When we three drove down the highway toward the ferry on a sunny Monday, Lu shouted out, “We love adventures in this family!”
Oh yes, we do.
This time in our lives crackles with emails, meetings with people, contracts, laughter in restaurants, deadlines, dinner in the sunlight, appearances, falling onto a hotel bed exhausted, and more work to do. But honestly? Most of that work just feels like play. We’re working and playing, playing and working.
The other day, I saw an Albert Einstein quote in the bathroom at a science center: “Play is the highest form of research.”
That’s what our lives feel like right now. Research. Eating. Feasting. Talking. Exploring. Exuberant, exhausted play.
We seem to fall in love with every city we visit these days. Portland, we love you too.
The first evening we were in Portland, we feasted with friends in the sunlight. At nearly 87 degrees and endless blue skies, the weather in Portland made our arrival filled with ease. We sat outside on a metal table, all of us scrunched together, hands reaching. We reached for mini meatloaves covered in bacon, chicken tenders fried in coconut flour and beef tallow, bacon-wrapped dates with almonds, sweet potato puree, and ginger-kale salads, with an emphasis on the ginger. We talked and laughed and reached for more. Lu played with Wyatt, who was dressed in an orange NASA space suit. They picked berries and ran down the street with Star Wars action figures. She only stopped, delighted, to accept a balloon from Kyra, who also brought her cupcakes. The sun felt good on our faces and the food was tremendous.
It was a feast, to be sure.
All that good, from-scratch food was made in this tiny cart called Cultured Caveman. Lucy just couldn’t believe it. “It’s tiny, Mama! What kind of restaurant is this?” She stopped asking after she ate.
Portland, your food cart scene is like no other. There are quite a few carts with gluten-free options, or ones that are entirely gluten-free. Portland is a dream of a place to eat if you have to avoid gluten. (Seattle, would you please catch up?) But this cart? Run by Joe and Heather, two of the nicest people in the world? We’re going back to this cart every time we go to Portland. I woke up the next morning thinking about the freshness of the food, including the collard greens sauteed with bacon.
I’m not on the Paleo diet. (In fact, I have a lot of problems with the name, but I’ll leave that alone.) However, all power to the people who want to eat the kind of good food we had at this cart. And if someone was smart (Heather and Joe, I’m talking to you), someone would open a series of little carts like this in airports. Everyone could eat here — they even had four vegan items — but especially those of us who have to be gluten-free. There were no grains or flours anywhere in the cart. I ate everything with delight, knowing I didn’t have to think about cross-contamination.
No wonder this felt like a feast.
The next day, at lunch with Grant Butler from the Oregonian, I had an entirely vegan, gluten-free, raw meal at Prasad. I had been on KATU tv that morning, demonstrating the zucchini noodles with spinach pesto, feta, and sunflower seeds from our cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, along with the teff chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts. (If you’d like to watch the segment, here it is.) When I saw a zucchini noodle pasta with carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, and cashew ricotta on the menu, I had to have it. Delicious and so refreshing after the meat-heavy meal of the evening before. The conversation about food, food culture, the way so many of us seem to divide against others with our food choices, and where we can all meet in the middle? Even better.
I knew I’d like Prasad the moment I saw this sign: Work Hard and Be Nice. We have it hanging in our office.
I’m confused about the intractable way that some of us talk about food. I’m Paleo! I’m vegan! I eat only seasonal foods! I eat only non-GMO! I’m on a gluten-free diet! The way that some folks talk about their diets? They make it very clear that there’s something wrong with you if you are not on their diet. They know the only way to be, after all.
Oh goodness, I wish we could all learn that there are a thousand ways to do the right thing.
(I don’t have to write that post. My friend Winnie Abramson already did, in this piece: “An Open Letter to Everyone Who Eats.”)
Fact is, I believe any time the word “diet” is attached to how we eat? Well, I’m not interested.
Fact is, I have to be gluten-free for my health. Am I on a gluten-free diet? Nope.
I eat great food. I make sure there’s no gluten in it to ensure my health — and I stop at nothing to make sure there’s no gluten in it — and then I forget the gluten.
I bite, relax, chew, and enjoy. That’s my only diet.
Did I have a Paleo meal one night and a vegan meal the next day?
Nope. I had two great meals, with old friends and new. They were both pretty darned great.
Our kid doesn’t know anything about diets. She eats. She delights in her food.
And then she gets up to dance.
She’s teaching me, every day.
She has a pretty good idea of what gluten is and why I need to avoid it. She knows to kiss me on the cheek after she has eaten something with gluten in it. And she wants to feed me.
When we spent the afternoon at OMSI, she went right for the farmers’ market/restaurant section of the science playground. “Mama, can I sell you some of my gluten-free bread?” she asked me.
She knows I need to avoid gluten to keep well. But other than that, I eat everything and I share it with her.
Good food is good food.
She’s proud of “our cookbook,” the product of most of the dinners she ate from the time she was 2. When I read at Powell’s the other night — a dream come true for me — she read books in the children’s section with Danny most of the time. She’s heard me talk before. However, at the end, she asked to sit at the table with us and sign books too. People in line were delighted to have her signature (she always writes her name in a square) and the mis-shapen heart she drew on every page.
Several times, she pointed to the book and told people, “This is my favorite cookbook.”
I don’t think I’ll ever forget this reading.
Afterwards, she asked Danny to lift her up to the podium so she could practice talking to the audience.
And walking back to the hotel a few blocks away, in the warm night air, she skipped between us, holding our hands, belting out her song. The adults at bus stops and restaurants with windows thrown open smiled at her and she kept singing, no thought of self-consciousness.
Oh, to be four again.
The last morning we were in Portland, we stopped at Tula, one of many good gluten-free bakeries in Portland. I’ve been to some poor gluten-free bakeries around this country and I wouldn’t go back. I don’t want to waste my time eating something mediocre, even if it is gluten-free. But I’d eat the ham and cheese roll at Tula any day. They’re doing good work.
Coming home on the ferry yesterday, Lu stood on the sunlit deck and looked toward home. I thought she was happy to be heading to the island, for at least one day of her regular schedule before we headed out again. Instead, she turned to me and said, “Mama, when are we going to sleep in a hotel again? Tonight? Please?”
We seem to be actively installing wanderlust in this child.
Work and play. Play and work. It’s a lovely way to live.
RHUBARB COFFEE CAKE
Within 30 minutes of walking through the door of our home after our trip to Portland, I started pulling out flours from the pantry to bake again. Whenever I taste other people’s baked goods, or talk about gluten-free baking with people who care about it, I’m moved to bake once more.
I also read a wonderful piece in the Oregonian about three Portland chefs who are moms as well. They talked about what sharing foods with their kids means to them. Lauren Fortgang, pastry chef at Le Pigeon, said what Danny and I feel about Lu:
“My husband and I grew up making food and I feel very strongly that it is OK to have sugar and salt (in your diet). It’s the processed foods and fast foods that you don’t want. I want Dora to have that (scratch-cooking) background, even if it just means she carries on cooking for her own family and makes that a priority. There is no pressure for her to cook for a living but I want her to care about it.”
She included a recipe for rhubarb coffee cake that became our dessert last night. I used buckwheat, teff, and millet flours in place of the AP she used, added another egg, and it was ours instead. I wish I had time to write up the recipe for you — we’re headed to Seattle for a reading at Third Place Books this evening — but I also want you to see that it’s not that hard to eat great food without the gluten. You can make this in your kitchen, pretty easily.