Here's a random and fairly useless fact: Josh and I used to own a gourmet food store. It wasn't that long ago, and yet it feels like it was almost a lifetime ago. Things have changed a lot for us since then.
We often get asked if we miss it. The answer (and the reasoning behind it) is different for each of us, and has changed over time, but mine is becoming primarily "No." Owning a store was never a goal or passion of mine, and the behind-the-scenes work of keeping the shelves stocked and the books balanced was uninspiring to me, to say the least. It's not who I am. I do miss the store, but I miss it in the same way I would miss any other much-loved, but closed, establishment.
Which is to say, I miss shopping in it. I miss all the amazing foods we sold, things like Salumi salami and syrupy aged balsamic and jewel-like membrillo; things that are now a lot harder to come by around here. Although, to be completely honest, when your culinary philosophy is to try and cook as much as possible from scratch, even specialty foods become less appealing. So many little jars of condiments and sauces and flavored oils, fancy cookies and gourmet potato chips. Try as we might, we never could manage to stock the shelves with more ingredients than processed foods. But it was a great store, and I'll always be proud of what we created.
One thing that made it particularly great, to my mind, was this: Josh made fresh semolina pasta every day, which was rolled and cut to order for our customers. In our small town in Maine this was a pretty big deal, and people loved it. So much so that it was difficult to keep up with all the orders we'd get. Occasionally, though, Josh would have a little left over at the end of the day, which he'd bring home and cook off for a late-night dinner.
That pasta was beautiful to me. Vibrant yellow from egg yolks, curling and wrapping around itself in such a soft, voluptuous way, looking practically fluffy when it was perfectly cooked. Even with just a glaze of butter and a scattering of Parmigiano-Reggiano, I could tell it was a satisfying, complete meal. It was a wholly different creature from dried pasta, and it was a revelation to witness.
Of course, I was just a spectator to all this. I had long ago been given the celiac label, long before fresh pasta (and most artisan food, really) was on my radar. I never ate fresh semolina pasta, and I certainly never tasted Josh's egg fettuccine with pancetta and olives. I always regretted missing out on that part of the gluten-full world.
Now I am eating fresh pasta almost every other day, a pasta which has every right to claim the loving description I bestowed on Josh's version as its own. This is gluten-free pasta that can be served proudly to anyone, gluten-free or not, with no apologies or qualifiers attached to it. This feels like a minor miracle, as anyone who needs to eat gluten-free can attest to.
All because of Shauna James Ahern and Danny Ahern, that wonderful duo more commonly known as the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. I can't imagine I need to tell you who they are. Shauna is only one of the most well-known, respected gluten-free bloggers and authors out there. You need to be reading her. Her equally-talented husband Danny, aka the Chef, is immediately recognizable to anyone who has followed Shauna's blog and her poignant (and often hilarious) telling of their amazing life together, from their first meeting to their Italian honeymoon to the birth of their daughter to this moment, the "birth" of their second major collaboration: a cookbook.
Shauna and Danny have written a beautiful narrative cookbook unlike any other I've seen, and it has the added bonus of being gluten-free to boot. Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes tells a story any romantic epicure will appreciate: of falling in love through food. Shauna and Danny live in food more completely than most people I know, and they do it with grace and respect and humor. This is their story, in their own voices, and it is eloquent and inspiring.
It is also delicious. There's the pasta I mentioned. Which I have been eating every which way, all around town. I made Pasta with Anchovies, Lemon, and Olives from the book. A jumble of some of my favorite flavors - briny, salty, nutty, buttery, rich, and bright. Every tangled mouthful a melding of classic Mediterranean tastes. With that lovely, lovely pasta grounding the whole thing.
But I didn't stop there. I needed more of that pasta. So late one afternoon at the end of a hectic day I made a pasta carbonara - such a perfect, quick supper - which the boys couldn't get enough of. And then I made more pasta, and brought it with me to Josh's restaurant for dinner with the in-laws. He topped half with a spicy seafood arrabbiata sauce, and the rest was tossed with beurre blanc and olives and Parmigiano-Reggiano. We ended up eating in a back room, with bad lighting, where the kids could be rambunctious. Still, I thought the pasta was wonderful. But an even better compliment? Josh loved it, which is saying something, coming from a man with impossibly high standards and the history of his own fresh pasta behind him.
The pasta recipe alone is worth the price of the book. Please buy it.
When you do, you'll happily discover that there is so, so much more to explore and experience in this book.
There are Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies, which pair equally well with a healthy glass of milk or a not-so-healthy generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Can you guess which way is my favorite? Make these when you have company coming over, so you won't have to deal with the inevitable guilt of eating the whole pan by yourself. (Trust me on this one.)
For your next splurge-worthy occasion, seek out Marcona almonds so you can make Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Almond Sauce. We used to sell Marcona almonds at our store. They were a staple in our house. But it never occurred me to purée them to use as a sauce. That's another beautiful thing about this book: Shauna and Danny utilize ingredients and concepts that are not necessarily going to be new to everyone, but they treat them just differently enough so that you feel like you're being exposed to something novel. By showing you food through their eyes, they open your own eyes. To the joys of food, of feeding others, of loving life.
And in the end, that's what this cookbook is about. About learning to live more fully, with all your senses, using food and cooking to create "joy in the belly" for those you love. An invaluable lesson, I think. I absolutely love it.
This post is part of a coordinated effort to promote Shauna and Danny's new cookbook. If you're interested, please head over to Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, where Shauna will be posting links to all the participating blogs for your reading pleasure.