In the car on our way to a dinner of barbecued wild salmon and mushroom risotto with wonderful friends, the Chef and I were stopped at an extra-long stop light. We looked over to watch a little blond-headed boy dance on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. When I glanced up at his mother, sipping a beer and looking slightly pained, I pointed her out to the Chef. “See that woman?” I said. “She has celiac.”
“How do you know?” he said, peering at her.
“Look at her face,” I said as I gestured. After she lowered her glass of beer to the table, we could both see her splotchy-red face, the pasty-white skin around it, the puffy look, the sleepy eyes. She looked like nearly every photograph of me taken before two years ago.
We had been going through photographs, earlier that afternoon, as preparation for packing. Mostly, it was an excuse to show each other photographs from our past. As we toured through photographs from my childhood, and the awkward early adolescence, the mis-begotten perm of my late-college years, and my time on Vashon and in New York, we were struck by this. In every third photograph I look tired and blotchy, red and slightly hazy. “You must have eaten half an hour before this one,” he said of a particularly bad photograph, my face as red and white as wine spilled on a restaurant tablecloth. Even photographs of me at seven look like I’m in the middle of a gluten episode.
“That woman has celiac,” he said, after he looked at her for a moment. As we started to drive away, I wished that I could somehow stop, and tell her, “Please put down that beer. You really don’t need it.”
I have many passions in life. In fact, I have so many passions that it’s hard to keep up sometimes. They all spill out here, in one way or another. But I have come to realize, recently, that along with all my passions, I have one clear mission in life:
I want to help everyone who has celiac to be diagnosed, and I want to help them eat well, joyfully.
The last two years have been, without a doubt, the best of my life. It’s not just because I met the Chef, or because I have a book coming out in October. Believe me, neither of those life dreams could have happened without my celiac diagnosis. And as much as it has become a truism for the times it has been uttered, the idea is still right at the core: without your health, none of it means that much.
Some of you who write to me let a sentence like this slip in: “Why don’t you write more about being gluten-free?” Well, I feel like I am. Instead of testing gluten-free packaged foods or writing about my latest pancake recipe, I’m trying to show here what it is like to be in love with one’s life, gluten-free. That’s why, on some days, I simply post a photograph of a bowl of food that called to me from across the living room. From food comes stories. I have a lot of stories. And from stories come a life complex and alive, always changing and never boring. I work on this notion: if the title of the blog is Gluten-Free Girl, then everything within it is gluten-free.
Because I went gluten-free, I found my life. I found real food. I found a deep and growing curiosity about everything to do with food, including the people who make it, the miles it has traveled to my plate, and the ways we can make it. Some days, I spend so much time with great food and the people who make it that I forget that I have a special way of eating. To be honest, I’m so constantly in touch with people who need to eat gluten-free, and spend every day with a man dear enough to make his entire restaurant safe for me to eat in, that I don’t feel like I’m suffering with this. At all.
But others are suffering. Perhaps even you.
1 out of 100 Americans, it is estimated, has celiac disease. Only 3% of us have been diagnosed. Now, some of those people have skipped the doctor’s visit, the blood test, and the biopsy. They stopped eating gluten and felt so much better that the official diagnosis doesn’t matter. They aren’t counted in the official statistics. But most of the people with celiac have belly aches or anemia or swollen joints or infertility problems or exhaustion or a multitude of little complaints that they have come to accept. They don’t know that they could feel better. They could be reborn.
A surprising number of you have written to me to say that you came to this site to help a friend or family member, and you realized, after reading, that you needed to be tested too. How many people have been diagnosed with celiac because of this little website? I don’t know. But I want more.
I’m hoping that the book gets so much exposure that every person who feels lousy at least has celiac in her or his brain, so (s)he can ask her or his doctor.
And so, I’d like to offer two sources.
If you suspect you have celiac, try this quiz at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: Do I Have Celiac? These folks are smart, energetic, and media savvy. They want what I do: to get everyone diagnosed.
Recently, I was sent a link by Dr. John LaPuma, in California. Dr. LaPuma has co-written two bestselling books, with Dr. Michael Roizen: The Real Age Diet and Cooking the Real Age Way. He also wrote the recipes for You: The Owner’s Manual. (You know the one. You probably own it. That one written by the two doctors that are on the Oprah show every fifteen minutes these days.) Dr. LaPuma also has a television show on Lifetime, called ChefMD. You see, he’s a trained chef as well as a doctor.
What he was doing writing to me, I don’t know. But write he did. And he directed me to this pithy, funny quiz he wrote: Should I be gluten-free?. I’m excited that someone with this many connections in the medical and media worlds is paying attention to celiac. Go over and take a look.
And if you do have celiac, what do you eat?
Take a look around this site. Every single photograph is gluten-free.
“But what will I eat for breakfast?” people seem to wail, at first.
You could do what we did, the other day. We sauteed mushrooms with grapeseed oil and cilantro, and heated some leftover Incan red quinoa from the night before. Inspired by a recipe in Heidi Swanson’s book, Super Natural Cooking, I threw this together in the late morning you can see it in the top photograph of this post and topped it with eggs over easy. The Chef wasn’t complaining. He can eat gluten.
A few days ago, he cut thick slices of the bread I had made the night before, the sandwich bread mix from the Gluten-Free Pantry. Meri and I stood in the kitchen, sipping mimosas and talking, while the Chef combined cocoa powder, eggs, and our favorite new vanilla extract into the best french toast that any of us had ever eaten. Throw in a lamb-garlic sausage and some hot scrambled eggs, and you are living well. Meri can eat gluten. She loved it.
This afternoon, I sat on the patio of the restaurant, writing away. The car was at the mechanics, several hours from being done. I was without lunch. Without my asking, the Chef came out to join me, two plates in his hands. He plunked down this salad in front of me. Spinach salad, house-made pate, Marcona almonds, pecorino fresca, and champagne vinaigrette. And this is suffering?
Late in the afternoon, when you have the munchies, you can nibble on carrot salad. Locally grown baby carrots, with fresh basil, lemon zest, red wine vinegar, and great olive oil, marinated for twenty-four hours. Inspired by a recipe from Chez Panisse, this bite of salad shows that even at the greatest restaurant in the world, you can eat gluten-free.
Or, if you don’t feel like being that healthy, you could have a few small scoops of Super Lemony ice cream, from David Lebovitz’s book, The Perfect Scoop. (Um, guess which way I went this afternoon.)
Going gluten-free will encourage you to start eating in season, as well. Sure, you could buy salmon all year long from a grocery store. But one look at this fresh, just-caught king salmon from Sitka, Alaska will convince you otherwise.
Remain unconvinced? Take a look at this chocolate mousse. Is this deprivation?
Do me a favor. Scan the photographs in this post, without even reading the words. (Some of you may have done that already.) Look at the images before you. Eating this way? Is this suffering, a life without joy? Nonsense. In fact, it’s the very opposite. Imagine eating this food while you feel the best you ever have.
Take a few moments to take those quizzes. You never know. Maybe you (or someone you love) have celiac. Taking these quizzes could change your life.