Try and recall the last time you sat down at the table and enjoyed your meal. No rushing or constant phone checking, just you, some friends and some great food. Shauna Ahern, more well known as the Gluten-Free-Girl, sat down with a group of her devoted gluten-free followers this week to simply enjoy a meal together.
Anyone who eats gluten-free knows who Shauna Ahern is; even Twitter has put a blue validation check on her account. Starting in 2005, Ahern began writing on her blog glutenfreegirl.com about her own gluten-free journey. Although she was diagnosed with celiac disease, Ahern didn’t want to be held back by her body and more importantly, she wanted to enjoy food.
Her blog, Gluten-Free-Girl and the Chef, is widely read for recipes, insider gluten-free baking tips, and touching yet hilarious stories about the gluten-free girl and her very own chef.
After eating gluten-free for five years, I am very much aware of Shauna’s blog and her amazing story. When I saw on Twitter that she was going to be in the city for a friend’s wedding, I jumped at her open invitation to join her for a meal.
We chose to dine at Senza Gluten in the West Village after hearing some amazing reviews. Ahern wanted to visit all the gluten-free hotspots while she was in the city and this was at the top of her list.
Senza Gluten prides itself on being the first completely gluten-free Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Anyone who knows anything about gluten understands how hard it is to achieve this feat. Everything that Italy is known for has gluten in it. You name it: pasta, pizza, bread, all are off limits. This restaurant is a gluten-free eaters safe haven.
Our 6:30 p.m. dinner reservation was for five people and we all showed up at different times. Two guests were friends of Ahern and the other guest and myself are simply fans of her blog. We made friendly conversation about work and crazy New York schedules until the Gluten Free Girl joined us and the real fun began.
Shauna Ahern was full of energy and had a big smile plastered across her face. After greeting her two friends, she turned to me and introduced herself as if we’re already friends. No awkward handshake or smile needed.
Once the group settled, we started to look at the menu. There was risotto with asparagus, classic lasagna and more seasonal vegetables than you could count. However, we ran into a problem: no one knows what to order. We, the gluten-free eaters at the table, haven’t ever had so many options to choose from off a restaurant menu. There were too many choices and everyone recognized the beauty in that.
While we waited for our food, we started a conversation. Ahern is an open book. She reminisced about her time living in the Big Apple, shared funny anecdotes and photos of her two children and her laughter was contagious.
Our food arrived as the table was in mid-discussion about our favorite TV shows; Chef’s Table on Netflix was the unanimous favorite. Bowls of penne, spaghetti and gnocchi were placed in front of us and we dig in. My pasta had an amazing texture and the tomato sauce was so good that I could have eaten a bowl of it on its own.
As we ate our meal, Ahern answered some of our more personal questions. This past June, Ahern had a minor stroke called a TIA. One minute she was in a business meeting and the next she was being rushed to the hospital and couldn’t feel the left side of her body. She recalled her fear and how she just couldn’t believe what was happening.
Although a multitude of tests came back clean, Ahern now follows doctor’s orders and takes her health more seriously than ever before. She makes time in her busy schedule to take a walk everyday and eats a handful of vegetables at meal times.
“It has changed the way I live my life,” Ahern said, “because nothing is theoretical after having a stroke.”
Over dessert, where I fell in love with a star shaped shortbread cookie covered in melted chocolate, Ahern talked about her Gluten-Free-Girl brand.
Last September, Ahern launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund the mass production of her gluten-free flour blends. Now a little more than a year later, her flour is about to be sold on Amazon and she is talking to other companies who want to use it in their own baked goods.
This September, the Gluten-Free-Girl and the Chef also published their fourth book, American Classics Reinvented. Their readers are going crazy over recipes for sourdough bread and red velvet cake, and who can blame them?