Going Gluten Free – Best First Year Advice

It’s been many years since I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease.  The diagnosis came with more questions than answers.  I was referred to a dietitian, but was left to figure most things out on my own.

Six months after my diagnosis, my oldest daughter was diagnosed at age five, and I got serious about how to feed my family so no one was deprived.  I received lots of advice in that first year, and looking back, I can identify what was most helpful and how I applied it.

#1 – Set Yourself Up to Succeed

Most of us struggled for many years with different symptoms and our own makeshift solutions for coping.  Now that I knew what was wrong, I was able to take some constructive steps to help myself and my daughter.

Meals – Don’t concern yourself with what others in the house eat for breakfast and lunch.  They don’t have the same restrictions and have more options.  Let them do their own thing and make their own choices.  When it comes to dinner, try to have everyone eat gluten free.  It’s not that hard.  Any meat, any fish, any vegetable, any fruit, it just depends how it’s prepared (this became my mantra).  When small children are involved, or someone who can’t make their own meals, you may have to handle food with gluten in it, but make this an opportunity to introduce healthy gluten free options everyone can enjoy.

In our house it worked like this –

Breakfast – a variety of cereals, if oats were on the menu, we used gluten free.  We always had two toasters, and the gluten free bread was always kept in the freezer.  If we made pancakes or waffles they were gluten free.  Bacon and eggs were often served, and always gluten free.

Lunch – This was somewhat of a free-for-all.  I rarely prepared sandwiches, we often ate soups, salads, leftovers, or luncheon meats and cheese with crackers or corn chips.  Stovetop mac and cheese was a favourite, and always the gluten free kind.  When my daughters were at school, they both usually took a gluten free creation to make it easier for me.  My husband took advantage of buying lunch out a few days a week while at work.  This way, he never felt he was missing out on anything.

Dinner – This was the meal of the day when we all sat down at the table and ate together.  It was our opportunity to find out how everyone’s day was, and my opportunity to serve a healthy gluten free meal that everyone could enjoy.  So the any meat, any fish, any vegetable, any fruit rule gave me so many options.  If I wanted to make something breaded, I used gluten free bread crumbs.  If I wanted to serve a gravy or sauce, I made it with gluten free flour or simple corn starch.

The times when we strayed from the no gluten dinner were for pasta and pizza.  It took a long time to find a pasta that everyone enjoyed, so for years it worked well to boil two pots of water, strain and prepare ours first and be mindful of the separation of cooking utensils.

Pizza is a whole different challenge.  My best advice is to find a simple recipe to make a good gluten free crust and have everyone eat it.  You can make it ahead and freeze it for later.  Here’s the link to my recipe –  https://www.suesglutenfreebaking.com/pizza-calzones-3.

Unfortunately, pizza is often on the dinner menu for nights when everyone is in a hurry, or tired, from a long week, so take out, or frozen is the better option.  There are some good take out pizzas and once you find one, establish a relationship with the shop, so they know you, and will make the extra effort to ensure your pizza is gluten free.  Frozen pizzas can be hit and miss, it can take some effort to find a good one.  Don’t be afraid to ask around.  There is great joy in finding a good frozen pizza and then watching for it to come on sale.  You can bake a gluten free and a wheat pizza in the same oven at the same time, just make sure the two pizzas are on different trays, you use different utensils and if possible the gluten free pizza is cooked on a higher shelf, so no gluten crumbs fall onto it.

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Simple mini chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

Dessert – This is for most, the hardest challenge.  There is only so much fruit and ice cream that one can eat, while watching someone else devour a piece of cake or pie.  Best advice – try to bake.  If you didn’t bake before your diagnosis, you are not likely to naturally bake for yourself afterwards.  Make the effort, at first with a couple of mixes, then later from scratch.  There is freedom and power in baking for yourself.  You normally can’t get what you want easily in a store, but you have the ability to make it just the way you like it.  A chocolate cake mix can make a layer cake or cupcakes, can have a vanilla or chocolate frosting, and be topped with sprinkles of your choice.  Your family and friends are much more likely to join you in a cupcake that you’ve made gluten free, than one of the over-priced store bought ones.  It’s wonderful now that there are options for gluten free baked goods in many grocery stores, but be careful to read the ingredients.  In an effort to use cheater ingredients and get an appealing texture and taste, many manufacturers are loading their treats with far more sugar and fat than traditional wheat versions.  Take baby steps and try baking something at home, it’s not as hard as you think, and everyone will praise you for your efforts.

I’ll talk more in future blogs about the other useful advice I received in my first year of the gluten free diet.  Finding a balance in feeding you and your family seems daunting, but is easier than you think.  You CAN do it!

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What Everyone Should Know About the Gluten Free Diet

Imagine if everyone understood the gluten free diet and why we have to care about it so much.  We’ve come a long way over the past 10 years.  Every chance I get, I educate the newly diagnosed, their families, restaurant staff and food suppliers on gluten free and how we can eat safely.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone started with a fundamental understanding of what the gluten free diet is?

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I get asked many questions about my diet on a regular basis, and although there are no dumb questions, there is quite a bit of misleading information about the gluten free diet in popular culture.   Not long ago, I spent time thinking about what I would like everyone to know about my diet.  There are many myths, but rather than dis-spell the endless list of myths, I decided to look at some facts, simple facts, but ones that put the gluten free diet in context, the context of my gluten free life.

Here is the list of information that I thought was essential for everyone to know about the gluten free diet, both for their own information, and the well-being of those eating gluten free.

  1. Who actually needs the diet?
  2. What happens when someone with celiac disease eats gluten?
  3. How much gluten causes a problem?
  4. How can anyone be sure they are eating a gluten free diet?
  5. If I have to prepare a meal for someone eating gluten free, what is the best strategy?

My next challenge was how to present the answers to these questions in an entertaining and memorable way.  Hopefully something you can share with others.  Video is my media of choice.  Gluten free is best illustrated visually, in no way to dumb it down, but to leave a lasting impression.  I do presentations in front of small groups on a regular basis, so I know the value of words, but illustration can be so much more powerful.  By “illustration”, I don’t mean drawings – I can’t draw.  How do I answer these questions in a visual way? 

Here’s what I created: https://youtu.be/BIhEwzZapjw

If you want to get the word out to the world, so more people are on the same page about the gluten free diet, please like and share this video.  If you have other thoughts that you’d like me to incorporate into the next – 5 More Things video, let me know. 

The Canadian Celiac Association is a leader in accurate information about the diet, so I often direct people to their website at www.celiac.ca.  Our gluten free lives have improved so much over the past years by educating food producers and those around us, let’s keep the education and awareness coming!

Walking out of a Restaurant

As a celiac, I take dining out very seriously.  Gone are the days, when we’d be out and about, feeling a little hungry and slip into the nearest eatery to give them a try.  As you get older, you do seem to plan things more, and that’s usually how my meals out are arranged.  My husband and I recently had an anniversary, not a significant one (in reality, every anniversary should be significant), but we normally go out for dinner and mark the day.  As the calendar would have it, the day was not convenient for a dinner out, so we decided to leave it until the weekend.  We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of Ontario surrounded by many picturesque places.  We decided on a Saturday trip to Prince Edward County (PEC).  PEC is actually a large island just south of Belleville in Eastern Ontario.  It is known for grape vineyards, wineries, breweries, stunning beaches, beautiful country side, quaint towns and good restaurants.  We have visited many times and stayed over for special weekends in either a hotel or a B&B.  PEC is an amazing destination.

Prince Edward County map

My husband chose a restaurant in a small upscale hotel, we had been to in the past, where I had enjoyed gluten free fish and chips.  We decided on a late lunch so we wouldn’t be rushed and could spend the late afternoon at a couple of wineries.  As it turned out, the restaurant no longer has a lunch menu, but serves “brunch” up to the dinner hour.  The dreaded brunch – wheat filled carbs, flour filled sauces, bagels and english muffins everywhere.  Their previous interest in offering interesting gluten free food was done, and I was out of luck.  I didn’t come for a nice lunch to eat a plain egg on a plate.  I could of course have anything I wanted, but their fryer was contaminated and they don’t keep anything separate in their kitchen, so no guarantees.  I never actually look for guarantees, I just want a kitchen (any kitchen), to be GF aware, to keep their surfaces clean, and not mingle foods unless they are cooking them together.

This was not the place for me, I told them I was not happy with what they were offering in no uncertain terms, got up and we walked out!  My husband was completely supportive, bless his heart.

I would like to think the kitchen, and the chef got the message, but that’s a bit of a long-shot.  Restaurants that try to be trendy, were our friends in the gluten free diet, but not so much now.  They have moved on to the next trendy thing, all-day brunch and food trucks as kitchens, I suppose.

I am not one to rant in my blogs or in life, I always look at the bright side of things.  I knew that I could do better than accepting the meager gluten free offerings of a restaurant who had no real interest in serving me.  I, my diet, and my health deserve better.

We walked out and went across the street to a very nice restaurant that was not busy, not so trendy, but has a wonderful chef and caring staff.  We should have started there.  I’m not usually one who eats much bread, but they did offer it.  They said they are able to make most of the menu gluten free, just let them know what I wanted.  I don’t usually try to be exotic when I eat out, I just want good tasting, well prepared food.  I ordered the chef’s special burger, made with local beef and topped with caramelized onions – no bun.  I also ordered fries for us to split.  It was wonderful!  There was no thick bun to get in the way of the amazing burger and the fries were crisp and fresh!  Simple, but an amazing lunch. Prince Edward County Signs

I did make a point of telling the wait staff about our disappointment across the road, and asked them to thank the chef for his fabulous food, and we tipped well.  Restaurants that make a sincere effort should be rewarded with compliments and loyalty – thanks East & Main Bistro in Wellington, Ontario.  We will be back.

P.S. – I did two reviews for Trip Advisor about the restaurants – my own way to vent and reward.

If you enjoyed the read, please share or like the blog – Thanks!

 

 

 

Experi-Baking

Okay, so this isn’t really a word, but I have been using it and doing it for many years.  To me, experi-baking is the process I go through to come up with new recipes, or improve on those I already have.

Over time, I have perfected this process with defined steps and usually predictable outcomes.  Many years of attempts and failures, only helped me gain a vast knowledge of ingredients and processes.  There’s lots of research that goes along with experi-baking and it may sound odd, but I enjoy reading cookbooks (gluten free of course) like other people enjoy a novel.

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It was with great pleasure that I took on a recent challenge from a company who I have worked with for many years.  Purest Foods, operates out of Perth, Ontario supplying consumer size packages of gluten free ingredients.  They have a completely gluten and nut free facility.  Much of the work they do is supplying large companies with custom gluten free mixes.  They also have a line of consumer mixes.

 

 

 

My challenge (again happy to take this on) was to use one of their mixes and make two other things with it.  I used their Scone and Tea Biscuit mix.  I first made a list of what maybe could be made, then narrowed it down and put it in the order that I wanted to work with.  I decided on two recipes, one for doughnut holes and one for coffee cake.

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Coffee cake wasn’t something I’ve enjoyed very much since being gluten free, as I found it was normally a bit dry in the gluten world to start with.  My challenge was to moisten up the cake, then to use a topping that would help the cake stay moist and give lots of flavour.  It took a couple of tries and using some different techniques, but I did settle on a cake that I really enjoyed.  To test its moistness, he cake stayed on the counter for about four days – this was hard, as I walked by it so often – and it was still quite nice.  The good thing about coffee cake, as opposed to an iced cake, is that you can warm it in the microwave before serving.  I was particularly excited to warm this cake, as the topping became runny and toffee-like, very pleasing.

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Next I worked on the doughnut holes.  I have made doughnut holes before with good success, so I had a pretty high standard to shoot for.  Wow – the first recipe I tried was amazing!  Gluten Free doughnuts are one of those things that are normally only bought frozen, but there is no need.  These doughnut holes can be made with this mix, fried in a saucepan on the stove and ready to eat in under 20 minutes!! I used icing sugar and cinnamon sugar to coat them.  I tried a couple of variations, but couldn’t settle on one that I enjoyed more than either of these.  These are cake doughnuts, they aren’t the soft airy ones that are often filled.  Working out the counter life (again my own term) on these little cuties was even more difficult.  I actually had to put a handful in a ziplock bag so they wouldn’t all be eaten, then I tried them every day for 5 days.  Still fine, no heating needed.

 

 

 

 

The last step in the experi-baking process is to have others replicate the recipes and give me feedback.  I am grateful for the feedback as this helps greatly with the instructions accompanying the recipes.  Each tester came back with rave reviews.  In particular, they could not believe how simple the doughnut holes were to make.

You can find my recipes on my website at  www.suesglutenfreebaking.com/youtube-recipes.

You can also see the process and results on my YouTube channel with these links

https://youtu.be/wZTg1a7Hb-0

https://youtu.be/odO6nCMIRmg

Here’s the link to Purest, if you don’t have a store near you that sells the mixes.

http://purest.ca/product-category/baking-mixes/

Utilising mixes to make gluten free baking easier is a win-win.  You don’t have to have all those gluten free ingredients in your pantry, there is much less to go wrong, and you cut your prep time in half.  So worth it – I do hope you can give these a try.

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Talking to Others

For many years, I have been the President of our local chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association.  The members have watched me start a gluten free bakery, close my bakery, start my baking show on cable and they have been amazingly supportive.  At our regular meetings and get-togethers, I share lots about what’s happening with the Canadian Celiac Association, as well as what I have been involved with in the gluten free world.

Once the baking shows began airing, plans were in the works to have them available to a larger audience by posting the episodes “On Demand” to others who have Cogeco Cable throughout Ontario.  There is no point having the shows available on demand, if no one knows about them.  I took it on as a personal challenge to reach out to those who would enjoy the show, if only they knew it was there.  In addition to making the shows available on demand, my Producer was able to upload some of the segments to YouTube to help with promotion for those who may not have access to Cogeco Cable.  What a great place YouTube is!  I needed to make the most out of this amazing exposure.

My chosen course of action was to contact the other Chapters of the Canadian Celiac Association in the regions where the shows were available.  My hope was that I might be able to join a meeting of one of these chapters to share my story.  Some Chapters do not have regular formal meetings and were not able to commit to a get together.  There was however interest from a few chapters to have me speak to them.

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This was the spread at a recent talk in St. Catharines. I brought baguettes, lemon cranberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies – yumm!

I do have a secret weapon – I bring food, everywhere I am invited.  Food at a meeting of celiacs and people who eat gluten free is something magic.  Food and food choices take up a great deal of the discussion at any of our events.  My secret weapon can serve so many purposes.

The reception I get when I tell my story and talk about the gluten free diet is so warm and welcoming.  People are not only looking for information, they are looking for solutions.  When I bring food, I also bring recipes, and some instruction on how to make these foods at home in their own kitchens.  Both the food and the recipes are very well received.  I so enjoy making these connections.

Every time I speak to a group, I gain insight into what makes gluten free baking difficult and for some impossible.  I have been baking gluten free, and teaching others to bake, for so long, I sometimes forget the struggles I had at the beginning.

 

In my recipes, my talks, and my shows I try and stick to some simple rules:

  1. Use ingredients that are easily accessible to most.
  2. Be open-minded when it comes to a process and think outside of conventional baking rules.
  3. Make recipes that are first gluten free, then develop options for other sensitivities like lactose free, or corn free.

By following these guidelines, I am able to make gluten free baking more accessible to more people.  By baking gluten free, those on the diet will eat a healthier, more satisfying diet than buying everything pre-made.  What a great story, and I get to share it!

 

My “Own” Video

If you are reading this blog, you probably know that I host a gluten free baking show on our local cable channel.  What an amazing opportunity that has been.  I believe in the power of video to spread the message on gluten free baking.  It should not be so mysterious and unattainable.  How many times have you put together some ingredients, looked at the batter, and thought “this can’t be right”.  Gluten free batters and doughs are different from wheat ones in consistency, colour and “feel”.  As a baker, I always wanted to “fix” a dough or batter before I baked it, thinking either the recipe was wrong, or I did something wrong.  Video solves that issue by demonstrating how the dough should look and perform.  I love seeing gluten free on video.

 

Currently, I am taking classes in media, which include lessons and assignments on video production.  I have learned to enjoy the whole process, from concept, to setting up a video shoot, to editing.

 

Recently an assignment was to make a how-to video.  Naturally, I wanted to make one involving gluten free, in a format that would be worthy of YouTube and sharing.  I have over 30 recipes that I have already done on my baking show, so this needed to be something completely different.

I am in the planning stages of a gluten free event at a local restaurant to feature a demonstration and eating of homemade gluten free pasta.  I began to ponder the options.  I settled on lasagna, not only because I love lasagna, but because it works so well with my gluten free pasta, and it’s a process that should translate well to video.  With this recipe, you don’t have to boil the noodles first, slasagna 2o it saves an annoying step.  Most people who eat gluten free have never had or made fresh pasta.  The goal was to show how easy the process is.  I use an electric pasta machine, but you can use a manual one just as well, or if you’re really keen, a rolling pin.

 

I have learned that collaborating is wise – the old saying “two heads are better than one”, is very true when it comes to making videos.  I was
fortunate to work with one of my classmates who wanted to expand his skills.  I was content creation, he was shooting and creative editing.  We were shooting in my kitchen.  I made sure I had the equipment and ingredients on hand to make a large pan of lasagna.  Part of the exercise was planning a “storyboard” or layout of each of the different shots and parts of the video.  I know that these things can’t be rushed and it’s a good idea to stick to plan as much as possible.  The shooting went very well.

 

The old saying “the proof is in the pudding” can be changed for video – “the proof is in the editing”.  Before I was involved in my baking show, I didn’t know or care much about how video is edited.  Now, I find the process fascinating.  I knew I wanted the video short and shareable.  My classmate had some very creative ideas for editing.  We manipulated the footage over and over and I think we produced an entertaining, informative video called “How to Make Gluten Free Pasta & Lasagna”.

 

Making gluten free pasta is not difficult, and is very rewarding.  Please watch the video and send along your comments.  Please share the video on any of your social media.  I’d love for lots of people to see it.   I plan to do more videos in the future.  Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see.

 

The video link is https://youtu.be/lXTQ4yNGFXQ

The pasta recipe is on my website, click YouTube Recipes at www.suesglutenfreebaking.com

Thanks for watching, and please give it a like or thumbs up if you enjoyed it.

 

Comfort Food for the Whole Family

I have always enjoyed making chicken soup.  I’m not sure if it’s the idea of a homemade cure-all, or that it was something from my childhood that always gave me a warm feeling.  To me, chicken soup represents taking time to make something unquestionably healthy and wholesome for the whole family.  And then came gluten free.

I struggled for many years to make the perfect soup that everyone would enjoy equally.  The problem in our family was noodles!  Everyone loved my chicken soup, but they wanted the egg noodles they had grown to love.  This just would not do.

First, I tried a method my Mother used with turkey soup.  After the Christmas bird had the breast meat removed, my Mother tossed everything that was left in a pot with onion, carrot and celery and let it boil for hours.  Once she prepared the broth and stripped the turkey meat, it was time to throw it back in the pot.  This is when she added rice.  Yes, it was always rice in our turkey soup after Christmas.  I realised many years later that it was so easy to add rice to the boiling pot of broth and 20 minutes later, the soup was done.  The alternative of boiling noodles, draining them and adding them back to the broth was not in my busy Mother’s timetable.  I loved her homemade Turkey and rice soup.

My family would have nothing of it, rice was not the answer for everyone.  It didn’t take me long to come up with another solution.  I made the soup, and as my Mother had done, in another pot, I boiled water for egg noodles (yes, wheat ones) and in a third pot I boiled water for rice.  Once everything was ready, I ladled out the soup and spooned in either egg noodles or white rice.  We had reached a compromise.  The soup would stay noodle/rice free and the noodles and rice would exist to be put in the soup on demand per bowl.  I made soup this way for years, it just became common practice.  My family loves chicken soup.

A few years ago my husband and I followed a friend’s suggestion to a local Vietnamese restaurant that apparently had some gluten free menu items.  I was thrilled to have gluten free spring rolls (yes, the fried ones) and sweet and sour chicken (yes, lightly battered and fried).  Then there was soup – or pho, as it was called on the menu.  It too was gluten free.  A chicken soup with generous slices of chicken, in an amazing broth with bean sprouts and spring onions and rice vermicelli.  I was hooked.  My love for chicken soup had reached another level.  My husband loved the soup too.  And now I have the ultimate solution for my homemade chicken soup dilemma – rice vermicelli (or angel hair noodles).  At the time, I thought my method was genius, but later realized that chefs and cooks had probably employed this method for centuries.

IMG_20170315_152245_712Here’s my recipe – it’s pretty basic, so if you’ve not made much soup, now if the time to start.

Chicken pieces preferably bone in – use any you want, my favourite are skinless chicken thighs (6-8)

Carrots – a couple, add whole (without the tops), no need to peel them

Celery – a couple of stocks, left in long pieces

Onion – I usually use one large white onion, peeled with the top and root removed, but left whole

Once the ingredients are in a large pot, pour in water to cover.  I often add some commercial gluten free chicken stock, if I have it left over in the fridge.  Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, put a lid on the pot, turn down the heat, and let simmer for a few hours, stirring every hour or so.  After a few hours, turn the stove off and remove the pot lid to allow the soup to cool.  Remove the chicken pieces to a large bowl.  Remove the vegetables to another bowl.  Next, strain the broth through a fine sieve – I have an 8 cup measuring cup I usually pour the both into.

Once the meat is cool enough, remove the meat from the bones and cut it into small pieces and set aside.  Slice both the carrots and onion and set aside.  That’s it, at this point I’m finished.  Soup is assembled as needed.

If I’m serving the soup just after it’s made, I return the broth to the pot and bring to a boil.  While the both is heating, I break a small handful (or large handful for my husband) of rice vermicelli into the soup bowl(s).  Then I pour on the very hot broth, spoon in chicken, and vegetables to suit.  The soup has to sit for about 5 mins to allow the noodles to soften up, but that’s it.  I store the components separately in the fridge, and when I need another bowl of soup, I put in the dried noodles, pour the broth over, add the chicken and vegetables and into the microwave it goes.  After a couple of minutes, I let the soup sit to soften the noodles.  I often serve this soup with Irish Soda Bread as pictured.

It’s certainly not rocket science, it’s just trying to solve a little problem in a simple way.  My family loved chicken soup before, and continues to love it.  It’s always been comfort food, now it is gluten free comfort food for everyone.