Austin Gluten-Free Story: Part 6
Welcome Karen Morgan, the brilliant mind behind Blackbird Bakery. Make sure to pick up her new cookbook. It looks simply mouth-watering. I can’t wait to dive into it and get baking! This is the last Austin gluten-free blogger in this series. Thanks to all those who have stopped by to read their inspiring stories.
About Karen Morgan and her Gluten-Free Story
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas and only lived outside the limits of the city for the two years I attended college at Purdue University. Although Purdue was a fine place to learn, it just wasn’t Texas enough for me, so I completed my comparative lit degree at the University of Texas. Upon my return home, I met and quickly fell in love as most young girls do, which is with all heart and no head, with the man I would subsequently marry, Tim Morgan. I was twenty-one years old.
There was a significant age gap between us, but Tim and I didn’t seem to care because we knew a good thing when we saw it and in our case, tasted. You see, Tim and I serenaded each other the old-fashioned way, through sumptuous homemade meals and gorgeous, blooming wines. Tim was classically trained at Anne Willan’s now legendary cooking school, La Varenne, and the dishes we created together would have made Bacchus himself blush.
Shortly after we met, I was suddenly diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2002, and all of our culinary dreams came to a screeching halt. I was devastated and quickly fell into a very deep depression; being told that it was no longer possible for me to enjoy the homemade pasta and bread that was a cornerstone of my diet was a blow that brought me back to my bedrock, literally.
I grew up cooking in the Italian American way and have always had a strong presence in the kitchen. Meeting and marrying Tim was the catalyst that brought this latent hobby of mine to the fore and has become my very life. My breaking point came when I returned home from Whole Foods one day with a trove of gluten-free products. All I remember is sitting on the kitchen floor, weeping. I mean pouring tears, as I tried choking down this cookie that was nothing more than glorified cardboard with a dash of sand, a shovelful of salt. It was devoid of anything that resembled a treat. I marched over to the trash can and hurled every last thing I purchased into that gaping container the way the universe launches unwanted matter into a black hole.
With tears streaming down my face and determination hammering in my heart, I vowed to create gluten-free treats that were just as good, if not better, than what came before. The pivotal, life changing moment came in the summer of 2006. Our dear friends, David and Cindy Price, who own an amazing Chateau in the Jura region of France, invited us to cook there for the summer. We immediately agreed, packed our bags, bundled up our two-year old son, Leo, and headed to Nans Sous Ste. Anne. By this time, I had amassed well over a hundred recipes and I decided to use this opportunity to test some of them out. So without telling David and Cindy, or the patrons who came to dine, every single dessert I made was gluten-free. We got a standing ovation every night.
Sadly, by the time we returned home four months later, our marriage was in shambles, forcing us to make the soul tearing decision to separate. Two years later, we would be divorced. In spite of the marital discord, I realized that if my recipes could please the infamously picky French palates, then I could really make some significant changes in the states. So I hitched my heavy heart to this particular star and set out to help others. I wanted to get people to see that gluten-free really was just as good as what came before, so I started my first food blog, The Art of Gluten Free Cooking. It was here that I found a way to help others find gluten-free solace.
I always resented the helplessness I felt upon my diagnosis and was thrilled that my recipes could help eliminate this feeling in those who were newly diagnosed. It became my mission and I have not wavered from this reason for being since I set upon it. The response was so good, I decided to open Texas’s first gourmet gluten-free online bakery and gluten-free lifestyle destination, Blackbird Bakery in 2008. I began getting requests to travel and bake for private parties and by the luck of the gods, I had the great fortune to bake for celebrities and professional athletes. The attention didn’t go unnoticed and in the fall of 2009, I sold my cookbook, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free, to Chronicle Books of San Francisco, which is now available at all major book sellers.
Even though I am a published author, I am still not immune to gluten-free struggles, which includes going out to eat. Sauces are the main culprit, but now that more and more restaurant owners and their wait staffs are aware of how many of us dining are living the gluten-free lifestyle, it is getting easier, slowly but surely.
Here are my top three favorite local restaurants that are very gluten-free friendly:
- Wink Restaurant: I absolutely love Wink because not only does Eric source all their foods from local organic farms, but he is highly aware of the gluten-free revolution. They always customize my orders and I love the entire wait staff.
- Parkside: Parkside has, hands down, the best raw bar in town. Need I say more?
- Matt’s El Rancho: The manager, Billy’s wife is gluten-free, so he always takes great care of me. Plus, they have the best margaritas in town and you can’t beat that with a stick.
When I’m cooking at home, there are a few gluten-free products that I always fall back on:
- Anything from Blackbird Bakery, of course! My favorite recipes? My cream puffs, buttermilk bread, and coconut tres leches.
- Anything from Bob’s Red Millespecially their gluten-free oats!
- LOVE Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta. It doesn’t turn to mush and I love the flavor. Plus, they make the best lasagna noodles on the market.
My favorite bits of advice for those who are newly diagnosed:
- Eliminate all processed foods, including the dark-colored sodas, so you’ll remain healthy as you learn how to navigate through all the ingredients and find brands you can trust. Of course products labeled as gluten-free are safe, but those that are not equals a red flag.
- Read up on how sauces are made so when you go out to eat, you know to ask if a marinade is made with soy sauce, or if they used a roux to make their soup. Also, ask if their deep fat fryers are gluten-free. Those French fries you thought were gluten-free really may not be.
- Most of all, demand the best so that products will continue to improve, because our lifestyle is nigh and is the wave of the culinary future.
Thank you Karen for stopping by ATX Gluten-Free to share your story.
That’s a wrap in this series of Austin Gluten-Free Bloggers. I hope you enjoyed!