in late 2012 I learned I was gluten and lactose intolerant. It was really hard to accept at first. My first thought was that I would toe the line at home but since it is “just” an intolerance and not an allergy, I could eat the forbidden foods when dining out or at other people’s homes. I quickly learned that that wasn’t going to work. I felt so GOOD when I avoided gluten and lactose and was so, so sick when I ate them. Finally I learned to embrace the restrictions. It took a while but I learned that I can make almost anything I want at home. Eating out can be a challenge, but is manageable, particularly as more and more food professionals become aware of food intolerances (the only things missing in my home repertoire of substitutes are puff pastry and filo dough).

My husband soon admitted that he too was gluten and lactose intolerance (after eating LF and GF at home for months he succumbed to pizza at the office and had to admit it. A few later experiments with salad dressing drove the point home even harder to him). It’s easier having someone else in my boat, so to speak.

Once I had this figured out, I thought I was home free. Cup4Cup flour and Lactaid and away I went.

The universe laughed at me. This fall, my mother-in-law ended up in the hospital and then a nursing home and then hospice. I took on the job of feeding my father-in-law several nights a week. His biggest request was soup, so as I posted here on the blog, I began my fall soup fest, making 2-3 batches of soup a week. And I suddenly I began to feel sick again. I ripped the house apart, searching for what I was sure was a hidden source of gluten. I called every manufacturer of every OTC or prescription drug, cosmetic, and health product I was taking or using. I read the ingredients on every item in my pantry. I could not solve the problem, but I knew something I was eating was making me very sick.

My first stop was to pay for food intolerance testing through a functional medicine doctor, none of which (visits or tests) were covered by insurance. I walked away with a detailed list with one food to never eat (black beans – something I never eat anyhow), foods to avoid for 3 months (which included chicken, which I was eating probably 4 times a week, and things like basil and cantaloupe) and foods I should only eat every 4 days (including baker’s yeast and egg whites). The theory was I had leaky gut syndrome and these foods were creating an inflammatory reaction in my body, leading to my GI symptoms and worsening my autoimmune interstitial cystitis (basically an angry bladder). I was SO excited to have a possible solution. I stuck to the diet and took the supplements that were supposed to help me. If anything, I continued to get worse. Nothing was helping.

I suddenly remembered an article I had read in Gluten-Free Living about a special diet for people who were gluten-free but suddenly sick again. It’s called the FODMAP diet. The theory behind it is that there are certain sugars/carbohydrates in specific foods that draw lots of water into your intestines. For some people, this gets out of control, causing severe GI symptoms. Wheat and lactose are on the list of foods that cause this and apparently it is very common that people who think they are gluten intolerant suddenly become unable to tolerate these foods as well – the thinking is you are not intolerant of the gluten itself but the sugar/carbohydrate type in it.

It was worth a try. I began the elimination diet and cut out a huge list of foods and immediately felt 100% better. It was the same feeling as when I eliminated wheat and dairy from my diet – a sudden, drastic change in my health for the better. I knew I was on to something. I then began to experiment with adding back in the 5 groups of foods back into my diet to test them.  It turns out I have a pretty severe reaction to 4 of the 5 groups and have some problem foods in the 5th group.

The stunner for me was that the entire family that includes onions/garlic/beets, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli were HUGE triggers for me.  And then it hit me. I’d been making all this soup and soup ALWAYS has onion in it. I thought I was eating healthily with tons of fruits and veggies and in fact, many of these foods were making me sick. By eating soup most nights of the week, I was feeding myself one of my big triggers. It was ridiculous, maddening and really upsetting to realize I had to cut ALL of these foods out of my diet, possibly forever.

Again, when cooking at home, I found work-arounds. Cooking without onion and garlic is supremely challenging though. So many of the dishes most cooks make contain these two aromatics. I started experimenting. I learned I could eat the green tops of scallions and this became my go-to instead of onions. They work perfectly in its place and add a nice green color as well. That was simple. Garlic is harder, but the scallion tops are an ok substitute. Horseradish works to give me a bite when I need it and I’ve also found that Dijon mustard is also a good alternative.

It is hard to deal with the loss of so many of my favorite fruits and veggies: broccoli was on our table twice a week. Now I still make it for the family, but I eat something else (cauliflower is a good substitute). Apples were my go-to fruit (so portable and perfect!), but they are also on my no-no list. Fortunately all berries and pears are ok for me. I haven’t yet had nectarines, peaches or plums, but those will have to be tested since they are in the polyol family. I’m not missing the galactan group so much – kidney beans, baked beans, etc. since I was never a huge fan to begin with. Cashews (my fave nut) and pistachios are out. So I’m eating pecans and almonds instead.

Once again, many prepared foods are now off the table. Spaghetti sauce has onion and garlic.  Any restaurant or prepared pizza has garlic and onions in the sauce. Goodbye.  Hummus has chick peas. Salad dressings have onion or garlic. Ketchup has onion or garlic powder but does not seem to bother me. I’m still learning what I can tolerate and what I can’t. Eating out has now become all but impossible. I either have to walk in with a printed, detailed list of items I can’t have (Yes, I am now THAT person) – not only must my food be gluten-free but it can’t have onions or garlic. I can most likely determine the presence of the fruits and vegetables I can’t eat myself from a menu description and my food knowledge, but I can’t order anything without checking on the onion and garlic. Even a simple hamburger might contain them. It’s stressful, frustrating and annoying that food, which was one of the big loves and hobbies in my life has now become a burden and a challenge. My woo-woo acupuncturist would tell me that the universe is asking me to learn the lesson that we must sometimes let go of the things we are most attached to, and often the hardest lessons are the most important. I say universe, you’re stinky.

So I’m moving forward, carefully filling my cart at the grocery store and more committed than ever to the fact that I have to simply accept that the best choice is to cook at home and not eat at restaurants. At a point in my life when I have less free time than ever before, I have to make time to cook real food. This new diet is forcing me to work with foods I avoided before. Swiss chard is in the crisper this week. Spaghetti squash is sitting on the counter. We’re eating more zucchini. Little by little I will find a way to move forward without feeling deprived and/or crazy. It’s all about looking for alternatives and having patience as you try them.

I would love to hear from my readers who are also dealing with food allergies, intolerances, and substitutes. What are you avoiding and how you are working around it?


in late 2012 I learned I was gluten and lactose intolerant. It was really hard to accept at first. My first thought was that I would toe the line at home but since it is “just” an intolerance and not an allergy, I could eat the forbidden foods when dining out or at other people’s … Read more

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.

Eating Out: 

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.

Searching for

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

GF croissants

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.

Moving Forward

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!


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 … Read more