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Monday, December 31, 2007

Maple Buckwheat Flakes

buckwheat cereal

We celiacs don't have too many cold cereal choices. I love the line of kids' cereals made by Nature's Path, but I do feel just a little silly downing a bowl of Peanut Butter Panda Puffs in front of someone else.

This past month, however, I found a slightly more adult cereal that I can eat. Arrowhead Mills' Organic Maple Buckwheat Flakes have a crunch you can hear in your ears, a slightly sweet taste from maple syrup, and that magical quality of staying crispy in a bowl of milk. Best of all, they are labeled gluten-free.

I love seeing that label.

Some afternoons, when I have been writing for hours, I go into the kitchen and fix myself a bowl of buckwheat flakes in my favorite blue bowl. It may be glowering outside, and I may still have five hours of writing before me, but while I am crunching on these, I am feeling fine.

Now, if only I had some Saturday morning cartoons to go with it.


Nielsen-Massey bourbon vanilla

vanilla extract (gluten-free)

I've become overly partial to this bottle of vanilla extract: Nielsen-Massey's Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla. Smooth and sweet, with little hints of something deeper, this vanilla enlivens every baked good I make. And with Christmas season — and my gluten-free sugar cut-out cookies — approaching, I made sure I am stocked up right now.

This company, which is one hundred years old this year and based in Illinois, works hard at gathering the best vanilla from around the world: Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti, and Mexico. They also have a vanilla bean paste that Joycelyn at the ever-beautiful Kuidaore swears by for her exquisite creations. That's enough for me.

Even better, this summer Nielsen Massey was the first major ingredient supplier in the United States to be certified gluten-free. Any company that has Cynthia Kupper's stamp of approval is all right with me.

Better yet, the taste. Oh my — I emit a low moan.

So, if you want to feel safe that you are using gluten-free vanilla products, and fold the best-tasting vanilla extract into your baked goods for Thanksgiving, go pick up a bottle of this. You won't regret it.


Crave bakery pumpkin tart

Crave crust

And, for another option, in case you just don't want to bake at all, there is Crave Bakery. Now, for purposes of integrity, I have to tell you that Cameo, the president of the company, sent me one of their pumpkin tarts overnight the other day, just so I could taste it. That's a photograph of its crust, just above these words. However, I am sent masses of gluten-free food for free, and most of it I never mention. This pie is good. The fact that it is gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and soy-free makes it even more astounding. The crust is flaky, the pumpkin filling dense with taste, and the whole pie a beautiful sight. Crave goods are available in Whole Foods on the west coast. However, if you live somewhere else and really need one of these tarts, I am sure that Cameo could send you one!


Wild Ginger

fresh ginger

I knew just where to go. Wild Ginger.

Two years ago, when Cindy came for a visit, we spent an entire, delectable evening at this theatrical, pan-Asian restaurant. I say theatrical because the place is enormous, with levels of seating, airy spaces rising to the ceiling, swanky bars, and perfectly set tables. And the food. Oh, the food. Seared ahi tuna bruschetta. Lychee nut martinis. Roasted duck with little buns and plum sauce. Cindy and I sat there all night, laughing and talking, and we didn't finish eating our mango sticky rice until nearly midnight. We have talked about that night ever since.

So of course we had to go back. However, this time I had to eat differently. Could they accommodate me?

Yes, they did. Beautifully. And I'm writing this now — with a cheesy picture of ginger I took last night — so all those of you who must eat gluten-free know there is another option in Seattle. (Besides the Chef's restaurant, where you should go first.)

What I loved most about our meal at Wild Ginger — aside from the company — was the thoughtful, thorough service we received from the staff. This is a restaurant that values great food, and they have hired waiters who know that food well. When I mentioned that I cannot eat gluten, in my usual way ("I'm so sorry to bother you but....cannot anything with gluten...even a small amount...get violently ill in your restaurant."), our waiter sent over their specialist.

Jennifer is, apparently, allergic to almost every food. That made her the perfect detective for my meal. Cindy and the Chef were kind enough to order gluten-free meals as well, so we could share the Hong Kong scallops, the herb-crusted sea bass, the banana peppers stuffed with crab and shrimp, the Bangkok Boar satay skewers, and the beef curry. Jennifer knew every ingredient of every dish, and when I asked, "Could we have this?" she shook her head, or nodded. Then, she went back to enormous kitchen and personally inspected the cooking of every dish.

At this point, our waiter, Tyler came over to ask if we needed anything else. I told him, effusively, how happy we were with everything, particularly the way they had taken care of me. Humbly, he said, "Well, Jennifer is allergic to everything, and I'm absolutely paranoid about any of my customers getting sick. So you have the best team."

I love them.

Going to Wild Ginger proves to me again that it is entirely possible to eat gluten-free in a restaurant — even an enormous restaurant that feeds over 600 people a night — and eat well. More than well — exquisitely.

I know that many of you gluten-free readers are afraid to eat in a restaurant, or go only to chain restaurants that have special gluten-free menus. Respectfully, may I suggest? Please, stop that. If you choose a truly extraordinary restaurant that truly cares about the food, and you stand up for yourself when you order, you have a fabulous chance of eating one of the most memorable meals of your life.

Cindy and the Chef agree: gorgeous.

Wild Ginger
1401 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101


Wow brownies

WOW brownie

Sometimes, buying food from a local food producer costs more money than buying mass-produced food. A start-up company in Seattle, called WOW Foods, makes truly delicious gluten-free cookies. These cookies — ginger-molasses; chocolate chip; peanut butter — are the size of a large man’s hand. In other words, they look like the chewy cookies that people who can eat gluten buy in their favorite local bakery. Each cookie costs about $2.50. You may be thinking — yikes! But think about it. How much would you pay for a treat at the bakery?

Why are WOW cookies so expensive? They are made with organic ingredients, the best-quality butter, the finest vanilla flavoring in the world, and natural cane juice, instead of bleached white sugar. These were conscious choices by the people who created the company. All those ingredients cost money. These cookies are worth it. If I am not making gluten-free cookies myself, I buy from this local, small business that insists on making the best cookies they can. That they are gluten-free is essential to my health. That I am supporting people who truly care about food is vital to my mind.

And now, WOW Baking is making brownies? And they are available for sale at the store across the street from me?

Life is good.


Foraged and Found Edibles


Every Saturday, late morning or early afternoon, the Chef and I pass the mushroom stall at the University District, then double back. Even though Jeremy or Christina will be delivering another bag full of mushrooms to the restaurant later in the week, the Chef might just need some that night for the fish special. Or for pickling, then placing them in a paté. Or maybe we just want to say hello, again.

Jeremy and Christina run Foraged and Found Edibles. For the most part, they make their living by digging in the rich earth of the woods around Seattle, and finding the best mushrooms growing at the moment. (When mushrooms are not growing, they take catering jobs.) They sell chanterelles and lobsters, oysters and porcinis, whatever is yielding itself to their hands that week. And then they make their rounds of the best restaurants in the city, walking in during the afternoon, before dinner service, and handing over mushrooms only hours away from the forest to the chefs ready in their kitchens.

Including my Chef.

I love these two, the way they have made their living through food. And their mushrooms are incredible. These chanterelles? Mmmmwhaah. (That's the sound of me kissing my fingers into the air.)

Also, they're just plain beautiful.


Whole Foods pizza crusts

Whole Foods pizza crust

If I am going to eat packaged, gluten-free food, I still want it to be the best. And so, for the late-summer pizza you see pictured above, I used a pizza crust from Whole Foods. As much as I may disdain chains, I cherish the fact that Whole Foods has created an entire gluten-free bakeshop and supplies the nation's stores with wholesome gluten-free goods for us to buy. Of course, given that supply is limited and demands enormous, the prices are exorbitant. However, once in awhile, I splurge. These pizza crusts are worth it. They are flaky and chewy, with a good crunch when they are almost burnt.


Ludvig's bistro

mocha dessert II

Three summers ago, in Sitka, when I didn’t yet know that I had to avoid gluten, I was mortified to find that the dinner offering in the cafeteria the first night was — get ready for it — deep-fried hamburgers. Oh god. After a week of similarly horrifying food, I hungered for anything that tasted natural and fresh. My friend Kristin and I were wandering down Katlian Street, passing the Pioneer Bar, maybe making our way to Lane Seven for more shakes (most of my calories in Sitka seem to come from shakes), when we stumbled on nirvana. Ludvig’s Bistro. We couldn’t believe it — an actual restaurant, not meant at all for tourists. Tiny and cozy, with only eight or ten tables, this restaurant smelled good. We sat down, spontaneously, and ordered salads. Salads! With dark greens, and more than one kind of lettuce! Fresh fish, not breaded and fried. Beautiful potatoes and lovely green beans and radiant radishes. Food. Actual food. By the time we sat back in our chairs, with a French press of hot coffee between us on the table, we vowed we would come back again.

And I have, every year. Since my first summer there, Ludvig’s has grown in reputation, but not in size. In the past year, reporters from The New York Times and The Guardian in London have eaten in the tiny place and raved about it to their readers. It is well nigh impossible to simply walk into Ludvig’s and stumble into a table, the way I did that first year. Make reservations far in advance if you want to savor the flavors of Ludvig’s. But the wait is worth it. Every year, my meals at Ludvig’s are the highlight of my food time in Sitka.

This year was no exception. For my first dinner at Ludvig’s this summer, I sat staring in awe at the plate of calamari steaming in front of me. My colleague Ellen and I shared a salad (greens! vegetables!), then the Katlian special: white king salmon on a bed of onion risotto, with wild strawberries, basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette. For dessert? An outrageous custardy creation with mocha flavoring and bits of espresso, which they called the Picasso. At the end of the meal, I sat back in satisfaction.

The second night I went to Ludvig’s, I splurged and simply went straight for it: I bought the steak. A few summers ago, I ate the best steak I have ever eaten, at Ludvig’s, a sirloin topped with creme fraiche and Dungeness crab. Ay god. This year, it was only slightly more healthy, with sauteed portobello mushrooms, onions, and green beans. Oh baby. And then there was creme brulee.

There is no hiding it: Ludvig’s is expensive. Everything in Alaska is more expensive than in the lower 48 — almost all the produce and fresh food has to be brought up to Sitka by container ship. Still, $32.95 for a salmon plate is a wallop. If you are eating tuna out of a can, however, it is more than worth it.

And for me — and all of you reading who must be gluten-free — Ludvig’s is even more of a godsend. They know how to cook for me, safely, no question. Last year, when I went back for the first time after my celiac diagnosis, I started to hesitantly explain what gluten meant. My waitress waved her hand in the air in a friendly manner. “Oh, my best friend has that. We just finished travelling through Europe together. I know how to take care of you.” And she did. (There are so many of us out there. It’s always deeply reassuring when someone acknowledges it, though. We are not freaks. We are not alone.) This year — as you can see from the photograph on top — not only do they know how to cook gluten-free at Ludvig’s, but they even have that option programmed into their computer for their receipt. I was so happy to see that printed on the receipt that I had to take a photograph of it.

Somewhere I can eat gluten-free, delightfully, with gusto? That’s always worth recording.

Ludvig's Bistro
256 Katlian Drive
Sitka, Alaska 99835


Little Tokyo

salmon roll

Considering that Alaskan seafood is the best in the world, it is no wonder that sashimi at Sitka’s only sushi restaurant is some of the best in the world. Much of the menu is meant for tourists, of course, who swarm into the tiny town three times a week, standing in the middle of the road like sheep waiting to be herded. They probably only order the beef teriyaki or chicken yakisoba. Maybe they are the ones who order the fried sushi specials, which look lurid on Little Toko’s menu. However, if you know what to order, you can find fantastic sashimi and sushi at this little restaurant on {Main} Street.

Twice, I have ordered the sashimi platter, with beautiful slices of fresh salmon, so creamy and perfectly melting on the tongue that several members of my party moaned upon eating it. Tony, the b-boy dancer from Philadelphia, just kept shaking his head in time with the rhythm of his exclamations of “No salmon tastes like this in Philly!” He eschewed the octopus I offered him, which left me happily munching on it by myself. Mostly, though, it was the tuna, so thin it was almost translucent, and a flavor as vivid as its bright-red color. Curled around my tongue, that tuna made me miss the Chef just a little less for a minute.

Twice, I have walked into town after classes, and stopped at the Harry Race Pharmacy for a blackberry shake (oh goodness — that’s a place to go as well, with its old-fashioned soda fountain and twelve different flavors), then walked to Little Tokyo for a Philadelphia roll. Now, I have to say, I’m not a big fan of cream cheese in sushi. It just feels so damned American. But when Tony ordered this roll, I eyed it enviously, because of the beautiful thick slices of salmon rolled around the rice. He was kind enough to let me have a piece, and I was convinced. And so, two evenings this week, I have walked across the bridge, looking at Sitka harbor on one side of me, dozens of tiny green-treed islands to the other side of me, sipping from the blackberry shake in one hand, and gobbling pieces of avocado-asparagus-cream cheese-and-salmon sushi, happy as the eagles soaring above my head.

Little Tokyo

315 Lincoln Street
Sitka, Alaska 99835


Malena's tacos

asada tacos

This evening, just when I returned from work, my friend Quinn arrived on my doorstep. We started talking fast and moving out the door, down the steps, across the street, toward the other end of the block -- to Malena’s Tacos.

Just because I didn’t cook doesn’t mean the evening was devoid of food.

Malena’s is one of my favorite little places in the world. These days, I don’t eat in restaurants that often. It’s not because I’m afraid of growing sick, so much — I seem to have figured out how to make my way through the dining-out experience with safety. Instead, I’ve learned how to cook food in my kitchen — with the freshest ingredients, in season, grown locally — that tastes better to me than most restaurant food I eat. I don’t want to waste my money on a meal I could have easily made at home, and for half the price.

These days, I only eat in a restaurant when I know the food will be extraordinary. Or, when I can eat a cuisine I haven’t learned to make in my kitchen yet. Outrageously good Thai food. Delicate, kick-in-the-pants Vietnamese food. A veggie combo platter at an Ethiopian restaurant. Sushi.

Now, I could probably learn to make asada tacos, but they just wouldn’t taste as good as they do at Malena’s. The women in the twenty-foot-square storefront have been flipping tortillas and grilling peppers for years longer than I have. And since they use corn tortillas for almost everything, and I can watch them cooking on the grill in front of me, I feel assured eating there, at one of the tiny tables with the wobbly legs. They bring salty corn chips, made on the premises, in a red plastic basket with red-and-white checked paper, like the kind in which fish and chips might arrive in a bar. The salsa bites the tongue, then dances around it lightly. Not aggressive to the point of pain, but also not so bland as to disappear. Smooth, like a real sauce, instead of the American-salsa-in-a-bottle, with chewy chunks of pale tomatoes floating in a light liquid. This one is dark red. It means business. Order a side of fresh-made guacamole and you have corn chip heaven: green softness that clings to the chip, then a splash of salsa. Ah.

Last night, I ordered the asada tacos: chunks of tender beef, seared, with onions, little tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, and fresh cilantro. I try to order something different every time I go in, but I always end up with those tacos again. Quinn had a pork burrito with guacamole, and he seemed happy. It certainly disappeared quickly. We talked about food, of course. He had just been to Vancouver with his girlfriend, and they had eaten some magical substance: hot frites with cheese curds on top, then beef sauce poured over it all. Ay god, I wanted some immediately, even with those lovely tacos in my hand. There were discussions of wine, bad art, broken-down cars, promising second dates, upcoming events, and the students we shared. Time always passes quickly with Quinn.

Malena's Taco Shop
620 W Mcgraw St
Seattle, WA 98119-2837
(206) 284-0304


University District farmers' market

farmers' market III

Spring is definitely in the air. All around the city, ebullient-looking couples are holding hands and staring into each other's eyes. People talk about summer vacation as though it is just around the weekend. Even the air feels sprightly.

The world is alive again.

And for me, one of the best signs of this exuberant time happened yesterday morning: the University District Farmers' Market opened for business at nine am.

All winter long, when I drove by in the rain, I looked forlornly at the empty parking lot on 50th Street. Winter is necessary, I know. How else could everything grow without the dormant time? I try to live every moment fully, not longing for something else. However, when I saw that empty parking lot, I'd have a little pang of sadness. It's not springtime yet. Summer is a fading memory. There is no farmers' market to attend.

Seattle has spectacular farmers' markets. All throughout the spring and summer, dahlias bloom in plastic buckets in profusion. Greens lie on wooden tables, pungent and just pulled from the earth. Fresh goat cheese awaits us. Every Sunday afternoon in summer, I stroll through the Ballard farmers' market, an entire city street blocked off, the sun shining through red and yellow banners, music playing. Moving slowly, I look at every stall, ask questions of every farmer, sample all the foods I can eat. The farmers’ market is a social occasion for me. I introduce friends to the joys of local and organic, as we stroll around with cups of coffee or glasses of fresh cider. I make new friends every week, over the beauties of broccoli or the joys of juicy raspberries. And I learn the stories of some of these farmers, stories of making goat cheese every week east of the mountains or growing arugula near the city. I love buying produce from the same hands that have pulled it from the ground.

I learned how to eat well from the farmers’ markets of Seattle. I have always been an enthusiastic cook, but I didn’t really start to explore until I had to stop eating gluten. When first faced with a life without wheat, rye, or barley, I was not daunted. Strangely, I feel lucky that I had been so violently ill for months on end. When I cut out the gluten, I felt better within three days. As soon as found my strength, I was greeted with spring sunshine and a world of possibilities. I started wandering through the farmers’ markets and buying anything that called to me, any fresh food that did not contain gluten. In the past, I might have simply bought the vegetables I knew I liked, the easiest fruits to eat whole, and gone home with one bag. But with my blossoming health, I began opening to new foods. Chinese spinach. Kale. Beets. Slow-roasted tomatoes. Every week, a new vegetable seemed to show up on every stall, and I was convinced to buy it, whether or not I knew how to cook it. I learned and learned and ate and learned. As my health began to feel as strong as July sunshine, I realized that I would never go back. I was alive.

Knowing this, you might understand why it was I wanted to skip into the University District farmers’ market on Saturday morning. The first day of the market being open after months of dormancy, ready for business at 9 am? My dear friend Dorothy and I were there at 9:04, our senses open and our wallets ready.

And we’re off. Baby leeks. Vivid tulips. First lactation goat cheese. Chervil. Strawberries. Women with babies. Men in Tevas. Families ready to eat. The breeze was still cold on our faces, the sky was overcast and grey, and summer is too far away to even begin to hope. But the farmers’ markets are open now.

Three cheers for spring and the farmers’ markets of Seattle.

Open Saturdays year-round (yay! that's a recent innovation)
9am to 2pm
at the corner of University Way & NE 50th
in the playground of the University Heights Center for the Community.


Rice (a restaurant)

I don't have any photographs from my meal at Rice, because the lighting is moody dark with little candles, the tables shoved in close together, and the entire place smaller than my apartment. No matter. Can a good meal exist even if I couldn't document it. You bet. Gabe suggested this place, for a dinner with our friend Yael and her boyfriend, Adam. He didn't know if I could find a gluten-free entree, but I assumed that with a name like Rice, I'd probably be fine.

Turns out I was right.

This lovely little restaurant is based on different kinds of rice: basmati, thai black, lebanese, and bhutanese red, to name a few. There are more than a dozen pan-Asian dishes, like chicken satay, Thai coconut curry, and even jerk chicken wings. I felt a little dizzy with possibilities when I read the menu, but I knew better than to decide anything before I asked.

The hip, sly waitress -- Rice is in Nolita, a small area of relentless trendiness that tries to act nonchalant -- looked at me through her tiny, black glasses when I started to explain gluten, then said: "Hold on a minute." When she came back, she handed me a small menu. I nearly cried when I saw what was written on the front: "Gluten-free Menu for Celiacs." Wow.

I was surprised to see that I couldn't order the Indian chicken curry with mango, bananas, and yogurt. What could be in there? But she explained that they used just a touch of flour to thicken the sauce. Thank goodness I asked. And for those of you reading who can eat gluten, imagine having to investigate every mouthful of food you eat. If you can imagine it, you'll understand why I felt in such safe hands at this place.

I ordered a thick corncake with queso cheese and spicy tomatoes. Instantly, I felt fine. The spices burst forth with bold intensity, each of them singular, all them working together. The warm lentil stew arrived on top of "green rice," which is rice infused with cilantro, parsley, and spinach.

Wash it all down with a good bottle of spicy red wine and the laughter of close friends, and you have a damned fine meal.

227 Mott Street
(plus, three more locations)



Gobo II

A few years ago, I stumbled onto Gobo, in the Village, on the recommendation of a British friend. He had an impeccable food sense (read: really picky) and a strong stubborn streak for fiercely independent places. He was right, in this case.

Gobo has a meticulously beautiful aesthetic, with warm lighting, long tables, and Buddha statues interspersed throughout the dining room. I enjoyed that dinner more than any other in New York during that visit three years ago. This time, now that I have to find gluten-free food, I assumed they might be able to help me, given their vegetarian mission.

So my friend Kari and I sat down for lunch. After she took off her coat, I asked her where she had found her elegant scarf. "France," she said, surely referring to one of the many trips she makes to France with her fiancé.

"Ah, of course," I said, already laughing. "Those French. They do everything well."

At this moment, our tall, blond waiter approached the table and leaned down toward us obsequiously, and said, in an outrageous French accent, "'ello. My name is Matthew. I will be your waiter...." Before we could unfreeze our faces, he broke back into his flat American twang. "Nah, I'm just kidding."

I knew we'd be okay.

Much of the menu, as I scanned it, seemed possible. They serve organic, vegetarian food in small plates, from a variety of cuisines around the world. It's not quite raw cuisine, but it's close. After all, they call themselves "Food for the Five Senses," and that's not an exaggeration. More is at play at Gobo than simply serving customers meals, fast. There are organic juice cocktails, Vietnamese spring rolls, slow-cooked Malaysian curry stews, and desserts bereft of refined white sugar. I thought I would be fine.

But still, I had to ask. So I went into my typical spiel, a little obsequious myself, but firm. Before I reached the point where I have to explain what the heck gluten is, Matthew looked over my head to the hostess and said, "Honey, can I have the gluten-free menu?"

Oh my. I never knew how happy this would make me, before I stopped eating gluten. To have a restaurant that truly cares about food care enough to know the meals that I can eat? Well, let's just say I'm a generous tipper.

Better yet, when I asked the waiter if I could take pictures -- explaining about my website and why I write about this -- Matthew said, "Wait, what's the name of the site?" I gave him this address, and he said: "Oh, my best friend can't eat gluten. She's on your site all the time."

Now that was exhilarating.

And the food? Superb. We lingered for a long time, with avocado tartare, rice-pasta lasagna in a dark red sauce, and pineapple soaked in rum caramel and topped with vanilla ice cream.

This is not deprivation.

401 Avenue of the Americas (we all know that's 6th Avenue)
(there's also another one on the Upper East Side now)




There’s simply no expressing the glee I feel when I walk into a restaurant and see gf all down the menu. I know that there is no way to express it, because Monica and I spent nearly our entire meal at Risotteria blathering to Gabe how great it was to be in this extraordinary place. The other part of the meal we spent exulting and exclaiming.

Gluten-free breadsticks! Gluten-free beer! (A honey beer from upstate New York, slightly carbonated, which was disconcerting. It didn’t taste anything like the thick IPAs I used to drink or micro-brews I loved. But it was beer, and I was drinking it.) Gluten-free pizza!

Risotteria is what it sounds like: a risotto restaurant. And much more.

Slim in size, so that you have to sidle to your table, this restaurant had every table filled, with people waiting three deep, the night I went to visit. And every table had at least one gluten-free customer, beaming, savoring her meal even more because she knew she was going to be well by the end of it.

The women who had the table before us were in their 60s, two of them gluten-free, and all of them celebrating. “You won’t believe how good it is,” one of them said, as they passed us. “It’s my birthday, and I knew this was the only place I wanted to go.” We three wished her a happy birthday, then dove for the corner table they had just left.

And then, something transpired that hasn’t happened to me in a long time in a restaurant: I had to look at the menu for five minutes before I knew what I wanted. Not because I couldn’t find anything that could be gluten-free, but because I had such a plethora of choices. Did I want a pesto-mozzarella panini on rice-flour bread? A pizza with anchovies? A spinach salad with goat cheese? Risotto with porcini mushrooms and gruyere?

In the end, we ordered a pizza, a pesto risotto, and a spinach salad for the table, and split them three ways. Gabe thought the food tasted fine -- then again, his parents had been in town for the week and had taken him places like Prune for dinner every night, so his taste buds were elevated -- but he clearly didn’t quite understand why we were so excited.

We didn’t need him to understand, Monica and I. We were in gluten-free heaven.

And then we had the carrot cake, which made us rise even higher.

270 Bleeker Street


Puff and Pao


One of the happiest times I had on my trip to New York was the cold morning I wandered around the Village by myself, searching for hot coffee and stumbling on fabulous food places. Desperate to find a good cup of coffee, I walked from street to street to street. When I finally gave up, I found Puff and Pao instead.

This tiny, sunny shop on Christopher Street sells cream puffs (forbidden) and paolitos (gluten-free). They also make them in separate ovens, so there is no cross-contamination. Paolitos, or paos as the shop likes to call them, are little cheese puffs. These were made from manioc flour and filled with New York cheddar or English farmhouse cheese.(Pao de quijo means bread of cheese.) Bite-size -- if you work hard to restrain yourself, you can make each one last for two bites -- and crispy, these were my most delicious discovery of the trip.

Standing in front of the glass case, I couldn't believe my luck. All these choices! There were chorizo paos, Chinese scallions paos, sweet Maui onion paos, basil paos, sun-dried tomato paos, and cracked pepper paos. Plus, about ten more. I just couldn't decide. So ordered a dozen.

I sat in the sunlight and bit slowly into each little pao, savoring the taste, and the light, lovely texture. How could I not love something packed with cheese, crispy on the outside, then wonderfully chewy inside? Especially when it was gluten-free.

Sigh. I could eat paolitos every day. Why does Puff and Pao have to be so far away?

I guess that just means another trip to New York soon.

Puff and Pao
105 Christopher Street
212-633-PUFF (7833)



babycakes outside IV

I'm so glad that Erin McKenna followed that winding path, following the fervor of needing a memorable gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free cupcake. If she hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to eat at Babycakes.

Babycakes is simply the best little bakery I have ever stood inside. Tiny as a mini-muffin, Babycakes is just around the corner from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, on Broome Street. It makes sense that Ms. McKenna opened her daring little bakery in this neighborhood, historically the land of immigrants and enormous hopes. (And also some of the best food in New York.)

It's an improbable story. Told three years ago that she can no longer eat gluten or dairy, Ms. McKenna decided to cut out sugar as well. Most of America, of course, would immediately cry: "What else is there to eat?" Well, so much more. Determined to still eat comfort foods after a lifetime of birthday parties and baking with her mother, this feisty young woman started experimenting with agave nectar and cold-pressed coconut oil as ingredients. A whiz in the kitchen, she impressed her friends with how genuinely fabulous it all tasted. And thus, a bakery was born.

Ah, but not so easy. The loan she tried to take out for her small business fell through. And even though the little shop is no bigger than a thimble, really, this is still Manhattan. So she and her co-workers have been pulling twelve-hour days, working for little pay, and essentially just praying that people will come in.

People are coming in.

When I was there with my friends Monica and Gabe, people strolled and sauntered into the place at a steady pace. And how could they resist? The place is just so darned adorable -- there's no other word for it. There's a certain kitschy, girly sensibility to the bakery. The women behind the counter wear pink, candy-striper aprons. The walls are a pleasing pastel palette. And everywhere are nostalgic signs from the 1950s, talking about frosting shots and the inability to please everyone.

As an indpendent woman in 2006, I feel blessed that I have choices that my grandmother and mother never had. They were obligated to be in the kitchen, cooking away all day. But me? I choose it. I have that luxury. For me, the signs and sensibilities of Babycakes were a way of paying homage to that generation, winking at them as we bake.

The morning I was in Babycakes was magic. After a brittle cold winter week, we had a warm Saturday morning. Everyone who walked into the bakery began smiling. I have to say, though, I'm sure that the enveloping smell of warm chocolate cake and tart lemon cupcakes mingling in the air enticed the smiles to emerge. Everything smelled wholesome and decadent at the same time.

We ordered a chocolate chip cookie and two cupcakes. Somehow, we resisted the gooey chocolate cake resting on the top of the counter. I had to take a photograph and let that take the place of throwing my mouth down and gobbling it all up in one bite. I restrained myself. But it smelled that good.

My friends and I walked out of the store, and into the sunlight. We took photographs on the sidewalk and laughed at ourselves. We bit down into our treats and murmured about their goodness. The cookie was crisp and thin, filled with oozing chocolate. And the cupcakes? Well, since I had already been to another gluten-free bakery that morning with my friends, and I was headed for a plane that afternoon, I let Monica take them home instead of eating them on the spot.

She reported joy upon eating them.

I ate well and gluten-free in a number of places in New York during my whirlwind eating tour. But in the end, I like Babycakes best. I only wish that I lived in the neighborhood, so I could visit its warmth more often. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and I want to support my sisters. But it’s clear that these women are — in spite of the money worries, the small space, and the tremulous feeling of the unknown — having a great time. And in the end, isn’t that what we hope to do when we make food? Make a mouthful of joy for someone.

Give me a Babycakes over a Starbucks any day.

248 Broome Street
between Ludlow and Orchard



Volterra wine

Last evening, my dear friend Meri and I stumbled on a spectacular restaurant, all because the Indian restaurant we thought we wanted to visit was too full. As we wandered in the cold— fresh from a long walk around Greenlake in the blustery wind — searching for somewhere to eat in suddenly trendy Ballard on a Saturday night, I remembered a piece I had read in a newspaper this summer. “Hey, I think there’s a new Italian restaurant down this street. I seem to remember something about the couple who run it once living in Tuscany. Wanna try it?”

Ah, Volterra. Ah, the food.

We ate well. To start, a warm prawn and roasted fennel salad: enormous prawns sauteed in garlic; slivers of fennel; lamb’s ear lettuce; mandarin slices; a light champagne vinaigrette; spicy green olives with an unusual bite. Meri ordered a warm lentil and pork jowl salad. Never in my life did I think I could write this sentence honestly: I just love pork jowl. Before you protest, imagine this: thin, crackling slices of the essence of bacon taste, crunching among tiny brown lentils, along with small shreds of radicchio and arugula. Ah, the taste of it. Meri and I both just kept looking at each other, smiling and amazed, then diving our forks back into the pile of lentils before us.

In between dishes, we sipped on our wine. The wine list featured wines from all over Tuscany — including the “Supertuscans” — with some far out of my price range. The one we ordered was, admittedly, the cheapest one on the list. However, I certainly didn’t feel deprived. We drank a spicy, full-bodied blend of Washington-grown Shiraz, Cabernet, and Merlot, blended specficially for this restaurant. If you don’t know about the power of Eastern Washington wines, you should try some. I don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to talk about wine well; I just know what I like. And this wine, I liked. Enormous personality, full in the mouth, and it simply deepened with every new dish. Or, as Meri said, about twenty times throughout the night, “Oh my god, the wine.”

And then, the entrees. By the time they arrived, Meri and I were already in ecstasies, but we simply weren’t prepared. She had the wild boar tenderloin with a gorgonzola sauce and sauteed rapini. Apparently, it was tender and not-at-all gamey. Judging from her little moans and sudden inability to listen to anything I had to say, I’m guessing it was ineffably good. However, I didn’t do that much talking, because my prawn and porcini risotto, with cream and lobster sauce, made me incapable of speaking. Oh lord — this was good. Every bite indelible, every spoonful a pleasure, every taste a measure of just how good food can be.

You may have noticed this: I don’t write about restaurants often on this site. For one, I don’t eat in restaurants that often, since I had to learn how to live gluten-free. Eating in restaurants is always a risky endeavor, and most of the time, I’m not willing to take the risk. Sometimes, I eat in places where I know I’m going to be safe: my favorite Indian restaurant; sushi when I bring my own bottle of wheat-free tamari; salads with friends for lunch. Nothing much to write about there, though. I want to only recommend a restaurant to those of you reading here if I feel like it’s spectacular.

Volterra is spectacular, not only for the fresh, creative food — an exquisite blending of the best of Tuscany and the Pacific Northwest — but also for the way they treated me when I told them I cannot eat gluten. Our wonderfully flamboyant waiter (Paul from Seville) understood me immediately when I explained my plight. He already knew about celiac disease, but he still went back three times to the kitchen to insure that flour didn’t lurk somewhere in places that neither one of us expected it. Later, he brought over one of the owners, the wonderfully voluble Michelle, who chatted with me about gluten-free food. She truly impressed me with how much she already knew. Later, Paul informed me that the chef wanted me to know that they keep Tinkyada pasta in the kitchen, in case any gluten-free customer wants to try one of the incredible pasta dishes. That’s a good restaurant — trying to keep every customer satisfied and safe.

Since that first meal, I have returned to Volterra dozens and dozens of times. The owners, Don and Michelle, have become friends of ours. (The Chef wasn't in my life when I first visited Volterra, but he has been back with me nearly every time since.) And, in perhaps the best meal we ever shared, Don and Michelle roasted a local lamb in fennel pollen for our wedding.

I could not recommend a restaurant more highly.

Volterra Restaurant
5411 Ballard Ave Northwest
Seattle Washington 98107


Madwoman foods pizza

Madwoman pizza

I do like these little gluten-free frozen pizzas I ate tonight. Made by Madwoman Foods (and you have to love that name), these pizzas are made from organic ingredients, the freshest foods, then shipped out with a little cold pack inside. And they’re great. They taste like real cheese, fresh spices, a rush of old pizza memories coming back. And they weren’t the memories of frozen pizza from when I was a kid. I recommend them to you. And the little tea cakes they make, to which I’ve grown a little addicted, especially the chocolate orange cakes. These are especially good, and made with ghee, so people who are lactose intolerant could have these cakes as well. I love supporting small companies who are trying to do right in the world. I hope you do too.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wusthof knives


It was like falling in love at first sight. I held it in my hand, and I never wanted it to leave. It just felt good. Heavy, but not burdensome. Whole and solid and perfect. Holding it, and then chopping some potatoes with it, I knew that I needed to own it. Why look further when you’ve already found it? I trust my gut. I bought the Wusthof knife.

I took it home and looked at it. Took pictures of it. Slid it in and out of its cover and listened to the sword-like tzwing sound it made when it emerged from its shell. At first, I didn’t want to use it. It’s so pretty. But then, I broke that barrier and started chopping.

Here’s a friendly warning for you, if you’re planning on buying yourself a really good knife (and you should. You really should.): respect the knife. When I started slicing vegetables, I was in awe of the knife. I’ve never chopped so slowly in my life. Everything simply fell into small slices and tender nibbles without the least bit of trouble from me. Eager to cut and chop and dice and slice, I took every vegetable I had in the house, and watched it transform into magic under my hands. I was mindful and kind and watching and alive. It felt good. The minestrone soup that grew from a mound of vegetables filled me, entirely.

But let me tell you, I’m not going to take that knife for granted. It’s a beautiful knife. Whisper sharp and gleaming in the dark night kitchen. I plan on owning this one for at least another decade. And I can’t wait to eat all the meals that will appear, underneath my hands.


Le Creuset cookware

Le Creuset

The week after I broke my foot, I bought myself a tiny little Le Creuset pot. For years, I have been coveting this cookware. It's cast iron covered by enamelware, and it's beautiful. My dear friend Tita received a set for her wedding, over twenty-five years ago, and she's still using it on a nearly daily basis. I'm not married, and there's no one in sight. So waiting for a wedding to receive some Le Creuset seems terribly far away. Hell with the wedding. I bought myself some. Of course, I could only afford the mini cocotte, which fits into the palm of my hand. But it was enough. I roasted garlic in it and wrote about it happily, back in November.

Well, here's where the secret comes in. You see, someone (who shall remain nameless) read that little joyful post of mine, and decided to take fate into her own hands. My fairy godblogger, without my knowing it, sent that little post to the people at Le Creuset. She told them about my gluten-free exploits, how I've been extolling the virtues of cooking at home, and specifically, how much I love Le Creuset. They read it, liked my site, and agreed with her. I needed some more pots and pans.

And so, dear readers, this is how an entire set of Le Creuset, gorgeous and shining twilight blue, showed up on my doorstep last week. Out of the air, just before the holidays, unbidden, and glorious. My gleaming metal kitchen shelves are now festooned with the most beautiful cookware I have ever owned.

I've just been bursting with joy ever since.


Silverlake Farmers' Market

Vietnamese soy cafe

I can’t visit a city without visiting a farmers’ market. Just down from Madame Matisse was the block-long Silverlake Farmers’ Market. Small in comparison to my local stomping grounds (Ballard or the University Farmers’ Market), this one was still sweet. Even sweeter for being in the middle of LA, somehow. Sharon stocked up on fresh corn and flowers. And I stopped to sample fresh bean curd at the Vietnamese Soy Cafe stall. Wow. I’d never tasted such supple, subtle bean curd, lightly flavored with ginger. I thought about ordering a glass of pennywort juice, since the woman running the stall told me it would clear out every toxin. But in the end, I chose more toxins: Vietnamese coffee, with sweet condensed milk. Ah, a small slathering of heaven.

Every Saturday from 8am-1pm
3700 Sunset Blvd
Between Edgecliffe Dr & Maltman Ave (intersection of Griffith Park Blvd)
For more info, call (323) 661-7771


Madame Matisse

spinach omelette at Madame Matisse

During my visit to Los Angeles, Sharon and Matt and I went to one of their favorite breakfast places, Madame Matisse. A tiny sliver of a restaurant on a corner of Sunset, this French bistro-style place had a red and white awning and little tables outside. Since this was November in Los Angeles, the air was about 74 degrees. Of course we’d sit outside.

In the middle of the menu, I found what I wanted, immediately. An omelette, with spinach, mushrooms, goat cheese, and salmon. Sharon had one too, but with asparagus instead of spinach. Matt ordered the meat and cheese extravaganza. We sat and chattered happily, watching the hipsters go by, discussing the previous night’s show, sipping our coffee eagerly. The food arrived, and we all dug in. Not extraordinary. Just damned good. Everything fresh, again.

And by this time, we were so hungry that I almost forgot to take a picture of it.

Madame Matisse
3536 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake


Angelina Osteria

warm octopus salad

I wanted to give my dear friend Sharon a birthday present. What else could I give her but food? I decided, spontaneously, to treat her out to a lavish dinner at one of the best places in Los Angeles. (Well, the best within our price range.) But which restaurant? She likes one called Blair’s, in Silverlake, but it didn’t open for dinner until 6. And we had to be eating at 5:30, in order to make it on time to Matt’s sketch-comedy show at the Friars’ Club in Beverly Hills. (Yes, I do have a strange life.) Well, we consulted a charming guide book called Eat. Shop. LA, written by a charming woman from Portland, who writes a series of Eat. Shop guides for major cities on the West Coast. I love the Seattle book, so when I saw a copy of the LA guide at the Casbah, I convinced Sharon to grab it. After much consultation, and staring at the photographs of the food, we chose Angelina Osteria, ostensibly because the writer explained that her pickiest food friend in LA liked only one restaurant, and this was the one. How could we resist?

When I called in the early afternoon to make a reservation, the woman on the phone announced cheerfully, “I’ve got nothing open tonight.” Nothing? Not even at 5:30? Maybe she heard the disappointment in my voice and took pity, because after a beat, she said, “Okay, if you arrive exactly at 5:30, we’ll fit you in.” Hurrah!

And hurrah it was, because this was an extraordinary meal. Angelina Osteria is a warm, Tuscan place, with exquisite food based on what is fresh and in season. So many choices, including gluten-free choices. I told our ridiculously handsome Italian waiter that I couldn’t eat anything with gluten in it, and he looked a little confused, but we made our way through it. How to choose? Luckily, Sharon and I are sharers. Our entire time of knowing each other, 23 years now, we innately decide to order two separate meals and split them down the middle. So that night, we ordered two appetizers:

warm octopus salad on a bed of arugula, with baby cherry tomatoes (pictured above)

braised artichoke hearts with garlic, olive oil, and parsley

By the time these had arrived, Sharon and I were already wonderfully happy. To be in such a place, together, unexpectedly. And then we tasted our food.

“Oh god,” Sharon moaned. “This is really good. You have to try it now.”

She was right. The artichokes were deeply flavored, perfectly tender. And the octopus was better than I had ever eaten before, not a touch of rubber eraser texture to it. We ate a few bites each, then traded plates, back and forth, until we had cleaned our plates entirely. I would have licked up the artichoke marinade if I could have.

And the entrees?

warm duck breast with balsamic vinegar, with a side of perfectly sauteed spinach

seared ahi tuna drizzled with parsley pesto, with a side of eggplant and wild mushrooms

Everything tasted wonderfully fresh, the textures outrageously dense and light at the same time, in season, just picked, made for us. We couldn’t stop cooing over our food.

And dessert? Ah, dessert. Well, Sharon had a simple panna cotta, topped with a raspberry. The best one she’s ever eaten outside of Italy, she said. And I had three small scoops of vanilla gelato, with a perfectly pulled espreso poured on top. We didn’t talk for awhile. We even stopped sharing. We just leaned over our food and ate intently. My god.

We walked out onto Beverly Boulevard, happy and humming.

Angelina Osteria
7313 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036


the Cheese Store of Silverlake

The Cheese Store of Silverlake

Later, after strolling through small stores with hip clothes, intriguing antiques, and startling window displays, Sharon and I felt a bit peckish again. And she was eager to share her favorite food store with me. The Cheese Store of Silverlake is stocked from floor to ceiling with gorgeous gourmet foods from around the world. Vosges chocolates. Arborio rice from Italy. Apricot toffee. A local candy maker called The Little Flower Candy Company that makes sea salt caramels, vanilla caramels, and (my favorite) cinnamon-sugar marshmallows. Ah. Barrels of olive oils. Persimmons. And then, the cheeses. Sharon and I bought two small slices of two cheeses, each. I found some Drunken Goat, from Spain, which I simply adore, and Sharon had never tasted it before. She wanted me to try the Bar Durro, a hard cheese with a nutty quality. We stocked up on little gifts of food for ourselves, and we nibbled on them all weekend.

3926-28 West Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90029


the Casbah Cafe


Sharon lives in Silverlake, just off Sunset. The hipster capital of the world, seemingly. Everywhere slouched tremendously slender young men and women, dressed in thigh-hugging pants, holey shirts that probably cost a hundred dollars, gigantic sunglasses, soft-soled shoes, and fabulously dissheveled hair. Oh my. And of course, everyone looked tremendously bored, suffering for perpetual ennui. All the while they furtively worked on screenplays, or talked to their agents on their cell phone. Ah, LA.

But one of the best parts about Silverlake is the Casbah Cafe. A small corner store on Sunset, this place is cool without trying too hard to be so. The back half of the shop is filled to the brim with Moroccan shirts, yerba mate cups, and glittery pink slippers. Filled with light and slow moving, the Casbah feels like an oasis of sanity in the midst of the throngs pressing against the inevitablity of aging and not being famous, just outside.

And their coffee is pretty great. That’s saying something for a Seattle girl in Los Angeles.

Since Sharon and I woke up late enough Friday morning (after talking and laughing well into the night on Thursday) that breakfast had blurred into lunch, we walked straight to Casbah. And even though the menu, written on the glass cases filled with dates and olive breads, was mostly off limits to me, I found what I wanted pretty quickly. A sweet corn salad, with black, wrinkled olives, fresh tomatoes, and tuna. It arrived in an enormous bowl, mounded with vegetables and a light vinaigrette that danced on my tongue. With the sunlight filtering through the bamboo blinds, and Sharon across from me, this was a deeply satisfying meal.

3900 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2242
Phone: (323) 664-7000


pomegranate molasses

pomegranate molasses

Okay, maybe the entire foodie community has already discovered pomegranate molasses, long ago. But it just started creeping into my consciousness. Molly mentioned that she had carried a jar back from Manhattan on one of her last jaunts. Hm, if it’s that special, why am I not eating it? I noticed it in scrumptious-looking recipes in Cooking Light. I usually quite like their recipes. What did they know that I don’t know? And finally, after my foot had been broken, my friend Dorothy brought me a little jar of the elixir. She had been so obsessed with the idea of cooking with it that she had bought a jar online, probably for ridiculous prices. How kind of her to share with me. She’s like that, Dorothy.

So I dipped my little finger into the dark liquid, and sipped from its tip. A wave of that tangy, assertive sweetness from pomegranate seeds, followed by the dark allure of molasses. Bright and alive, no blandness here. And it lingered, long after I had sucked the last dregs from my finger. I knew right then that I had to cook with it.


Cafe Flora

polenta at Cafe Flora

When I find a restaurant where I can eat, with no fears of growing sick, I’m overjoyed. It felt almost impossible for awhile.

In June, after four months of not eating anything outside of the house, my dear friend Meri took me to Cafe Flora for dinner. We sat in the back, near the large windows pouring forth the light of late spring. Outside, a little courtyard, with Tibetan prayer flags stretched between the trees, waving in the breeze.

I had been there before, in years past, for family brunches, and the occasional lunch. It’s a vegetarian/vegan gourmet restaurant, with an open space for seating, including one large side room with a burbling fountain. I always liked the peaceful feeling of the place, but I mostly remembered eggs. Before, I had not thought of it when friends wanted suggestions as to where to eat.

But Meri had read somewhere that Cafe Flora was friendly to gluten-free diners, so she suggested we try it. She was about to leave for New York, and I was about to finish school for the year. Time for a celebration.

Our waiter came to the table with menus, filled our water glasses, and left. I opened my menu, then I nearly fainted. Behind the descriptions of nearly half the menu items, I saw this: (gluten-free). What? Oh my god. A restaurant where the waiters not only know what gluten is, but also care enough to label it for me? And the food isn’t merely a small salad with no dressing, and a piece of plain meat? I couldn’t believe my eyes. I really did start to cry, a little.

And then, when the meals arrived, I could only moan. Roasted polenta with spicy tomato sauce. Gorgeous cheeses. And a creme brulee creamy-crunchy-sweet enough to make me break down and weep. Truly great food, not rushed or thoughtless, not something I could have made myself, but truly great food, gluten-free, made for me.

And as an unexpected benefit, Meri treated me to the entire meal. What more could a gluten-free girl want?

Cafe Flora
2901 East Madison Street
Seattle, WA 98112


Caffe Fiore

Caffe Fiore

I adore Caffe Fiore, so I knew this coffee would be good. Roasted in Seattle, in small batches, this coffee plays on the tongue and dances down the gullet. I’ve been drinking it for years, stumbling on it when I first returned to Seattle from New York. Drinking my first cup of it was like hearing small voices singing in my ear: “Welcome back!” And it turns out that the parent of one of my students years ago started the comapny, so sometimes I’d walk into my office, suddenly especially awake, to find a pound of coffee sitting on my desk. Also, Hans the Swiss man uses Fiore in his lovely coffee shop, Arosa. So having a Fiore spot near my home was reason enough to feel happy.

Everything in the shop is organic: the coffee; the whipping cream; the chocolate. Numi teas have a delicate taste, not the pounding-down too much of most American teas. Dagoba chocolates are some of my favorites, especially the lime and cherry, and they’re stamped gluten-free on the back. Even the syrups used to flavor the coffee are gluten-free. Apparently, Monin experimented with making batches of organic syrups, but they didn’t sell because of the extra cost. The owner told me that he found out the stash of organic syrups were sittting in a warehouse in Florida, and he bought up the lot. The milk for the coffee drinks is hormone free, but customers have to ask for the organic because it is quite a bit more expensive. But it’s there, in the refrigerator.

This place excites me. Not only because the coffee tastes damned good and they have gluten-free treats. But also because I believe so deeply in organic foods, in authentic tastes, and in people who start small businesses with the idea that they’d like to do something right in the world.

And they sell gluten-free baked goods.

I'm happy to have this place be my neighbor.

Queen Anne: 224 W Galer St, Seattle (206) 282-1441
Ballard/Sunset Hill: 3125 NW 85th St, Seattle (206) 706-7580
Old Ballard: 5405 Leary Ave NW, Seattle


Pioneer Organics

Pioneer Organics delivery

Just after I stopped eating gluten, I started receiving a big, brown box of organic produce on my doorstep every other Tuesday morning. Pioneer Organics is a wonder, one of my favorite parts of living in Seattle. They bring me always-organic, usually local, and just-in-season produce. Right now, my kitchen is filled with sunlight and possibilities of meals all week long. The quality is extraordinary. I'm never disappointed. And it lands on my doorstep.


Sur la Table

Sur La Table will steal your money. Oh, I suppose it isn’t really stealing, since you hand over your credit card to them. But this exquisite cooking store is designed so nicely, nicely enough to make you wander through the shelves with your mouth hanging open in amazement.

Le Creuset cookware. Pasta makers from Italy. Large plates in vivid jewel tones. Garlic presses. Espresso machines. Pepper grinders. Walls of cookbooks. Silpats. Kitchen-Aid food processors....Okay, I’m out of breath just thinking about it.

The people who work there are wonderfully knowledgeable and low-key Seattle. They don’t bob around you, saying, “Can I help you? Can I?” But when you have a question, they know. They’re all cooks and gourmets.

My dream is to someday own every single thing in Sur La Table. That’s why I consider myself lucky that today I walked out with only: a new plate, saucer, and bowl; a Zyliss food chopper; a ravioli press; and a Jamie Oliver cookbook.

I can only go in so often.



DeLaurenti’s is a gourmet, gluten-free girl’s dream. Stuffed with unusual foods, expensive olive oils, and more luxuries that will soon become basics than any place I have ever been, DeLaurenti’s always tempts me. As I walked by with some friends today, they suggested we stop in. “Oh no,” I said. “We have to eat lunch first. If I go in there hungry, I spend $140 without even thinking about it.”


El Puerco Lloron

Down the hill from the Market proper, on the Pike Street Hillclimb, El Puerco Lloron is a little gem you might easily miss. Look for the brass pig in front.

When we first walked in, I noticed the young Mexican woman behind the counter, pulling off a mass of dough from her pile of fresh masa, pressing them into the tortilla press, and flipping them on the griddle, methodically. “Hey, I did that yesterday!” I thought, then pointed out to my friends. Of course, hers were much more even.

It’s an unpretentious place, with wobbly tables and a breeze blowing through the windows. As someone had written in the newspaper review tacked up on the wall, it’s like a little cantina on a border town. Ten choices, all with warm corn tortillas.

I had the biscet de pollo, which was grilled chicken in a spicy red sauce, with fluffy rice and pinto beans. And a Jarritos lemon-lime soda. And I’m guessing that wheat flour has never touched the place. I was beaming with the good food, knowing I wasn’t going to get sick.


Ener-G foods sesame pretzels


Just after I went gluten-free, I bought a package of these at Fred Meyer, along with a dozen other packages of gluten-free foods in their impressive little section. Afterwards, on the way to the Flying Apron bakery to buy some gluten-free treats, I was stuck for a long time at a stoplight. Impatient and a little hungry, I rustled around in the shopping bag on the seat to my right and grabbed out the small bag and opened it. Tentatively, of course.

The first gluten-free replacement foods I tried at first were a little dusty, a little dry, a little disappointing. And I love pretzels. So I popped one in my mouth, determined to set my face with false appreciation and reassure myself, “Oh, this won’t be so bad.” I wish I had a picture of my face in that moment. Pure, joyful surprise.

Small and studded with sesame seeds, these pretzels are better than replacements. They’re fabulous. In fact, at this point, after having eaten, oh, say forty bags of them, I can say this safely: these are my favorite pretzels of all time. No exceptions.


Ballard farmers' market

Ballard farmers' market glorious

The Ballard Farmers' Market is one of the wonders of Seattle--the weekly farmers’ markets. Nearly every neighborhood in Seattle has one running, from May to October. On Sundays, several streets in Ballard are blocked off to traffic. White flags wave in the breezes. People stroll with dogs and kids, everybody smiling. And there are thirty or forty booths, filled with fresh rasberries, spicy arugula, golden beets, and goat cheeses. Hippie-looking women sell hand-crafted candles and pink sandstone jewelry. And there are hot crepes, pizza slices from brick ovens, and sauteed Asian vegetables. Men with long hair talk philosophically with their short-haired girlfriends. And everyone looks like they live in Seattle: little makeup, fresh-scrubbed faces, wide-open glances, dressed in environmentally friendly clothes, and kind. Sometimes, a little insufferable with how earnest they are trying to be. But the peaches are so juicy that they drip down my fingers when I eat them. The blueberries burst open. And the bing cherries taste sweeter because I know this is the last week of the year I can have them. I came home with a bag full of fresh fruit, a handmade blue cheese, and a bouquet of sunflowers. You have to come see it for yourself.

So this afternoon, for lunch, I had a giant salad made entirely of fresh greens and local produce. Arugula, sliced French radishes, ripe avocado, soft goat cheese, kalamata olives, some fresh lemon juice, and olive oil. And sea salt. I also had a dash of that on the organic corn on the cob I ate, with just a touch of clarified butter.

Anyone who complains about the gluten-free diet needs to come to my house in the summer. This is about abundance, not being denied. I've never eaten so well in my life.


Central Market

Central Market

Once I realized that it was just a giant grocery store, and not an entire city of food, the way it had been described, I calmed down and started shopping. In the bakery section, I ran to a refrigerator unit that stood under an enormous, dangling sign: "Vegan and Gluten-Free Desserts!" My god, has the world morphed into a gluten-free one for my benefit? Most the desserts were merely vegan, but they did have a good supply of Flying Apron bakery goods. I love their work, but I can buy them in Fremont.

The grocery store part of the store really is just ordinary. They don't even have any gluten-free cereals! However, they have an extraordinary array of Asian foods, rivalled only stores in the International District here. I saw an en enormous pickled radish the size of a small baseball bat, flourescent yellow and shrink wrapped in the refrigerated section. It frightened and fascinated me. And I did buy some edamame from China that I cooked today.

But the shining glory of the place, and why I'll go back, is the produce section. An entire warehouse of organic fruit and vegetables. And not just the ordinary ones, or the ones we consider exotic at other stores. Mizuna leaves. Thai eggplants. Dark green leafy plants I had never heard of, and no idea how to cook them. (If you'd like to see more photos of the fruit, take a look at my flickr account.) A jolly man was dispensing bites of fruit at its peak, and I happened by as he was handing out golden cherry tomatoes. I don't even like those in any other time of the year, but I raced to the part of the produce section for an abundant pint of them.

I went home happy.


Vignalta sea salt

sea salt

A note about sea salt. I'm a raving loonie when it comes to this stuff. It's only in the last year that I even ventured into the expensive bottles of salt area of the store. I'll never go back to regular salt again. Twice the flavor with half the sodium. It makes all foods pop out. My latest find is the one pictured here: Vignalta from Venice. Buy it. You won't believe how good it is.


cookbook: Splendid Grains

During my brief jaunt to Port Townsend (more on this later), I found a copy of The Splendid Grain. Splendid it is. Written by Rebecca Field, an obviously thoughtful writer on whole foods, it's bursting with brilliant ideas on how to cook with the unusual grains. Translation: the gluten-free grains. Yes, there is one section of the book that will remain pristine and stain free in my kitchen: wheat, barley, rye, and oats. But everything else is safe. And everything sounds delicious.

Can you taste these?

Strawberry and Blue Corn Waffles
Southwestern Cheese Sandwiches with Sweet and Hot Pepper Sauce
Quinoa Tarts with Kiwi Sauce
Jicama and Buckwheat Salad


This is one of the parts I love best about this diagnosis and the gluten-free life I'm living now: the constant discovery. I can't eat gluten, but I'm gobbling up knowledge. Ravenously. I can't stop trying new recipes, far more daring concoctions than my old standbys. I've always been a good cook, but before my diagnosis, I was eating the same, plodding meals, over and over. Not anymore.

And there's something deeply satisfying about exploring grains and foods from around the world, learning about the history of tef in Ethiopia. (Fascinating.) Somehow, this feels like honoring the experience of people other than Americans. And I'm happy to do that, protesting narrow-mindedness by eating. My favorite form of social protest, actually.

Given how much I adore food, I love that my new life means that I'll soon be eating popped amaranth for breakfast or making tef flour in my coffee grinder. Never could you have told me that this would be my life.


cardamom chai cupcakes from Flying Apron Bakery

cardamom chai cupcake

The Flying Apron Bakery
— a small, local bakery in Seattle, run by a father and daughter team. A few years ago, they started making vegan treats, most of them gluten-free, out of a little space underneath Cedars restaurant. Lines started to form. Even before I had given up gluten, I used to stop for their tahini cookies after my stroll around the University Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings. Now, they make baked goods at their warm and inviting cafe in Fremont. And some of the best coffee shops in town carry their cookies and bars, which is a wonderful surprise when I wander in for a soy chai.

I recommend these, entirely. Well, they could probably use a tad more xantham gum, as the goods grow too dry and flaky pretty quickly. (That is, to be honest, probably because of the lack of dairy.) But, if you buy it the day they make it, there's no mistaking it for anything other than what it is: a damned fine baked good treat.