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23 March 2006


Elliott loves trees II, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

When I returned home from school today, I found a message on my machine, in a sweet, little voice: “Happy Berfday.” In the background, I could hear my brother say, “Tell her it’s your birthday. Tell her how old you are.” And then, Elliott said: “I am free!”

Today is my nephew’s third birthday. Three years ago, this little reddened force of life entered the world. I remember being in the waiting room at the Ballard Swedish hospital, watching Steve Martin deliver the opening monologue of the Oscars, listening for foosteps down the hall to signal that the baby had arrived. Soon enough, there they were. My sister-in-law was wheeled down the hall on a gurney and my brother appeared with a blue bundle in his arms. What? How was it possible there had been no baby and now there was a baby? My brother put the blue blanket in my arms, and I looked down, expecting to cry. I cry at certain Sex and the City episodes, so how could I be expected to live that monumental moment without crying? But to my surprise, I didn’t cry. Instead, I just looked into the wide-open eyes of this squirming, physical presence, mesmerized. Now, I know that babies have a short-lived awareness, a fierce attention, just after birth. But then, I was simply amazed. There he was. All of him there. Elliott.

He is alive, this kid. When I race up the steps of my brother’s house and open the door, I find Elliott’s face waiting to see mine. He squeals and bounces up and down on his knees, lifting his arms to the ceiling so I can scoop under his arms and twirl him around and around. He throws back his head and laughs, his face the only constant in a dizzy, spinning world out of focus. We splash in puddles on our walks through the forest, his yellow boots bright against the dark muddy water. We play hide and seek for at least an hour of every visit, he doggedly determined to hide in the same place -- under the covers; behind the door; in the closet -- every single time, announcing it to me, because he knows that I will wonder aloud where Elliott is hiding, then throw back the covers with a flourish and say, “There he is!” And he will laugh with delight, bright peals of giggles rising against the darkness outside.

Every time I see him, he has a new verbal habit. Lately, when he wants my attention, he says, “Know what? Guess what?” And this is usually followed by a call to play with diggers, or to dance to the Wiggles. He “reads” books to me, carefully mimicking the story of Cowboy Small, which he has heard a hundred times before. Or, he asks if I will read a book to him: “Will you talk those words on that page to me?” When we reach the page where it says, “Flippity Flip!” he nearly throws himself off the couch laughing. When we play with the decrepit cowboy doll from his mother’s childhood -- the one who has lost all his limbs but one leg, so we have dubbed him “Hopalong” -- Elliott imitates my father’s silly voice and says, “I am CON-fused.”

Luckily, Elliott has all his limbs, swinging free and striding forward.

Elliott striding forward

Now, I could write about this hilarious little guy for pages, but I won’t. After all, this is a food blog. And, I have written about him before. And again. I could tell you about his new habit, when we are “sniffing” food in the pantry, of asking for the Dagoba hot chocolate tin, then fishing out the little “rocks” of clumped-together chocolate, carefully cutting each one in half with a table knife, then wetting his finger to grab the chocolate pebble and put it in his mouth. Or how grateful he is for food, when we eat together, and always says, “Thank you for cooking dinner, Daddy.” Or how he likes to look at this website on the computer when I come to visit, and points at the pictures to say, “You have brought us food.”

Lately, though, I’ve been realizing that food will be a problem for me with Elliott, soon. Not his enjoyment of it, his discovery of it, or his appetite for it. But, specifically — gluten. I mean, how do I explain to a three-year-old, when he offers up his crumb-encrusted face, that I need to wait until I’ve washed him off before I can give him a kiss, or else I might grow sick?

At his birthday party recently — his parents took him to California to visit relatives for his real birthday, and thus we had to celebrate early — Elliott was packed high with elated energy. Every person whom he loves in the world, all in one room. When I arrived, he turned his attentions to me. Quickly, he asked if I could cut him another piece of cake. (Sneaky little devil.) I did, put it on his plate, then went to wash the flour off my hands. When I returned to him, he was ensconced in his treat, his mouth full of sweetness, happily chewing. He looked up at me, spread his arms wide, and said: “I love cake!” His enormous enthusiasm made me laugh, as always. I agreed with him — cake is good. Then, he leaned his fork into the cake, cut a bite, and lifted it toward me. “Do you want some of my cake, Shauna?” Of course, I said no, told him, “That’s yours, Elliott.” I’m sure he wasn’t upset -- more cake for him. But I was upset. Sad to have to turn down such sweetness.

At some point, I’ll have to explain it to him, or else he’ll be disappointed that I don’t want to share in his treats, confused that I turn down his gifts. He’s too young, now. He just wouldn’t understand. Hell, it’s hard enough for me to explain it to adults, much less someone who has just turned three. But I know what I’ll call it when we do explain it to him.


A few months ago, my brother, sister-in-law, Elliott, and I were in their car, driving toward the community sing-a-long for Christmas on Vashon Island. I was sitting next to Elliott, who was humming in his car seat, but talking to Andy and Dana in the front seat. Someone who reads this website had written to me, asking if I ever had gluten nightmares. I do. It’s a strange phenomenon, but just after I was diagnosed with celiac and stopped eating gluten, I had nightmares of eating bagels. In the middle of a dream, I’d catch myself eating a pretzel and wake up in a cold sweat. The worst one, I told them, was on a night I had been staying at their house, on the blue couch in the study. I dreamed so vividly that there was gluten stuffed between the cushions of the couch that I woke myself up by crawling off it and running toward the window. We all laughed, then went on to another conversation. A few minutes later, Elliott started giggling. We stopped talking. I turned toward him, and said: “What’s so funny, El?”
He giggled hard, almost to the point of incoherence, as he said, “You woke up and walked because there was glupit in the curtains!”
We all laughed too.
He refers to this, once in a while, in unexpected moments. “Glupit in the curtains!” he’ll shout, probably because he knows I’ll laugh so hard. We’ve taken to calling it glupit as well. Maybe I should just change the name of this website to Glupit-Free Girl.

So, someday, I’ll have to explain to Elliott that I cannot have the warm cookie he helped to make, the one he’s holding up to me, because it has glupit in it. I’m sure he’ll understand, eventually.

But in the meantime, here he is. And it gives me more happiness than I can ever convey — just to be with him. At his birthday party, as one toddler friend after grandparent after friend had to leave for the ferry, he looked sad for a moment, then said: “But Shauna will stay.”

Yes I will, little guy. Here I am.

Happy Berfday, Elliott. You are free.

oranges lit by sun


A few weeks ago, when I was on Vashon with the little guy, he looked at me and said, with real glee: “Let’s make fruit salad!” Apparently, he and his mom have been cutting up fruit and throwing it into a bowl, and calling it fruit salad. This entices Elliott to eat more fruit -- it’s mixed up together! So I stood in the kitchen with my brother, and Elliott standing on a chair, cutting up fruit into uniform pieces and putting it all in a large, plastic bowl. Andy and I both cut, quickly. Elliott’s sole contribution was to reach into the bowl, grab a piece of banana or orange, and say, “Can I eat this?” By the time we were finished, we only had half a fruit salad, because Elliott had eaten the rest.

When I lived with the CFP in London, we ate lavish fruit salads nearly every day. Even in the dead of winter, mangoes arrived in a black cab from Harrods. Extravagant, and a bit ridiculous, these fruit concoctions were still wonderfully satisfying. The real secret was a Tahitian vanilla bean, stripped of its innards and snipped into pieces. All of it went in with the fruit, then sat in the refrigerator, marinating and slithering into all the slices, until the fruit salad tasted richer than it actually was. Winter, spring, or summer -- this secret makes every fruit salad decadent.

Of course, you could use any combination of fruit you have on hand for this. It will all taste divine.

two Minneoloa oranges, peeled (try rolling the oranges before peeling)
two ripe bananas, peeled
one ripe mango, stripped of its skin
one pint strawberries (when they are in season), leaves topped off
one-half pint blueberries, ripe and juicy
three kiwis, peeled
juice of two limes
zest of two limes
one vanilla bean (Tahitian, if possible)
two tablespoons organic cane juice
one teaspoon nutmeg

° Cut all the pieces of fruit into uniform size, about one-half-inch cubes (or small enough bites for a child). As time-consuming as this might seem, the uniformity of size will make the differences in textures even more interesting. Put the fruit into your favorite bowl.
° Cut down the center of the vanilla bean with a small, sharp knife, then peel back the bean’s skin. Carefully, scrape the gritty innards of the vanilla bean into the bowl. Next, snip the vanilla bean into the tiniest pieces possible, using your best kitchen shears.
° Add the lime juice, lime zest, organic cane juice (or regular sugar, if you wish), and nutmeg to the fruit. Stir it all up, gently.
°For the fullest, richest taste, allow this concoction to marinate in the refrigerator overnight before serving. If you wish, fish out the bits of vanilla bean before serving.
° Wait for your guests to rave. If you truly want to be kind, top the fruit salad with a dollop of creme fraiche.


At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Selena said...

I was wondering how a three year old boy's birthday and gluten had in common. Your post left me a wee bit tearful. I too am gluten free and I too have to explain to my own 3 year old why I can't have certain foods. He's got the word down pretty good but not always the concept. He is going to be a chef though and he has already told me that he will only serve gluten free food. I love their innocence at the world. They try to touch us with their youthful understanding. Luckily where I live the local bakery makes gluten free delectable cakes so I'm able to share cake with them at their birthdays because they thought of not sharing that with them leaves me too emotional. I'm just a year in on this journey of gluten free. I'm glad I discovered your blog.
~From a celiac from across the water.

At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Anne said...

Like your previous commenter, I too am a Coeliac mother, with a 2 year old and a 4 year old - both blessedly free of symptoms. The 4 year old learnt that there is "Mummy flour" and "Daddy flour" when he was very little - the 2 year old is getting there. Because we kept them both gluten-free until they were one, they both see getting a bit of Mummy toast or Mummy pasta as a big treat.

I think the moment that I found hardest was weaning them onto gluten - until then I had moved from nourishing them from my own body to introducing food that we could share. Once they were eating gluten there was a part of their world that I could no longer participate in - a kind of metaphor for letting my children grow up and away from me in so many ways. (And practically, it was a blessed relief not to have to worry about stray biscuits at toddler groups any more!)

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Luisa said...

Lovely, lovely post. You had me welling up over here.

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Elliott!
Shauna I can't believe he is 3 already! What a cutie. Say hi to Andy and Dana for me and a big long lost hello to you too.... And watch out for those Glupit Curtains! Oh and I can't wait to make this salad - looks yum. Hope to see you soon.
xo Juli

At 2:48 PM, Blogger lee said...

I, too, was a bit teary reading this post. My 2 year old nephew lives out by you and I live in the Midwest. I only get to see him once a year. I would give a lot to be able to see him more often.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Jeanne said...

Don't despair! My celiac was triggered to full-blown status during labor with my (non-celiac) daughter. So, I have learned about this thing while raising her (she just turned 6). She has known from the get-go that Mama is gf and she is up on all the lingo. We have gluten snacks in the house, but all the baking and cooking that is done is gf and delicious (if I do say so myself). She knows I can't eat gluten and that she and daddy can, but she also knows that wonderful things comes out of our kitchen. As they do from yours :)! And all birthday cakes for anyone that celebrates a birthday in our house (family, friends, whoever) are gluten-free and people cannot believe how good they are. So hang in there and celebrate all the berfdays knowing that kids can take a lot more in stride that we ever thought (at least that's what I've found).

PS: my recurring nightmare is that I end up eating a whole loaf of wheat bread before I remember that I'm celiac. Shudder.

At 3:57 AM, Blogger Thomas said...

My niece just turned one. I have frequently told my sister that her daughter is way cooler than she ever was.

At 7:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was diagnosed last November and have had several of those nightmares, my gluten dreams are usually along the lines of just remembering that I have CD when I have just stuffed my mouth with some lovely cake and have to quickly spit it out.......

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous beastmomma said...

Very endearing. How lucky your nephew is to have you in his life.

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Amy said...

A wonderful and touching post.

I’m sorry – this is going to be a long post:

You might be surprised at what a young child can actually understand. My son was diagnosed with Celiac at age 2, and he quickly understood that certain foods make him sick, and certain ones did not. He caught onto the fact that Daddy can eat them, but Mama can't - just like he can’t (I was also diagnosed shortly after he was). At first he didn't know exactly which foods would make him sick, but he wouldn't eat anything without asking a grown up first if it had gluten. Now that he's nearly four, he understands it is the wheat (we're still learning rye/oats/barely) that makes him sick, and he knows the items that usually contain wheat (cookies, bread, cake, pastas) and knows he has to have the gluten-free versions. He still screens his food through us though.

I've gone way off on a tangent, but my point is - kids can understand quite a bit more then people give them credit for. If you don't make a big deal about it, I'm sure your nephew will understand and not be upset at all. If you just say certain foods make you sick (like cake) and you can’t eat them, he’ll get it. Young children can be very sympathetic and caring.

All of my son’s pre-school friends understand he is Celiac, and it does not bother them at all. They may not understand WHY he can't eat cookies exactly, but they understand it will make him sick and will not to try and feed him cookies. They understand that he has to eat “special” cookies. They are a very sweet bunch of kids.

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Ms. Glaze said...

I love reading your blog because there's so much of YOU in it! It's not just recipes, cooking tips and pretty pictures– it's your life– and you share it with such honesty allowing us to glimpse your experiences be they humourous, endearing, or difficult.

Gros Bisous!
Ms. Glaze (Amy)

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous the pragmatic chef™ said...

I agree with Amy, Shauna. I have nieces and nephews in town ranging in age between 3 and 7. Two of them have special dietary needs (no dairy, etc.), and it's amazing every time I watch them, they all can tell me what each of them is and isn't allowed to have, and it's interesting how non-judgemental they are about it.

Pretty cool.

At 7:37 PM, Blogger Kitchen Queen said...

You write so beautifully! And please don't hit me, but I tagged you with a meme because I'd love to read your responses to the questions.

At 4:49 AM, Blogger Bicyclemark said...

Really enjoyed the post Shauna. I guess Im another one with a nephew far away, in my case, across the atlantic.. boo. But still it makes me appreciate the power and unique role that something like blogging can and will have to keep him and I connected. That is.. when he can finally "speak the words" on the screen.

At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Melissa said...

Beautiful post, Shauna. It brought tears to my eyes! I'm sure Elliott will understand about your gluten needs - in fact, he'll probably remember better than many older people in your life who knew you pre-celiac. He is very lucky to have you, and you him.

At 9:10 AM, Blogger JC said...

Thank you for writing this blog - I so enjoy reading it. When my nephews found out I could not eat gluten, they took to reading labels and pointing out what I could and couldn't eat. I found this out when I came in their door to an attack hug and a loud announcement that I was not to eat the licorice on the table as it had wheat in it. At the time, I didn't even know licorice had wheat.

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous kimberly said...

This lovely post made me teary, too. I have two nephews, ages 4 and 2, who live in Texas.I see them only two or three times a year, which is not nearly often enough.

This summer they'll be making their third trip to visit us in Seattle with my sister and my parents. We'll go to the Ballard locks to watch the salmon, and to Mercer Slough to pick blueberries, and then we'll "eat like bears" - salmon and berries - complete with appropriately bearish faces and sound effects. I can hardly wait.

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous bakerina said...

Oh, Shauna. I can't add anything to what has already been said here by others, with such eloquence. I will merely say that I loved this post, loved it with all my heart.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

My eyes are moist and I am fuller because of these words. You are a gem in this world. And that boy, and us, we are all the better for it.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger lee said...

AND today I just found out my sister is having another one. Maybe this means I'll have to start visiting twice a year!

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

Selena, thank you for writing that lovely comment. I'm certain that your three-year-old is going to be more sensitive to everyone's food needs because of growing up with you.

Anne, what a powerful insight you had, of the difficulty of allowing your children to eat gluten for the first time. Wow. That's what people who don't deal with this will never understand -- how complex this is, and how it reaches into every part of our lives.

LUisa, thank you my dear.

Juli, thank you! And yay to hearing from you too. Let's have another lunch at Vios soon. (And I can't believe your two daughters are as old as they are now!)

Lee, I'm so sorry to hear that you can only see your nephew once a year. But now, with another on the way, you're just going to have to come out to Seattle more often!

Jeanne, thank you for your encouraging words. Your daughter is clearly going to be a far more interesting eater than most kids!

THomas, well, I'm sure the kid is cool. Of course! But isn't that really an insult to your sister?

Anne, I still wake up in the night, thinking I've eaten a croissant. It's amazing how much this has all seeped into our consciousness.

Beastmomma, thank you, my dear.

Amy, thank you for your thoughts here. I agree with you -- kids can adapt to almost anything we give them. It's really more my own sadness I'm working with here. When Elliott offers me a cookie, I want to be able to say thank you and take it from him. But he'll understand and shrug it off. And then we'll play again. Your son is very lucky to have you.

At 7:18 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

Ms. Glaze, thank you so much, my dear. It's amazing how much spills out when you're talking about food. (And I do so love stories.) Thank you for saying that -- made my day. (And keep up your culinary adventures!)

Pragmatic Chef, I agree. For the first couple of years they are alive, little kids are so wholly there that they don't have time (or the facilities) to judge and disdain. I'm sure that you're a great uncle.

Kitchen Queen, thank you for what you wrote. I'll do what I can with the meme, although I feel like I should run a separate blog just to answer memes!

Bicyclemark, thank you, sir. I'm certain that you in particular will find a way to communicate and connect with your nephew -- you're so good at it!

Melissa, ah my dear. Thank you. I do so love when you come by. And someday, we will meet!

JC, what a great image! You have the attack team on your side. Isn't it crazy that licorice has wheat? (There's a lovely brand called Running Rabbit that does not, however.)

Kimberly, I thought I was already longing for summer, but your description of what you will do with your nephews makes me long for it even more! Have a wonderful time with them, and thanks for reading.

Bakerina, thank you my dear. It means so much to me to have you say that. (And I can't believe it's two months since I was in New York and met you!)

Shuna, oh! What a wonderful comment to read. You made me tear up. I thank you, deeply.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been GF since 2003 and I STILL have those kinds of dreams! I'll dream I'll eat a pack of peanut butter crackers or something and not realize it until I look down at the empty package. Glad to know it's not just me!

At 1:01 AM, Blogger Julie said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure that what you're going to do instead of just refusing the cookie he made is teach him how to make ones that you can eat. Because everyone counts on you to say "yes." Yes, you'll make glupit-free cookies and/or cakes with him, and he'll love them, and then you will kiss his crumb-encrusted face, and he will kiss yours.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Ollie Golightly said...

Mmmmmm - thanks for the fruit salad recipe. The lime is sublime! I made it as part of a 4 course gluten-free meal for our dear friends last night (3 of the 4 have celiacs) and it was a smash hit! We'll definitely be making it again.


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