“They say it’s your birthday…”


chocolate ganache cupcakes, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

“…it’s my birthday too, yeah.
I’m glad it’s your birthday.
We’re going to have a good time.”

Every morning of August 6th, I wake up, feel a jolt of recognition at the sun coming through the window, stumble out of bed, and put on track one of disc two of The Beatles (that’s its technical name, but we all call it The White Album). “Birthday” comes tumbling out, and even though I have now heard it 23 years in a row—I started this tradition on the morning of my 16th birthday—I’m still buoyed by the music. I dance, spastically, around the living room by myself, tossing my head around, and laughing, feeling grateful for being alive.

It’s a damned fine way to start another year of life.

And this year, my 39th on this planet, will be the first full year of living gluten-free. This time last year, you couldn’t have told me that I would be writing that sentence today. I love how life surprises me, constantly. This time last year, what did I even care about gluten? Now, it’s pretty central to my life. Or at least the absence of it is. Gluten-free means freedom.

And so, this will be the first truly healthy year of my life. That’s the best birthday present I can imagine.

This morning, after dancing and singing, I drank coffee by the window while reading The New York Times, slowly. Talked to my folks, thanking my mom for giving birth to me. And then I walked across the street to Ken’s Market, for buttermilk and gerbera daisies. A jaunt down to A + J Meats, the exceptional butcher six blocks away, for apricot pork sausages. You’d have to taste them to believe them. And because A + J’s is an old-fashioned butcher, run by people who truly care about food, these sausages are gluten free. The friendly man behind the counter looked at me askance when I asked if they used any fillers in their meats. Of course not. Once again, local and fresh is best.

I love shopping in my neighborhood. I feel European, walking to one store for my meats, another for my seafood, another for flowers, and the bakery for one chocolate ganache cupcake. (By its definition, ganache is gluten free. Whee!) And in each place, there are smiles, conversation, and connections with people.

Back home, I made my first gluten-free pancakes. Cornmeal blueberry pancakes, to be precise. The recipe, which I found on Glutenfreeda, is ridiculously easy, and posted below. I recommend not trying to make a pancake the size of the skillet. I still have splatters of pancake batter on my stove at the moment.

And now, the entire day is stretched before me. I had a lovely conversation with Clown. Then Carlos called as he was walking near Columbia, the neighborhood in New York where we used to gather for cafe con leches and long hilarious conversations. He had a taste for gingerbread and thought of me. Time to write. A long bubble bath. Time for reflection. And the Blue Angels screeching by overhead.

Later this afternoon, there’s a big birthday party at the beach. I’ve made fruit salad, chickpea salad, iced tea, and my very own gluten-free birthday cake. I made it from a Sylvan Border lemon cake mix, and I highly recommend it. (My family gathered here yesterday, and we had to sample it.) It tastes like a dense, moist pound cake, but without all the butter. But seriously, you have to mix it with the dough hook on the Kitchen Aid, or it just won’t work. That dough is thick. When it came out of the oven, it looked like a pan of meringue. And I still have not figured out how to make a truly great, thick buttercream frosting. Another time. Leave it in the fridge to cool, and there you have it. Real birthday cake, good enough to garner the oohs and aahhs of people who don’t have to eat gluten free. I’ll cut it up and bring it to the beach tonight.

Mostly, I’m just happy to be here. 39 feels great. I know that most people freak out at the idea of approaching 40, but I love it. Now, I truly and well feel like an adult, centered in my life, and happy where I’m standing. After the celiac diagnosis, everything feels as though it’s opening outward. Everything feels possible.

It’s good to be alive.


GLUTEN-FREE BLUEBERRY-POLENTA PANCAKES

1/2 cup of GF flour
1/2 cup of GF cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar (I use superfine baker’s sugar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda (I think I’m going to try baking powder next time)
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup of blueberries

–mix together all dry ingredients (hint: I used to never do this, thinking, “Oh, why is that important?” But this year, I learned to follow the rules, and it does make a difference. Trust me.)
–Beat the eggs (I recommend you buy a Kitchen Aid, for all reasons.), then add in the melted butter and buttemilk.
–Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix until just blended. Fold in the blueberries.

–Melt some butter in a skillet on medium high. Dollop in about 1/2 cup of batter. Wait for the bubbles to appear and begin popping, then flip over the pancake. (Don’t worry if it’s a mess–life’s imperfect.) Cook until browned.

Eat with pure maple syrup and a couple of gorgeous sausages.

Smile.

12 comments on ““They say it’s your birthday…”

  1. Errant

    Shauna, thankyou so much!
    I’ve only recently been diagnosed, and my gluten-reactions have just blossomed to full awfulness. I just want to say that your blog has given me so much information, understanding, reassurance and hope… I admire your attitude, your writing, and can’t wait for your book to come out!
    I’ve finally been inspired to speak out by this recipe — after a mistake a few days ago, I’ve been feeling down, daunted, too sick to stock up and cook… I whipped up a half-batch of these delicious pancakes though, and now my day looks alot brighter! I’m definitely going to share these — oh, and I’m determined to grow my own blueberries ;)
    Thankyou for sharing your experiences and advice — and for making me feel that I, too, can say YES!

    1. AJ

      I hate to be awful — I’m new to trying to understand this Celiac/Gluten-Free pandemic — My step-daughter has a gluten intolerance — not diagnosed (she is 14) and I have so many friends with Celiac disease it frightens me! So, when I ask this question, don’t be upset. I hope that you can be open-minded to my inquiry:
      Is it your experience that as soon as a diagnosis of Gluten-Intolerance or Celiac Disease has been made and stated to you that the symptoms inflame and become worse if you eat anything with gluten in it? How can one, who early on in their life ate everything without a care, all of a sudden become gluten intolerant?
      I don’t mean to come off in this note as someone who is skeptical of this disease — I totally get it. I just don’t understand how this works and if you have noticed what I am probably just assuming to be true.

      Thank you for your patience with me!
      AJ

      1. shauna

        I had this experience too. Going years of eating it and growing progressively worse. Now, if I get any gluten by mistake, which might happen a few times a year, it only takes 1/2 a teaspoon for me to be sick for 5 days. I don’t know the mechanism that makes our bodies so sensitive. I’d love for someone to explain it to me. But I do know that it’s real.

  2. emilykate

    Wow, crazy coincidence: today is my 21st birthday (woohoo!), and I just consumed a massive plate of these pancakes. They, too, were my first pancakes since going gluten-free last August.

    I lavished in my breakfast so deeply this morning that I decided I needed to post my thanks. Because I had printed this recipe a week or so ago, I had forgotten the birthday connection until I came to post this morning. I love it.

    Thank you so much for your recipes and your writing. One of my goals for this summer is to become much more competent in gluten-free baking. I just finished your book, and I now feel armed and ready. =)

    And thank you for contributing to the beginning of my 21st birthday celebration!!!

    Cheers.

  3. cumino

    I will try for sure. I love your recipes and the way to write about you and your beautiful family. From Italy, love.

  4. Ellen

    Hello Shauna!
    This is an older post of yours, but after finishing your book last night, I couldn’t wait to whip up something great this morning!
    I’ve developed a bit of a quinoa habit (thank you very uch!) and I have started throwing in flaxseed as well for my morning pick/warm-me-up. I had made wild rice pancakes in the past and decided to go ahead and risk making a huge mistake by using quinoa and pieces of the recipe you’ve listed here!
    I came up with:
    1/2 cup GF flour blend (1/3 tapioca, 1/3 rice flour, 1/3 potato flour)
    1/2 cornmeal
    dash of salt
    less than a teaspoon of baking powder
    2 Tbs. sugar
    1 egg
    1/2 cup cooked quinoa with flaxseed
    1/2 cup buttermilk

    Awesome, blossom!

    Reading your book (my Christmas present to me), was satisfying in the same way that cooking can be. Knowing that there is a community of people who have come before you, followed similar recipes with similar ingredients is the first part. Then, there’s the feasting, the gift of enjoying something you’ve learned from someone and then made with your own hands, decided on with your own heart…
    Your enthusiastic humanness is charming and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liebe Gruesse from Germany,
    Ellen

  5. Anonymous

    Hi Shauna,
    Your site and your book are such an inspiration. I’m dairy-free as well as gluten-free and adjusted this recipe with hazelnut milk instead of buttermilk. My husband and my daughter both loved it as much as I did.
    Thanks for all you do!
    DF/GF in San Rafael

    1. Jeff

      Here’s a version for those who, like me, need to avoid gluten, dairy AND egg. This recipe happens to be vegan as well!

      For the flour, use a mix of cornmeal, cornflour, and oatmeal. If you use more than a little oatmeal, add 1/4 tsp baking soda.

      For the milk, substitute soy or rice milk.

      For the egg, substitute 1/2 ripe mashed banana per egg.

      For the butter, substitute flaxseed meal at a 4:1 ratio.

      Most people who try this recipe — even if they can tolerate all of these things — never want to go back to the old pancakes.

      1. suzi

        Jeff, what do you mean when you say 4:1 with flaxseed meal as a butter substitute?
        Are you saying 4 parts flax to 1 part something?
        Do you grind it, soak it.…? I’m new at this sorry!
        So excited about the information you left for us.
        Thank you very much!

  6. Cora White

    Thank you for re-posting this. I am in exactly the same boat well except I am close to a month gluten free. But an answer was such a joy to receive!