Blog by Shauna and Danny. Here, we share stories of family, friends, and the food that gathered us around the table. We love to tell the stories of the creative people who move us: bakers, sculptors, cider makers, chefs, and photographers. And we share the insights we’ve gleaned about gluten-free baking after playing with flours for more than a decade.
A couple of months ago, Danny and I sat down in the early morning, cups of coffee in hand, to discover if we could do a better job of school mornings. Last year, the mornings felt rushed, with us often barking a bit at the kids who dawdled out the door. Both of them began at new schools this fall. Why not a fresh start in everything?
So, Danny and I talked about the road blocks, the places where we all got stuck in the muck of the morning and couldn’t move forward. How could we avoid those puddles? We realized that everything would be better if we could commit to making lunches the night before. Pulling the lunches out of the refrigerator to put in their backbacks took a lot less time than making them on the spot. So we committed to a simple practice: one of us puts Desmond to bed, and the other make lunches with Lucy. The next night, we flip.
We also realized that letting the kids sleep in until they woke up was making life difficult too. I wrote out a schedule for the morning. (My brain loves making structures.)
6 am: Danny and I wake up, to drink our coffee, talk, and look at the news.
7 am: We put our phones in a drawer to stay there until the kids are off to school. We wake up the kids. We help them get dressed, make their beds, talk about the day, and let them play.
7:30: We eat breakfast together. We talk about what we’re grateful for. Sometimes we play math games at the table. Sometimes we let Lucy read her latest book and Desmond plays with his superhero figures while we talk. We all clean up together.
8:00: Table time for painting, word games, looking at maps, science experiments, or whatever strikes our fancy.
8:20: Ten-minute dance party. Every day.
8:30: Time to brush teeth, grab lunches, put Lucy’s hair in a ponytail, put on shoes and jackets, family hug, go.
At first it felt funny, this regimen for the mornings. Would it be a little too military-like, to run things on a tight schedule? Would the kids feel constricted?
Those of you who do this already know the answer. Within this discipline is freedom.
It turns out that making lunches the night before allows one of us to talk with Lu every night, as we grab her favorite dip and slice up peppers, put grapes in Desmond’s lunch box, and fill up the spaces with food they love. (A couple of these were enough for the both of them.) It’s the place where any silly stories or questions of the day arise most easily.
It turns out having a clear structure allows the kids to feel securely held. They know what is happening next, at all times. How much of life actually feels like that? Not much. They know they have our full attention. They have time to play. They have chores to do. Every day, there will be dancing. And we leave on time, every day, without any hassle or barking.
Life feels better here. It was committing to three small practices—packing lunches the night before, putting the phones away while the kids are here, and following a clear morning schedule—that has changed our family for the better.
I’m sharing this as a way of letting you know we have a new practice we’re committing to now. You’re involved, if you want.
On Saturday, I interviewed the marvelous Lisa Congdon about her new book, A Glorious Freedom. (I have an essay in the book too.) A woman in the crowd asked Lisa what she thought of 100-day projects. For 100 days, you commit to do some kind of art every day, no matter what. Lisa said she has only done 365-day projects! But she loved the discipline, the enforced rule that you must practice your art, no matter what. And she talked about the gift of the mundane days, the days when she didn’t feel like she had any inspiration that the discipline itself forced her to produce something. She learned something every day.
I came home and told Danny about it immediately, since my brain was bursting with a new idea. (This happens often around here.) Why don’t we cook every day and document it?
Now, we make food every single day around here. Most of it goes undocumented, which is fine. But we do have so many ideas for simple everyday meals, that never make it onto our site, a cookbook, or anywhere else.
We enjoy cooking. Working with food is Danny’s art. Without having his hands on onions or smelling spices, he grows a little twitchy. That’s how I am about words. Right now, my fingers typing, the new Beck album in the background, I’m focused. I’m here. I’m happy.
It’s funny. Sometimes you have to go a long way to find out how to come home.
When I began writing Gluten-Free Girl, I made food, I photographed it, and I wrote about it. Every day. I wrote because I needed to write, not because it would lead somewhere else. Looking back, I realize it was this simple practice that honed my writing. (I still have so much to learn.) I took photographs spontaneously, not in a studio-like set-up. I picked up the camera when the light moved me. Danny cooked every day, as a restaurant chef, in a wonderfully mundane way. That’s where we began.
And then we started getting attention for it. And book deals. Wonderful travels. The chance to meet so many of you. Then, it became the way we earn our money. So that meant more time creating an ad network, making videos, doing sponsored posts, and answering emails than making food and writing about it. We lost our way. And a little of our joy.
Last year, we let go of our gluten-free flour business. We also let go of this being the way we earn our income. I couldn’t answer 400 emails a day, most of them demanding something new. I wanted to write. Danny wanted to cook. I worked for a time at a grocery store. He went back to restaurant life, then realized he didn’t want to do it anymore. He let go of that too.
What was left?
Danny wants to make food. I want to write.
So, that’s why we’re starting the #100daysofmakingfood project this week. Every day, for 100 days, we’re going to make something, photograph it, and post the recipe, on Instagram and Facebook. Common sense says to save our recipes for a cookbook, an e-book, for other people’s companies. However, Danny and I have never done anything in the typical way. We’re both jazzed about the chance to go back to that pure joy, the daily practice, the way we found each other in the first place.
Danny had hernia surgery last week, finally finding relief from the pain he has been suffering. Now that he has his doctor’s release, he wants to start standing at the stove again. We’re starting today. Join us.
And who knows what unexpected joys will come from this clear schedule and a simple shift? If our mornings are this good for the clear practice, I can only imagine the changes that might happen soon. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
Twelve years ago from the day I am writing this letter to you, I sat down at my computer and started typing. I had no idea that the act of opening my white laptop and typing the words “gluten-free girl” into the header of a website would change everything for me. But that’s the way of life — rarely do you know that you’re going down a different road when you start walking. Every “important” decision I have made has started with spontaneity and some feeling that this might be something to explore. No more. The decisions I fret over have been paths that ended in stumps and rocks. So don’t fret. Keep walking and talking and see where it leads.
When I started this site, on May 30th, 2005, you weren’t here yet. I met your dad a little less than a year later. I certainly never, ever imagined that I would be writing cookbooks someday. Or meeting so many people across this country who would tell me that my work had helped them. I dreamed of kids, at 38, but I mostly thought that chance had passed. Certainly, that day, I didn’t imagine you two sitting on my lap, listening to me read you books and laughing. The life we live now didn’t exist then.
Newly diagnosed with celiac and starting to feel good for the first time in my life, I started to write. Writing is what has always mattered to me most. To quote Wallace Stegner, from a piece that made me sit up straight this morning, “You take something that is important to you, something you have brooded about. You try to see it as clearly as you can and fix it in a transferable equivalent.” That’s what I have been trying to do here, these past 12 years, in both essays and recipes. Take something that matters and find the words that will help you understand that something the way I do. It’s hard work. I’m not done. I’m never going to stop writing.
For months during the winter and spring of 2005, my friend Dorothy called me Sick Girl, since I had been so ill. I’m glad you haven’t seen me like that. It was terrible. I couldn’t eat much. I had no energy. I was always in pain. I feel such empathy for any mom or dad out there trying to take care of kids and feeling that horrible. I’m glad I hadn’t met you yet. When I was diagnosed with celiac, Dorothy rejoiced with me. “Now you’re the gluten-free girl!” So I typed gluten-free girl into the header. Why not? I liked the alliteration. I never thought anyone would read it. That decision started a chain of actions and reactions that has created the life I live now. I’m grateful for that day.
When I had been so sick, I was living on baby food and warm olive bread from the bakery down the street. Who knew that bread was what had been making me so ill? After I recovered, I lived on vegetables from the farmers’ market and meats from the grocery store across the street, then added beans and eggs and a few stiff baked goods from the one bakery in Seattle that made gluten-free treats. I didn’t eat out for the first 3 months. Then, as I began cooking every day and writing down the recipes for this site — recipes written in my own idiosyncratic form, mostly moments after eating them — I started going to the grocery store every day. When I met your dad, we went to the store as date time, grabbing whatever appealed in the moment. When we were writing cookbooks, we often had to buy produce out of season and multiple times in one week as we tested recipes again and again. When you were little, Lucy, we took you to restaurants all the time. (We still talk about the time an older woman at Bouchon in Napa asked if she could take your picture, because she was so impressed by “…the gourmet baby,” eating scallops and boudin blanc.) When you grew older, your dad started working in a restaurant again, so we ate there so you could see him at least once a day. After you arrived, Desmond, we tightened our belts and put ourselves on a pretty strict budget. We love you, little guy, but you’re at that handful of an age that makes eating in restaurants not much fun anymore. Soon, you’ll sit in a chair and not need to run off until the food comes, so we’ll go back to adventures at the table together. Right now, we go to the grocery store every Sunday afternoon to stock up on peanut butter and jelly, strawberries and apples, dairy-free yogurt, and sliced ham and havarti for Lucy’s sandwiches. Our grocery list is fairly familiar, mostly the same each week, other than the seasonal produce. In another couple of years, we might be more daring again.
You’ll notice that in these letters I’m writing to you about creating a budget for your food life, I haven’t talked about numbers. I won’t tell you an amount you should be spending each month or a percentage of your salary that should go to food. That’s not my way. If you are, as adults, anything like you are now, then neither one of you will be the kind of person who likes a set way of being and wants to stick to it for decades.
There’s a woman who comes into the grocery store every Monday morning. She’s lovely, articulate and thoughtful. I like talking with her every week. She comes through the line where I bag her groceries a few moments before 10 am. That means she drops her kids off at school, then drives to the store immediately after. She brings 7 sturdy white canvas bags, which she told me she bought at Target 15 years ago. Every week, as we talk, I note that she buys the precise amount of food to fill those 7 bags full. One week, I noticed with amazement that I needed an extra paper bag. When I mentioned it to her, she said, “You know, I noticed that my son has been going back in for seconds after dinner every night. He must be in a growth spurt, because I need more food this week.” This woman knows her kids, knows her pantry, and knows how to shop on a budget. I admire her.
I will never be like her.
Instead, I have a pretty clear idea of what we need each week. Sometimes it’s 2 bags of food. Sometimes it’s 8. (That varies with recipe testing, of course, because our food needs are not like people who do not write cookbooks.) We like to play with our food more than most people.
This is what I want to tell you: your budget for food will change as you change. You’ll go through phases where you eat out often. And then you might want to stay at home and hibernate. You might want to travel. You might go through a phase of diving deep in Filipino food or learning to bake pies. You might have a consistent budget but your health takes a bad turn and you don’t want to eat. Be willing to change how you eat and shop with each phase of your life.
Here’s what I recommend to you: make a good, clear budget in your mind and on paper, something reasonable based on the fierce and wonderful need for good food in your lives and what you are earning that month. Don’t dictate a dollar amount to yourself, arbitrarily. Have clear boundaries. And within those boundaries is freedom.
We choose to not be penurious, to pinch every penny, to buy the cheapest food we can find. That’s not the point of our lives. We choose. That’s the key. We choose the food that suits us right now. And then we allow ourselves to change.
I hope the same for you: conscious choice, joy, surprise, a constant honest conversation with yourself and the ones you love the most, recalibrating what you do based on who you have become. And a lot of great food, shared with people around the table, laughing and feeling loved.
Oh darling Desmond, you’re borderline obsessed with tiny superhero figures right now. The Guys are the focus of your days. To think that six months ago we didn’t know if you would ever leave our legs. Now, not only do you happily play alone, but you also make up so many stories with Mr. Freeze and Penguin that they have become part of the rhythm of our days. (When we’ve made the mistake of letting you sleep with some of the guys, we’re awoken by indignant screaming when you can’t find them, since they are tangled in the sheets of your bed.) Today, at the thrift store, Daddy found you a tiny Hulk figure who moves his muscled arms up and down. You clutched it to your chest like a long-lost child, closed your eyes, and said, “Thank you so much, Daddy.” It seems that 42 cents can make happiness sometimes.
When you play Bad Guys vs. Good Guys — Catwoman and Superman smashing each other in your hands — I always say, “Desmond, there is no such thing as bad guys. They’re people who weren’t loved well making a series of bad choices.” Okay, okay, I know it sounds ridiculous. But I can see this black vs. white, bad vs. good binary thinking absorbing your brain these days. I’m trying to put questions in there, so the hardwiring of easy thinking doesn’t take over. I knew it was sinking in when you told me from across the room that Poison Ivy had gone to jail. Why, I asked.
She made some bad choices, you told me. And now she has to accept the consequences.
Hippie Buddhist mama repeating herself, over and over, pays off eventually.
We talk about choices around here a lot. Someday you might understand that much of the persuasion of parenting lies in repetition. I love you, said a thousand times (and followed by actions that demonstrate it), becomes a child feeling sure of it. I hear that you would like to do that but translates, eventually, into an understanding that Mama does listen to you but she has to say no. And make a choice might eventually mean you see this: we might not have much control in life, but when we do have a little control, it’s up to us to make a conscious choice.
We talk about choices so much because your dad and I think about choices, all the time. We talk, every single day, about the choices we have made — the day before, a year ago, almost a decade later — and size them up with our habits now. I have seen it in my life. Habits form character. So when I make a habit of thinking in terms of choice, then I choose more consciously.
The only thing we can control is how much we react to what happens. And we can choose calm over panic. Kindness over spite. Open over tightly closed.
So when it comes to making a budget for food in this house, we think daily about the choices that matter to us.
Here are some choices I’d like to see you make someday.
Remember that everyone is different.Sometimes it seems that judging other people’s choices is the national past-time of this country. We have SO MANY OPINIONS about other people’s clothes, bodies, cars, jobs, friends, politics, drinking habits, hometowns, plates, fingernail polish, and definitely oh yes of course, about other people’s foods. So many opinions.
I’m exhausted with all the opinions.
Lord knows I have opinions too. But before I let those opinions settle into flinty tough ideology, I remind myself: there’s always a story.
There’s always a story. Why is that person eating so many doughnuts? Driving a rattly old car with liberal stickers littering the bumper? Going outside the house with hair that looks like that? Driving too fast? Voting for that guy? Wearing so much perfume? I still think these questions, but I don’t follow them to the next step — making judgments about a stranger I saw for 10 seconds. Instead, I think, “Story, Shauna. There’s a story.”
I’d rather walk through the world noticing and open than deciding I know how everyone else should behave. Imagine that weight of the world on your shoulders.
So, if you go to the grocery store and see other people buying food you don’t eat? Notice it. Don’t judge. See someone reading a book you think is boring? She’s reading. That’s a good thing. You can’t believe that guy is wearing a puce shirt to a job interview? Maybe it’s the only one he could afford for a job he really needs.
Seriously, relax. Are they kind? Are they observant? Do you they care about other people? Do they create something good in the world? Let those questions be your guide.
So let go of judging other people’s choices when you think about the choices you need to make for your life. You will change over the decades. So will your choices. Do the best you can now.
Choose your top priorities. These days, it seems that nearly every food product comes covered in labels: organic, certified humane, BPA-free, vegan, gluten-free, low-fat, low-calorie, non-GMO, and on and on. There is hardly room on the label anymore for the name of the food. It’s easy to imagine that they are all equally important.
Here’s what I have noticed: the more labels on a food, the more expensive it is.
If you want to budget to make sure you have food with all the labels, then know you are going to be spending a LOT of money on your food. That’s okay. That’s your choice. Just be conscious of it going in.
Or, you can choose the few that are most important to you. Here are some of the choices.
Organic.Why buy food that comes from plants sprayed with pesticides? Have we done enough long-term studies to show these pesticides have no effect on the human body? Or are they harmless to every living creature besides the bugs they decimate?
I’ve seen a lot of people advocate eating only organic foods. They all maintain it has changed their health for the better. And I don’t dispute that.
We believe that organic food truly matters. We just can’t afford to eat everything organic.
“Organic eggs, milk and salad greens can cost upwards of 60 percent more than conventional alternatives, while items like apples, carrots, granola and spinach carry premiums of between 7 and 30 percent, the study said.”
This makes eating organic a matter of privilege. When you see people’s carts full of foods labeled organic, you know they have more money than the mom with an EBT card behind her.
On the other hand, when those of us who have more money make the choice to buy organic, the market understands this is something worth pursuing. If there is money involved, change happens. Lately, at the store where I work, I see more and more relatively inexpensive items with the word organic stamped on them. So, perhaps we have a responsibility to carve out more of our budget to organic foods?
Here’s a fairly complex and nuanced piece about the price of organic foods , not only in every part of the supply chain but also the price that farmworkers pay to work among pesticides. Because if we’re going to care about our own bodies, we should also care about the bodies of the people helping us to eat that food. And of course, there’s the effect on the soil and air and water.
This is one of the more complicated choices you can make at the grocery store. These are no small matters. No one agrees. There’s quite an argument about all of these issues.
For right now, in this house, we have decided to always buy organic produce on the Dirty Dozen list and shop by price on the Clean 15. From April to October, we buy most of our produce directly from the farmers on Vashon, who grow organically, even if they are not certified organic. (That certification process is complicated and costly. That’s part of the price at the checkstand.) Since most of our grocery bags are filled with produce and very few foods in boxes, that makes sense to us and our budget.
But again, everyone has to make the choice for his or her family. Please don’t become the people who judge others because they don’t have “enough” organic food in their carts for your taste. Just don’t.
Non-GMO. Okay, at the time I’m writing this, GMOs are one of the biggest causes of arguing and flinging dirt at each other in the food world. Some people are convinced that every food that is genetically modified is inherently dangerous. Others believe that all genetically modified foods help mankind.
How do you decide what is right when both sides insist their side is more interested in humanity than the others?
To me, that means the choice is somewhere in between.
And on issues like this, I highly recommend this Oatmeal primer on making the choice to question our deeply held beliefs.
Our choice for the moment? We don’t need to go out of our way to avoid GMOs, exactly. . Most of the foods we eat — shallots, red peppers, grass-fed beef, homemade granola, and ice cream from our friend Sam’s ice cream shop — are naturally GMO free. Do we have the occasional Tootsie Roll? You bet. (Lucy, you are as fond of them as I was when I was a kid. When it’s time for the sometime treat, you usually want a Tootsie Roll.) I don’t know if Tootsie Rolls have GMO ingredients. I’m assuming they do. Sometimes, we have some. I think the occasional choice to eat without considering every implication of that food is important too.
But 90% of the time, we’re eating local and GMO free.
Low-Fat and Low-Calorie.I remember an evening in Maine, years ago now, when we were on our road trip around New England, meeting with readers and listening to their stories. We stopped at a grocery store for snacks for the hotel room. As Danny and you, Lucy, gathered cheese and gluten-free crackers, I stood in front of the yogurt display, trying to find a single whole-fat yogurt. I could not. There was not a single yogurt there, in a pretty extensive display of Greek yogurt, flavored yogurts, and dairy-free yogurt. The best we could do was low-fat.
What’s the problem with that?
Well, first of all, Americans’ fear of fat led to us eating more and more sugar and refined starches to fill us up. Trying to find an unsweetened full-fat yogurt at that store was absolutely impossible. Who decided that all of our yogurt had to be free of fat?
As with everything else in American food trends, it turned out that what was preached was false prophecy. Full-fat dairy is probably better for us, for many reasons. Full-fat yogurt has milk or cream, with very few other ingredients. Low-fat or non-fat yogurts often have cornstarch and fillers to make it feel like full-fat yogurt in your mouth.
There’s so much more we could say about this, but we think it’s pretty clear, at least for us.
Eat the real stuff. That’s the choice we make in our house. Eat real food.
Choose to reward the companies you love with your dollars. My guess is that, years from now when you read this, the two years that we ran our gluten-free flour business will be a blur to you. Desmond, you were not even 1 when we started, so of course you won’t remember it. (What were we thinking, starting a business when we had a baby?!) But Lu, you’re bound to remember the trips to the post office, the hours I spent on the computer, the looks of stress on our faces. I don’t regret it but I’ll never do that again.
Let me tell you this: nothing has grown my respect for small companies trying to make good food for us like running our own business for a couple of years.
Making good food and getting it onto the shelves is hard work. Such hard work. I’m writing a separate essay about this, so I won’t go into too many details. But let me say this: every bag or box of food you find on the shelf has meant countless hours of work, fear, and tears for the people who made it for you.
If a company is doing well, and getting food onto grocery store shelves (or online), they generally have to hire a broker, to introduce them to distributors. Both take a percentage of profits. There are shipping costs, storage costs, printing costs, insurance, bookkeepers, accountants, employees (if you are lucky enough to have enough money to hire someone to help you), cost of the food in the first place, marketing costs because you aren’t going to sell any of this food if no one knows it’s out there, and all the hours and hours and hours of labor you put in to make sure this works.
If you are lucky, as a small company, you might make 1 to 4% profit on the work you do. You can do the math. That’s not much.
And so, for the first few years, you do all this while also working another full-time job or a couple of part-time jobs that give you the flexibility to work the hours you need. And you take no salary, and you’re poor, and you’re worried often. But you believe in the food and what you’re offering the world, so you keep going. Or you don’t, because it’s too hard, or it turns out to be not what you want, and you have to face reality.
So every time we buy something from a small company, local or otherwise, your dad and I know how much work and passion went into getting it into our hands. That’s why, given the choice between paying a bit of money more for a small company we trust than paying less for a big-company product, we go small and slightly more expensive every time.
This is community too.
Other considerations. Gluten-free? Yep. That’s no question here. Will we buy something simply because it is gluten-free? Nope. We now have so many gluten-free packaged foods that we have to say no to most of them. Great food that is also gluten-free? Yes.
Vegan? We’re not vegan. Or vegetarian. But Desmond, you seem to do much, much better without dairy, so sometimes we’ll buy foods labeled vegan for you. Still, this isn’t a priority for us.
Generally, we choose to buy food as ingredients. And we have a pretty standard list, other than changes in the produce department for season. Do we buy produce from Mexico? Mostly, we like to buy fruits and vegetables in season. This afternoon your dad roasted the first bunch of asparagus grown in Washington available at our store. We’ve been eating California asparagus — and thus asparagus many more days away from picking to our table than WA variety — and we had been enjoying it. But this? This had a much bigger taste, a slight sweetness, a nuance gone from asparagus grown in Mexico. Does that mean we never buy produce from Latin America during the winter months? Nope. We’re not purists anymore. (You two coming along pushed that out of us quickly.) Sometimes, Lucy, you really crave watermelon. And Desmond, you attack strawberries with gusto. So once in awhile, we buy foods out of season from Mexico, if they’re organic.
It’s good to have boundaries. This can all feel overwhelming, I know. But for you, maybe not so much. For you, this is merely the way you eat. We’ll see what choices you make when you leave the house. Desmond, you might go through a phase of eating top ramen and drinking beer when you’re in college. Lucy, you might become a vegetarian. You’ve talked about it a couple of times already. I wouldn’t be surprised.
So there really isn’t a right way. I believe there a thousand different ways to do the right thing.
Find your boundaries. Then stick to them.
So in our house, that means we buy food that is:
— gluten-free (except for Desmond’s sandwich bread)
— as local as possible
— organic for the Dirty Dozen, and then where we can afford it
— mostly produce
— grass-feed beef, pork from companies we trust, Alaskan seafood, tofu from the Vashon factory (organic and non-GMO and local), sustainable seafood, and chicken raised in as humane a way as possible. And not that much.
— ingredients to make our own dairy-free milk and yogurt for Desmond and us too
— from companies we like for their compassion in the world
— tastes incredible
— full of good nutrients and gives you energy for the day
— mostly unpackaged.
— occasionally, completely frivolous and following none of these guidelines but gluten-free and dairy-free.
That’s our house, right now.
What will your house be like someday, my darling kids? We can’t wait to visit you there and share a meal.