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Gluten-Free Shopping and the New 'Normal'
- By Vanessa Oakley
- Published 08/20/2013
I am a 32 year old Canadian woman who was diagnosed with celiac disease when I was 20. These are my stories and misadventures in living and playing with a gluten free diet. I have been gluten free for 12 years! I have had people ask me a lot of questions regarding Celiac disease and I really want the chance to talk to other celiacs/people that are new to this gluten free thing. I am not a medical doctor and my blogs are a first person perspective. I do not wish to diagnose anyone or speak on behalf of anyone but myself. I love to cook and bake and share awesome food with all the people in my life.
Grocery shopping can be daunting to a new celiac and I think we could all use a little help. My help came in the form of a nutritionist. She gave me a page of ingredients that are gluten free ‘safe' foods and also ‘foods to avoid'. She told me to memorize these lists. At the time it seemed like an impossible task. To even learn how to pronounce some of these words seemed impossible. But memorize I did...eventually.
I, like the nutritionist, believe in memorizing the list. Yes you do have to read everything you buy. And I do mean everything!! Read your shampoo, read your plain vanilla ice cream, read your lotion. A lot of things have gluten in them! There have been times where I forgot to read or I figured that this product couldn't possible have gluten in it, and it did. This read everything system is not fun at first but it does become easier and faster with time.
I tend to say that things become ‘normal' normal is relative. I think we all strive to find normality on our regular lives. I'm not talking about what someone else deems to be normal but what is the norm for each of us. We as people are different and that should be embraced and even celebrated. We all react to things differently and we all react to gluten differently as well. Nothing should be taken as a national average, find your normal. At my house it's normal to have 2 butter dishes 2 toasters and this is fine for me. This may not be ideal but I'm happy knowing that I'm not going to being contaminated. One of my closest and dearest friends keeps a butter dish for me at her house just in case I stop by. To me this is a beautiful show of friendship and solidarity. I love this woman and this is a way that she and her family show me that they care, and maybe I should stop by more often.
For a new celiac or a person with a recently discovered gluten intolerance eating becomes more than something that happens a few times a day. Eating and grocery shopping becomes way more involved.
I don't often meal plan but I always make a list. The list (unless you are making a meal plan) is a guide line. There will be things that you might not be able to find or it won't be the brand you are used to. That is ok. I have heard some celiacs say don't try to substitute gluten-free for gluten foods, it won't be the same and you will hate it. At times this is true. But I feel that it depends on what you are substituting and your willingness to experiment. I will not ever make my own bread. I suck at it and it always turns out bad. So this I buy. But I bake mini muffins like a mad woman. Some recipes I find might have only one little ingredient that is bad, such as flour to thicken. In these cases I might substitute something like rice flour or xanthan gum or whatever I have in the cupboard. Some things are better than others and that takes a bit of experimenting.
The other day my mom and I attempted onion rings for the first time. They were terrible! But I had fun. I was bonding with my Mother while playing in the kitchen. This is a good thing. Neither of us were doing this for some sort of pride game. (Who is the better cook? …mom wins) This was us just trying to make a snack. So when it failed we stripped the onions and dipped them in pancake batter and fried them to a crispy golden yumminess. (The second time was the charm. The first attempt was with corn meal.)
In life it is important to know 1- you learn the best from failure and 2- other people's opinion of you, is none of your business.
When I made my famous mini muffins and brought them to work one day. Everyone in the office tried them, loved them and asked me if I could eat them. My response was ‘why would I make food that I can't eat?' hearing this, one girl had declined my double chocolate muffins because and I quote” no. I don't like cat food” wow. That was the first time someone had so rudely rejected my food outright. I was a bit hurt and annoyed for the first 30 seconds... Then I realized that I get to eat more muffins and I got over it.
Some people will never understand that gluten free is still food. My brother rejects gluten free food as well. For a short time I was living with him and his wife, when they were in Canada. My sister-in-law was interested in how I prep the kitchen and how to make sure we are all eating healthy and safe for me. And the brother would just complain. I remember we were sitting down for supper. I think we had steak, potatoes and some steamed vegetables. As he is eating I said something about how good this all is and this entire meal just happens to be gluten free. Nothing was altered just for me. He had nothing to say about that. (He is the oldest of 3 and ‘always right'. I have to get mine in whenever I can) the spice we used on the steak was g/f, plain veg is fine and I as per normal I used my butter they used theirs.
I really good friend of mine and her brother were driving through town and stopped by my house. He is vegetarian and has been for about 14 or 15 years. I knew after the long drive they both would be super hungry!! I was struggling with what to make. How do I make a gluten-free vegetarian meal?! I decided on lasagna. This turned out so good and it was so easy!!!! I had no idea that lasagna could be made without meat and still be so good. It was such a hit that they asked for some to take on the road with them.
When thinking about gluten-free food, stick to simplicity. I used to say plain with a side of boring but now I have embraced the idea of simple natural food.
Because I have been gluten-free for around 12 years, it is difficult for me to remember all the struggles that I faced when I was early in the process. I want you guys to know that it does get better. For me things are normal.
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