Gluten-Free Girl


I am guilty of a great crime. No, I’m not talking about murder or wearing brown pants with black shoes, I’m talking about a crime of the heart. A crime of insensitivity, of incredulity. When I first heard of celiac disease, I sort of rolled my eyes and thought, “What’ll they think of next?” You see I had a teacher in grad school who was allergic to gluten, so I had to make a big effort, when baking for class, to make things without flour. It was annoying. And really, wasn’t this teacher a bit of a hypochondriac? And how bad would it be if she had gluten, anyway?

Well, I just received a copy of Shauna James Ahern’s beautiful new book “Gluten-Free Girl” and I feel like a punk. In the book’s opening chapters, Shauna–who I had the pleasure of meeting in Seattle–describes a childhood of illness and pain that sent my empathy bone atwitter. “Sometimes, I felt horribly unwell,” she writes of her childhood in the book’s first chapter. “Wheezing chest, headaches, and fevers; desperate fatigue. I developed pneumonia six times in my life, nearly dying once. If it wasn’t pneumonia, it was bronchitis, my throat constricted, my chest squeezed tight. Breathing in too deeply–more than half-hearted pants–brought prickles of pain deep in my lungs.”

It’s a credit to Shauna’s writing that by the time the diagnosis finally comes (on pg. 16) you want to get up and cheer. I finally understood, with absolute clarity, how frustrating it must be to be allergic to something so commonplace, to suffer for so long without an answer and how revelatory it must be to finally have an answer and a new way to live your life.

This book is a lovely, inspiring memoir that isn’t just for those with celiac or other food allergies. It’s a book about turning lemons into lemonade, of taking the cards that life hands you and playing a great game. Having met Shauna, I can attest to her spirit, her energy, and–most wonderful of all–her heart. She’s such a generous person and writer, that having this book on my shelf makes my apartment noticeably brighter. I highly recommend it.

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  1. I feel the same way, my friend has a kid with it and I was less than sympathetic. I never realized how serious that disease was until my 2nd year of med school during path class. We had to look at their intestinal biopsies and I was SHOCKED. It looked like someone had swallowed razors. Your immune system just goes haywire from something so simple as gluten. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

    By the way I get book recommendations monthly from the NYT and you were one of their picks for me. Cool huh?

  2. I’ve been hooked on her lately! Cooking all gluten free for my husband and she has been a lifesaver! That and a breadmaker! Her recipes are awesome!


  3. Adam – I’m really looking forward to reading Shauna’s book.

    Word around the blogosphere is that she is a terrific gal. I count myself a fan and kudos to you for giving her a send up!

  4. My copy arrived on Monday and I am enjoying it so much. Shauna really is an inspiration, the way she embraces and expresses the simple pleasures in life make me realise how much I take for granted.

  5. Thanks so much for reviewing Shauna’s wonderful books Adam! It was such a pleasure to read, and I love your honesty and wit and celiac disease… I agree with Shauna… it’s wonderful to finally meet life and enjoy it! I have a wheat allergy and so I too live life joyfully gluten-free! Thanks for recognizing Shauna’s amazing talent for writing and her beautiful heart!

  6. I had the same insensitivity. But then I became sensitive to wheat as an adult. Not a full celiac, thank goodness. Trace amounts of wheat protein don’t bother me. And wheat starch doesn’t bother me at all. But if I eat a slice a bread, especially bread made with high-protein flour, I will bloat up like a balloon and be in considerable pain for a couple of days.

    It really sucks. I love bread. My favorite breakfast is a couple of slices of toast or a bagel with butter and a cup of black coffee. Maybe cheese toast for lunch. Some garlic bread with my soup for dinner. You get the idea.

    Plus wheat is in everything in our society.

    I can make very decent gluten-free pancakes and muffins and other baked goods that usually use soft flour. I just wish I could find a decent recipe for gluten-free bread. Every gluten-free bread I have made or bought absolutely SUCKS.

    I’ve given up on my favorite food.

  7. I couldn’t agree with you more about Shauna as a person. I met her at a cooking class and book signing this past Monday in NYC. Her energy in the kitchen and her obvious love for The Chef were amazing. She spoke to the classroom of strangers like old friends and made us all feel welcome. I have been gluten-free since 1981 when I was diagnosed with Celiac. I love how the Celiac community has grown over the years and I have people that can relate to me. I am thrilled that she chose non-Celiacs to participate in her virtual book tour, it helps spread the word to people that may not be familiar with our medical and dietary needs. Thank you for your posting.

  8. I love Shauna’s writing. I’m so proud of everything she’s done to raise awareness. When I was diagnosed with celiac, I thought my cookie making days were over. But being an avid baker, I headed to the kitchen and started experimenting. After a lot of trial and error, I created the chewy, homemade cookie that I craved. Then I moved on to focaccia breads and buns. I had to start a company, cause they’re so good, I just have to share! This is just to let you know that gluten-free does NOT mean giving up delicious baked goods.

    Adam – I read your book and loved it! My favorite phrase, “. . .but we might as well been on the moon.” Lump in throat.

  9. I started reading Shauna’s book recently too. It is a quick and easy read– her writing is conversational. I can relate to her stories and ailments being gluten free myself, and the book is entertaining as well as informative. Good to see Celiac is being talked about. Thanks for posting.

  10. You guys are so lucky, We, in India, haven’t got the opportunity to read the book yet. It hasn’t arrived. After browsing her blog, I am just dying to read Shauna’s book.

  11. Just finished Shauna’s book. I can’t believe that I could have had gluten intolernece since I was a child. Her symptoms were like mine, I too was one sick little puppy. Finally, as an over the hill grownup I am living gluten free for one year and getting better.

  12. Just finished Shauna’s book. I can’t believe that I could have had gluten intolernece since I was a child. Her symptoms were like mine, I too was one sick little puppy. Finally, as an over the hill grownup I am living gluten free for one year and getting better.