We all want our lives to be full of sweet things. Finding out that we need to follow a restricted diet is often a very crushing thing, the knowledge that so many of the pleasurable things in life are now lost to us.
My Baby, as you probably know, has Celiac Disease and has to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains – most importantly in wheat, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but wheat is in EVERYTHING. So shopping and cooking is a bit of a pain in the butt, but having her healthy and thriving is certainly worth the effort. It still stings sometimes – when someone offers her candy and I have to turn it down and her face gets this look of resigned disappointment that you really don’t ever want to see on your three year old child’s face, when THAT happens? That sucks. But other than things like that, we’re all pretty used to working with her very necessary diet and it is just part of life. And I DO like a cooking challenge.
I’ve had a few interesting encounters recently, though, that have really made me think about how many people are having a very hard time adjusting to a gluten-free diet. I ran into an acquaintance on the street, and she asked me for my gluten-free carrot cake recipe, because her dad had recently been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and was very unhappy with everything he’d eaten so far. And when I was shopping on Saturday, my friend Bonnie overheard a woman talking sadly to her daughter about her recent diagnosis, and so we ended up introducing ourselves to her. Her doctor told her, not terribly helpfully, that the diet is "really awful." I quickly gave her some product recommendations and wished her luck, and then came up with a list of things that I wish I could have told her.
1. A lot of things that you love – gingerbread cookies, waffles, muffins – can easily be made with some simple substitutions. Experiment with recipes and mixes, but don’t be discouraged when certain things don’t turn out well. We’ve never had much success with gluten-free yeast-raised sandwich breads, but we have made great quick breads and tortillas, which can be used for sandwiches and toast and wraps and pizza crusts.
2. Many cultures already have wheat-free cuisines – we’ve done a lot of experimenting with Thai and Korean food, for example. Mexican cuisine has LOTS of interesting gluten-free options. Rather than trying to make second-rate versions of your regular food, it can be a lot of fun to explore other cuisines that are naturally gluten-free.
3. Investing in a bread machine is a really great idea – a lot of my friends have had a lot of luck making good gluten-free bread dough and pizza crusts. We cook so much rice that our rice cooker is ALWAYS in use. Also remember that you’ll need a dedicated gluten-free toaster.
4. Think ahead before going to gatherings – many people will cheerfully go over the planned menu with you, or jump at the chance to have you bring a dish to share. Desserts are frequently a problem at gatherings, so we often volunteer to bring an elegant flourless chocolate cake – always a hit – or just pack a cupcake for The Baby.
5. Keeping safe snacks on hand really helps avoid temptation. I carry gluten-free granola bars with us wherever we go, for example.
6. Some companies are now making GLUTEN FREE BEER! That should cheer almost any recently-diagnosed adult right up.
7. Be willing to experiment and don’t be discouraged when things don’t turn out. Sooner than you think, you’ll learn the new language of your safe ingredients.
I’ve started a discussion of gluten-free recipes over here and would love to see your gluten-free favorites, too. What food restrictions do the people in YOUR life have? How do they handle them? With the growing number of people with food intolerances and restrictions, discussing how we accommodate their diets is a helpful and valuable thing and the first step in making sure that their lives stay full of as much sweetness as we can give them.