When I was 6 years old, we hit the road for a weekend of camping in the Pacific Northwest near our home in Seattle. Along the way, we passed a fisherman's crab shack on the side of the road. Before long, our appetites got the better of us and we turned around, abandoning our plans in exchange for a crab feast. Good food was always a priority in my family and has long been a great source of happiness in my life. My parents were passionate home cooks and invited me to cook by their sides at an early age. You could say we were food obsessed, always talking about the next meal and willing to go to any length for a great bite.
Food was about pleasure, of course, but my parents also prioritized health and nourishment. Dad was an environmentalist and a big supporter of farmers' rights. Mom cultivated an acre of land in Northern California and filled it with organic fruit and veggies; she was a natural heath advocate long before locavorism became a household word. Food, health, and pleasure -- these three things feel braided into my DNA.
So when I was diagnosed with celiac disease six years ago, I felt devastated, confused, and isolated. What did this mean? How could I find joy in eating with a serious dietary restriction? What could I cook? Would I be a pariah in Berkeley, my omnivorous food-loving town?
I was never a picky eater. Even as a small child, I ate everything with relish. (OK, maybe I didn't love eggplant, but really, anything else was fair game.) It was hard to wrap my mind around the notion that food -- this great pleasure in my life -- could simultaneously be a source of illness. Yes, my belly had been aching for more than a decade, and I'd struggled to find the cause. But being told by my doctors that I could never again have even a crumb of gluten was a shock. I felt as though a great source of happiness was being ripped from me, that eating would be reduced to a simple means of delivering nutrients, devoid of real pleasure.
I spent nearly a year struggling to find my way in this new GF reality. I went to the supermarket and bought everything I could that said "gluten-free" on the label. I was afraid to go to a friend's house for diner. Traveling felt impossibly risky. It was a lonely time, and I longed for the joy and deliciousness I'd always found in the kitchen.
One day my husband, Paul, astutely suggested we tear out our back lawn and replace it with edibles -- that we fill our backyard with herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. We coaxed our kiddos to help haul compost, and the four of us planted little seedlings: artichokes, lemon verbena, parsley, carrots, sorrel, kale, blueberries, rhubarb, tiny woodland strawberries, and countless other delights.
As the veggie patch bloomed, so did my passion for cooking. I stopped reaching for "gluten-free" packaged food and returned to cooking from scratch, looking at nature's incredible array of vibrant ingredients as the foundation for our meals.
I may not be able to eat wheat, rye, or barley, but that leaves thousands of tasty ingredients to cook with -- from pistachios to millet, baby artichokes to lamb chops, olives to eggs, cannellinis to crab, Greek yogurt to nectarines. With this expansive view, joy came whooshing back into our kitchen, and you could taste it at our table.
Any notion of deprivation faded when we stopped worrying about what we can't eat and truly embraced all we can. The result: mouth-watering creations like Fish Tacos with Pomegranate Salsa, Bourbon-Braised Short Ribs, Red Rice Risotto with Wild Mushrooms, Frittata Packed with Greens, Lilah's Little Apple Galettes, and ice cream sundaes with Crème Fraîche Caramel Sauce....
Inspired, I eventually wrote a cookbook that, like my blog, is inspired by flavor, bounty, joy, and a deep love of food. Its pages are packed with simple, seasonal recipes that just happen to be gluten-free. We've been cooking up a storm around here, and I cannot wait to share all of the deliciousness: from tasty cocktails to eggy delights, ample whole grains, treats from the sea, succulent meats, tons of fruits and veggies, and plenty of baked buttery goodness.
I like to serve dishes like these to our family and friends with an omnivore's grin, knowing that everyone -- gluten-free or not -- can enjoy supper to the fullest.
Erin Scott writes and photographs the award-winning blog Yummy Supper, and her work has been featured in Kinfolk, Saveur's Sites We Love, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Design Sponge, the Huffington Post and Food52. Erin lives in Berkeley, CA, with her family, where she's happiest cooking, eating, and photographing anything that sprouts in their backyard veggie patch. Visit her at yummysupper.com.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com