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30 August 2007


apples from the back yard

Summer slowly seeps into autumn, creeping like a child on tip-toes. The light fades and simmers, so softly that we hardly notice the changes. Every day, a new revelation.

That’s not true, actually.

For me, it has always felt like summer Summer SUMMER! for three months, and then — boom — it’s fall. No warning, and no real fun, either. In my mind, summer started in the second week of June, and ended right after Labor Day.

You see, for most of my adult life, I was a school teacher.

Granted, the start of school brought satisfying tasks. Brand-new pencils, the tips untouched by paper yet. Blank notebooks with spines ready to be cracked. The eternal hope of an organized life, the fresh start of September.

But for years, I dreaded the end of August. Life changed, abruptly, at Labor Day. The back-to-school ads on the radio made me groan and want to throw the covers over my head. 6 am loomed. I longed for summer to last longer.

Now, however, my year no longer begins in September. This is the first summer in nearly a decade where I have known that I am not going back to school. If I even listen to back-to-school ads now, I giggle a little, still feeling like a kid playing hooky. Friends of mine returned to school two days ago, for dreaded all-day faculty meetings. At 8 in the morning, I am just starting to stretch my arms above my head and then turning toward the Chef next to me in bed. Usually, I go back to sleep after kissing him.

And it was only this year that I realized, with a shock – summer is not my favorite time of the year.

Oh, I’m happy to be alive any time I can. I’m not turning down 70 degrees and light like liquid in expansive blue skies until late in the evening. I’m also not turning up my nose at fat raspberries that dissolve on the tongue, plump blueberries that burst in the mouth, or nectarines so ripe that the juice runs down my chin. The world feels utterly alive, all the time, in summer.

But this summer, I realized, it sometimes feels like too much.

When I lived in Manhattan, I walked the streets like a woman on a mission. I ate up every experience I could, spread my arms out wide, and laughed so loudly that the sound bounced off all the buildings. Never once did I forget that I was living in New York. That city was as much of a personality in my life as any friend. I loved it.

But I was also exhausted.

Every evening, I had the slightly panicky feeling that I was missing it. What was it? That great ineffable connection with all that was dazzling and fantastic. I lived with the knowledge that, even if I did go to a Broadway play one evening, a grungy music club in the East Village the next, and the latest great restaurant the night after that, I had already missed 5000 opportunities to experience the heart of the city. Honestly, I felt guilty if I just stayed home and watched television in my pajamas, my spoon touching the bottom of the Ben and Jerry’s carton. Eventually, the pressure grew too much. I wanted to move to a city small enough that I could wrap my arms around it, and walk from one end to the other in a long afternoon.

Seattle, here I am.

Summer feels like living in Manhattan. Everything is possible. And there’s no way to do it all. We should have gone hiking more often. Or at all. Oh, and camping. I’d love to go camping with the Chef. We didn’t make it to the coast this year. Luckily, I have my entire life with him.

But in summer, even the vegetables are so bounteous that they feel a little dizzying. Eggplants, their purple skins taut around the flesh beneath it. Should I make roasted eggplant salad? Ratatouille? Baba ganoush? Tomatoes only come around once a year, and now that I only eat in season, I really should eat them every day. Tomato soup? Slow-roasted tomatoes? Canning pounds of them to put away against the winter? Sauce for gluten-free linguine, with a splash of Chianti?

The funniest discovery about summer? I miss cooking. During these powerfully perfumed days, I don’t want to turn on the oven. I nibble on fresh tomatoes with sea salt, crumble goat cheese on salads, and live on homemade hummus. When the Chef and I eat dinner at 11 pm, we generally chew on an assemblage of tastes, rather than full meals. Other than the endless parade of crisps I have been making with fresh fruits – and our wedding cake – I haven’t baked a thing in nearly three months.

I miss braising meats, on low heat for long hours. I miss mashed potatoes, knobbly vegetables, and eating soup as a way of staving off the cold. Misty rain, cooler evenings, and butternut squash? Bring it on.

And now that I have moved away from the lockstep schedule of teaching, I realize that the idea of four seasons is simply poppycock. (Really, every three weeks is a different season around here.) It’s no longer summer here, but it’s not entirely autumn. It’s summerautumn. The light gleams a bit more weakly in the evenings. The tips of green leaves are tinged sunset-orange. And there are red-skinned apples on the green grass.

Before I started hanging out at farmers’ markets and eating food when it ripened, I thought apples arrived in September. (Apple for the teacher.) But our apples started plopping on the ground just after my birthday, the first week in August. Right now, the entire tree is lit up by clusters of bright red globes. And – with no exaggeration, I can tell you – there are about 150 apples on the ground around our trees.

When I grew up near Los Angeles, walking in bare feet on hot concrete, you never could have told me about my life today. I would have been astonished to think that the adult me could walk out her back door in the early afternoon, walk on cool green grass toward a gnarled apple tree, and pick up baskets of fallen fruit. Twenty feet from her door.

I can’t keep up. Since we leave for our honeymoon next Friday (excuse my while I let out a little squeal – wheeeeee!), I’ve had to let go of all the hopes of jars of applesauce, apple pies for all my friends, and preserving apple butter for presents for Christmas.

Just like the leaves on those trees, I’m going to let go soon. It’s nearly autumn. The light is fading. I can only do so much.

I once thought that apples were the most pedestrian fruit, the fallback when nothing else was at the store. But my god, the taste of these apples, just off the tree. A crisp skin, a rush of apple sweetness, a tart poke at the back of the mouth, and the satisfying chew of crunch and flesh and apple pap that disappears after several chews.

The taste of these apples, in the early afternoon, satisfies me far more than neat rows of new pencils ever did.

apple sorbet from the apples in the backyard

Apple Ginger Sorbet, from David Lebovitz’s book The Perfect Scoop

I know that I have extolled the virtues of David Lebovitz here before, sung his praises on multiple occasions, and even accepted his marriage proposal, long ago. (I think the Chef is still a little jealous about that one.) But seriously, I will never be able to stop talking about how marvelous he is. People, he’s an international sweet sensation.

One of my favorite memories of this summer is the day I drove David all around Seattle. He was in town to promote The Perfect Scoop, by doing a cooking demonstration at Sur la Table and stopping at Theo Chocolate to sign books and taste truffles. (Have you tried the basil truffle yet? Why not? And by the way, even though they do make a bread and chocolate bar in their factory, almost all their other chocolate is gluten-free. And delicious.) In between the public events, he and I ate sushi together, drank pretty good espressos, lay in the grass under a tree at Greenlake and talked back and forth with our eyes closed, and ate dinner at Impromptu with Adam, Molly, and Tea. A spectacular day, to be sure.

Why have I not shared this with you yet? Well, the Chef and I were married about a week later. That seemed to take over. And see what I mean about summer? So much bounty.

But I am here to tell you, emphatically – buy The Perfect Scoop. You don’t need an ice cream maker, you won’t need much money, and you will never make all the recipes in one summer. Believe me, I have tried.

Every one of them, however, is magnificent. Including this apple sorbet.

4 red-skinned apples
2 cups Riesling or Gweurztraminer
1-inch, piece of fresh ginger
2/3 cup sugar

Preparing the apples.
Cut all the apples into chunks. You can even leave on the peels and cores!

Cooking the apples and ginger. Put the cut-up apples into a saucepan. Add the wine (I like a crisp Riesling here, myself). Crush the piece of ginger, or slice it into large chunks. Cover the pan and bring it all to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and allow the apples to simmer for 15 minutes, or until they are tender.

Straining the apples. In small batches, pass the apples through a fine-mesh sieve, into a large bowl. Push firmly to extract all the juice from the apple pulp. (Some of the pulp will pass into the bowl. That’s fine. It will add texture.) Throw out the peels and remnants of apples.

Adding the sugar. Add the sugar. Stir. When it has dissolved, stop stirring.

Making the sorbet. Chill the mixture until it is entirely cold. Add the liquid to your ice cream maker and let it run until the sorbet is done. (If you want, you can pull the sorbet just before it is hard, and put it into the freezer this way. Somehow, this makes the sorbet creamier.

Makes about 1 quart.

27 August 2007

an apple crisp and lemonade celebration

giant apple crisp

There were so many reasons to celebrate, yesterday.

On August 26th of last year, I was offered the book deal. I can’t believe, now, that I wrote an entire book in four months. And that I edited it down, rapid-fire, on sheer gumption and force of faith, in two weeks. Or that in about a month, I will hold the first hardcover copies of the book in my hands. (I anticipate weeping.) This has all happened so fast, this whirligig rush of learning how to proofread and test recipes and select photographs. I exude gratitude.

Most of the time, our lives glide from one day to the next, a continuous stream of images and sensations, easing into another age without fully realizing how much we have changed. But in this past year, everything shifted, into sharper focus, into a new way of being. That date is the pivot point for everything that happened after.

I like celebrating this life.

Yesterday was also our 16-month anniversary. Talk about a pivot point. Yes, as one of our friends teased us yesterday, we still mark the months as one does with a newborn. We’re toddling along together, no longer as new as babies just beginning to open their eyes. But we can’t help it. Every 26th, we turn to each other and say, “Happy Anniversary, sweetie.” (We still celebrate every Wednesday. Just after midnight, we both race to be the first to say to the other, “Happy Wednesday.” That’s the day of the week we met, you see. And yes, we are saps. Proud of it.) Some people like to claim we will change, grow jaded. We’re going to work against it, by celebrating.

You never know when it all might end.

And it has been six weeks since our wedding. Since we hadn’t seen most of our friends since that glorious, hilarious day — and both the Chef and I had celebrated birthdays in between then and now — we decided to throw another party, smaller this time. We invited folks over for apple crisp and lemonade.

We had one other reason to celebrate. This week is the one-year anniversary of the Chef quitting smoking.

I haven’t talked about this here before. It was his private struggle, at first. When I first met the Chef, I didn’t know he smoked. He waited to smoke until after our dates, ducking around a corner after kissing me at the bus stop, and lighting up a cigarette as soon as he could.

He started smoking when he was 20, and in culinary school. He smoked a pack and a half a day until just after he met me. Almost everyone in restaurants smokes. For him, it seemed the only way to step outside and take a break. As my friend Becky said, it is — perversely — the only way that chefs find a way to take a breath. Of course, he wanted to quit, a hundred dozen times. But it never lasted.

Not until I came along.

On the first night we spent together, I lay with my head on his chest, sighing with pleasure. And then I heard a little wheeze in his lungs. Immediately — as a girl who grew up in smog and suffered with pneumonia six times before she turned 20 — I lifted my head and said, “Are you okay?” He nodded. I lay back down, and then bolted up. “Wait a second, you don’t smoke, do you?”

Embarrassed, he admitted that he did.

I never in my life imagined that I’d fall in love with a smoker. I swore I would never even date one. The acrid smell of stale smoke makes me a little nauseous. I cough when I pass cars with hands held outside the window, a trail of smoke blowing toward me. That habit never made sense to me.

But rules are meant to be broken. He was not merely a smoker. He was already my love.

What could I do but offer my support? And encourage him to quit.

He did, fairly quickly. I never nagged him. I knew I didn’t have the right. I just told him, repeatedly, “I want to grow old with you. I want you to be alive as long as you can. And I want you to quit.

He did quit, for a month. It was a struggle, and he wore the patch. But he was valiant, and sweated through it, and worked hard to please me. And then I went away to Alaska for two weeks, without him. There went the patch. Out came the cigarettes. He says he missed me too much, only six weeks after we met and already knowing we would be married. It was all too much.

When I came home, and we proposed to each other, he vowed to try again. It took him several false starts and stops. I sighed each time I saw him leave the house in the morning to round the corner and light up a cigarette. It made me a little sick to my stomach. But I knew he had to do it in his own time. He had to do it for himself.

A year ago this week, we went to the ocean for a weekend. He had only been four times in his life. Something about the expanse and the roar of the waves, and my hand in his, changed his mind. He threw away the last pack, and he bought the patch.

He hasn’t smoked a cigarette since.

I'm so proud of him.

Of course, as he likes to say, he’s not a non-smoker. He’s just on hold until he turns 90. I’ve promised to buy him a carton myself, on his 90th birthday. But until then, he has quit. Luckily, it seems to grow easier every day.

And my goodness, his taste and smell have deepened and grown richer without the cigarettes. I do believe he’s a much better chef now. He grows keener every day.

Now those are some darned fine reasons to celebrate. A book deal, an anniversary, two birthdays, and a year without smoking.

You bet.

So yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, we had a darned fine group of friends in the backyard. Among them, four professional food writers, three professional chefs, a school librarian, a website designer, a sommelier-in-training, mothers, software designer, and a PhD candidate in music composition. Mostly, though, the stars of the show were the little ones, rambunctious, smart-as-whips, hilarious little ones. We all adored them.

The Chef seems to have an invisible magnetic strip within him, one that all children under ten sense instantly. Always, within five minutes, he has little kids at his side, clamoring for piggy-back rides and crossed-eyes faces. Yesterday, he gathered them around him and helped them pick apples from our tree, told them stories, and lay on the ground and allowed himself to be their amusement park ride. They giggled and jostled, enjoying the moment so much that every adult in the yard turned toward them and joined in the laughter.

Every time I see him like this, I grow a little weak in the knees.

Of course, every celebration needs food. I cannot imagine a marking of the moment without a morsel of something memorable. We made apple crisp, with apples that had fallen from our trees. With that many guests, we would have needed four pans, at least. Chef to the rescue again. “Let’s use this one,” he said as he came up from the basement, clutching the enormous baking pan that had held our wedding cake. Why not?

One of my favorite moments of the afternoon: sitting at the picnic table, dispensing gluten-free apple crisp to everyone gathered. The little ones were seated, eating with plastic forks. Everyone else gathered around us, eating in the sudden quiet. I love that quiet, the one that happens because people are enjoying their food so much that no words are spoken.

That’s my kind of celebration.

As the Chef and I drove away from our home in the evening toward a performance of the musical version of Young Frankenstein (oh god, I laughed so hard I have been hoarse all day), he said it best. “I love our friends. That was my kind of party.”

Life changes so quickly. We might never again see days as full and offering such goodness as these, like the apple trees in our backyard that drop tartly sweet red apples onto the green grass below them.

We believe in celebrating.

crushed lemon verbena

Lemon Verbena Lemonade with Agave

This celebratory lemonade was inspired by a stroll through the farmers’ market with Tea. After a long talk over paper plates piled high with groundnut stew and braised collard greens, we sauntered through the stalls, admiring the produce. She said, “Where is everyone getting the lemonade?” We saw little glass bottles with milky yellow liquid in every kid’s hands. The stand for Woodring Farms had a blue cooler filled with ice and little bottles. We had to buy one.

I’ve just started experimenting with agave nectar. It’s mild and syrupy, mellower than sugar, and with more layers. In this lemonade, it creates a marvelous taste. Sometimes, lemonade feels a little grating on my tongue, the tartness of the lemons clashing with the cloying grains of bleached white sugar. Agave seems to blend more smoothly, something frothy and unexpected.

A small warning: this recipe makes tart lemonade. We like it that way. The little ones politely demurred after one sip, however. You might want to experiment with more agave, if tart lemonade sounds a little glaring to you.

Celebrations deserves something unexpected, like this lemonade.

¼ agave nectar syrup
1 cup water
10 leaves lemon verbena, slightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
8 large lemons
enough water to make this taste like lemonade for you

Creating the simple syrup. Combine the agave and water to boil in a small saucepan. When the mixture has come to a boil, add the lemon verbena leaves. Turn off the heat and let the syrup sit on the stovetop for half an hour. Refrigerate until cool.

Making the lemonade. Juice the lemons as thoroughly as you can. Add the lemon verbena syrup to the lemon juice. Add water, in small batches, until the lemonade tastes the way you like to drink it.

Serve over ice and garnish with a leaf of lemon verbena.

Feeds four people. (You’re going to want to make multiple batches of this.)

23 August 2007

how to chop an onion

how to chop an onion II

The Chef's hands are working-man's hands. On our first date, I noticed the burn on his finger, the callus at the base of his first finger on his right hand (near the palm), the fact that all the hair on his knuckles is gone. Burned off, you see. I loved his hands, right away. They reminded me of this description Ken Kesey wrote of McMurphy's hands in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the palm scuffed like a baseball from all the hard work. I remember, when I taught that book, reading that quote out loud to students, guiding them to understanding McMurphy's character. But inside, I was thinking, "I wish I could meet a man with hands like that. Someone who really works. Someone who knows how to use his hands."

One look at the Chef's hands, and I was convinced.

The rest of him ain't bad either.

When I asked the Chef this afternoon how many onions he has chopped over the past twenty years, he nearly did a spit take. His entire body moved forward. "I have no idea how to answer that question. A ton? I don't even want to think about it. I just keep cutting."

I've been cooking for years. I adore food. I have recipes in a book with my name on the cover. But I will never know one-tenth of what the Chef knows about food. He has spent his entire adult life in service to the food, in trying to bring joy to other people's bellies.

When I first met him, I was impressed by how he cooked foie gras, by the pork campagnes he makes from scratch (and last week a customer from France came up to him in tears, and told him it was the best pate she had ever eaten), the meals with fancy names.

But the longer I know him, the more I know that my first impression is correct. The Chef is not a diva. He doesn't like to draw attention to himself. He is as humble as an onion.

And just as complex.

The callus on his finger is raised and horny, as solid as the shelter of his arms. The man has held a knife in his hand -- the edge of the blade butted up against that callus, his fingers gracefully gripping it like he holds my hips -- every day for decades. The knives he uses in the restaurant are not the most expensive on the market, or the flashiest. But holding them feels like breathing to him. When he holds a knife in his hand, he is himself.

"The knife has to be your best friend. If it isn’t, it will turn on you and cut you," he said with firm enthusiasm. "Treat it with respect. Keep it sharp. When you have a dull knife, you get cut and you fuck yourself. If you have a sharp knife, you’ll cut clean and you'll be happy. The food will taste better for it."

For years, I cut my food with a dull knife. No more.

For years, I cut onions haphazardly, some pieces enormous, the others thin slivers. I thought it didn't matter. I was a free spirit! But after watching the Chef chop dozens of onions, his head bent forward in reverent attention, I realized I was doing it all wrong.

"When you chop the hell out of the onion, you lose all the flavor," he has told me.

And this isn't about looks, or impressing anyone else. One of the reasons I love the Chef? He doesn't give a damn about impressing people or doing anything for show. He moves with pure grace into the kitchen. Chopping an onion correctly? It's for the taste of the food.

"If an onion's chopped uniform, then it’s all going to cook the same. If it’s different sizes, then the small ones are going to burn, and the largest ones are going to be nearly raw. There is a difference in taste if you do it right."

And so, this afternoon, when he wanted to start preparing for service, the Chef was kind enough to slow down and show me -- and thus you -- one of the most important techniques in great food. How to chop an onion.

how to chop and onion I

"First of all, put a damp towel under the cutting board. This will prevent it from skidding and you cutting yourself."

(He frowns at me when I forget to do this at home. And then he pats my hand and points to it. I love his concern.)

"Slice off the end, but just the end. A lot of people take the core off, but that’s a mistake. The core is what keeps the onion together."

(See the photograph at the top for a reference.)

"Sometimes, even in other restaurants, I'll see onions that are all a shambles. And I know they cut too fast, cut too much. Keep the core. That's how you get a good cut out of it."

how to chop an onion III

"Peel the onion, roughly. Don't fuss and pick at the peel. Rip it off. Onions are cheap. You don't want the peel in your food," he says.

how to chop an onion IV

"Besides, you can always save the extra bits and peels for stock, later."

how to chop an onion VI

"Make fine slices, like this. Just don't go into the core and cut the onion all the way."

how to chop an onion IX

"Cut through once, horizontally. But not all the way."

how to chop an onion VII

"After you have sliced through the middle, once, start slicing the other way. keep your fingers curled, like a barrier against the knife. Watch the onion pieces fly."

how to chop an onion VIII

"This is small dice."

how to chop an onion X

"If you want a minced onion, do the same thing. But make three or four horizontal cuts. And then chop."

Trust a man who has chopped a ton of onions.

A few more facts, from the Chef:

"If a recipe calls for one onion, chopped, that's not helpful. It may mean something to a chef, who knows that recipe already, but not to the person who is trying to follow every word."

Hm. I'm pretty sure I've written "one onion, chopped" in recipes here before. No more.

"Rough chopped means hacking up that onion. You can do that if you're going to puree the onion or put it in a stock."

I'm pretty sure I've done a rough chop all my life.

"Don't put onions in the food processor. You're just beating the shit out of them. There goes all the flavor."

I swear, I conceived this post, and took these photographs, before I saw the latest episode of Top Chef. Poor Casey, chopping onions so slowly. That was really embarrassing.

But you know what the Chef would say if he saw that?

"If you watch a cooking show, and someone’s been going through an onion fast, that guy has been doing it for ten or fifteen years.

You do that? You’re going to cut a finger off. That hurts."

So we shouldn't all try to go fast and be impressive? What should we do instead?

"Practice. Cut up a lot of onions. Take it slowly. You don’t want to hurry.

And don’t buy the stupid utensils for onions that people buy at cooking stores. Just chop as many onions as you can. If you want to put your money anywhere, invest in bandaids."

How did he learn to chop onions this way?

"My teachers showed us." [The Chef went to NECI, in Vermont.] "They made us chop an onion, and then they'd look at it. They'd say, 'That's shit. Do it over.'" So I did.

"They didn't expect us to be perfect. But they wanted us to pay attention and do it right."

That's a damned fine motto, Chef.

Slow down. Pay attention. Do it right.

And chop a lot of onions before you expect to be any good at it.

21 August 2007

the honeymoon approaches.

italy is in my eyes

We are counting down the days.

The Chef and I love our lives. By halfway through the day, his fingers are itching to get into the kitchen. Driving into the restaurant, he twitches a bit. As happy as he is with me, that kitchen has been his home for his entire adult life. He sighs into his knife and feels alive when he’s on the line. And me? I’m at home, tapping on this keyboard, trying to learn how to market a book, watching apples drop from the trees in the backyard. Life constantly surprises me. There is so much to learn about food, about how to love him.

We feel blessed.

Still, of all the benefits of being married to a Chef, long vacations together is not one of them. In the first week of January, the Chef had five days off from the restaurant. However, that’s when the book was due to my publishers, the time of not much sleep. We have not shared more than three days together without work. When we have two days off in a row, as we just did, we feel like millionaires.

Imagine the richness of twelve days together, in Italy.

In seventeen days, the Chef and I will be skipping onto a plane, for our first long trip together. Our honeymoon.

When I first wrote about our plans, for this once-in-a-lifetime splurge to the land of tremendous food, dozens of readers responded in droves. We didn’t know where we should go, since every square foot of that amazing place seemed to offer sensory experiences that would take us somewhere new. Fresh mozzarella. Sorrento lemons. Pools of warm olive oil. Prosciutto cured on the premises. Wandering down the streets of Rome, following the knowledge of our noses, and staying in a trattoria for hours. Everything seemed possible.

We were astonished, and moved, by your suggestions and offers. Some of you sent us presents for our honeymoon registry. My goodness, dear people. We cannot thank you enough.

You see, we really couldn’t afford this trip, with our daily budget. True chefs are working-class heroes, not the glitterati you see on tv. And freelance writers? Well, there is no Bentley parked outside our door. We own a trusty little Honda with over 200,000 miles on the odometer, and we pat the dashboard every time we turn the key. Common sense says to stay close to home.

But love rarely feels like common sense.

And I keep thinking about how much our notions of food will be changed — the Chef in his kitchen; me at my keyboard — by this time together, in Italy.

And so we are taking the leap. Our friends and families were generous at our wedding, with their presence, and their presents. Someone I know said: “Did you get a lot of cookware?” No, not really. We have a decent kit already. What did we get? A honeymoon.

And my passport arrived in the mail a few days ago. Whew. The Chef received his a month ago, but the passport office suggested I wait until after the wedding to apply for mine, since I changed my name. When we opened the mailbox and saw that flat package, we both wanted to dance a jig. We are really going to Italy!

We know where we are going now. Even though a hundred places in that land called our name, we really listened to the people who have been there, and especially to the people who grew up there. Over and over, the people who came from Italy told us one place for the food and wine: Umbria.

We will be staying at a little agriturismo outside of Assisi, a working farm with an apartment for us. From the sound of it, they will bring us bottles of the olive oil they grow there, as well as fresh fruit and herbs, in a basket when we arrive. The idea of waking up there, and sitting on the balcony with cups of strong coffee, looking out over Mount Subasio? The image of that brings lightness to my chest every time I imagine it.

We’ll be renting a car — and hoping it has fewer than 200,000 miles on it this time — to putter around the Umbrian fields. Music on, windows open, and only the barest plan for the day ahead of us — we are ready for adventuring. There are so many little villages where we could go, towns to explore. Spoleto, Orvieto, Norcia, Perugia — my mind smiles at the sound of them.

The other day, the Chef and I spent the afternoon with my parents. Unbeknownst to me, they have developed a passion for searching Google Earth for close-ups of the world. Eager to show us the technology, they clicked on cities where we could be eating soon. Quickly, we were hooked too. We’re going there?!

We don’t have a definite itinerary in mind. We’ll make it up as we go along. As the Chef likes to say, “That’s the best way to live.”

But we do know there will be a day in Florence, as the incredible Judy Witts has offered us a private tour of the markets and lunch at her house.

We will spend at least one day in Modena, at one of the balsamic vinegar factories, since a dear someone sent us a check, and said, “Buy yourself the best bottle of balsamic vinegar you can find, the one you would never buy for yourselves.”

One of my favorite former students, the wonderful Monica (who took most of the photographs for our wedding) has a grandmother in Italy. It’s possible that she will be there at the same time we are. We might end up in a tiny village in the Abruzzo, where her grandmother will cook for us all day.

And it’s also possible that our friends Don and Michelle — the ones who made the incredible lamb for our wedding — will be visiting Volterra while we are in Umbria. We could end up in the kitchen of the villa, cooking with both of them.

After that, it’s three days in Rome. (But no car. No thanks.)

You can probably sense why we are jumping up and down together whenever we talk about this trip.

I hate to shock the art lovers among us, but I’m pretty sure we’re not going to visit a single museum. (Except for the Vatican. We have to go see the Pope.) We don’t have a checklist of Important Sites to see. We are not seeking the perfect visit, the epochal experience, or the archetypal honeymoon. We just want to greet every moment, laugh together, and eat well.

We can’t wait to meet the people who make our food. The butchers, the olive oil farmers, the cheesemakers, the vintners, the truffle hunters. I am forever enchanted by the people who make food. Those are the experiences we can’t wait to have.

Mostly, we want to eat.

Of course, eating in Italy (or eating anywhere, for that matter) is more difficult for me than the Chef. Eating gluten-free in Italy, I have been told, will be easier than it might seem. I’ve been doing some research, and asking around, but I have much, much more to learn.

So we would love to hear any suggestions that anyone has. Have you eaten gluten-free in Umbria? Oh, please send us names and addresses. Did you eat gluten-free pizza in Rome? Found the best rice pasta in the world in a tiny restaurant in a village no one else would visit?

Oh, and if anyone has the name of a tiny hotel in Rome that charmed you, but didn’t empty your wallet, we would love to know that too.

What I can tell you, for certain, is this: whatever we learn, whatever we eat, we will share it with you. Expect juicy pieces of writing, and photographs galore. We know, without a doubt, that this time together will yield surprises, and joy. And joy only expands when shared.

We may not know entirely where we are going, but we cannot wait to go there.

pasta with potatoes and shrimp

Pasta with potatoes, zucchini, and shrimp
, adapted from Adventures of an Italian Food Lover by Faith Willinger

This recipe is only loosely adapted from a recipe by Faith Heller Willinger. Her addictive new book — Adventures of an Italian Food Lover: With Recipes from 254 of My Very Best Friends — has been my favorite guide book to Italy so far. Instead of listing places to stay or the best restaurants to eat in, she has written little essays about the people she knows, all of them passionate food lovers. I’m making notes of the places we could drive for bottles of golden olive oil, or vineyards that grow organic grapes, or butchers that create pork products that could make us cry. That’s my idea of living.

And boy, would I love to be her 255th friend.

At first, you might think this dish sounds strange. Who makes potatoes with pasta? Let me tell you, I will, from now on. These julienned potatoes cooked in sea-salt water stay slightly crisp with this techniue, but they wrap around the pasta like a lover in the morning. The zucchini does too, a little green taste amidst the comfort of starches. The original recipe called for spaghetti, and I only had gluten-free shells in the house. But I actually love the differences in shapes in my mouth. Add fresh prawns, and a splash of lemon juice, and this tastes like the Pacific Northwest, transplanted to Italy.

Just like us.

2 Yukon gold potatoes
2 zucchini
3 tablespoons sea salt
14 ounces gluten-free pasta
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound prawns, peeled and deveined
juice of ½ lemon
2 ounces chevre

Cut the potatoes and zucchini into julienne shapes. (Here’s a recommendation: buy yourself this Messermeister julienne utensil. My goodness, I feel like a chef with this in my hands.) You should have about 1 ½ cups of each when you are finished.

Bring 3 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add the sea salt. Cook the potatoes first, until they are tender. (About two to four minutes.) Take the potatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Cook the zucchini in the same water. When it is tender, put the cooked zucchini into a colander and rinse cold water over it.

Put the pasta in the still-boiling water. (Follow the directions for your favorite gluten-free pasta as to timing.) While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet. Add the olive oil. When it is hot, start to cook the garlic. As soon as you smell the garlic — but long before it burns — add the shrimp. They should start to curl and darken immediately. As soon as they have turned solidly pink, add the vegetables to the pan and turn off the heat.

When the pasta is cooked almost al dente (do not turn it to mush!), drain it. Reserve at least one cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the skillet with the shrimp and vegetables. Turn on the heat and cook it all for about five minutes, or until everything is sizzling. (If it all feels too dry, add some of the pasta water to the mix.)

Take the pan off the heat. Squeeze the lemon juice on top. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Add dabs of the goat cheese and serve.

Feeds 4.

20 August 2007

so much goodness given

gluten-free waffle

The Monday post I had planned for today will silently slide into tomorrow, instead.

Tonight, I simply have to share this.

"It is with great sadness that I inform you that Bette Hagman passed away quietly this afternoon at home. I took her nearly a hundred good wishes messages yesterday. She was pleased to get them and she and the caregiver were reading them before I left. They brought smiles and tears to her. They were exactly what she needed. Any messages that continue to come in will be given to her daughter.

Thank you all for your kindness and support for Bette. I know both she and her daughter appreciated it very much. Bette inspired and helped more people than she will ever know. We will miss her."

Cynthia Kupper, RD, CD
Executive Director
Gluten Intolerance Group of North America®

For those of you who don't know, Bette Hagman wrote a series of books called The Gluten-Free Gourmet. Long before there were gluten-free blogs, gluten-free cookies available at coffee shops, or articles about living gluten-free in The New York Times, Bette Hagman worked away in her home, trying to create recipes for those of us who cannot eat gluten. When she began, several decades ago, she must have felt like the lone voice in the desert.

I have to be honest: I don't often use Ms. Hagman's recipes. Times have changed, and so have the ingredients. But I did hope that, someday on this journey of mine, I could meet her.

You see, without the work she did, and the books she wrote, I would not be able to walk into a mainstream grocery store in Seattle and buy a pre-made mix for gluten-free waffles (which is how I was able to take the photograph above).

And so I wanted to use this space to say the only thing I would have said to Bette Hagman, had I been able to meet her:

thank you.

16 August 2007

road food, gluten-free food

chickpea-walnut salad i

I’ve been spending a lot of time in cars lately.

Breakfasts on the back porch, long lunches at the picnic table, snacks when I feel hungry and can simply walk into the kitchen? Those feel like words on a page right now. These days, I’m eating in the car.

The two weddings required hours of driving. No onerous task, considering the end point, and the company of Tea, who made me laugh and think and want to sing along to songs on the radio. Still, there were some miles on the car.

Now that we have moved to our home, slightly farther away from the restaurant than the apartment before it, the Chef and I seem to spend more time driving down the freeway than I have since I lived in LA. We want to hold hands, but he grows nervous from the traffic. (Actually, I taught him the word gesticulate so he could say to me: “Will you please stop gesticulating when you tell that story? At least until we are off I-5?” Instead, he simply puts his hand on mine and pats it back to the steering wheel.)

And during this week and last, I have been teaching a creative-writing summer camp for teenagers at the Hugo House. This is my third year of teaching there, and I love the camaraderie of being in a room with twenty other beings, all of whom feel the need to press pen to paper. These students are fierce and funny, utterly themselves, and excited enough about writing that they voluntarily spend two weeks inside during August. (In short, they’re freaks, like me.) But the fact that this short-term teaching gig coincides with the worst construction snarl on I-5 in recorded history (if you believe the press) means that we are spending time in the car.

At least we can hold hands when we’re stopped in the fast lane.

Still, we have to leave the house earlier than usual to make it to Hugo in time for the 9:30 start. These past days, I have been eating gluten-free English muffins with almond butter as I wait for traffic to slow so I can chew. I don’t like eating in the car. It feels so rushed and defeating. Great food should be eaten mindfully, every bite a panoply of textures and tastes, memories rising past my face into the part of my brain that records good moments. Instead, I am listening to horns behind me. And the smell of exhaust does not lend itself to digestion.

The other night, at the restaurant, Suja (one of the waitresses) stood near the kitchen door, waiting for an order. She picked up a saucer with a mixed green salad, goat cheese, and champagne vinaigrette and started spinning it in her hands. “I’m driving this salad around town,” she said, and I laughed. That’s what my eating life feels like at the moment.

Sometimes, I love the inspiration of the car. The rhythm of the road matches the phrases in my mind, and I start to write by tapping on the dashboard. Stopped on the road, I see inside every car more clearly: that man is picking his nose, and not even surreptitiously; she’s singing to Sly and the Family Stone; they are arguing loudly, and she’s turning her face away from him. And sometimes, inspiration strikes from an unexpected flash on the road. Cut off by a man who insisted his car had to go faster, I jolted with adrenaline at nearly being hit. I could taste it in my mouth. Later that morning, in the safe confines of Hugo House, I wrote the start of this poem:

A First Course of Fear

Fear tastes like
Blackberries five days before ripeness
Battery acid gone dry
Nineteen tacks covered in vegemite
Heaping teaspoons of pickle juice
Two and a half cups of baking powder
Dusty dredges of shriveled cheese
Chewy crackers, gone flubby with mold
Prison bars in the cold of winter.

Fear tastes like twenty pieces of bubble gum
Shoved inside your mouth at once
And you can’t stop
The acid aching along your jaw.

It’s a first draft, out of fifteen minutes of writing with the students about synethesia, but it felt good. At least I could turn the frightening driving into something that felt like mine.

In another free write, inspired by my co-teacher’s prompt to write about America, these words emerged from my pen:

“…amazing grace and purple mountains majesty and in Wyoming the mountains really are purple and amaze me, and that spot, before the mountains, the Teton mountains, with Sharon, the Snake River winding and we are eating Screaming Yellow Zonkers and playing Mad Libs, putting the names of people who always make us laugh in all the blank spaces, and the rest are all fart jokes and dirty words and silly sounds, because we may be in our 30s at this point, but really we are 12. And the sun is coming through the windshield, and Sir Duke comes on the cd, and I say, ‘Blast it, Sharon. We have to hear this song.’ And she opens her hand to turn the knob and the music grows louder at the moment the sun bursts out from behind the Tetons. And we are dancing, my ass wriggling in the driver’s seat and she is singing and I am singing and there is this sudden surge of happiness, a pocket of air that expands in my chest and makes my head feel light. And even though I can feel the weight of the world in my shoulders, still, I can press it away from me, to just outside the windows of the car, where it flaps like my hand making cupped circles in the air, turning and open, everything motion, and my best friend is by my side, doing the same. The song ends. We play it four more times in a row.

And though this list began with a bunch of negative words, the usual suspects of complaints about this country, in the end, this run-on sentence, words tumbling all over themselves in a rush to be free of my brain, the exuberance and silly specifics — damned if that’s not America, too.”

Remembering those moments with Sharon, on our cross-country journey, made me sigh. Oh, if only eating in the car was that blithe anymore.

You see, driving and eating is more difficult when you have to live gluten-free.

No stopping at fast food places, which really isn’t a loss for me, but the convenience is what draws people in. Walking into a coffee shop is merely a demonstration of how overly reliant we are on wheat in this culture. Muffins, cookies, sandwiches, and pastries — nope. When I walk into a grocery store in search of a snack, most of the time I can’t go to the deli case and grab something for lunch. Even the turkey breast — was it marinated in something? Did they cut it on the same board where someone else made sandwiches? Did the employee change his gloves between the tortellini he pulled from the case and my baked chicken breast?

I have been eating a lot of gluten-free power bars and bananas these days.

Those of you who can eat gluten? I challenge you to walk through a typical workday and try to avoid it. Not just the obvious places, but all the cross-contamination and soy-sauce marinades and dustings of flour on the candies to make them not stick. Try to eat gluten-free for a day. Let me know what you think.

And those of you who already avoid the gluten? How do you deal with being out all day, running one errand after another without the time for a proper meal? What do you keep in your car for snacks?

I’ve been packing almonds, rice cakes, and fruit. But any suggestions would be fantastic.

The teaching gig at Hugo House ends tomorrow. Shame, in a way, since I have so enjoyed these kids. (They have portfolios due tomorrow, which is a way of publishing their work. And it is in the spirit of solidarity for that act of bravery they are about to commit that I included those roughest drafts of writing I have ever put on this site before.) But I’ll be able to go back to leisurely eating on Saturday.

Still, I have to find a way to deal with this gracefully. After all, there will be more driving to come. In just a few weeks, we will be bouncing around the Italian countryside in a tiny rental car. And it’s possible that part of the book tour will involve a road trip, the Chef and I. So I’d like to figure out how to be a gluten-free road warrior, soon.

After all, it’s easier to keep my eyes on the road when I’m feeling well-fed.

Addendum: The comments on this post have been helpful to me already. Of course, this piece is a bit of a conceit, because I am lucky. I can always ask the Chef to pack me up a lunch at the restaurant. However, this is a real problem for those of us who need to eat gluten-free, and I hope that all of you will turn to each other's suggestions as a resource.

Also, if you feel the urgency of this and wish to put it into poem form....Well, now you have an outlet. The good folks at Allergic Living are holding a contest for the best poem about dealing with allergies. You know you have it in you. >Go here and submit your words.

Chickpea salad with carrots, walnuts, and French feta

chickpea-walnut salad ii

The other day, I grew determined. I intended to find a place where I could buy a cup of something hot to drink, fire up the wi-fi to work on the computer, and eat something more substantial than a banana. Gluten-free living in Seattle is far easier than it is in other cities — or so I have been told — but still, this seemed like a snarl worse than the freeway in the mornings. It took a trek to four places, with parking delays at each one, before I found my new nirvana: Remedy Teas. This calm, green-walled place contains a hundred teas or more. Better for me, they have gluten-free carrot muffins in the glass case, as well as a salad of spinach, walnut, cucumbers, and chickpeas.

It’s amazing what we take for granted.

That evening, I invented this concoction. I love chickpeas. Truly, I could eat them every day. Most days, I just squeeze a little lemon juice atop them, drizzle a glug of olive oil, crunch some kosher salt between my fingers, and top it all with pepper. An afternoon of clean eating and a sigh of relief. If I am feeling decadent, I add in bites of fresh mozzarella. It doesn’t take much more than that to make me happy.

However, the next time you take out some chickpeas, you might want to throw in some carrots cut slim, a handful of raw walnuts, some crumbled French feta, and arugula leaves torn in shreds. Top it with salty, creamy French feta and a splash of sherry-walnut vinaigrette, and you might feel better than you have in days.

Particularly if you have been eating power bars and bananas in the car.

2 cups chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup raw walnuts
2 carrots, julienned
handful French feta, crumbled
½ cup arugula, shredded into small pieces
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
sherry-walnut vinaigrette (see recipe below)

Combine the chickpeas, walnuts, carrots, salt and pepper.

Drizzle with s small spurt of vinaigrette and toss.

Compose in the bowl and add the French feta.


Sherry-walnut vinaigrette

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup walnut oil

In a blender, combine the sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard. Mix them well. Slowly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil as the blender is running. When the liquids have blended into a coherent mixture (known as emulsifying), stop the blender. Drizzle this over the chickpeas and eat.

Feeds 2.

13 August 2007

the ongoing saga of gluten-free crumble (or crisp)

gluten-free crisp

Elliott and I held hands as we walked back to the picnic table. This is one of my favorite places in the world: my nephew beside me, his small hand in mine, my family and the Chef waiting at the other end. Elliott and I talked about the treehouse, the bubbles he had been blowing, the silly sound of giggles as he sat beneath the table, begging for us to drop our keys down the hole in the wood. We had been playing all afternoon together, this nephew of mine and his new uncle. (By marriage, maybe, but by action the Chef has been his uncle for over a year.)

It was time for lunch.

“We’re having roasted chicken,” I told him. “And your uncle has made a tomato-cucumber salad.” I knew he would probably not eat the salad, with the julienned vegetables and the champagne vinaigrette. He would only touch the chicken if I cut it into tiny cubes for him. He is only four. But I wanted him to hear the names of what we were about to enjoy. “Food” is just too general. No one remembers “food.” We remember meals.

He listened, seriously, and then tugged at my hand. When I looked down at him, I saw his smile at the bottom of my arm. “Will there be blueberry crisp?” he asked me, his face animated.

I grinned. He remembered the day before the wedding, weeks before.

During the barbeque the Chef and I threw for our families and closest friends, Sharon and I ducked into the kitchen. With blueberries the Chef’s sisters had picked up at the farmers’ market, and apricots from the Market, we hunched close together and made two crumbles. The Chef’s mother came in to check on us. “You two girls need to sit down,” she said, worried that we were not yet relaxed.

But nothing relaxes me like baking. I love the people who were filling our backyard. I looked forward — with eager edges of anticipation — to the day that was to follow, the one we had been planning for months. But with my hands covered in butter, blueberries warmly bubbling in the pan beneath me, and the smell of sugar wafting to my nose, I am at peace in the world.

When Sharon and I pulled the crumbles from the oven — the dark juices of the blueberries threatening to escape the pan, the topping as brown as our sun-warmed skin — we felt triumphant. Like two conquering heroes returning from the berry wars, she and I marched out to the garden, and lay down our trophies.

Even though there had been barbequed hamburgers, and ribs soaked in sweet-salty sauce, homemade dill pickles, potato chips galore, a crisp green salad, plus beer and wine and laughter — everyone found room for crumble.

No one commented on the fact it was entirely gluten-free. It was just blueberry-apricot crumble.

Half an hour after I had pulled the crumble from the oven, I saw Elliott sitting at the picnic table, with Cooper by his side. Their pale faces were stained purple-blue happy, with smudges at the lips that lengthened their smiles. When I walked by, Elliott looked up at me, quite directly, and said, “This blueberry crisp is good, Shauna. It’s the best I ever eaten.”

Cooper nodded too, quick to agree with his new friend.

That is, without a doubt, one of my favorite moments of the entire weekend.

And so, when Elliott wondered if we were going to be eating blueberry crisp, I realized that the moment I so fondly remember is a memory in his mind too. He’s only four, but he’s a real person now. We have entire conversations, not just smooshy noises on his belly and silly sounds at the top of my voice. We still sniff — he wanted to smell the rosemary and thyme planted in the large pots in our yard — but now we talk about the smells, and where they reside in his mind. They remind him of other smells, and he tells me. He is, without a doubt, fully here now.

I looked down at him, holding my hand, and said, “Oh sorry, sweetie. We don’t have blueberry crisp today. It’s my birthday. We’re having chocolate cake and roasted peaches.”

His grin grew bigger. “Oh good!” he said. What little boy turns down chocolate cake? And what did it matter to him that it was gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, and soy-free? It tasted like dark chocolate, nothing more. “This is good cake,” he said with his mouth full of crumbs. I’d recommend it to anyone, but I have a feeling that cake was best eaten in the open air, surrounded by family. Afterwards, there were more bubbles to blow, apples to throw, and a swing to sway in, with the help of his uncle.

But next time Elliott is in our backyard, I’ll make sure there is warm blueberry crumble, for him, and for the memory.

Apricot and blueberry crumble, inspired by David Lebovitz and Shuna Fish Lydon

What’s a crisp and what’s a crumble? It sounds like the start of a nursery rhyme, in some way. But for me, the answer is — not much. Perhaps a crumble has a bit more butter, a softer bite. A crumble is like nursery food: comforting in summer, and even better when you need a little something to liven up the day.

My crisps and crumbles both improved when I read David Lebovitz’s recipe, which calls for cornmeal. Somehow, this ingredient had never occurred to me. But he’s right. That lovely stuff that can become polenta also adds a crunch and cohesiveness that I never would have expected in a crumble, particularly a gluten-free one. I’ll never make one without some, now. And of course, just knowing that Shuna had made a gluten-free crisp for our wedding made me want to go back and work on my recipe.

This lovely dessert fumbles softly in the mouth. When it’s first out of the oven, this crumble melts and tumbles, one bite butter, another brown sugar. It’s heavenly with homemade vanilla ice cream — believe me. Wake up in the morning, and pull the pan out of the refrigerator. Scoop some into your favorite bowl, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee, and sigh into the topping. If you can eat this on the glider, with your love beside you, that morning can be nothing but fine.

Crisp or crumble? Call it you want. Elliott calls this good.

Fruit filling

1 pint blueberries
2 cups apricots, pits removed and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
¼ cup demerara sugar

Crumble topping

½ cup almond flour
½ cup quinoa flakes
½ cup sorghum flour (if you don’t like sorghum, try brown rice flour)
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
¾ cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, frozen, for perhaps an hour before you begin

Preheating the oven. Turn your oven onto 375°.

Preparing the filling. Jumble the blueberries and apricots in a large bowl. Sprinkle the lemon juice and vanilla extract over them and toss. Coat the fruit with the tapioca flour, until the mix feels a little pasty. Toss in the sugar and stir well.

Baking the filling. Pour the prepared filling into a buttered pan. (I like a shallow casserole dish, but you could just as easily use a 9-inch pie pan. Just be sure you have an inch of room, at least, after you have poured in the filling.) Put it into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the fruit is fork-tender and the juices are beginning to run.

Preparing the topping. As the fruit is baking, put together the crumble topping. (You can also prepare double batches of this and store them in the refrigerator, which allows you to make crumble any time of the day you wish.) Combine the almond flour, quinoa flakes, sorghum flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Sift them into another bowl. Add the brown sugar and stir well.

Take the butter out of the freezer. With your microplaner or box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flours and sugar. The butter has to be frozen for this to work. This will make the pieces of butter small and easy to combine with the flours.

Work the small pieces of butter into the flours with a pastry cutter or fork. When the topping feels well mixed— but not one big mass — you are done.

Baking the crumble. When the fruit has baked sufficiently, pull the baking dish out of the oven. Spoon the crumble on top of the fruit, making sure to cover it all. Slide the dish back into the oven.

Bake for an additional fifteen minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling juicily, and the topping has browned nicely.

Let the crumble cool for at least fifteen minutes before eating it. (Go on. Try.)

Feeds 8.

07 August 2007

letting go of the wedding

flower petals at nicole's wedding

I can’t seem to let go.

Oh sure, I seem really good at it. Go gluten-free after a lifetime of being the bestest friend in the world of bread? I used to walk to Macrina Bakery every afternoon, after school, to sample ham and cheese biscuits or thick molasses cookies or these apple tartlets that inspired me to write letters to friends in far-away places with apple-cinnamon-sugar drops on the blue paper. Every day, I went to that little bakery on the hill that smelled of sugar goodness. Go gluten-free? Of course. No problem. After all, I had been so sick, it made sense.

This has been a year of enormous change. Within one year (and three months), I met the love of my life – and knew it fairly immediately – signed with a literary agent, asked the love to move in, proposed to each other, got a book deal, lost my job, wrote a book, discovered more new foods than I had ever eaten, learned how to be a full-time writer, started teaching cooking classes, wrote my first freelance pieces, tried to learn how to market a book, had articles written about me in newspapers, moved to a new home, and got married. And that’s just the big changes. Most people are afraid of change. I just didn’t have time for fear. I said yes. I embrace life.

Or so they say.

Change the venue of our wedding two weeks before the day we had been planning for a year? You bet. We saved money, it felt right, and life just started leaning that way. Did it mean a lot of work, a complete shift in the images I had been forming in my head for months? Yes. Did our wedding turn out to be utterly different than I had ever imagined? Of course. But letting go of one place for our own backyard allows me to sit meditation on the spot where I said my love out loud, in front of a gathered crowd, to this man. Letting go worked out that time.

But the thing is? It took me until I was nearly thirty years old until I finally threw out my wardrobe from the seventh grade. And I didn’t even like those clothes. Photographs of me, with my enormous orange-rimmed glasses, and the high-collared polyester dresses, make me look like a middle-aged librarian. I look younger now in my forties than I did at twelve. (And this after the Albert Brooks phase.) Why did I keep all those clothes? I don’t know. Why do I still have all the journals I kept when I was sixteen and twenty and even thirty-two? Even though I peek inside one, once in a while, just to see what I was doing on this day, a decade ago, and I shudder to see the stumbling phrases. Sometimes, I am amazed at my former self’s capacity to wrestle an idea to the ground (over the span of twenty pages) like a dog with a bone. My god, I didn’t know how to let anything go, until I was well into my thirties.

There’s a reason I sit meditation on that spot in our backyard every day.

I always remember this line in Catcher in the Rye, when Holden accuses his roommate Stradlater of being “...a secret slob.” He looks neat on the outside, but his razor is all crumby with unwashed hairs. I’m not a secret slob (take a look at the state of our kitchen right now, and you would know it’s not a secret at all). But it seems, sometimes, I’m a secret clinger.

You see, I can’t seem to let go of our wedding.

Writing this enormous set of stories was a wonderful catharsis. Looking at the photographs, nearly every day, has been a wonderful release. Last week was the Chef’s birthday. For his present, I developed several dozen of our favorite images, our hands with the rings, the nieces and nephews, both sets of parents, the two of us laughing, and many more. And then I hung them up in the living room. When he returned home from the restaurant that night, he stood in front of those photos and cried.

It was such a beautiful day, you see.

Certainly, life goes on around here. Bills to be paid, pieces to be written, and always the dishes to be done. The Chef has started a new menu at the restaurant, as part of a three-month tour of the Tastes of the African Continent. One taste of the zatar-roasted leg of lamb or the coconut crème brulee, and you will never again decry having to live a gluten-free life. I have writing to do, and more last-minute proofreading of the book. (Always, there seems to be one more page to be checked.) A thousand details rush through my mind, and only a few of them are laid to rest at the end of each day.

We’re busy around here.

But still, I keep writing about the wedding.

caprese salad at molly's wedding

Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve attended two other weddings in the last two weekends. I go years without sitting on a white chair, wiping away the tears from my eyes as two people declare their love for each other. But this summer, it has been wedding central.

Two weeks after our wedding, Molly and Brandon married each other. Actually, that’s not quite true. I was the person who married them. I felt more honored than words could convey that these two people I love asked me to stand before them and pronounce them husband and wife. (In case you’re wondering, I’m a Minister of the Internet, a preacher of life.) As I stood next to Brandon, under the tent, the sea behind us, and watched Molly walk down the aisle toward him, I grew more teary than I had at my own wedding. I looked over at the Chef, in the third aisle back, wearing his sky-blue shirt. We winked at each other. We were already married.

Of course, I could tell you so many details about Molly and Brandon’s wedding, of the lovely weekend in Bellingham. But that is her story. And I will let her tell it. Suffice it to say there were glasses of sparkling wine, jars of pickled carrots, hanging flowers in mason jars, fresh caprese salads, and a special plate of appetizers set aside for me. Gluten-free. Mostly, there was a beautiful bride, and an ebullient groom, and the loving people thronged around them to watch their first dance.

they dance at their wedding

This past weekend, I drove up to Bellingham again for Nicole’s wedding. (Weddings mean serious miles on the car this summer.) I first met Nicole when she was fourteen years old. It was my first year of teaching. Or, to be more accurate, it was two days before the beginning of my first year of teaching. I was putting up postcards on the wall near the light switch when this kid came in. This fresh-faced, dancing eyes, mouth-full-of-braces kid. She said, “Are you the new teacher?” with so much enthusiasm that I immediately felt grateful. Oh, it is going to work, I thought. I loved her immediately.

After she graduated, and was no longer my student, we started being friends. Now, she is nearly thirty years old, and a married woman.

Their wedding took place in one of the more beautiful settings I have ever experienced. Every person there knew the bride and groom well. No distant relations or business acquaintances. Simply a community of people who loved them. It was the kind of wedding where an old family friend stands up to sing a John Denver song, a capella, and everyone sings softly along, their voices echoing off the hills filled with trees.

And when they stood in front of a Buddha statue, and said open-hearted vows to each other, I cried again.

millet salad at nicole's wedding

It was also another wedding where I was able to eat successfully, and safely. Nicole and David had a potluck too (I think inspired by our original planning), and had little cards in front of each dish, with the ingredients listed. Such a joy. The millet salad with edible flowers was enough to make me swoon.

And they had even purchased a gluten-free cake for me, from the Bellingham Co-Op. Now that’s love. (Of course, there were other people who needed the cake as well. The awareness of this need seems to grow every day.)
And so, you see, I have been swathed in weddings, basking in the festivities of first toasts and slow dances, meaningful glances between bride and groom and a joyful throng of people wanting to dance along.

No wonder it has been hard to move on from our wedding.

And I can’t stop giggling when I introduce him: “This is my husband….”

But all things must come to an end, eventually. I find myself not writing here, because I just want to write about the wedding, and there is only so much that you poor people can take. Or I want to look at the set of photographs that Shuna took of our big day. On Sunday, my family came over for a day-early birthday celebration. My brother took one look at the wall of photos and said, “It seems you’ve been busy documenting the wedding.” Really, I have to stop.

After all, I have a honeymoon to finish planning.

the Buddha and the heart stone

But of course, I don't really mean that I want to let go of the wedding. Thinking about it? That will go on my entire life. Our entire lives together. We still look at photographs every night, when the Chef is home from the restaurant. The wedding, the feeling, the love and laughter -- those are still with me every day. I intend to keep every moment of it alive, in the way I love him.

But I want to put a cap on the public writing about, here, on this site. With all the posts before the wedding happened, I was still writing about the wedding. It feels like enough to me now.

I'll never be able to stop talking about how much I love him.

But we miss so much when we think exclusively about what happened in the past.

There's this gorgeous sunlight out my window right now, or the taste of the soy milk I had for a snack, the possibility soon of simply sitting on the porch and reading a magazine. I want to write about that. There are so many other moments, perhaps more mundane, that I would love to write, now. I feel like -- in writing alone -- I am a little backed up. There was the afternoon that Elliott was in our backyard and laughed so hard about the bubbles he made that we all started laughing. Or the summer creative writing camp I started teaching on Monday, with days full of stories and teenagers who are characters. I've made up corn puddings and apricot crisps and quinoa salads, and I want to share them with everyone.

I want to go back to the food.

And at some point, I have to answer my email!

So it seems to me that the best way to move on is to bow in gratitude, and thank the people who helped make our wedding what it was. (That way, if you are having a wedding in Seattle sometime in the future, you will know whom to thank as well.)

To Monica Frisell, who drove across the country with her Belgian friend with a mohawk to attend our wedding. She took brilliant photos with my Nikon (how weird it was to not have it in my hands, but I trusted her hands) and shoot many more with her Leica. We are blessed to know her. Monica, we have come a long way from the Sprinkler room at Northwest, idly vacuuming and talking about New York. Now you’re living there, and taking photographs full-time.

To Mark Eskenazai, who not only brought over his dj equipment and set it up on our back porch, but also took photographs, spontaneously. He’s a great photographer. Give him a call. Or, stop by Sosio’s, our favorite produce stand at Pike Place Market, and buy some peaches from him.

To Daniel, who provided all those beautiful flowers, even with his difficult decision.

To Coleen and Joe, who played so beautifully, and made “True Companion” their own song, enough so that I heard it new as I walked down the aisle.

To Francoise, Tita, Kathy, and Andy, for their stories, their companionable silences, and their love spoken aloud.

To the women at Champagne Taste, who sold me the wedding dress, and the meticulous women at Superb Custom Tailorswho doctored it up for me.

To Kaytlyn Sanders, who re-designed this website, designed our Save the Date cards and our wedding invitations, and gave us the food allergy cards for the potluck. All with a sweet smile and a warm chuckle. Kaytlyn, the next coffee at Fiorre is on me.

To the people at Alexander Party Rentals, who calmed a panicked-bride-to-be when she called and said, “We’re moving the wedding site. We need enough tables and chairs for everyone, in two weeks. Help!”

To Kathy at Ener-G Foods, who sweetly emailed early congratulations for the wedding, and wondered if we would need gluten-free crackers and pretzels for the party. Oh boy, did we. Everyone loved them. I'm munching on some as I type this.

To Don and Michelle, who roasted the lamb, brought it to our house in chafing dishes, piled more food onto the table that left people near tears with the taste, and stood in the receiving line to hug us. Don, your tears made us cry, and made us realize the day more fully.

To Kristin, who provided the boots.

To Sharon, Dana, Cindy, and Merida, the best bridesmaids I could have ever had (mostly because they understood I didn’t want them to do anything but stand by my side).

To Patti who started the “Worshipping the Shoes” dance.

To all you readers who sent us presents. My goodness, thank you.

To all the people who were in our backyard. Every time we sit outside now, we think of you, with us. Every day.

To our parents, who made it all possible by giving birth to us.

To the Chef, for marrying me, for loving me, for standing by my side.

I bow to you all.

There. That has to be it, for now.

Onward, onto the life beyond the wedding.

heart stone in the Buddha's hands

(Whew. Turns out that happened much faster than throwing out those rope-wedge heels from 1978. I guess now, at 41 - just turned yesterday - I am finally growing up.)

01 August 2007

how to throw a gluten-free wedding

food cards from teh wedding

Food is the stuff of life. And particularly of our lives.

The Chef and I thrive on food. We discuss what I might make for dinner on our drives to the restaurant in the early afternoon. And after a day of eating, we breathe sense memories between each other with every sigh. Creamy butter slathered on a slice of warm bread. A spoonful of savory pudding raised to the lips, the smell of thyme and fresh corn wafting in the air. A ripe-that-day avocado, so soft I am tempted to smear it on my skin, waiting to be eaten with just-warmed scrambled eggs.

We live and love through food.

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.

So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it; and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied; and it is all one. "

— M.F.K. Fisher

And so, when we imagined our wedding day, months in advance, we knew one truth: the food had to connect.

Most brides and grooms-to-be hire caterers. Most of the wedding meals aren’t that good. Raise your hand if you have been to a big wedding and ate nearly inedible chicken or far-too-sugary wedding cake. No matter how good a kitchen is, serving food on a large scale requires sacrifices. We don’t like to sacrifice on our food.

I remember, when I was a waitress (for about six weeks one summer), working the worst wedding I have ever attended. The bride and groom sat at a long table, the bridesmaids and grooms strewn alongside them, all of them wearing Ray Bans. They were sullen and insolent, demanding of attention. They had also invited over four hundred people to their wedding. All of them sat, in tables splayed out in a field, demanding food be brought to them, that instant. I remember one horrifying moment, in which the bride and groom began pounding their knives and forks on the table, beginning a deafening stomping that extended to every place setting within a few moments, because the plates were late in arriving.

I nearly quit in the middle of service.

We knew we didn’t want a wedding like that.

Wonderful caterers feed much more genteel wedding parties than that one. We thought about hiring someone here, someone dedicated to seasonal and local food, simple food done right, in that moment. But in the end, we knew whom we wanted to feed us.

Our friends and families.

* * *

You see, we wanted our entire wedding to be personal. Friends provided the music, the flowers, and the photographs, as gifts to us. Why not the food?

And the best parties I have ever given have been potlucks.

One of my friends told me recently that, until a few years ago, her favorite moment of a party was ten minutes before it, because the vegetable platters looked so pretty before anyone had touched them. Another friend revealed that she could not throw potlucks. What if someone brought an ugly dish to the party?

I’m sure that is how caterers keep their jobs.

But we are imperfect and thoroughly at home with the absurd. After all, we had whoopee cushions at our wedding. If it didn’t look good, we knew it would taste good. We have great friends, all of whom love food.

Feeding each other is an enormous act of love, without words. Think of those strained peas your mother patiently spooned into your mouth, even though you dribbled them down your chin, at first. Hands reaching for the pile of fried chicken on a table are not afraid to touch. And when someone who makes your heart throb, a little, makes you some sublime food, you realize how deeply in love you are with the first bite.

At least I did.

So, on the wedding website we built for family and friends, we put out the call.

“For months now, we have had this image: standing together in a room filled with people we love and the food they made for us.

If you wish, you can help feed us, and each other.

We are asking each of you to bring a pot-luck dish to our wedding.

Please bring food you love, and make the dish big enough to feed ten people.

This dish does not have to be ‘gourmet.’ A fresh fruit salad. Artichoke dip. Homemade sushi. A big plate of nachos. Potato salad. Roasted chicken.

As most of you know, Shauna needs to eat gluten-free. One bite of food with gluten in it, and she’ll be sick for the rest of the wedding. (No thanks.) If you can make your dish gluten-free, we will appreciate it.

(And if you have any questions about what this means, check out this article. You can make any of the recipes on her website! Or, feel free to email us to ask about ingredients.)

We are so grateful for your support on this.”

It worked.

People arrived bearing bowls of baba ganoush, plates of just-cooked collard greens, steaming piles of roasted asparagus with homemade aioli, and a platter of roasted green beans with caramelized onions, heirloom tomatoes, and a garlic-balsamic vinaigrette. Corn salad, minted fruit salad, and nine-kinds-of-greens mixed salad. Pork roast, cheese and onion bake, and a Moroccan lentil salad. The tables were laden with plates of food, beckoning and enticing.

One of my favorite sights of the day was seeing a line of people waiting to gather food onto their plates and another line of people who had just come from the tables, already eating, before they even reached their seats.

And everything was gluten-free.

No one went hungry at our wedding.

In large part, that is also because Don and Michelle, at Volterra (a restaurant everyone should visit, after Impromptu) roasted an entire lamb for our wedding. Grass-fed, raised by a local farmer, and fresh that week, the lamb came scented with fennel or spiced with chiles. A fava bean aioli was served on the side. There was also an Italian corn pasta salad with summer vegetables. And the Portobello mushroom caps came topped with fresh mozzarella and tomato relish.

What did they do to make those mushrooms so succulent I would have given up an hour of the wedding just to eat two more?

But — as grateful as we are for Don and Michelle’s food — we would have been fine without it. As we hoped, our friends were generous and fed us well. Trust people, and they will give back.

* * *

I knew, from the start, that I wasn’t the only one with a food allergy at our wedding.

One of our dearest friends has an acute allergy to fish. Salmon, halibut, cod — you name it, he cannot eat it. But he also cannot be in a room where fish has been prepared or sits on a table. That includes fish sauce, for those of you who might have been making an Asian-inspired dish. He will go into shock and stop breathing if he is anywhere near fish. That's no way to celebrate.

So we asked every guest to refrain from bringing fish to the wedding.

And who knew what other foods could be dangerous to the friends who filled our yard?

That’s why — thanks to my designer friend, Kayltyn Sanders — the Chef’s nieces and nephews handed out sky-blue cards to every guest.

Along with a space for the name of the cook, and the dish, the cards had a checklist of foods that someone might need to avoid:

Tree nuts

Because of these cards, every person at our wedding had a clear choice for his or her meal. A friend with lactose intolerance simply skipped the dishes that had dairy checked. A relative with diabetes stayed away from the foods made with sugar or honey. No one had to worry. That makes food taste better too.

Since guests were told ahead of time about this, it seems that most everyone tried to make delectable dishes without any of the allergens. Those of you with multiple food allergies could have eaten here that day.

* * *

One of my favorite readings this summer is on the back of these cards. There, we left a space for friends to write a story about why they had brought that dish. Some of the ones that have caught my eye:

“This is my favorite summer salad. The ingredients are local, fresh, and organic. What more could you ask for? To me, this salad symbolizes all that is great about living in the Northwest. It simply tastes like summer.” (strawberry spinach salad)

“Because they were fresh from the orchard today.” (Lapin cherries)

“Well, I am French, so I thought the cheese would be just right.” (cheese platter)

“We wanted to bring something simple and summery.” (slices of cold cantaloupe)

“I really like pineapple. Explosion! Pow! Fruit….juice! Yellow. Rip-squish. Kambloom!” (pineapple)

“Because it’s gluten-free and yummy, and I love you.” (red quinoa salad)

“I wanted to celebrate Pacific Northwest berries and gluten-free baking.” (berry crisp)

“We just rolled into town and visited the Pike Place Market for the first time ever! Fruit represents fertility and sex and colors and wholeness and yes!” (fresh fruit)

I’ll be laughing over these, and marveling at the way we reveal ourselves (every one of these writings sounds like the person who wrote it) long after we have eaten the piece of our gluten-free wedding cake on our first anniversary.

* * *

What kind of food did we have for our wedding?

Summery as peaches so ripe they dent juicily at a thumb print. Far-flung as spices from Morocco and lentils from India. Bounteous as a mound of summer fruit piled into a bowl. And all of it, wonderfully, hopelessly delicious.

A gluten-free potluck wedding, with a checklist for food allergens? It may not sound romantic.

But believe me, it was.

Sweet Corn and Heirloom Salad

sweet corn salad

Our friends Amy and Paul brought a version of this to our wedding. Theirs was made with fresh mozzarella, which was smooth as the jazz that Kristin played for our ceremony. A few days later, desperate to re-create it, I used the French feta I had on hand. I think I may like this one even better.

Either way, or with whatever variation you derive, this is a silky symphonic celebration of the height of July.

2 cobs sweet corn, as close to fresh picked as you can find
1 fat heirloom tomato (try a lush Brandywine or Purple Cherokee for the color)
1/2 ripe avocado, cubed
1/4 cup French feta
4 leaves basil
dash of truffle salt (or fleur de sel, if you can't find the truffled salt)
a pinch of pepper

Shuck the ears of corn. Clean them of those pesky strings that stick after you remove the husks. Rinse. With a sharp knife, shave the ears of corn and let the kernels fall into a large bowl of your choosing. Set aside.

Chop the tomato, with a sharp knife. (A great heirloom tomato, at the height of season, will feel mushier than a typical store-bought tomato. Don't worry. The slicing reveals a tender firmness, like a parent with a little one who needs a nap. This is a real tomato.) Cut into small pieces. Add the tomato to the bowl of corn kernels.

Cut the avocado into small cubes. Add these to the corn and tomatoes. Crumble a few handfuls of the feta cheese into the mix. (please don't stand in the kitchen and measure out 1/4 cup exactly! That is meant to be a guideline.) Tear the basil leaves apart, roughly, and toss the pieces into the salad. Add the salt and pepper. Taste.

Add more or less of what you like. Try another taste.

Serve immediately.

Feeds 2, if both people are hungry on a summer's night.