Three Great Gluten Free Resources

By: Rachel Sircy

In this post, I thought I would take a break from documenting my own personal gluten free and high cholesterol woes to share with those of you out there with gluten free needs some resources that have helped me through the years.

One of the first blogs that I came across when I was first diagnosed was The Gluten Free Girl blog. This blog helped me understand what it meant to be gluten free in a way that all the medical pamphlets and jargon couldn’t. It really encouraged me to read something written by someone who was a celiac and who wasn’t depressed about it. Shauna James Ahern enjoys life and her blog helped me to realize that my life wasn’t over just because I had celiac disease and could no longer eat fried chicken and doughnuts. I would particularly recommend starting out with her post entitled, “Yes.” It’s about her engagement, but it’s also about saying yes to all aspects of life no matter if they’re good or bad.

You can find her blog at: https://glutenfreegirl.com.

While I enjoy reading The Gluten Free Girl for inspiration and some tips, the truth is, a lot of her recipes have been too expensive and too complicated for me to really want to try. The first cookbook that I received after being diagnosed that had recipes that I wanted to return to again and again was Simply…Gluten Free Quick Meals, by Carol Kicinski. Her meals were, as stated, quick to prepare and pretty easy. They were also fairly easy on the budget, and the ones that were a bit too expensive could easily be prepared with cheaper substitutes and ingredients could also be left out without affecting the overall flavor too much. I love her falafel burgers, but I have never made the tahini sauce that she makes to go with them because I would never use the tahini for anything other than these burgers. The burgers still taste great!

Also, Kicinski’s cookbook had one of the first “stocking your gluten free pantry” sections I had ever seen. This was a huge help to me, and it might be to you, too. I would visit her website first to make sure that you like her cooking and her advice before you go out and buy her book. Her website is chock full of recipes and advice.

You can find her website at: https://simplygluten-free.com.

Last but not least, for those of us who suffer from the expense of a gluten free diet, there is Nicole Hunn’s blog: Gluten Free on a Shoestring. Hunn makes simple gluten free meals that are also affordable. Her recipes have been collected in at least one cookbook and they’ve also been featured in Delight gluten free magazine. She has a section on her website that deals with stocking a gluten free pantry as well. Because going gluten free can mean learning to cook all over again, I highly recommend looking at these resources to help you know what you need (and what you DON’T need) in your gluten free kitchen.

Nicole’s blog is located at: https://glutenfreeonashoestring.com.

Good luck and great reading!

Hit and Miss

By: Rachel Sircy

Well, it is the Lenten season – a time for all Christians to reflect on our own frailty and to understand how much we need the Lord. My church doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar, but I’m starting to reflect on my own frailties this season. Especially because since my last post about sticking to a strict diet and loving plain, toasted walnuts – blah, blah, blah – I’ve fallen off the wagon. It all started with an innocent trip to Aldi. I was picking up some food to take to a party when a box of dark chocolate sea salt caramels caught my eye. I thought that I would just take them to the party – but I didn’t. Once I brought them home, they never made it back out of my front door. And it only got worse from there. I’ve had more bacon, sausage, cheese, chocolate, and cake in the past couple of weeks than I have in the past couple of months. It just proved a point that my pastor often makes – if you preach about something, you should prepare for a test on it the next day. Well, I failed my test, of course. But the wonderful thing is that if at first you don’t succeed, there will always be another test.

Gluten free muffin_Every Woman Blog

This is a picture of a cinnamon streusel muffin. My mother-in-law made it, and it’s gluten free. AND it’s delicious. I know that she meant well when she dropped these off yesterday, but it’s calling to me. The voice of a cinnamon streusel muffin sounds a lot like those friends you have in college that come to you right before a huge test and ask, Do you have to study? Well, ok then…we’ll think of you while we’re out having fun…

I mean, which would you rather have for breakfast – a delicious, cake-like muffin, or this:

Kate_Every Woman Blog

If you said you’d rather have the kale and flax seed, you’re lying. Come on, you know you’re lying. But I didn’t totally fail the test this time. I compromised and had a bit of both.

Breakfast_Every Woman Blog

I think that means that I got a straight C on this test. I’m okay with that for right now. When I first started to go gluten free, I had a whole lot of stops and starts. Once, shortly after I was diagnosed as a celiac, I broke down and ate almost an entire package of Chips Ahoy cookies. The next day the pain in my stomach was so bad that I could barely move off of the couch. It was a lesson learned. I didn’t ever do that again. And so, even though my breakfast wasn’t the healthiest in the world, it was sort of healthy. And that’s a start toward something better.

A NOTE ABOUT GLUTEN FREE STUFF:

Occasionally on here I rant about how the food industry is riding out the wave of enthusiasm over the gluten free diet fad. I don’t mean to try to tell anyone how they should eat or how they should live, it’s just that I think that there is a lot of information out there that is really misleading about this diet. And, as a celiac, I firmly believe that anyone who thinks they may have a gluten allergy/intolerance or celiac disease should seek a medical professional’s opinion. Well, I’m getting preachy again. I don’t mean to, I just hate to see people being purposefully mislead about their health. If you don’t have your health, not much else matters. Your health is important to me, so I’m going to share something that has recently come to my attention.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a container of disinfectant wipes that are supposed to be 99% natural (or something like that). I prefer to use natural cleaners around my house and often times I make my own cleaning solutions. I’ll have to write a post about that sometime. Making your own solutions, though, can be time consuming and a bit of a pain, so I wanted something that would help me when I just needed to do a quick cleanup. About a week after I got the wipes home, I noticed this on the back of the container:

gluten free wipes-Every Woman Blog

That’s right. Apparently, my disinfectant wipes are gluten free. Do you know what this means? It means that this company is shameless. I guess because most people don’t know much about gluten, manufacturers of all kinds of products are using the gluten free label to sell their stuff. Now, I don’t mind buying a cleaner that happens to not have gluten in it, but I would never purchase a cleaner because it didn’t have gluten in it. The thing is, gluten only affects you if you eat it. No one, not even celiacs, need gluten free cleaners, shampoos or soaps. I mean, if you really think that your disinfectant wipes or your shampoo looks tasty then you have a problem, but that problem isn’t your gluten intolerance. According to Mayo Clinic’s website (the Mayo Clinic is where I get a lot of my information, I trust them as a reliable source), true celiacs only need to make sure that their toothpastes, mouthwashes and lip balms, etc. are gluten free. The reason for that is pretty obvious. You’re probably going to ingest some of your toothpaste and mouthwash and lip balm even though you don’t mean to. According to Dr. Picco of the Mayo Clinic, if you develop a skin rash from touching a product that contains gluten or wheat, you should see your doctor. It could be a wheat allergy (which is not the same as celiac disease) causing an allergic reaction. Also, there is a skin condition that sometimes accompanies celiac disease called dermatitis herpetiformis, but this is not caused by skin contact with gluten, it is only caused by eating something contaminated with gluten.

Well, that was a long rant. I hope it was helpful!!

New Beginnings

By: Rachel Sircy

As I sit writing this post I am eating one of my new favorite snacks: plain toasted walnuts. That’s right, there is absolutely no seasoning, no salt, no anything on these walnuts. I bought a bag of walnuts from the baking section of my local Aldi and simply toasted them in a dry skillet. And they are delicious.

walnuts

I know what you’re probably thinking, because it’s the same thing that I tend to think when I read health food blogs. You’re probably thinking that I am either deluding myself into believing that plain, slightly burnt walnuts are really good OR I’m just pretending to like them so that I can lord my good health habits over all of you out there who are reading this while eating potato chips. Since I’m usually the one who’s out there eating potato chips, I tend to believe the latter about people who write health food blogs. While I can’t give you a 100% guarantee that I’m not delusional, I can promise you that I’m not making this up. There really are healthy foods out there that actually taste good. The trick is just finding out what tastes good to you.

Right now, I’m on an exploratory journey to find healthy, low-fat foods that taste good to me. I wasn’t planning taking this journey this year. I mean, I wanted to lose some weight, and I thought that eating a little healthier might be a part of that. To be honest, I thought I already WAS eating healthy. I thought the extra weight I was carrying around was just a natural consequence of the fact that I HATE exercising and that I snack too much. But a recent letter in the mail detailing the results of my most recent bloodwork revealed that my cholesterol was over 100 points higher than I had expected. Clearly, I wasn’t doing something right.

I still don’t know if my high cholesterol is due entirely to my diet, or if it could be a side effect of the gluten free diet that I’m on because of the celiac disease, or if it’s genetic. Really, that knowledge is of secondary importance to me. I know what I need to know. I know that my cholesterol is high. I know that people with celiac disease may be up to twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease according to a recent study by the American College of Cardiology. And, most importantly, I know that I have a chance to change my fate with a change in diet and by increasing activity and exercise in my life. Sometimes diet and exercise alone don’t work – yes, I’ve seen those cholesterol medication commercials, too. But sometimes they do and they don’t come with the nasty side effects of some medications. I worked for six years answering phones in a doctor’s office and I’ve heard people describe the hardships of life on medications. If there is anything that I can do to avoid those hardships, I am going to do it.

In my last post, I said that I was going to talk to my friend, Tiara, who has her PhD in nutrition, about what to do and what to eat to get me started on this path to lower cholesterol and a healthier life. The gist of what she told me was what I expected, but really didn’t want to hear: vegetables are good and Cheetos are not. I told Tiara that I usually get all my junk food from various health food stores around town. I thought that that fact alone should have made a difference in my health. And do you know what she told me? Junk food is junk food regardless of whether or not it has a label that says it’s organic. Gluten free junk food is some of the worst junk food on the market – it’s low on fiber and other nutrients and high on fat and salt and sugar, more so than many gluten-filled products.

So, there’s really nothing to be done other than to get rid of the junk and find some wholesome food that I like to eat. I’m starting with one of the foods that the Harvard Health Newsletter states will help to lower your cholesterol: nuts. And, of course, I have to start to find an exercise routine that I like and that I will stick to. This evening my husband is taking me to our local park to attempt to teach me how to play tennis as part of his Valentine’s day gift to me. (I’m not going to say which park because I don’t feel like being totally publicly humiliated.)

And, since I enjoy recommending books to read, I’m going to share one that I have just started reading myself: The Daniel Plan. It’s a book by Rick Warren (and others) that outlines a method for a total lifestyle change, one that is supposed to be healthier for mind, body and soul. You may like it, you may not. I haven’t read it before, so I can’t vouch for it. I haven’t committed myself to the Daniel Plan diet, but I’m at least considering it. (Actually, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I scoffed at the ideas in this book when my mother-in-law first bought it a few years ago, back when I was still nice and thin. Well, fat happens and I’ve changed my mind since then. We’ll see how things turn out.)

Until my next post, I wish you all happy reading and health(ier) eating!

Hurdles

By: Rachel Sircy 

Since my last post – the one about New Year’s resolutions and losing weight and all that – I have encountered a very unexpected obstacle in my path to health and happiness.

Every Woman Blog - Heart Health

I recently had some lab results come back in the mail with some bad news. My overall cholesterol levels were well over 100 points higher than I had expected them to be. My LDL (bad cholesterol) was way up and my HDL (good cholesterol) was way down. I actually dropped the results in horror when my eyes lighted on those awful numbers.

**Side Note: I should state here that my numbers, while high, are not so high that I have to take immediate action or that I must start medication right away. But they were pretty high for a person my age and they do require me to make some permanent lifestyle changes. **

Now, truth be told, I haven’t had my lipids checked in about 6 years. The only reason that I had labs drawn last month is that I get them for free during the month of my birthday by virtue of being a Lexington Medical Center Employee. The last time I had my levels checked, my cholesterol was only slightly elevated. Since that time, I had thought that I was eating a healthier diet overall. I have certainly become a better celiac – better at keeping myself safe from gluten. True, I have had a child since the last time I had my cholesterol checked, and I have retained the baby weight. But could an addition of 30 pounds really cause such a jump in cholesterol? Or, could it be genetics? Could it have something to do with the subject of this study by the American College of Cardiology, which found that celiac patients following strict gluten-free diets may be twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease? The study also found that celiacs may have a slightly higher risk of having high cholesterol levels while maintaining low blood pressure (which is the case with me). Could it be – and I hate to admit it – the fact that I loathe exercise?

I have no idea at this point what could have caused this change in my body. However, I do know that I am the kind of person who fixes things that are broken. And that is what I intend to do with this situation with my health. I am starting the process with this: this Saturday I am having dinner with a friend from church, Dr. Tiara Rosemond, who has her PhD in Nutrition and Public Health, to see what I should and should not be eating.

I am inviting every reader to follow along with me as I start this investigative journey and make some huge lifestyle changes. I’ve never had such a long list of resolutions in my life. This will certainly be a year to remember!

New Year, Old(er) Me

By: Rachel Sircy

Being born in December is weird. You don’t start the New Year looking forward to a birthday. Instead, you start the new year having recently survived a birthday and all of the complicated tangle of emotions that go along with that. At least the emotions that follow me after my birthdays always seem complicated and tangled.

But, every January I – along with countless others – put the cherry on top of our emotional confusion sundae by making New Year’s resolutions. I have so many this year that if I achieve them all I will be a completely different person by my next birthday. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers different. That will really complicate my emotions. But what’s life without a little melodrama, right?

Anyway, personal goofiness aside, I have made some New Year’s Resolutions that I intend to keep, especially those relating to health. I have retained all the baby weight since my gluten free weight lossdaughter was born. She was also a December baby and just turned two. I am ready to lose some weight and get healthier. And so, for those of you out there who, like me, are attempting to get into shape this year and have to also remain gluten free, I wanted to write some words of advice and encouragement.

Firstly, for those who are unaware, a gluten free diet is NOT a low calorie or low fat diet. Gluten free convenience products (such as breads, cookies, pasta, frozen entrees, etc) are usually higher in fat, salt and sugar and have far less fiber than conventional products. I have been approached by a number of people who have told me that they are “going gluten free” in an effort to lose weight. Unfortunately, switching to gluten free convenience products will only help to keep you from losing weight and they may cause you to gain weight. In the case of anyone who is not a celiac, it may be better and healthier for you to eat whole wheat products than to turn to gluten free options.

For those of us who are celiacs and can only eat gluten free products, we all know that cookies and waffles are never the key to losing weight anyway. Unfortunately, the best way for celiacs to lose weight (and to make sure that we stay safe from contamination) is to cook for ourselves. Of course, that is probably true for everyone. If celiacs want cookies or pasta, it’s better to make our own and control the amount of fat, salt, sugar and fiber that we put into these foods. (Fiber can be added to foods in the form of ground flax and by making sure that we try to use whole grain pasta like brown rice or quinoa.) And there are cookbooks available that have recipes that are both sugar and gluten free. For Christmas I received a cookbook by Kelly E. Keough titled Sugar-Free Gluten Free Baking and Desserts, which offers healthier recipes for things such as pizza crusts, cookies, and cakes by using alternative sweeteners such as fruit juice and stevia.

Secondly, better and healthier products are available to celiacs (and gluten free enthusiasts) for less money. I used to pay approximately $12-13 per week for two loaves (small loaves!) of a high fiber gluten free bread. Who can afford that? But if you have no other choice, then you have no other choice. Here is where I am going to shamelessly shill for Aldi BECAUSE now we do have another choice. Aldi sells really good bread, both white and whole grain, for half of what I used to pay for my high fiber bread. Now, that is still not dirt cheap since they also sell regular bread for less than a dollar sometimes. However, 3.99 for a loaf that is big enough to last me an entire week is the best deal I’ve found since I was diagnosed. Also, most Aldi stores sell ground flax seed and good quality organic brown rice and quinoa pasta. Healthy gluten free eating is becoming easier and more affordable.

So, go out and conquer your healthy New Year’s resolutions! You can do it!

Bread and Life

By: Rachel Sircy

bread

I have posted two entries on this blog so far, and both of them have mentioned my celiac disease. My first post, the introductory one, also mentioned my Christian faith. This post is about how those two things came to be very deeply connected for me.

First, let me give a brief explanation to those out there who may not know exactly how celiac disease works. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder and it is believed to be genetic. It is not a disease that a person can catch, only inherit. It is a genetic disorder in which my white blood cells are hardwired to fight off a particular substance in wheat, rye, barley, and all grains derived from or related to those grains. This substance is actually a string of a few different proteins which have been lumped together and labeled “gluten.” From what I understand, everyone’s body is hardwired to protect itself from too much gluten. But for some reason, my white blood cells freak out at even microscopic traces of gluten. When any trace of gluten enters my digestive system, white blood cells flood my small intestine and begin to cut it to pieces. They cut off small finger-like structures – known as villi – which line the small intestine, because the villi are how nutrients from food are absorbed into the blood stream. If there are no villi, then no gluten can be absorbed into the blood stream. But then, if there are no villi, then no nutrients from any food that a celiac consumes can be absorbed into the blood stream.

The funny thing about celiac disease is that its symptoms are really all over the place and a person can have all, some or none of them. Historically, it has been one of the most misdiagnosed diseases in America. The reason that the symptoms seem random and unrelated to each other is because what celiacs actually suffer from is not the disease itself, but the chief problem that the disease causes, which is malnutrition.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten free diet seemed impossible and insane. I thought that people couldn’t possibly live like this. It was made more difficult because I had never heard of anyone who did lead such a lifestyle. My husband and I were newlyweds with hardly any money when I was told that from now on I would have to start buying special bread that cost $6.00 a loaf if you bought the good stuff, and $3.00 a loaf if you bought the cheap stuff. The cheap stuff was nearly inedible. And though I was not a very experienced cook when I got married, I had a little repertoire of dishes that my husband and my guests seemed to like. The only thing was that every single one of them contained gluten in some form or other. Worse still, I liked to bake more than I liked to cook. Now, instead of buying one 5lb bag of flour that worked for any baking, dredging, battering, etc., I found that I was going to have to purchase at least five 1lb bags of different kinds of flours.

 

Everything I knew about how to cook and how to stay on a grocery budget was obliterated by a simple trip to the gastroenterologist.

 

I suddenly found that I needed flours I’d never heard of – white rice flour, amaranth flour, potato starch, soy flour, tapioca starch and almond flour to name a few. Each little 1lb bag of flour cost two to three times what one 5lb bag of regular flour cost. And, I found that I would need to become a chemist on top of everything else. I couldn’t just open a bag of flour and use it anymore. Flours had to be mixed together in precise ratios and those mixtures were good for one thing and one thing only. Potato starch, white rice flour and tapioca starch could be mixed together to make a flour suitable for dredging meat. But I used that same combination as the flour to make a beef gravy and ended up with a substance that was not gravy, but was grayish and was the consistency of wet sand. I was told that I would ALWAYS need a substance called Xanthan gum, that I would need it for every baking recipe. So, I spent about $12 for 8oz of the stuff. I just threw the remaining 4oz or so of it away last year. I figured that after nearly 8 years, it probably wasn’t good anymore.

In short, everything I knew about how to cook and how to stay on a grocery budget was obliterated by a simple trip to the gastroenterologist.

I wasn’t sorry, exactly, that I had gone to the doctor. I had been sick for quite some time – years, actually – but the symptoms were so random and varied that no one had ever thought to attribute all these nagging little complaints to one illness. In childhood, I had a few gastric problems – gas pains, occasional constipation – but nothing that wouldn’t seem normal for any child. The first signs of celiac for me were random little things that were often attributed to a lack of sleep and possible anemia (I wasn’t anemic as a child, but was borderline and always had the outward symptoms). I developed allergies and frequent bronchial infections which were often accompanied by acute asthma. These allergies were not always with me. They began to develop when I was in the fourth grade, and year after year the number of things I was allergic to increased and the intensity of the allergies increased as well. I was constantly fatigued. I have memories of telling my mother as she woke me up for school, that I felt just as tired on waking as I did when I went to bed. That feeling would sometimes persist throughout the day and there eventually came to be week-long stretches at a time when I would go through the motions of daily life in a complete haze. I would get on the school bus and by the time I reached school, I had no memory of getting dressed, no memory of what I had eaten for breakfast, no idea what homework I should be turning in. Until I was 22 years old, I had this vague sense that something was not right with me. But I didn’t know how sick I was because I didn’t know, or couldn’t really remember, what it felt like to be well.

After my diagnosis, being a Christian person who believes in miracles and divine healing, I began to pray to be healed from celiac disease. I didn’t want to suffer with the symptoms anymore, but neither did I want to have to up-end my whole life to get well. I just wanted to be made whole and be able to eat whatever I wanted. I prayed for months on end but I never felt any better and I never felt any hope of getting better. I decided to quit the gluten free diet and just go on blind faith that I was healed. I decided that I was fine. I should have listened to my father when he told me that faith can be many things, but it should never be blind. The more I ate what I wanted, the sicker I became until one day at work, I broke down crying silently at my desk. My stomach hurt, my body ached all over, and I couldn’t think. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. God was a miracle worker, so I had been told. Why wasn’t this miracle coming?

I decided to go back on the diet, but I was angry at God. I wanted to just be well and normal at the same time. I didn’t want to have to watch everyone else eat my mother’s homemade chicken and noodles while I sat with a sad little bowl of gluten free spaghetti that was melting into the chicken broth my mother poured over it. I bought food that tasted worse than the boxes it came in and I prayed. And slowly the answer came to me. There never would be a healing. I wasn’t meant to get over this. One evening, after attending a women’s church conference, I fell to my knees on my bedroom floor and asked God to explain Himself. If I wasn’t going to be healed, fine, but I demanded to know why. And there was no thunder, no lightning, just a thought that occurred to me at that moment. There was a lesson in this disease that I was supposed to carry with me for the rest of my life. My body was the physical mirror of my ethereal, eternal soul. I couldn’t consume any food that I wanted and expect that food to fuel my body. Certain things would cause me to suffer from malnourishment. Not all food is food for me. Some of it, some very innocent and delicious-looking food, is actually the opposite of food for me. A simple, seemingly wholesome piece of whole wheat bread can take away my ability to be nourished by anything.

And this paradox was also true for my spirit. I have known the longing as a Christian to just be like everybody else. It isn’t convenient to make time to feed my soul with the things that really nourish it, like prayer and Bible study. It cramps my entire lifestyle to make room for God. But if I try to nourish myself with anything other than God, I will quickly find that I am too sick to be nourished by anything.

As C. S. Lewis put it: And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

I will be the first one to tell you that while changing everything I ate and the way that I cooked – and tripling my grocery bill to boot – seemed impossible to me at first, it has been worth every moment of deprivation, every annoyance, every pan of gritty gravy. I have been sick and now I am well. Six dollars a loaf is a small price to pay for bread that can alter your quality of life.

Suggested Reading: “Mere Christianity,” by C. S. Lewis

It is essential that you seek professional advice for all issues concerning your health. Do not take any of the information in this blog as professional advice or official communication from Lexington Medical Center. Posts and comments on this blog are not intended to be professional advice, unless implicitly indicated in the blog post, and do not necessarily reflect Lexington Medical Center policy or corporate opinion.

Necessity, Insanity and The Road Less Traveled

By: Rachel Sircy

If necessity is the mother of invention, then I think that insanity must be invention’s father. Below is a picture of a gluten free chicken pot pie casserole that was invented (sort of) by yours truly in an attempt to recreate a favorite dish from my childhood.

gluten free casserole

The inspiration for this concoction was a casserole that my mother used to make on busy weeknights and that my sisters and I always looked forward to. The casserole consisted of a chicken pot pie-like filling and it had stuffing on top instead of a pie crust. I am not sure where she got her recipe – probably The Pampered Chef. That was her main source for everything culinary in those days. In any case, it seemed easy enough for her and it was just delicious to me.

My version of it looks pretty good if I do say so myself. And it ought to look pretty good since it took me 3 ½ hours to make it. It took 3 ½ hours of mostly active cooking time even using rotisserie chicken as a short cut so that I didn’t have to cook my own chicken. What I would love to tell you is that I got carried away by my own creative genius and just lost track of time, but about halfway through I started to despair. My feet hurt and I wondered what kind of world it would be even if I did make it to the other side. Would the world be one whit bettered by the invention of a gluten free chicken pot pie casserole? Probably not. But here I was, every surface of the tiny galley kitchen in my tiny apartment was covered with food, measuring equipment, pots, pans, mixing bowls…

gluten free casserole

I had to press on and finish for my own sake. I don’t know how soon into the project I realized that I had bitten off (so to speak) more than I could chew. I think I told my husband pretty early on that he should go get us something to eat and that the baby could have a peanut butter sandwich for dinner.

gluten free casserole

gluten free casserole

gluten free casserole

You might wonder what would make such a simple-looking casserole dish take so long and cause a grown woman to despair of life and her aching feet. The answer to that question is precisely why I chose to tell this seemingly pointless story of domestic failure. The answer to that question is that living and cooking gluten free is HARD. A lot of gluten free literature will tell you that gluten free living doesn’t have to be hard and that you can have (almost) all your old favorites, just in new forms. And I appreciate what that literature is trying to do. It is trying to keep newly-diagnosed celiacs from curling up into the fetal position and weeping. Most newly diagnosed celiacs will do that at some point anyway – say – the first time a loved one eats a hot Krispy Kreme doughnut in front of you and says, “Wow, this is so good. I mean, like SO good. Do you want…oh no, you can’t have any. Sorry.”

It’s hard to live without the things that you love and have grown accustomed to. And the truth is, you just can’t have all your old favorites in new forms. No matter how many GF doughnuts you unwrap and thaw, you’re not going to get that same airy, fatty, perfectly textured doughnut that you once took for granted. And celiac disease can make you feel lost in the kitchen, even if you once knew your way around pretty well. All your old short cuts and easy substitutions are suddenly gone. For the first few years, it feels like you are reinventing the wheel every time you attempt to put any kind of a meal together. I used to have a small, but tried and true repertoire of dishes that I loved both to cook and eat. I loved inviting people over for dinner and feeling like I had nailed the meal. But when I got my diagnosis and the very, very long list of things that I could no longer eat, I panicked. It was as if I had suddenly lost my sight and was going to have to figure out how to navigate the world in total darkness. For my first few years, I clung desperately to a cartoonish picture of a healthy plate that a dietician had given me. She had said to take the starches and grains you know are safe and just insert them into this picture. So we had rice and boiled potatoes with every meal for longer than I care to remember. I used to really like rice and boiled potatoes. But I got to a place where I was eating just to survive. All the food that I loved seemed off limits to me. Even acceptable foods could not be cooked the way that I used to cook them, the way that I used to like them. So, eating became another chore to be checked off at the end of the day. Sometimes I even ate vitamin-fortified, gluten free cereal instead of having to chew my way through one more tasteless meal.

But, to any new celiac out there reading this, things get better. Not easier, but better. I made a pretty good casserole. It didn’t taste like Mom’s, but that is both bad and good. In some ways, it tasted better. My mom used to make this stuff using canned chicken, canned vegetables, canned cream of chicken soup and Stove Top stuffing. That’s what made it such a perfect dish for weeknights. You just open a box and a few cans and you’re already halfway done. That’s just not possible for a celiac. This recipe took me over 3 hours because I had to make gluten free stuffing from scratch for the casserole’s topping. I chopped chicken, potatoes, celery and carrots to go inside the casserole, I had to cook them down to the right consistency in a cream sauce that I made from scratch before assembling the casserole to go into the oven. Each of these tasks is time consuming, especially when you’re looking at two different recipes and using them as guideposts to make a completely new recipe. But, in the end, homemade stuffing beats any of the boxed stuff by a mile. And no can-o’-partially-congealed chicken soup could beat a homemade cream sauce. Mom’s stuff was cheap, easy and the processed food that bound her casserole together satisfied my cravings for fat and salt – which is something that my casserole didn’t quite do. My casserole was good, but in a real food sort of way. It didn’t give me that junk food high. But, there is something about eating real food that you worked hard for. This casserole of mine wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever eaten (neither was my mom’s version), but it was pretty good. More importantly than that though, it is something that I’m proud to have made. It took some time and attention to detail and some real nuttiness to come up with it in the first place, but it was all my own.

Celiac disease is not fun, but I am thankful that the damage it causes to a human body can be controlled without medicine. In fact, the damage can be reversed by a change in diet. It’s not a simple change, for sure, but it is something that an individual can control. Celiacs don’t have to rely on expensive medication or treatment by a specialist. Each celiac is in control of her own health. That feeling of self-sufficiency is one of the great gifts of celiac disease. It comes only with time and perseverance, as does anything worth having. I can tell you that I would never have left the rut of eating processed food or cooking without the aid of boxed and canned everything if I had not been forced to do so. If I hadn’t been forced out of that rut, I would never have known what it feels like to think up a dish and then figure out a way to create it on my own. That feeling, by the way, is awesome.

gluten free casserole

If I ever remember exactly what I did to make this casserole, I will share the recipe. Until then, get in your own kitchen (gluten free or not) and get in to a recipe that is over your head. It may turn out, or it may not. But the food isn’t the point. Independence is only achieved through practice, and it is well worth a few botched dinners.

PS: It may be a hammy suggestion, but the suggested reading for this post is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.