feeling included

community- cake

A moment on Saturday made all the work worth it.

I stood behind a big kitchen island, talking about cake. The baking class I was teaching that day was small, only four people. For hours before it, I had been baking and washing dishes, helping Danny drag hotel pans full of ingredients out to the car, and marking off my to-do list with a flour-smudged pen. When we planned these classes, we were still at our cooking studio. Plans changed. We moved out. Now, we teach the classes in light-filled kitchens of friends’ homes on the island. The classes fill me with joy. The hours before them? Not so much.

Still, the morning had passed. I stood in front of these four lovely people, and they were eating cake. One of the women needed to be not only gluten-free but dairy-free, sesame free, and coconut-free as well. As I told her in an email before the class, of course I would make different baked goods for her. You can’t come to a baking class and not eat cake or cookies. We make our yellow layer cake with coconut oil, which gives a richness to the cake without the clumping-up that happens when the milk solids in butter meet the starches in flour. That’s easy — canola oil instead. However, the sour cream? Well, I found a vegan sour cream at the store the day before and decided to try that. The simple yellow cake in a 9×13 pan was plain as day, the kind of cake you’d plunk down on the table on a Wednesday, or for church on Sunday morning. It was not photo shoot worthy. It also turned out moist and delicious, with the same texture as the cake I usually make. She took a bite and grew teary. It’s clear that she can’t eat baked goods in public often.

Another woman in the class grew teary too. She and her husband had traveled over the mountains from eastern Washington to attend this class. When we first met, she told me that finding this website was one of the first times she felt hope after being diagnosed with celiac, five years before. As she took a bite of the cake, she said, “You know, I have to say I’m crying too. This is the first time I’ve been around anyone else who is gluten-free.”

I made people cry with happiness, a little, with my cake. The hard work is always worth it.

(Hi Tina! Hi Dianne!)

community- boston cream pie

I often felt quite lonely as a child. When Lucy went through all of her friends to choose the 14 she wanted at her 7th-birthday dinner party, I grinned at the length of the list we had made together. That wasn’t my experience at seven. At school I hid inside myself. At home I buried myself in my books. I stuck out. I felt different. I never told my story.

That story still isn’t entirely mine to tell, so I’ll refrain from telling it here. Besides, in this case, my individual story matters less than the feeling of standing apart, feeling different. Left out. You must know that feeling too. Some of us know it more keenly than others. For some of us, at some time in our lives, the feeling of being set apart felt like being broken-hearted.

And for some people, that’s what it feels like to be gluten-free.

I’m not lonely now. Not one bit. I feel surrounded by friends and people who care about me. I have my people. I have Danny and Lucy and Desmond. However — and here’s the irony — I really didn’t stretch into myself fully and find that community until I was diagnosed with celiac and started writing this site. After years of fumbling, I found my feet walking on a path that cleared for me. I wrote for the first time about my life and found that others wanted to read it. I haven’t stopped telling my story since.

And yet, the last couple of years, I find I have far less interest solely in my story now. From this distance, it’s easier to touch into the feeling of my former loneliness and want to help others who feel left out.

This is why Danny and I spent two years creating our next cookbook, American Classics Reinvented, the one that will be published in 27 days. We used to create cookbooks that sang our story, the food we ate in restaurants or made at home with our kids. This time, we wanted to recreate the most-requested comfort foods and make pie and cake and cream of mushroom soup for people who need to be gluten-free. We created this cookbook for you.

My hope for this book is simple: I want to hear from people who are happy because they’re eating good sourdough bread again, for the first time in years. I can’t wait to hear about the parties where people put out gluten-free pigs in a blanket and the tray comes back empty. We want to hear about the Boston cream pie you made, the one you thought you’d never eat again. (That’s the decadent treat in the photograph above.)

I can’t wait to hear that you took our recipes, changed them for your family — that’s why we include tips for playing with the ingredients in every recipe — and fed your people happily.

We’d love to sell thousands and thousands of copies of this book. I’m not going to lie — that would be nice. (Share this piece with your friends and see what happens.) Mostly, though, my mission is simple. I want everyone who needs to be gluten-free to feel included instead of left out.

And to have a damned fine piece of pie, from time to time.

I want you to go to a family birthday party with a delicious yellow layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting and not one person even knows it’s gluten-free, except for you and your cousin with celiac. And 10 people there ask you for the recipe.

That’s what will make the two years worth of work we did on this book worth it for us here.

You cooking and eating, happy.

28 comments on “feeling included

  1. Lauren

    Wow I had no idea I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Food is inclusive, or rather it ought to be. I always feel left out at celebrations when I cannot have that damn piece of cake. I’m looking forward to the cookbook!!

    1. shauna

      I’m so glad. There is, of course, much more to life than cake. But it’s awfully nice to have a good one when you want one.

  2. Lauren

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you! You will never know how much joy you’ve given so many who are finally included again and the parents who delight in the fact there is no need to make two separate versions of the same meal. Thanks to both Shauna and Chef, I now take gf bread into restaurants (no hesitation) just for that sake of being included in that truly communal part of breaking of the bread.

  3. Julie

    I can NOT wait to try the rest of the recipes after trying the fried chicken recipe today! You were right, it was such a treat. Since my celiac diagnosis 5 years ago, I have relied so much on your experiences to help me along this journey and each new book, tweet, blogpost, Instagram photo have made all the difference in me not feeling alone in this. THANK YOU!!!

    1. shauna

      I’m so glad! That fried chicken you posted looked great. And every time you make it, you’ll feel more confident. Thank you.

  4. janeray1940

    As someone with celiac who is also grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free (and sadly, that includes all fruits), and carb-restricted for other health reasons – I’ll probably *never* know the feeling of being included, since (at least in American culture) we tend to associate celebrations as well as comfort with things concocted of some combination of sugar/dairy/grains/carbs (if not all of the above). I’m truly glad that your books exist in the first place – but I’m afraid that even gluten-free American comfort food will never be truly inclusive.

    1. shauna

      Well, I’d certainly make you feel included if you came to one of our events! We developed a grain-free blend for this book, so you could make anything in the book grain-free. We also came up with dairy-free suggestions for most recipes. And you could easily use the sweetener you do use for special occasions to make one of the recipes. I agree that not all celebrations need to be about cake or pie. However, when you do want them occasionally, we can help you make them.

    2. Erin Middleton

      Hey Jane, I saw your post to Shauna. I too am grain-free, sugar-free and dairy-free. I wondered if you know about Lakanto? It’s gotta be the most expensive non-sugar out there, but I love it! (and I’ve decided I’m worth it) It’s a combination of erythritol and Monk Fruit, and they have a “golden” variety that tastes like a very light brown sugar. I get it from Amazon. I can’t wait til Shauna starts selling her non-grain flour mix!

  5. Tiffanie

    There’s plenty of places and people who don’t think celebrations mean cake–any BBQ pit master will agree. I think that those of us who can’t/don’t eat certain foods would be wise to remember all the ways we do fit in and all the folks who do their best to make sure we’re included.

    1. shauna

      Well of course! That’s why our first three books emphasized all the foods that are naturally gluten-free. Our last cookbook is 85% foods that don’t contain any flour at all. But listening to readers of this site for years, I realize that those special occasion events, like birthday parties and family reunions and holidays, often do mean cake and pie. And we wanted to create recipes that make great food, no matter if they contain gluten. As well, this book contains soups, appetizers, meat main dishes, a seafood chapter, sandwiches, and breads, including the sourdough bread. I emphasized the cake in this post because of the experience on Saturday.

  6. Ginny

    I’ve preordered your new book, to add it to your other three books I own. It feels like waiting for a birthday present to arrive!

  7. Danielle

    I can’t wait for my book! This is so perfectly written, and so on point. My daughter (4) and I are both gf/df and today she asked me “who is the gluten free girl who gives us all of our yummy food?” I loved explaining that you (and Danny!) write all about good food that we can make and eat! Thanks for making sure we always feel included in your books, blog and in person. I came to your baking class this spring and nearly died getting to eat foods (pizza!) without feeling like I was a hassle. You make these dietary challenges manageable – which I am so, so greatful for!

    1. shauna

      Oh Danielle, you made my day. Please tell your daughter that Danny and I are waving a big hello to her right now.

  8. Deserae

    I can relate to this so much. Which is probably why I started following you in the first place, since this isn’t the first time. I agree with this post so much that I am not even sure what to say, other than, “yeah. that resonates with me.”
    A side note, thanks for talking about gluten intolerance and depression. I’m not diagnosed celiac, but your words gave credence to my repeated observation about one of the ways my intolerance was affecting me.

    1. Shelly Bortolotto

      Deserae, I just wanted to say I’m walking that path too. I discovered I had an intolerance to gluten after 2 years of depression. After removing gluten from my diet, the depression cleared up within two weeks. It was as if the fog had lifted. Even now, I can tell if I get glutened by the depressive mood it brings on. It’s so wonderful now to live a life where I can think clearly and respond logically to people again.

  9. Linda

    My women’s circle from church meets in different homes each month. I am always so touched when one of them goes out of their way to provide me with a gluten-free treat during the gathering time before we get started. Look forward to your book, Shauna!

  10. Rod

    I am so looking forward to a variety of things to cook for people at my company when we have a pot-luck lunch – and teach them what a gluten-free diet (and dairy-free) really means!

  11. Grace Almleaf

    So looking forward to this book Shauna, all your books sit on my shelf for easy access as the good friends they are! This latest book will join them. Your blog was a beacon of light to me when first diagnosed in 2006, and your first book was an intimate chat with a good friend who understood and offered helpful suggestions. So sorry to read some of the negative comments above, please know how many people you, and your beautiful family have helped and inspired through your work and you zest for life.

  12. Lisa

    I was one of those kids/young adults who never fit in with the crowd, and if I found myself in the ‘crowd’, I waited to see how long it would take before someone found out that I really didn’t belong. I thought I’d seen the last of those days until I was diagnosed with celiac disease a year and a half ago. I have tried to tell myself how there are worse things that could happen to me and that this just isn’t that important. But who am I kidding? Sitting down to a meal with family or friends is joy, but when I can’t eat what everyone else is eating and am stuck with a dried-out, ugly, tasteless alternative (or nothing at all), well, I don’t feel included and I just want to cry. It’s so depressing when I have been asked to a family dinner only to find out that the person preparing the meal forgot about me. Thanks for your post. It felt so great say to myself “Hey! I go through that too!” Validation… When you were talking about the cake and her tears, a memory shot into my head of me sitting in a restaurant in Wisconsin a few weeks ago with tears in my eyes as I bit into my first hamburger in over a year. The gluten-free bun was remarkable in that it was unremarkable – it didn’t fall apart in my hands or taste like paper or have that icky texture that overwhelms the rest of the burger. I tasted the burger, and it was yummy. I pre-ordered your book. Maybe I’ll get one for all the cooks in my life. If I could hug you right now I would. xx

  13. Carol Egan

    What a lovely post. I too experienced the loneliness of feeling apart. Learning who to trust and realizing that there is nothing wrong with me has opened up the world. Your food is wonderful as well. Thank you for all that you do.

  14. Rebekah Redus

    After I started chemo a year ago (separate issue) I became gluten intolerant. During this year I have seen the invitations dry up. I understand how awkward some people feel when I must question waiters and kitchen staff closely about what is in dishes. I suppose I am now considered high maintenance. Perhaps in time that will change but being unable to just order “anything” while eating out has successfully ended the invitations for a girls lunch out.

  15. Bernadette

    Can’t wait to get your cookbook in my hands and start trying out the recipes!!!! I tell everyone I know about you and Danny! I’ve certainly experienced the loneliness of being different but now I find that I enjoy advocating for myself and more often, my friends enjoy the food I make and are really beginning to want to understand celiac.

  16. Eric Larsen

    I am immensely proud of you both for this wonderful new cookbook. I am one of the lucky people that have been able to see this new cookbook and already cook a few recipes from it.
    Make sure you get a copy for yourself and a friend, they will thank you for it!
    I am proud to call you both “friend” Here’s to huge amount of success on this new cookbook that was put together with love, you can taste it!!

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