I’ve had good news and bad news recently. The good news is that some health issues that had been plaguing me for a long time have finally been solved and eliminated. The bad news is that it turns out I am gluten and lactose intolerant. Now these two things are not the end of the world and it’s great to be able to heal myself by changing what I’m putting in my mouth. (And I have to credit my acupuncturist who is also trained in Oriental medicine for getting me to go gluten and lactose free, when my gastroenterologist was dismissive of my symptoms. She suggested it to me over and over for months and I finally wisened up and did what she suggested and got immediate relief.)
It was very hard to accept this initially, however. To think I can never buy a croissant, have dumplings at a Chinese restaurant, quickly grab a sandwich while on the go, eat fried chicken in a restaurant, eat Christmas cookies at a party, have a slice of birthday cake at someone’s house, enjoy a peanut cream donut from my favorite donut shop, sample things at bakeries, or have a pretzel at the mall was really hard to accept. I also felt like I had personally lost part of my heritage. Cooking and baking are important parts of who I am and my connection with my parents and grandparents. I cherish my grandmothers’ recipes and feel so in touch with them when I bake with them. Those recipes will never be quite the same for me now. This also makes it hard to eat at other people’s houses. I’ll have to explain in advance, be suspicious of how well they understand what gluten is (it’s in lots of things you wouldn’t expect and isn’t always called wheat or gluten), and find ways to eat without being rude, while keeping myself from getting sick.
I can handle certain dairy products with the help of Lactaid, so that’s a pretty easy work-around. However, there is no quick fix for gluten, other than avoiding it and substituting for it. So, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to spread my wings. I have been trying different gluten-free flours and I’ve also brought home lots of gluten free products. Some are horrible. Some are really good. Some are just ok. Cooking with gluten free flour mixes is a challenge. Recipes never turn out quite the way you are used to. I made blond brownies and they cooked much faster than they should. Same thing with Yorkshire pudding (family style popovers, essentially). And when I made a pie the crust was really hard to work with and burned a bit on the top. So, I’m learning.
Since I do not have an actual allergy (i.e. celiac disease), and since tiny amounts of gluten do not seem to bother me, I am hopeful that in time I will be able to eat some gluten again. But for now, it’s cold turkey.
There is tons and tons of info online about eating gluten free and I don’t pretend to be an expert yet. What I can do is share my experiences as I work through this new paradigm.
Here are some recent gluten free experiences:
Bob’s Red Mill GF Flour: I initially wasn’t thrilled with this flour since it is yellowish, but it was the easiest to use in making pie crust – much less crumbly than the other brands. When I made spaetzle with it however, the dough was goopier than with other brands.
Cup4Cup Flour: This new flour was developed in the kitchens of Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. I was not happy to discover that the ingredients include milk powder, but it does not seem to have enough lactose in it to bother me. This is a nice flour, very close to real flour in color and texture. I’m alternating between it and Bob’s as my flour of choice.
Kind Arthur GF Flour: This is a pretty good substitute but has a bit of a grainy feel to it.
Pamela’s Cookies: These are crumbly, but taste great. It’s a luxury to be able to buy packaged cookies now and this is a great treat for me.
Wegmans Store Brand Brownie Mix: HEAVEN. This was just like real brownies. Wegmans makes other baking mixes, but I would rather use my own recipes with modifications.
Wegmans GF pasta: LOVE these. They are made with corn, but I swear you wouldn’t know. My family ate it without complaint. I’ve stocked up on every style they have.
Conte’s Gnocchi: I did not notice a difference with this product at all. A definite winner!
Chex cereals: Rice and Corn Chex (and associated store brands) are GF and delicious.
Annie’s Chocolate and Vanilla Rabbits: These are like Teddy Grahams. My son can’t get enough of them. I think they are great when I just need a little bite of something. And it satisfies my chocolate craving.
Mi-Del Arrowroot Cookies: Love these. They are like animal crackers.
Udi’s Bagels: The whole grain bagels are very close to real bagels. I did not care for the plain white ones.
Udi’s Bread: I’ve tried several kinds that were just horrid (Schar’s white bread is awful), but the whole grain version of Udi’s is fantastic. GF bread products are always better toasted, by the way.
Foods by George English Muffins: I have tried the No-Rye Rye and the plain. I love the plain – they are really like biscuits more than English muffins, but are fluffy and delish.
Tamari sauce: Most people don’t know soy sauce contains gluten. I can handle small amounts of it, but I use this instead of soy sauce now in cooking. Tamari is basically a stronger soy sauce and I prefer the taste.
Bob’s Red Mill GF oats: Most people don’t know oats and oatmeal have gluten – usually small amounts from processing. I have eaten the occasional packet of prepared oatmeal without trouble, but I buy these for baking and for making my own oatmeal (which I prefer anyhow).
Wholly Wholesome Pie Shells: These are GF and vegan as well. I used them to make a chicken pot pie and everyone gave it the thumbs up.
GF breadcrumbs: These are convenient and work just as well as regular.
This is where things get tricky, because you have to ask what things are made with. When I go to a restaurant I first scope out the things I know are GF, like salads (no croutons! and oil and vinegar dressing is always safe), grilled meat (but you have to ask about sauces), and sides like steamed or grilled veggies, baked potatoes or French fries (fortunately I’m not bothered by things that are cooked in the same oil as things with gluten – French fries and onion rings are usually made in the same oil). Then I identify things on the menu that MIGHT be GF and I ask. At a recent dinner out there were 4 fish dishes that seemed to have no breading or flour based sauces. I asked if they were GF or could be made GF. The waitress was clueless and asked the chef. All 4 could be GF. Score! I now always look at a menu online before I go to be sure there will be something I can eat. And if we intend to go someplace special, I will call ahead and alert the chef so that there will be definite options for me.
We recently went to a local restaurant called Merge, that has GF, vegan (i.e. lactose free) and raw foods on the menu, all clearly marked. It was like heaven for me. I wish more restaurants would do that! It made it all so easy, and many of the dishes could be prepared with or without gluten or dairy if you specified.
We’ve identified several pizza places that have GF pizza near us. There is also a local bakery that only makes GF food. I’ve been in once and will be back. Their Italian bread was nearly identical to regular. Their donuts were an epic fail. Their coffee cake wasn’t bad. I’ll try more products the next time.
Another trick I have up my sleeve is to bring a GF roll with me if I know I am going to a place that serves burgers or hot dogs. I can order it without a bun and pop it onto mine.
Eating out now takes work and forces me to speak up and ask questions, but it’s definitely doable. It’s still hard to see others at the table enjoying mac and cheese, breaded cutlets, and gravies. But I remind myself I can make any of that GF at home.
Managing Family Meals
This has had surprisingly little impact on our family meals. I’ve been making lots of potatoes and rice and the GF products I’ve served (bread, tacos, recipes made with GF flour) have passed muster without a peep from anyone. I use GF flour in sauces, soups, and recipes. Lactose free milk goes into recipes as well without anyone noticing at all. It is surprisingly easy to work around this at home. Baking is a bigger challenge, however. My GF apple pie was ok, but I need to work on my pie crust some more. And I have yet to try out a lot of my family baking recipes, which will likely need tweaking.
What I am desperately still looking for includes:
GF puff pastry
GF wonton wrappers (so I can make my own potstickers and dumplings and wonton soup)
GF filo dough
good GF donuts
GF egg noodles
GF hot pretzels
Lactose Free Products:
I’m still trying to work out what works for me and doesn’t. Lactose-free milk has become a staple in my cooking and on my cereal. It is slightly sweeter than regular milk. Lactose free yogurt does not work for me for some reason. I can eat small amounts of hard cheeses. Lactose free American cheese works well for me. I’ve also sampled every frozen dessert option my store has that is LF. The coconut milk ice cream has the best texture, but I can’t get past the coconut taste. I did not like the rice milk ice cream or the soy milk ice cream. The almond milk ice cream is pretty good, but it all does have an almond flavor. None of it is perfect. So far I have been ok using small amounts of sour cream in cooking. Butter does not bother me, but we use a lot of Olivio instead. And I’ve always cooked with olive oil when possible, instead of butter.
I will be cooking with GF flours and products from now on, but I don’t anticipate this having much of an impact on my blogging. There are many, many foods that don’t involve gluten in any way, and if I do make a GF substitute in a recipe, I’ll tell you. I will still be sharing my love of cooking and baking with you.
If you are GF or LF I would love to hear from you!
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