We woke up in Providence, hungry. The night before, we had met a house full of lovely people, at a potluck we weren’t sure would even happen. Such a good night. But we were hungry, and we had to start driving again. Time for breakfast.
People often ask me how we find places where I can eat safely when we travel. It’s a combination of things, really. I ask on Twitter and Facebook. I look at Yelp. (But I always feel like I need a shower afterwards, from some of the terrible writing and vituperation there.) And mostly, I google everything until the name of a restaurant shows up in several searches and I start to sense, “Go there.”
But in Providence, it was pretty easy. Go to Nick’s on Broadway! In February, we three ate one of the best breakfasts of our lives at that extraordinary place. We were about to drive there when I googled one more time. Closed that day. Damn. Next on the list? Amy’s Place, which had the distinct advantage of being three minutes from our hotel. Why not? There would be hot coffee.
It turned out to be much better than that. The folks at Amy’s were friendly and completely conversant with how to feed me safely. They gave me something I have not eaten in a long time: cream cheese, lox, red onions, and capers. All on a dark, dense gluten-free bread. Who needs bagels?
(Well, we’re working on good gluten-free bagels for the next cookbook.)
That’s one of my favorite parts of traveling, the little surprising bites that arrive at the table in a cafe I’ve never seen before, and will probably never visit again. Those meals stay indelible in the mind.
We drove. There was a lot of driving those two weeks, from LaGuardia to Pennsylvania to the Hudson Valley to Vermont to Maine to Providence toward Hartford. We were starting to grow tired by this time, but we just kept driving. We arrived in Hartford in enough time that we could stop at a park to let Lu run around in the sun. She was disappointed this merry-go-round was closed down.
It was a lovely potluck in Hartford, in an enormous artists’ loft, with people interested in the health benefits of gluten-free living and full of questions. (Thank you to the good folks at Bakery on Main who found us the spot!) Most of the people who attended were part of a healthy eating potluck club in Hartford, and showed up in support of the leader of the group, who is a big fan of ours. It cracked me up when they arranged their chairs in a circle around me and peppered me with questions for an hour. “Gluten-Free Girl?” one man kept asking, his hand raised. I told him to call me Shauna, but to no avail. That’s part of what we loved about this potluck tour. Every potluck was different from the last.
And there were gluten-free apple fritters. (Thank you, Susan Lynn.)
That night, we drove through the darkness with a small child asleep in her seat, toward Boston. Oh Boston. You of the gorgeous streets, the good food, and the construction in the early morning. (Everyone said to us, when we were puzzled by the sound of the jackhammer threatening to come through the wall of our hotel at 7 am, “Oh, didn’t you know that September is construction month?” Um, no.) Walking down Charles Street the next morning, in this golden bright light, was the balm I needed after all that driving.
I was walking down Charles Street with Audrey from Boston Foodie Tours, who led a wonderful four-hour tour that day, meandering down Charles Street and along some of the best sections of that part of the city, eating and talking, stopping in shops that carry great charcuterie and ice cream and clam chowder. Those of us with her felt so lucky to be there that day.
How could you resist a stop at Beacon Hill Chocolates?
Almost all the truffles in this case were gluten-free.
And this day. This afternoon sunlight in the Boston Botanical Gardens. Boston, you are wicked gorgeous.
Danny and Lu were off playing, so she missed this statue of one of my favorite books to read to her, Make Way for Ducklings.
Oh Boston. You’re so lovely.
Lu was with us for the potluck outside of Boston, at a wonderful gluten-free bakery in Belmont. Oh goodness, Glutenus Minimus, thank you. Natalie McEachern, who began this fantastic bakery in 2008, shut down the bakery early to put out long tables with white tablecloths and bouquets of flowers, asked her staff to all be there, and made pans of gluten-free pizzas and lasagnas. Soon after 6, the place was packed with happy people. But in the few moments before that storm of people chattering and clattering their forks against plates, we prepared food with the staff at Glutenus Minimus. I adore this photograph of Lu making pizza with them. She felt so proud.
Look at these dinner rolls they made for us!
And what a spread it was that night! This was only one of the tables of food in the bakery, plus the bakery display case full of sweet treats, mini pop tarts, and sugar cookies frosted in pastel colors. It was such a joy to see all that delicious food, knowing that everyone in the room could eat every single dish. (I think there was one gluten dish sitting alone on a side table.) And the joy in that room spread from plate to plate, from table to table, from one hand with a gluten-free cookie to the mouth being fed. Folks who were there reveled in the community they found in the room. By the end of the evening, a charismatic man named Ken gathered names and email addresses to make a meet-up group for Boston. I imagine they have already met by now, bringing more food to each other and extending the laughter.
Boston, you throw a darned fine party.
The next morning, we woke up in the apartment of our friend Stephanie, whom I have known for years through Flickr and emails, but we had never met before that Boston party. This is the goodness of the world, people like Stephanie, who wrote to us before we landed in NY and said, “I know what it’s like to travel from hotel to hotel. Why don’t you just take my apartment in Cambridge for the night?”
Thank you, Steph. Lucy loved looking out the window through your binoculars after a long night of good sleep.
Before we left Boston, we had the chance to visit with one of my baking heroes, Joanne Chang, who runs the Flour empire. Her first book, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe, is one of the finest baking books ever written. Every single recipe in that book works and works well. And I have been able to convert them all to be gluten-free without a hiccup. Next, I’m working on the focaccia recipe from Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe’s Most Loved Sweets & Savories. I can’t wait to try it soon.
Joanne, you are a mentor and inspiration.
And look at the sign on the menu board at every Flour.
Afterward, we drove just outside the city to meet the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. I have long been a fan of these fine folks, so when I received an email from someone there, asking if we could stop by on our tour, I sort of wanted to faint.
These meticulous, curious cooks have been working on a gluten-free baking book for months. (Watch for it in early 2014!) The entire team came out to meet us and talk about rice flour, chocolate chip cookies, and how to make good bread. We were pretty blown away by this visit.
We couldn’t end our gluten-free Massacusetts trip without heading out to Rockport, to visit Stephanie for the afternoon.
Rockport is possibly the cutest small town in all of America. Every corner seems to look like this.
And in Rockport, you can walk into Roy Moore’s fish shack, point to fresh oysters in water, shrimp cocktail laid out in a row and ready to go, and pick out a live lobster for lunch. Sit on the seagull-scuffed picnic table outside on the back deck, which is sort of scruffy with a fabulous view, and wait. Wait for them to bring you lobster rolls and shucked oysters and a hot, just-cooked lobster with drawn butter.
We had a problem. We were due in Portsmouth that night but we didn’t want to go. I just didn’t want to leave Rockport.
I couldn’t eat these fried clams from Top Dog in Rockport, since they were the gluten version. But Danny informed me they were crisp and light and utterly delicious.
And we figured out the recipe for the cookbook.
By this time in the potluck trip, we were feeling overwhelmed. We had met hundreds and hundreds of people, visited nine states and countless cites, and we still had two more potlucks and hundreds of miles to drive before we could head to the airport and fly home. But we were energized too, by the laughing parties, the sweep of red and orange leaves out the window as we drove, the friends we met and friends we made, and the chance to drive through this country, eating.
We were also overwhelmed by how much we loved Rockport. We thought about playing hooky and staying a night, spontaneously. But one last quick photo with Steph and we drove away from the cutest small town in all of America.
Oh yes, we will be back someday.
We want to send out a huge thank you and acknowledgment of the good companies that have come forward to sponsor this American Road Trip Potluck Tour for us all.
Melissas Produce is providing us with great fresh produce for every potluck. We love their fruits and vegetables!
Thank you to these companies for their sponsorship of this tour.