When you meet Shauna James Ahern, or Gluten-Free Girl as she's known to her adoring followers, it is not the burden of having celiac that comes through — quite the opposite. It is her relentless upbeat attitude that seems to guide her through her days. She writes and cooks beautifully, informed of course by her need to avoid gluten, but without it feeling burdensome.
In fact, Shauna, who lives with husband Daniel and daughter Lu on Vashon Island (a ferry ride away from Seattle), says that the what influences her cooking most is what is in season. "Living on a rural island has made our food much more humble and better, I believe. I never thought kale could be so exciting! We have a few farm stands on the island that we visit often. There's never anyone there. We just put our money into the coffee can."
Shauna and her family live in a rented house, but, she says, "It feels so much like home that we forget it's not ours." She and Daniel recently put in a huge effort to organize the kitchen, which is so much better than her previous one, if not her dream kitchen. "It looked a Rembrandt painting all the time," she explains, "all that pale northern light barely seeping in. This one is still darker than I want it (I dream of a big white kitchen with skylights), but it's much bigger."
We asked Shauna to share her kitchen, what she loves about it, and what she'd change. We also look at her (very organized!) pantry and asked about the tools that make gluten-free cooking easier. Here's what she had to say.
At Home in Seattle with Shauna James Ahern, a.k.a. Gluten-Free Girl
What's your favorite thing about your kitchen?
I love that everything in our kitchen has a place now. Our friends Anita and Cameron (of MarriedWithDinner.com) were the masterminds behind the recent organization effort, and insisted that we buy several lazy Susans to make "mise en place stations." We also found lovely glass bottles for all the oils and used the label maker. We keep them close at hand to the stove (but not so close that they grow hot) and can cook immediately.
Also: Danny finally let us buy hot pads! Like any good chef, he just wanted bar towels. (They live in the baking drawer.)
Steal this trick: Make mise en place stations with Lazy Susans. Put oils into glass bottles with labels to pretty things up!
What's the one thing you would you change?
I just live for light. And since we spend most of our time in the kitchen — especially because it opens into the dining room and living room, so it's one big space — I'd love more light.
Also, we can't stand our side-by-side stainless steel refrigerator! It looks big but there is really no space inside. The fridge feels cramped immediately.
Tell us a bit about your open shelving. Love it or hate it?
The open shelves were where the cookbooks used to live, but it felt too heavy. We took them down and put up pretty things, but that felt like a waste of space. So now, we have all our plates, saucers, bowls, glasses, and cups up there. This encouraged us to let go of all but eight of each thing. We have a lot fewer dishes to do now!
About those cookbooks...
Five years ago I was a high school teacher. I never had any idea I would call David Lebovitz my friend, or that Dorie Greenspan would hug me at a food blogging conference, or even that I'd be in the same room as Amanda Hesser! As useful as these book are — and we pull one down every day — it's also a reminder of how extraordinary these past few years have been for us both.
What make a well-stocked gluten-free pantry?
The more the variety of foods, the more interesting the meals will be. We're really interested in this right now — how to create a great pantry and cook from it. We're learning that we save a lot of money if we keep our pantry stocked instead of going to the store every day.
So, what's in your pantry?
Good beans, oils, vinegars, rice, fruits and nuts, salts, peppers, and lots of of spices. We love whole grains, so we have an entire drawer filled with containers of millet, quinoa, teff, red quinoa, wild rice, black rice; all gluten-free. My baking cupboard is stocked with at least ten different flours at all times!
How about kitchen tools: What has made cooking without gluten easier?
A kitchen scale is essential, since all the different gluten-free flours have different weights. If you try to convert a regular gluten recipe with cups, it may not work. If you work with grams, it works every time.
I also use my KitchenAid stand mixer a lot. I love that machine. I've had the same one since 1995 and (knock on wood) it shows no signs of going out yet.
Where does the Grande Dame of gluten-free living shop?
We love restaurant supply stores for cooks' tools. The equipment is solid and without flash and thus far less expensive. It's meant to last.
As for ingredients? We love our local seafood market, a good butcher that sells local meat, Pike Place Market, our farmstands and garden, Chef Shop, Anson Mills, Rancho Gordo, and any farmers' market we can find.