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!)
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.