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28 March 2007

four. and more.

chocolate cake for Elliott

"Shauna!" he called to me from his living room. "Let's play!"

During the first year I kept this website, there was really only one boy in my life. Mr. Baby. The little guy. Mister Pister. Elliott.

Elliott besotted me from the moment of his birth. On March 23rd, 2003, I sat in a waiting room, watching Steve Martin hosting the Oscars, on a tiny tv screen, bolted high up on a wall. But unlike every other year, when I listened intently and made sarcastic remarks about every bad dance number, that year I didn’t register what transpired on the screen. I sat forward on the plastic couch and waited. When I heard the elevator doors open down the hall, I left the confines of that little room and left the fake world of the Oscars far behind.

When I held the little guy in my arms, his red face immediately familiar, his fist waving in the air, love flooded me. From that moment forward, I could not imagine loving anyone as much as I loved my nephew, who was all of thirty minutes old.

Anyone who has been reading this website for more than a year knows how much I love my nephew. Whether it was cooking quinoa, or picking blackberries in August, playing Mousie and Sneezy, or eating homemade corn tortillas with him at El Puerco Lloron after an afternoon of watching jellyfish at the aquarium, this kid had a starring role in this website. Besotted, I tell you. Besotted.

Well, I’m still just as crazy about the little kid as always. But, you may have noticed — Elliott hasn’t shown up on this site as much as he used to dance across its pages. It’s not that he is any less interesting — he’s more hilarious, and more of a person, every time I see him. It’s not that I love him any less — when he leaves my house after a visit, I have a little ache in my gut, wondering when I will see him next. It’s just that, well, Elliott has been supplanted, just a bit.

It turns out that love only expands. When I thought I could not love any more, I found out that I could. Now, there is the Chef.

Really, do I need to write anything more about him for you to know? Not today.

Instead, I will tell you that when I looked up from my feet the other day, as we walked around the pond, and saw Elliott’s small hand reach up and grab his Uncle Dan’s hand, as we tried to make our way to the gate? Well, everything expanded, again.

This weekend, Elliott turned four. When we asked, he put four fingers in the air, slightly askew from each other, and said, “At one time, I was three. But now I am four, because today is my birthday!” Well, not quite, little guy. He had three or four birthday celebrations, involving family, and a room full of sticky-handed children delightedly shrieking, and a quiet Sunday afternoon gathering. We attended the last one.

Celebrations don’t require much to make them joyous. Elliott emerged from his bedroom, with a goofy grin upon his face, and scooted across the living room on his tip toes, his hands cupped downward before his chest. After we all applauded and laughed, he ran back to his room to pause for a moment before his next big entrance. A series of silly walks like no other — marching exaggeratedly, sidling sideways toward the woodstove, a rollicking gallop while he looked to the left and skyward. I’m not sure who taught him to do these — perhaps his absurd grandfather — but he cannot be stopped from silly walking now. No one’s really trying to stop him.

And as we all took a walk, in the incipient sunlight of spring, Elliott ran away from my camera. After a lifetime of every cute outfit and emerging expression being documented with digital cameras, Elliott has suddenly grown tired of being captured. He turns away from the visual inspection now. Spontaneously, I called out to him, “Elliott, would you like to take some photographs?”
“Sure!” he chirped, as he raced back to me across the grass. Eagerly, he reached out his hands and touched my camera, gently, completely assured. I followed him as he looked at the display on the back and took pictures of what he noticed. He noticed everything. Shadows on the grass, a stick in the ditch, a yellow plastic parachute man hanging suspended from a tree — they all received his attention. Damned if he isn’t a good photographer, especially for a four-year-old.

I am not the only one taking photographs now. His hands are large enough to hold the camera, and his gaze steady enough to see me through the lens.

So much has changed, however. The Chef is with us now, a part of the family, someone else who likes to play. My parents talked with him about our wedding. Merida — who has also shown up on the pages of this website many times — joined us for the afternoon on the island, and announced to my family that she will be moving back to New York soon. I already knew, and I am happy for her, because it is the best decision for my friend. But hearing it said out loud, in Elliott’s house, my heart did a little turn. And late Sunday evening, when we headed back to the ferry, I didn’t have the impending sense of doom, of school starting early the next morning again, because I am no longer a teacher.

When Elliott took a nap on the couch, I had to take a picture of his feet, poking out from behind the pillow, because they could have written the definition of cute. But later, at home, when I looked at the photo, I couldn’t believe how big they have grown. There’s not a stitch of baby in him, anymore.

Everything changes.

Last year, for his birthday, I wrote a piece about Elliott. In it, I worried out loud — how could I explain to him the way I have to eat? What would it feel like to turn my mouth away from his proferred cookie? How do you explain gluten-free to a three-year-old?

Well, it turns out that the four-year-old already knows.

On Sunday, the little guy invited me to play in his bedroom, which he calls “Elliott’s living room.” When we started playing with the animals (or “aminals,” as he says, and I prefer), he looked up and said, “Where’s Uncle Dan?” Happily, the Chef wandered in to play, as well.
Sprawled out on the floor, the Chef said, “I’m going to sleep now,” and started mock-snoring. (This always cracks the little guy up, almost as much as crossed eyes or wiggling ears.) Elliott crawled onto my lap, as I sat in the chair, and climbed over the bars of his crib.
“Let’s sweep!” he announced, his arms in the air.
We all closed our eyes and pretended to sleep.
This didn’t last long.
Elliott opened his eyes, jumped onto his mattress, and said, “Wake up! It’s summertime! It’s summertime!”
When his uncle said, “Wait, what happened to spring?” Elliott stopped jumping and seemed to consider this.
After a moment, he said, “It’s summertime!” And started jumping again.

We both laughed.

Elliott looked at us, his eyes alive, and said, “Today is a special day.” (Try to say the word special through pursed lips and a lot of spit.)
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s a special day because today we are going to the bakery.”
“Really?” I said, exaggerating, and willing to pretend. “What are we going to get?”
“We are going to get a gluten-free treat!” he shouted, his arms thrown wide.

I had to turn my head, so he didn’t see the tears in my eyes.

I don’t know where he got this. We haven’t been coaching him on gluten-free foods. Every food we make, when we are at his house, happens to be gluten-free, but I haven’t explained what that means. When we were playing the “icky foods” game at Thanksgiving, I did ask if the enormous jawbreaker were gluten-free. And he replied, with great glee, “Yes, this is gluten-free!” (Imagine that the u in gluten is pronounced like oooooooooh, and you will understand why the Chef and I say that phrase in that manner, to this day.) However, that is the last time I have mentioned gluten-free to him.

Did he pick it up by osmosis? Or has he just heard people mention the phrase gluten-free around me enough to know that when we go to the bakery, Shauna gets a gluten-free treat?

You were right, little guy. That was a special day.

(Oh, and according to Elliott, gluten-free bagels involve two cups of sugar and a pound of mushrooms. Translate this to a recipe and let me know how it works for you.)

Happy birthday, Elliott

And later, for his last birthday celebration, we ate some chocolate cake. I had made it that morning, at the last moment, from a mix. (Pamela’s gluten-free chocolate cake mix, to be precise.) Normally, I make everything from scratch, with fresh ingredients, from our own recipes. But that morning, the Chef and I woke up late, and lay in bed with the paper and sunlight streaming through the window, rather than making food for hours.

Elliott didn’t mind. In fact, he didn’t even want the frosting I had forgotten to make. Instead, he said, “I want a big piece! And a glass of milk.” And so you shall have it, my love.

As wonderful as it is, this world of cooking and discovering food, sometimes it is enough to eat an unfrosted chocolate cake from a mix, made in a glass Pyrex pan, at the last moment. The cake was moist, dense as a homemade brownie, and each bite a childhood memory of chocolate come rushing back to the mouth. Elliott certainly didn’t care that it was gluten-free. He cared even less that it was made from a mix.

He just fixed his eyes on those four crayon candles and concentrated his hands on the table. With a little beat to make a wish, he blew with all his force, and his new, four-year-old focus. They all went out, together.

May your every wish come true, my dear nephew.


At 10:20 PM, Blogger Bengali Chick said...

Shauna, while I was reading your post, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that you were pregnant. I have no idea why. Your nephew is adorable! I want a baby, but for now I'd settle for a niece/nephew!

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Mike Eberhart said...

As always, I loved reading the story. My internet connection was down for a few days, and I'm just catching up on all my blog-reading. Sounds like you've been having all sorts of fun lately!

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Jodi said...

Hi Shauna, Time just flies - can it really be 21 years since my baby was born? I relish those baby years. What treasures our children are! BUT - they grow too fast. Enjoy young Elliott and the Chef's nephew as well (sorry - I forget his name). They are such treats. Three and four year old's are especially charming - life is so new to them that they want to share their thoughts and ideas. Five year olds suddenly become worldly and they seem to know everything over night.
I'm still grinning over the red boots. Yippee for you!

At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad to find you! I am fixing to embark on a yeast/gluten free detox diet (I have been told I may have a systemic yeast infection)! Ugh! I thought that the next 2-3 weeks might get ugly - but, then I happened upon your blog and found LOTS of great recipes! Thanks! I am going to put a link to your blog from my blog (if you don't mind)! Thanks again!

At 11:53 AM, Blogger chrisd said...

He is so adorable. I just love this age! I am enjoying reading your blog; you have such a gift of words.

I have used Namaste Cake mix in the past and we have been very pleased.

Out of curiousity, I wondered where you get gluten free bagels. ??

Hope you have a great weekend.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger mormar said...

I love reading this Four is one of the best ages!!

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Food Allergy Queen said...

What a treat it is when little ones understand special needs like your precious Elliott does. I was once out with a dear college friend and her three children at a Chinese restaurant. Each child got to choose their own special dish, then the oldest solemnly announced, "And then K gets to pick TWO dishes because of her allergies". It made my heart smile in such a special way.

Hug Elliott close for all of us.

At 3:44 AM, Blogger Deborah Dowd said...

Your writing makes us all feel like Elliot is a part of our lives as well as yours, andI for one relish it. As a mom of six fast becoming an empty nester, I find this is one of the best things about being part of the blogging community is getting to part of so many families at different stages. Two of the sites that I frequent feature pix of brand new babies... what a blessing. Happy birthday Elliot!

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Laura said...

I love your blog!! Not a content related comment though-- when you click on the link on the side to Fresh Ginger's blog, it goes to a wikipedia site instead of the blog! I think there's an error in the address, cause when I typed it in it worked. Sorry, I just thought Fresh Ginger might appreciate it :) (Oh, and feel free to delete this comment rather than posting it, since it's not food or life related!)

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Melody said...

Baby Cake!

Shawna, I need your help. I am *CRAVING* cake, but not just any cake. Buttery, vanilla-ey, moist yellow cake. Do you have any advise for this?

I was thinking that maybe a mixture of almond and chickpea flours with some glutinous rice flour might work, but I've never worked with almond flour before, and chickpea only in mixes.

I used to be, like, known for my awesome tasting and beautiful cakes. For the last year and a half as I have assimilated to GF eating, there has been little to no cake worth eating.

I'm going to do a traditional Victorian tea party with a cake bar, and I'm getting tired of Bob's Red Mill chocolate standby (though I might use that to make a Black Forest confection).

I also pose the question to you, what is your absolute favorite cake? How fancy and fussy do you like it to be?


At 2:28 PM, Blogger terry said...

how is it that you manage to make me cry with every post now??

another beautiful piece, shauna.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Mrs. G.F. said...

Kids don't care about how perfect it all has to be. they really relish the moment of it all.

I have kids, and shortcuts and mixes are the best. The children think so too. Why? More time to spend with them.

Elloit has it right. No frosting. A cake mix. And his aunt and uncle get to relax for awhile, then come on over and play with him.


At 5:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:23 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Bengali Chick,

Me? Pregnant? Well, not yet....


These have been amazing days, to be sure. I'm sure that you are having magic in your life too.


Oh, when Elliott turns five, I'm sure I'll find a way to adore him, no matter what his new personality. But four is spectacular, to be sure.


Best of luck with your new diet. And, if you are anything like the many of us here, you are bound to feel better soon!


I haven't tried the Namaste mix yet. Isn't it incredible that we have so many choices at our disposal? Oh, and the bagels? Entirely out of Elliott's imagination.


It seems incredible. He's even more sprightly and articulate and hilarious than before!

Food Allergy Queen,

That's a fantastic story. I love how kids adapt to all this much more easily than we do!


I can't believe you have six! Just the thought of it makes me tired. You are a super-woman. And the two sites with new babies? Would that be Claire Kramer's Isla and Superhero Design's Ben? If so, I've been watching them grow too. (Oh boy, I have babies on the brain.)


Thanks for the heads up.


I am so, SO glad that this site helps. That's why I'm here, writing away. And believe me, you won't be the old Rachel again. You'll be the new, improved Rachel, glowing with energy and the knowledge of your own story. Even better food awaits you!

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Gemma said...

I have a 7 year old niece and 3 year old nephew and I love them both to bits so can recognise your joy in sharing time with Elliott. A few weeks ago I was so upset when I learned that my sweet, book loving niece had been teased at school to the point where she was taken home sobbing and it makes me laugh when my Mum tells me that my always boisterous nephew sat one Sunday and watched the whole of Swan Lake on TV and was glued to it. These moments are what makes life so precious.

At 2:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 7:29 AM, Blogger Larissa said...

I just want to tell you how much your writing means to me. I know that you get 100 of these daily, (or well, maybe you do) but well, here's another.

I've read your blog off and on since we first suspected my son had celiac, uh, 2 years ago. Now he does, and wow, we learned so do I, so does my sistr, so does my mom. We sure do love your recipes, and the chef's. And the videos. I finally made a good GF roux! Tell Danny. ;)

Anyway. Why am I commenting on *this* entry?

Something possessed me to read a lot of your old journal entries today. I came looking for that polenta and sausage recipe we love (our printed out copy had an olive oil incident, oops) and somehow rad this entry, and the one before it, for the first time. I tend to search quickly for what I want and zoom off.

Instead I read this:

"When I thought I could not love any more, I found out that I could."

We're going through a lot over here right now. But that is the message of life, isn't it? Love knows no limits. It expands into every available space. I love that you share that. I love that you share that now with, not just Elliot, not just Danny, but Lucy, too.

OK. Off to get the kids out the door to school. I just wanted to tell you that you might have taught me a lot about how to feed my family... but you've also taught me a lot more than that.


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