Making the commitment, the choice to leave the Pillsbury Dough Boy behind and fastidiously comb through the fine print of every ingredient list in the grocery store is a monumental step. Why, oh why do they have to make that type so small, what, are they trying to bring the monocle back? My two-step with gluten free living has been strewn with tiny successes (finding cereal that wasn't dense as stale packing peanuts!) major frustrations (I'm sorry, my choice brand of rice milk has WHAT in it?) and Dance Through The Kitchen With Glee triumphs (the cookies, ohhhh the cookies). Each year brings greater awareness, more jubilant victories, an even better gluten free bread recipe and handy little hacks that make life just that much more livable.
For having battled through the bunker wheat has set up in our culture, for making the right choices when you just achingly, horrifically, Fall Off The Couch With Delirium crave a pizza, for straightening your shoulders and heading back to the mixing bowl when your fourth batch of highly anticipated brownies fails to cook, I commend you. For stifling the burning urge to pop your boss in the nose every time he sneers at your hand-crafted GF cookies at the office party I say, what are you waiting for? Until then, here are my top ten Gluten Free Tips from 2009, feel free to share some of your own in the comments!
Top Ten Gluten Free Living Tips from 2009
1. Subscribe to your favorite foods on Amazon
Subscribing to non-perishable foods on Amazon is a great way to save your Tuesday Night Margarita Money and get foods your local stores haven't stocked yet. Subscribing means you get anywhere from 6-12 units of the product. 15% off the price, free shipping and you get to choose whether your shipments come every 2, 3, or 6 months. We love getting our Pamela's Gluten Free Bread Mix every two months, we go on a bread frenzy for a while and then switch to wraps when we're all breaded out. It's easy to skip a delivery if you're overflowing with bread, send the bread to someone in need of a sandwich or end your subscription at any time. Some other popular options are The Gluten-Free Pantry Favorite Sandwich Bread Mix, EnviroKidz Organic Chocolate Crispy Rice Bars, Glutino Gluten-Free Pretzel Sticks, Mary's Gone Crackers, Namaste Gluten Free Brownie Mix.
2. Don't Believe Everything You Read
One of the great things about the celiac community is the eagerness with which everyone wants to share the information they come across. With all this helpful information it's important to keep your head. Keep in mind that some people may have different levels of commitment than you do; maybe they eat foods that were processed in a wheat filled factory while you choose not to. The internet is abundant with false information and misunderstandings - use good judgment, do your own research and be aware. We can all learn from each other, just be sure you have the final word on what's best for you.
3. Keep Gluten Free Foods Cold
Going gluten free means altering mundane aspects of your life. Even though you've been keeping your flour in that ceramic countertop jar since the beginning of existence it's time for a change. Gluten Free Flours, Xanthan Gum, Tapioca Starch, Quinoa Flakes...all these things like it best in the dark recesses of your fridge. Let's face it, GF baking items are expensive the first time around, you won't be happy if you have to shell out 8 bucks again because your once used Buckwheat flour smells funky. When you're done baking the best way to keep them fresh is to wrap them up. Cut up your treats, wrap them in tin foil and stow them in the freezer. If you know you'll be scarfing them down within the week the fridge will be fine. We all want food on the go, this gives you a quick option when you're heading out the door. Store your bread in a plastic container in the fridge and it will last the week.
4. Stay Informed
Research is continually being done on Celiac Disease. Health consequences, ways to improve your quality of life, supplements that are necessary - all these things are important for people with an autoimmune disease to keep up with. Own your diagnosis and stay connected. Celiac.com is a good starting place to orient yourself.
5. Invest in a Bread Machine!
The Breadman TR875 2-Pound Breadmaker was the single best purchase of my Gluten Free life (thanks mom). A sandwich is one of the quickest comfort foods you can get your hands on - having a bread machine means a return to some sense of culinary normalcy. The Breadman is the only machine I have experience with, so I can't comment on any of the others. This machine has a gluten free setting and has never failed me. It can produce not only sandwich bread but tea breads like pumpkin, dessert loafs like blueberry and probably any loaf shaped concoction you can invent. And it does the dishes. Not really.
It's absurdly easy to get settled into your comfort zone. Buying the same products, shopping at the same stores, making the same Sunday Night Nachos. While I'm guilty of hardcore brand loyalty it's important to remember that GF products are popping up everywhere. That one thing you've been craving might be sitting on the shelf at that store down the street you've never checked out. This is also a great time to try naturally gluten free foods you've steered clear of your whole life. Your menu choices have been whittled down a bit...why not expand them? Try out some bok choy or figure out what to do with a leek. You might find something you can't live without.
7. Carry Alka Seltzer Gold
Let's face it. Slip ups happen. Inconvenient reactions will rear their ugly heads. While you can't completely reverse them you can try to manage them. If you're lucky enough to suffer from GI symptoms I recommend never being without Alka-Seltzer Gold Tablets. Its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce your pain and symptoms in a matter of minutes. This is not a wonder cure - I've had varying success with Alka Seltzer Gold from total annihilation of my symptoms down to "Shit, I'm still curled up in a ball, what now?" Still, I'd rather have something that works part of the time than nothing at all.
8. Practice the Art of Letting Go
Your life has changed. You know that. Everyone around you knows that. Your transition to Gluten Free life will be a lot easier if you make a committment to stop lamenting your losses. Gain some perspective. Those McDonald's Happy Meals? Not your childhood. The pizza you used to get when your friends came over? Wasn't the life of the party. I once heard someone say "we're just eating to live, not living to eat". You can eat things you used to - just in a different form. Gaining global perspective may also help - lots of other cultures traditionally use different kinds of flours; just because Americans are too unimaginative to stray away from wheat flour doesn't mean the world revolves around wheat. Once I stopped gazing longingly down the snack food aisle my life became a whole lot happier and I was able to focus on searching out cool things I could eat.
9. Invest in a Picnic Pack
One of the biggest hurdles of being Gluten Free is trying to leave the house with as little hassle as possible. Purchasing a picnic pack means having safe, uncontaminated silverware, plates, cups and cutting board all packed up and ready to take on the road anytime you're raring to go. Depending on the pack there is usually ample space for whatever edibles you want to take with you. Staying at a friends house, going to a cookout - your entire culinary world can be contained in a single backpack (not to mention totally stylish, make sure your ensemble matches). They come in a variety of sizes and levels of quality like the 4 person Picnic Plus Tandoor , or this two-some job. We also added a Smokey Joe Grill to our caravan and have enjoyed many a grilled steak that our Glutened friends have yearned for. This here Picnic Time Buccaneer Tailgating Cooler with Grill looks like the ultimate in Gluten Free travel for you intense grill loons out there. You know who you are.
10. Find Your Naturally Gluten Free Comfort Zone...and then Expand
You don't have to tackle a flourless chocolate cake your first week out of wheat-dom. Breathe, gather your thoughts, let your body heal. There are a lot of really good foods that will help this process - which happen to be gluten free. Fresh fruit and vegetables are a great option, cabbage is very healing, non marinated or battered meats can make their way to your table. Rice is an excellent staple. Your body may be very damaged so you might react to a variety of foods making you think you have a whole host of additional food allergies - give your body time to get off the defensive. When you're ready to move on know that you have support all over the internet.
Here's to reflection, wisdom and a new year of discovery in 2010.
More Top 10 Gluten Free Lists
Karina's Kitchen: Top 10 Gluten Free Recipes
The Daily Dietribe: Top 10 Favorite Blog Recipes
Gluten Free in SLC: Top 10 Gluten Free Recipes
Kalyn's Kitchen: Top 10 Recipes of 2009
Celiac Teen: Top 10 Recipes of 2009