BANANA BREAD, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.
“I think I’m going to start up my own website,” Meri said to me at the end of the evening. “Friends of the gluten-free girl.” I laughed and handed her a big bag of fresh pasta salad to take home.
Thankfully, she joked about starting another website as a record of gratitude at being the recipient of all my food experiments. Come over to my house lately, and you’re going to eat. The kitchen will be cluttered with recently used dishes, and I probably didn’t have time to wipe down the counters before you come in the door. But something will be baking, the warmth emanating from the kitchen, drawing you up the stairs. And there is probably cheese already laid out, ready to gobble with gluten-free crackers. Bring a bottle of wine and stay all evening. You’re always welcome in my kitchen.
This evening, as per usual, tumbled into a living room full of people. Tuney and I had agreed to have coffee last week, on Sunday morning at 10, at my favorite little coffee shop on Queen Anne (I have to write more about that place later. Remind me, will you?). We said resolutely, as we parted ways, “Same time, same place, next week.” Well, at 9:30 yesterday morning, she called, and I jumped. Of course I had forgotten. I’ve been working on an important piece of writing, and all my forces were marshalled into its existence. “Oh Tuney, I’m sorry,” I spluttered, before I could hear that she had nearly forgotten as well. No big deal. That’s one of the things I love about Tuney. Nothing is ever a big deal. But I did invite her over for dinner this evening.
This afternoon, I sent the important piece of writing off in the mail. Elated, and at the outer edges of nervous, I needed to move. So I grabbed the bike and pedalled fast up the Burke-Gilman trail. The sun shone like porous tissue on my skin, and I was riding fast. I have to pedal harder when it’s early Michael Jackson on the headphones. And daily, almost hourly, I’m grateful for the discovery of this celiac diagnosis. For nearly two years, I could not have imagined the strength in my legs as I rode my bike this afternoon. Teaching a full day at school used to exhaust me, entirely. Now, I feel energized by life, instead of beaten down. And every day, I want to use my newfound body. I ride like the wind and grin as I do it.
Coming home, I planned a meal. Stopped at the PCC to marvel at the light coming through the windows. I bought some heirloom tomatoes, even though they are more expensive than the perfect red globes. Why? I sniffed the tops of the organic Northwest tomatoes, and they smelled faintly of plastic. No tomato smell at all. Even the good grocery stores have tomatoes running out of taste. What happened to our tastebuds? When did we become so purely visual instead? The heirlooms are fat and squishy, every one of them a different shape. Some starburst reds and yellows, some small and green. But all of them, at the top, where the leaves sprout out, smell peppery and biting, that sweet, sharp tomato smell. I grabbed two.
And came home to make pasta salad. Unintentionally, everything we ate tonight would have originally needed gluten. But I’ve hit a groove now. I wouldn’t even think of using regular flour. I never even look at it in the store. With Tinkyada pasta, why would I use anything else in a bag? So I piled in all the fresh vegetables I could find in the kitchen: crisp zucchini; sweet red and orange peppers cut into slivers; broccoli tops; chunky carrots; heirloom tomatoes, including cherry ones; fresh basil, which I tore by hand and threw in on top. Kalamata olives. Garlic-herb tofu. And a gorgeous nettle gouda I bought at the West Seattle farmers’ market yesterday. Toss it with a vinaigrette with shallots, good olive oil, and the tomato vinegar—watch the happiness spread.
So Tuney came over, arriving in that high, clear light the start of the evening brings, arriving ever earlier these days. It was dark by 9 pm tonight. Darn. We snacked on a wonderfully runny goat-cheese camembert, another cheese made by a local, artisan cheese maker that I bought at the farmers’ market. (What will I do without them when the summer ends? Those little collections of white-canopied stalls and friendly folks have become my grocery store. I’ll be so disappointed when they pack up until next May. Later. Later.) And as we ate, Tuney oohed in pleasure and said: “Well, no one could ever suggest that you’re deprived.”
She’s right. I’m certainly not deprived by eating gluten-free. In fact, I’m quite sure I’ve never eaten so well in my life.
And then Meri came in, out of breath and happy from walking up the hill. We chatted and ate basil hummus I threw together in the food processor. A bottle of wine opened, and we were happy.
Dorothy and David stopped by, just as we were finishing up the last of the pasta salad. More wine flowed. Gosh, if I had known I was going to have so many house guests, I definitely would have vacuumed the living-room rug.…
And of course, we talked about food. About how much easier it is when you do it every day, instead of thinking about it. About making jam, and using a mortar and pestle to grind spices, and how to bruise basil leaves, and the incredible taste of roasted garlic, and baking without a recipe. As Dorothy said, when you first start cooking, you’re tentative and follow every recipe to the letter. And then, you start throwing in spices, and dancing with ideas, and smell every step instead of checking the book. Let each recipe be a rough sketch and your hands fill in the outline.
Well, I must be feeling comfortable with gluten-free baking now, because I made banana bread from scratch, with some major diversions from the recipe below. Because of my trusty Kitchen-Aid (ah, now what would I do without it?), I can beat the butter, sugar, and eggs for five minutes, until they are whipped high and light. Everything tastes better when you begin with that. The recipe called for milk, but I had run out, so I used non-fat yogurt instead. It said four bananas, but I had five, and I like my banana bread to taste of bananas. And strangely, there are no spices besides vanilla in this one. And I’m a cinnamon girl. So I threw in clumps, with no thought of measuring spoons, and grated my own nutmeg into the mix. It turned out delicious. I’d porbably use less sugar next time, perhaps a touch of the chestnut honey instead. But everyone took a piece home willingly. And we forgot to remark on the fact that it was gluten-free. I guess that’s a given now.
So everyone left full. And I surveyed my kitchen happily, determined to do the dishes tomorrow. And tomorrow night, more friends over for food. Ah, this is the life.
BANANA BREAD, inspired by Karen Robertson’s Cooking Gluten-free
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
5 medium, ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 tablespoon non-fat, plain yogurt (I used Trader Joe’s French village yogurt)
2 cups of gluten-free flour mix
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
cinnamon and fresh nutmeg to taste
°Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a loaf pan.
° Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla in your best mixer, on high speed, until the mixture is light and pale.
°Beat in the eggs, one at a time, slowly.
°Mix the bananas, yogurt, and spices separately, until they are one mushy whole.
°In another bowl, blend the dry ingredients.
° Keep the mixer running all this time. You want that butter and eggs whipped up.
° Blend the dry ingredients into the wet ones, then add the bananas.
°Bake for one hour. It’s done when you can insert a knife or toothpick and it comes out clean. Cool it on a wire rack and keep your friends’ hands away from it until it’s no longer hot.