When my doctor told me that I had celiac disease, I said it out loud – yes!
Not the typical reaction, I know. Most people, when told they must live without gluten, begin grieving right away. Imagine being told that never again can you eat gluten – the elastic protein in wheat, rye, and barley.
No more bread. No more beer. No more baked goods. Visit Italy, but pass on the pasta. Go to Paris and watch others savour a pain au chocolat. Skip those Sunday morning cinnamon rolls. You cannot have any of that food, because it will make you terribly ill.
Living gluten-free, however, is not as easy as avoiding bread, beer or baked goods. It means becoming a detective, searching for hidden ingredients. Gluten is disguised in the form of modified food starch, hydrolized vegetable protein, malt, dextrins, and even “natural flavours.” In order to stay well, those millions who must eat gluten-free have to read every box, decipher every ingredient, and ponder every bite. Restaurants can be a minefield, for all the hidden flours and cross-contamination.
It is a little overwhelming. But you can’t eat gluten; your life depends upon it.
When handed this news, most people shout, “No. No. No!” But I said yes. You see, I had been so sick before that diagnosis. For six weeks, I suffered with searing abdominal cramps, stabbing pains in the stomach, a massive tenderness on my left flank. I was sleeping up to 18 hours a day.
There was a trip to the emergency room, two ultrasounds, and two CAT scans. Then came chest X-rays, a colonoscopy and an endoscopy on the same day, more vials of blood drawn than I could count. Through it all loomed kidney stones, colon cancer, stomach ulcers, and ovarian cancer. Every test came back negative. No one knew.
So I rejoiced upon learning that all I had to do was avoid gluten for the rest of my life. When I found out how challenging that life can be, I began writing about it for other people. When I found out that I could cure myself through food, I began dancing in the kitchen.
Going gluten-free has changed my life. Since my celiac diagnosis, I launched a website called GlutenFreeGirl.com, which now draws thousands of readers from around the world. I landed a literary agent, then a book deal, all from my gluten-free writing. The Food Network liked my attitude and the food I made, and produced a segment about my life, which has been running daily. And I met the love of my life through my website, a beautiful man who happens to be a professional chef, a man who loves me through great food. Yes.
Eight months after being diagnosed with celiac, when my intestines had completely healed from eating better than ever before, I had the word yes tattooed on my left wrist. Many times, when I am in the kitchen, experimenting with gluten-free flours, I look down and see that word, and it reminds me of how I want to live.
My life since I was diagnosed with celiac is not focused on what I have to live without. My life is focused on everything I have now – great food, good health, a new life – everything to which I can say yes.
Next: Shauna’s Gluten-free Olive Loaf
Gluten-free Olive Loaf
In the first months of living gluten-free, I didn’t even try to make bread. Then my baking instincts began to return, and I needed to make bread. This olive loaf is as soft as focaccia, dense and chewy like gluten bread.
- 2 1⁄4 cups (535 mL) of lukewarm water
- 1 packet (about 2 1⁄4 tsp) active dry yeast
- 2 tsp (10 mL) sugar
- 2 3⁄4 cups (650 mL) white rice flour
- 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) tapioca flour
- 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) sorghum flour
- 1⁄4 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) baking powder
- 2 tsp (10 mL) apple cider vinegar
- 3 eggs
- 20 kalamata olives, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) reserved olive juice
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Gently stir together the dry yeast, luke-warm water, and sugar. Set aside in a warm spot, allow mixture to expand for about half an hour. Dough should grow to at least twice its size.
- Blend all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a very large bowl, whisk together 2 of the eggs and the apple cider vinegar until fluffy, lifted with air.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the yeast mixture and gently blend all the ingredients together with a spatula, starting from the center of the liquid, and slowly circling outward, continuing until the mixture is well blended. (The dough should move away from the sides of the bowl. If too sticky to be lifted out, add more sorghum flour and white rice flour in equal parts.)
- Dust counter with gluten-free flour.
- Knead the dough on counter until it feels coherent. (Don’t knead as fully as regular bread dough, it will not be as elastic.) Slap the dough, gently, then pull it up from the counter.
- Place the dough in a medium-sized, oiled bowl, and set bowl on a plate on top of the stove. (The plate prevents the dough from starting to cook as the oven heats.) Let the dough rise for at least 45 minutes.
- Once it has risen, work the chopped kalamata olives into the loaf, which will cause the dough to sink a bit. Transfer dough to a loaf pan. (For a rounded loaf, use a pie plate.)
- Whisk together remaining egg and olive juice. Brush onto the top of the dough.
- Bake for about 30 minutes. To test for doneness, check to see if the top is browning and crackled. Thump top; the loaf should sound hollow. Let cool for at least half an hour before cutting.
- Serve with olive oil, butter or soft goat cheese.
Shauna James is an author and blogger based in Seattle. Read more of her columns here .
Her first book, Gluten-Free Girl was published by Wiley and Sons in the fall of 2007. It’s available at Amazon.com  Write to Shauna at firstname.lastname@example.org 
Shauna James Ahern’s and Daniel Ahern’s new cookbook is Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, published by John Wiley & Sons. Their blog is Glutenfreegirl.com