gathering

Oh dear, I just realized that I’m going to show you my vacation photos.

If you were stuck in my living room, eating popcorn on the couch, squished too close to the person next to you, there would be no escape. Here, however, you can easily flip to the next blog you are thinking about reading to avoid working. Go ahead.

Oh good. Now, the rest of you left? Settle in. I’d like to do my best to share something about the quietly wonderful trip we took to Moab and Colorado last week.

Mostly, though, there are no words for a place like this.

Last week was tough, as it was for many people, thinking about Jennie. The loss of her much-loved husband propelled so many of us to think about our own lives, consider the loss we might sustain, and hopefully remain in the present moment, appreciating, for just a touch longer than normal. That Jennie and I are good friends, and talked and texted every day, made the sadness a bit closer to the surface for me. But thousands of uswere hurting.

And thousands of people made a peanut butter pie in honor of Mikey. We were on planes, traveling to Grand Junction, Colorado, on the day people posted their pies. Every time I had a moment on a layover, I opened up Twitter to see the conversation happening. The flood of love and beautifully photographed pies astounded me. So did the fact that Eatocracy on CNN wrote this up. So did the Food Network blog (check that link to see hundreds of other links). Thousands of people across this country (and Canada and other places too) took the time to make a pie together with their family members or friends. Jennie, you’re an amazing woman, taking care of the rest of us. You gave us something to do with all this sadness.

Still, by the time we reached Moab, I was exhausted. Up late the night before (making peach conserve just before midnight so that batch of ripe peaches didn’t go to waste), getting up at 4:30 to catch an early-morning ferry, two flights with a layover in Salt Lake City, all with a three-year-old? Danny and I were dragging.

However, as soon as we hugged everyone, and unpacked our bags a bit, I stepped out onto the deck of the lodge where were were all staying and saw this.

The immensity of that red-stone mesa, which has been around for 100 million years, and that open blue sky? They restored me.

My sadness felt small — and so did my joy — in comparison to all that time.

This is where I needed to be.

We three were in Moab, Utah for an Ahern family reunion. Danny’s mother,  his four siblings, and most of their children filled two cabins to the brim with laughter, stories, and long legs. There weren’t enough beds — the older kids slept on the porch. No one seemed to mind much. Lu was just excited about her new sunglasses and the sight of her cousins. “I play with my cousins!” she mumbled in her sleep when we transferred her to the car at 4:40 in the morning. The reality of them, instead of the imagining of them she had done by staring at photos for weeks before, was a little overwhelming. But within a few hours, she was bounding back and forth between the couch and the deck, singing and giggling among them.

For weeks there had been phone calls back and forth, wondering what each family would be making for their assigned meal. This is a family that likes food. We all lugged groceries and ingredients from homes or the local store. However, when we reached the cabins, we realized with horror that the kitchens that came with them? They only contained cupboards, a tiny coffee maker, a microwave, and four forks, knives, and spoons. Four. No stove, no oven, no grills. Nothing to cook on.

(The lodge has a restaurant. They wanted us to eat there.)

We all looked befuddled, then laughed. That wouldn’t stop us. We’d figure it out. After all, the Ahern family motto is “We rise through difficulties.”

Patty had brought pans of enchiladas, entirely gluten-free, frozen for the trip. We thawed them out, then microwaved individual portions. Before our rafting trip down the Colorado, we ate sandwiches at the table (I ate the luncheon meat and cheese without bread) while all 16 of us talked and talked. For dinner, Danny shaved kernels off corn cobs with a dull knife, tore basil leaves and fresh mozzarella, cut up chunks of tomato, and dressed it all with lime juice. Danny’s mother, always resourceful, had made pan after pan of spaghetti pie, with one disposable pan made with gluten-free pasta for me.

It was all delicious. Filling. Hot. Just what we needed.

The peach I ate in the middle of a raft, in 100-degree weather, on the Colorado river might have been the most welcome bite of food I’ve ever eaten.

The food on this trip wouldn’t make it into a magazine. But it was all tremendous for sharing it with family.

And I remembered again what I keep learning more deeply: it’s all about the gathering.

All that mattered is that we were together.

This is part of the family on the deck, after dinner, sitting in the receding heat, talking. That’s Danny up there, or a bit of his hair, in the deck chair.

I never see him so relaxed as he is with his family.

We could have eaten anything that night. Food was only the instigator for conversation, the warm feeling in our bellies as we sat together.

The time in Moab was far too brief. Two nights — not much sleep for the heat — one full day, and a morning together. Before dispersing, we made our way through Arches National Park. The place silenced me. All that sky and beauty, the precarious balancing, and stone whittled thin by wind and time — it all moved me deeply.

So did my time with the Aherns. I lucked out with these in-laws. They make me feel like one of them.

Especially on this trip, I felt the force of family. I love my family, and we are lucky enough to live close to each other. My parents come over every Saturday morning to spend time with Lu. (She dances, mostly.) However, Danny lives far away from his family, whom we only get to see once a year, maybe twice.

This time was a gift.

Luckily, we didn’t have to say goodbye to everyone just yet.

We spent the next two days with Danny’s brother, Pat, and his wonderful wife, Julie. I swear, their kitchen is the one I dream of someday: open, enormous windows, space to move freely, planned thoughtfully. They have a living room, but we spent about three minutes there. We only hit the bedrooms to sleep. The entire visit was spent in the kitchen, cooking and talking, or sitting at the table, eating and talking. We ate gluten-free pizza on their beautiful back patio (the crust came from a Bob’s Red Mill package). No one complained. In fact, Danny’s sister, Kathy, kept saying how much she adored it.

That time after the dinner, the just after, is still my favorite.

The next day, while Pat and Julie had to work, Danny and I took Lucy and Cooper into Telluride.

This is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. And what a day we received!

The gondola, the walking, the hugs.

Of course, the only thing Lucy cared about was the chance to be next to Cooper, her favorite cousin.

(And how much he has grown since our wedding!)

Possibly my favorite moment of the entire vacation happened in the kitchen, however.

In the morning, I asked Cooper if he wanted to help me make a smoothie. He put peaches, kiwi, blueberries, and bananas into the blender, along with soy milk and ice cubes. His face was filled with anticipation, listening to the blender whirl. After we drank them, he looked at me and said, “Wow, I never knew cooking could be this much fun. Could we cook some more?”

So we set up some peaches, lemon juice, and sugar to make into jam later. And we planned a menu, based on Cooper’s favorite foods: shrimp cocktail, smoked trout on crackers with cream cheese, roast chicken, quinoa, salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and peach pie.

Later in the evening, we convened in the kitchen to cook. Pat, Julie, and Kathy sat at the kitchen island, watching and taking photographs. I showed Cooper how to slice up peaches. Danny put his hand on Lucy’s and helped her to slice them too. Together, we made a pie crust. Peach pie in August. Gluten-free.

By the time we were ready to eat, the sun was hitting the clouds with rosy intensity. We all stood in the cool air, trying to capture it with our cameras. We didn’t.

Julie lit the candles that lined the table, then turned on the Christmas lights (solar-powered). We all sat at the table, late in the evening, marveling at the kids’ work. (Cooper beamed.) Everything tasted better for being with family.

Lately, there’s one word that goes through my head repeatedly: gathering.

Years ago, when I first started this site, I was fascinated with the new, the unusual, the most interesting food. Some of those foods — like quinoa, pomegranate molasses, and goat cheese — have become mundane pleasures. These days, however, I only have one passion for food.

I want to make food that invites gatherings.

That could be a four-course meal. It could be some crackers and cheese. It could be one ripe peach.

With all this loss in our lives, and the thought of how many more losses await us as we grow older, Danny and I both know what we want.

We want to sit at the table with people we love and hold those moments dear.

43 comments on “gathering

  1. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction

    I just love this post, Shauna…

    “I want to make food that invites gatherings.” – That is exactly why I started cooking and baking. I couldn’t have said it better! Food without the friends and family is just not the same.

    PS – I happen to love looking at vacation pictures. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. Heather

    My most favorite recent gathering, although it was only two of us working, was in a kitchen making carrot cake with a good friend, a single mom who I just bow down to, she is one of my heroes – she has 8 1/2 year old triplets. They bounced in and out of the kitchen, helped a little, and then while it was baking, we hung – like teenagers – in the pool. And then we enjoyed the cake. They are my adopted family, because they adopted me first. 🙂

  3. Leslie DR

    Shauna, I’m so glad you had the chance to gather – with family, with yourself – after this very tough loss. I have been thinking of you all day, believe it or not – this is how much you influence people’s lives! I was at the health food store, looking for ground chia and golden flaxseed meal (because I am determined to bake my own gluten-free bread) and found a woman clearly lost among the plethora of gluten-free items. She is trying gluten-free living because of fibromyalgia and already feels better after two weeks. I told her about your site and about Udi’s and I swear your words about living gluten-free were coming out of my mouth – to enjoy what she could eat and not try to replicate the “old” foods. Then I went home and made a tomato and peach “gazpacho” that is simply outrageous, summer in a soup. The thing is, I made enough for about eight people and there are only two of us in the house – time for a lunch gathering! Tomorrow, I’m going for the boule – wish me luck!

  4. Lisa

    Since reading your very first post, I have learned to embrace food, find joy in food, beyond being nourishment for my body or the way to take the edge of hunger off… food has become nourishment for my soul. Standing in the quiet kitchen, the only sounds being the preparation of food; food that will result in the gathering of friends – sharing joys and sorrows, laughter, moments of comfortable silence together. I feel myself slowing down when in the kitchen. Entertaining used to be stressful as I strove for perfection as a host, now it is a time of experimentation, simple flavours melding together, fresh, local, healthy food, entertaining has given way to the gathering of friends. Thank you Shauna, and now Danny and Little Bean, for helping us all to just be in the moment and to find joy in those moments.

  5. Rachel B.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and pictures about one of my favorite places, Moab! We live in Grand Junction and have been doing a lot of our work in Moab for 25 years, a place that silences me no matter how many times I return. It is spectacular and I’m happy that you and your family got to share it together. Did you visit the Love Muffin Cafe? One of the women who owns it has Celiac and every day there are several varieties of GF muffins as well as much GF deliciousness in their entrees!

  6. Cheryl Olstad

    Hi there Shauna,
    Yes, I agree it is about gathering together and sharing. Whether it is around a table spilling with wonderful food & drink or a cup of hot cocoa around a camp fire. Loved the photos too.
    Say I think I heard thru my sister-n-law that her daughter Julie, our niece, Julie Grunwald works for you now? I may have this wrong but that is what I thought I heard so I found you here on facebook.
    I have a very severe gluten allergy like you do. I had to quit eating gluten long before it was a trend or popular and when the selection in stores was beyond horrible for options. Been needing to eat that way for 30 yrs now, I am 53. I too love to cook and have family and friends gather together. Will be reading more of your posts, thanks for sharing, Cheryl.

    “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
    ? J.R.R. Tolkien

  7. Deb Puchalla

    Shauna, the places, the people and the ideas here are magical. Your fans and friends–and I am proud to consider myself both–are truly lucky to be at your table always. I look forward to gathering together someday soon.

  8. Victoria

    You know you’re in a family of food lovers (and entertainers) when there has to be an offical family rule established (and this was back in the late 80s) that you can take pictures of the food, but you really have to stop with taking pictures of people while they are eating. I swear, the family “still have to make it out of the shoeboxes” photos are half the spreads of food from gatherings.

    And there is something to be said about being surrounded by the people you love, all making food for each other while you enjoy each other’s company. God love non-gluten free extended family that knows how to make a gluten-free gal feel comfortable.

  9. Kathleen Ojo

    Wonderful…. I teared up a bit, I must admit. Beautiful scenery and time spent with family. You are blessed, and thank you for sharing this abundance with us.

  10. Jamie M.

    That last sentence…you’re right, that’s it. Simple, makes sense, makes us happy, but somehow we never seem to make time for it. After reading your recent posts, I have decided it’s something I need to make a priority out of. Thanks for the reminder, and thanks for sharing those wonderful pictures of your vacation.

  11. Yuri @ Ingredients We Choose

    I love it. I’m so glad you got such a wonderful healing time with your family. It really is all about the gathering. Food that is shared always tastes better, even “virtual” sharing over the web! I work with homeless and foster care youth and young adults – if you have food, it doesn’t matter how boring the meeting is, they will come! ^.^ Of course, the same is usually true for my co-workers too. And definitely my family. When we get together the main thing we do is plan where we are going to eat. Especially as I am figuring out my food allergies, I am trying to get us to cook more together. Particularly for my father, food is love. He is a second generation Japanese american man that just turned 70 – he can’t tell me how he feels, but he will always make sure that I eat well.
    I sent you an email thanking you for the many gifts you have brought into my life and for inspiring me to start my own blog. I know you are crazy busy and can’t respond to all the gazilion emails I’m sure you get but I just wanted to say thank you again! Its been so much fun writing about my efforts to go gluten free, to take pictures of my food (which I always do any way!), and post some recipes. Its really been helping me to cook all my own food and to take going 100% gluten free seriously. Its hard, especially when I got accidentally glutenized from somebody’s britta water filter that was sitting on their kitchen counter – it can feel like gluten is everywhere waiting to attack me! But I’m not giving up! You and the gathering of wonderful people on this websites and others give me the energy to keep going.
    Thank you!
    Yuri
    PS – I don’t know if you remember, but on a comment a few months ago I said that my cousins in Sendai were missing and they have been found! Things are really hard economically, but they are alive and safe. Thought you might like to know. ^.^

  12. Kathryn

    This post really captures the power that food has to bring people together. Although food can obviously be delicious in its own right, it is so much more than that.

  13. Tara(tnp89)

    Beautiful. I read your blogs and get all of your tweets. This post is by far the most touching that I have ever read… Possibly b/c I feel just the same as you do about food and gathering. I have always enjoyed bringing people together over a meal (or snack!). As I grow older I realize it more and more. With the loss of Mikey this past week proved my feelings and yours about appreciating our time with others and closeness around the table or standing in the kitchen. Cooking and/or eating together is truly a special gift that anyone can share with another. Thank you for this post- I hope that everyone will read it and see the intensity of the meaning behind your words.

  14. Ann from Montana

    Over the course of time I have been reading your blog, I have found both wonderful recipes and ideas as well as, every time I make food…even though mostly it is just for myself, I think about the experience, the love – again, even if just for myself – and I think of other people making food for themselves or their family. It brings something else to my life besides just eating for subsistence. AND it helps me remember to enjoy the moment and be thankful.

  15. Chris

    “We want to sit at the table with people we love and hold those moments dear.”

    me too Shauna, me too!

  16. Sami

    Wonderful photos, it really is breathtaking. I too love parties and get-togethers with friends where we share food and exchange ideas.

  17. LauraJayne

    While I live in Utah (and having visited Moab), you made Utah seem magical – which I really appreciated! Loved your vacation photos, and your post! Glad you had a good time!

  18. Integrative Health Review

    It’s great to see how supportive your family is for a gluten free lifestyle. In can be hard to incorporate a specialized diet into a vacation, especially when food is a huge aspect of traveling. It sounds like your trip was wonderful! Do you have any simple tips for eating gluten-free while on the road?

    –Integrative Health Review Online Outreach
    Twitter: @IntegHealthRev

  19. Lucy

    Your words are such a gift – from your soul to mine and others. I often feel weepy after reading your posts, in a good way, though. I am recently gluten free (reluctantly but out of necessity), although I’ve been reading your blog for some time just for pleasure, to absorb some of your passion and joy and energy. You clearly know your purpose, and your thoughts about gathering inspire me and connect me to my own sense of purpose – sharing meaningful time with family and friends, opening my heart and letting life in, being vulnerable and soulful. Thank you.

  20. Cara

    Amen.

    Most of the people I love the most are in the opposite hemisphere from me, and getting together with them is impossible – and something I yearn for every day.

    Thank you for this post, your insights, your recipes and your whole blog – this Aussie gluten-free girl is profoundly grateful to have found you…

  21. Anneliesz

    I completely agree about food & gatherings. I’ve been looking for ways to bring friends together this year and making time with them at the forefront because family – wherever we find it knits us together and makes life more nuanced for the better. So glad your time with the family in all that expanse of land and sky was healing.

  22. Gretchen

    This was so beautiful. We just moved from Seattle to Colorado and left all our friends with whom we gathered regularly in the summer. But we are now living with my brother and his family. I too love this connection to family, the cousins, the crazy energy of 2 dogs and four children under 6. And my favorite moments are when we are all preparing bites for the families and we congregate on the lawn chairs, piles of dishes line the railing. It is my most loved moment watching family serve themselves at this potluck and sit down together, the energy of the kids and dogs settle and for a few minutes we all are connected eating together in calm.

  23. joanne

    oh how beautiful. this all hits so close to home. my husband is 47 years old and has never smoked a day in his life and has just been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease. just this spring he became acutely short of breath with exertion. the common symptom to all Ild. now he is on 6 liters of oxygen. I am losing him. I feel helpless. I discovered yesterday while cutting grass (something he can no longer do) that I could cry loudly and let the tears flow and no one could hear me over the roar of the tractor. it was a small dose of therapy. I too want to make loving food for my husband. i want to spend every moment that i can with him. I am afraid.

  24. molly

    Thanks for grounding Jennie’s loss for us, Shauna. For personalizing it for us. For voicing it, spreading it. The heartbreak is too great to imagine.

    And for those last three paragraphs. Short, true, perfect.

  25. joanne

    thank you shauna. if you feel so inclined please pray for a miracle. we need one. I can’t forget that there are many me’s out there dealing with there own crisis. for them I pray too. Every day I ask my husband to teach me how to do things he has only done in our marriage. today I snipped right through a garden hose trying to cut down weeds. and later I learned to reconnect it. yesterday I learned how to connect a tv. last week I learned how to use the circut breaker box and start the generator.
    I have so much to learn and so little time to get through it. I feel i’m ruining our time together because my fear takes control.
    enjoy your family every day. enjoy your health every day. show them you love them. today may be all we have. unlike jennie’s tragedy I have had the time to ask questions and discuss plans and try to prepare for the future. I need to blog this but dont even know how to begin that process. I enjoy ready about your full life. somedays its how I escape the reality that we live.
    joanne

  26. Katy

    Beautiful. The richness in your blog – in your food, in your life – inspires me on these days when living with a college dining hall seems impossible and alienating. “Gathering” perfectly sums up my dreams of the future, but recent circumstances urge me to claim what I can of them today. Thank you.

  27. AudreyV

    Hi Shauna,
    My family was rafting probably the same section of the Colorado River last Friday and Saturday. Too funny. Maybe we passed you in our raft. We have our own rafts and we camped one night on that section. It is one of our most favorite places in the world. Very relaxing indeed!

  28. michelle

    Shauna you have such a beautiful way of conveying emotion through your words – I am in tears as I read your post

  29. Terry

    I, too, love the ‘just after’ time around the table. Everyone is full and happy and conversation seems to flow so nicely. You know the kind where no one wants to be the first to get up from the table and call it a night? This is gathering as you call it and it is as nourishing as the food. I have so many fond memories of this with people who are now gone.

  30. kathleen

    Thanks for your wonderful words. My family and I live in Telluride and enjoy the view and community every single day.

  31. Terry

    Hi Shauna,

    I just met you this Labor Day weekend…through your book, Glutenl-Free Girl and then through your blog.
    I bought the book so long ago and never picked it up and read it. The best intentions for my body but it’s easier to continue eating the wrong things while sticking my head in the sand.
    I alm up to the point of your 10 favorite foods to splurge on. Although I did skip to the back to see your Epilogue and Resources. I got very choked up reading about Yes. I’m 60 and I want that for myself. I’ve never had it but it makes me feel good to know that someone out there does.
    I also read your blog about the mean-spirited people with their awful comments. I think you are spot on in your analysis of it. All I know is your writing is inspirational to me and gives me hope. Something hard for me to find these days.
    Anyway, I’m glad I finally decided to start reading this book. I look forward to reading the rest and trying out the recipes.
    Thank you.

  32. Judy

    I came to your site because my daughter sent me a recipe. I stayed because I loved your expression of love for family and healthy eating. I will return for the same reason.

    I am one who panics over having anyone to my home for a meal of any kind. Now that I have read this – and will reread as necessary – I am looking forward to our family Thanksgiving dinner in my home. We will all cook and we will all be gluten free and I WILL remember – it is the gathering that is important. Thank you for the blessing of your message. Judy in Florida

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