There are certain moments in a woman’s life that she will remember forever. The first time she hit a baseball over the left-field wall. The first time she had her heart broken by a nerdy guy in glasses or a dashing basketball player an impossible four years older than her. The first time she talked about sex with her girlfriends, with knowing innuendo instead of giggles behind her hands.
The moment when she moves out of her parents’ house. The first time she flies to New York. The day she lands the job she has always wanted.
And for me, along with those memorable moments, I can now add one that I know I will remember the rest of my life: the time I first saw my book on Amazon.
* * *
As a kid, I always dreamt of being a writer. One of the literary kinds. Not the one whose books would be produced in thick, cheap paperbacks that fall apart halfway through the read. No, as much as I thrilled to the sound of The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, I had higher aspirations.
The characters who thrilled me most when I read my stacks of books, one after the other, on long summer days? Of course, it was the plucky girls who later became heroines.
I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, read all those Little House and Village and Plum Creek books in one big gulp, devouring all the words I could find. I loved her moxie, even though I didn’t know that word then. I loved how she battled all the boys on the playground, and stood up for justice with her small fists and big mouth. I have to say that all the love stuff with Manly sort of bored me as a child. Those seemed like far less interesting adventures than her childhood on the prairie had ever been. (Um, I understand all that love stuff better now.)
I identified with Harriet the Spy, hunched into her hooded sweatshirt, furtively writing in her little black notebook. I would have done that too, if my mother had let me prowl around the neighborhood by myself. But the idea of being able to sneak into apartment buildings and crawl into dumbwaiters was as much of a fantasy for me as the idea of living on the untamed prairie in the 19th century. I did once own a orange-hooded sweatshirt, though. Mostly, I wore it in my room, while I read.
They say that every girl goes through a horse phase. Not me. (Other than reading Misty of Chincoteague, of course.) Along with a small bevy of girls around the globe, I fell in love with Jo instead. Especially when she rejected that sap, Laurie, and forged ahead to craft solidly written stories, published in small magazines. When she first saw her name in print, I wanted to cheer. That’s going to be me some day, I said to myself. Hell with the sappy boys — I want to write books.
I wrote on little scraps of paper I hid under my mattress. And felt like Francie Nolan, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, who knew how to make happiness from a bowl of ice cubes, two cracked peppermints, a book from the library, and the shaded space of the fire escape on a hot day. I tried to make happiness for myself by watching everyone around me, like she did.
Any freedom I ever felt as a kid was the freedom I found in the pages of books. I devoured them, one after the other, like the potent nectar that some Tibetan monks taste to reach enlightenment. Anything would do. Manuals on how to fix cars, long before I could drive one. The sides of cereal boxes. Pamphlets slid under the door by pairs of Mormon men dressed in identical ties. Words transported me out of the house for a few moments. But mostly, I read books by authors who had once longed for the world the way I did. People who could show me worlds I didn’t know yet.
I gamboled through Victorian England, and trudged through New England winters, and gazed on the plains of Africa. By the time I was eleven, my three favorite authors were Dorothy Parker, John Cheever, and Somerset Maughm. You do the math. I was a strange little child, perpetually reading in the semi-darkness, long after the light had faded from the room.
So, after all that reading, all those books — or actually, after reading my first book, long ago, before I had the words to say it — I knew that I wanted to write. And not just write. I was going to write the books that transported everyone else away. And they’d make my book into a movie, and I’d never have to borrow books from the library again.
I have no idea if they are going to make a movie out of my book, and frankly — I’m not sure I’d want it now. But I can share this with you, dear readers (I’ve read Jane Eyre more times than I can count. And, dear reader, I’m marrying him.). Holding the cover of my book in my hands? And now, seeing it for pre-order on the world’s largest book site?
Well, that little girl is cheering, right now.
* * *
Originally, the title of my book was going to be A Life Beyond Wonder Bread. Whenever I told anyone that, a smile formed on her lips. It made people laugh. I love that.
But the problem is — we couldn’t use that title. You see, Wonder Bread may have gone out of business in the US, but the name and the bread were bought by a corporation in Mexico called Bimbo Grupo.
They probably wouldn’t like the stories of horrified nostalgia for all the godawful processed food we all ate back then, and how it was silently making me ill. My publishers, wisely, decided we had to start again.
Immediately, the good people in the marketing department decided that the book should be called Gluten-Free Girl, after the name of this website. At first, I resisted. I want to be known as a woman, not a girl. But, after a brief time, I relented. I did choose the name, originally. I like alliteration. And there’s something timeless and childlike about my journey, and how I live today. In a strange way, this is a story of growing up. And so. That title.
The subtitle? Oh my. That took awhile longer. I had backs of envelopes and pages of yellow lined paper and little strips torn from the newspaper with sudden inspiration. I don’t remember them all now. Some of them I advocated for, strenuously. They seemed vital at the time.
After being told no, and the marketing department countering with something I just couldn’t accept, I took a rest. I thought about other things. And then I called Tita.
Tita is one of my oldest, dearest friends. She has enough common sense for ten women, plus two. Whatever she says, I remember, and it changes me. She has known me for fifteen years, and she has watched this entire journey unfold. When I asked her for a subtitle, she thought for a moment, and then said: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back.
There it was.
This has been a journey, a story of transformation. I loved food, from the moment I could eat it. But that food didn’t always love me back. Throughout my life, I was frequently sick, mostly fatigued, and sometimes at war with my own body. After I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and I stopped eating gluten, I finally learned to find food that would feed me.
This book is a love story. It’s the story of a love affair with food, and finding everything that I can eat, joyfully. It’s a story about slowing down, and appreciating my life. It’s a story about forging a new relationship with my body, and learning to love the life I have. It’s a story about eating local, eating organic, and eating in season. It’s a story about loving the time in front of the stove, dancing. It’s a story about developing recipes and devouring stories. It’s a story about finding the self I never was, for the first 38 years of my life, and reveling in that self.
And of course, it is an actual love story as well. It can’t surprise anyone to know that the last chapter of this book is about meeting the Chef.
And so, in all those ways, this is the perfect subtitle (or perhaps, even the real title): How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back.
(The other part of the subtitle? And How You Can Too? Well, let’s just say that I didn’t choose it, and I couldn’t seem to make it go away. Make of it what you want.)
* * *
For a while, I felt a little squeamish about marketing the book boldly. As much as I love sharing stories and writing here, I’m actually quite uncomfortable with trumpeting myself. I’d rather let people find what they will, come back here if they want. To tell truth, the book has been up on Amazon for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t announced it until now.
However, here’s how I feel now, after much writing and thinking and talking with other people. If I were just writing a cookbook, or a book of essays, I might not shout from the rooftops: my book is for pre-sale! I would probably allow the publishers to do their thing, and I would just do what I could to sell some copies.
But I can promise you this: I am not doing this for myself, alone. Sure, I want to sell books. I’d like to keep living this life with the Chef, loving each other, eating well, and writing about it. And of course, that little girl who is still with me cannot wait for the book tours and media appearances. I’m not ridiculous enough to say I’m not enjoying this.
But I wrote this book, and I am going to be marketing it, for one urgent reason.
I want to help everyone to finally recognize his or her own story.
As I write this, I am sitting on the couch in our living room, the same couch where I lay for hours every day, two years ago this month. For months on end, I was shattered with tiredness, shrieking with headaches, unable to eat, wracked with pain. This time of crisis followed years of lassitude and mild depression, grumbly medical problems and feeling removed from myself. I never knew what it was like to feel good.
After I was diagnosed, and stopped eating gluten, what has changed in my life? Everything. Absolutely everything.
I feel great. I eat well. I found my way. I dove into my passions and came up grinning. I met the Chef. I know real love. I know myself. I love the world more than ever before.
And I am determined to bring this chance for transformation to as many people as I can.
One out of 100 people in this country has celiac disease. 97% of them do not know it.
Think of the good we could do in this world with the energy that will be released when all of us know who we are, and we are healthy.
And so, I’m going to be singing this book from the rooftops. Everyone I meet knows someone who cannot eat wheat, or gluten, or other foods. We are all touched by this.
We are all in this together.
I hope, for these reasons, that every one of you buys this book. And that you tell your friends.
There, I said it out loud.
* * *
That little girl who read books on hot days, alone? Who dreamed of being plucky and stalwart and published in a magazine some day?
She cannot thank you enough.