Having lived through an entire seasonal cycle of eating gluten-free, I learned one lesson most profoundly: pay attention to the rhythm of the kitchen.
Before I went gluten-free, I cooked according to recipes. If the pasta dish in a cookbook called for tomatoes, I bought tomatoes, no matter what the season. Now, I can’t believe I ever bought pale tomatoes with no real flavour in January.
When I found out I could no longer eat gluten, I found real food. I began eating foods in the season in which they grew. That is what my body wanted.
Now, if it’s autumn, when everything grows a little darker, a little heavier, there’ll be a fat orange squash sitting on my cutting block, left over from a trip to the farmers’ market the day before. Butternut squash soup – maybe I’ll make that tonight, I’ll think. I breathe out, and know I can make it through the day, as long as I make it back to the kitchen.
In winter, it’s pitch black by 4 o’clock outside my living room windows. Every year, it takes me a few weeks to remember that we are animals first and civilized beings afterward. We’re in hibernation mode. But this past winter, standing in front of the stove humming, the blackened windows steamed up from the heat, I didn’t feel that bad about the darkness. Instead, I braised meats, sautéed dark greens, and ate whole grains and starchy carbohydrates. My body wanted to store up reserves against the cold.
In spring, when the farmers’ markets rise to life, baby peas appear in my green salads. I rediscover tender artichokes, muscular arugula, and then the first batch of spring goat cheese. This past spring, I ate ramps, delicious wild leeks, for the first time.
And now, in this season of summer, when the sun stays late, I have boundless energy to create. I eat fruit and vegetables straight from the stand. Sunlight floods my kitchen, and I swing my hips in front of the stove, creating new concoctions, like a blackberry sauce with cayenne pepper over seared salmon.
All summer long, I am making food I used to buy at the store: lemony hummus; basil pesto; chicken curry salad; raspberry frozen yogurt. Everything I make tastes much more alive than the commercial imitations. Every food I create makes the next recipe easier.
And, there are strawberries.
The other day, when I asked my favourite produce man at the Pike Place Market in Seattle what was best that day, he pointed to the strawberries. Full as pregnant pauses, more lurid red than anything in nature in recent months, and dotted with seeds that were destined to stick in my teeth. I had to have some. I took a bite and nearly cried when an authentic sweetness came rushing to my tongue. With subtle warmth, a high clear taste, as rushing sweet as a first kiss at the end of the evening – these were strawberries.
If I eat in season, and plan meals in my kitchen according to the ingredients the earth is offering at the time, I feel alive. Besides, what would be the joy of strawberries in summer if I ate them all year long?
For Shauna’s superb gluten-free Vanilla Bean Fruit Salad recipe see Allergic Living magazine’s Summer 2007 issue. To order that issue or to subscribe, click here.
Shauna’s first book is Gluten-Free Girl: How I found the food that loves me back … And how you can too, published by John Wiley & Sons. Write to Shauna at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shauna James Ahern’s and Daniel Ahern’s new cookbook is Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, published by John Wiley & Sons. Their blog is Glutenfreegirl.com.