Today I want to tell you about a friend of mine. You’ve heard of her, I’ll bet, and if not from me, then because of her own site. Her name is Shauna, and people, the lady knows how to live.
I first met Shauna a couple of years ago, in September, I think, when, after a series of long, chatty e-mail exchanges, we decided to sit down for some tea at Mr. Spots Chai House, a little hippie haven of sorts in Ballard, a neighborhood about halfway between our apartments at the time. I should tell you at this point that I have a terrible fear of chai, due to the fact that after having my first mug of the stuff about ten years ago, I went home and had horrible, horrible dreams – like, he’s-chasing-me-with-a-chainsaw kind of dreams, the sort that make you never want to sleep again. But Shauna and I sat down one Sunday afternoon and shared a cup or two, and both the conversation and the chai were delicious. Then we went to the Ballard farmers’ market and strolled around in the early autumn light, and watching Shauna swoon over a crate of red onions, I knew she was somebody I wanted to keep around.
(In case you’re wondering, though, I did have nightmares again that night, awful ones about ex-boyfriends and drive-by shootings – both of them utterly terrifying in their way – and needless to say, I haven’t had chai since. Don’t ask. Shauna and I have since moved on to coffee, other teas, or, preferably, wine. Lots of wine.)
I want to tell you about my friend Shauna today because her first book, titled Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back . . . & How You Can Too, has just been released, only ten days ago today. I know I’m biased – oh and how – but hers is a story that everyone should hear. You don’t have to have celiac disease to read Shauna’s book, or to care about what she has to say – about how she went from a childhood of processed foods and frequent illness to a diagnosis that could have devastated her; about how she chose instead to see it as a gift, a chance to start over, to live bigger and fuller and brighter, the way she does today: in good health, in love, up to her elbows in good food.
Shauna is passionate about celiac awareness, but she’s even more passionate about this dirty business we call life. I always thought I was pretty good at appreciating things, at scraping every drop of sauce, so to speak, from my dinner plate. But this lady, I swear. If I’m scraping the plate, she’s licking the darn thing. She’s going after life with both hands.
My friend Shauna lights up the room. I’ve never met someone who could make obstacles disappear the way she does, like magic. And though she may seem sweet on her website, the girl can be downright gritty in real life, which I secretly love. She’s a terrific partner for watching the Oscars, when lots of catty commentary is required. And for someone with such an open, ready smile, she can swear like a seasoned sailor. You should have seen how hard she laughed at me when she saw the chair I used to sit in at my desk. I’d chosen it because my desk at the time was an old Hoosier-style hutch, and it was a funny, too-tall height, so this was the best solution, albeit a somewhat uncomfortable one. Shauna howled when she saw it. (Needless to say, I’ve since moved on to real, big-people chairs.)
Really, there’s nobody with whom I’d rather share a dinner of pork chops and plum sauce, or a plate of homemade sausage and polenta, or a platter of zucchini carpaccio, or a spur-of-the-moment snack of green olives and hard cheese, or – as we ate a couple of nights ago at Volterra, when she came by to drag me out of the house after a day of writing – an arugula salad with fennel, slices of cucumber smeared with a soft cow’s milk cheese from Italy, and (gluten-free) pasta with stewed wild boar and red wine. Hers may be a diet with some serious restrictions, but to sit at her table, it doesn’t feel that way.
I thought about sharing a recipe from Shauna’s book today. Maybe the lemon olive oil cookies or the chocolate banana bread? It seemed only fitting. But in truth, I’d rather that you read them in her words, from the pages of her book. And anyway, a week or two ago, while perusing the October issue of Gourmet, I came upon a recipe that I know she would love, a recipe for bratwurst served with a compote of apples stewed in white wine and cream. Really, that recipe all but sat up on the page and said, HELLOOOOO SHAUNA. Not only was it naturally gluten-free, but I happen to know that the lady loves sausage, not to mention other forms of pork – like I said, she’s a good one – and she has more than once sung for me the praises of the humble apple.
So yesterday, come lunchtime, I browned a bratwurst in her honor and ate it with a cream-cloaked jumble of apples and onions. Given a good simmer in white wine, the apples soften and the onions relax, and with finishing dashes of sugar and vinegar and a lashing of cream, the combined effect is both sweet and savory, rich and tart, like something you might find on a farmhouse table in Normandy or Alsace. It’s a lusty, rib-sticking, delicious mess, perfect Sunday fare for a cool October day. I have a feeling that Shauna would approve.
Bratwurst with Creamy Apple Compote
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2007
The original version of this recipe calls for the bratwurst to be split and broiled, but I usually pan-cook mine, so that’s what I chose to do here. I like the look better, anyway, of a whole, nicely browned brat.
Also, the original version calls for 8 brats for 4 people, but given the richness of the compote – serious and seriously delicious richness – I don’t know about that. I’m more inclined to steer you toward 1 brat per person, and then a green salad alongside.
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered from root to stem, sliced
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges
1 Turkish bay leaf
½ tsp. salt
1 cup dry white
4 bratwurst (see note above)
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Combine butter and oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet, and warm over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Add onion, apples, bay leaf, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add the wine, cover, and simmer gently until the apples are tender but still hold their shape, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the lid and briskly simmer until the wine is reduced by about half, 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile, while the apple mixture cooks, prepare the bratwurst. Place a large heavy skillet – I like cast-iron for this – over medium heat, and let it get nice and hot. Then add a small glug of vegetable oil: preferably safflower or grapeseed, since they have a higher smoke point than other types. Then add the bratwurst. They should sizzle nicely. Cover the pan and cook, flipping the bratwurst a couple of times, until they are evenly browned and cooked through. (I usually have to cut into one of mine to check for doneness, but it doesn’t really bother me: the juices that run out help to coat the pan a bit more and give the brats a nice sheen.)
While the brats are cooking, finish the apple compote. When the wine is reduced, stir in the cream, brown sugar, and cider vinegar. Briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Serve the compote alongside the bratwurst.
Yield: 4 servings