“…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. 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. 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 gluten-free all-purpose 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)
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.