Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Starting Points

Search "going gluten free" and you will get 6.4 million hits in less than a second. There are LOADS of websites out there telling you the steps to take, what to avoid, what to get rid of, and various other advice that comes with the gluten free lifestyle.

I'm not here to give advice (I'm four months in!) - this is simply a post of what I have learned in a short time.

I am type-A personality to a T. Give me a challenge and I will have it figured it out quick as a snap. Gluten free, to put it lightly, is a massive challenge, especially when it came to baking. Jason kept reminding me that people spend years learning to bake, let alone gluten free (but I am already an accomplished baker! People love my baked goods! I need to be just as good as before! I will be just as good as before! I need to be that NOW!). Type A was both great and horrible for this new challenge. Within a week I was learning about gf flours and what they do and how to use them and had 20 of them in my freezer, ready to accomplish. And that first failed attempt brought tears and cursing and "this isn't fair I already have enough on my plate without adding gluten free to it!"

Part of the problem is I was going through withdrawals. Oh yes, in addition to not being allowed to eat chewy, glutenated, beautiful airy bread, I also had to withdraw from the effects of gluten still in my body - a two week to two month process. Symptoms that included even more exhaustion than before, non-stop stomach cramps, headaches, insomnia, and, my favorite, zings of what felt like lightening zapping through my body at any given time of the day. Everyone's withdrawal symptoms are different, and those were mine, coupled with the manic need to learn alltheglutenfreethings as soon as possible.

So in my manic-ness, here is what worked for me:

1.    Learn the foods that are and aren't gluten free. I was a little ahead with this, since I had some already gluten free friends, so not much of a learning process. If I was new to gluten free, I would have gone with the advice of stick to fruits and veggies, meats, beans (ones labeled gluten free or make your own), and rice, and to stay away from anything packaged until you have gluten-labeling under your belt. Also, finding out that only the USA and Canada label whether an item (like soy sauce, or beef broth) has gluten helps in purchasing decisions.
2.    Celebrate the small victories. Finding recipes I had that were already gluten free, and were tried and true and loved, helped me keep positive. Finding things I already liked (Cocoa Pebbles!) that were gluten free were even better.
3.    I didn't take all the advice. Some made sense - get rid of the toaster because the spring mechanism CANNOT be cleaned. Getting rid of my pots and pans did not make sense to me however. They are an expensive set for one, and for two, they can go in the oven; gluten proteins are killed at 500 degrees.
4.    Find gluten free blogs. Read the comments/reviews. There were so many blogs where the gluten free cake looked amazing, but reading comment after comment let me know it would be a failure. There are some blogs that even post pictures of gluten-containing cakes/cookies and pass them off as if they are the baked goods from the recipe. They're not, and the comments of failure speak to that. I was already fairly in touch with reading and deciphering comments anyway, what with using Pinterest as an avid baker, but became even more so after getting the Celiac diagnosis. The ingredients can be too expensive, and the recipe too time intensive, to allow for a failed recipe.
5.    Reading reviews for packaged gluten free foods before buying. For example, Udi's breads and bagels got the best reviews, and while I have tried others, that is what I go back to.
6.    Learning the flours and the science behind gf baking. Normal, glutenated wheat flour is 60% protein and 40% starch and so to mimic it, you have to do a blend of flours. I have twenty+ flours in my freezer because I wanted to learn what they all do (and they have to be kept in the freezer otherwise they go rancid - yuck!).
7.    Find a good blend and see if there is a good commercial flour already out there. I LOVE Better Batter. So far I have been able to make all my recipes taste "normal" using this flour.
8.    Get used to GF being more expensive. This one has been the hardest for me. I have found some great gf alternatives that are in the same price range (Walmart has a brand of corn pasta that is about $1 each), but I typically pay 2-10x more for GF. While I used to pay around $3 a loaf for bread (or made my own for far less), Udi's is almost $8 for a normal-size loaf. A GF personal pizza is around $7 at the grocery store, for something that is smaller and far less palatable than the $1 Totinos we would get when feeling cheap. I used to buy flour at Costco for $8 for 20 pounds. Better Batter, when I can find it on sale, is $80 for 25 pounds. As hard as it is to pay the extra, what is the alternative? Going back to gluten and being sick all the time, or not baking anymore. It's expensive. I try to find cheaper, grain free alternatives in baking, but it is nice to have an easy (expensive) go to.
9.    Don't force GF textures on yourself. Thanks to gluten free dieters, there are quite a few selections of GF items on the market. I have tried pizza after pizza, hoping to recreate the glutenated pizza texture I loved before. It hasn't happened. I don't buy the pizza if I don't like the texture, hoping at some point the texture is something I will get used to. I find alternatives. Right now, that is making pizza bagels on Udi's bagels. I would make pizza bagels before, so it is a texture I like, and feels close enough to what I used to have. Until I find a gf pizza I like, I will keep making the bagels.
10.  Trying new things. A couple examples - before going gluten free, I couldn't eat onions or pork - after the inflammation went down, I was able to add these back into my diet. I've also found fantastic go-to recipes by being open to "weird" ingredients - like this chocolate quinoa cake.  I get asked for this recipe all the time, and until I tell people what's in it, they have no idea. Sometimes it pays to be adventurous, especially in gluten free.
11.   Bringing food with me when going to others house - I usually find out whatever they are having for dinner, and bring a GF alternative - hamburgers? Bring an Udi's bun. Not sure about the marinade? Bring your own meat. It is far easier than going without.
12.   I wish I had relaxed a little more at the start. GF has so many opinions and options that it is easy to become overwhelmed. I wish I had taken it slow, rather than diving in and trying to become an expert (something Jason suggested, but TYPE A MUST MASTER IT NOW!)
13.   Finally, going completely gluten free in the home. Jason still eats gluten while at work, or if we go out to dinner, but it is so much easier, and less stressful, to have a completely gluten free environment. I have had people ask if I will bake them a gluten item (like I used to) and I tell them if they want it, it is gluten free or nothing. There's no checking labels at home, no cross-contamination worries at home, and no temptations at home. Those who complain can be reminded they can get a break outside of the home, while you never can. It is what keeps me safe and keeps me healthy.

Some of my favorite GF items:

Better Batter - expensive, but worth it if you want your gluten free baking to taste "normal".

Udi's breads and bagels - very similar to "gluten bread", especially when toasted. I don't miss sandwich bread or bagels with these products.

Vans Say Cheese crackers - I like these more than any other cheese cracker. I have also tried their Fire Roasted Veggie crackers. The cheese are definitely my favorite, but Vans crackers are my go to for GF crackers.


Miltons GF Crispy Sea Salt Baked crackers - I use these as a dipping cracker - in hummus or artichoke dip. They are a great alternative to pita (you can even find it at Costco).

Trader Joes GF waffles - almost as good as an Eggo. Almost. I am not a huge fan of homemade waffles, so these work for me.

Walmart brand (Great Value) GF corn pasta, in elbow shapes or spaghetti. I like it better than regular pasta.

Goodie Girl Mint Slims - TASTES LIKE A THIN MINT!!!

Trader Joes GF Rolled Oats - these are the cheapest GF rolled oats I can find (rolled oats *should* be gluten free but can be cross-contaminated if their fields are next to wheat - Trader Joes has certified them, which means there is no cross contamination). $3.99 for 32 oz when others run $7 for 24.

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