had forgotten how much I love cooking.
For the past few years, I haven’t been able to dig my hands into the meals I make. Pain kept me on the couch, headaches sapped my energy to create new ideas, and the weight of all these injuries and fatigue made me reach, wearily, for tv dinners and bland snacks. More and more, I ate out for good food, and I drained my bank account in the process. Food tasted duller than I remembered it from years before. I used to LOVE food. But for the past three years, food has been a means to an end, instead of the joy it used to be.
But now, taste trickles along my tongue, then explodes in depth I had never expected. All I wanted was to lose the pain in my abdomen, the daily headaches, the weird rashes, the joint pain, the dozen niggling problems that have annoyed me for decades. And I have. Five weeks out, and I already feel better than I ever have in my life. But I had no idea just how much taste I would gain.
More and more, I realize that this journey is not about dealing with loss. It’s about the abundance of life that has suddenly opened up to me. I’m discovering more than I ever dreamt possible from food.
Food is the stuff of life. And we are, quite literally, what we eat. We like to forget this. We gorge ourselves on bad fast food, go hours without eating for fear of gaining an ounce, and constantly doubt our own judgments about what to eat. More and more, I realize that Americans eat with guilt, denial, a sense of shame, and a feeling that they’re putting tab A into slot B. Where is the sensory pleasure? Why do we eat while driving? While watching the television? While arguing with our families? No wonder we are all so overweight and running out of breath. We have forgotten the ineffable pleasure of simply eating.
This diagnosis has brought me food again. I’m cooking nearly every night, because the new energy surging through me keeps me dancing before the stove. I’m roasting peppers, making homemade guacamole with cumin and cayenne pepper, mixing up hummus with kalamata olives and fresh basil. On Sunday, I concocted a sesame/tamari/sherry marinade for salmon the next day. Now there was a complexity of flavors in one inhale. I baked a pan of truffle brownies (Gluten-Free Pantry brand), which rose to chewy chocolate perfection. And a loaf of bread from the Gluten-Free Pantry Country Bread and Pizza Mix. And hot damn if it wasn’t good. And I mean good. It was dense and airy at the same time, had a heft to it without feeling like a brick, and had such a wonderful crust that I knew I had real toast in my future. We celebrated in the kitchen together.
By we, I mean my friends Meri and Jessica and I. This new life of food has brought me closer to people. Jessica suspects she has celiac too, so she has stopped eating gluten too. The three of us went to the Fremont PCC together, and spent a full hour slowly perusing the shelves and savoring the smells. Someday soon, I’ll write about how much I love this chain of co-op stores here in Seattle, a simple nirvana for those of us who love organic foods and gluten-free goodies. But suffice it to say that I love Sundays now, because I gather the day around shopping, chopping, and simmering food for the week. There’s something deeply meditative about clearing the kitchen and chopping onions, washing lettuce, and putting everything into clear tupperware containers so I can open the refrigerator and throw together meals at a moment’s notice after a day at school. On a simple, profound level, I just feel good in the kitchen.
And now, on Sundays, I’ve invited friends over to help me. We buy vegetables and fruit, split them up, and cook food together. We support each other, laugh as we chop, listen to Stevie Wonder and move our hips. I feel like I have this community of women, who have always been near me, now working together to make food. Once again I realize that the old ways are the best. And over and over, I’m realizing that I’m not really on a search for the closest substitutes I can find to the old foods. Instead, I’m realizing just how many of the foods I already love are naturally gluten free. And I revel in them, fully.
I was reminded of all this (and thus thinking about it all day) from a wonderful cooking class I took last night at the PCC in Greenlake. Gloriously Gluten-Free, it was billed, and that it was. Fifteen of us gathered at low tables already outfitted with plates and glasses. And we watched in the mirror above the burners as Yvonne cooked us food. If you don’t know her already, Yvonne is the founder of Glutenfreeda, one of my new favorite websites. I’ve been cruising through it for weeks, and I subscribed to it the first time I saw it. You should too.
But I didn’t know that she was going to cooking for us. I learned so much that I cannot possibly encapsulate it here. But here are the main highlights:
–She suggested to us that we use the Gluten-Free Pantry country bread and pizza mix as our basic flour. After years of experimenting and mixing her own flours, she has decided that this is the only flour she needs. All throughout the class, we kept peppering her with questions: can you use it for gravy? pie crusts? birthday cakes? Yes, yes, yes. And she’s right. She made (and we ate): bruschetta on homemade crostini with tomato and basil; salmon-filled ravioli with roasted-pepper cream sauce; wild green salads with balsamic varnish; and flaky cornet cookies with whipped cream and fresh berries. YUM. Can I say it again? YUM. It’s far deeper than “It tasted just like regular flour.” It tasted better.
–I really loved being around other people who are eating gluten free. All the people there were open, talkative, kind, and alive. There were no pretensions or walls up. These were just good people, eager to share themselves and their experiences.
–I left the store at 9:30 pm, bouncing with energy and smiling wide. I adore how life evolves, constantly. You can never, ever predict where it’s all going. Two months ago, I had never even heard of celiac disease. And now, it’s guiding everything I do.
Life is good. Who needs gluten?