Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wife's Point of View

“I’ve come a long way, baby!” When my husband—who just happens to be not only the love of my life, but my best friend—was finally diagnosed as having a severe sensitivity to wheat, I left the doctor’s office with Rick feeling pretty darn confident.
With an undergraduate degree in vocational home economics education, plus taking a few elective courses in foods and nutrition during my doctoral studies, I really thought this “diet” would literally be a walk in the park. Plus, I had spent14 years in a high school classroom teaching primarily all of the food courses and several more years as a teacher educator teaching both pre- and in-service teachers how to teach home economics, including foods classes. And, being a retired Auburn University professor I not only have many personal friends and former students on faculty in the Department of Food and Nutrition Science and Family Life Programs in The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, I literally have access to the unlimited nutritional resources of the entire Land Grant System.
But, back to my story as the wife of a Celiac/severely gluten intolerant, aka, all around nice guy-walking to the car I just chatted up a storm about how avoiding gluten would not pose a real problem for us. So many of the foods we love—fresh fruits and vegetables, meat free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics, and seafood without chemical additives—are naturally gluten free. So, what is all the whoop-la about?
The researcher in me could not resist the need to read and study everything I could get my hands on and quickly. I needed the reassurance of what the authorities in the gluten free community had to say on the subject. The closest place I could go to get any “background” information was a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I could get on the internet and/or call some of my buddies when we got home.
Right off the bat, I found a magazine dedicated to helping not only folks who are gluten intolerant, but those with other food allergies as well. I thought “perfect!” Big mistake! This 
particular edition just happened to have a rather lengthy article about the various gluten free flours available. This article must have listed and discussed the properties of each at length of 20 plus flours. Needless to say, I was a little blown away.
To be perfectly honest, the only area I thought might be problem was in the baking arena, when had always been my favorite. I had maintained a sour dough starter and potato bread starter for years, baking several loaves weekly, giving most away to friends. I really dreaded giving this up.
I also admit I had never cooked with any type of flour other than wheat, so I had innocently thought I could simply substitute a single, as in one, gluten-free flour for wheat flour. I was obviously mistaken. It looked as if mastering gluten free baking was going to be more complicated than learning to use a slide rule in physics. As a baker, I thought I had lost all of those dessert and delicacies I had become known for making. I went to bed that night more depressed than I had ever been. And, that is where I got stuck in the “dough” for over a year, but more about that later.
I awakened the next morning with a renewed spirit and determination, jumping in with both feet without looking at the depth of the proverbial water. Being a home economist, I knew I could do this, making a conscious decision that learning about a gazillion kinds of gluten free flour would just have to wait. I put my energy into preparing  all the delicious foods my sweetie could eat safely.
The word “diet” also kept crossing my mind. I really don’t like that word and the negative conations. No one enjoys giving up something they love, and that is precisely what a diet does—it takes something away. And, for this to work I knew I too had to be totally committed to maintaining a medically necessitated gluten free lifestyle. Yes, I said lifestyle. Rick’s health was and remains my number one priority. Beginning that first day, I converted my entire kitchen to one that is totally gluten free with all dedicated appliances and equipment.
Why? The risk of cross contamination is simply too great to chance. After watching my husband be very, very sick for such a long time, removing all, and I do mean all, gluten including the hidden gluten lurking in other foods. I simply could—would not—not take a chance. More to come on hidden gluten and cross contamination in other posts.
We had always enjoyed elegant meals. I was determined to create recipes that would not only be delicious, but would be pretty and safe. I design wonderful, cheerful table scapes creating a welcoming atmosphere not only for us but for all who eat with us. Which brings up another point—guests who are not gluten free. When folks eat in our home, they are eating totally gluten free as well. We don’t try to keep it a secret, but we don’t announce to our guests their food is completely devoid of any type of food. And, you want to know something else? I have never had a complaint. The common remark is “This cannot be gluten free; it is too good!”
Where do I find all the great recipes I prepare? I already had most of them in my file, and I simply convert them using a few simple gluten free substitutions. I use the most popular gluten free magazines to keep me abreast of what is going on in the gluten free community, not for recipes, and here is why. Seems that those who make their living writing, teaching and consulting in the gluten free community have a vested interested in maintaining an air of secrecy, making everything so very freaking complicated. Recipes from these folks tend to be long and confusing with weird measures, such as 1/4 of a tablespoon. Now tell me something. When have you every seen a recipe in mainstream society calling for 1/4 of a tablespoon? For those of you who are curious, 1/4 of a tablespoon is equivalent to 3/4 of a teaspoon, which makes sense at least to me. And, while we are on the subject, these folks tend to abbreviate some measures while spelling others out. Drives me nuts.
Several months into this new lifestyle and still determined not to let a few sacks of flour totally defeat me, I struck out on my own, trying first one combination, then another based on all of those descriptions of flours. I finally hit upon a flour/starch combination that consistently works for me. I can’t promise that this blend will work in your recipes, but I have yet to make a garbage can deposit of failed food since I came up with this blend that is uniquely mine. And, I am using the same old recipes I have used for years. For a total “how-to” with this blend, visit my blog at
I can only imagine the frustration folks who did not have my background . Even worse, today many people don’t even know how to cook at all, having always depended on picking up fast food. Hey, come on. Even though my undergrad degree was in vocational home economics education, I felt overwhelmed for a long time.
In the middle of my initial confusion, I felt a little under the weather and decided to make one of those comforting casseroles. At that point a whopping big oops! Cream of anything soup is thickened with—you guessed it—wheat flour. And, then there are the buttery crumb toppings—again, all loaded with wheat.
So, it was back to the basics, aka, creamed soups and buttery bread crumbs. After thinking about my dilemma, I knew exactly what I had to do—make my own creamed soups and bread crumbs made simply by placing a couple of loaves of commercially prepared certified gluten free bread through the food processor.
When push came to shove, I got really creative, finding a whole host of “legal” substitutions for things I had always taken for granted. From that time forward, I have never given a second thought to preparing a casserole, because I have all the basic creamed soups tucked away in my freezer along with gluten free bread crumbs ready to be called into action on a moments notice.
And, that is just the tip of the gluten free iceberg. Hidden wheat is the real nasty piece of work in commercially prepared foods. Take Chiles in Adobo Sauce for instance. Who would have ever thought that anything made with peppers would contain wheat? Certainly not yours truly here. The list is endless. To be honest, we spend more air time on the phone with manufacturers verifying their products are in fact gluten free and safe for Rick to consume than we do talking with friends. I know that if Rick consumes a product containing even a very, very small amount of wheat, he can be very sick for months.
The nicer folks call me overly protective; some others call me other names I am sure. Managers at several of the chain restaurants throughout the southeast have a few other choice words for me that would not be very nice to publish—and, the encounters were not pretty sights either. I simply call myself a vigilant wife who happens to love her husband.
Once I got a handle on the hidden caveats of eating without gluten, aka hidden wheat in manufactured products and the huge risk of cross contamination, maintaining a gluten free lifestyle is literally a piece of gluten-free cake. At home, I have made all the “ingredients” I need for my cooking, such as my flour blend, creamed soups, ground gluten free bread and adobo sauce. We often travel with ice chests filled with home-made goodies and a pocket full of chef’s cards (click for link) explaining in great detail Rick’s medical problem and the steps that must be taken to avoid making him sick.
I know! This seems like a very long and awfully complicated process. Initially, yes! When you have a loved one as sensitive to gluten as Rick, you will invest whatever time necessary to keep them safe, as I do on a daily basis. At this point, I automatically translate gluten containing recipes to be gluten free.
If I could do one thing differently, we would seek a Celiac specialist immediately. By the time we got Rick to a Celiac specialist, he had been off wheat long enough, tests came back negative. And, because he so extremely sensitive to gluten, his doctor says a wheat stress test could be catastrophic.
That is the bad news; the good news is that gluten IS the only culprit I have to control. We are eating healthier than ever before and are feeling great. We are missing a darn thing!

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