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31 October 2007

Chicago, here I come

Swirlz poster

Right now, I'm sitting in the restaurant, as the Chef prepares for dinner service. Normally, I'm off running errands, or writing at home. He needs his space. He's crossing off items of kitchen tasks to accomplish on the giant board in his kitchen. If that were my list, I'd be panicking. He's dancing, but he'll make it in time, and well. And he just took the time to spoon into my mouth some of the creamy tart base for the lemon creme brulee. Yeah, being here isn't bad.

Today, however, I'm going to stay as late as I can. Late last night, I returned from three glorious days in Portland. (Seattle, I love you. But my goodness, in terms of living gluten-free, you have some work to do. Portland is kicking your ass! People, I had gluten-free fish and chips for dinner last night. And fried cheese curds. Those of you who can't eat gluten-free? You have no idea what you take for granted. And Corbett Fish House? I love you.) I loved meeting every one of you who came out to Andina (oh, that ginger cocktail, as well), and the swarms of people I met at Bob's Red Mill, and the wonderful women with whom I shared coffee and gluten-free treats at Piece of Cake bakery. I have so many stories, and I wish I could share them all.

But you see, tomorrow morning (early), I am leaving for Chicago. And the Chef -- he cannot come with me. Thursday through Sunday? Prime restaurant time. (And besides, next week, we are going to San Francisco together.) We are trying to be graceful, and joke around the hole of four days without seeing each other. (I know, I know. We're babies. But we adore each other. Forgive us our sappiness — four days feels like a long time.) That's why I'm at the restaurant today.

But as soon as I hit the ground at O'Hare tomorrow afternoon, I'm going to start singing.

Windy City, here I come!

If you love good food, if you have to eat gluten-free, if you have a loud, hearty laugh, or if you just want some cupcakes — come out to one of the following events. I hope to see you all there.

(Forgive the formal language. I've actually pasted in the press release here. Time is of the essence. I will carefully craft more sentences, later.)

Gluten-Free Girl Hits Chicago Area to Promote Book

Blogger and author Shauna James Ahern will be in Chicago to celebrate the release of her book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back…And How You Can Too.

Scheduled events:

Nov. 1, 7:0 – 10 p.m.

Gluten-Free Girl Book Party

BooCoo Cultural Center, Recording Studio & Café

1823 Church St, Evanston, Ill.

Guests will be able to meet Ahern, receive an autographed copy of the book, taste gluten-free bites provided by Bot Bakery and learn more about gluten content in food from G-Free-V.

(And thank you, so much, to an amazing man named Josh Alper, who organized all of this for me, on his own good will.)

Nov. 2, 12 p.m. to 1:30

Book signing

Swirlz Cupcakes

705 W Belden, Chicago


Nov. 3, 1 – 3 p.m

Cooking class

Whole Foods – Lincoln Park

1000 W North Avenue, Chicago

Guests will be able to meet Ahern, receive an autographed copy of the book and learn gluten-free cooking tips. (It says on the website that the Chef will be with me. Sadly, that is not true. I hope that seeing me alone will do!)

Call Whole Foods to make reservations, 312.587.0648. Space is very limited.

I can't wait to meet you all, and eat some great food in Chicago. I can promise you laughter.

And most of all, what I have found to be exhilarating and beautiful on these trips? The deep sense of community that occurs, naturally.

It's not about me. It's about us.

29 October 2007

for those of you new to this site....

I'm in Portland as I write this, sitting in my minimalist room in an overly funky hotel. (I'm not hip enough for this place.) Much as I miss the Chef, I am feeling in bliss at the moment. I just finished a beautiful meal at Clyde Common with two incredible women who help run one of my favorite online magazines. Today, I spent hours at the mecca of whole grains, Bob's Red Mill, signing books and meeting people who walked through the front doors to find me. (And there were also gluten-free corn muffins and brownies on the table. That might have enticed people to stop and talk.) I sighed happily into the hours there as they disappeared. I even met Bob!

And last night, I met more extraordinary people at Andina, where we shared shrimp and mango ceviche, soft polenta with tomatoes and goat cheese, and some incredible cocktails. At the end of the night, the "mama" of the restaurant, the wonderful Doris, took my hand and thanked me for honoring them by having the party there. They are avid supporters of the gluten-free community. I am the one who felt honored. (I'm telling you — go to that restaurant when you are here.)

I am feeling extraordinarily blessed.

But blessed with lots of extra time to put up new essays here? Not tonight.

However, I have read so many beautiful emails today, from those of you who are new to the site, through the virtual book tour, and now from reading the book. In the last few days, many of you have been asking about my past, and how I started the blog, and I realized that most of you might not know the entire narrative (without reading the entire blog, and I really don't recommend you do that in one night!). Also, when Kaytlyn re-designed this site, we put in a page called About Gluten-Free Girl. It's here. You can find it by clicking on the photo of us to the right. But most people don't seem to know that, yet.

And so, tonight, I thought I'd share the entire story, here.

(If you have already found it, and you don't feel like reading this again, hang tight. Perhaps I'll have new material tomorrow?)

shauna in the sunlight I

Hi. My name is Shauna James Ahern. I am alive.

I have been alive since August of 1966. Or, should I say, I have been on this earth since then. I haven’t always been alive. For much of my life, I felt lousy. Low in energy. Sick and sometimes depressed. I didn’t know why.

Still, I survived. And I laughed deep from my belly, in most moments of the day.
(Well, except for those six months in the seventh grade I was so embarrassed of my loud laugh that I forced myself to let out only a tiny heh.) I adore being here. I am constantly amazed by life and frequently struck by the absurdity of it. Mostly, I’m grateful.

And I’ve been writing about all of this from the moment I could pick up a pen and put words on the page. I’m a writer. I write about little moments of being awake in the world. Sometimes, I write to remind myself to wake up.

For much of my life, I was a high-school English teacher, first on Vashon Island, in Washington state, and then in Seattle. Between those two teaching times, I lived in Manhattan, tutored child actors, ran a screenplay-editing business, and rollerbladed on the streets to work. (That was dumb.) For a time, I lived in London, where I edited a book for a famous person. (I can’t tell you who it was. I’m contractually obligated to remain mum on this one.) Everything I have ever done for money had to do with words and helping other people with their words. (Okay, those eight weeks I was a terrified waitress don’t count.)

Now, I am writing, full-time. My dream came true. (And my fingers are tired from all the typing.)

I am the daughter of two incredible people, the sister of a remarkable man, the sister-in-law of some phenomenal women and men, and now the aunt of a line of kids ranging from three years old to a married 25-year-old. (There used to be just Elliott, but getting married meant I inherited cool nieces and nephews too.) I am blessed with friends who make me laugh, tease the hell out of me, feed me in every way, and mostly don’t read this website. (They’d actually rather talk to me than read the stories.)

And now, at the heart of everything I do, and the moniker of which I’m most proud? I am the wife of my tender-hearted, hilarious husband.

Oh, and by the way, like millions of humans in the world, I have to live gluten-free. I have celiac disease, although I chafe at the word disease. Being diagnosed with celiac changed my life, in ways that I could never stop listing. Now, I am no longer low energy, prone to falling ill, or depressed. Now, I am free. Now, I am alive.

And I don’t miss gluten at all.

sick Shauna, April 20

taken on April 20, 2005 — ten days before diagnosis

blue Shauna

taken in early June, 2005 — one month after being gluten-free

Way back in May 2005….

In the early spring of 2005, I was terribly ill. My body required 18 hours of sleep a day, my stomach ached all the time, and I could barely move without hurting. Doctors ordered one medical test after another, and none of them yielded answers. (The low point is when I endured a colonoscopy and endoscopy on the same day. Bleh.) All I could eat was soft bread, chicken noodle soup, and crackers. No one understood why I was so ill.

It had been a hard few years. In the winter of 2001, I suffered pneumonia for the sixth time in my life. In the beginning of 2003, I required emergency abdominal surgery for a fibroid tumor that had grown to the size of a grapefruit. In the winter of 2003, I was t-boned by another car, in a terrible accident that changed my life. My body reminded me, every day, how lucky I was to be alive, with pain from the injuries that didn’t go away. Just as I was starting to recover, I fell into that crisis of 2005.

It started to feel like I would never be well.

After all those tests, and no answers, I started to despair. A friend of mine who had been a nurse all her life confided in me later, “I thought you were terminal.” So did I.

Then, a friend of mine called me from Maine, to say she had just heard a story on celiac disease, the most under-diagnosed disease in the States. It sounded like me. I googled it, and found myself in the symptoms. Two years before, in an effort to find my energy, I had given up wheat for six weeks. I felt fantastic, but I slipped back into it. Remembering, my body jolted. What else could it be?

And why had I never heard of this before?

My gastroenterologist refused to test me for it, even though it only required a blood test before I could stop eating gluten. He refused. Actually, he had his nurse call me. “Celiac is really rare,” she said on the message. “That’s a long shot. We’ll talk about it during your follow-up in two weeks.”

Heck with that. I knew my body, exhausted as it was. At this point, I was down to eating a jar of baby food a day. I wanted to start living again.

I went to a naturopath, who did the blood test. I stopped eating gluten.

I have never gone back since.

At the end of the first day without gluten, I felt some energy. My stomach didn’t hurt when I ate. On the second day, I didn’t need a five-hour nap. On the third day, my brain fog cleared, as though my contacts had been cleaned for the first time.

When I received the official diagnosis — you have celiac — I clapped my hands and said yes! The naturopath was a little surprised to see my celebration.

The gastroenterologist was even more surprised, the next week, when I showed up for my follow-up appointment in great health, blood test results in hand. He confirmed it — I have celiac. And he left the room, embarrassed.

I’m not the only one who had to fight her way through the medical system to receive the correct diagnosis and become healthy for the first time in my life. Americans have to wait an average of 11 years, and many doctors, before finally being diagnosed. It is estimated that 1 out of 100 Americans has celiac disease. Only 3% of us have been diagnosed.

We have to change this.

After I was diagnosed, I felt reborn. I became a self I had never been before.

And I started writing about it. About amaranth and quinoa, ume plum vinegar, how to braise a lamb shank, and the life of food I began to live. I wrote to teach, to lead other people to the awakeness I was feeling. I love the fascination of the human body; I dissected cadavers in high school. (It was for an advanced biology class.) And yet, I had never heard of the condition that had been commanding me all my life.

I did the only thing I knew how to do. I began to write.

And thus, this website was born.

roasted chicken diavola at il Bacco Felice

Gluten-free woman just doesn’t have the same ring.

When I had been so sick, my friend Dorothy came over, many times, to bring me food and commiserate. When I just didn’t improve — and grew worse and worse each week — she said, in exasperation one day: “We’re just going to have to call you the sick girl.”

When I was finally diagnosed, and told Dorothy about it, she said, ironically, “Oh, we’re going to have to call you the Gluten-Free Girl!”

I never thought people would stop me at the farmers’ market and exclaim, “Oh, you’re the Gluten-Free Girl, aren’t you?” I certainly never thought I would see that phrase on the cover of my first book.

I just liked the alliteration.

sauteed mushrooms and quinoa

Focusing on the food.

When I first started eating hot food again, I was moved to tears by the physical sensation of it sliding down my throat. It had been so long since I had been able to take pleasure in food.

I have always loved food. Every story I share with my dear friend Sharon seems to involve food, of some kind (and falling down). Even though I ate a requisite number of processed foods when growing up (I was born in the late 60s remember, so I was raised on Wonder Bread), my mother was a good cook. She could bake like no one’s business. And over the years, I started going to farmers’ markets, cooking with good olive oil, and eating food from recipes that originated from outside the boundaries of the United States.

But it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with celiac that I truly started focusing on the food.

Food is the path to healing in celiac. There is no pill we can take, no surgery we can endure, and in fact, no cure other than living on an entirely gluten-free diet. Some find that distressing. I find it a blessing.

In order to be well, I have to eat well. I have to feed myself. I have to live in food.


I started taking photographs of my foods as soon as I was diagnosed. Having been so weak and in pain, I had not been able to write. I needed that creative outlet. But more than that, being able to eat again — after at least six weeks of eating bananas and baby food — made me see. Food is so beautiful. The vivid oranges of baby carrots, the fuzzy hair on a soft peach, the little white rings on red quinoa in a skillet, the crumbling flakes of dark chocolate on a cutting board — everything attracted my eye.

I began taking photographs of my meals. I haven’t stopped since.

From May 2005 to July of 2006, I took photographs with my little Nikon Coolpix.

In July of 2006, I switched to a Fujifilm Finepix.

And in the winter of 2007, I bought the body of a Nikon D-100, and a 2.8 35-70mm lens. It has a wonderful macro capability, which is why I bought it from a professional photographer in Seattle, who needed to move to a different system. That lens has been around the world, taking photographs of people living with AIDS in Kenya, and women singing in Morocco.

This camera has good karma.

the Chef in Gubbio

And then there was the Chef.

When I was diagnosed, I had a visceral understanding that I was now a self I had never been before. And I needed some time to myself. I decided to take a year off from dating at all.

Four days to the year, I met the Chef.

I knew, at once. This is the love of my life. But I held off for six weeks from writing about him on this site. I had to be sure. I knew that once I began writing about him here, everything would change.

Oh boy has this site changed.

From the first post I wrote about him (Meet the Chef), until the post about our honeymoon (la luna di miele), there has not been a single piece I have written here without his influence infused into the words. He lends tender-heartedness, a ribald sense of humor, real working-man’s hands, slow-braised flavors, and a wonderful practicality to everything here.

The name of this site is still Gluten-Free Girl, but this is our website now.

This man makes me feel alive. He makes me laugh, teases me, feeds me, listens to me, wakes up in the morning with me and says, “I love you, sweetie.”

He is also the most talented chef I have ever met.

Within a few months of our falling in love, the Chef started changing his menus. He always found a way to feed me safely when I went into his restaurant. He understood the details of living gluten-free, immediately. The Chef loves and lives in food like no one else I have ever know. For him, cooking gluten-free was a compelling challenge, a chance to discover foods he had never eaten.

But one day, I looked up after typing up the next month’s menu, and said, “Hey honey. I can eat everything on this menu.”
“I know,” he said.
“What have you done?”
And he said, quite simply, “You are my muse. I don’t want to create another dish, and be excited by it, and find I can’t share it with you. I’m just going to make everything gluten-free from now on.”

And he still does.

Oh, how I love him.

Some readers have written to me to ask: “Why do you call him the Chef? Why don’t you just use his name?”

He prefers it that way.

When I first met him, I refereed to him as “the Chef” when I talked to my friends. After so many bad experiences with dates, I didn’t want to trust and even say his name. This only lasted about a week — he walked right into my heart — but the name stuck.

And when I first began writing about him, I wanted to somehow maintain some anonymity for him. He wasn’t writing this. He read and approved of every piece, but still. He hadn’t originated this. And really, it was the only way to represent him. He is, in his heart, a chef. He lives in food. He works crazy hours. His hands are covered in burns and scars. And he expresses his love for humanity through his food.

He cooks because he can give people joy in the belly.

And really, it just stuck. When people come into his restaurant after reading this website, they often shriek a little and say, “Oh, you’re the Chef!”

He loves it.

So, the Chef it is.

But, for the record, he does have a name. Daniel Fitzgerald Ahern. But to me, he’s Danny.

He’s my husband, and I love him.

the island - the farmers' hands

How we eat around here.

Anyone who thinks that living gluten-free is deprivation? Come on over here for dinner.

We live in food. Food, to us, is sensuality and texture, kindness and laughter, being alive and in love. Roasted potatoes with sea salt. Cinnamon-walnut scones. Crispy pork belly. Mixed green salads with champagne vinaigrette. Pizza with prosciutto, chanterelle mushrooms, and goat cheese. Fig cookies. Scrambled eggs with truffle salt. Sauted black kale. Shaved fennel with lemon. One crisp apple.

Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be spectacular. Sure, I’ve eaten foie gras a few times in the past year, and I love truffles after being in Italy. But one perfect peach, in late July, is true richness to me.

It’s about the best ingredients. Food in season, in an awake moment, with the right person. That’s great food.

We shop at farmers’ markets as much as we can. We know the men who sell us fish by first name. We look for truly great olive oil. We allow ourselves to be surprised by good food. We feel fresh to it, every day. We like great spices and creamy butter and gelato in Italy (but not anywhere else). We eat the best food we can find in the places we find ourselves. We love to share.

There is so much to learn. When do I salt the food? How much vinegar should I use? What does a cross between a peach and an apricot taste like? Where do I find the best locally raised, grass-fed lamb? How would those brownies taste with sorghum flour instead? I love this.

We love the people who grow our food.

And one of my best accomplishments is when we are home, late at night after his shift at the restaurant is done, and the Chef eats the first bite of the dinner I have made for us. He pounds his fist on the table, grunts a little, and digs in.

In the end, that’s all that really matters.

we interrupt the honeymoon photos....

The book.

As a kid, I always dreamed of being a writer. One of the literary kinds. Not the one whose books would be produced in thick, cheap paperbacks that fall apart halfway through the read. No, as much as I thrilled to the sound of The Beatles’ "Paperback Writer," I had higher aspirations.

After all that reading, all those books — or actually, after reading my first book, long ago, before I had the words to say it — I knew that I wanted to write. And not just write. I was going to write the books that transported everyone else away. And they’d make my book into a movie, and I’d never have to borrow books from the library again.

I have no idea if they are going to make a movie out of my book, and frankly — I’m not sure I’d want it now. But I can share this with you, dear readers (I’ve read Jane Eyre more times than I can count. And, dear reader, I married him.). Holding the book in my hands?

Well, that little girl is cheering, right now.

This has been a journey, a story of transformation. I loved food, from the moment I could eat it. But that food didn’t always love me back. Throughout my life, I was frequently sick, mostly fatigued, and sometimes at war with my own body. After I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and I stopped eating gluten, I finally learned to find food that would feed me.

This book is a love story. It’s the story of a love affair with food, and finding everything that I can eat, joyfully. It’s a story about slowing down, and appreciating my life. It’s a story about forging a new relationship with my body, and learning to love the life I have. It’s a story about eating local, eating organic, and eating in season. It’s a story about loving the time in front of the stove, dancing. It’s a story about developing recipes and devouring stories. It’s a story about finding the self I never was, for the first 38 years of my life, and reveling in that self.

And of course, it is an actual love story as well. It can’t surprise anyone to know that the last chapter of this book is about meeting the Chef.

And so, in all those ways, this is the perfect subtitle (or perhaps, even the real title): How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back.

Filled with funny essays, tempting photographs, and readable, easy-to-follow recipes, Gluten-Free Girl will break down the mysteries of the kitchen and teach its readers to find themselves, laughing, in the process.

Of course, I intend this book to help everyone who cannot eat gluten. I hope that you all will find it essential. But it is also a book for anyone with food allergies, anyone who wants to become more comfortable in the kitchen, and anyone who loves food. (Hopefully, that’s a lot of people!)

But I can promise you this: I am not doing this for myself, alone. Sure, I want to sell books. I’d like to keep living this life with the Chef, loving each other, eating well, and writing about it. And of course, that little girl who is still with me cannot wait for the book tours and media appearances. I’m not ridiculous enough to say I’m not enjoying this.

But I wrote this book, and I am going to be marketing it, for one urgent reason.

I want to help everyone to finally recognize his or her own story.

That little girl who read books on hot days, alone? Who dreamed of being plucky and stalwart and published in a magazine some day?

She cannot thank you enough.

I hope that you buy it. I hope that you enjoy it.

If nothing else, I can promise you this: if you buy my book, you will be reading my heart.

Sicilian cassata with a gluten-free cone


That’s all I need to say.


the two of us in Montefalco

La Dolce Vita, senza glutine.

Some people ask why I don’t write in every piece here about specifically gluten-free food.

I am alive. That life involves being gluten-free, but there are so many more parts to it:

funny stories, exhilarating travel, tender moments with my husband, discoveries in mouthfuls, falling down and laughing at myself, and learning how to live in the moment, every moment I am alive.

When we were in Italy for our honeymoon, we were both astonished to discover how easy it was for me to eat gluten-free. All I had to say was "Io sono celiaco." Waiters and chefs understood. They pointed out the dishes I could eat, and then brought me plates of black-truffle risotto, or sizzling beefsteak, or a saucer of perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes so vividly colored that I had to blink twice before looking at them. And that was it. No explanations or apologies. I simply ate gluten-free and went onto other conversations around the table.

The sweet life. Italians call it la dolce vita. And in order to remain well there, sometimes I simply said senza glutine (without gluten).

That's what I'd like to bring here. La dolce vita, senza glutine. I want to show you a vibrant life, filled with hilarious adventures and quiet contemplation. Stories of saying yes to life.

All of it, gluten-free.

26 October 2007

a guide to working with gluten-free flours

gluten-free bread

When I was a kid, I had an irrational love of Tootsie Rolls.

Not so much anymore. Since I went gluten-free and started cooking from scratch, eating in season, and eating whole foods instead of stuff out of boxes, I’ve lost my taste for overly sweet foods. The high fructose corn syrup just doesn’t like me, it seems.

In fact, to my complete surprise, I seem to have lost much of my sweet tooth. The Chef doesn’t really have one, and so we eat far fewer sweets each month. You never could have told me that going gluten-free would change that in me.

(Still, it seems that — at the moment — Tootsie Rolls are actually gluten-free. And after writing this, I think I need one.)

But when I haunted the sidewalks for Halloween, dressed as an LA Dodger or a bunch of grapes, I looked eagerly into my bag after every house. Tootsie Rolls? Cool. Most of them never made it home. But if they did, I sorted my haul into the luxury items (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups) to the dreadfully disappointing (Jolly Ranchers — they always left an acrid burning square on the roof of my mouth). Always, I ate the Tootsie Rolls first.

“Why do you like those?” people sometimes asked me. “They’re a terrible imitation of chocolate.”

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I know. I like chocolate too. But Tootsie rolls have their own taste. I like that.” And it’s true. A Tootsie Roll doesn’t taste anything like chocolate. There’s a certain waxy, pliable bend to them, a wave of sweetness. Once popped onto the teeth, Tootsie Rolls take longer to chew than most eight-year-old’s attention span. They taste like brown and sugar. Not brown sugar. Brown. And sugar.

Still, I loved them for what they are. Not an imitation of chocolate. Themselves.

That’s how I feel about gluten-free baking.

* * *

I hesitated — and wavered — about putting the recipe for crusty sorghum bread in my book.

I’m happy with the recipe. Really, for gluten-free bread, it’s good. But that’s the thing. It’s gluten-free bread.

Gluten-free bread will (in my experience) never be featherlight, whirled full of air like a French baguette, or spongy and bendable, like my old Gumby and Pokey dolls. You know why?

There’s no gluten in it.

Thank goodness.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac, I decided I didn’t need bread. Even though I had sauntered into Macrina Bakery nearly every other day for a fresh loaf of kalamata olive bread with sea salt strewn on top, I accepted my fate. No bread.

However, over time, I changed my mind. Make a great potato leek soup, and you want something to dunk in the dredges. If you want crab cakes at home, you need breadcrumbs. And sometimes, I still like peanut butter toast.

So I started making gluten-free bread.

And after a year or more of making it, I came up with some recipes and innovations. Some of the attempts tasted, at best, like a bagel. Others had the texture of compressed sawdust. I could create a decent taste, a lovely crumb. But there was no crunch, no crackle beneath the teeth that signified a great bready experience.

I wanted crust.

So, inspired by the mania for no-knead bread, I adapted the technique of high heat, a cast iron pot, and thirty minutes of steamy baking. That first loaf had a thump, a crunch beneath the knife that inspired me. And you know what? It tasted pretty damned great.

For gluten-free bread.

The Chef and I tested that bread, many times, with tiny variations. Bread is fickle. It responds to humidity, to heat, to how much you work with it. That’s true for gluten bread. Think about the chances for it to go askew without gluten. And we ended up with bags of gluten-free bread crumbs in our freezer. He took them to the restaurant.) The recipe you can read in the book is our best attempt. We were proud. We still are.

But I’m just realizing, now, that if you are recently diagnosed, and you make that sorghum bread, you are likely to be disappointed. You’re going to think, “This is it?” You will have missed the hundred conversations, the unspoken tensions, and the attempts that finally calm your mind and help you accept that it will never taste like good gluten bread.

But that’s okay. Just think of all gluten-free baking like I regarded those Tootsie Rolls. It’s not chocolate. But it becomes its own fascination, a taste you crave.

Last night, the Chef brought home seafood chowder for dinner. It was, without a doubt, the best chowder I had ever eaten: chewy with mussels and clams; savory with shrimp stock; spiky with a touch of brandy. After my first bite, I hit him on the arm and said, “Shut up!” And then we both cut off a hunk of the sorghum bread I made last night, and dunked it into our soup.

I felt like a kid at Halloween.

gluten-free flours

I’m still learning about gluten-free baking. I always will be.

But there are a few secrets I have learned.

1. Focus first on the foods that are naturally gluten-free. There is so much bounty.

2. Play. Experiment with a dozen little flours and see what combinations work best for you. Don’t go by my recipes exactly, or anyone’s. Make it once as you read it. And then play.

3. You have to combine. One gluten-free flour does not wheat flour make. Find your own combinations.

4. Accept your fate. Instead of constantly bemoaning the fact that you cannot mindlessly dump in a cup of white enriched flour, think of this as a chance to learn. Everything will shine if you live this way.

5. Remember. It will never taste like the food you are used to eating. But slowly, it will become something else, something with which you will feed yourself.

6. Food is beautiful. Enjoy the mistakes and laugh, a lot.

When I was finishing the book, I wrote up a little guide to the different gluten-free flours. This glossary never made it into the final book. But at the back, in little letters, it says, “For a guide to gluten-free flours, please see”

So, here it is.

Almond flour

Take raw, blanched almonds, grind them to a fine flour (but not so much that they become almond butter), and you have almond flour. This and other nut flours — such as chestnut and hazelnut, macadamia and pistachio — add protein and vibrant taste to gluten-free baking.

Amaranth flour

The tiny whole grains that make a surprising breakfast cereal can be ground into a fine flour. Frankly, I have never successfully ground them in the spice grinder. I buy this flour in small bags, and add it in handfuls to crepes and quiche crusts. Amaranth has a grassy, earthy taste, so it works best in savory dishes, like pizza dough.

Arrowroot flour

The name alone is enough to make you want to try it. Legend has it that the Arawak people of the West Indies, long before the arrival of Columbus, used arrowroot powder to draw out the poison from arrow wounds. Hopefully, it will have similar beneficial properties for those of you cooking gluten-free. It is best used as a thickener, for rouxs and sauces, and fillings for fruit pies. Those who are allergic to corn are especially grateful for the existence of this starch.

Bean flours

Dried beans can be ground into flours as easily as grains can. Chickpea flour — also known as garbanzo bean or ceci flour — makes a memorable flatbread in the south of France. Lentil flour shows up in Indian cuisine. Even fava beans become flour, and show up in some commercial gluten-free baking mixes. Experiment with the beans you like, in small doses.

Corn flour

You may not have heard of corn flour yet, but you have eaten it. Have you ever enjoyed a corn tortilla in a Mexican restaurant? That was made of corn flour. After corn kernels have been dried, soaked in lime water, and then washed, the corn is ground into a fine flour. Buy some authentic masa harina (as Mexican cooks call it) and make your own corn tortillas at home. You can also try it in gluten-free corn bread.

Guar gum

The seeds of the guar plant, which grows in India and Pakistan, make a granular flour when dried and ground. Take a look at many processed foods — such as commercial ice creams and puddings — and you will see guar gum on the list of ingredients. In small amounts, guar gum can be a somewhat effective binder, mimicking some of the effects of gluten.


Mild and ever-so-slightly sweet, millet is an adaptable grain. It soaks up the tastes of the foods surrounding it. It sings in harmony, rather than blaring out loud. Millet flour lends a crumbly texture to breads and muffins, and it is especially good in quick breads.

Potato starch

Potatoes are endlessly useful. Their starchiness makes them fantastic when mashed. And that starch, when extruded by machines and put into little bags, helps gluten-free cooks to eat well. As is true for all the gluten-free flours, potato starch will not substitute directly for wheat. It needs to be combined with other flours and starches in a blend. Those who celebrate Passover or are allergic to corn are particularly grateful for the existence of potato starch. (This is not to be confused with potato flour, which is dried potatoes ground into a flour. If you want the taste of potatoes, choose potato flour.)


As a grain, quinoa is nutty and delicious. As a flour, quinoa is a little bitter. It is packed with protein, however, and the texture adds density to gluten-free baked goods. I like to use a little quinoa flour, in combination with other gluten-free flours, in something savory: cheddar-cheese biscuits; zucchini bread; or herb muffins.

Rice flours

When rice farmers harvest rice, they shuck the grains of its outer husk, which is inedible. What is left after this process is brown rice. If the farmer also removes the germ and brain from the rice grain, he or she is left with white rice. Brown rice flour is made from the first type of rice, and white rice flour is produced from the latter. Whether it is brown or white (or black or green), rice comes in three different categories: long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain. Each type can be ground into rice flour. The starchiness of short-grain rice makes it the perfect candidate for rice flour. Smooth and finely ground, sweet rice flour thickens sauces and gravies so well that no one eating them can tell they are gluten-free.


It is astounding that people in India and across the continent of Africa have been eating sorghum for generations, and I only discovered it when I had to go gluten-free. To me, sorghum flour is the closest in texture and taste to traditional wheat flour of any of the gluten-free flours. I’ve come to love it, and I use it in nearly every baked good I make. In a few cases, it even works as a direct substitution for wheat flour, such as in pancakes. It makes the basis for a decent gluten-free bread, which is a godsend. Some people, however, detect a bitter taste in sorghum flour, so you should try some for yourself.

Tapioca flour

What we in the West call tapioca comes from a plant originally from Asia, known as cassava. (In South America, it is known as manioc.) When the root has been dried, it is ground into a white flour. This tapioca flour is also known as tapioca starch (just to confuse us). Its starchiness makes it an excellent gluten-free flour, but it must be used in combination with other flours to make great baked goods.


The tiny seeds of teff make a fascinating porridge. Dark brown as molasses, with a slight taste of chocolate, teff porridge will fill you up in the mornings. You can also cook up the grains the way you would polenta. As a flour, teff is nearly miraculous. The fine flour — ground from the tiny seeds — almost dissolve in baking, giving it a slightly gelatinous quality. This binds the baked goods in a somewhat similar fasion to gluten. Teff flour adds to fabulous waffles and banana breads.

Xanthan gum

Geeky chefs in love with molecular gastronomy adore xanthan gum. So do commercial food producers, who put xanthan gum in salad dressings and frozen foods as a stabilizer. If you have ever looked at the ingredients of your toothpaste, you saw xanthan gum there, since it binds everything together in a uniform consistency. Now, you can buy some for your gluten-free baked goods. Only a tiny amount (1/2 teaspoon or less) is enough to bind that dough to make cookies and pie crusts.

And of course, there are so many other options, ones I'm excited to explore more fully. Pea flour, mesquite flour (we have some, as you can see from the photo above, given to us by the lovely Shuna for our wedding, but life has interceded between me and the mesquite flour baking), soy flour, kudzu starch (thanks for the tip, Nina!), and Montina flour. As the world becomes more and more aware of the need for gluten-free alternatives, I'm sure we'll find even more options.

If any of you reading have suggestions of which flours to use, in specific combinations, for particular baked goods, by all means — fire away! We all have so much to learn from each other.

Now, go forth and bake.

apple-pear cobbler

Apple and pear cobbler, adapted from this recipe

And once you have played, and the flours feel familiar under your fingers, you might create something like this cobbler, which the Chef has been making at the restaurant through October. All the customers eat it, not just the gluten-free ones. Everyone is sighing into the wine-rich taste of the apples and pears, mingled with cardamom, topped with this glorious crust.

Cobbler topping

¼ cup sorghum flour
¼ cup tapioca flour
¼ cup potato starch
¼ cup almond flour
1 teaspoon iodized salt (or kosher salt you have ground down fine)
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ cup sour cream
3 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Forming the dough. Combine all the gluten-free flours with the salt, sugar, cardamom, and cloves. Cut the pieces of butter into the flour until the mixtures comes together and has the texture coarse cornmeal. Spoon in the sour cream and stir the concoction with a rubber spatula, until it all just starts to come together. Stop stirring.

Making the dough ball. Put the completed dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Form a large ball of dough between the sheets, and then flatten it into a square. (Do this gently. This isn’t the opportunity to work out your animus.) Set the dough square into the refrigerator and let it chill while you prepare the filling.

Apple and pear filling

2 pounds crisp, fresh apples (Honeycrisps or Jonathan Cox do well here)
2 pounds Bartlett pears
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾ cup organic cane sugar
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheating the oven. Turn on the oven and let it heat to 375°.

Preparing the fruit. Peel the apples and pears. Remove the cores of each of them. Cut the apples and pears into small cubes. Lay them all into your favorite baking dish (pie plate or 9-inch cake pan does well here). Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit. Sprinkle the sugar over the apples and pears. Toss the ground clovers on top. Splash the vanilla extract over it all. Stir it up.

Finishing the cobbler. Retrieve the dough square from the refrigerator and carefully lay it over the prepared fruit. Slide the baking pan into the oven and close the door. Bake for 35 minutes and check the color and consistency. When the cobbler topping has a firm feeling and is lovely and brown, the fruit bubbling up the edges of the pan — the cobbler is done.

Let it cool a bit — you don’t want to burn your mouth — and then eat, with great gusto.

Serves six.

23 October 2007

astonishment, Portland, and pancakes

autumn chanterelles

“I’m Shauna,” I say, as I extend my hand to shake someone else’s. And every time, I remember what I had forgotten, and I laugh. “Oh, I suppose you already know that.”

Weird and wonderful, this world of mine right now. My days are imbued with the joy of meeting people, people who read this little site and feel they know me. And you do know me, to an extent. (I don’t feel right blithely sending out imprecations here nearly as much as I do in real life.) After all, I have shared my celiac diagnosis, my discoveries of interesting grains, my sprained ankle, my love of Jamie Oliver, my courtship with the Chef (including the first post, the day I asked him to move in, the engagement announcement, our wedding photos, and some of the stories from our honeymoon), and my heartfelt and tender moments, for over two years. And now, some of you who have been reading here have also read my book, the book I wanted to create all my life.

You have my heart.

But until you meet me, you don’t know how I smell (the Chef says Shauna smell is a little like hash browns, actually). You haven’t heard my laugh, and that’s a side-splitter with a little splutter at the end. And almost everyone who meets me is surprised by the sound of my voice — much deeper than you might imagine from reading my sweet mysteries here.

I have loved meeting people, so far. So has the Chef. (It cracks him up when people look at him with wide eyes and say, “Oh, you are real!” People, I didn’t cut his picture out of a Kmart catalogue and paste him into every empty photograph with me. I promise you, he’s real. And once you meet him, you can call him by his real name.) Who could have ever predicted that these would be our lives?

Last night, we met so many lovely people at the LaSpiga event. Anne and Todd could have stood with us for hours, and we would have been happy talking about traveling and how to adapt as a couple if one person has a food restriction. Monica cracked me up when she leaned across the table and said, “Oh my god, I have to tell you, I’m a little obsessed with you two.” (Don’t worry. She’s cool.) Laura, the first one there, seemed especially happy to meet me: “”I’ve never met another person with celiac.”

And that, I feel in waves, is the happiest part of these events — the sense of community. At one point, as I was signing books, I looked over to see two big tables filled with people, talking. Nowhere else can we gather and talk about the state of our intestines and how to eat in restaurants without getting gluten. There’s a sense of commonality here that breaks down the walls of politeness that prevent us from really talking. Tea later told me that she wanted to get up for more food, but the table chat enveloped her entirely. She didn’t move.

And oh, the food. I only had one bite of the poached veal with tuna sauce (clearly, me having a full meal at one of these events is not going to happen). And it haunts me. A few days before the event, the Chef and I went into the La Spiga kitchen and walked through with the beautiful Sabrina, the head chef and co-owner. She listened intently as I showed her a few ways that they could prevent cross—contamination from the choices that they made. Everyone who ate there last night left feeling gloriously well.

And now, you have another place where you can eat gluten-free in Seattle. (I hear they might be working on a gluten-free chestnut pasta, handmade, as well.)

Thank you, everyone who came out last night, to meet us. And really, just to meet each other. We adore these moments, strange and surreal as they are.

I adore these moments of meeting people because I have not really understood that anyone is reading before these past few weeks. Oh, I read all your comments, and I cherish them. (You have no idea how your words inform my days.) I can spend more time on my site meter than is humanly decent some days, but those are still just words and numbers. For me, this website is the laptop propped up on my knees, the light fading outside, the cool air rushing through my window, and the sound of my fingers clicking on the keyboard. I can never experience what you are experiencing right now — reading my words new, and imagining. You could be sitting in a classroom in Michigan, on a break between teaching classes. You could be in your office in New York, trying to avoid rush hour. You could be in a cabin on West Vancouver Island, late at night, poring over my words.

I will never get over the astonishment.

I remember the feeling, distinctly, of taking down a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from a library shelf. At eight years old, I barely knew myself. But when I read the thoughts of Francie Nolan, my heart shuddered, a little. She understood. That feeling of connection still reverberates through me when I pick up a book and read someone else’s story.

I never had the chance to meet Francie Nolan or Jane Eyre or Antonia. But I love having the chance to meet you.

Blogs are beautiful, irrational objects. I still don’t even understand how the internet works. But because of this shimmering set of numbers and dashes, I can post this, and you will know it.

And because of the internet, I have dear friends who once were words on a screen. Now, they bring me chanterelles. Brandon picked them in the mountains, Molly gave them to Tea when they ate dinner, and then the Chef put them in the gluten-free pasta that we ate at nearly midnight. Dark and golden, a firm chew with kernels of sweet corn, softly sautéed chanterelles, and the last of the pasta we brought back from Italy. We all sat on the couch, late at night, silent except for the chewing. Tea couldn’t believe that we eat this way every day.

And when she left this afternoon, I stood on our little front porch, now covered in leaves that crunch and rustle, and took this photo for her. Autumn in Seattle, with chanterelles.

Astonished, I tell you. I’m constantly astonished.

Upcoming events in Seattle

So, if you’d like to hear my laugh in person, or give me the honor of letting me look you in the eye and shake your hand, here are some upcoming chances.

Wednesday, October 24th – 6 pm to 7:30 pm

At 6 pm, I’ll be at the Whole Foods on Westlake, giving a small talk, signing books, and maybe even making you laugh. I’m not the only attraction. There will be plenty of gluten-free foods on hand, as well as a gluten-free beer tasting!

And this one’s absolutely free.

Friday, October 26th – 6 to 9 pm

Friday night, and the work week is done. (Well, not for me, but for most normal folks.) Come celebrate at ChefShop.

Tim and Eliza have pulled out all the stops. Just look at this menu of memorable bites in a multi-course buffet dinner. (And they’re all based on the recipes the Chef and I worked up. I’m still shaking my head at this one, as well.)

Hors D’Oeuvres:
* Pizzettes with Prosciutto, Fresh Mozzarella, and Artichoke Hearts
* Shaved Fennel with Lemon Juice and Sea Salt
* Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Black Rice Salad

Buffet Dinner:
* Tomato Corona Bean Salad
* Mixed Green Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
* Roasted Cauliflower with Smoked Paprika and Cocoa Powder
* Macaroni and Cheese with Manchego
* Chicken Thighs braised in Pomegranate Molasses

* Lemon Olive Oil Cookies
* Chocolate Financiers

Those of you who longed to go to Italy after seeing our pictures? Wait until you see them projected onto a wall. (Really, the Italian tourist board should give me a cut!)

Hey Portland!

And this weekend, I’ll be driving down to Portland, singing as I go. (Sadly, the Chef cannot come with me, as his sous chef is on vacation. Next time.) I can’t wait to visit that little jewel of a town on the Columbia River. And I hope to be meeting many of you.

Sunday, October 28th

Andina, a fabulous Peruvian restaurant in Portland, is hosting a book launch party for us this Sunday. This celebrated restaurant was featured in Gourmet magazine last month, with this blurb:

“Gluten-free is on the menu.
The food at Portland, Oregon’s Andina has a benefit for people who are avoiding wheat. Since Peruvian cuisine centers on maize and tubers, gluten-free options abound. (No matter what your diet, don’t miss the mango, passion-fruit, and prawn ceviche.)"

I’m so honored that this incredible restaurant would host me and support the book. And I’m especially happy with this choice because – as you might read soon – I write in the book that one of the joys of going gluten-free is that we can start to eat more of the world’s food. How many of you have eaten Peruvian cuisine before?

Who could resist food like this?

* Corderito De Los Andes, a generous portion of local farm-fresh rack of lamb in an intense reduction leaned against a hearty Peruvian yellow potato and cheese roll, served with salsa criolla

* Quinotto De Hongos de Montana, Grilled market fresh vegetables on a bed of creamy vegetarian quinoa and wild mushroom risotto laced with black truffle oil.

* Halibut al Rocoto Y Kion, Roasted halibut over a shiitake mushroom, smoked bacon, and bok choy broth, topped with slivers of ginger, rocoto, and scallion basted with smoking sesame oil, served with asparagus and quinoa fried rice.

Yes, please!

The party is from 6 to 8 pm, with gluten-free appetizers, cocktails, and a signed copy of the book. Price is $55.

Please call Andina at 503.228.9535 to make reservations.

And hurry! You don’t want to miss this.

Monday, October 29th

I owe much of my eating life to Bob's Red Mill.

Without the dozens of little bags of flour lining the shelves of our kitchen, I could never have created the dishes that I have. With those bags of Bob's Red Mill, I have made teff polenta from whole grain teff, sorghum bread with sweet white sorghum flour, and blueberry muffins with amaranth flour. Here on the west coast, those little clear plastic bags are becoming ubiquitous on grocery store shelves.

Now, I have the distinct honor of doing a reading/talk/book signing at the Bob's Red Mill store in Milwaukie, Oregon (just a little drive down from Portland). I will be at the Whole Grain Store from 11 to 3 pm. So come on down for a little lunch — they have a small cafe there as well — and some time to laugh with me. I can't wait to see you there.

Tuesday, October 30th

On Tuesday afternoon, I'll be signing books and partaking of gluten-free treats with the folks who show up at Piece of Cake Bakery.

Want some lemon pineapple ginger cake, gluten-free? This is the place!

Chicago — I’m coming to you soon.

I can't wait to walk down the wind-whipped streets, smiling and holding out my hand to greet you.

There are plans afoot, for that first week in November. But if you live in Chicago, and you have ideas, let me know!

I have to tell you this, quite honestly. When I was a kid, reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and feeling like Francie Nolan might be the only person who would understand me, I had no idea how many people would come to fill my life.

Astonished, I tell you. Astonished.

gluten-free pancakes

Gluten-free pancakes

Around here, Monday mornings are Sunday mornings.

Let me explain. Since the Chef works on Saturdays, prepping and cooking at the restaurant, I work on that day as well. The first day of our weekend is Sunday. But on most Sundays, we are out of the house fairly quickly. Other friends have that day off, and we meet them for bike rides and brunches, slow conversations and sipping cups of coffee. On Sunday, we are in synch with the rest of the weekend world.

Mondays? Those are ours. These days, we try not to leave the house on Mondays until late in the afternoon, not if we can help it. With our life at such a pace, we are breathing into the hours without obligations and finding each other’s hands at the end of the exhale. We lounge in bed, allow the music to waft over us, and read the paper with our toes touching under the covers. Sometimes, we don’t emerge from the warm cave for hours. And late in the morning — nudging toward noon — we start to make breakfast.

Yesterday was the perfect day for pancakes.

I’ve been working on a gluten-free pancake recipe for months, varying flours and nuzzling nutmeg with cinnamon, pouring buttermilk or no milk, and eating most of the results happily. Really, you can’t go too wrong with pancakes.

Yesterday, however, I made the plushest pancakes so far, soft and airy, guaranteed to entice anyone from bed. These make a Monday morning off from work even sweeter.

¼ cup sorghum flour
¼ cup teff flour
¼ cup sweet rice flour
¼ cup tapioca flour
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup rice milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons sour cream (or goat’s milk yogurt)

Combining the dry ingredients. Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir them with a wire whisk. (I have found this is like sifting the flours, without having a sifter.)

Combining the wet ingredients. Pour the rice milk (or whatever kind of milk you are using) into a different large bowl. Add the eggs and sour cream. Whisk it all together.

Making them one. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, ¼ cup at a time. Stir well between each dry addition.

. Let the mixture sit for at least thirty minutes, at room temperature, to settle into itself.

Cooking the pancakes. Turn a burner on medium heat. When it has come to temperature, add your favorite greaser here — canola oil, butter, or non-dairy spread — just enough to coat the pan. Using the ¼ cup measurement you pulled out of the drawer to measure the ingredients, dollop the pancake batter into the pan, from the height of a few inches. Allow the pancake to cook. Don’t be overeager to turn it. When bubbles have formed and mostly popped on the surface of the pancake, turn it. The second side always takes half the time to cook as the first, so watch this carefully.

Remove the pancake from the pan and serve.

Makes six small pancakes.

19 October 2007

celebrations in Seattle

seared duck breast with wild rice

It's good to be home.

We thrilled to the heartbeat of walking the streets of New York together. We danced in exultation at the book coming into the world. We couldn't stop giggling.

Still, we love Seattle. And there's something wonderfully comforting about sleeping in your own bed every night.

These next few months, we are going to be gone from home quite a bit. When we are here, we breathe into it, and slow down.

Right now, rain is splashing against the windows as I type. Red and yellow leaves are clogging every storm drain in the city. Summer suddenly feels far away. It's time for baked goods and denser foods.

This afternoon, just past one, I sighed with happiness as the Chef emerged from the kitchen, carrying two plates. We had spent the morning at the Market -- our first time back in months, since we avoid it during tourist season -- and savoring our coffees together. In a few moments, he would be running, doing the preparations for a private party that night, and I would have to return to the thousand emails. But for a few moments, we were alone, with only the sound of the rain to keep us company, and we were about to eat.

Seared duck breast. Wild rice with local chanterelle mushrooms. A dark, slightly sweet sauce of pork, veal stock, and lots of reduction. This was lunch, spontaneously, at the restaurant together. The crisp edges of fat along the dark meat, the chewy healthiness of the rice, and the pucker at the back of the lips after licking the candied savory sauce off the fork before me. Will wonders never cease with this man?

It's good to be home.

And this week, we are happy to be back in Seattle, in particular, because the city feels like a celebration of the book.

The Chef and I are bedazzled and happy these days, amazed by people's responses to the book and us, exhausted from the traveling, aware of the money involved in funding one's own book tour, and mostly in constant wonder at our lives.

And we would love to see you.

This week, we are going to be doing a number of events here in Seattle, and I sincerely hope that you can make one of them.

As an aside, however, for transparency, I have to say this: it's sometimes awkward to write here and say, "Hey! Can you come to this event in honor of my book? Can you pay money for food and wine and celebrate me?"

However, we really want to put this book into the world. People's responses so far have been astounding, so kind, so heartfelt. I will never forget the woman in Central Park who thanked me for writing the book, in tears, and said, "Now I can feed my friends again, because of you."

We both feel strongly that all this is happening for a reason. This is bigger than us. We are hoping that we can really help people with the book and our efforts. And if people who are gluten-free can have parties, fabulous celebrations, wine, and great food — that will change their lives too.

Writing this book and seeing it published has been my dream come true. And I'd really like to celebrate it with all of you.

So, all that said, here are the events:

Monday, October 22nd

Book launch party at Osteria La Spiga (1429 12th Ave, between Pike and Madison)

We adore La Spiga. It's one of our favorite restaurants in the city, particularly after our time in Italy. They have graciously offered to throw a book launch party this Monday.

There will be great gluten-free food, Italian wine, live music, and a great party.

And look at this menu:

Zucca Arrosto al Cacao
Butternut squash with cocoa powder

Tortino di Polenta con Fagioli Brasati

Polenta with braised beans

Vitello Tonnato
Poached veal with tuna sauce

Gluten-free bread & cheese

And you get a copy of the book! So, if you live in Seattle and don't have a book yet, here's one chance.

The cost is $50 (but remember that includes the cost of the book), and these wonderful folks would really appreciate cash or check.

The party starts at 6 and lasts until 9.

Call for reservations at 206.323.8881. (please do make reservations. A number of you have written to me, to say you will be there, but I don't think the head count is accurate yet. I wouldn't want anyone to miss this chance.)

Wednesday, October 24th

I will be doing a book signing at the Whole Foods on Denny. There will be a big gluten-free vendor fair going on at the same time, so this is a real chance for community.

This goes from 6 to 7 pm, and it's free!

Come by and say hi, if you have the chance.

Friday, October 26th

ChefShop is one of our favorite places to buy great olive oils, vinegars, and chocolate. These folks are so good to us, and they are throwing a huge party in our honor. (The Chef will have to cook that night, so this will just be me.)

You can read all the details here. And I'll be telling you more about this next week, as well.

But know this — they have gone all out! Cabaret seating, a huge buffet of twelve different dishes, all based on our recipes:

shaved fennel salad
pizzettes with prosciutto and artichoke hearts
black rice salad
macaroni and cheese with manchego
lemon olive oil cookies

plus many more, all based on the recipes we created together.

There is also going to be lots of wine.

I'm going to be giving a slide show of photographs of our experience in Italy, since the entire theme of the party is living the good food life (inspired by our time in Umbria and Rome). And they will be selling copies of the book and I'm going to be autographing them.

The cost is $50.

And you can make reservations online, or call them at 206-286-9988.

On top of all this, all the profits from this will go to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, so it's a party with a good cause.

I wanted to share all these details here, even though I have mentioned both events before, because the people at both LaSpiga and ChefShop are going to a great deal of trouble and spending money for us. We'd really, really like to have both of these thronged with people!

Thank you, everyone. We can't wait to see you all there, or wherever we meet next!

Love and a big yes,

Butternut squash soup with smoked paprika

butternut squash soup with pumpkin seed oil

When we were having lunch today, the Chef pulled out the butternut squash soup he had made the night before. I took one whiff and smelled October. And then, we both remembered the recipe we had developed for the book, one of many that had to be cut with length.

This silky, slightly sweet soup with a kick makes any rainy day feel cozy. In this case, the Chef garnished it with green onions and dollops of pumpkin seed oil. I'm partial to creme fraiche, myself.

1 butternut squash
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons high-quality olive oil
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika
4 ounces unsalted butter.
2 carrots, peeled, quartered, and diced small
3 celery stalks, diced small
1 medium white onion, diced small
5 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon sage, chopped
3 tablespoons jasmine rice (or another long-grain white rice)
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup cream
1 tablespoon good-quality honey

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Preparing the squash. Cut the ends off the butternut squash. Cut it in half, using a strong knife to make it through the thick skin. Cut those halves into half, leaving the butternut squash in quarters. Scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Season the squash with salt and pepper, then drizzle the olive oil in liberal amounts over the squash. Pinch the smoked paprika on top of the oil. Lay the seasoned butternut squash pieces on a baking sheet and toss them around, coating everything in the olive oil and paprika.

Roasting the squash. Roast the squash in the oven for roughly forty-five minutes, or until a butter knife goes through the flesh with ease. Do not allow them to become mushy. The knife should slide right in, then slide out, without leaving a trail of mushy butternut squash on it.

Peeling the squash. Cool the squash for twenty minutes to half an hour, or until you can peel them with ease. Peel the skins from the squash with a knife. Set the squash aside for the moment.

Sauteeing the vegetables. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, melt four ounces of unsalted butter on medium-high heat. After it has melted down about halfway, add the two tablespoons of oil. Allow the two liquids to become a coherent mixture. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook the vegetables on low heat, or until the vegetables begin to sweat, as though they are sitting in a sauna. (This should take about ten to fifteen minutes, the same as a sauna.) Stir them occasionally during this process. The vegetables will have a bright color, and they will be soft but not mushy.

Add the chopped thyme, rosemary, and sage to the vegetables. (You must use fresh herbs here, or the soup will taste dusty and pale.) Cook the mixture until the perfume of the herbs emerges and turns the noses of everyone in the other room.

Cooking the squash. Add the cooked squash to the soup pot. Cook the mixture for three to four minutes on medium heat. At this point, add the tablespoons of rice. Stir the mixture well and cook for at least a minute, or until all the rice grains are coated. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half.

Making the soup. Cover the vegetables with the stock, which should be one inch higher than the vegetables. After eight minutes or so, check on the firmness of the rice. Stick a spoon in the soup, grab a grain of rice, and determine its texture. Edibly soft? You’re done? Rigid and inflexible. Cook for a few minutes more. Mushy? You have gone too long.

Pureeing the soup. Pull the soup from the pot and put it into your blender. Puree it as finely as you can. Next, strain the puree in small batches through a fine mesh sieve, pressing the soup through with the back of a wooden spoon. This will leave the pulp behind in the sieve, and the soup you have strained a wonderfully fine taste.

Finishing the soup. Bring the soup back to a bubbling boil in the soup pan. Add the butter and cream, then stir them in. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Just before serving, add the honey to the soup and stir.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each bowl with a dollop of crème fraiche and some fresh chives. Serve the soup to your happy guests.

Serves 6.

17 October 2007

a delicious weekend in new york, gluten-free


The Chef and I woke up this morning - in our own bed for the first time in five days - looked at each other, and started giggling. "Happy Wednesday," he said. (We say this every week, without fail. We met on a Wednesday. We're always going to celebrate.) I returned the salutation. And then I said, "Good god, what just happened?"

We just spent five days in New York, five delicious days that we will remember all the rest of our lives. I don't know what it is about this year, but I just can't keep up. One big jolt of an experience keeps happening, one after the other. Normally, a honeymoon in Italy would be enough to keep me waltzing around in memories for months. But around here, life moves fast. This is the year I have finally learned to let go of experiences, after they have happened. I just keep breathing out and making room for the next set.

But New York. Ah, New York. I lived in that gloriously dirty city for four years, and it is still in me. Five minutes there, and I'm walking fast and weaving through crowds. The rhythms of the footsteps on subway platforms, the smell of other people's bodies mixed with dirty water in the curbs and sweet honey-roasted almonds on the street and cigarette smoke and the pale acrid smoke of hot dog vendor carts, the piercing squeal of trains screeching to a halt echoing off the walls late at night, kids in strollers being tugged down steep steps and men with cardboard signs sitting on park benches asking for a beer, sauteed calamari mashed potatoes frizzled leeks tapioca pudding eggs with smoked salmon stinging bitter coffee in a blue deli cup -- this is all New York to me.

And now, this is New York for the Chef, as well. Even though we both lived there -- a fifteen-minute walk away from each other, it turns out -- we never met. We had never walked down those streets, arm in arm. The first day we were there this weekend, a little haggard from the no-sleep of flying all night, I sat beside him on the subway and lay my head upon his shoulder. As I closed my eyes, I wanted to cry a little. The entire time I had lived in New York, I had never felt this loved. I know he felt the same.

Everything tasted delicious this weekend.

the chef holds my book at barnes and noble

Like the afternoon I first saw my book in a bookstore. After the Chef and I had lunch at Gramercy Tavern (with my editor; oh good god), we found our way to Zabar's. We were meeting Meri, my dear friend (now ours) who used to live in Seattle, but moved away the day after we were married. When I saw her across the street - the Chef and I in front of Zabar's; she standing in front of H and H bagels - I screamed and nearly ran out in front of a cab. (The Chef pulled me back.) I couldn't reach her fast enough. I just wanted to hug her for an hour.

After we all ducked into Zabar's - the constant extravaganza - and studied knishes and different kinds of anchovies for sale - we walked up to the Barnes and Noble on 81st and Broadway. Having lived only 20 blocks north of there, I had visited this particular bookstore many a time. (It's hard to find a good independent bookstore in Manhattan, you see.) Since Friday was the first official day of publication, I wanted to see my book in a store.

(Here I have to explain what has been explained to me. Publishing has changed in the last few years. The market is tight. Most first books simply do not end up in every bookstore. Online sources, the big stores, and the independent bookstores that specially request a title -- these are the places to find the book. If everyone asks for a copy at a local store, word will spread. But if your individual bookstore is not carrying the book yet, that's fairly typical. So don't worry, those of you who have written to me. This is publishing now.)

Given what I had been told, I didn't expect to see the book. When I asked someone at customer service, I was shocked when he took me to the front table, expecting to find it there. There were none. Those copies must have sold. He directed us upstairs, to the health section (that's where it is being shelved, in case you didn't know that), where, " should be prominently displayed."

And so we saw a stack of my books, on a table, at the bookstore where I used to sit for hours. The Chef was tempted to cry. So was I. Meri just beamed for us.


shauna and the chef at imagine ii

On Saturday, we finally visited Strawberry Fields for the first time. Talk about crying.

(And I love the guys behind us in this photograph. You can never be alone in New York.)

someone holding my book at Central park

One of my favorite moments of the entire weekend (or perhaps my entire life) was when we entered Strawberry Fields in Central Park. The Chef, Sharon, and I had battled subways and a morning without coffee or food to arrive somewhere close to on time. As we neared the Imagine sign, one of my favorite former students came running toward me. Now a student at Columbia, she had trekked down the Upper West Side to hug me. After a few moments of talking, she had to leave, to explore the city with her mother. And so we rounded the corner, headed toward Imagine. On a long, curving bench sat a number of people, each of them holding my book in her or his hands. I'll admit — words fled me in that moment. The cover of my book — the one that was only a pdf file on my computer for all those months — staring up at me from other people's laps. It's here. My book is in the world.

Over the next three hours, people arrived in waves: fellow bloggers whom I had not met before; dear friends in the city who had not been able to attend our wedding; my former roommate, William, with whom Sharon and I had made up 7B; and many of you incredible people reading right now. The sun shone through green leaves, the air felt kind upon my head, and I was grinning all day.

(This picture is of Mary Catherine holding the book. Hi, Mary Catherine!)

We never did sing. Funny — that is what we had announced we would do. But the Imagine sign is always filled with strangers, people who throng around it for a few moments and move on to the next sight. I suppose we were stopped from too much activity by the wild-haired man with red-rimmed eyes who kept moving through the crowd, arms flailing, and shouting "I'm going to f---ing kill you!" to no one in particular. (hello, new york.) Mostly, we were so enjoying the moment — the Chef was a little happily freaked out by people coming up to him and saying, "Oh, you are real!" — that stopping everyone to sing felt a little artificial.

The entire day felt like a song.

the back cover of our album

And the weekend was filled with friends I have loved for over half my life. People who met us for the first time looked at Meri (who has shown up all over this website, and the book — try her Ecuadorian ceviche), or Sharon (my maid of honor, the one with whom I explored Los Angeles), or Gabe (the one who always wanted to eat cake in a bag) and said, "Hey, I know them!"

Someone said, at one point, "Hey, you brought your entire cast of characters with you."

And here, in this photo, taken on the sidewalk on 72nd between Columbus and Central Park West, we look like some scruffy indie band, posing for the photo of our new album. Maybe we'll call ourselves Dirty Laundry. (That's what Gabe said when he was trying to remember the name of that famous restaurant in Yountville, French Laundry.)

I could not have been happier than to have them around me.

lunch at le pain quotidien

To be sure, the food was delicious this weekend. Sharp and tangy on the tongue, or rolling at the back of my palate with warm notes of garlic, sending little trills of porky goodness to my brain, and melting in the mouth sashimi that we will remember the rest of our lives.

This salad is from Le Pain Quotidien: grilled chicken; chickpeas; avocadoes; and a piece of frisee so large that it hit my nose when I took my first bite. Certainly, going to a restaurant that translates as The Daily Bread seems foolhardy. But even here, the waiters and chefs took care of me. While my friends and husband ate curried chicken sandwiches and exquisite-looking bread, I nibbled and giggled my way through this salad. Each of us had been to this place many times before, in twos and big groups. Nostalgically, we needed to eat here. (plus, we were starving.) When Gabe realized I couldn't eat from the open jar of praline spread with my spoon -- all those errant crumbs -- he leapt up and bought a new jar for the table to share.

All the meals tasted that sweet.

the chef is ready to teach cooking

Here is the Chef, an hour before we began teaching our first cooking class together. We were blessed that the Whole Foods on Houston (between Chrystie and Bowery) opened the space for us to teach, with only ten days notice. Even better, Samara and Martha had pulled all the ingredients necessary for our dishes, and arranged crudite plates for all the guests before we even arrived. (And the amazing Samara - hey you! - greeted us at the top of the stairs with, "You're Shauna and the Chef!" That just made our day.) Meri and Sharon came with us — our lovely assistants — and helped me make cookie dough and chop up dill for the Chef. Sharon arrived a bit later than we did. She said that when she was coming upon the store, she looked up to see enormous windows, a sign with an arrow that pointed toward "Take a cooking class here," and my red bag at the point of the arrow.

The day felt like that.

We were so utterly thrilled to meet everyone there, to cook chicken thighs braised in pomegranate molasses, penne pasta with smoked salmon, dill, capers, and fresh horseradish, and fig cookies. (We didn't let the dough sit in the refrigerator quite long enough, so those spread a bit more than we wanted. Oh well.) The feeling in the room was convivial — this was a real community. It is so good to be with people who understand, who approach life with eyes wide open, and who want to learn and share with each other.

And I love teaching cooking with the Chef. He knows how to chop the onions, how to sautee correctly, how to demonstrate techniques with a casual flip that still take me minutes to master. Watching him cook still entrances me. He had never seen me teach before, and he said he was astounded.

We want to do this again and again.

the tables at whole foods

When we first walked into the room, long before the class began, I saw copies of my book on every table.

Can you imagine the delicious thrill?

And when I asked if anyone wanted a book autograph, everyone lined up! Good thing I have a big red Sharpie. I was so humbled, and honored.


chicken thighs braised in pomegranate molasses

And eating together is what joins people. The Chef was thrilled when there was such silence after we passed out this chicken. When people stop talking, they are really tasting the food.

It is food that heals us. This isn't about just being gluten-free. This is about really being alive. This is about living, in food, in community, in laughter.

(And if you'd like to read about the class from someone else's perspective, read this wonderful accounting from dear Erin at Gluten-Free Fun. Thank you, Erin!)


The last day we were in New York, the Chef and I took the subway from Brooklyn up to 96th. Together, we walked the streets of my old neighborhood, and stopped for lunch at Metro Diner. How many times had I eaten there, late at night? Turkey burgers with Gabe, piles of French fries with Sharon, chocolate shakes with Meri? Those tired years were before I realized I should not be eating gluten-free, so I went back with new eyes. And of course, I had never been there with the Chef before. Everything feels new with him.

And then we walked the distance between our old apartments, mine on 101st and Broadway, his on 112th and Manhattan Avenue. For six months, we had been fifteen minutes from each other. We must have passed each other on the street before. We must have sat on the same subway, across from each other. We must have seen each other's eyes, at some point. But it took until that morning to walk the distance between the two places, holding hands.

We met when we did for a reason. And oh, how delicious that we did.

benches in Central park

Not everything on this trip was perfect, of course.

On Sunday, we wanted to be up in Rye, for the celiac awareness walk. We announced it here. We deliberately stayed with our friends Cindy and Ben in Long Island, thinking we would be closer. In fact, we hoped that they would be able to give us a ride, Sunday morning. We had a plan.

But never under-estimate the power of jet lag. From the moment we landed at JFK, we were running. There was never a moment that was not planned. (This is, in a way, my least favorite way to live, but we knew that it would be this way, and we adapted.) When we woke up Sunday morning, we were exhausted to the point of feeling ill. We slept a little more, trying to listen to our bodies.

We all gathered in Cindy and Ben's kitchen, for coffee and a little breakfast. Sunday mornings tend to move slowly. And then I found out that we were headed for a day of traveling.

In order to reach Rye, we had to take a train from their town to Penn Station (50 minutes). Jump to the subway, take a shuttle to Grand Central (20 minutes). Take a train to Rye (45 minutes). Walk from the train station to the high school. (20 minutes.) It was worth it. We so wanted to meet everyone there. But when you miss the train at Grand Central by two minutes, you have to wait another hour for the next one. And so you wait, and accept, and realize that life is like this. You think, "We'll be there for the last three hours of the event. The schedule said it goes until 5."

Imagine our surprise, therefore, when we walked up to the high school at 2:15 to find that almost everyone had left already. The event had finished.

Later, on the train platform heading back to the city, I actually stood with my head up against the Chef's chest and cried. I felt so bad, for missing the event, for missing any of you who went there to meet us.

Luckily, we met Kelly there, and we had a chance to talk to her before she packed up her car. Dr. Green was still standing outside the gym, so we met and I gave him a copy of the book. We tried.

I still feel bad.

Sorry to all of you were looking for us. We promise — it wasn't for lack of trying that we were absent!

But as the Chef reminded me, as I stood there sniffling into his sweater, "What in this world is perfect?"

Not us, to be sure.

at union square cafe

However, we weren't going to let one bittersweet bite ruin the entire meal. In fact, those experiences that make you wince a bit make the others taste more sweet.

We ate well, and all of it gluten-free.

Should you be headed for New York anytime soon, here are some places where I ate safely, and memorably...

Gramercy Tavern

42 East 20th
NY, NY 10003

Mere hours after we arrived at JFK, we found ourselves at the delectable Gramercy Tavern. Since the Chef once cooked there, he especially wanted to eat there on this trip together. My fantastic editor met us there (and luckily, this meant the publishers paid for lunch as well). To my shock, the entire autumn tasting menu was entirely gluten-free. Oh yes. I remember the sea scallops on a bed of caramelized sweet corn, in particular. And I'm going to try to make the tapioca pudding with basil oil and mango sorbet as a recipe here, later.

Soto Sushi

357 Sixth Ave., nr. Washington Pl.; 212-414-3088

Our dear friends Nina and Booth directed us to this new sushi place on Sixth Avenue. For years, they were friends with master chef Soto, in Atlanta. After winning acclaim and awards, he moved everyone north to the big city. On the night of our first day in New York — the actual date of publication — five of our dearest friends gathered with us in this tiny white space. For the next three hours, we moaned over the freshest sushi we have ever eaten, one delicate dish after another. In fact, when the waiter put down a lobster sashimi in front of us, Meri blurted out inadvertently, "Oh, I love you!" We will never forget this meal, which was entirely gluten-free for us. (And we'll probably be paying it off for awhile, as well.)

Le Pain Quotidien

50 West 72nd Street
NY 10023
212 712 9700

Yes, there are mostly sandwiches, and bread seems to be everywhere. But they fed me well, and safely. And I love curving my hand around a bowl of their cafe au lait.

Danny Brown Wine Bar

104-02 Metropolitan Ave.
Forest Hills, New York
718 261 2144

On Sunday night, after we had missed the celiac walk, we trudged back into the city and met Sharon and our friend Megan down on Greenwich for ten minutes. (The Chef and Megan had not met, and those were the only minutes in which it was possible.) And then we braved the E -- and changed to the F -- for the long ride out to Forest Hills. Why? For Luisa and Deb — and their darling male counterparts — of course. All that trekking? Totally worth it. The company charmed and warmed us -- our spirits were entirely re-vivified by their presence. And the food? Oh, the food claimed our hearts. My salmon tartare with black olives, frisee, and creme fraiche? I can still taste it. We talked of writing books, Mexican spa vacations, failed flans, the joys of running toward what scares you, and subways. We could have stayed all night. In fact, we closed out the place, laughing. I suggest you do the same.


403 12 Street (at !st Ave)

Slender rounds of tender pork tenderloin. Artichoke salad. A tiny card-sized piece of crispy pork belly. Good wine. Great friends. Buttermilk panna cotta with huckleberry sauce. The last one in the door, the last ones out.


Union Square Cafe

21 East 16th Street

On our last day in New York, mere hours before we were meant to head to the airport, we ate lunch at Union Square Cafe. Because we were eating with the marketing manager and head of publicity for the book, we were treated again. Danny Meyer -- all the waiters at your restaurants have magic hands. When I was finished eating, I saw a pair of hands whisking my plate away, but no one connected to them. Impeccable yet warm service -- this is hard to find. My steak was perfectly done, rare. The frizzeled leeks on top of the potatoes crunched in my mouth, then ended in tenderness. Best of all, the waiter -- who was originally from Omaha, Nebraska -- understood my dilemma immediately. "Do you have celiac sprue? So does my mother." And with that he treated me with the same dignity as we received in Italy.

It is possible here. Someday, it won't cost that much money to eat well and find waiters who understand how to feed us, gluten-free.

in new york, happy

This weekend, we were thrilled to meet so many of you, to cook for you, to listen to you. This was, for the book and for us, an important time.

But mostly, we just walked those streets together, laughing and happy, finally there.

New York (and by that, I mean Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Rye, and Long Island) - thank you for such a delicious weekend.