As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to write. As soon as I knew that a book was created by a mere human being, I wanted to write one. Over the past thirty-plus years, I have read thousands upon thousands of books. I have filled countless journals, from childish ones with beige paper and teddy bears in the corners, to expensive ones lined with quotes about writing, to thick black artist sketchooks with plain paper. Personal essays, short stories, bad poems, dense analysis of the Baudrillard’s take on Disneyland — I have written them all. When asked why I write, I have no other answer than, “Because I have to breathe.”
One of my dear friends dubbed me Seymour, years ago, because of a quote from J.D. Salinger’s book, Seymour: An Introduction. When asked to respond to his brother Buddy’s short stories, Seymour responds with the following response: “Were most of your stars out? Were you writing your heart out?”
For the past year and more, I have been writing my heart out, here on this website. I have been writing about my joys, my favorite tastes, my discoveries, and — lately — my love, the Chef. When I started this blog, I honestly thought I was only keeping it for my friends in far places. When people I had never met began leaving me comments, I clicked on their names to find out who they were. Thus began my grateful connection with the food blogging community. I am moved, all the time, by the people who have entered my life through my website, and through my love of food. The thousands of readers I have met through my blog — the ones who write to thank me, ask me questions, and share their own stories — inspire me to cook more and more.
You have become an integral part of my life.
I have kept this blog for the joy of it, and because I have felt I am helping other people, directly. I never, in my life, imagined that it would lead to what has been handed to me. After such a year and a half of gifts, what more could I expect?
How about fulfilling a lifelong dream?
I am pleased and humbled to announce that I recently signed a book deal with Wiley and Sons publishers, in New York. They have signed me to complete a book for publication next fall, a book entitled Gluten-Free Girl: A Life Beyond Wonder Bread. Yesterday, Publishers Weekly announced the deal in its pages, so it’s time for me to share my secret with you.
Filled with funny essays, tempting photographs, and readable, easy-to-follow recipes, A Life Beyond Wonder Bread will break down the mysteries of the kitchen and teach its readers to find themselves, laughing, in the process.
Of course, I intend this book to help everyone who cannot eat gluten. I hope that you all will find it essential. But it is also a book for anyone with food allergies, anyone who wants to become more comfortable in the kitchen, and anyone who loves food. (Hopefully, that’s a lot of people!)
Since I’m in the midst of writing this book — more on this in a moment — I find it a bit hard to epxlain exactly what it is. And so, I’d like to quote from the book proposal I spent months writing and honing, a brief description of what I envision:
“If you want to set a room full of people of the Brady Bunch generation talking, ask them about the cereal they ate as kids. ‘Count Chocula!’ someone shouted once, after a twenty-minute, heated discussion of Honey Bunches of O’s, Lucky Charms, and Cocoa Pebbles. At the sound of the name, this group of lawyers, engineers, and teachers turned ten years old again. “Oh, my God, Count Chocula!” We each had our favorite brands, and the daring among us would mix: a bit of Trix, some Life, and mostly Alpha Bits. Sugar and more sugar. We just craved that sugary milk and enriched white flour. My friend Paul says that his most vivid food memory as a kid was going to a friend’s house, where he discovered that they ate Raisin Bran for breakfast. Pouting, he put three spoonfuls of sugar in his bowl before he could even stomach the taste. We were raised on the sugary stuff, almost all of us. And my friends with the mothers who insisted on hot cereal and grainy flakes without sugar still talk about feeling deprived, because they couldn’t eat what everyone else in America ate.
An entire generation was raised to believe that cooking meant opening a box, ripping off plastic wrap, or adding water. Television commercials informed us of what food we should put in our mouths, and we paid attention. But after a lifetime of grabbing burgers from fast-food joints and eating in the back seat of our cars, we are a cooking-illiterate generation. We’re fascinated by food, and we know we should be more healthy, but we don’t know how. A Life Beyond Wonder Bread is a narrative cookbook for every one of the 54 million members of Generation X, raised on sugary cereals and microwaved snacks, who long to eat well and be confident in the kitchen.
Almost all of the tastes of my childhood were cloying, even suffocating. With everything packaged for convenience, that food fooled me into thinking that everything should taste sickly sweet or overly salty. I was completely out of touch with the way food was actually made. Everything arrived in such a state that the manufacturers might have already chewed it for me. Polystyrene, plastic, cardboard — those were the substances I knew. If Mom let me make the pudding from a Jell-o box by stirring milk into the bowl with the powder, then I felt like I was really cooking. I never knew that I could enjoy eating food in its whole state. For years, I did not know what food truly tasted like.
After my junk-food childhood, I slowly, over time, began to love real food. But it was not until I was told that I had to eat gluten-free that I became a gourmet.
I have to read every box, decipher every ingredient, and ponder every bite I eat. Some people with celiac disease subsist on foods in boxes stamped gluten-free, switching the pre-packeged allegiances of their youth to different packages. However, with the suffocating tastes of my childhood still on my tongue, I knew that I could not live my food life longing for what I once had. I started saying yes to foods I had never eaten before, as long as they did not contain gluten.
Suddenly buoyant with energy after years of being flattened with exhaustion, I spent more and more time in the kitchen, teaching myself to cook with whole foods instead of pre-packaged foodstuffs. Soon, I started making my own corn tortillas — much more satisfying than anything I had ever bought in a store — and topping them with chunks of creamy avocado, grated artisanal cheese with spices from Madagascar, and small cherry tomatoes at the height of their season. That led to making my own salsa, explosive with peppers and rich with tomato flavor. Polenta appeared on my table at least once a week, and then more often. Like the northern Italians, I far prefer it to gluten-packed pasta, especially an organic polenta from Argentina, which cooks up sunny yellow in just one minute. I let it rest overnight, then grilled thick wedges of it in a fruity olive oil from Spain, and ladled over it slow-simmered pasta sauce with ten cloves of garlic, a few shavings of nutmeg, and a touch of ginger.
I did not miss gluten.
With all these tastes dancing on my tongue, I wanted more. I bought my food locally, directly from the farmers at Seattle’s seasonal markets. I learned how to make jam from the wild blackberries growing by the side of the road in summer. Stocks from scratch, flourless chocolate tortes, homemade potato chips — nothing daunted me anymore. I connected with the community of food bloggers, making friends, and being inspired by other people’s food passions. Night after night, I made three-course meals for friends, or for myself, never making the same dish twice.
The more I connected with the foodies I met, throughout the world, the more I knew: I had found my home.
There is much more to life than Wonder Bread.”
What does all that mean? There will be horrifying, funny stories of junk food we all remember eating, even if we don’t want to admit to it now. There will be stories of living with the Crazy Famous People, and how I learned to eat great food with them while I lived in Sting’s house, in London. There will be guidelines on how to set up a kitchen after finding out one has to be gluten-free, how to cook with the best ingredients, how to eat local and seasonal and organic, how to truly enjoy one’s food. It will, in essence, be my life story, told through food.
Along with this, there will be dozens and dozens of recipes. Some will be updated recipes from this website — I would love to hear which ones you would like to see in the book — but many will be new to the book. I want the book to be far more than a mere transcription of this website. Those of you who are faithful readers of this blog might recognize some stories and passages, but the book really will be its own entity. And the same will be true for the recipes. Every single recipe will be safe for people who cannot eat gluten, but the recipes will be — first and foremost — meant to produce simply great food. They also will, every one of them, be tested and tweaked so they are fool-proof. The Chef is making sure of that.
When I began writing the proposal for this book, back in December, I had no idea that it would end up as a love story. Of all the gifts that have arrived in my life — even more than this wonderful book deal — the Chef has been the best so far. We are deeply in love, wonderfully committed to each other, playful, alive, and aware that we’re blessed. Perhaps some of this — if not much of it — is because we both live and think and work with food, all day long. We live in our bodies and dwell in our senses. We are blissfully happy. And we want to turn that goofy bliss into something good for everyone else.
And so, after we wake up in the mornings, drink a pot of strong coffee and read the newspaper, we start working on recipes. (We are playing with gluten-free olive bread, at the moment.) We talk about food. He teaches me little tricks I have never known, about how to bring out the flavors of food and season meals. We drive to his cozy restaurant, on the edge of Lake Washington, together in the early afternoon — hours before customers will arrive— and start to work. He goes into the kitchen and starts simmering veal stock and putting together mustard sauces and braising baby ribs. I sit at the bar, by the window, look out at the lake, and write for three or four hours. Yes, we both stop frequently to kiss and talk and tease each other. But really, we are made more productive by being in that quiet space together, with the smells of the food he is making inspiring me to sentences I never dreamed would spill out of me. And then I stop to ask him about a butternut squash recipe, and he makes one up on the spot. Before dinner service starts, I drive home, or to one of my favorite coffee shops, and write all night, until the Chef is done at the restaurant. Late at night, we eat an incredible dinner, drink some wine, and watch a movie before we go to bed at one.
I am in heaven.
Those of you who have been reading for awhile may be asking, “What about your teaching job, Shauna?” Well, as much as I adore teaching students how to write well, I am happy to be focusing on my own writing, at the moment. The book advance, while modest, gives me enough money to make writing the book my full-time job. And it has to be. In order for the book to be published next fall, I need to complete the manuscript by January 2nd. Yes, that is just over three months from now. Can I do it? You bet. I have never wanted anything more in my life.
What will I do for a living after January? I don’t know yet. My school decided to not grant me a leave of absence, and instead find a full-time teacher for this year, so I will not be going back. I miss the students — and I always will — but it seems clear that I am on the right path. I will pursue my writing, doing as much as I can to help those of us who must live gluten-free.
True creativity and happiness require taking a great leap. Whee!
And so, there you go. A book. Next fall. Stories and recipes. More writing from me. I cannot put into words how thrilled I am.
I want to formally thank you, all of you who have been reading and commenting, coming to this site, and making all this possible. I am writing this book for you.
And I hope that everyone buys it!