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31 December 2006

peace and joy

the two of us, happy, the day before the book is due

2006 has — without a doubt — been the most spectacular year of my life.

2006 was the first full year of living gluten-free, and thus being the healthy self I had never known, the self I have always wanted to be.

2006 is the year I attended the IACP, landed my wonderful literary agent, and signed a contract for a book deal with Wiley. This was the year I let go of teaching and finally, after an entire lifetime, became a full-time writer. Words can barely tap at the surface of that happiness.

in 2006, I met wonderful food bloggers, made wonderful, wonderful friends, and remained perpetually grateful for this community.

In 2006, I ate sunchokes, miner's lettuce, foie gras, sweetbreads, and persimmons for the first time in my life. I want more.

In 2006, I had yes tattooed on my body, permanently.

And of course — the most burning and essential part of the year, more important by far than anything else on the list — I met the Chef in 2006. This is the year we first fell in love. And this is the year, blessedly, that we both quickly came to realize that we will live many, many years together. (If life continues to bless us, that is.)

There have been sadnesses and annoyances. I am perpetually misty-eyed when I read the newspaper and see the way this human family is treating itself. No life, no matter how glowing, is lived alone.

However, forgive me if I don't dwell on those sad notes right now. Today, I am only feeling blessed and grateful.

Tomorrow, on the first day of the new year, I am sending my manuscript to the publishers. You will hear much more of this in two days, when it is done. Suffice it to say that I could be frantic and panic-stricken. Instead, I am feeling calm and happy. I have worked hard — harder than I have ever worked on anything before — and the process has filled me with joy. This morning, the Chef and I took an almost-hour-long walk around our neighborhood. Before, I would have been hunched over the table, desperate to wring every last minute out of the process. But, with him by my side, I am breathing easy. Alive.

In 2007, we will be married (July). My book will be published and sold across the nation (October). Those two events would be enough to fill ten years. Along with those, who knows what will come? I have some ideas, but I'm not saying now. We're just going to let life take care of itself.

I can promise you this — you will hear about this year to come, with photos and recipes to accompany.

Thank you to everyone reading. You have filled my life with enormous joy. Honestly, I cannot imagine my life without this website. My life, as I know it now, simply would not exist without those of you reading.

Thank you.

In a few hours, I am headed to his restaurant, where a dozen friends will be having dinner with me, all of it made by his hands, to celebrate the book being (nearly) done, and the new year. I hope that you are all finding a way to celebrate that brings you peace.

May we all have peace. The Chef and I would both like to wish everyone reading a spectacular new year. I hope that there are a thousand memorable mouthfuls in your life this next year. We all deserve such joy.

26 December 2006

sneaking some time for a photo overview, Christmas 2006

Christmas 2006

This Christmas: the best food we have ever eaten; a frenzy of presents; hilarity. Stories galore.

It was our first Christmas together, the Chef and I. My family adores him. My mother adores his cooking. I can't believe my luck, again and again. We just couldn't stop giggling.

Certainly, my dear nephew Elliott was the star of the show. My favorite moment is when he opened his plastic, pretend chainsaw, which Santa brought him. A few weeks earlier, he had cried when Daddy said it was too expensive to buy. After his initial surprise and delight, he looked up from his chainsaw and said, "But I think this is too expensive for Santa, too."

Oh, that kid.

Prime rib with veal stock-port-balsamic reduction sauce. Roast pork loin with mustard sauce. Gluten-free bread. Fingerling potatoes roasted in duck fat.Sugar cookies. Chocolate blocks. Ginger bites.

Oh, and some hilariously competitve games of Apples to Apples

I could go on and on, but I must go back to the book. I'm writing it for all of you reading.

We hope your holidays have been restful, and filled with the delight of a little guy discovering that it is finally, actually Christmas morning.

24 December 2006

peace on earth


The Chef and I are preparing to leave our home for the Christmas festivities. On the table, ready to be packed: smoked paprika; truffle oil; Maldon sea salt; golden balsamic vinegar. There are ginger cookies, rolled sugar cookies, chocolate blocks, the Chef's mom's Christmas cookies, fudge, and sugared pecans. Waiting to be cooked, an enormous pork loin for tonight, a prime rib so large that I could use it as a battering ram. The Kitchen-Aid is going too, since I'm making rosemary bread for dinner. And of course, there are presents and gift tags and the camera.

We are kercited. It is our first Christmas together.

With the holiday, and the impending deadline of my book, we may not be here for awhile. So we would both — the Chef and the Writer — like to take this chance to say,

peace to you all.

Remember, as John says, war is over, if we want it.

Thank you for your presence in our lives. Happy Christmas, everyone.

Danny and Shauna Christmas 2006

22 December 2006

even with the deadline, there are cookies

ginger cookies for Christmas

(We're thrilled that this recipe is being featured at's roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit today.)

No time to write a story. Pushing against the deadline, Christmas. Breathing. Still refusing to grow frantic. Instead, I will stay mostly silent here. I will simply say...

these are fantastic.

Read this, then start baking, right now.

, adapted from Chez Panisse

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup molasses
1 1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 1/2 teaspoon strong cinnamon
3 teaspoon dried ginger
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Combine all the dry ingredients together. If you have a stand mixer, use it here to mix the flours together well. Move to a separate bowl.

Put the softened butter into the mixer and whirl it around, just a bit. Add the sugar and cream the butter and sugar. Not too much, however — too much will make the cookies spread. ADd the eggs and molasses. Combine everything until has become a coherent mixture.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix them until they are just combined, and no more. Stop the mixer.

Prepare a loaf pan by placing a piece of plastic wrap on the bottom, with at least two inches of overhang on either side. Spoon the cookie dough into the loaf pan, then smooth the surface with a spatula. Cover the top with the plastic wrap. Put the loaf pan into the freezer and freeze overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the loaf pan from the freezer and take the log of dough out of the plastic wrap. Carefully, cut thin slices from the loaf of dough and lay them on a silpat on the baking sheet. (If you don't have a silpat, use parchment paper.) Bake for ten to twelve minutes. The cookies will feel slightly soft to the touch, and possibly underbaked.

Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for at least ten minutes before you try to move them. Transfer them to a cooling rack. Allow them to sit there for another fifteen minutes before eating. (Really. You have to try!) At this point, you can leave the cookies this size, or you can cut them into smaller rectangles for little spicy ginger bites.

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21 December 2006

only one day left...

the chef in his new apron

Today is the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. Somehow, this day feels more potent to me than Christmas or New Year's. I like the quietness of it, the fact that it is not tainted by hordes of shoppers so desperate for that one last present that they are running each other down in the parking lots at malls. Instead, this is the earth, slowly tilting on its axis, inexorably moving toward summer, and more light.

Some of you might have thought, "Oh god, the shortest day of the year. It's so dark." I just think of the Beatles line, "It's getting better all the time (couldn't get much worse)."

Besides, there are so many gleams of light against the dark night sky.

My eyes can hardly believe it. Every time I check back with the donations page for Menu for Hope III, I do a doubletake. Last year, everyone involved felt thrilled to have raised $17,000. As of this post, the total is nearly $45,000. If anyone needs a little glimmer of light in the darkness, there it is.

You still have tonight, though. As we sit in the darkness together, how about reaching out one more time for Hope? As those of you who are regular readers know, the offering from this website is a full dinner at Impromptu Bistro, with me, wine included, all lovingly made by the Chef. And of course, everything can be gluten-free.

Many of you have already bid on this one. I can't wait to meet the winner and share an evening with you, candles flickering on the table, illuminating our food. But there is still time to bid. And there are so many other prizes! Why not reach out, one more time, tonight?

The photograph above is of the Chef, with his new apron. We ordered them for him the other day, black with crisp white pinstripes. He couldn't decide — should he wear it around his waist or around the neck? He tried it both ways, so many times, that I didn't know who was the girl in the room. Watching his happy pride, the way he brushed the apron straight to his knees, and seeing the way he felt uplifted by this small addition to his uniform — well, I just had to take his photograph.

This is one of the reasons I love him so. He takes such enormous delight in tiny details.

Wouldn't you want a meal made by someone who lives like that?

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19 December 2006

recipe testing by candlelight

recipe testing by candlelight, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

"Sweetie, how many quarts does that stockpot hold?"
He ferrets around in the kitchen for that lovely pot that Brandon bought for us at Goodwill, the holder of many sumptuous soups these past few months. He turns it over and looks at the bottom. He knows from the feel of it, but he wants to check to make sure.
"Six quarts," he says as he walks toward me again. I type it down, then go back to adjust something I wrote earlier. He settles down beside me again, and we go back to it.

Busy, so busy. These past few days have been a delicious whirlwind. On Thursday night, Seattle and environs suffered a vicious windstorm that knocked hundreds of thousands of people out of power and heat. Awakened at 1:30 in the morning by a low electrical hum in my body, I lay in bed in the darkness, the Chef asleep beside me, then clutched the bed as the gust of wind rattled the house side to side. I felt like a kid again, when I was awoken in the darkness by a small earthquake. A Southern California kid, I stayed awake only long enough to suss out the magnitude. If it felt small enough, I fell asleep again in the midst of it. But this windstorm felt like something different.

We were supremely lucky. Our little neighborhood of Seattle was relatively unscathed. High on a hill and mostly lovely homes, our little corner of the world lacked the dense tree covering that make this area heartbreakingly beautiful. We didn't lose power — we found out later that our street was the dividing line. Every street east of us was out of power, all day long. We felt guilty for missing our internet for a few hours.

Better yet — and a little bit guilt-inducing — the neighborhood of the Chef's restaurant was out of power for two full days. An enormous fir tree crashed over the fence of the rich people's golf course, slammed on electrical lines, and destroyed a line of electrical poles. On a normal day, this would have been repaired by the end of the afternoon. But with nearly a million people out of power (and some still tonight, for the fifth night in a row, in freezing temperatures), that neighborhood by the lake just didn't take precedence.

The Chef didn't have to work for two days. That, plus our normal weekend (Sunday and Monday) meant four days together. What did we do? Well, lots of lovely activities, of course. But mostly, we worked on recipes.

It's a good busy, because it involves sitting on the couch with the laptop on my knees and the Chef's head on my lap, as we work out recipes for great macaroni and cheese or cream of mushroom soup. We pop up to taste onions sautéed to the point of softness or smell fresh-cut ginger and compare it to the dried stuff, or fill a tablespoon with kosher salt to see how much 1/8 of a cup is. And then we return to the computer, giggling at the joy of this. We're a real team.

I liked the food I made before I met the Chef. Friends and family raved about the recipes when I made them. However, there simply is no comparison to the first drafts I originally printed on this website and the finished recipes that will be in the book. Not only that, but a full third of the recipes will be for meals the Chef has made for us at nearly midnight, after a full day's work. We have invented dishes and combined flavors and imagined worlds in which everyone can eat this well, and gluten-free.

As my brother said to me, laughing, last month, "How exactly did you think you were going to write this book before you met him?" I don't know, now. It feels meant to be. We both feel it. We are blessedly happy, and we want to give it all back as great food for anyone who wants to read the book. (And the next one.)

The Chef has all the skillfull techniques from the training at his culinary school, and the eighteen years of working at splendid restaurants around the country and in Seattle. But I know how to take those techniques, his nearly two decades of dedicated muscle memory, and turn them into sensory images that any cook can understand.

These are going to be kick-ass recipes.

How about beef tenderloin with crispy polenta, fried avocadoes, and a poblano-sour cream sauce? All gluten-free, of course.

Chestnut honey ice cream? Baked goat cheese with chervil, parsley, and tarragon? Bouillabaisse? Chicken enchiladas with homemade corn tortillas? Sorghum bread? Potato leek soup?

There will be about 85 recipes from which to choose.

The photograph you see above is the dinner we had on Friday night. Unlike most in Seattle, we didn't have to eat by candlelight. We chose it. On our new plates, the roast chicken with lemon I have talked about on this site many times, the roasted cauliflower with smoked paprika and Mayan cocoa powder, a tender quinoa made with chicken stock, and all of it with a red wine sauce. Over on the saucers, a mixed green salad with a golden balsamic vinaigrette and soft goat cheese.

As a friend of mine said recently, "Shauna, you sure are spoiled." I know. I know. We both feel blessed. And like I said, we want to give that back, as much as possible.

You're going to love these recipes, if you buy this book. They are going to be Chef-tested, and every one of them gluten-free.

And while he has been working today at the now-opened restaurant, I'm working on the last chapters, eight hours in a row.

The manuscript is due two weeks from today. I'm going to make it. The draft will be imperfect, of course. What isn't? That's why I have an editor, after all. But I'm proud of it. It's unusual — and near impossible — to be required to write an entire manuscript in four months. I can. I have.

And the first week of January, I am going to sleep like a baby!

15 December 2006

on loving a man and his mother's cookies

(We're thrilled that this recipe is being featured at's roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit today.)

When you choose to love someone, you accept more than one person in your life. Truly loving someone means inheriting an entire world.

The moment between two people is dear, more powerful and tender than any people outside those two will ever understand. This shared life is ineffably beautiful, a little universe of two. But if it’s true love, that universe starts expanding, pretty quickly.

The holidays are approaching. Family time. Your parents beam with happiness when they find out that he does not have to work on Christmas Eve, and thus everyone can have two full days together for games and food. His father sends out the Christmas letter to the four brothers and sisters, and the two of you, and he officially welcomes you into the family by including you in the gift exchange. The two of you trade tears at the way you have been accepted.

And then he tells you that his mother makes him cookies, every year. She has been making the same cookies for forty years, or so. No one has ever made them for her. So the two of you conspire, and you make two different batches, with different gluten-free flours, until they look fantastic. Late at night, he takes a bite of the last batch, and tears form in his eyes. “These are my mom’s cookies,” he says, and hugs you close.

No baking has ever felt this good.

The next day, you put together a package, and send a tin of the cookies to Arizona, overnight. All day, the two of you giggle, wondering when they will receive it. The next afternoon, as you are driving to the restaurant, the cell phone rings. He answers it ands smiles wide. After a few moments, he passes the phone to you.

His mother exhales, “I just can’t believe you did this!” She says of the photograph of the two of you that you tucked into the box, “We are going to put this out for everyone to see. I’m sure that we’ll look at it on Christmas Eve and cry.” You feel more grateful than you can say, but you also love how familiar her voice is now, enough that you know she is holding back tears as she talks.

His father comes on the line, and thanks you, profusely. He asks how your book is coming, and you assure him that you’ll make the deadline. Of course you will. And then he says, of the cookies: “These are gluten-free? Well, then I don’t need any damned gluten! These are great.” And you grin, because here is a man nearly eighty years old, and he is still open enough to allow himself to change. You hear the man you love in his father’s voice, and more than anything, you just hope that you have the chance to love that man until he is eighty.

It is the first holiday season the two of you share, and his parents approve of your gluten-free cookies. This universe you share together — it feels enormous and beneficent.

And then you share it with everyone reading on the internet.


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white rice flour
½ cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup each roasted hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 300°.

Cream the butter and powdered sugar in a stand mixer, or by hand. Cream them until they are just combined, and then one beat more. Over-creaming butter and sugar in gluten-free cookies makes them spread, horribly. Add the vanilla extract and mix it in.

Combine the rice flour, tapioca flour, and almond meal in a large bowl. Sift the mixed flours for a soft texture. Add the sifted flour to the butter, sugar, and vanilla mix. Mix until just beaten in.

Add the three kinds of nuts to the dough and mix until they are well integrated into the dough. Refrigerate for at least one hour before forming into cookies.

Form small blobs of dough, as large as the width of the palm of your hand. Gingerly, tenderly, roll them out to small logs. If the logs of dough form little tails, more narrow than the rest, snip those off and start again. Place them down carefully on the silpat on a baking sheet. You should be able to fit about fifteen logs of dough on the sheet.

Put into the oven and bake for eighteen to twenty minutes. The cookies will be firm to the touch, with a bit of give, when they are done. Sieve powdered sugar over the tops of the cookies, and then put a bit more on. Set the baking sheet aside for ten minutes. Do not attempt to live the cookies yet. However, the cookies might have spread, just a bit. Gently, using a metal spatula or your fingers, pat the edges of the cookies back into place. Let them cool on the baking sheet. After ten minutes, gently lift the cookies onto a cooling rack. Let them sit for at least an hour before eating. (I know — good luck.) These hold together and taste best when you let them sit overnight.

Makes about fifteen cookies.

13 December 2006

on recovering from a pernicious flu, gluten-free

The raging sore throat has settled into a dusty patch at the back of my throat. Malaise has given way to a modicum of energy. The pounding earache is only a little pulse of pain.

I might just be on the mend.

Last week, besieged by a miserable flu, I relented. Frayed along the edges of flu for four days, I finally faced the truth — you’re sick, you silly Shauna. Give in to it.
And yet, I had to let out a little sad sigh before I collapsed, letting you know why I wouldn’t be offering up words every day here.

You saved me.

I’m serious. I’m so moved by this community.

The doctor helped, and he seems to be right. This was a bad virus, and I just needed to rest it to the ground. However, when I asked him about treatment for my piercing earache and the lymph nodes in my neck swollen to the size of kumquats, something beyond ibuprofen and sleep, he shrugged and said, “Anything your grandmother might have recommended.”

Um, my grandmother, sadly, never offered me a single helpful word. What to do?

Ask you.

Here is what has been nursing me back to health, from the best of your comments and suggestions, in case anyone reading might be fighting that creepy feeling in the back of your throat and along your muscles:

hot baths with lavender
. Ah, yes. I love the delicious thrill of extending my toes into soapy water, then slowly lowering the rest of me in. Somehow, when I’m busy, baths feel like a distant memory. When I am sick, they are a necessity.

Hot lemon water with ginger and cayenne pepper. There’s something soothing about lemons and heat. Fresh ginger (I pulled out the dried one for the photograph, because I had run out of all the fresh ginger from using it this week1), a touch of honey, and a dash of cayenne pepper for a kick. I must have drunk twenty-two cups of this in three days.

Gargling with salt water. Old trick, I know, but a good one. This works. Just don’t swallow.

Reed’s ginger brew. The Chef brought back a bag full of bottles of this, the first morning I finally admitted I was sick, after a trek to the store for healing supplies for me. I love the spicy carbonation, and it makes me feel like I’m drinking beer again!

Oranges and satsumas and kumquats — oh my
! Citrus fruits rock. I love peeling them and stripping the pith and feeling the squelch of juice in my mouth. Vitamin C, of course, helps too.

Sleep and more sleep. The first day, when I finally gave in, I slept all day long, with little feverish waking periods rapidly followed by more sleep. When the manuscript is due and I have a hundred things let to do, this felt decadent. But the next morning, I awoke feeling halfway to human again. To that end, I was happy to discover that Nyquil is gluten-free. Yeah!

Chicken stock
. The Chef made me quarts and quarts of it. I drank it hot and turned it into soups and slurped up more until my throat started feeling not so sore.

Sex and the City and Law and Order: SVU.
Someone suggested, wonderfully, all six episodes of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, in a row. If I had not watched that, just before meeting the Chef, I would have indulged again. Besides, I could only watch in little bursts before I fell asleep again. The Chef, however, has hooked me on SVU, which I had never seen before. Beware: if you watch it before going to bed and taking Nyquil, you’re going to have weird dreams.

Comments from my readers. When I would wake up and see that several more of you had sent in suggestions, I felt loved. And when I could start writing again, I felt a fervent urgent desire to write, for you. Thank you.

The Chef’s love. Sorry, everyone else, you can’t have this one. But hopefully, you have someone equally tender and solicitous. My entire life, since leaving my parents’ house, when I have been sick, I have done it alone. This time, I woke to him kissing me, walked into the kitchen to find breakfast made, answered the phone to tender questions and silly jokes. I have never felt so loved. That has to build the immune system too.

Saying yes. About the middle of the first day, when I was feverish and fretting about losing a day of writing time, I looked down at my wrist and say it again: yes. Yes, I have the flu, it seemed to be nudging me. And, what are you going to do, fight it? Part of the reason I had that tattoo emblazoned on me is to remind me: say yes to every moment as it arises, even if you don’t like it at first. Here I was, perniciously sick. Would I make myself any better by shouting no, no, no — I can’t be sick?! Silly Shauna. Say yes. Accept. Surrender.

I think, in the end, that made the biggest difference.

Well, that, and the hot toddies.


1 good-sized shot of Scotch
1 tablespoon sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
enough hot water to fill your cup

Pour the Scotch and sugar into the cup. Stir. Squeen the lemon juice in and listen to it sizzle against the alcohol. Fill the cup with hot water, just enough to cover if you want this strong, all the way to the top if you like your toddies weak. Stir. Drink.
Repeat, every night, until you are rested and wide-eyed with energy.

POSTSCRIPT, literally: Many of you have written to me, in the comments and on the flickr page, to warn everyone reading that Emergen-C is not safe for celiacs. Apparently, the raspberry and mixed berry have sometimes been found with traces of wheat in them. Or is it the other flavors? I've only had a few Emergen-C packets in my life, and one of them on the first full day of the flu. I haven't had a reaction. Then again, maybe I would have been better that day without that one packet. Best to be on the safe side and ignore them completely.

11 December 2006

a fabulous dinner helps those without food

a menu for hope, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Smoked black cod with fingerling potatoes, sautéed leeks, and remoulade. Lamb chops with endive and black pepper vinaigrette. Squid ink risotto with Dungeness crab, Jerusalem artichokes, and a Madras curry vinaigrette. Bananas and pineapple flambéed in rum.

Doesn't it just make your mouth water?

It is hard to remember, in the midst of imagining this incredible meal, just how many people are hungry. Of course, I don't mean the kind of hungry I am now, wondering about breakfast. I mean, hungry.

Food bloggers think about food. Most of us also think about the absence of food.

I am acutely aware, every time I post a piece on this site, of how lucky I am. Even with bread gone bad, or days of feeling wretched and not being able to eat, I am blessed. And I want to give back.

This year, food bloggers around the world are banding together to participate in Menu for Hope III. Last year, the collective group raised over $17,000 for UNICEF. This year, we are giving to the UN World Food Programme, and we are hoping that we can raise far more this year. Come on -- it's the holidays. Let's go for double of last year!

We all give what we can. Some of my fellow food bloggers are offering free photography lessons, chocolate tours of Paris, copies of their books, and more and more and more. There are so many options. Please, choose one.

This year, I am offering what I can. This year's prize is.....

Dinner with the Gluten-Free Girl at Impromptu Bistro

As many of you know, I have fallen madly in love with the Chef. You will too, after you eat his food. This year, as our offering for Menu for Hope, we invite you to have dinner at Impromptu Bistro in Seattle.

Whoever has the winning bid for Gluten-Free Girl on Menu for Hope 2006 will have dinner with me at Impromptu. This means, of course, that you need to be in Seattle to collect the prize. However, visitors are as welcome to bid as residents of the rainy city.

Your dinner will include appetizer, entrée, and dessert, as well as wine to accompany each course. That might mean Penn Cove mussels with rosemary, Dijon mustard, and cream, followed by roast pork with a kumquat chutney, sweet potatoes and apples in a red wine sauce, finished up with Meyer lemon panna cotta.

If you need to eat gluten-free, you are in for delight, as the Chef can prepare anything on the menu for you. Here, you can eat with ease, because nothing will make you sick. And even if you do not need to eat gluten-free, you are guaranteed a splendid meal.

I will be there with you, thrilled to meet you and share this food with you.

If you wish to give, here are a few simple instructions as to how:

1. Go to the donations page at First Giving. Donate at least $10. Every $10 bid gives you one raffle ticket for the prize of your choice. If you would like to win the prize from this website, enter in this code: UW16. That number is vital, as you won't be able to win this prize without it. So, again, that's UW16. Enter that code in the Personal Messages section.

2. Why not try again? Or enter another raffle? There are so many prizes. You could finish all your holiday shopping this way.

3. Be sure to leave your email address, or otherwise there is no way of contacting you. (Imagine the organizational nightmare of this endeavor!)

4. Check back to the First Giving page frequently, just to see how we're doing.

5. Finally, on January 15th, check in at Chez Pim for a list of all the prizes and their winners. Also, whoever wins the prize for this one? Email me as soon as you can, so we can set up our delicious evening!

Whew. That's it.

Well, not quite.

If you would like to see a list of all the prizes avaiable on the west coast of the United States, check in at Sam's site, Becks and Posh, for a giant round-up.

Pim,at her site, is keeping a tally of every single prize in the world! Sheesh!

Please give, everyone.

If you have been enjoying the growing love story on this site, or the sound of the food at the Chef's restaurant, or just want a great meal with someone who is eager to meet you, I hope you will consider this offer.

(Wait a minute! Now I sound like I'm shilling for Ronco!)

Food. Wine. The Chef. A great cause. What more could you want?

08 December 2006

this poached chicken breast is....

poached chicken breast, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

the only food I ate all of yesterday.

The Chef made me an emergency quart of stock in the morning, before going off to work. He also brought me ginger ale and lemons and oranges and fresh juice. Sweetly, he brought all of them to me with tender concern in his eyes. That made me feel a little better, for a few moments.

You see, at the worst time imaginable, I have grown sick, very sick. During the fall, I flirted with having a cold, and skirted the edges of flu for a few days last week. Each time, my healthful eating and adoring honey brought me back from the brink. This time, however, there was no going back.

This is the first time I have been truly sick since I stopped eating gluten. Damn, I guess gluten-free does not mean germ-free!

The doctor said, yesterday morning, that my raw sore throat, ear ache, swollen glands, and fevers are probably just a viral infection. When I told him all that is going on, and especially that I have a manuscript due to the publishers in three and a half weeks, he smiled and said, "Well, that might have something to do with it, don't you think?"

Yes. I'm sure he's right.

This past week, I have been terribly, terribly sad about this story, which makes my flu feel superfluous. My vivid imagination spiraled into their story, and I could not shake the feeling of grief. I know that many of us felt the same. The only gleam in all that darkness was watching the way people came together through the internet, this quixotic, beautiful community.

I'm so grateful to have a body that can feel malaise and pain. Still, I think the sadness weighed me down, along with the deadline.

And so, I'm taking a break for a few days. Doctor's orders. I'll be back when I'm better, when my throat doesn't ache with a slaking rage. I'm hoping that today I will feel well enough to prop the laptop on my knees and work on the book. If not, it's more sleep for me.

Until I'm back, talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: best gluten-free methods for fighting the flu.

I could use some.

06 December 2006

sometimes, i fail.

bad bread, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Most days, I artfully compose my photographs of food so that I catch the light with a perfect gleam. See the reflection of the sky through the skylights on that egg yolk? Ah, there's a perfect accident. Golden light, just before dusk -- these days about 3:30 -- falls softly on the little table by the window, and I run toward it with my latest baked-goods creation. If some morsel of food we ate the night before tasted fantastic, I save at least a slice of it to drive it to the restaurant and take pictures by the window. And then I eat the rest for lunch.

Food bloggers? We're a weird bunch. We take photographs of our food, and we write about the tastes, and then we leave comments on each other's sites to say how much we enjoyed their version of the process. Truly — odd. (Wonderful, of course. But I say that because I'm swimming in this water all the time, and I don't know how to come to shore.)

However, most of the time, we tell you about the successes. I certainly do here. The gluten-free cookie that tastes like its predecessor, but better. The lamb stew that made us both sing. That one bite of black cod that changed my mind forever about black rice flour. You would think, from reading this blog, that it's just one food orgasm after another over here.

Well, as far as the kitchen goes, that can't possibly be true. At least, not most of the time.

Last month, the entire food blog world went seemingly insane for this no-knead bread recipe, published in the New York Times. Oh, the raptures! Luisa made me want to try it, when she wrote, "Yes! A fantastic recipe! Something to rave about! Finally. What a relief." Looking at her bread, I knew I had to follow her lead. Deb at Smitten Kitchen crafted a gorgeous loaf of bread with one hand, since the other arm was in a sling at the time. Lindy at Toast raved about how light and feathery and perfectly easy this was bread was to make. And for goodness' sake, look at all these photographs on flickr of people who made this bread successfully. Certainly, with all my skill and determination, I should be able to concoct a successful version of this easy-peasy bread recipe. Right?

In one word: no.

Let me say that a little more clearly: no, no, no. Big nada. Nope. Out of the realm of possibility. Kerplunk. Forget about it. Don't waste your time. Uh-uh.

Obviously, that recipe relies upon the long strands of gluten that stretch and sway in the dough as it rises. Without gluten, what do you have?

Friends sometimes tease me that I keep my Louisville slugger in the living room. They think I leave it in the corner in case there are burglars. They don't quite understand that I just love my baseball bat and all the triples I have hit with it. However, maybe I should make another batch of this gluten-free no-knead bread and keep it around in case there are burglars. One swing of this blam-so-hard-you-could-break-a-tooth-with-it simulacrum of bread, and that burglar would be out cold.

I used to love chewing on gum when I was a kid. I'd keep a pink wad in my mouth at all times, just to blow bubbles. If I chewed on a slice of this stuff all day I still wouldn't be done with it. Bubbles? No. Gummy substance that tastes like no food in nature. Yes.

The Chef wouldn't even use the two loaves I tried to bake breadcrumbs. He said they might break the blade of the food processor.

Damn it. I wanted that bread.

Not being able to convert this into a gluten-free recipe makes me feel like I'm in the seventh grade again, and everyone is raving over his or her flashy new Nike shoes, and my family just cannot afford a pair.

Damn you, gluten!

Oh well. The only silver lining in this little grey cloud? At least I can save you the trouble of attempting it. Seriously, don't bother.

p.s. Several of you have written to me, in the last few days, worrying that I am starting to grow frustrated or giving up on making great, gluten-free bread. Not at all, my friends. Not at all. In fact, I wrote this essay in a snarky voice, because it was so damned frustrating to thwack that bread against the side of the counter and not have it move. But failing? That won't stop me. In fact, I welcome it.

Thanks to Sasha for these quotes:

‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’— Albert Einstein

‘To develop working ideas efficiently, I try to fail as fast as I can.’— Richard P. Feynman

‘Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.’— Mahatma Gandhi

05 December 2006

how he made me cry

the Chef's pizza, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Last evening, I sat on our couch, next to the Chef, with tears rolling down my cheeks.

I looked up at him, honestly moved and unable to convey it fully with words, and said, "You made me pizza."

In our hands were slices of gluten-free pizza, the crust from a mix by Mona's with olive-oil embellishments from the Chef. On top, roasted orange and yellow peppers, carmelized onions, fresh mozzarella, rosemary, and a decadent treat — an heirloom tomato out of season. All day long, he had been looking at me and saying, "I'm going to make you pizza!" And then, he did. He mixed the dough and rolled it right and pushed it with his capable hands into the corners of the baking sheet. He would want you to know that we don't have a proper pizza tray yet, or a cutter, or any of the other embellishments he would like to try next. That didn't bother me.

Instead, I took a bite of the crust: chewy with a familiar bounce against the teeth; dense and yeasty; a willing sopper for the olive oil soaking into it. And on the bottom, an unexpected crunch. Only unexpected because no gluten-free pizza crust, in my experience, ever has that shattered-by-the-teeth bottom, the crisp and crackle of a truly great pizza. This one did. I mean -- look at this crust. It tasted like pizza. No, it tasted like truly great pizza. It tasted like love.

When I thanked him, I saw his face, blurred through my tears, soften. And he said, "I don't want you to feel any different because you have celiac. I want to be able to make you any food you want, and have it taste the way you want. It may take awhile to make some of them right, but I'm going to do it. Because I want to feed you."

Oh, my lovely kumquat. (Thanks, Shuna.) Does anyone wonder why I am marrying him?

And then, today, there was leftover pizza for lunch.

04 December 2006

gingerbread men— oh my

gingerbread men, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Every December, for decades of my life, I made dozens and dozens of gingerbread men. Nearly every weekend, I found myself at the end of each evening with piles of crispy ginger cookies toppling on baking racks and flour all down the front of my shirt. In fact, for years I just baked myself unconscious all throughout the holidays, just coming up for breath in January, spent and determined to never bake again. Somehow, every year I forgot the frantic fracas and went back to it.

Of course, when I first found out I had celiac, I figured I would never bake again. Within three days, I gave my flour-dusted copy of the Pillsbury baking book to my dear friend Dorothy. I tucked my recipes for holiday cookies in the back of a drawer. I was determined to live my life without baked goods.

Now, of course, I think — how silly. There is a natural process to this journey. At first, shock and horror, along with a small spring of hope at the life Iwe might have. And then, as we start to truly feel well for the first time in our lives, there arises a determination to do this right, all fervency and fabulous zeal. A bit of grieving, continual surprise, a little anger, a sense of discovery — we can cycle through them all and stay longer in some than others. Finally, there is acceptance. And we just live.

Honestly, at this point, I think about living gluten-free all day long, but it’s only because I am keeping this website, and writing a book, and marrying a chef who has worked to make his restaurant safe for those who are living gluten-free. If I were feeding myself, and not writing about this, I’m not sure I’d be identifying myself so much this way. I’d just eat the food I know is safe and think of other things.

I’m so grateful to be aware of this. I really loving helping anyone I can, any one of you reading who needs to live gluten-free.

I find, therefore, that I have a natural affinity for anyone else who makes gluten-free food, who wants to educate and help other people. This is why I like Lisa Shaw so much.

Lisa runs a gluten-free baked goods company called Mona’s Gluten-Free. Back in September, she and her company launched their gluten-free mixes into the larger market beyond their Woodinville store, and they held their launch luncheon at Impromptu. In honor of the occasion, Lisa invited representatives from local co-ops, health food stores, and grocery stores to eat with her and talk about living gluten-free. I felt honored to be invited as well. It was an extraordinary moment: being at the Chef’s restaurant, with people who must avoid gluten, all of us able to order whatever we wanted off the menu, and talking freely. The same way I feel an immediate affinity for my fellow food bloggers, I feel an instant ease with anyone who eats gluten-free.

The Mona products are great. The Chef has used the baguette mix many times to make gluten-free bread at the restaurant. I respect and admire the work Lisa has done.

But when she sent me her mix for gingerbread men, my respect sky-rocketed to adoration. Oh my god, these are fantastic. They put tears in my eyes. I have eaten far too many in two days.

Once I came to acceptance — and even an embracing — of my gluten-free lifestyle, I started to disdain the use of mixes. After all, when I baked with gluten, I would never have made something from a box or bag. Once I had experimented with gluten-free flours and started to mix a little bit of this and a little bit of that, I felt above a packaged mix. I haven’t had one in the house since the Chef walked in.

But I’ve changed my mind with these gingerbread men. I want to make another dozen tomorrow and send them out to friends as presents. (Okay, I have to wait until January this year to give my gifts, as the book is due first.) I want to eat another one right now.

Crisp with a chew, spicy with nutmeg and ginger, wonderfully dense in texture in all the right ways, these cookies rise up and form little ginger people perfectly. Last night, I made a batch, frosted them (ha! No one ever said I was Martha Stewart), then took them over to Molly and Brandon’s for a little celebration dinner. They were both impressed. Brandon, who is a little obsessed with the science and reasons why of food, and thus a tough critic, took a bite and said, “There is absolutely no indication that these are gluten-free.”

I have to say, I agree. They are simply damned fine cookies. They’re even better for breakfast the second day.

And so, I’m going to say something I have never said on this website — buy these. If you have an interest in ginger cookies, you must buy a bag of these. Don’t waste any time. It’s that holiday baking season again.


For years, I did not know how to make a proper buttercream frosting. Oh, it tasted good. How could it go bad with butter and sugar? But it was always too runny, a little too soft to do anything but spread it densely with a knife.

Yesterday, as we were walking into the restaurant, I asked the Chef how to make it. “Well, you start with softened butter….”
“You mean melted butter?” I said, hopeful I hadn’t always been making a beginner’s mistake.
“No, that would ruin it,” he said.


He was right, of course. If you let the butter sit out until it is naturally soft — instead of being impatient and melting it in the microwave the way I did for years — this buttercream frosting should come out wonderfully thick and ready to be stuffed into a pastry bag.

And by frosting gingerbread men with a pastry bag and thick-enough frosting for the first time in my life, I was able to make naughty gingerbread people for the Chef when he came home.

½ cup softened butter, not melted but yielding to the touch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk (if you want to be truly decadent, use heavy cream)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

Cream the butter in a stand mixer (or your biceps, if you wish). Add the vanilla and milk and stir until the mixture has become coherent. Slowly, add the powdered sugar, in little dribs and drabs. Only add the powdered sugar until the frosting is the thickness and consistency that you desire. (Please use the above measurement as only a rough estimate.)

Stuff the frosting into a pastry bag and ice your cookies in any pattern you wish.

03 December 2006

i love kumquats.

kumquat chutney, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I love kumquats.

I love the word of the thing. Kum-quat. So much fun to say. During the three months of my student teaching -- oh so many years ago now; those 14-year-olds are now 30 years old! -- I taught a lesson on the sounds of words, as a warm-up to high-school poetry writing. (Honestly, they weren't as maudlin as you might have expected.) We worked on assonance -- wavy and sleigh -- and consonance -- crack and cacophony -- and how to truly listen. Feeling first, then literal meaning afterwards.

The first day I introduced this way of being, I stood in front of my new class and said, "Kumquat!" They looked at me as though I had said something dirty. "Kumquat," I said. "Isn't that a great word?"

Turns out that not one kid in that class had ever eaten a kumquat, or even seen one. They thought I was speaking moon man language. When I told them about these adorable little citrus fruits, the only ones that allow you to eat their skins, they were supercharged with energy. Every day, one of them shouted out, at some inopportune moment, "Kumquat, Ms. James!" I seem to remember a day in which the entire class of 28 14-year-olds began chanting "kumquat. kumquat. kumquat." I laughed, every day, with them.

On the last day of classes, at the end of the school year, they presented me with cards and flowers. The class that so loved our wordplay dance with citrus nominated the shyest kid to step forward. He made a little spee about how much they had loved being in my class. And then he pulled his hand from behind his back and presented me with....a bag of kumquats.

They have never tasted that sweet again.

Besides the memories, and the forceful resonance of the sound of the word, I also love the thing itself. I mean, look at the kumquat. Squat, green flaring into orange, a little nipple on top, rippled and flecked skin — this fruit has nothing to offer but itself.

The other day, when the Chef and I walked into the restaurant for the afternoon's work, we were delighted to see that the produce delivery had already arrived. Among the bags of spinach and handfuls of fresh herbs, I spotted a box with a flare of orange peeking up from its depths. Kumquats.

He grinned and went into the kitchen. Half an hour later, this kumquat chutney arrived. He planned to serve it that night with roast chicken. Just a spoonful of it brought all these memories rushing back.

He insists that it's more a marmalade than a chutney. But I can't help it, I like the sound of chutney better. Kumquat chutney. Now there's a sound I love.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups kumquats

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, forming a simple syrup. The moment they boil, put in the kumquats and reduce the heat to low, allowing the kumquats to simmer. When they are glistening, and everything has thickened -- probably about twenty minutes -- you have kumquat chutney. (Or marmalade. But really, say kumquat chutney. Fun!)

02 December 2006

this makes it official.

Save the Date Card, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

This is the proof for the Save the Date card we envisioned, which a lovely local designer is making a reality for us.

When I first pulled the photo from the blue envelope, I welled up with tears. Oh, I love him so. He has guided me home.

When he first saw the side with the words, he started to cry, in his kitchen. He didn't need to say a word.

This makes it official. We really are going to be married.


01 December 2006

the first day of december

Meyer lemons, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Here it is. The first day of December.

Yesterday was the last day of November, which makes it the last day of NaBloPoMo (or National Blog Posting Month, for those who remain uninitiated). That means that I posted something every day for a month. Actually, it wasn't nearly as hard as that might seem, as I had been posting daily since the middle of October. However, you would think that with my manuscript due soon, I would have been posting pithier and pithier pieces as the days of November dwindled. Strangely, the posts grew longer, with more recipes, as the month diminished. Why? Writing here has been a balm for me. When my head starts to throb at the thought of all the work still before me, I just type in little stories on this site. I have loved the daily contact, and all your comments. Six to eight hours of writing a day can grow a little lonely when it is just me, sitting in this room, on the blue exercise ball, in front of the computer. The Chef's frequent phone calls and all the emails from you lovely readers has kept me grounded in this sea of words.

Tomorrow, however, is December 2nd. That makes it one month to the day before my manuscript is due to the publishers. Oh. My. God. If I told you just how much work remains to be done between now and then, you could faint. (And I don't want to be responsible for that weirdly shaped bruise on your chin when your face hits the desk in front of you.) People, I am really up against it now. Wow.

(in a little whisper, i will say this: i work well against a deadline. i actually sort of like the big push that is required now. i know i can do it. i will.)

So, as much as I love writing these romantic, silly, sensory impressions and plenty of food posts every day, I have to slow down this month. I'll be here, writing. Send out a little hello, if you want. I may not write back until January, but I would sure love to hear from you.

I promise — there will still be words and photos here every day. But it might be a lot of photographs, and they may not all be of food. Maybe snippets of conversation, without any context. An occasional cookie recipe or two. Whereas this blog is normally Faulknerian-length prose, December will be the month of haikus.

Thank you all for reading. Wish me luck.

I will need it.