I remember the feeling clearly.
Newly diagnosed with celiac, I felt relieved that I had found the answer to what ailed my body. I felt determined to stick to this, to heal myself. I felt sort of giddy that I could grow well by eating good food, instead of enduring terrible treatments and a lifetime of drugs. Mostly, gratitude.
But I also felt a certain sadness. This wasn’t necessarily about the fact that I would never eat gluten again. I knew, in my gut, that I needed to avoid it. Immediately, baguettes and flapjacks started looking like attacks to my system. That part? With a little time, I could grow used to that.
The sadness stemmed from all the reading I did on the internet and guidebooks at the time (four years ago now), from a fact everyone seemed to insist upon: I would never eat in a restaurant again.
The cross-contamination issues are too dangerous. You don’t want to chance it. If you must eat in a restaurant, order a plain salad with no dressing. Order meat with no marinade, and no sides. Sit, politely, while everyone else enjoys her food and hope that you don’t grow sick.
You see, this is why I started cooking seriously, for the first time in my life. Why I started discovering so much about food, and loving it, and wanting to share. Why I started this site. I thought, “Okay, if I’m never going to eat in a restaurant again, I’d better learn how to make my meals worthy of my own attention.”
I had no idea where all this would lead.
I had no idea, in 2005, that I would meet a man who is a chef, that we would fall in love and marry each other, that he would turn his restaurant gluten-free for me (and feed hundreds and hundreds of people that way). Or that we would end up working together, at home, writing a cookbook with 100 gluten-free recipes good enough for a restaurant. Or — in the funniest coming full-circle swerve — we’d end up not going to restaurants that often because we can’t afford to, and also because we eat so well at home.
Sometimes people write to me and say, “Would you just stop talking about how happy you are, please?” (except they mostly don’t write please, so politely.)
My life went from deprivation to fullness. I was 39 when I met Danny, and I had given up on finding someone to love. And I married a chef, when I was convinced I would never eat in a restaurant again.
I certainly never thought we’d be in San Francisco together, eating prosciutto and melon ice cream.
Or that we would take our daughter to eat at Contigo, the dream-turned-delicious restaurant that Brett Emerson opened this year.
A few months after I began this site, and comments started coming in, I realized that I must have begun a food blog.
I had no idea. Really.
There weren’t that many food blogs in the spring of 2005, not the multiplied x5000 the way there are now. Nobody started a food blog to get a book deal. Most of us writing were just plain eccentric, enthusiastic eaters who had this weird habit of taking pictures of our food and writing about the people with whom we shared our meals.
And I didn’t even think I was one of those.
You see, I used to write really long emails. (“Scrollers,” my brother called them, because you’d have to hit the scroll bar so many times to reach the end of the missive.) In those days, I had no one else in the house with me, and hours to avoid grading papers. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and poured out all this energy to my friends’ inboxes. They gently complained. “Maybe you could put all these into one place, and we could read them at our leisure.” Someone told me about Blogger. I started an account.
That’s how this site began: as a place to leave my long letters to friends. And really, it still feels that way.
When first got a site meter, and figured out how to use it, I was excited to see that 56 people a day were reading my site. Then, I felt a little deflated when I realized that a full third of them were hits from the Middle East, people searching for “free girl.”
I’m pretty sure I was not what they were looking for.
(And really, it still feels to me most days that I’m writing for 56 people. I prefer it that way.)
When I realized I must be writing a food blog, I started gobbling up new sites. One of my favorites became Brett’s In Praise of Sardines. I loved Brett’s food sensibilities, his adventures in eating, his kind voice. And over the past four years, I have watched his life change dramatically, his daring grow, and his vision of a restaurant become a place where people eat meals they never forget.
So they we were, Danny and me, sitting at Contigo, with good friends, eating some of the best food of our lives. All of my bites were gluten-free, entirely. I didn’t worry, at all. Beside us sat Little Bean, eating anchovies, (she grinned wide), sardines, octopus, and calamari for the first time.
I certainly never thought that our daughter would fall in love with tripe. Her monkey did too.
For a moment, I sat back with tears in my eyes. Life has changed, so much.
Sitting at the table next to us were Elise and Jaden, two women whose work I have admired from afar for years. And here was Jaden, letting Little Bean butt heads with her, over and over again, as they giggled together.
You see, we were all in San Francisco two weekends ago for the first BlogHer Food conference, a gathering of 300 of the most ardent food bloggers you will ever meet. The day was full of squealing first meetings, incredible connections, sessions full of valuable information on photography and finding your voice, and laughter.
In one day, I met dozens and dozens of good people whose work I adore, as well as seeing again the people who have become some of my favorite beings in the world, all of whom I met through this stumble-upon food blog. (And I had to leave a lot of links out of that sentence, or it would have been 12 pages long.)
It was all a little dizzying.
Little Bean handled it all with more aplomb than anyone. She just loved everyone.
Everything about that conference was great. Well, except for the food.
You’ve probably already heard about this.The people in charge of the conference did a great job of planning it. Conference food always stinks, in my experience. You try feeding 300 people, all at the same time.
Still, it was pretty darned funny to watch Rocco DiSpirito in a tight nylon t-shirt, a mic attached on his arm, walking through the crowd like a sweaty motivational speaker, hawking frozen pasta meals to a room full of food bloggers. “Who in this room has the time to make every meal from scratch?” he asked at the beginning of lunch.
Um, Rocco? You’re taking to people who take photographs of their food and came to this conference to learn how to take better photographs of it. This probably isn’t your audience.
When most everyone raised her or his hand to that question, he looked at the sea of hands aghast. “Come on! No one here has jobs or kids?” At this, 3/4 of the crowd turned their backs on him and started talking to each other instead. Within minutes, the din of people ignoring him was nearly deafening.
As you can imagine, I couldn’t eat the frozen pasta meals. (Danny says I didn’t miss anything.) Before lunch, someone handed me a card that said “Gluten-free/vegan.” I was lucky. Many of the gluten-free bloggers never saw one. But because the hotel staff affiliated the two together, I had a lovely salad with anchovies, tuna, and hard-boiled egg snatched out of my hands and was given a plate of lettuce with no dressing instead. The “risotto” was made from long-grain rice, and mushier than a 7th-grade-girl’s idea of married life with that cute boy from Tiger Beat. I gave it all to Little Bean, and even she didn’t eat it all.
This meant that by 4 pm, with no food all day, I felt a little faint. We played hooky and walked down to Out the Door to order this giant container of pho. Considering what everyone at lunch was served, I probably got the best meal of anyone.
But that was the only dud of a meal the entire weekend. Here, we’re enjoying a lovely lunch with Heidi, Wayne, and Tea at Il Cane Rosso. (Oh, what a treat to have a leisurely meal after the mayhem of a full conference day, and with these wonderful people.) We ate great egg scrambles at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe — mine came with smoked whiskey and fennel sausage. There were salumi cones at Boccalone, bacon peanut brittle at Humphry Slocombe, and antipasti platters at Incanto. We certainly never went hungry.
(And if you’re noticing that there was a lot of pork in those meals, you’re right. We were lucky enough to be sponsored by the Pork Board to go to the conference, which we would not have been able to attend otherwise. They also sponsored us to try some of the best places serving pork in the Bay Area and write about it on our other blog, Pork Knife and Spoon, which we were hired to write for them. Come on over there if you want more recommendations of where to eat.)
On our last day there, wonderful Anita drove all of us, including marvelous Helen, out to Napa, for a quick tour of the best of the area. That meant we stopped in at the Rancho Gordo store, where we met Steve Sando himself, bought a bunch of heirloom beans, and admired these topographical fava beans from Peru.
We also stopped at the Oxbow Public Market, to gawk at the displays of heirloom tomatoes, gaze at rows of beautiful spices, and take a gander through every stall. Mostly, though, we were excited to visit Fatted Calf. (Dear Helen has written about this afternoon much better than I could.)
But for all of us, the highlight of the day was having lunch at Bouchon, one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, the relaxed French bistro of our dreams.
For the young single woman of 2005, scared she would never eat in a restaurant again, this was a dream never even imagined. There I was with my husband, and our daughter, two dear friends whom we met because of food blogs, eating great food, done just right.
And of course they were able to feed me gluten-free.
These are Bouchon’s frites — crisp, golden, still hot from the fryer. Only the frites are made in this fryer and so there is no cross-contamination, no fear that I would be getting gluten.
Oh, these tasted so good.
And they were Little Bean’s first taste of french fries. She approved.
After lunch, in a daze of full bellies and even-more-full hearts, we wandered into the sunshine. We stood there for a moment, content after a perfect meal. And then we walked into Bouchon Bakery.
Of course, I didn’t expect to find anything there for me. I was sated, happy to look with my friends. And then I saw the macarons, as large as hockey pucks. When I asked, the girl behind the counter said, “Oh yes, they’re gluten-free. We get a lot of requests for that.” Satisfied that they knew what they were doing, and that I could eat these safely, I went outside with Little Bean. We found a bench, all five of us, and sat in the sunlight. I fed my daughter her first macaron.
She loved it.
That’s one of the places it hit me, again. How incredible my life is. Surreal. How lucky I am.
There I was, in a place I never expected to be.
I had no idea where I was going when I began writing this website. I have no idea where I’m going after writing this post.
Oh, there will be more food. In fact, within a couple of weeks, you’ll see some new features of this website — cookbook reviews, more recipes, videos of techniques in the kitchen you might like, little glimpses of island life — and a re-design. Without my knowing where I was going, this site has changed, a dozen times already. Me? I’ve changed more than that.
All I know is that I’ll keep writing. And eating. And sharing it with you.
And loving it all.