This Page

has been moved to new address

Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

Sorry for inconvenience...

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


27 May 2007

goodbye green kitchen

goodbye green kitchen

This kitchen. Oh, this green kitchen.

This is the house in which I lived alone for three years. When I first walked into this lovely apartment, the upper floor of a home at the top of Queen Anne, I knew that I wanted to say yes to it within five minutes. Truly, it was when I walked into the kitchen. I spotted the sunlight, the skylights emblazoning their shape on the warm tile floor, and I knew this was home. "I'll take it," I told the landlord. And then I looked at the rest of the house.

As soon as I moved in, this place felt like home. I never felt like I was renting. I just inhabited this space. I graded essays as I sat by the living room window. Instead of marking papers with blue pen, I looked out at the Olympic mountains stretching to the sky. I slept alone. I usually slept well, but there was an absence in the bed with me. After two years of being in Seattle, I finally left New York.

This is the home in which I lay in pain, for months on end, after my car accident. The night my sciatica pain flared in electric bolts and fire flashes down my leg, I had to crawl from the bedroom to the bathroom, just to seek some respite in the hot bath. It didn't help, and it took me twenty minutes to crawl back to the bedroom.

The year afterward, I lay on the living room couch in throbbing pain. Every afternoon, I needed long naps after eating handfuls of soft bread. For months on end, I suffered, not knowing from where that pain emanated. When I found it was from eating gluten, I said yes to my new life. Every word, and every photograph, that appears on this website through today, has been crafted in this kitchen. Every bite of food I have cooked, every baked good I invented, every recipe I tested — they were all created in this kitchen.

And more importantly, for the last year, this has been my home with the Chef. This is the home in which we have made love, made the most memorable meals of my life, and made our lives together. A year ago this weekend, I asked him to move in with me, spontaneously. That question on Memorial Day 2006 was inspired by a frisee salad with a warm vinaigrette. And this year, on Memorial Day, we will move into our new home, the first house we have chosen together. He is going to make the salad again, for us.

Many of you have asked about the new house. I will save the full story for another piece. After all, that place will be the new home of this blog, and soon we will all feel familiar in its patches of light. I will say this, however: we are renting. The Chef and the writer? We can’t afford to buy a home. Yet. But the new home we are renting? It feels like a gift. It came through a friend, and we have been eager for weeks to live in its spaces. It is a small house, a cottage from the 1930s. There are hardwood floors, plenty of windows, a fireplace. Perhaps best of all — an enormous back yard. Gnarled apple trees, graceful pears, a wooden shed that is destined for chickens. Blueberry bushes, a raspberry patch, and grape vines straggling their way toward the sky. And a treehouse. We have a treehouse.

Along with all these gifts, one more. Our landlord, a dear man, is a master gardener here in Seattle, and he is going to mow the lawn and weed the garden as part of the rent. He is also going to help us start a vegetable garden, planted just outside the kitchen door.

We are going to start growing our own food.

And the kitchen in the new home? Enormous. New appliances. The brown tile floor gleams in the afternoon sunlight. We cannot wait to stand in front of the stove, dancing together, in our new home.

So we don’t feel sad, on the evening of our move. We are excited. Here we are, seven weeks before our wedding, starting our married life together in our new home. We have chosen each other, and we have chosen this home.

But before we say hello, we have to say goodbye.

There has been a spontaneous sharing around the internet: people sharing the insides of their refrigerators. I’ve been waiting until now to share ours, until just before we leave. Of course, the inside of the refrigerator looks quite different now. Mostly, it’s empty. But I thought this would be the best way to bid farewell to this kitchen. To share all its bounty.

inside the refrigerator

(Click on the photo to go to my flickr account and see the photograph with notes, plus others.)

Wherever we go, we are bringing the people we love.

on the refrigerator door II

And so, this home of mine, and then ours, will be empty tomorrow. After the cleaning on Tuesday, it will revert back to a rental, a white space into which someone else will dream her life.

Goodbye, green kitchen. Thank you.

23 May 2007

i am here.

Frank's produce

"Where are you? Are you okay? You haven't updated your site in days."

Several people I love called me today, asking me this. There have been even more emails.

People, I love you.

And I'm fine.

I realize it's quite unusual for me to go so silent here. (Well, last summer, when I was first falling hopelessly in love with the Chef, I put up one post for the entire month of July. Goodness, what was I thinking?) Usually, I'm posting daily photos of joy, and waxing poetic about this boy of mine.

But this has been, perhaps, the wackiest week of my life. Lovely Clotilde, of Chocolate and Zucchini fame, was in Seattle for two days. We held a huge event in her honor at the restuarant, which I want to tell you all about, later. There was a lunch at Salumi, a reading in the evening, and much laughter at both. In between, I was trapped in a bingo parlor for two hours. That's a story. This weekend, I was asked to write an additional glossary for my book, in two days. Tonight, I taught my first gluten-free cooking class. I have almost no voice for all the joyful story-telling, and so many hand gestures that I may have strained my wrist. It was, without a doubt, a singular experience.

And tomorrow night, I do it again.

On top of all this, we are moving this weekend. That means goodbye to the green kitchen. Hello to packing boxes. Life is more abundant than I can explain at the moment.

Sometimes, the writing has to slow down.

But I'll be back, as soon as I can. I can't stay away long. I'm so moved by your concern, and your presence in my life.

In the meantime, while I try to find a breath to breathe, here's a photograph of the stand at Frank's produce in the Market, yesterday afternoon. Molly bought frisee, and I took photos of the morels.

Life is sweet, even in silence.

18 May 2007

do you have celiac?

sauteed mushrooms and quinoa

In the car on our way to a dinner of barbecued wild salmon and mushroom risotto with wonderful friends, the Chef and I were stopped at an extra-long stop light. We looked over to watch a little blond-headed boy dance on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. When I glanced up at his mother, sipping a beer and looking slightly pained, I pointed her out to the Chef. "See that woman?" I said. "She has celiac."

"How do you know?" he said, peering at her.

"Look at her face," I said as I gestured. After she lowered her glass of beer to the table, we could both see her splotchy-red face, the pasty-white skin around it, the puffy look, the sleepy eyes. She looked like nearly every photograph of me taken before two years ago.

We had been going through photographs, earlier that afternoon, as preparation for packing. Mostly, it was an excuse to show each other photographs from our past. As we toured through photographs from my childhood, and the awkward early adolescence, the mis-begotten perm of my late-college years, and my time on Vashon and in New York, we were struck by this. In every third photograph I look tired and blotchy, red and slightly hazy. "You must have eaten half an hour before this one," he said of a particularly bad photograph, my face as red and white as wine spilled on a restaurant tablecloth. Even photographs of me at seven look like I'm in the middle of a gluten episode.

"That woman has celiac," he said, after he looked at her for a moment. As we started to drive away, I wished that I could somehow stop, and tell her, "Please put down that beer. You really don't need it."

I have many passions in life. In fact, I have so many passions that it's hard to keep up sometimes. They all spill out here, in one way or another. But I have come to realize, recently, that along with all my passions, I have one clear mission in life:

I want to help everyone who has celiac to be diagnosed, and I want to help them eat well, joyfully.

The last two years have been, without a doubt, the best of my life. It's not just because I met the Chef, or because I have a book coming out in October. Believe me, neither of those life dreams could have happened without my celiac diagnosis. And as much as it has become a truism for the times it has been uttered, the idea is still right at the core: without your health, none of it means that much.

Some of you who write to me let a sentence like this slip in: "Why don't you write more about being gluten-free?" Well, I feel like I am. Instead of testing gluten-free packaged foods or writing about my latest pancake recipe, I'm trying to show here what it is like to be in love with one's life, gluten-free. That's why, on some days, I simply post a photograph of a bowl of food that called to me from across the living room. From food comes stories. I have a lot of stories. And from stories come a life — complex and alive, always changing and never boring. I work on this notion: if the title of the blog is Gluten-Free Girl, then everything within it is gluten-free.

Because I went gluten-free, I found my life. I found real food. I found a deep and growing curiosity about everything to do with food, including the people who make it, the miles it has traveled to my plate, and the ways we can make it. Some days, I spend so much time with great food and the people who make it that I forget that I have a special way of eating. To be honest, I'm so constantly in touch with people who need to eat gluten-free, and spend every day with a man dear enough to make his entire restaurant safe for me to eat in, that I don't feel like I'm suffering with this. At all.

But others are suffering. Perhaps even you.

1 out of 100 Americans, it is estimated, has celiac disease. Only 3% of us have been diagnosed. Now, some of those people have skipped the doctor's visit, the blood test, and the biopsy. They stopped eating gluten and felt so much better that the official diagnosis doesn't matter. They aren't counted in the official statistics. But most of the people with celiac have belly aches or anemia or swollen joints or infertility problems or exhaustion or a multitude of little complaints that they have come to accept. They don't know that they could feel better. They could be reborn.

A surprising number of you have written to me to say that you came to this site to help a friend or family member, and you realized, after reading, that you needed to be tested too. How many people have been diagnosed with celiac because of this little website? I don't know. But I want more.

I'm hoping that the book gets so much exposure that every person who feels lousy at least has celiac in her or his brain, so (s)he can ask her or his doctor.

And so, I'd like to offer two sources.

If you suspect you have celiac, try this quiz at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: Do I Have Celiac? These folks are smart, energetic, and media savvy. They want what I do: to get everyone diagnosed.

Recently, I was sent a link by Dr. John LaPuma, in California. Dr. LaPuma has co-written two bestselling books, with Dr. Michael Roizen: The Real Age Diet and Cooking the Real Age Way. He also wrote the recipes for You: The Owner's Manual. (You know the one. You probably own it. That one written by the two doctors that are on the Oprah show every fifteen minutes these days.) Dr. LaPuma also has a television show on Lifetime, called ChefMD. You see, he's a trained chef as well as a doctor.

What he was doing writing to me, I don't know. But write he did. And he directed me to this pithy, funny quiz he wrote: Should I be gluten-free?. I'm excited that someone with this many connections in the medical and media worlds is paying attention to celiac. Go over and take a look.

french toast

And if you do have celiac, what do you eat?

Take a look around this site. Every single photograph is gluten-free.

"But what will I eat for breakfast?" people seem to wail, at first.

You could do what we did, the other day. We sauteed mushrooms with grapeseed oil and cilantro, and heated some leftover Incan red quinoa from the night before. Inspired by a recipe in Heidi Swanson's book, Super Natural Cooking, I threw this together in the late morning — you can see it in the top photograph of this post — and topped it with eggs over easy. The Chef wasn't complaining. He can eat gluten.

A few days ago, he cut thick slices of the bread I had made the night before, the sandwich bread mix from the Gluten-Free Pantry. Meri and I stood in the kitchen, sipping mimosas and talking, while the Chef combined cocoa powder, eggs, and our favorite new vanilla extract into the best french toast that any of us had ever eaten. Throw in a lamb-garlic sausage and some hot scrambled eggs, and you are living well. Meri can eat gluten. She loved it.

spinach salad with pate

This afternoon, I sat on the patio of the restaurant, writing away. The car was at the mechanics, several hours from being done. I was without lunch. Without my asking, the Chef came out to join me, two plates in his hands. He plunked down this salad in front of me. Spinach salad, house-made pate, Marcona almonds, pecorino fresca, and champagne vinaigrette. And this is suffering?

carrot salad

Late in the afternoon, when you have the munchies, you can nibble on carrot salad. Locally grown baby carrots, with fresh basil, lemon zest, red wine vinegar, and great olive oil, marinated for twenty-four hours. Inspired by a recipe from Chez Panisse, this bite of salad shows that even at the greatest restaurant in the world, you can eat gluten-free.

super lemony ice cream

Or, if you don't feel like being that healthy, you could have a few small scoops of Super Lemony ice cream, from David Lebovitz's book, The Perfect Scoop. (Um, guess which way I went this afternoon.)

fresh wild king salmon from Sitka

Going gluten-free will encourage you to start eating in season, as well. Sure, you could buy salmon all year long from a grocery store. But one look at this fresh, just-caught king salmon from Sitka, Alaska will convince you otherwise.

chocolate mousse

Remain unconvinced? Take a look at this chocolate mousse. Is this deprivation?

Do me a favor. Scan the photographs in this post, without even reading the words. (Some of you may have done that already.) Look at the images before you. Eating this way? Is this suffering, a life without joy? Nonsense. In fact, it's the very opposite. Imagine eating this food while you feel the best you ever have.

Take a few moments to take those quizzes. You never know. Maybe you (or someone you love) have celiac. Taking these quizzes could change your life.

15 May 2007

would you like to take a gluten-free cooking class with me?

crispy pork belly

Teaching is in my bones.

Since I knew how to read at the age of two, my kindergarten teacher didn’t quite know what to do with me. After a couple of weeks, she decided. Every day, she propped me up on a stool for story-reading time and had me read to all the other five-year-olds, while she sneaked out of the classroom for a cup of coffee (and a cigarette, I suspect). My father says that he came into the class one time — banjo in hand, ready to play “Puff the Magic Dragon” to the children sitting on the worn rug — and saw me chiding a boy for not paying attention. “Jimmy, you’re not looking at the picture!” I said. (Apparently. I don’t remember that particular day. But I do remember that Jimmy often didn’t pay attention.) He laughs whenever he tells this story. “The word ‘teacher’ was stamped on your forehead at birth.”

For awhile, I resisted that. After all, both my parents are teachers. I remember watching my father grade papers at the kitchen table. My mother was a substitute teacher at my high school in southern California, sometimes in my classes. (Later, she went on to have her own classroom, and she still does today.) I swore — there was no way I was going to be a teacher.

I relented, eventually. All signs pointed toward it. After graduating college and working at a bookstore for a year, I realized I only had two choices. Go for a PhD or enter a graduate program in teaching. Teaching called to me, by that time. I didn’t want all my writing to be on one, academic subject. I wanted to write the world. Teenagers always appealed to me, much to the shock of other people. And besides, I told myself, I could write during the summers.

Some of the best moments of my life have taken place in classrooms. Raucous laughter, ridiculous stories, grammar lessons, and unexpected hushes when talking about death — it all happened within four walls. Most of the time, I was sitting up on a desk, my legs dangling, the students sitting in a circle, leaning forward. Of all the things of which I am most proud, it is the way those students listened to each other and respected each other’s stories. Yes, there were profound discussions of literature and tips on creative writing and the endless tape loop of me explaining why “Me and him went to the movies last night” is so terribly, terribly wrong. But for the most part, on the best days of teaching — whether on Vashon Island, New York City, or here in Seattle — I felt like a human being, listening, and those twenty to thirty other beings in the room were part of that too. In the best moments, I didn’t feel like “the teacher.” I just felt awake and alive.

And some of those students — quite a few — became friends over the years. One will be taking the photographs for our wedding. Another became like a little brother to me, and he will be filming parts of the day. A dozen more of them will be laughing at our wedding, dancing with me and the Chef, the great divide finally knocked down. Now, they are simply people dear to my life.

As most of you know, I am no longer teaching in a high school. There are plenty of stories I could tell about last year, and how I knew it was time to go. Or about the joys of this year, suddenly free to write as much as I need. (Summers never did give me all the time to write I craved.) But this isn’t the entry for that.

Instead, I am happy to say, I have found a way to teach again.

Starting next week, I will be team-teaching a cooking class at Puget Sound Consumers’ Co-Op (known around here as PCC), along with Sonya Joseph, on Quick and Easy Gluten-Free Menus. Sonya has been teaching gluten-free cooking classes for years in this area, and she has built a devoted following. In fact, I took one of her classes, early in my gluten-free journey. She recently moved to Portland, however, to pursue her dream of movie making, and teaching in Seattle has grown too difficult, logistically. PCC — one of my favorite places in the world, and a haven for those of us who have to live gluten-free — asked me if I would like to teach with her this spring, and then take over the classes by myself in the fall.

As the Chef likes to say, “Yes, please!”

I would love if readers from Seattle (and the area) came out to see us. The classes are reasonable and informative. Not only will we be making gluten-free macaroni and cheese, pan-seared halibut with black rice flour, chocolate mousse, and my fig cookies, but we will also be talking about the psychological aspects of living gluten-free, and a guide to the best gluten-free products.

Here is a list of the classes offered over this next month. Sign up quickly, if you would like to be there. One of the classes is already sold out!

May 23rd, 6:30 to 9 pm — Issaquah store
May 24th, 6:30 to 9 pm — West Seattle store (sold out!)
June 12th, 6:30 to 9 pm — Redmond store
June 13th, 6:30 to 9 pm — Greenlake store

I cannot wait to teach again. It has always been in my bones, and it always will be. I’m already starting to grow excited at the thought of meeting many of you, and feeding you good food. I can promise you laughter and stories. And I won’t even correct your grammar.

. . .

p.s. The photograph is a bit of a tease. We won't be teaching you how to make crispy pork belly with curried chickpeas, and pan-seared asparagus and zucchini. Not yet. Nope, this dish was the Chef's, on Sunday, when my parents did us the honor of coming to the restaurant on Mother's Day. When the plate arrived, I made my father wait while I took the photo. Cruel, aren't I?

I just had to share.

12 May 2007

the offerings of spring

the fresh offerings of spring

When I woke up this morning, I saw the sunlight shine on the Chef's closed eyes for a moment. When the warmth on his eyelids woke him up, he turned toward me and kissed me. "I love you," he said, which are the first words he utters every day. And then he turned toward the windows and saw that blue-sky day outside.
"We get to go to the market today!"

Saturdays are special around here. It's a work day for both of us. He's cooking all day, and I'm writing and running errands for us. But now, Saturdays are back to spectacular, because the University District farmers' market is open for the spring season.

Early this afternoon, as we walked around, we sampled goat cheeses, ogled the fat jars of honey and fiddlehead ferns, and wondered if we should buy more tulips. I could have walked up to nearly every stand and said, "Yes, please!" (Not the one selling bread made of ancient emmer wheat, however.) Everything looked vibrant and alive.

This is my favorite way of shopping. A handful of radishes, a small bunch of fresh chives with the blossoms still on them, the first cilantro of the season, and a clutch of mizuna leaves. With that, and the ball of local goat cheese I bought from our favorite stand, we are going to have one kick-ass salad tonight.

Spring is clearly, definitively here. And these images are all I need to make me feel grateful.

Farmers' market salad

This is what we will be eating tonight, along with roasted pork belly and mashed potatoes. Of course, you should feel free to substitute any fresh vegetables and greens you have at hand. Try the ones you saw at the farmers' market this morning.

1 clutch of mizuna, shredded into bite-size pieces
1 handful baby arugula leaves
1/4 head radicchio, diced
10 baby carrots, peeled and diced
1 small bunch baby cilantro, chopped fine
1 small bunch fresh chives, minced
2 ounces local fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
chive flowers for garnish

Throw the mizuna, arugula, radicchio, carrots, cilantro, and chives into a large bowl. Mix. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette (see recipe below). Toss and taste, to make sure the salad tastes vibrant on your tongue. Portion out the salad. Top with the goat cheese, sunflower seeds, and chive flowers. Serve.

Feeds 2 people hungry for greens.

Balsamic vinaigrette

1/3 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar
1 medium shallot, fine diced
1/2 teaspoon each of kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put the balsamic vinegar, shallot, salt, and pepper into your blender. Turn it on and let it whirl around. Slowly, add the canola oil to the mixture as the blender runs. Next, add the olive oil, as slowly as possible. You will hear the pitch of the blender drop when the vinaigrette has emulsified. Run for one minute more.

Makes enough for five salads.

10 May 2007

Marcona almonds are gluten-free.

marcona almonds

If I ever feel a twinge of feeling regret that I cannot eat gluten, I remember to treat myself with a bite of something truly tremendous.

Marcona almonds — pop them in your mouth and crunch down on that creamy saltiness. Your disappointment at not being able to eat that hamburger bun will simply slide away.

09 May 2007

every bite of food has a story


No matter what I do, I cannot seem to take a bite of food and not taste a story.

When the Chef ordered this cheese for the restaurant the first time, I couldn't stop taking little nibbles. The tangy rind, the oozing smooth layer closest to that rind, and the flaky white center, standing firm. Buche de Maitre Seguin is a beautiful cheese.

Try it crumbled on top of butter leaf lettuce salads, with avocado and champagne vinaigrette. Salad never felt so decadent on the tongue.

I swear, I was just going to post this photo, with no story, no words. Just a photo. That was the plan.

And then, yesterday, after I dropped the Chef off at the restaurant, and gave him a dozen kisses, plus ten more, I walked into the sunshine. And then, I turned around and went back in. The car needed a check-up. I was on my way to the mechanics, where the car would sit in the secret cave for the next few hours. I would write in a nearby coffee shop until nearly five.

Now, here's the problem. If you have to eat gluten-free, and you are in a coffee shop for more than half an hour, you are trapped into hunger. With a few rare exceptions in Seattle, I cannot go into any coffee shop and find something to eat. Muffins, scones, cookies, pizza bread, brioche, little baguettes, and olive oil crackers — they all contain gluten. There is coffee, and bottled water, and tea. But even some herbal teas have malt flavoring in them. Essentially, it's a steady stream of foam and caffeine, with nothing to take the edge off the gnawing in the stomach.

I turned to the Chef and told him of my dilemma. "Do you have some almonds I can have?" (I had not planned ahead.)
His eyes went wide, and his face took on that naughty delight he loves to live in. He raised a finger, to say, "Give me a minute."
I went out into the restaurant to take some more photos.

A minute later, he handed me a white to-go box, folded up and closed. He watched me open it. I sensed his smile when I squealed. Inside? A few pieces of pâte, with a dab of mustard. Pickled ramps. Kalamata olives. And three small rounds of this Buche de Maitre Seguin.

I threw my arms around him, of course. No one has ever packed me such a brown-bag lunch as this.

Every time I taste this cheese now, I will think of this story.

08 May 2007

edamame is gluten-free


The first time I ate edamame, I was 32 years old.

And the person who introduced me to the vegetables? A one-year-old.

Those of you have been reading this site for awhile might remember some veiled references to the CFP (Crazy Famous People). I worked with these people in New York for some months, and then lived with them in London for six months, working on a book with the woman I call Madame CFP.

It was a crazy time, never to be forgotten, and certainly never to be re-lived. I was hired as a last-minute replacement nanny (only for the weekend), and walked out the door at the end of the night as a book editor.

The first night I was there, there were glasses of champagne and movie producers hovering in the apartment. Mr. CFP donned his celebrity sunglasses again — even though it was fairly late into the evening — riffled his fingers goodbye at Madame, and then he slammed the door behind him.

I cannot tell you who they are. In fact, my book originally contained a chapter about my food experiences with with the CFP. But in the end, the legal department decided to cut it, and I agree with them. I'm glad that chapter is not in there, now.

There are a few reasons for this, besides the fact that I feel a little thrill, like I’m the food memoir version of Deep Throat, by protecting the anonymity of my sources. But in all my experiences with them during that year and a half, I realized they really could have been any celebrity. I met such excess all along the way, in their celebrity friends, and in the stories told to me by personal assistants and chefs, that I am convinced that fame and money can often lead to such extravagance and insanity. And when I lived with them in London, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement form, before I could put my bags down in my bedroom.

I cannot tell you who they are. They would sue me.

There were egregious excesses every day. Like the time that Ms. CFP purchased a $500 pair of shoes to wear to a dinner party, then attempted to return them, as though she had not worn them. When the assistant accidentally dropped that shoe box off the toppling pile of shoes for which she wanted her money back, then stepped on the box out of his own clumsy nervousness, she shouted at him so loudly that he cried and ran out of the room.

One day in December, the accountant called to demand that the CFPs decide where to spend their charity money for the year, right now, or else they would be in a higher tax bracket come January. So, they spent fifteen minutes perusing a list — the whales? Tibetan school children? Organic farms? — checked five off of it, and spent close to a million dollars before I could finish my lunch.

One afternoon, their little boy was allowed to spend ten minutes on his mother’s lap. He smiled and played, and vied for her attention with the magazine in her hands. To distract him, she let him flip the pages of the FAO Schwartz catalog on the desk. When he happened to reach the page with motorized kiddie cars, she lifted him off her lap and handed him back to the nanny. He cried and screamed, flapping his hands and throwing a temper tantrum, immediately. Not able to stand the sound of it, she looked at the nanny and said, “FAO Schwarz is eight blocks from here. Take him down there and buy him this.” An hour later, he walked into the apartment with a $4,000-dollar car.

Why did I stay when I was so obviously ambivalent about the life I was witnessing? Cashmere sweaters plopped into my hands when I started to visibly quibble with myself for staying. Bottles of expensive champagne were tucked into my arm at the end of every week to celebrate the work on the latest chapter. Since I had been a struggling writer longing to be published for most of my life, the repeated promise of a powerful literary agent, once the project was finished, lured me in. They paid me better than I had ever dreamed possible when I was a high school English teacher. Mostly, it was a great story — a grand adventure — and a taste sensation I had never experienced before.

Still, when I moved to Seattle and became a high school English teacher again, life in that penthouse apartment in New York — and the mansion in London — felt far, far away. The most I would say to my classes, if any of my students found out the story and asked, was true: “I’m very lucky. I lived in the middle of the rich and famous, the People magazine life. I had what so many people wanted. And I don’t want it. I’m not exaggerating when I say, I would much rather be here in this classroom, with you, than with those Crazy Famous People.” This always went over well. I think it made them trust me. We started working, as a team, immediately.

Because, the thing is — I told them the truth. After my experiences with the high life (caviar flown in from Russia that morning! juice out of gold-rimmed glasses! glittering parties out of The Great Gatsby and drunken guests crying at 4 am!), I wanted none of it anymore. The unhappiness of the CFP was only thinly masked by their riches.

And now, loving the Chef, and living the way we do (humbly, simply, focused on the best food), I can eat as well as I did there, minus the acrid taste of a bad relationship.

Everyone deserves good food. Everyone.

One of my favorite memories of my time with the CFP? Edamame. The baby son of the CFP — the one whom I babysat that first weekend in New York — ate edamame. The first day I looked after him, I put some shelled edamame in the microwave, as per instructions, and plopped the little sauce in front of him. To my surprise, he gobbled them up, delighted. When he finished, there were a few left over. I popped one in my mouth. Ummmm. A tender sweetness, a loving give, a texture like no other, and all that green.

I have not stopped eating them since.

Some afternoons, when I am sitting in front of the computer, writing, I grow hungry. I throw some shelled edamame beans in boiling water, for five minutes, drain them, and fleck them with sea salt. Steaming and alluring, those edamame remind me of the best moments of my time with the CFP. Everything teaches me, after all.

And best yet? A bag of all that goodness only cost $1.99 at Trader Joe’s.

07 May 2007

brownies, gluten-free

brownies — oh my god brownies

My first foray into baking was begun by ripping off the top of a Duncan Hines box.

When I was eight years old, I stirred Wesson oil and an egg into a fluffy mound of chocolate flour. And then there were brownies.

Even though I can no longer eat gluten, and I certainly don't bake much of anything from a mix, I still remember the giddy joy of pulling those brownies from the oven. I had made something! I had made brownies!

After weeks of baking and re-baking recipes that will be in my first book, I can hardly believe that I turned my back on baking when I first found out I had celiac disease. It makes sense. With that first news that gluten must be gone, baked goods don't feel like the first priority.

But I'm here to show you: baking can be yours. You can still have the joy of pulling fresh-baked brownies out of the oven.

GLUTEN-FREE BROWNIES, adapted from Alice Medrich's New Classic Brownies

These brownies are adapted from one of the best brownie recipes in the world. That is, if you like a fudgy brownie, unadorned with any fillers. These have a crackly top, with a discernible texture as your teeth bite down. And beneath them? Pure, smooth chocolate, as rich as flourless chocolate torte. These are rich, and only to be indulged in once in a while. (In fact, when I made the one-year anniversary dinner for the Chef and me, I made these brownies instead of flourless chocolate torte. He didn't mind.)

I'm pretty sure that many combinations of gluten-free flours would work here. I tried sorghum first, and it's probably my favorite. But some people complain that sorghum tastes bitter — not to me — so I used brown rice next time. Just fine. Try the flours you have at hand. This doesn't need to be complicated. They are brownies.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or as dark as you can stand it)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour

Preparing. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Chop the chocolate into small slivers. Slice the butter into one-inch pieces. Combine the two flours together.

Melting the chocolate. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. Place a large metal bowl over the top of the saucepan. Put the chocolate and butter into the metal bowl and stir, occasionally, as they both begin to melt. As they come to a full melt, stir and stir, vigorously, until you have a cohesive mixture.

Making the brownies. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the sugar and eggs, whisking vigorously until they are creamed together, with a silky consistency. Add the vanilla extract and salt and stir well. Add in the gluten-free flours and stir. Finally, pour in the melted chocolate-butter mixture and stir, carefully, with a rubber spatula, until the mixture has become smooth.

Baking the brownies.
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Smooth the top with the spatula. Slide the baking pan into the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes.

Finishing the brownies. As the brownies are baking, fill the sink with ice cubes and 1 inch of water. When the brownies are finished baking, remove the pan from the oven and place it immediately into the ice-water bath. (Don't let any water splash up onto the brownies!) Let the brownies stay there until they have cooled completely.

These brownies taste best the next day, after an entire night of refrigeration. That makes the top crunchy, the insides decadently chewy. However, I'm sure no one would suffer if you ate the brownies immediately, either.

Feeds 12 people (if they have the restraint to not eat more than one brownie.)

05 May 2007

gluten-free comfort food

gluten-free macaroni and cheese

I love the way I eat after I started eating gluten-free: fresh, in season, and always something new. If I had not been diagnosed with celiac, I never would have discovered fresh ramps, sunchokes, and pea vines. I would never be so happy.

We're on our way to the farmers' market soon, the first official day of the spring schedule. Inside my stomach are little dancing pulses of joy.

But you know what? Sometimes, in spite of all that, there is nothing better than cold macaroni and cheese for breakfast.

04 May 2007

being part of a team

orange-almond cake with lemongrass ice cream

Today is the first day of the new menu at the restaurant.

Normally, we call this the Chef's time of the month. Normally calm and cuddly, he grows a little twitchy, a little restless in the mornings, these few days before the new menu makes it onto people's plates. All I have to do is listen to him say one word ("Yep."), said fast, the end of the word rushed out of his mouth, and I know what's going on. He's dancing. His feet are moving fast, his mind is set on the restaurant, and we need to leave the house a few minutes earlier than normal. Time to go to work.

When I was younger, I might have complained. I probably would have asked him why he was so anxious, why he couldn't just be in the moment more calmly. But one of the gifts of finding the love of my life at nearly forty? I know when to be quiet, now.

Once, I used to worry that I would have to give up too much of myself to be married. That dreaded word: compromise. Who would win the moment, the day? Would my needs come first? Or would I have to put him first more often than I liked?

Really, it's a good idea to wait until your late thirties to get married, sometimes.

What I did not understand in my earlier relationships comes naturally now. If I have to set my plans aside to drive to the spice store earlier than I had thought, or make a dent in our morning time together to stop at the farmers' market for fresh herbs, I do it. Why? Well, it's not as if I'm suffering by going to the farmers' market. But it's more than that.

It's the relationship.

My relationship with the Chef is a living entity. It's not about my needs or his. It's about what's best for our relationship, in this moment.

We're a team.

We have an unusual situation: our schedules afford us the time to have long mornings together, to run food errands around noon (and thus avoid most of the horrid traffic), and to eat our dinner together around midnight. If I had still been teaching high school right now, I don't think we would be nearly as close as we are. We are for each other.

This is why I was up at 8 this morning, making coffee and simmering oranges and lemons in slow-boiling water. After testing the orange-almond cakes a couple of times, I found the recipe I liked. (It turns out my first instincts were right: I cut the 5 1/2 cups of almond flour down to 4, and added sweet rice flour, potato starch, and amaranth flour instead.) Moist and citrus-swirled, these cakes cling to the fork when you cut them. Reminiscent of orange juice and pound cake, these mighty little cakes cast a shadow on gluten treats. Who needs gluten when you can eat a cake with the taste of sunlight? (Okay, I know this is going to sound strange, but the texture is a bit like Play-dough, somehow, which I find immensely satisfying.)

Why was I making them, at home, for the restaurant? Because they needed to be done. The first day of the new menu is a full-court press for the Chef, working in his tiny kitchen with his entire intensity, for hours at a time. Normally, he spends days preparing and tasting, planning and changing his mind. During this week of the month, I don't expect to have his entire attention.

But this week, I needed him. The manuscript was due. The recipes needed more testing. The computer broke down. He was such a champion that I sort of forgot that he had a new menu to do until yesterday.

"Wait!" I said to him in the shower yesterday morning. "You've been incredible. You haven't been grumpy. You haven't been dancing. You just did the work and you're ready to go."

He grinned at the recognition. And then he did what he always does: he stuck out his pinky. I wrapped mine around his, and we looked at each other. "Team Ahern," we said. And then we kissed.

I love being part of this team.

So I volunteered, yesterday, to make the first round of cakes for the restaurant. I intended to make them last night, but I goofed around with my new camera so much that I didn't even make dinner for us. Frankly, I could have slept another two hours. But I promised him. And so I rose.

This afternoon, when I came back to the restaurant with a cup of coffee, he poked his head around the door of the kitchen. "I have a present for you," he grinned. And then he set this saucer down in front of me. A slice of the orange-almond cake, with a soft scoop of the lemongrass ice cream he invented yesterday. It wasn't entirely frozen yet, but he wanted me to taste it.

I took one bite, and I closed my eyes. That ice cream — layers of flavor. A wave of vanilla bean, and then the sharp tang of ginger. But that's not ginger. A soft assertive song of lemongrass, sweeter and more demure than ginger. Bright and clean, the breeze through the door in that moment. I didn't open my eyes for a moment.

When I did, I saw him in front of me, grinning. "See? Your cake, my ice cream. And whoever comes into the restaurant to eat tonight will have this because of both of us."

I put down my fork and put out my pinky. He wrapped his around mine, and we looked in each other's eyes. "Team Ahern," I said.

And we kissed.

03 May 2007

love what you do

Tibetan prayer flags

I've learned some lessons lately.

Love what you do. For years, I longed to do what I love: write. And now, I am. I am dancing most days, my arms flung out, happiness up to my ears. But the fact is — even work you love is work. Some days, it's more work than others.

This week, the final edits of the manuscript of my book were due back to the publishers. Two weeks ago, the two copy-editors sent me the entire book, in a big stack of white papers, festooned with red and purple pencil marks. They had examined every word, sentence, and paragraph as though they had been chained to their desks and could only move those pencils. Not only did I have to read every mark, and decide if I agreed with their edits, but I also had to read my entire book again and decide if I still like it.

Luckily, I do.

Along with this, I had to cross out suggestions of theirs with which I did not agree. (Some of my sentences sounded a little too poetic for their ears, I think. And boy — oh boy — do I love long dashes.) I restrained myself. I mostly agreed with them. After all, they were my readers. And they caught ticky-tack stuff I would never have seen. (All my life, I thought they were spelled Abba Zabba bars. But it turns out they are Abba Zaba bars. Who knew?) Bless them.

Still, there were recipes to test, and friends' suggestions to incorporate in those recipes, and recipes to test again. I can honestly say that I have made the lemon olive oil cookies twenty-two different times, just to make sure I had the right approach. (We'll see how you feel about them in October.) For two weeks, I should have had my head pressed to those pages, doing nothing but taking in every hyphen change and 1/4 cup measurement.

Those of you who have started blogs because you want a book deal? Make sure you really want one. I revel in this, still grow teary-eyed when I see the cover of my book, and cannot wait until I hold the final copy in my hands. But seriously, writing a book? It's hard work.

Make sure you truly do love what you do. Make sure you really want it.

On top of this work, there were the five thousand other details shooting up from my feet, threatening to explode in my face. A new camera to buy. A house to find. A marketing proposal to pull together. Bills to pay, apartment to clean, groceries to buy — life goes on, in the midst of big deadlines.

There's something wonderfully comforting about the mundane.

I could tell you more, but I'll refrain. Let me just tell you this story about best-laid plans.

The day I thought I would send in the book turned out to not be the day. Rising early that morning, I started working long before the Chef arose from our bed. Hunched on the blue exercise ball, in the tiny nook before the window where I write, I started making changes in the recipes. Not yet anxious, I could sense the adrenaline leaning me forward. I could make it. I could do it.

The phone rang. It was my sister-in-law. Her crown had fallen out the night before. She needed to come into the city, to see the dentist. Could the Chef and I babysit Elliott at the dentist's office while she endured the drill?

Of course. That would only be an hour or so, right?

As we drove to the dentist office, the Chef panicked. He suddenly wondered if he had left a burner on at the restaurant, the one with the big pot of stock. Could we drive out to the restaurant to see?

Several hours later — after we had been there and back, and found out the burner was not on — we drove away from our home to sign a paper. (More on this later.) This was a joyful occasion, but it came on the day before the book should have gone out in the mail.

Then again, I had already decided to let go by this time. I couldn't make it, with all these interruptions. I would have to mail the book the next day. Besides, I reminded myself, these were not interruptions. They were life asserting itself. When have I turned down the chance to hold my nephew? We don't want the restaurant to burn down. And the house? Oh yes, it was worth it.

Having the afternoon without the impending worry of not finishing (I wouldn't) gave the Chef and I the chance to test four recipes again. Because of that unintended time, we nailed the pizza dough recipe, the sorghum bread recipe, the raspberry-vanilla jam recipe, and the blackberry sauce recipe. I stand by them, now.

Thank goodness for unintended times.

Still, by the end of the night, I went to bed with only a bit more work and some proofreading to do. Surely, we would finish by the time I took the Chef to the restaurant for all that cooking.

Around 10 am, I was sitting up in bed, the laptop on my legs, the Chef to my right, reading the newspaper. I finished typing up the last changes to the recipe that needed work. With a sigh, I went to save it, so I could saunter into the living room to print up the pages I was inserting in the original manuscript.

Suddenly, the computer froze. Nothing. No movement. No whirring sounds. Simply dead.

Consciously, I decided to not panic. Instead, I closed it, took out the battery, and started again. The little lines ran around in a circle for ten minutes, simulating a fresh start, before I started to worry.

I went into the living room, tried it again. Nothing. I tried again, crossing my fingers this time and saying, "Please?" That rarely does anything for computers, it turns out.

With panic in my toes, I ran to the bedroom. "Sweetie, the computer is broken!" My shoulders were hunched with all the tension of the past two weeks that I had been trying not to express. I hadn't washed my hair in two days. I wanted to pound on the bed with my fist and break into tears.

But he saved me.

The Chef came over to hold me, and rubbed my back. He kissed me gently, and reminded me to take a breath. Then, holding my hand, he walked with me into the living room.

As much as I love being an independent woman, I rely sometimes on those strong arms that enfold me.

We called the appropriate company. The lovely woman on the phone gave us ten tricks to try. I think some of them involved turning around three times and spitting into the wind. No luck.

We had to go to the Apple store.

I could feel my eyes widening, as I tried to not let the tears become fully formed. As I dressed in whatever clothes I could find on the floor, I turned around. The Chef had put on some ridiculous song, and he had started dancing. A perfect imitation of a bad guy dancing at a wedding reception, all elbows and gawkiness. He looked so wonderfully serious and stupid at the same time that I couldn't help but laugh out loud and double over with more laughter.

Laughter helps, every time.

I spent five hours at the Apple store. After the first two, I gave up on the notion of sending out the book that day. I let go of any deadline. Instead, I focused on the conversation with this great guy, Daniel, who slowly walked me through every possible permutation and reassured me, every twenty minutes, "Oh, we're going to fix it." I marveled at how small the world is, when Kevin, a friend of mine from New York whom I had not seen in six years, walked over to me and shouted, "Shauna James!" He works at the Apple store now. Seeing him there, and catching up a bit, made me feel much better. I bought coffee for Daniel after he left for his lunch break, my computer still whirring and thinking about working. Mostly, I kept looking down at my wrist, to see the YES tattooed there. "You got that for a reason, Shauna. Here it is."

Yes to every moment as it arises, as it is, because it will never come again.

Eventually, they made the computer work. I had to move every single thing on the computer over to my external hard drive (yes, I brought it with me), and then erase it from my computer. Essentially, I had too much stuff on my computer, and I had to purge. This sounds like my life right now.

Start again.

But they made it work. Here I am, typing away. They made me laugh. They made me feel human. And they didn't charge me a penny for those hours of help, all those young men in Genius shirts. I love them.

(And if this seems like an ad for Apple, so be it. If someone at Apple is reading this and wants to send me a new, free iMac, so be it.)

And that night, I made the lemon olive oil cookies, one more time. Finally, finally, they tasted the way I wanted.

All things for a reason.

Yesterday, the Chef and I mailed the manuscript to my copy-editor in New Jersey. We smiled and hugged and laughed. I thanked him, every single way I could think of thanking him. We felt triumphant.

And then I found out that my copy-editor is on vacation this week. It didn't really matter when I sent it.

There you go.

In the midst of this, I kept feeling grateful.

Okay, so I missed a deadline (that turned out to not be steadfast). But there was so much in there: to test
...a nephew to babysit
...a restaurant to work in
... money to afford all those ingredients
...a book about to be published
...lovely guys and women at Apple who helped me, unfailingly
...a new house, something out of a dream
...a computer, in the first place.

And mostly, the Chef. His unfailing support and goofiness and concern — this is the stuff of dreams, really.

Find someone good in a crisis.

It's done. Once again, for the afternoon at least, I have the time to sit in the sunlight and watch the Tibetan prayer flags moving in the breeze.

It's good to be alive.