” I said, our pace quickening simultaneously to reach home faster. “With sharp cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream.” He had already started marinating the pork tenderloin, so we would have to save the chili for another day. But the cornbread? We had all the fixings. Half an hour later, we were eating.

The night didn’t feel so cold after that first bite.

GLUTEN-FREE CORNBREAD, adapted from a recipe on the PCC website

½ cup white rice flour
¼ cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup sorghum flour
¾ cup cornmeal (like you would use to make polenta)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons rich, high-quality honey
2/3 cup plain, gluten-free yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons melted butter

Turn the oven on against the cold and let it preheat to 400°. Grease a square or round baking pan with your favorite oil or butter.

Mix the gluten-free flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set that bowl aside.

Measure out the sour cream, butter, honey, and melted butter. Mix them all together. Whisk in the eggs and beat them all together until the liquids have become a coherent mixture.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir it all together until just moistened.

Pour the cornbread batter into the pan and bake the cornbread for twenty minutes, or until the top has reached the golden color you desire. Let it cool for a few moments.

This cornbread is particularly good with soft butter and the same honey you used to make the batter.

Serves six.

26 November 2006

seven months.

seven months, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Late this morning — actually, pretty close to noon — the Chef and I left our bed and walked into the kitchen. Yes, we slept in late. But mostly, we lounged together, all morning long, listening to Breakfast with the Beatles and reading the newspaper. We both work hard — ten-hour days sometimes — so it was a welcome relief to finally have a Sunday with nowhere to go, no friends to see, no activities planned. We could be for each other.

When we finally emerged into the kitchen, the Chef took a look in the refrigerator. “Honey, I’ll be right back,” he said, his voice echoing into quiet down the stairs. I made us some strong coffee and checked my email. A few moments later, I heard him come into the kitchen as I typed away at the computer. When I turned toward him, I saw him pull two champagne flutes out of the freezer.

He had been to the store, to buy us navel oranges, and a bottle of champagne. While I ran over to kiss him, grateful for every moment, he squeezed some orange juice, then poured us mimosas.

“Happy anniversary, baby,” he grinned at me, clinking our glasses.

Oh, this man. How did I get so lucky?

Today is our seven-month anniversary. Last month, I posted the essay about us getting married. Today, our celebration has been more private. I am told that after we have been together for ten or fifteen years, we might not mark every 26th of the month. But you know what? I’m pretty sure we will. Because we were in our late thirties when we met and therefore lived most of our lives alone, because we have both been through hard times enough to appreciate the lives we have, and because we are both just ecstatic little kids at living those lives — we are going to keep celebrating. Every morning, we say I love you, the first moment our eyes are open. And every day, we say what has moved us. We are not waiting for later. He makes me tear up with his constant thoughtful actions, he makes me laugh hard seventy-four times a day, and he makes me the best food I have ever eaten. How could I not love this man?

We clinked our glasses and drank our toasts to each other. And then he set out to make us breakfast: gluten-free eggs benedict with prosciutto and hollandaise sauce made on the spot. Oh god, I cannot describe it. Eggs benedict in a restaurant never tasted like this.

And the rest of the day? Grocery shopping. Cleaning the kitchen (as you can imagined, this one is well-used). Eating a gluten-free cornbread I made up on the spot. Walking in the early darkness, through snow that has just begun to fall.

And at the moment, he is putting the finishing touches on a pork tenderloin he has been marinating for hours, in meyer lemons, ginger, clementine juice, tamari sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and cilantro. I am writing by his side, in the kitchen. He just dipped his finger in the reduction sauce he has made from that marinade (plus rice wine vinegar and chicken stock) and ran over to me to let me taste it. I felt like a baby bird, being fed from above. That taste — earthy, slightly sweet, unexpected depth, layers upon layers of surprises — it tastes like him.

It doesn’t require much to be happy in this world. It certainly doesn’t require a lot of money. We’re not rich, in cash at least. But in living? We feel like millionaires.

Anyone who tells you that living gluten-free is deprivation? Tell that person to change her mind. It’s just being alive.

Happy Anniversary, baby. I love you, forever.

25 November 2006

a palate cleanser

red pear, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I walked into the restaurant yesterday afternoon, bringing the Chef a big cup of coffee before I drove off to write all day long, I kissed him. And then he handed me one of these.

"Would you like a stark red crimson pear?" he asked me as he kissed me again.

His produce delivery had arrived, boxes of organic salad mix and locally grown herbs and arugula for the fish special. He had asked for five pounds of these, for poaching with the flourless walnut cake. Instead, they had sent an entire case. He had some to spare.

I took a bite, of its crisp sweetness, the skin a startling red against creamy white flesh. I smiled. It was the perfect palate cleanser after all that Thanksgiving food.

I drove off smiling, headed towards my writing.

24 November 2006

some of what I learned on Thanksgiving this year

gluten-free stuffing, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Every day, I learn more. And from yesterday's festivities:

-- make the pumpkin pies the night before Thanksgiving. Usually, I do this, without fail. This year, I was so busy writing and making cranberry relish and catching up on correspondence that I forgot. Just plain forgot! This is why I woke up at 7:12 in the morning, with a start, and bolted into the kitchen to make a pie crust, almost literally in my sleep.

-- if you run out of rice flour for that pie crust, a little teff holds it all together. The crust will be beige-brown before you bake it, but it will taste just as good.

-- waiting two hours in a ferry line to reach Vashon is infinitely better with the Chef in the car. Between kissing, laughing, telling stories of childhood Thanksgivings, and listening to familiar music, that time raced past us like the fat raindrops on the windowsill.

-- instead of worrying about composing a shot carefully, raise the camera to your eyes to capture it just as you see it. That's what the Chef did in this shot of the turbulent water off the front of the boat, spontaneously. Beautiful.

-- when you run out of regular sugar, powdered sugar really won't substitute in a pie. I should have remembered, because the morning before I had to use powdered sugar in the Chef's coffee. He said it made no difference. In a pumpkin pie, it makes a difference. Later in the day, Elliott took a bite of my pumpkin pie, turned to his mother, and said, "I want a piece of our pie, Mama." Oh well. At least it wasn't the gluten-free crust he did not like.

-- if you have another piece of the only slightly sweetened pumpkin pie, it actually starts to taste better than the regular pie. We eat too much sugar anyway. Rearrange your taste buds and you don't miss the sugar.

-- gluten-free stuffing, cooked with toasted cubes of the baguettes from the Gluten-free Pantry's French bread and pizza crust mix, is tremendous. Just tremendous. No one missed the gluten.

-- watching your one true love and your brother in the kitchen, cooking together, can stop your heart with happiness, for a moment.

-- the notion that one has to rise at five am to put the turkey in the oven — thus increasing the myth of mother as martyr — is poppycock. The Chef cooked our turkey in just about two hours, and it was golden-brown and juicy.

-- family feasts are moments of grace, when you are with the right people, in the right moment. That split second before everyone raises the forks and digs in? That is bliss.

-- gluten-free gravy that your fiance cooked, encircling mashed potatoes made from little butterballs that your brother grew in his garden, is a sight that will remain in the mind forever.

-- three-year-old nephews can dominate a family dinner with more delight than any other person.

-- when said three-year-old nephew asks you and your honey (his soon-to-be uncle) to pretend to eat baked slugs, stinky socks, limburger cheese, and piles of wasabi, you throw yourself into it and contort your face, just to hear him laugh. When you look over and see your favorite man beside you, holding your hand, and scrunching up his face to look as much a fool as you do, you fall in love with him even more.

-- it is possible to have an entirely gluten-free, gourmet Thanksgiving dinner, with not a hint of deprivation, and everything tasting of love.

-- your first Thanksgiving with the love of your life, with your family whom you adore, all of them together, as natural as breathing? Joy.

And how was your Thanksgiving?

23 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving, to everyone reading.

This year, I am so filled with gratitude that I cannot begin to list it. This year, I would like to say, simply: thank you.

For everyone reading who has written to thank me, to share recipes and ideas, and to inspire me to keep posting gluten-free goodness as often as I can: thank you.

For everyone who has written in the last few days -- and even today -- to tell me that you made your first gluten-free Thanksgiving with the recipes we have posted in the last week: thank you.

For my family, my friends, my book publishers, my agent, the clerks at the grocery store across the street, the people who have grown my food for me, the world: thank you.

And of course, my gratitude toward the Chef coming into my life this year knows no bounds. I have no words. Just, thank you, my love.

I hope that you all had a Thanksgiving filled with laughter, memorable food, and an ease of mind that allowed you to be here fully today.

The Chef and I would like to wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. We hope you felt filled with gratitude toward the world.

22 November 2006

a simple recipe for cranberry chutney

cranberries, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I know — it's the day before Thanksgiving. In fact, as I type this, it's after 11 pm the night before Thanksgiving. You have probably already made your cranberry sauce. In fact, some of you may have given in to temptation and bought those terrible cans of cranberry sauce, the stuff that comes out with the rings of the metal tin embedded in the sides. Ay god, that stuff is awful, once you have tasted real cranberrry chutney.

But, just in case you are still wondering what to do with those bags of cranberries, here's a simple recipe the Chef just showed me how to make. In fact, our batch is cooling in the refrigerator right now. So you see -- after 11 pm the night before? That's not too late.


1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 bags cranberries (or about six cups)
1 tablespoon citrus honey
zest of one orange

Bring the orange juice and sugar to a boil. When it is rapidly boiling, add the cinnamon stick and cranberries. Turn the heat to low and stir the cranberries, constantly, at first.

After ten minutes or so, the cranberries will start to pop and break down. Continue to stir, but a little less frequently now. Leave the pot uncovered to speed the process along.

After about half an hour, the cranberries will have popped, released their liquid, and started to reduce. At this point, add the honey and the orange zest, then pour the mixture into a casserole dish and spread it all out to one layer. Refrigerate overnight.

Serve at Thanksgiving dinner.

Makes enough for eight people.

21 November 2006

This is the gluten-free stuffing we will be eating.

gluten-free bread

Normally, I emphasize the foods that are naturally gluten-free. Why always long for bread when gluten-free bread will never taste as good as an artisan loaf made at the best bakery? There are three thousand meals out there that need never involve gluten.

However, on Thanksgiving day, I do like stuffing. Growing up, those morsels were always my favorite bites of the meal. Roasted turkey? Oh, of course. And, I always stole long strips of crispy skin off the golden-brown turkey as it was resting in the pan. Cranberries? I love their tangy tartness, all the goodness of the autumn earth. Pumpkin pie? Sure. My brother loves to cut the pie in quarters and take one-quarter of it for himself. Mashed potatoes? Oh yes. That was about my favorite part, almost, particularly when I would mound them up, add another dab of butter on the top, let it melt down to make a little volcano of molten butter, then run my fork down the sides and let it spill it out. Ever since I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when I was eleven, I have always made my mashed potatoes look like Devil's Tower, then looked up and said to my brother, "This means something." We still laugh.

But stuffing? Oh, the crusty bread, softened by the stock and covered in pepper. Some families love walnuts and sausage, cranberries and apricots, pistachios and red pepper. Whatever. I don't mean that flippantly — whatever you usually make, this recipe will probably adapt to it. But in our house — and now, the Chef is part of our house, and will be forever — this is how we will be making stuffing this year.

Gluten-free. Gorgeous. Oh, the stuffing.


2 loaves gluten-free bread, diced into one-inch cubes, toasted and cooled
2 large ribs celery, medium diced
1 large yellow onion, medium diced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Sautee the onion and celery in olive oil on medium-low heat until they are translucent. You will be able to smell the onions cooking at this point. (Take a deep whiff. That's a beautiful smell.) Add the garlic, as well as the rosemary, sage, and thyme. Stir these in and cook until you can smell the herbs, about one to two minutes. Remove from heat.

Bring the chicken stock to boil on high heat. Place the egg yolk in a medium-sized bowl and carefully ladle two to three ounces of the chicken stock to the egg yolk, slowly, while whisking the mixture. Add the rest of the chicken stock to the egg mixture at this point. (Ladling a small portion of the stock into the egg first, and blending it, will prevent you from having scrambled eggs.)

Add the cooled celery, onion, and herbs mixture into the stock and egg mixture. Toss the bread cubes into this mixture and stir it all around with your hands (or a spoon), to coat the bread. Add the salt and pepper and toss the bread again. Place all of this into a greased casserole dish (big enough to hold three quarts) and cover it with aluminum foil. Bake for twenty minutes at 425°, then remove the foil and bake for another ten minutes. Take a toothpick and stick it into the stuffing. If it comes out clean, the stuffing is done. If not, bake until the toothpick comes out clean.

Serves six to eight people, depending on their appetite for stuffing.

20 November 2006

This one is for Sharon.

Albert BrooksIn honor of my dear friend Sharon's birthday, I am posting this copy of my fifth-grade photograph. Yorba Elementary School, in Pomona, California, 1976. (As you can see, this was the year of the Bicentennial, and my school never let us forget it that year.)

In my family — and clearly Sharon is family — we refer to this era of my life as the Albert Brooks period.

That curly hair? The home perm my mother gave me. That pastel plaid blouse with the little tie at the waist? I have no idea. I hope I didn't choose it myself. The sly look in her sleepy eyes, caught mid-blink? I'm thinking that's the only sign of better days to come.

Sharon and I have laughed over this photograph for the past twenty-three years. We all have them, the ones so horrifying that they scar us for life. Confession: for about fifteen years, I hid this photograph. No one was allowed to see this. I thought I still looked like this.

But there's something powerful about knowing your story. That's a kid with celiac, who was eating Hostess Twinkies, macaroni and cheese from a box, and McDonald's burgers. In a lot of ways, she's not that different from most kids today. We need to do something about that.

Now, I feel released. And it's Sharon's birthday. So, as a present to her, here it is. This always makes her laugh.

Me? I'm so glad I'm celebrating Sharon's birthday instead of the Bicentennial.

19 November 2006

It is absurdly easy to make gluten-free gravy.

roux for gravy

Kitchen Bouquet has trace amounts of gluten in it. Maggi seasoning has gluten in it. And those little instant gravy packets have gluten in them, plus they are disgusting.

What is a gluten-free Thanksgiving eater to do?

Make gravy from scratch. Please. It's so easy.


1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
2 cups chicken stock (or juices from the roasted turkey)
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a pan on low to medium-low heat. When it has completely melted, sprinkle in the rice flour in small handfuls. Stir and stir. When you have added all the flour and the mixture has become coherent (see picture above), let it cook in the pan for two to three minutes, stirring all the while. When it has cooked, it will be solidified and have a tinge of brown. Take the roux off the heat and let it rest for a moment.

Put the roux back on low to medium heat. Slowly, in small amounts, add the chicken stock (or turkey juices), whisking the mixture vigorously until all the liquid has been absorbed in the roux. Continue to do this, in small drizzles, until the roux has expanded and liquified into gravy. This will take awhile, perhaps ten minutes or so. Be patient. When you have reached the consistency you desire for the gravy, add salt and pepper. Taste the gravy, and season according to your taste. Take it off the burner and serve it, immediately.

18 November 2006

who needs gluten when there is pumpkin pie like this?

pumpkin pie spice, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

It is easy. I promise you. It is easy to make pie.

Pie intimidates people. I wrote about this last year, so there is no need to repeat myself. Just trust me, especially those of you who have never made a pie from scratch — you can do it. Gluten-free or not, you can make pie.

There are a dozen different recipes for gluten-free pie crust that work. I like this one best, just from my own taste. But it's easy to play with this one. Instead of white rice flour, try some brown rice flour. If you don't like sorghum, or can't find it, I'm certain that teff or amaranth would work in its place. Tapioca flour might even work better than potato starch, but yesterday I had potato starch at hand. Play. Don't worry about making mistakes. Contrary to Hallmark, Norman Rockwell, and Martha Stewart belief systems inculcated into us, your pie does not have to look perfect. It just has to taste good.

This one tastes good.

Now, if this is your first gluten-free Thanksgiving, and you are daunted by the idea of making gluten-free crust from scratch, there are plenty of alternatives.

Gluten-Free Pantry makes a Perfect Pie Crust mix that I can attest to, since I used it for the first six months after my celiac diagnosis. (Then, my food scientist inclinations took over and I stopped using mixes.)

Mona's Gluten-Free has a great bread roll and pastry mix that makes fantastic pie crusts. As well, the inimitable Mona has her own blog now, which includes a great post on a gluten-free Thanksgiving. (As well, she has an incredible photograph of some gorgeous gingerbread men that is making my mouth water!)

Crave crust

And, for another option, in case you just don't want to bake at all, there is Crave Bakery. Now, for purposes of integrity, I have to tell you that Cameo, the president of the company, sent me one of their pumpkin tarts overnight the other day, just so I could taste it. That's a photograph of its crust, just above these words. However, I am sent masses of gluten-free food for free, and most of it I never mention. This pie is good. The fact that it is gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and soy-free makes it even more astounding. The crust is flaky, the pumpkin filling dense with taste, and the whole pie a beautiful sight. Crave goods are available in Whole Foods on the west coast. However, if you live somewhere else and really need one of these tarts, I am sure that Cameo could send you one!

Still, I have to say, it's worth a shot, even if you are scared. Go ahead. Make a pie.

My favorite gluten-free pie crust, adapted from Rebecca Reilly's Gluten-Free Baking

This recipe is only slightly adapted from the excellent, essential book, Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly. Her recipes work, and they work well. Even more important, they aren't just content to be gluten-free and barely palatable, as so many of the earliest books on gluten-free cooking were. These recipes rock. I have made half a dozen foods out of this, and not a single person has been able to guess that these are gluten-free. If you don't own this book, and you have baking experience (it's clearly not for sheer beginners) you should buy it, now.

1 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
3 tablespoons sweet rice flour
3 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon strong cinnamon (I use Saigon cinnamon from World Spice Merchants)
8 tablespooons (or, one stick) cold butter
1 large egg
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 ice-cold water, or enough to make the dough stick together

Mix together all the dry ingredients, including the sugar and cinnamon. Cut the butter into little pieces, about 1/2-inch thick and drop the pieces into the dry ingredients. Using a pastry cutter or fork, meld the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter has crumbled into pea-sized pieces.

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Drop the egg and apple cider vinegar in, then stir them in, gently, with a fork, stirring from the center out. Once they are incorporated into the dry ingredients, slowly drizzle the ice-cold water into the mixture, a little at a time, then stirring to see if it has become dough yet. You do not want this dough to be too wet. Add water only it all coheres together.

At this point, drop the ball of dough onto a large piece of parchment paper. (Prepare this ahead, unless you want to wipe dough off the box of parchment paper later!) Place another piece of parchment paper, the same size, on top of the dough. Gently, smoosh the dough outward, equally in all directions, until it is a thick, round cake of dough, about the size of a pie plate.

Refrigerate the ball of dough, for as long as you can stand. Ideally, you would prepare the dough in the evening and refrigerate overnight. Take the dough out of the refrigerator at least twenty minutes before you want to work with it.

Leave the dough in the parchment-paper sandwich and roll it out. By rolling it, gently, between the pieces of parchment paper, you will not need to add more flour to the mix. Roll it out as thin as you can, then strip the top piece of parchment paper off the dough. Gently, lay your favorite pie plate on top of the dough, then flip the whole thing over. The dough should sag into the pie plate. You can crimp the edges at this point. If some of the dough falls off the sides, don't worry. Simply re-attach the pieces to the crust-to-be by pressing in with your fingers.

You can pre-bake the pie crust, if you like. With this pumpkin pie, however, I just pour the pumpkin filling directly in and bake it immediately. It works well.

Oh, and for the filling? Just the recipe off the Libby's pumpkin puree can. It works every time.

17 November 2006

for the people who love people who cannot eat gluten

Danny planning the new menu, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

This is a picture of the Chef, hard at work in our living room, planning his menu. He may look angry, but he's not. He's busy concentrating, looking out the window at the Olympic Mountains, imagining flavor combinations and ways to make his menu gluten-free. I love watching him plan menus. He scribbles and crosses out, searches through books, looks online at menus (never to copy, just for inspiration), consults his favorite book — the one that tells him which flavors combine best with another flavor — and writes down more ideas, consults his lists of what will be fresh at the farmers' markets that week, and then — voila! His eyes grow wide, he opens his mouth to let out a little puff of air, and he lets out a little, "ohhhhhhhh."

I always bother to ask, "What? What? What have you thought of now?" But I can't really expect him to answer yet. If it is a great idea, he just can't talk for a few moments. He starts to chew, without knowing it, which is a good sign. That means he can taste it already. And for the next month, his customers will be cooing and making that same noise as they eat meals from that menu he so carefully creates every month.

Now, here's the deal. If the Chef — who knows food instinctually, wants to make sure he can make everything gluten-free so I can taste it, and wants fervently to keep me well — can make me sick accidentally, then anyone can.

To be fair to him, it wasn't actually with his food. We were kissing. Normally, he is vigilant about waiting to kiss me until he can brush his teeth if he has eaten bread. In fact, in moments of passion and gratitude, I'll reach my lips toward him, and he'll remember to turn his cheek toward me instead. My heart melts a little, every time. But once, this past summer, we both forgot. And then there were bread crumbs from his mouth in mine. And the next day, I was sick.

This can be difficult, no question. The other day, I posted about some ideas for how to make our Thanksgivings gluten-free with ease. Much of it revolved around how to talk to our families, and convince them to not poison us, to take it all seriously. So many of you wrote to me, thanking me for the piece, that I know this is necessary for us all.

But, the next day, a good friend of mine wrote to me, with a different question, something I hadn't considered writing about:

"Hey there Shauna. I just had a thought. With a gluten free T-day, just because well- meaning family and friends forgoes the stuffing, doesn't mean gluten can't sneak in the oddest of places. For example, yesterday's post features a photo of blue cheese. Before you, I never even considered how the yummy veins got blue! If I recall correctly, French blue cheese comes from bread mold... Right?

I gotta say, I'm just as challenged as the next when it comes to thinking of gluten free stuff sometimes (your recent pot luck, for example). I pore over my cookbooks....excited to make some yummy dish to share with people who really love food. I found page after page sneaking in gluten somehow. A binder of flour or want that terrine to unmold...better not use butter and flour on the edges. Thickening soups with a crust of bread. A little semolina here and there. Until I read the Bob Mill package, I had no idea semolina comes from durham...prized for its high gluten ability. I also had no idea some soy sauces had gluten. On and on it went.

For those living the gluten free lifestyle, food does not have to be boring. Of course, the first step is to educate yourself...then be diligent. But for those of us who share the occasional meal with a gluten free loved one, it's a huge challenge. Of course I have no intention of making anyone sick, and it's especially challenging when you've even mentioned getting sick from gluten free food that was cross contaminated at the factory...

I guess in some ways, I'm sending out an SOS. For those of us who have gluten free folk in our lives, what kind of unassuming things should we be aware of?"

Thank you, Traca. I'm certain that many people reading are feeling the same way. And so, spurred by your thoughtful letter, let me offer my humble suggestions.

(These are directed at the family and friends who will be making the food, if they won’t let you make everything. However, feel free to send your family and friends this post and tell them I am talking directly to them.)

Make everything from scratch. Celery, turkey, cranberries, and sweet potatoes in their pure form do not contain gluten. They never will. If we make everything from scratch with whole ingredients, you will reduce any chance of accidentally feeding someone gluten, dramatically. There are other steps — they will follow this one — but this one is the lynchpin. So many processed foods contain gluten that it is astounding. Trader Joe's sells a boxed chicken broth that you might be tempted to buy for your gravy, but if you look at the ingredients list, it contains barley malt flavoring. One sip of that would set me back three days. And, as I have been saying repeatedly throughout the pages of this website, food we make from scratch will always taste better than food from a box. Homemade chicken stock always rocks. Many people, I know, make gravy from little seasoning packets. At the risk of offending some of you — ewwwww. Gravy from scratch is remarkably easy to make. In fact, I’m going to show you how in the next couple of days. Please, please don’t make gravy by ripping off the top of an envelope.

Involve your gluten-free friend or loved one in the process
. You may think you are being pesky if you call me up and ask me about the ingredient of every dish, but believe me, I will feel a warm, glowing feeling toward you for months from that action alone. Friends sometimes tell me, sheepishly after the fact, that they weren’t even entirely sure what gluten is, but they were afraid to ask for fear of looking silly. I say — look silly! Go ahead and ask. There is no gluten in potatoes, sugar, green beans, pomegranates, or fresh-made apple cider. But I (and any of the rest of us) will happily tell you that, with patience and love.

And if you have no idea what gluten is, check this old post of mine: What the heck is gluten anyway?

It’s not as easy as substituting rice flour for wheat. You may mean well, and I’m sure you do, but if you throw together cinnamon rolls using your grandmother’s recipe and simply substitute rice flour for Gold Medal white flour, you are going to be sincerely disappointed. So will the rest of your guests. And then, your gluten-free loved one might feel guilty, thinking, “I’ve ruined everyone’s Thanksgiving.” Gluten-free baking is an art and a science. It requires lots of experimentation and mistakes. Ask your gluten-free guest to provide the baked goods, if she feels comfortable with them. If not, try making something from a gluten-free mix, available online or in health food stores, co-ops, and Whole Foods. There are a veritable plethora of them now.

Modified food starch, soy sauce, and oats. After the Food Labelling Act of 2004 finally went into action in early 2006, our lives grew easier. Now, every packaged food should say, at the bottom of the ingredients: contains wheat. (If it does, that is.) That saves an enormous amount of time. I pick up a bottle, see that, and put it down. Soy sauce will say that. Most products with modified food starch will say that. However, this act does not solve our woes. Barley shows up as a flavoring more times than I can count, including most commercial corn flakes. Modified food starch could be made from corn or soy, or wheat, or barley. Blue cheese won’t say contains wheat, but if it is made in Europe (or made in America under artisan craftsmen), the mold for it will have come from bread, originally. And yes, that can make us sick. Also, commercially produced oats are mostly contaminated with gluten. Many a friend has happily shown me the box of healthy, wheat-free crackers he has brought to my house, only to be disappointed when I show him that it contains oat flour, and thus I cannot eat it. Wheat-free does not mean gluten-free. Please, remember this.

Only use a packaged product if it says gluten-free. There are hundreds of products on the market that seem, from the list of ingredients, to not contain gluten. Even after you have figured out all the ways that gluten can hide, you can still make someone sick. I’ve done it to myself, because I wasn’t careful. Some manufacturers are kind enough to say, “…manufactured in a facility that also manufactures gluten.” When I read that, I put the food down. However, that’s not all food producers. I have been glutenized by tortilla chips by a company that I later found out fries the chips in the same fryer and oil as gluten-filled products. Was it on the label? No. Why did I eat it? I just got stupid for a day. And I paid the price. Therefore, I would suggest that you only buy products that a) say gluten-free on the box, or b) your gluten-free loved one has confirmed herself is gluten-free. This may seem draconian, but it is worth it.

Avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. Last Thanksgiving, I was sick for the entire weekend after the big day. Why? When I made my gluten-free stuffing, and my brother made his regular stuffing for the rest of the family, he made the mistake of telling me to put mine in a casserole dish exactly the same shape and color as his. When the big buffet line started, the two stuffings sat side by side, with a spoon between them. It wasn’t until my second helping that I realized that spoon had been back and forth in both pans a dozen times, and I had just eaten gluten. Ugh.

You can prevent this by being meticulous in the kitchen. Do not cut anything on a wooden cutting board, because it can trap gluten in the surface, no matter how much you wash it. (Besides, the plastic boards are so much more handy in the kitchen.) Do not use your regular toaster to toast the gluten-free bread, because the lingering bread crumbs will make us sick. Finally, keep the gluten-free food and the regular food in separate areas of the kitchen, and educate everyone at the house about the dangers of double-dipping the spoon. Everyone will benefit from this. Again, ask your gluten-free loved one for advice on this. We can help.

Be mindful. There’s a little secret no one really tells you in cookbooks: when you cook with mindfulness and concentration, your food tastes better than when you rush. And if you are mindful in the way you try to avoid gluten, your Thanksgiving dinner will taste better for it.

Make us feel included. As kind as it may be to make one dish that is gluten-free, so we can at least eat salad, it makes gluten-free folks feel like alien beings. It’s like perpetually sitting at the kids’ table, while all the adults are laughing and talking. As much as some people don’t want to make a fuss, no one wants to just eat a salad on Thanksgiving day. How about an entirely gluten-free Thanksgiving? That’s what the Chef and I are sharing with my family. The stuffing will be made from gluten-free bread. We’re going to make the gravy from scratch, with sweet rice flour for the roux. Cranberry chutney, green beans with carmelized onions and bacon, roast turkey, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes — none of that needs gluten. And I make a mean pumpkin pie with a gluten-free crust now, one which no one guesses it is missing the gluten. (Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how.) Why not focus on the food that naturally does not contain gluten? You might be surprised at how much better that meal tastes for the trouble you take.

Why is any of this important? Because for those of us who have celiac, one speck of crumbs really can make us sick for days. If you would like to see proof of this, check out this photo from my dear reader-friend, Sasha, who bravely posted this photograph and explanation of how she grew sick from a little bit of gluten. Read what she has to say. She put it perfectly. (Sasha, I hope you don’t mind that I linked to you, here. I just want everyone to know.)

With a little care and mindfulness, we can all have a fabulous Thanksgiving. If you are mourning the loss of traditional dishes, please remember this: there is more at stake here than your grandmother’s stuffing. As a lovely woman named Wendy wrote to me the other day, “My daughter was diagnosed in April of this year. This is our first holiday season with a healthy girl!” Isn’t the celebration of that far more important than eating the exact-same foods you have eaten all your life?

Let this holiday be a true day of gratitude. Let’s eat well and celebrate.

16 November 2006

the dark-brown joys of vanilla extract

vanilla extract (gluten-free), originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Before I begin the parade of Thanksgiving recipes, I want to pause and comment on vanilla.


Good vanilla extract is essential to all the holiday baking we will be doing this next month. When I went gluten-free, I panicked about my vanilla extracts. Most of the literature out there seemed to suggest that I could never use vanilla extract again. If the distilled alcohol used to make the vanilla extract came originally from grains I could not eat, then that vanilla extract would make me sick. I searched for organic brands that labeled themselves as gluten-free. They weren't always that good (more well-meaning than full of flavor), but I felt safe.

Since then, I have realized — and many would back me up on this — that the belief that pure vanilla extract could have gluten in it smacks of old thinking. In the past few years, scientists have tested grain alcohols and found that even those made from wheat, rye, and barley are gluten-free after they have survived the distillation process. Thus, I can drink Scotch, even though it is made from those terrible grains. When I discovered this last December, I had myself a celebration.

The same seems to be true for distilled vinegars. For decades, the common truth was that anything with distilled vinegar was unsafe for those of us who have to eat gluten-free. In fact, the first six months after my celiac diagnosis, I assiduously avoided anything with distilled vinegar. Now, however, it is becoming more and more clear that distilled vinegars — even those distilled through wheat, rye, and barley — are safe for celiacs. Rejoice.

Of course, the more awareness, the more research will be done. And, I think, the more we will find we can eat.

Since the distillation process in hard liquor and vinegars seems to kill the gluten proteins in the final product, it is safe to assume that the same is true for vanilla extract. Therefore, it should be that all vanilla extracts are gluten-free.

Don't quote me on it. Try it for yourself. But that makes sense to me — and plenty of others out there.

If that is so, then oh good — I can just choose according to quality, instead. A great vanilla extract should have the heady richness of real vanilla beans, dark brown and giggly in the nose, depth upon depth with each layer of scent, as opposed to the thin, chemical smell of artifical vanilla. (Stay away from that artifical stuff. It's nasty.)

If you would like to read a great piece on the different types of vanilla and their uses in baking, check out David Lebovitz's piece from last year. The man knows.

Me? I've become overly partial to this bottle of vanilla extract: Nielsen-Massey's Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla. Smooth and sweet, with little hints of something deeper, this vanilla enlivens every baked good I make. And with Christmas season — and my gluten-free sugar cut-out cookies — approaching, I made sure I am stocked up right now.

This company, which is one hundred years old this year and based in Illinois, works hard at gathering the best vanilla from around the world: Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti, and Mexico. They also have a vanilla bean paste that Joycelyn at the ever-beautiful Kuidaore swears by for her exquisite creations. That's enough for me.

Even better, this summer Nielsen Massey was the first major ingredient supplier in the United States to be certified gluten-free. Any company that has Cynthia Kupper's stamp of approval is all right with me.

Better yet, the taste. Oh my — I emit a low moan.

So, if you want to feel safe that you are using gluten-free vanilla products, and fold the best-tasting vanilla extract into your baked goods for Thanksgiving, go pick up a bottle of this. You won't regret it.

15 November 2006

a few ideas for a gluten-free Thanksiving

My creationWhen the Chef and I were listening to the radio this morning, as we were preparing breakfast, some moron announcer said, “Only 31 shopping days until Christmas!” Before I could even say it, the Chef said, “Oh shut up, Bob.”

I love him.

Every year, it drives me crazy, how the holidays in this country have become an inexorable march toward consumption and gaudiness. How many presents can you buy in one fell swoop? Quick — put the lights up on the house! We must make dozens of cookies, right now. Never mind that this consumerism has nothing to do with the spirit of any of the holidays around this time of the year. This is America. This is what we do. We celebrate the holidays, dammit.

That compulsion to make everything the same as the year before, and the need to have it be as perfect as a Martha Stewart magazine layout, sweeps up all of us, in one way or another. But for those of us who have celiac — and must eat gluten-free in this gluten-saturated time of the year — this time of the year can be a minefield. (I am certain this must be true for anyone with food allergies, as well as vegetarians and vegans, so this is quite a large number of us.) I don’t miss gluten. But I do miss the sugar cut-out cookies I made every year for over a decade. I miss gingerbread men and my mother’s cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I’ll never have them again. It’s okay to feel a little bit of mourning.

Lately, I have been receiving far more emails than I can answer in a day. Most of them, these days, seem to revolve around the holidays. One young woman told me that she had volunteered to make Christmas dinner for everyone in her family. Could I create gluten-free versions of all the treats the family wanted to eat? I’ve had requests for cinnamon rolls, mincemeat pie, stuffing, and gluten-free gravy. Everyone, it seems, wants to eat exactly what he or she ate as a child — before the celiac diagnosis — and have it taste exactly the same.

The thing is, everyone, it will never taste the same. No matter how good your pumpkin pie recipe with a gluten-free crust, it will never taste like the pie you ate as a child. It could taste even better. But it won’t taste the same.

Early on in this gluten-free journey, I decided that longing for the same old foods with gluten-free ingredients was like longing for a boyfriend I had broken up with, and so finding a rebound replacement as fast as I could, one who reminded me exactly of the old one. It never works. It’s the same with food.

The thing is Thanksgiving could use some shaking up. As food writer Julia Moskin wrote in the New York Times today:

“The traditional Thanksgiving meal has become monotonous, overloaded with soft textures and rich, bland flavors. Instead of choosing between buttery mashed potatoes and buttery sweet potatoes, many families serve both. Vegetables like green beans and onions are muffled with cream sauces; brussels sprouts are enriched with bacon, and green beans with almonds. The sudden compulsion to cook parsnips and squash quickly leads to root vegetables overload. Once the gravy and stuffing are served the table is covered with dishes that are mushy in texture and almost entirely brown.”

Absolutely. There is no reason that we have to have rolls, stuffing, and pie, if we eat gluten-free. Why not create new traditions instead?

Well, there is something comforting about tradition. I like rituals as much as the next person. (These days, my life is wonderfully routine, in order to finish my manuscript in time for the deadline.) So, over the next week or so, I’ll be posting some recipes that the Chef and I have come up with for pumpkin pie with a gluten-free crust, a simple stuffing with celery and onions, gluten-free gravy, cranberry relish, and something green to add to the table. I hope that these recipes will help.

But in the meantime, I’d like to offer some suggestions for what might work for this holiday, and the ones to follow:

Offer to cook dinner yourself. I know this might feel like a lot of work, but it will make everyone in the family happy, and you will be assured of eating gluten-free. My brother, dear man that he is, put a tablespoon of flour in the poultry bag when he made the turkey last year. I didn’t have any, of course. But I did get sick from the cross-contamintion between the regular stuffing and gluten-free stuffing. This year, I’m lucky. The Chef and I will be making Thanksgiving dinner for everyone, and it will be entirely gluten-free. Sure, it means a few hours of work for the both of us, but we both adore the simple joy of feeding people we love. (Besides, the Chef is meticulous about the gluten-free thing, and he’ll make sure I can eat everything on the table.) If you cannot cook the entire dinner, then offer to make the parts of the meal that usually involve gluten. Make pies and rolls and a loaf of gluten-free bread for stuffing.

Advocate with your family. So many of you have written, in the comments section here and to me in emails, that you are embarrassed to make a fuss when it comes to food. I have one word for you: nonsense! This is your health, your body, your life. As kind as it is for someone to make you food, it is not kind to feed you gluten. Sit down with everyone now, long before the big day, and explain all the ways that gluten can hide. Teach them about cross-contamination. This is supposed to be a holiday of gratitude, not a way to make you sick. Your family can express their gratitude that you have found out what ails you by double-checking with you before they cook something. I am sure that you will feel enormous gratitude toward everyone there if you can eat an entire meal without growing sick. Remember the spirit of the day.

Mix up the traditions. Years ago, when I was a teenager, my father told us about a class he had taught the day before Thanksgiving. He asked his students their families’ traditions of food, which led to a spirited discussion of the merits of different kinds of students. One of his students had a different story, however. She said that her parents were Italian immigrants, and they made an enormous Italian feast for Thanksgiving: pastas, roasted meats, antipasti platters, fresh mozzarella. My father said that her description made it sound like the best meal he could ever eat. He wondered aloud if we would want to try that. As one, my brother and I shouted, “No!” We wanted our traditions, and that was that.
But you know what? I’d be more than willing to try it now, as long as the pasta was gluten-free. Isn’t this holiday just a chance to celebrate life with family and friends with food? Who says that it has to be a glossy roasted turkey with bread stuffing spilling out of its cavity? Why not butternut squash soup? Brussels sprouts hash? Black cod? Roasted duck? Seared tofu? Why not make it a menu of all the foods you have come to love since you went gluten-free? Have a table full of twenty dishes, and then ask everyone to dig in. Would anyone feel a lack of gratitude at this?

Finally, just say no to gluten. ‘Tis the season when people are tempted to cheat. That spoonful of stuffing isn’t worth three days of feeling sick. Those cinnamon rolls will never be worth the price you’ll pay in your gut. Make a new tradition of staying well throughout the holidays. You owe it to yourself.

I hope that helps. As with everything else about living gluten-free, I really believe that this is about more than the recipes. This is about attitude. I’m going to say yes to my life, to food, to the people I love. And I’m going to do it gluten-free.

You can too.

14 November 2006

CNN and celiac

CNN and celiac, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

"The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world." —— Allen Ginsberg

One out of one hundred people in the United States has celiac disease. 97% of us don't know it.

I feel lucky to be aware of what drives my body. I spent a lifetime feeling lousy, and never knowing why. Finally finding awareness of the food that makes me sick — and the food that makes my body soar with joy — has opened me to everything else that followed. The Chef? The book deal? The other possibilities that are arising that I cannot share yet but will? I firmly believe that has arrived because I finally had awareness of my own life.

I keep this website because I want to spread awareness of celiac disease. I want everyone to be diagnosed. I want to spare as many people as I can of the suffering I endured.

Of course, I am not the only one on this mission. I am thrilled to see the awareness of celiac disease and the need to eat gluten-free growing in this country. Every time a major news outlet or magazine mentions it, I do a little dance.

Yesterday, CNN anchor Heidi Collins admitted that she and her son have celiac disease. As part of her mission, she interviewed Dr. Peter Green from Columbia (one of my favorite people) about celiac, thus introducing the words to millions of people across America.

Way to go, Heidi! And thank you, Dr. Green!

If you are interested in seeing the interview, click here. Yesterday morning, I watched it online, thanks to the good people at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. (A big yay to them, as well.) Later, when the Chef woke up, he wanted to watch it too. As he listened to the explanations, he put his arm around my shoulder and held me. When he saw the incredible image of a refugee child in Africa, malnourished because the aid organizations were unwittingly giving her wheat when she had celiac disease, he squeezed my shoulder closely. When he saw the photograph of the girl six months later, after she had stopped eating gluten, he marveled at the change in her. I couldn't help but cry. Certainly, I never looked like that girl. But the photographs brought it home to me once more: I suffered all my life with this, without awareness.

I am so grateful now, for that awareness, and for the Chef's hand cupped around my shoulder, understanding and supportive.

Heidi Collins also did a follow-up piece on celiac today, which you can view here. I'm thrilled that she is trying to humanize this story. It seems she intends to keep doing pieces on it until everyone is diagnosed.

So do I.

13 November 2006

crunch go my teeth in the middle of the afternoon

buckwheat cereal

The past few days, I have been writing longer posts, pieces that mean a great deal to me. I'm glad I have. However, the book is calling, and the Chef is cooking braised lamb shanks (that somehow involve bacon), mashed potatoes (his specialty), and sautéed green beans. He says that I will scream like a girl when I eat it.

Well, with that at hand, I can't imagine writing a long post right now.

Instead, this evening, I have to tell you about my latest cereal find.

I've always been a cereal fan. As a kid, I must have eaten my weight in Lucky Charms, Alpha Bits, Apple Jacks, and Life. When I grew older, and started to avoid that sugary stuff, I switched to bran cereals and muesli instead. How could I have known that it would all make me sick?

We celiacs don't have too many cold cereal choices. I love the line of kids' cereals made by Nature's Path, but I do feel just a little silly downing a bowl of Peanut Butter Panda Puffs in front of someone else.

This past month, however, I found a slightly more adult cereal that I can eat. Arrowhead Mills' Organic Maple Buckwheat Flakes have a crunch you can hear in your ears, a slightly sweet taste from maple syrup, and that magical quality of staying crispy in a bowl of milk. Best of all, they are labeled gluten-free.

I love seeing that label.

Some afternoons, when I have been writing for hours, I go into the kitchen and fix myself a bowl of buckwheat flakes in my favorite blue bowl. It may be glowering outside, and I may still have five hours of writing before me, but while I am crunching on these, I am feeling fine.

Now, if only I had some Saturday morning cartoons to go with it.

12 November 2006

for Clown

Gabe at my birthday party, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Today, I am taking a break from the gluten-free wisdom, the goofy stories and the romance through food, to share this with you:

my dear friend Gabe turned 29 today.

Gabe is my second little brother — if not by birth, then by endless connections and ridiculous laughter. Impossible as it may be to me, we have known each other for fourteen years. He was a pipsqueak sophomore in high school, and I was a brand-new teacher when we met. No, we didn't have that kind of relationship and we never have. We recognized something in each other. After grading his papers, shepherding him through graduation, and reading his stories from a tortured time in Paris, I simply became his friend. We both lived in New York at the same time and professed a mutual passion for music, films, writing, love, good chocolate, Paul Auster, photography, late nights of talking, tiny used bookstores in Manhattan, absurdities, expansive friendship, meditation, comfort food, existential dread turned into peace, family stories, unexpected gifts, subway rides with unpredicted kindness, listening in on conversations, Central Park, Keith Jarret, trying to understand our own minds, diners late at night, eerie coincidences, pratfalls, tiny moments of joy, and life.

For years, it seemed that Gabe understood me most in the world, probably because we spoke nearly every night, in telephone conversations that left our ears almost permanently dented from the receiver having grown warm over two or three hours of rapid-fire stories. We rambled through every topic, and we never felt as though we had finished what we wanted to say. We just picked it up the next day.

Now that I am writing and eating in Seattle, and he is making films and music in Brooklyn, we rarely have the chance to see each other or talk in more than ten-minute bursts. Long ago, we stopped those all-night conversations and simply became good friends instead of each other's closest companions. And now, I have the Chef, who is my best friend and confidant, and my late-night whisperer. That doesn't make Gabe any less important to me. Instead, he is deeply embedded in my life.

When I turned forty, Gabe flew across the country to help celebrate my birthday. He and the Chef approved of each other. I couldn't have been any happier.

I remember, when Gabe was nineteen, having a conversation with him in which he could not imagine being 30. Having just turned that epic age myself, I told him, "You will. And you will see. You'll feel better at thirty than you do now." We both shook our heads, at the impossiblity of him spanning those years, so far away. And today, he is 29, and nearly there. Now, he is fully alive in his life, less neurotic than that teenage boy, and endlessly kind.

I could tell you stories, all day long, about this incredible young man. But this isn't the time or place. Instead, I will point you toward his website. If anyone needs a filmmaker or musician or video editor or juggler, this is your man.

Today, what I'd like to share in honor of Gabe's birthday, is memories of food we have shared. Think about your closest friends — don't you have a montage of these as well? Gabe understands the primal pleasure of food, and even when he was doing badly, he could always put his thoughts on hold and take a bite of food and taste it fully. This is one of the reasons I love him. After all, this is a young man who brings quince paste and goat cheese to a young woman's house when they are starting to date. As he told me today of a new, possible relationship, "She really loves food. She understands how important it is, and she tries to make every taste an experience."

Clearly, he is my friend.

And so, for Gabe — and those of you reading — a montage....

Our weekly ritual: turkey burgers at the Metro Diner, salads with balsamic vinaigrette, and thick chocolate shakes.

On a hard night, a walk in the rain to a diner in Bronxville, eating tuna melts at two and trying to make sense of the world.

Drinking a cup of tea late at night in the Village, after I had completed a meditation retreat, and he laughing at me, kindly, at how intently I watched the tea swirling into the hot water from the bag.

Making meals in my Vashon kitchen, the smell of fresh ginger rising from the cutting board, and both of us bending down our noses to smell it.

Bagels from Absolute Bagels, when he lived down the street, in my honor, the year after I had moved away.

Thai food every Thursday night at Tup Tim Thai, the same spicy-hot dishes, the same sweet waitresses, and those necessary glasses of Thai iced tea.

Seared tofu with mango-chili sauce, which he had learned how to make from his father, in his New York apartment kitchen.

Rice and tahini sauce, something with sprouts, all food from the health food store on Broadway, sitting in the median watching cars go by.

Coffee at the Grey Dog, late at night.

Eating slices of pizza, folded over, feeling like real New Yorkers in our first month there, on a stoop in St. Mark's Square.

Crepes smeared with Nutella for Sunday brunch, which he learned how to make from his French mother.

Lunch at the Dahlia lounge, after a long time of not seeing each other.

Gluten-free pizza with Monica at Risotteria on a cold February night.

A bowl of crispy thin French fries at Cafe Luluc.

Omelettes and Cafe Veselka and goat cheese and chicken apple sausages and fresh juice from Rainbow Grocery and Angelika's Kitchen and take-out Chinese and picnics in Central Park and bottles of Snapple and sandwiches at Le Pain Quotidien and small squares of exquisite dark chocolate and a thousand meals between us so many that I cannot remember them all.

Once, Gabe told me that he had a childhood memory, of being in elementary school, the day another kid had his birthday. After the treats were eaten, the boy's mom packed up the leftovers of the cake and smooshed them into a bag. Gabe always dreamed of that — eating cake out of a bag, the icing smeared to the top, soft bites emerging from the least gourmet of places. I teased him about this — how weird is that? — but that night I baked him a cake and smashed it into a bag, then left it in his mailbox.

When I was feeling down, one time, Gabe left a loaf of Essential Bakery's Rosemary Diamante bread in my mailbox, because he knew it was my favorite, and he knew it would make me feel better. It did.

Now, I could not eat that bread. But the kindness — and the love of food — remains the same. Gabe is one of my dearest food friends. I hope we have the chance to share a thousand more meals in our lifetime. Next summer, he'll be eating and taking photographs at my wedding with the Chef. And long ago, before he even turned twenty, he told me, "Someday, I'll teach your children to juggle." Gabe, if we are so lucky to have them, our children will be waiting for your instructions.

For everyone reading, please forgive my indulgence today. But I know this, more and more, for all of us: to eat well in this world, we need people around us who love food. Gather friends who taste each bite and want you to try a bite of something glorious, and you will be rich. I feel enormously blessed, with Sharon and Meri and Cindy and, of course, the Chef. They feed me. Gabe does too.

So, my dear friend — Gabe, Clown, Boo, SFC — happy birthday. I'm so glad you are in the world with me, loving and laughing and performing pratfalls in the middle of the street and doing your art and eating well. Stick around for a long, long time, okay?

11 November 2006

slowing down

Every day, I am inspired by those of you who read and write here. Of course, I am inspired by my fellow food bloggers, who leave comments and guide me back to their explorations of persimmons, varieties of apples, and what to do with leftover roast chicken. Many a food blogger now feels like a friend, for the numbers of times I have borrowed their recipes and made them in my own kitchen.

But I am also inspired by those of you who leave comments, adding your own touches to recipes and memories of food. A few days ago, someone going by "Anonymous" left me near tears and thinking all day with this comment about the black rice flour I have learned to make:

"Yeah, rice flour is quite inexpensive in Indian stores. In India, most families make rice flour at home. We wash rice with water, dry it overnight on a clean cloth, grind it in a blender, sieve it, and run the not-so-fine stuff again in the blender until smooth. But this is my mother's story.

My grandmother used to make rice flour with a mortar and pestle! She had a huge stone mortar and a long(as tall as a human), thick wooden pestle with which she'd rhythmically pound the rice in a left,shift-to-right-hand,shift-to-left-hand swinging motion. It was beautiful to watch.

And i buy my rice flour in Indian stores...sigh. Often i wonder what i'm running after. My grand mother was a true picture of serenity even while doing boring, every day chores. And i'm a true picture of impatience ;), because a million other chores are usually waiting to be done and i can't focus on what i'm doing at that moment.

I'm glad you're savoring evey moment of your life. It's hard for many people, to live in the moment."

Wow. This left me speechless, Anonymous. And I wish I knew your name, so I could give you credit for such a beautiful piece of writing.

This line lingered in my mind for days: "Often I wonder what I'm running after." What are we all running after? So many people eat frozen foods or take-away from big-chain grocery stores, or make a three-minute pizza from a gluten-free crust, a bottle of tomato sauce, and some already shredded cheese. Okay, I understand the need to make dinner fast, sometimes. But what are we gaining with all that saved time? And what are we losing by not truly tasting our food?

I have been as guilty as everyone else in this culture of believing that I must rush to beat the person ahead of me, and run to outdistance my old vision of myself. But it has really been through food — making it from scratch instead of searching for a package — that I have found the stillness I sought for years.

Granted, I am lucky. I am doing work I love, living with the love of my life after having gone all my life without finding him, and eagerly anticipating what lies ahead. I feel blessed. But I am also pushing up against the deadline of my life, trying to juggle a dozen business opportunities, answer all the emails I have received (I'm going to write to all of you, I promise!), and still maintain a presence in my friends' lives. It could be hard. But I feel like I'm here.

Why? Because I have slowed down. I have simply dropped everything in my life that does not feel necessary in the service of doing what I love. And I cook, every day, sometimes for hours. I am not always great at it — living with the Chef keeps me humble — but I love the play and allowing myself to make mistakes. And besides, when was the last time you leaned down toward the cutting board and took a deep whiff of fresh-cut ginger? When I slow down to truly experience what is before me, the richness of life yields itself.

I am far away from making my own rice flour with a mortar and pestle. I wish I could. But as much as I can, I am going to try to grind it myself, instead of always reaching for the pre-packaged flour.

Thank you, Anonymous, for reminding me.


Reading that comment reminded me of an experience I had during a meditation retreat, many years ago. We spent three days in silence, a large group of strangers who knew each other's faces by heart by the end of the weekend. It is profoundly odd to not talk for three days. (No writing, either, so I was really pushed by this.) Somehow, the food tasted more vibrant than any food I had eaten before that. And it was, invariably, the simplest of hippy food: brown rice, sauteed vegetables, and salads. For many of the meals, I spooned little pools of a tangy lemon-tahini dressing on top of my rice or greens. The taste of it — tart with the lemons; rich with the sesame depth of the tahini; smooth and filling — stayed with me through many a meditation session.

I wondered, when I was there, how the cooks made such simple food so beautiful. One day, toward the end of my time there, I took my dishes into the kitchen. And I saw, tacked above the stove, a simple sign: "The bigger the task, the more we have to slow down."

I have never forgotten it. Many a time, when I have been driving somewhere, worried I was going to be late, my mind flashed on that sign. And I remembered again, "This is the only time you are going to live this moment. Do you really want to experience it full of angst?" And so, I slowed down. It might have saved my life a time or two.

This morning, as the Chef and I were talking about food we wanted to make, I thought about that lemon-tahini dressing again. This afternoon, when Meri came over for a late lunch, I made some as we talked. We both grew silent, for a moment, as we ate this salad. It doesn't take much. A handful of greens from Willie Greens and a splash of lemon-tahini dressing. That was peace.

Note: the measurements on this recipe are only approximations. When you make the dressing in the blender, keep tasting it and adding — a little more lemon, a little more olive oil — until it tastes right to you.

2/3 cup tahini
juice of three lemons
zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup olive oil

Pull out your blender. (The Chef has taught me that making dressings in a blender makes them much, much better than stirring them with a fork!) Throw in the tahini, lemon juice, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, and salt. Pulse in the blender until all the ingredients have become one. Taste. Add more of anything you feel it needs.

Slowly, through the top of the blender — ideally, you have a lid with a hole in it for this purpose — add the olive oil in a drizzle. Continue to add it until the dressing reaches the consistency you desire. If you leave it a little thick, this makes an excellent dip. If you keep adding oil, you will have a silky-smooth dressing in a few moments. Even when it has reached the consistency you wish, let the blender run for awhile, which will allow the oil to truly blend with the rest of the ingredients.

Makes two cups of dressing, which should keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.