looking, talking, and eating together

gluten-free pancakes with blueberry compote

When you have one of the best food photographers/food bloggers/pastry chef/French wonderful women coming to stay with you, it can be a little intimidating to make breakfast.

Luckily, she has recently gone gluten-free as well. Danny and I figured she’d enjoy some pancakes her first morning here with us.

She did.

helen watches Lu

Do you know Helen? You probably know of her. She’s the amazing force of nature who writes and takes photographs and creates recipes for Tartelette, one of the most loved food blogs in the world. Her resume is tremendous.

Her kindness is enormous.

Here she is, watching our Little Bean eat and play at the table as we all shared lunch together. Look at those eyes. That’s a real mensch.

We first met through each other’s websites, these places of conversation and sweets passed across the table. Long before we were in each other’s presence, we read each other’s thoughts and shared habits. By the time we could finally hug at the BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco, we were already friends.

This visit was much more quiet than the frenzy that was that fabulous weekend in the Bay Area. Helen flew into Seattle to teach workshops on how to make macarons and take delicious photographs, which she had just completed in Los Angeles as well. She stayed with us on the island as a sort of refuge, a still point in the midst of the whirlwind.

We talked. We ate. We shared stories. We read books to the Little Bean. We watched movies and told more stories and laughed. We drove around the island, looking at beaches and green trees. We lived.

Life’s been pretty full-tilt around here. I can’t remember the last time I took an entire day off from the computer. With Helen here, I had more reason than ever.

It felt good to breathe.

canned tomatoes

I feel blessed to have friends who are impassioned photographers. This last year, I feel like I’ve been soaking up photographs, living on Flickr when I can, watching the way other photographers look at the world. At BlogHer food, I took photography seminars from some of the best: Todd and Diane, Heidi, Matt, and Lara.

(We are so honored to have Lara Ferroni as the photographer for our cookbook. I can’t wait for you to see it!)

In California at Kingsford University, I learned more about my camera and how to use it from watching Todd and Diane, plus my outrageously talented friend, Jen Yu. After watching the way they shoot, and peppering them with questions, I’ve been keeping the camera near me, all the time, and looking through that lens as often as I can. Taking photographs is a way of listening, a place without words, a solace.

With Helen here, I learned again. Have you seen her photographs? The woman takes my breath away with her light and colors, the details, the openness. Look at this swiss chard, goat cheese, and prosciutto tart. (And it’s gluten-free.) Her talents seem so far beyond my reach that I might as well put the camera down.

However, if you want to see something truly inspiring, look at Helen’s photographs from March 2006, the first month she started the blog. Wow. Helen, you have come a long way, baby.

It’s a transformation almost as incredible as a frightened girl who has just learned she has to go gluten-free to the woman five years later, joyful and alive, sitting with a French friend by her side.

I never know where life is going to lead me. Raising the camera to my eyes helps me to see my world, right now. Like this wall of canned tomatoes at The Monkey Tree, the vegetarian café where we ate lunch with Helen on Monday. How many times have I eaten there before and not seen this image?

Having Helen here helped me to see differently.

the bakery

They do have lovely baked goods at that café. Sigh.

And that bakery space. What I wouldn’t give to have that rack for baking pans.

Helen and I both stood there, taking photographs. The island is a quirky enough place that people didn’t even ask us why.

baking with Helen

We forgot the baked goods we couldn’t eat when we returned home. We pulled out the scale, various flours, sugar, and butter.

(we didn’t use all that butter in one recipe, though.)

Can you guess what we were making?

Helen rolls out the gluten-free puff pastry

Puff pastry.

Together, Danny, Helen, and I are going to conquer gluten-free puff pastry. I don’t know when. You’ll see it here, and on Tartelette, when we three feel like it’s right. This first batch showed promise. We had layers and flakiness. But not yet. We have work to do.

(This did, however, make a wonderful pie crust afterwards.)

pork chile verde

Anyone who thinks that living gluten-free is drab should have hung out with us this weekend.

Yesterday, Little Bean and I shared lunch with Helen, Anita, Jen, and Jeanne. What a fine frenzy of women talking and laughing, eating and taking photographs.

Anita made this addictive pork chile verde for us. (Little Bean looked up from her first bowl and said, “Yum yum yum!” This made Anita happy. And then the kid went back for seconds.) There were warm tortillas, sparkling lemonade, and sunlight coming through the window.

Nobody missed the gluten.

hazelnut pot de creme

And seriously? Are you kidding me? Chocolate-hazelnut pot de creme with fresh whipped cream.

I don’t need no stinking gluten.

(Jeanne’s recipe for this is right here.)

Life, it seems, has been too busy lately for gatherings of the good women in my life, the ones who tease me and sustain me both. This weekend, thanks to Helen visiting, I reconnected.

lu sees snow for the first time (that she remembers)

And when the unexpected moment of March arrived at our front door, Helen and I both had our cameras ready. Little Bean, seeing her first snow.

Thank you, Helen, for being here. For helping me to slow down. And for showing me how to notice it all again.

p.s. There will be more slowing down for the next week. Danny, Little Bean, and I leave for Arizona tomorrow, for indolent days with eagerly waiting grandparents. We’ll be playing in warm sun and reading on the back porch. Next week, we’ll be back with new recipes.

39 comments on “looking, talking, and eating together

  1. Jen

    Oh, I'm so glad Helen had some time to just BE…and to breathe after Los Angeles!! [although I'm still wishing that I could've hid in her suitcase]

    I love, love, love this post: the racks of bakeware, the fact that you buy butter like i do so I know I'm not a freak, and that little lu is now a GIRL [as opposed to a baby!!] wow.

    can't wait for you guys to come to LA!!

  2. Cathy @ ShowFoodChef

    Loved your post, and have loved your blog for awhile now. I was lucky enough to work with Helen in LA (I'd love for you to read my post sometime when you have a few free moments.) Your pics are gorgeous, been following along on twitter as you did them, too. Such a cozy feeling, it actually helped me to slow down a take a breath, so thank you. 😀

  3. Cathy @ ShowFoodChef

    Loved your post, and have loved your blog for awhile now. I was lucky enough to work with Helen in LA (I'd love for you to read my post sometime when you have a few free moments.) Your pics are gorgeous, been following along on twitter as you did them, too. Such a cozy feeling, it actually helped me to slow down a take a breath, so thank you. 😀

  4. Cathy @ ShowFoodChef

    Loved your post, and have loved your blog for awhile now. I was lucky enough to work with Helen in LA (I'd love for you to read my post sometime when you have a few free moments.) Your pics are gorgeous, been following along on twitter as you did them, too. Such a cozy feeling, it actually helped me to slow down a take a breath, so thank you. 😀

  5. Dr. Jean Layton

    So lucky to spend time with Helen, she is a treasure. And gluten-free puff pastry! Makes me realize that I have had that perking along in the back of my brain for 5 years. But I will wait now, when you have it perfect I will finally make Fiona her GF croissant.
    Are you going to BlogHerFood this year?

  6. Stephanie in Idaho

    Yay! Looking forward to puff pastry! Woo hoo! I will eagerly test it when it needs testing, if you need another baker!

  7. Katherine

    I think there is a photo of the kidlet and Helen missing? I'd love to see it! 😀

    I love Helen's blog too. She made me feel brave enough to try baking macarons. My first batch were a mess. The second were perfect, if slightly oblongy.

  8. La Niña

    Have an amazing trip! The photo of Lu and the snow is a celebration…

    Renew and re-create in AZ.

    See you on the flip side.

  9. seemommysew

    how encouraging to see the "before" and "after" photos! It gives me hope that someday with work I might be able to take decent photographs!

  10. Sho


    I thought you already were a great photographer. Funny thing is that I was thinking about how great it would be to make a gluten-free pastry with marcona almonds as an ingredient.

    Take care,


  11. Broderick @ Savory Exposure

    What a wonderful post, I had a great time meeting up with Helen in LA at Todd & Diane's and definitely jealous that I couldn't have hopped up to Seattle with her.

  12. Jeanette

    Another gluten-free reader from Phoenix here – yes, it's beautiful here right now. I LOVED this post. It relaxed me and reminded me the world of food has gotten bigger for me, not smaller. Also, I need to call my friends!

  13. Jackie

    Truly, reading your posts is like inhaling a warm, sweet spring breeze.

    I just loved this one. That bakery looks positively adorable and I'm capturing that image of the baking pan shelf to hopefully recreate it in my own home someday. Thanks for the inspiration! Also loved seeing Helen's before & after photos. So refreshing to realize how people can work hard at something and achieve greatness.

    Lucy seeing her first snow is too cute for words ~ those outstretched arms!!


    love your post, love your blog and as a Midwest transplant from Seattle, i live vicariously through you. this post just makes me weep – am happy to follow you!

  15. Anonymous

    In my gluten days, the best pastries use lard instead of shortening or butter. Gives them massive flakey layers to savor.
    Lisa in Ontario

  16. Chelsey

    I was just tickled to hear you spill your insecurities photography wise compared to Helen…Especially because when I read your blog I sometimes feel the same way!

    Helen's before and after photos just go to show that it doesn't matter where you are (skill wise) it's your desire to learn and play that brings you forward to bloom in talent. Sometimes I forget that life is about playing (even as adults!) and not so much about comparing. It's about being true to who you are and enjoying the company of friends and who they are.

    I have to say that you and Helen are absolutely my favorite bloggers! Each of you are beautiful and unique in your very own way.

  17. Amy @ Yard to Fork

    God your writing is always so incredible. And thank you so much for showing the photo skill transformation Helen has gone through. I've been submitting photo after photo from my blog to Tastespotting and keep getting rejected and feeling bad. But now I know there's hope if I keep at it! 🙂

  18. Jenny

    Shauna, great story. It was like sitting down with a cup of tea on a wet day, watching the rain paint the windows. Quiet.

  19. Iris

    I really appreciated that link to Helen's first photos too. It's nice to see that there was a learning curve for her. Looking back at my first photos now, I can see how far I've come, so maybe someday I'll be as good as you and Helen??? Let's hope!

  20. Dia

    Uh huh – we don't need no stinkin' gluten 🙂
    Love this post & the pics – thanks for 'sharing Helen' with us!
    & have a WONDERFUL trip to AZ

    blessings from GF in Oregon

  21. Winnie

    Oh Shauna,
    What a lovely post! Glad you got to slow down and enjoy friends and really see the world around you for a bit. I've always thought your photos are beautiful…so there.

  22. monica lee

    Out of all foods, I do miss puff pastry the MOST! I used it alot before-OMI! I am pulling for you all! Good luck! I appreicate the effort you put into this, really!

  23. Lea

    Thanks for tackling gluten free puff pastry! I noticed that the link for the recipe for pot au cremes was for "chocolate" ones. How did you add the hazelnut flavor? Ground nuts? Nutella? Liquor?

  24. Julie

    WOW, what a wonderful weekend! How wonderful to be able to share meals and spend time with Helen, and vice versa. And WOW – I am blown away by her progress since 2006! she is truly one of the most talented photographers I know of – I could flip through her images for hours. So lovely.

  25. Meagan

    I enjoyed this post. We all need a reminder to breathe now and then. Your little girl is getting so big! Soon she'll be helping you crack the eggs for all your recipes. That was my favorite part of the cooking when I was growing up!

  26. VictoriaB

    I've been GF a year now but I'm just starting to get my head around GF baking. I loved your spirited nostalgia-and-rejection that really reflects how I'm feeling about the whole subject.

    I can't blame others for thinking, how do you cope without it, because I used to roll my eyes when cooking for my GF friend too, but I love the new creativity in my diet and the lack of digestive pain!! There's a whole world of beauty out there and NONE of it contains gluten. Thank you for your writing.

  27. Shuku

    Nope. Don't NEED no stinkin' gluten, Shauna, and after frying up a batch of wonderful burdock fries, that sentiment becomes even -more- true. I still have that tiny kitchen and I still drop things all over the place, and I obsess about the things I don't know and all the kitchen failures, but…you always give me just that spark to keep at it. You and Helen have made my week – like you always do. 🙂 After that gluten-free crusty boule, I've begun to believe in culinary miracles all over again.

  28. Erika

    Not directly related to this post, but timely–KAF's feature on their main site right now is all about Gluten-free mixes, flours, and how-to's about baking gluten free. Thought you might like to take a look!
    Can't imagine how many bakers will realize the need for gluten-free goods with this kind of awareness building. Thanks for all you do to build community and share your joy with us.

  29. gfe--gluten free easily

    Helen is delightful! I only met her briefly at BlogHer Food, but I attended one of her presentations and she is just so warm and helpful. It was amazing to see the transformation in her photos. I feel very encouraged. I bet you all had the most fabulous weekend. I'm so glad. Friends and food … no gluten needed for sure! Enjoy AZ and grandparents! 🙂


  30. Rylander

    A friend of mine is living gluten-free, and I wanted him to have a great gluten-free breakfast; pancakes are the way to go!

  31. Choupichen

    Puff pastry is one of the these I missed most when I had to go gluten-free… Now I have a recipe that works really well, and an express flaky pastry recipe that I'm just in love with!
    My blog now comes in an English version as well, and I just translated my gluten free eclair recipe!

  32. Anonymous

    I would have loved to hang out! I am on my way to final diagnosis, a little frightened, as you describe yourself five years ago. Seeing you so well gives me a lot of hope!

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