Violets and Amaranth

Eating weeds and gaining grains: an adventure in eating

Getting Started: Living Life Gluten-Free

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I meant to write this post on our anniversary of being gluten-free, which was early last fall. The mad rush to preserve summer’s goodness got in the way of blogging then. Recently a couple of different people of mentioned to me or my husband that they want or need to be gluten-free- but where to start?

Here’s what worked for us. This isn’t the only way to do it. I offer our story as a menu to pick and choose from; maybe something on here will work for those of you considering* going gluten-free. A little over a year later and we have so many fewer ailments to deal with. Years of pain and related health troubles have been erased or reduced. Once you start feeling better, it is worth all the effort of getting started. And now? Gluten-free cooking is fairly easy. I wouldn’t go back- not for anything.

(*I should also say here that you should make all major diet changes with the advice of your health care professional)

First, find some support: For us, this came in several forms.

Books:

We read books that first educated us on Celiac’s Disease. One of my favorites is The Hidden Epidemic, by Peter Greene.

Real life people:

We also talked with friends who were already gluten-free. We knew at least 3 people before we made the switch ourselves. The best bit of advice that we got was, “Try it for 6 months to a year. If you don’t feel better, go back to wheat. What have you got to lose?”

There are lots of other support groups at www.celiac.com and www.celiac.org, along with tons of resources.

Enlist the support of family.

It is really hard to go gluten-free, or anything-free by yourself. When you are the one who is sick, it is hard to have the creative energy to figure this out. Find someone in your circle of family and friends who can help you cook the way you need to for a good 4-6 weeks. That way if you get overwhelmed, someone else is there keeping things on track. That’s how this blog was born. I have no food restrictions at all, but someone needed to help the Geographer get his diet under control. Now that I’ve navigated us to a stable, functional diet, he’s ready to get back in that kitchen!

It also helped to have the whole house follow the Geographer’s restrictions. We get enough cross-contamination when we’re out and about, we don’t need it in the house too. If you don’t have a food restriction, remember you can always get your favorite food when you eat out. Especially when you’re starting a diet with a new restriction, whether that is gluten or something else, having everyone on board helps you figure out how to live normal life with that restriction faster.

Social Media.

Facebook has several gluten-free groups. The one I’m in has people who post recipes and product information all the time. I know some of these people in real life too, which makes the group feel even more supportive. I’ve noticed Twitter also has a #glutenfree hash tag, so if you like to tweet, check them out!

Blogs:

There are tons of blogs. I didn’t find any in particular to follow, so I started my own. I’ve noticed that there are 2 tiers of gluten-free writing. There is a main tier for those with gluten as the only dietary restriction. Most blogs, cookbooks, and support are aimed at this group. If you fall in this group, you have a lot of choices for finding recipes. A lot of those recipes will work because they rely on egg or soy to give your cooking binding.

The second tier is where my household falls. We are finding more and more people with the same allergy list and the gluten intolerance/Celiac’s problem. If you can’t have egg, soy, and all the other things we can’t have, finding resources is harder. That’s why I started this blog. I’m trying to get resources in one place for folks like us. But, everything I post will work even if you only have a gluten problem.

Support is great, but what am I going to EAT?!

 Pre-Packaged:

More and more companies are offering gluten-free products. If you like the pre-made route, and you can have eggs and soy, most major grocery stores offer brands like Udi and Schar, with pre-made bread and pasta products. Amy’s Soups offer a wide range of gluten-free options, and there is always Bob’s Red Mill for various flours, cakes, and cookie mixes. Now that I’ve settled on the flour blend that works best for us, I buy those flours in bulk from the local natural food store. My favorite pasta brand is a quinoa/corn pasta from Ancient Harvest. I like it tons better than rice or plain corn pasta, and it is higher in protein, so there is no starch crash like traditional pasta has. If your grocery doesn’t carry what you’d like to buy, ask them to order it, or look on Amazon or Vitacost. Someone will sell you the food you want!

Homemade:

This is where people get worried, but really, even if you think you don’t like to cook, you can make your food from scratch. I spend about 1-2 hours a day on food prep, and I spend a little less than $10 per day per person on food in my house. It did take time to get it so streamlined, but it was worth the effort. We are gluten-free and it isn’t breaking the bank or taking all day to make the food. But, as you transition to cooking more, realize the beginning will have a learning curve. If you live in northern Ohio and want help, let me know. I love to consult with people and teach you the fine art of…..

Substitution:

If you are gluten-free or allergy-free, this is your cooking skill. You don’t have to toss out your favorite recipes. You have to learn to substitute. You need to figure out the flour blend the works for you. Start subbing there, and make changes as you go. The “Tips and Tricks” category on this blog is often about substitution. When I consult with people, I often just help them navigate how to substitute what they can have in for what they can’t. Our main substitutions are:

  • 1 cup all-purpose wheat flour= ¼ cup millet flour, ¼ cup sorghum, ¼ cup potato starch OR sweet rice flour, ¼ cup tapioca flour. If you can have eggs, you probably won’t need so many types of flour.
  • 1 egg= 1 tablespoon ground flax-seed steeped in 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • soy sauce and hoisin sauce
  • 1 cup rolled oatmeal= 1 cup quinoa flakes (this makes a great granola too!)
  • xanthan gum- most recipes that use flour need ½ to 1 teaspoon to aid in binding.
  • Creamed soups- I use Bette Hagman’s recipe from her Gluten-Free Gourmet book.
  • Gravy- replace wheat flour with brown rice flour in a basic roux
  • Tortillas- use lettuce wraps, or buy Mesa corn at the grocery, a tortilla press, and make them the traditional, wheat-free way
  • 1 tablespoon lemon= 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • Palm shortening – I tried to do without this, but cookies and pie crust need a shortening, and this is the only kind out there that is soy-free
  • coconut oil- I couldn’t bake without it!

Books (part 2):

I cannot sing the praises of the Allergy-Free Desert Cookbook by Elizabeth Gordon enough. If you can’t have wheat or egg or soy or dairy, buy it. It is worth the investment. If your gluten-free cakes are disappointing, buy this book. If you are frustrated with pie dough, use this book. Every cake and pie crust I’ve made from this book so far is perfect. She has a blog too. Right now, that’s my favorite cookbook. I used to advocate for Bette Hagman’s books as a good GF starting point, but gluten-free cooking has come a long way since her time. If you need to read the classics, start with any of Hagman’s books, but if you just want to jump into what’s simple, start with Gordon’s book.

Snacks on the go:

This one has taken us the most time to figure out. What to snack on? The vending machine at work no longer works for us! Our short list includes: gluten-free crackers (Mediterranean Snack Food’s Baked Lentil Crackers and Blue Diamond’s Nut-Thins Crackers are our favorites), corn or potato chips, popcorn (We make it ourselves. I don’t know if microwave popcorn has gluten in it or not), nachos, fruit (grapes, dried fruit), quinoa granola, and well, now the list seems endless!

Eating out:

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog about the national Gluten-free restaurant registry. But, we find that while restaurants do offer items that are gluten-free, they also can have cross contamination issues due to how food is handled in restaurants. If you are supper sensitive, give the restaurants a pass until your sensitivity calms down. Most areas now have gluten-free finder sites such as http://glutenfreetoledo.com/ and http://neohioceliac.com/restaurants.html.

Don’t dismiss the smaller, local places that don’t make it on these registries. If you have a favorite local place, call them. Tell them what you need, and they will likely accommodate you. Our most successful meals out have been at small, local places. We call ahead, the day or two before, and let them know what we need. They tell us if they can accommodate our needs and when they can meet our needs, we experience far fewer cases of cross contamination than at national chains.

Bread:

This is a tough one at first. We are so accustomed to store-bought bread, making it ourselves seems daunting. Now, if you can have eggs, you do have pre-made bread options at groceries (often in the frozen food aisle) and fresh-baked at natural foods stores. If you can’t have eggs, or don’t care for the taste and texture of pre-made GF bread, here are a couple of things that work for us:

  • Search for egg-free bread sites. I found this one, and have since modified the bread recipe, but it is by far the best I’ve found yet.
  • If you can have egg, this recipe is very good.
  • With slight modification, I have found this to be the best pizza dough recipe out there.
  • I’m working on a method of making bread in English muffin molds that make “sandwich-style” bread- watch for a post on that soon!
  • Remember, lettuce makes a great wrap for tuna salads, and even lunch meats.

Finally, the ultimate trick is to get into a rhythm of making the bread regularly once you find a recipe and method that works for you. We’re almost there, but not quite. Ideally, I’d like to make bread dough once a week and freeze it. Then thaw and bake when I need it.

What did I forget? Let me know if I left an element of gluten-free life off of the list, or, if you have your own experience or tip to add. After all, we’re all in this together!

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