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27 June 2007

building a gluten-free community

gluten-free pasta from Piccolo

Over the past two months, I taught four gluten-free cooking classes at PCC, here in Seattle. Each class was a revelation, at least for me. The chance to teach people how to sear fish well — halibut dredged in a black rice flour — thrilled me more than the lesson on indefinite pronouns ever could have. Since I started living gluten-free, and particularly since I met the Chef, I have learned more than I ever dreamt possible about food. Being able to share some of that with other gluten-free folks is still making me beam.

Of course, I have so much more to learn. Thank goodness. By the time I teach more classes for PCC in November, there’s no telling what I will be talking about, my hands flying in the air. And there’s a possibility that the Chef and I will be teaching classes together, soon. But that’s for another time.

As much as I loved talking about food, my favorite part of every class was story time. (Of course.) In each class, I asked those who were participating to share their stories. Why are you gluten-free? How long have you known you should be gluten-free? What led you to this class? A few simple questions unleashed floods of moving moments. I stood in front of everyone, in front of gas stoves, in gorgeous classrooms, amazed. There was the 78-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with celiac at 72. Or the young woman who is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and her boyfriend who sat beside her, wanting to learn how to cook for her. The public relations woman, a powerful professional woman, who broke into tears when she talked about how long she struggled before she finally learned her own story. We all have stories, and I was so honored to hear them.

We all need community. But if you are living gluten-free (or dealing with any food allergies, I imagine), it feels imperative to have a community of good-hearted folks around you. This gluten-free life — no matter how glorious — can be difficult if you go it alone.

This is why I was honored to participate in a conference call with fellow gluten-free bloggers and Alice Bast, head of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and Anthony James DiMarino, Jr., M.D,, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness Physician of the Year. The call was sponsored by Revolution Health. Dr. DiMarino investigates the complexities of celiac disease, in all its permutations, and he was generous enough to share his knowledge with us. Even though I write about food and love, and sometimes don’t even type the phrase “gluten-free” in an essay on this site, I never forget this: I have celiac, and I must live gluten-free.

If you would like, you can hear the transcript of this conversation by clicking here. You can hear my goofy voice, as well as the compelling questions of everyone involved. Listen to the interesting possibilities of pro-biotics, as well as the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance. I was fascinated, and I think you will be too.

The good people at Revolution Health not only arranged this conference call, but they are having a virtual health fair on their site. If you roll over the little button for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), you could help this wonderful organization to win $10,000. Please, go there and help us win some money for celiac awareness.

After all, we are all in this together.

26 June 2007

plump heirloom tomatoes are gluten-free

tomatoes from Kittitas II

A spilling bounty of heirloom tomatoes on a linen cloth.

Kittitas Valley Greenhouse stand at the Broadway Farmers' Market.

I love crunching kosher salt between my fingers, from high above my chest, and watching the white melt into the red flesh. Sometimes, that's all I need, is salt on a perfectly ripe, room temperature tomato.

Last night, the Chef and I ate one roasted, with coral lentils.

This morning, we ate another, with small boiled potatoes, scrambled eggs, Chilean salsa, and sausages from Skagit River Ranch, out in the backyard, at the picnic table.

It's summer.

25 June 2007

the bliss of blueberries

our blueberries starting to bloom

Time takes care of that slumped-shouldered overwhelmed feeling. The other day, when I wrote this post, I could feel the weight lifting from my shoulders as I typed. Every sentence slipped me into ease. Reading your lovely comments helped me even more.

I'm doing fine now. Writing helps. The Chef holding me helps even more. Two days off from work with him — eating roasted corn with smoked paprika, pork chops with Moroccan spices, and coral lentils infused with garlic; going to a great dumb movie; and sleeping in so late we could not believe the time when we saw it on the alarm clock — helped most of all.

I have yes tattooed on my wrist for a reason. I have it there to remind me — say yes to every moment as it arises, no matter what the moment. Those times of being confused and stressed out? They're teachers. How would we know what the ground feels like if our toes never left it?

And besides, I realized, I have to be kind to myself. Planning a wedding — no matter how calm and relaxed our wedding will be — involves three hundred details a day, plus twenty-two more on the list for an hour later. Over one hundred people — the greatest hits of everyone in our lives — converging in one place, a white dress, a clear aisle to walk down, and at the end of it — the most beautiful man in the world, standing before me, with tears in his eyes. For over a year, we have been anticipating that image becoming reality. In order to reach it, we have been working toward it.

I just want to marry him.

And three weeks from today, I will.

(Here, I must leave a note I didn't expect to write. The Chef and I created a wedding website, for the dear friends and family who have been invited. I used my blogger profile, because it was easy, and we love the photograph you see in my profile. After the address had been printed on the invitations, and they were slipped in the mail, I found a surprise. Readers of this site had found our wedding website. Dozens of you are going over there to read every hour. No problem, at first. And we're more than grateful for the unexpected presents. However, so many readers have left comments saying, "We'd love to come to your wedding!" that we are both a bit alarmed. Please, everyone — understand. The wedding website is a separate website, and its existence is not an open invitation to anyone reading. Those of you who have sent us comments to RSVP, saying you will be there with your children and food in tow, we have to kindly say: please don't. We really only do have room for our friends and family. It is a private event. We promise — there will be plenty of photographs and stories to follow. Let us have our day to ourselves.)

Three weeks from today, I will be Mrs. Chef. (Ha!)

Today, we met with the woman who will be marrying us. There's a story to how we met her, but I'll have to share it another time. Sitting in a coffee shop with her — Seattle sunlight streaming through the windows, and her smile brighter than that light — we felt safe in her hands. Discussing the order of events, the music our friends will play for us, and the particular touches that will appear at only our wedding? We could both feel it — the wedding is really going to happen. In one moment, as we were discussing the Chef's sister playing one of her songs at the wedding, I looked over to wink at him, and saw his eyes filled with tears.

Oh, I cannot wait to marry him.

Mostly, though, we both remembered this weekend what is really important. A wedding — no matter how joyful or goofy, anticipated or relaxed — is still just one day. What we have together, in the tiny mundane moments of the day, is what will keep us together.

This afternoon, we walked around our garden, in the warm afternoon sun. We did not have anywhere to be for hours. Our bellies were full of chilled quinoa salad with heirloom tomatoes, smoked salmon, and horseradish creme fraiche. Our clean sheets were billowing on the clothesline in the breeze. Our skin smelled of sunlight and warm air. Happiness walked alongside us.

And then we found ourselves in front of the blueberry bush, and we both squealed with delight. The first blueberries of the season were purple-blue and bursting. Ripe blueberries. Our garden. We both reached for one and popped them in our mouths at the same time.

I looked over at him and saw his face widen into a smile. He started jumping up and down, pumping his fists. "Oh damn!" he shouted. "Blueberries!" I did the same, giggling with him. We started talking about homemade blueberry crisps for our family backyard barbeque the day before the wedding.

And suddenly the planning was no longer onerous. It was warm sun, plentiful laughter, hours without anything to do, and blueberry crisps. And the two of us together.

Three weeks until I marry the Chef? Yes, please.

22 June 2007

the abundance of summer

the abundance of summer

Last night, about 11 o'clock, the Chef and I were laying on the grassy hillside across from his restaurant. It was the longest day of the year, so light still lingered in the sky to the west, twilight blue beneath glowering clouds. It had been a day of disappointment, and some small stresses that felt enormous in that moment. I needed him beside me.

All winter, I long for summer. As much as I try to enjoy what each season brings, in the back of my mind, summer light plays in my mind. Liquid and forgiving, strong and insistent, and yet gentle — the light of Seattle summers is like no other. And of course, in spite of my newfound love for celeriac and lacinato kale, after a time, I just long for strawberries. One single strawberry, perfectly ripe.

And now, here they are. In every market I have visited in the last two weeks, green cartons filled with plump strawberries sit in enticing formations, luring me near them. For weeks, I have eaten strawberries. I have been bringing them home and eating them in the afternoon, leaving little green crowns on the saucer sitting next to the computer. I have gobbled them all up.

But somehow, in all this luscious sustenance of early summer — the pliable bite between the lips, the dotted seeds caught between my teeth, the sweet intoxication of red strawberries eaten one after the other — I have forgotten to slow down and really taste each one.

That's what my life feels like right now.

We moved into our lovely home nearly three weeks ago, and boxes still sit on all the floors, some of them opened, most of them not. Only a week after we moved in, I traveled to New York, and Richmond, and met my editors and gave talks. After I returned home, grateful to be in the arms of the Chef again, we only had one day off before he returned to a grueling week of work. And I taught cooking classes and traveled around the city visiting farmers' markets for a piece in a magazine and visited every butcher shop in Seattle for another piece and worked on the next column for the magazine in which I appear every three months. I want to update this site more regularly, but I rarely have a free hour in front of the computer to just wander through the words the way I like to do here. There were emails to answer and articles to write and pieces to edit and marvelous surprises beyond that. And every one of them — all of them, each and every one — was a tremendous joy.

But when you eat without breathing between each bite, you lose your sense of taste.

Oh, and there is this wedding thing.

You see, the Chef and I are getting married, in three weeks, and three days.

Our wedding will be a blissful bout of silliness, a wonderfully relaxed day (with three days of events with family and friends before it). We are having a gluten-free potluck, with food-allergy-sensitive cards for all the guests. Friends are playing music, taking photographs, doing the flowers, and bringing the speakers to play all our favorite songs. I'll be wearing my red cowboy boots, and a beautiful white wedding dress. We'll dance all day. We will eat well. Mostly, we will laugh.

And finally, thank goodness, I will be married to the Chef.

I hate the word fiancé now. It sounds so pretentious, that word. So waiting in limbo.

But that's what I feel like — waiting in limbo.

We have known we will be married for nearly a year. We have lived together, laughed together, and eaten together for over a year. We feel married.

Can't we just be married already?

Don't misunderstand. Our wedding planning has been so fluid and easy that we feel as though we are lucky. We are skipping the vast behemoth that is the American wedding. The wedding industrial complex — that's what I have been calling it lately. When people hear that I am getting married soon, they look at me and take in a sharp breath. "Oh, the bride!" they say to me, as though I should be a neurotic mess, tearing my hair, stomping my feet, and breaking into tears. It's as though I have the right to demand that the world lift me on its shoulders, so my feet don't have to touch the ground for the next three weeks.

"Pshaw," I say. "I'm not like that."

But the fact is, I have been eating too many strawberries, too fast. If all I had to do right now was complete the last-minute details for our wedding? I'd be fine. It's the articles and emails and editing and proofreading the manuscript of my book and unpacking the house and changing the addresses with every company and worrying about getting passports in time for Italy and trying to find that red shirt in a box I know it must be somewhere and....

I lay next to the Chef in the grass, crying because I was damned stressed. "Maybe I should just admit it. I'm overwhelmed."

He rolled over in the grass, and turned his face toward mine. He had been laying beside me, holding my hand, just letting me send my words and worries to the sky. He had been listening. But after I stopped talking, he rolled toward me and looked me in the eyes. "I love you. I always will. And I love you more, now that you've just been vulnerable with me like this." He leaned his face into mine, and I saw the last light of the sky in his eyes.

I remembered, again. That sky, it's always there. Clouds may cover it, squalls may arise, and storms can seem to last for an awfully long time. But behind it, through it, always there — that vast, blue sky.

That's what my love for the Chef feels like.

He leaned in and kissed me, just a simple small kiss on the lips.

That's all I needed.

Sometimes, the taste of a single strawberry feels as big as that vast blue sky.

16 June 2007

a dreamy day of dining

cheddar cheese grits and pulled pork

Perhaps the most dramatic dining day of my life happened in 1999. I was living with the CFP in London, and I was in traveling mode. Most every other weekend, I took a train or plane to somewhere new: Florence one weekend; Dublin the next. (These are the truffle-oil days, when I was better paid than ever before, or after, probably.) All of Europe — and its restaurants — lay before me.

One weekend, my friend Stephanie arrived to whisk me off to Prague. Three days there grounded me and left a sunburn on my shoulders. Stephanie and I had wonderful talks, and she helped me to see that I really wanted to leave the CFP. I knew she was right.

Because Stephanie had met us in Paris (where I was staying with the CFP in the penthouse suite of some ridiculous hotel, halfway between the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe), we had to stop there on our way back to London.

This is how I came to eat breakfast in Prague, lunch in Paris, and dinner in London.

(But I was eating gluten, then, and I didn’t know that I shouldn’t have. It was toast and eggs for breakfast, a sandwich at the Louvre in Paris, and fish and chips with malt vinegar in London. No wonder I was so tired.)

In spite of the bitter taste those days left in my mouth, I have always been amazed at that day’s dining. Nothing could top it.

What I ate last week came pretty close.

On the plane to New York, I ate some Pierre Robert triple cream cheese, a handful of Marcona almonds, and fresh apricots, tinged with a tiny blush. That was breakfast.

For lunch? I ate at Gotham Bar and Grill.

Now, this was no random occurrence. For weeks, I had been anticipating this lunch. You see, I was meeting my editor at Wiley, and the person in charge of marketing for my book. For days, I had been saying with a straight face, “Oh, I’ll be in Manhattn, meeting my editor and marketing person.” It didn’t take me long to start giggling. How is this my life?

My wonderful editor and I have been talking for nearly a year, laughing on the phone about food and cultural mishaps. Most of the time, we’re eagerly tumbling our words over the other’s, connecting and agreeing, ready with another story. Most of the time, we weren’t even talking about the book. We just talked. I remember the moment I knew I liked her, in the first conversation we had back in the fall. When I commented on how much I liked the sound of her ebullient voice, she said, “You know, I’m just a happy person. People keep waiting for me to be jaded or angry, but I’m just happy.”

I love my editor.

When I told her I was going to be in New York for part of the day, she asked me where I wanted to have lunch. Within a minute or two, I knew. Gotham Bar and Grill. The Chef and I love Alfred Portale’s approach to food: seasonal, fresh, and always surprising. When I met the Chef, I also inherited two of Portale’s books. I’ve been inspired by those books more times than I can say. I knew it, instantly: Gotham Bar and Grill.

The Chef was so jealous.

After the suitcase story and the subway ride laughing, I walked down 12th Street toward the restaurant. Everything looked familiar. There’s a funny thing about New York: no matter how long I have been gone, as soon as I set foot on the sidewalks of that city, I am home. There was the Jewish temple where I volunteered every Saturday morning, feeding people who needed a meal. Over there the Quad Cinema, where I stood in line with friends to watch documentaries. And there was Gotham Bar and Grill, which I walked past countless times before I knew how tremendous it was.

Plus, they have a coat check where a lovely girl let me keep my bag for the duration of lunch.

And when I first saw my editor, we both squealed a little, and gave each other a big hug.

The lunch felt like it lasted minutes, instead of three hours. Jen, the wonderful woman in charge of marketing for my book, felt like a friend within four minutes. We talked about my book, eventually, but mostly we three talked about food, farmers’ markets, Michael Pollan, the confusions of the label “organic,” fresh fruit, and everything to do with food. (Oh, and dating and the weird vagaries of working for the overly rich.) They made me laugh and they gave me hope.

They also really like my book.

And if the conversation didn’t do it, we certainly bonded over the food. Asparagus salad with a poached egg. Black bass ceviche with chiles and avocado. Roasted duck breast with fermented plums, port sauce, and fava beans. Spinach custard with baby carrots. Everything gorgeous, and everything presented beautifully on enormous plates.

(Sadly, the photos I tried to take were simply too dark to post up here. I won’t do the place injustice by putting up ugly photos!)

That meal made me miss the Chef.

My editor had called ahead to ensure that I could eat gluten-free. And as I suspected, they took care of me, just fine. This is one of the rules I have learned throughout this journey: if you choose the restaurant where they truly care about food, you can eat gluten-free. Our wonderful waiter — half obsequious, half sarcastic — walked me through the menu to inform me of what I could eat.

However, I was surprised to find that a meticulous staff in one of the best restaurants in the city still didn’t understand the gluten issue. When the waiter gestured toward what I could not eat, he said, “Of course, you cannot have the risotto.”
Surprised, I asked him, “Do you use flour in your risotto?”
He looked just as surprised and said, “Can you eat rice?”

Later, toward the end of the meal, I was thrilled to find that Gotham has a warm chocolate cake, completely flourless. And it was served with lemon thyme ice cream! Of course, I wanted that.

“Well,” said the waiter, “the kitchen says you cannot have the lemon thyme ice cream. We can offer you cherry sorbet.”

I love the tang and soft surprise of lemon thyme. Wait, why? Do they put flour in their ice cream? Don’t tell me that they use commercially produced ice cream at Gotham Bar and Grill.

Curious, I asked the waiter, “Okay. But just for curiosity’s sake, could you ask your chef what it is in the ice cream that prevents me from eating it?”

When he returned, he said, “The ice cream has glucose in it.”

Glucose. Gluten. Same thing, right?

The good news is — I ate at Gotham Bar and Grill without a snitch of sickness. No gluten in me during that meal.

Life was good.

the perfect Manhattan (in Richmond)

And for dinner? A Southern comfort restaurant I stumbled on, in Richmond, Virginia, unexpectedly.

After my rapid-fire visit to Manhattan, I flew to Richmond to prepare for the Gluten Intolerance Group’s annual conference. Exhausted from all the traveling, I thought of just eating the energy bars in my bag and crashing in my hotel room. But downtown Richmond called.

My lovely hotel — formerly a row house from the 1820s, with a courtyard and rocking chairs on the porches — was in the dilapidated area of downtown Richmond. Most stores were closed, or going out of business. But the streets had character, and the stores that were open convinced me at one glance that I was in the South. Humid air and vivid colors, people congregating on the street in chattering clutches, and movie theatres from the 20s — Richmond called me out of my room.

Lunch had been eight hours before, and even though that meal at Gotham had been one of the best I had ever eaten, the stomach still grows hungry. The guy at the front desk of the hotel recommended some restaurants. Everything he recommended sounded cheesy, and meant for tourists. No thanks. “There is this place called Comfort,” he drawled, a little reluctant to tell me. “It’s Southern food.”

I was out the door.

Wherever I go, I like to eat the food of that culture. There’s something inherently depressing about going to a chain restaurant and having the food taste exactly the same as it does 2400 miles away. And whenever I travel, it seems, the best restaurants are the ones that hotel folks are a little reluctant to recommend.

When I walked into Comfort, I felt right at home. High ceilings, cool colors, ivy growing up a wall of windows — this place exuded cool. I sat at the bar and smiled at the bartender.

These days, I don’t have much chance to walk into a restaurant by myself, particularly one where I don’t know anyone. At one point in my life, I felt prickly with nervousness at being alone in a public place. Now, I revel in it.

The bartender made me a Manhattan, after I asked him what was his favorite drink to make at the moment. He was right. It was spectacular.

When I asked the bartender about the gluten issue, he asked for help. The owner — wonderfully friendly and eager to please — came over to ask me how he could help. I walked him through everything. He went back to the kitchen to check. He came back to tell me about the cornmeal they use, stone ground in a mill only a few towns away. One more check, and we had a plan. (That’s what I love about the best restaurants — they make me feel like I’m a guest, and they are thrilled to serve me.) What was for dinner?

Barbecued pulled pork, fried okra, and cheddar cheese grits.

Hello, I’m in the South.

I called the Chef to share it with him. When I told him the meal that was coming, he said, “That’s my girl.”

Everything was heaven. My mouth still waters at the thought of that pulled pork — spicy, but not enough to emblazon my mouth; slightly sweet; subtle in the layering — clearly made slowly, with love. And those cheddar cheese grits? Oh my goodness, how have I never made grits? Time to rectify that. Okra? I had never eaten it. But okra fried in cornmeal? I’ll be eating that again.

(Here I must leave an important note. A wonderful woman I met at the conference the next day emailed me a few days later. She said she had been to Comfort, on my recommendation, the next day. The waitress that night informed her that the cornmeal in the fried okra is mixed with a little wheat flour. The owner swore to me that wasn’t true. Who to believe? I didn’t feel sick immediately after my meal, as I always do when I get gluten by mistake. The next day I felt a little off, with some familiar intestinal troubles, but I thought that was the airport food, which is a story for a few days from now. If you go to Comfort, ask carefully, and make your own judgments.)

Within a few moments, people to my left and right spotted my camera, and my pen. They asked me I was doing a review. Of a sorts. And within ten minutes, we were all chattering away, talking about food and love. By the end of the meal, I had made new friends.

A fabulous dinner, a decadent cocktail, and conversations with everyone around me? That’s my idea of comfort.

Sure, the day I ate breakfast in Prague, lunch in Paris, and dinner in London was far more dramatic. But this day, last Thursday, with a breakfast from the Chef, lunch with my lovely editor and the head of my marketing campaign at Gotham Bar and Grill, and a comforting dinner in Richmond, Virginia, by myself (but surrounded by people)? That was a damned fine dining day.

And to think that people believe that eating gluten-free is deprivation.

Gotham Bar and Grill
12 E. 12th Street
New York, NY 10003

200 West Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23220

10 June 2007

another New York suitcase story.

people perched on the edge of Imagine

This seems unalterably true: whenever I go to New York, I'm going to come home with a suitcase story.

Sorry if I have been silent, lately. Not only is this a heady time (just moved to a new home, with boxes left to unpack; now writing regular articles for this fabulous magazine in Seattle, and our wonderful wedding less than five weeks away), but I have been away from home.

Yes, it's true. I had to leave the Chef for three days.

(Don't laugh. We're so tender with each other that this was unexpectedly hard. After all, we hadn't been separated since last July, when I was in Alaska for two whole weeks. You never could have told me, before I met him, that I would want to stay close to home, so joyfully.)

However, we both braced ourselves and laughed our way through it. After all, I was going away for some great reasons.

The good people at the Gluten Intolerance Group asked me, several months ago, to fly to Richmond, Virginia, to be one of the keynote speakers at their annual conference. Of course, I said yes. I am honored. And I am also, perpetually, struck by the surreality of my life. You could never have told me that my first visit to the South would be instigated by a gluten-free speech.

Life constantly surprises me.

The least expensive, and least invasive, flight I found to Richmond involved a long stop to New York. Well, if that was true, why not make it deliberate? I arranged a nearly all-day layover in the city, so I could meet my editor for lunch.

I never turn down the chance to be in Manhattan.

And this is why I was, once again, lugging my suitcase up and down museum steps. Last year, in February, I had a grand adventure with my blue suitcase. I learned, then, that there are no luggage lockers in Manhattan train stations or places of rest. But, happy with my sly knowledge from last year, I knew where to go. A museum.

Last year, I left my luggage in the coat room of the Natural History museum. After paying the entrance fee, I could escape the weight of a giant suitcase for the entire afternoon. That's what inspired my decision for the itinerary on Thursday.

My plane landed at 8. Lunch would take place at noon, in the Village. Common sense said to stay close to that area, maybe write emails in a coffee shop, until I could meet my editor. But the chance to be in Manhattan for nine hours does not inspire common sense in me. So I took the Air Train, and then the A-train, and switched to the 5, and made my way to the Upper East Side.

When I had asked Sharon, days before, what she would do with a few hours in New York, she said, "I'd go to the big room at the Met. And then I'd walk through the park." She's smart, that one. That's exactly what I wanted to do.

Mostly, I knew, I needed to go to Strawberry Fields. I needed to go there for the Chef, and take photos, and call him from the Imagine sign, and sigh into the phone just how much I loved him. (If you don't know our John Lennon connection, read this.)

I could have gone to the west side, gone back to the Natural History museum. But I wanted to experience the grandeur of the Met, the bustle of the Upper East Side, see that building I love, gawk at the flower displays on balconies of brownstones, watch the nannies and their children walk along sun-dappled streets.

And beside, the Met? It's really nearly free. Here's a secret that newcomers wouldn't know. The Metropolitan Museum of Art emblazons a huge price on their signs, but the fact is? It's "suggested donation." I'm all for supporting art, but when I wanted to be there for ten minutes? I don't mind giving them a dollar.

So there I was, with a much smaller suitcase this time, on the subway. There are so many stories on the subway that I felt entirely awake, no matter that I could not sleep on the overnight flight. The older man who sat with an algebra book on his lap, but who could not study because he was so busy laughing with the young boy sitting across from him. Or the young woman who stood timidly by the greasy pole, hemmed in from all sides by other human beings pressing into the car, so she smelled her own hair, every few moments, just to make herself feel better.

I never grow tired of the subway.

And then I rose from the 86th street station, so familiar to my feet. There they were, the guys selling produce on the curb, their tomatoes probably covered in car grime. Dean and Deluca, gleaming as always. And on the corner of 5th and 84th, a flurry of little girls, dressed in light blue pinafores and starched white shirts, giggling with each other, looking every inch like a page from the Madeline books.

Still, by the time I reached the steps of the Met, I was ready to rid myself of the suitcase. The sunlight made me itchy — I wanted my arms to be free to take photographs. Almost there, I thought. Almost there.

When I reached the top of the steps, an officious security guard shook his finger at me, then pointed toward a sign. "No suitcases! Not in here." His finger alerted me to the image of a suitcase, with a big red line through it.

"But wait!" I spluttered. "They let me check it in at the Natural History museum!"

"This isn't the Natural History museum," he said, bluntly. Well, that was true.

"How long has this been going on?" I asked him.

"Since September 11th." While he talked, he was waving people past him. I stood there, gaping, not knowing what to do. When there was a break in the surging masses, his face softened, and he leaned into me. "Sorry, sweetie. Normally we send people down to the Guggenheim, but they're closed today."

I thanked him, especially for his last-moment kindness. Weary, I turned around and prepared to drag my suitcase down the steps.

On the second step, I noticed another security guard. He was eating a sandwich, his face amused. He caught my eye. I caught his. Something in his sly grin made me realize he might know an answer.

"Hey listen," I said, as I dragged the suitcase, exaggeratedly, as though it weighed twenty pounds more than it did. "You wouldn't know anywhere I could stow my suitcase, do you?"

He looked around, dropped his voice, and gestured down the steps. "Yeah, the hot dog vendor."


"Look, you didn't hear it from me, but if you slip them a little money, they'll watch your suitcase for a couple of hours."

"Is it safe?" I asked him, already laughing.

He swallowed, and said, "Yeah. Look, it's the same guys every day. They do a nice little business. I'd trust 'em. But don't quote me."

(Oops. I just did.)

Grinning, I thanked him, then lifted my luggage into the air. Already, it felt lighter.

When I reached the hot dog stand — the bottles of water and soda splayed out in front — I asked the guy behind it, "Is it true you store luggage?" He looked around furtively, and said, "Twenty bucks."

Twenty bucks! Yikes. I thought about saying no, but there I was. I needed to be back on the subway in an hour and a half, and I would never make it to Strawberry Fields with that suitcase behind me. Oh, all right. I gave him the money, and he rolled my suitcase, quickly, behind him. I walked away.

And I don't regret it. That walk in the Park was idyllic. There were small girls skipping around the Alice in Wonderland statue. Old men on a bench, leaning into each other, talking as they probably have for dozens of years. Dappled sunlight, the smell of popcorn, students propping themselves on schist rock for an outdoor class, sassy teenagers talking on their cell phones, and people running under leafy-green trees. I can never spend enough time in Central Park.

I have to admit: as many times as I have been to Strawberry Fields, and stood in front of the Imagine mosaic, I cried this time. I missed the Chef. He was in my ear, because I talked to him while I was there, and he is always in my heart. But I wished he was there. Somehow, in a deeper way than it has ever hit me before, this fact hit me: I really do get to marry him. I'm going to spend the rest of my life with the best love I have ever known. (Thank you, John and Yoko.)

Finally, after taking far too many photographs, I had to make my way back across the Park. I had a lunch to make, an eagerly anticipated lunch. I needed to be on the subway. Time to retrieve my suitcase.

As I approached the hot dog stand, the man behind it caught my eye. He pointed at me, then behind him. As I started to say, I'm ready for my bag, he put his finger to his lips. Shhhh. Confused, I obeyed. When I was within two feet, he looked around and said, "Are you ready?"

"Yes," I said.

He looked to his right, and then shouted, "Vidal!!"

Instantly, the back of the silver coffee cart opened. I saw another man, furtively looking around. And then I saw my suitcase, covered with a light-blue towel. "You ready?" he hissed at me, through a whisper. Yes. He looked both directions, looked at me, and then ripped the towel from the suitcase and shoved my luggage at me. He slammed the door, and I stood there alone.

I laughed all the way to the subway.

Welcome back to New York, Shauna.

* * *

(In the coming days, I'll be sharing more stories, of a gluten-free lunch at Gotham Bar and Grill, barbecued pulled pork in Richmond, a glorious conference experience, and how not to eat gluten-free at the airport. This trip amazed me.

But I have to say, I'm happy to be home.)

03 June 2007

Summer beckons.

the first cherries of the season

The summer I turned sixteen, I ate cherries every day. After hours of swimming in the chlorine-blue water of our backyard swimming pool, I came inside to eat the same lunch, every day. An egg-salad sandwich, the creamy whites of fresh-boiled eggs and sunny yellow of French's mustard, mixed together and bursting out of the bread. A tall glass of Lipton's iced tea, since I had just learned to like the taste of it. And a mound of dark-red bing cherries. Every day, I ate the same lunch. Was it the need for ritual? The calm place in the middle of the day? I don't know. I think, however, it was just good sense.

In cherry season, there is nothing like the firm-fleshed fruit. Bite down and feel the juice seep onto your teeth. Nibble around the pit, then spit it out onto a paper towel. Within moments, that white square is saturated with wine-dark stains, as though something ominous has occurred. Repeat.

Really, when cherries are in season, I could eat seven handfuls in one sitting, and still sigh for more.

Cherries are in season.

This morning, the Chef and I sat on our little back porch, the sun staining our pale skin pink. We watched the neighborhood hen and rooster wander through our yard. We talked about the unpacking we might do today, a trip to IKEA, a search for good used bikes to take on the trail five blocks from our new home. We sat back and relaxed.

After our second cup of coffee, I grabbed a bag from the refrigerator. I had been saving these, with great difficulty. After finding the first batch at the farmers' market, two entire days ago, I made myself wait, until we could share them together. Here was that moment.

A blue bowl full of beautiful fruit. A white square of paper towel ready. The two of us together, with the first cherries of the season. The Chef picked up a particularly large cherry, a mutant one with two halves that looked like the rounded curves of a derriere. ("An ass cherry!" he shouted.) We paused, for a moment, to take in the moment. Our new home, a sun-filled morning, mere weeks before our wedding.

He bit down into the cherry.

And immediately, it squirted all over him, little Jackson Pollock cherry splatters on his face, his yellow t-shirt, and the green chair behind him.

He looked shocked for a moment. I paused for a beat. And then I pointed my finger at his massacred chest and started laughing. The smirk rose to his lips, and then he threw back his head and opened his mouth. And we sat on the porch, sending our laughter to the sky.

Summer is here.

01 June 2007

my first lunch in our new home

my first lunch in our new home

The first night the Chef and I spent in our new home, we held hands all night long. Nicked on nearly every finger from paper cuts or unexpected bumps against doorknobs and stove handles, our hands were exhausted. Our muscles were sore. Our feet wanted to leave the ground. We slept well that night, after three days of packing and one day of frantic, laughing shoving of stuff into a truck.

The Chef’s sister wrote to us afterwards to advise: “Anything you say during moving doesn’t count. So shout and swear away!” Perhaps we are disappointing her when I write that we never raised our voices, throughout the entire, arduous process. We never do. Frankly, we spent most of the time laughing. Does that make us freaks? Maybe. But mostly, we were excited. That kept us giggling. We were going to our new home.

Our friends helped. Oh, that we could all have such friends. Molly and Brandon showed up to lift and heave boxes, carry torchiere lamps in their hands, with big pillows tucked under their arms. Brandon even brought us gifts for the kitchen. Of course. That boy knows how to find a copper double boiler for three dollars, and a working Cuisinart food processor for two, amidst the detritus of dusty shelves at Goodwill. We blessed him for a moment, and then directed him to the truck. Later we would exult in our new possessions. In that moment, they just needed to be moved. And Peter, dear Peter, showed up early to run up and down the stairs (that was his volition), lifting as much as he could in every trip. He would have taken the dresser down to the truck himself, if the Chef hadn’t insisted on helping. Along the way, the two of them became even closer friends. At the end of the day, the three of us sat outside for lunch, at a little diner near highway 99, eating burgers (mine without a bun) and drinking (beers for the boys, a chocolate-peanut butter shake for me), sweaty in the sunshine and smiling.

This was the easiest move of my life.

At one point, as the Chef and I were driving down the freeway to our new home, almost all our worldly possessions behind us, I looked over at him and started to laugh. When he asked why, I said, “Now I know we’re getting married. I feel like part of a real, adult couple. We’re driving a U-Haul together.” He started laughing immediately. It’s hilarious what makes you feel connected to someone.

Of course, the aftermath of moving is never as succinct as the move. Why do I always forget this? First, there was the old apartment to clean. Any vestigial sentimentality I had about that green-kitchen place dissipated on the second day, when I was down on my hands and knees, scrubbing the bathroom floor. Sweat rolled down my back, the stray hairs that won’t go into the ponytail sat plastered to my face, and I still had hours of work left to go. I sat up for a moment, wiped my forehead with my forearm, and thought, “Why did I think I was going to miss this place?” Cleaning after the possessions are gone is the most onerous task of moving, but it might be the most helpful. Square by square, I wiped away any attachments I had to the place. Now, it’s just an empty space, no longer mine at all.

And besides, the new place? It’s home. The first morning we woke up, the Chef and I looked at each other, and said, “I love you.” (We do, every morning. Those are always the first words that either one of us says.) And then we looked at the golden light, filtered through the green trees outside, shimmering through the windows of our bedroom. “Look at this place!” he squealed. “This is our home!”

We still can’t believe it.

After all, I never imagined I would live in a home with French doors leading to little patios. Or a fireplace with a dark wood mantel. Or a backyard so enormous that we still haven’t explored all its corners. Or a beautiful brown garden shed that might become a chicken coop in a few months (yes, with real, live chickens!), and next to it an old bathtub buried partway in the ground, which will soon become my space for meditation outside.

This is more than a house we are renting. This is our home.

We have started nesting.

I can feel myself growing more domestic by the moment. I’ve hunted down all environmentally friendly cleaning products to stow beneath the kitchen sink. I’ve asked my mother if I could borrow her sewing machine for the indefinite future, because I’d like to learn how to sew, for the first time in my life. (I’ll never be as good as Soule Mama, or even her six-year-old son, but I’d like to open myself to it now.) And this afternoon, I grew genuinely excited about buying clothespins, because we have a clothesline in the backyard, where we can hang our clothes out to dry in the sun.

Just a few feet away from the clothesline is a patch of grass destined to be our first garden. Our landlord is a master gardener, here in Seattle, and one of the kindest men I have ever met. He seems pleased to teach us how to bend down in the earth and work with the dirt. I cannot wait to plant the starts and see them shoot up from the ground.

My god, who have I become?

The woman I have always wanted to be.

We will be unpacking boxes for weeks to come. We have promised ourselves that we will have the house the way we want it in time for the wedding. (Oh, the wedding! We’re getting married in nearly six weeks. Wow.) With a house like this, we have time for breath and pauses.

The first afternoon in our home, I took time out for lunch. The Chef was in his kitchen at the restaurant. I was headed back to the old place, for cleaning. But the outdoors beckoned, and I listened. I sat at the picnic table by myself and ate a frisee and wild-greens salad with local goat cheese, pecan pieces, and a champagne vinaigrette I had made on the spot when I found the blender in a box. I found a leftover water bottle from the move the day before. And I set out a bowl of organic strawberries, which we had packed from the old refrigerator. I called the Chef, to share it with him, and then I sat in silence. The birds were singing around my head, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

And the sentence that sang inside my head: “I’m home. I’m home. I’m home.”