Friday, November 6, 2009

Gluten Free Mom

Today I am venturing away from my usual on this blog/travelogue.  I have some observations to share.  Maybe I will even get a response or two as a point of discussion.  It could be a little bit of a

rant, we'll see.

A few days ago, I baked a cake.  We were having some good friends over for dinner and I wanted to make something different and new.   I found this recipe in the most recent Food and Wine magazine and decided to give it a try. As I worked in the kitchen that morning, I came to the realization I very rarely bake anything  anymore that isn't gluten free.

Our beautiful daughter suffered terribly for several years before learning/figuring out gluten was the cause of her problems. The first thing we did when she learned she had to make this life change was to deglutenize her kitchen. My husband and I spent a day with Suzanne going through her kitchen moving things out and making lists of what needed to be replaced. Gradually, her kitchen was restocked with cookware and bakeware she can use without worry.  It was an interesting process to go through and step one in my awakening.

I have just a small comprehension of what it is like for her.  She has adjusted very well and gives me one more reason to be very proud of her. As a result of this change in her life, she has become a very adventurous and excellent cook.  Thank heavens for blogs. She has learned so much from her readings.

As a medical student doing rotations, she spends most of her days (and many nights) in hospitals.  It is difficult for her to find gluten free food in a hospital cafeteria, so she has to bring whatever she eats with her.  It would be so much easier if she could grab something to eat while on a seventeen hour shift, but that is not usually the case.

I will chicken walk a bit here. 

Eighteen months ago I had colon surgery.  When I was finally able to start a little bit of food other than clear broth, I had to state on the hospital menu card if I had any allergies/food intolerances.  I am lactose intolerant.  What their restricted diet menu had to offer was a milk based soup.  It is obvious serving dairy products to a lactose intolerant person reintroducing food to her digestive system is probably not the best idea.  Did the hospital kitchen have a lactose free menu?  No.  And there was no alternative.  They actually seemed puzzled.  I had to drink clear broth and those awful fortified juice boxes. Every transitional meal posed a problem during my stay there.  Do you think I was the only lactose intolerant patient in that hospital?  And meeting the needs of a lactose intolerant person is much easier than making certain a celiac is able to eat safely.  That is eating in a hospital, people.  What is it like out there where they aren't taking care of people's health?

That was another window into my daughter's world. 

She has learned to endure ignorance and closed mindedness.  Like being offered white bread. It isn’t whole wheat bread, so what’s the problem? And, couldn't she just eat around those croutons on the salad? Restaurant dining is difficult.  Very few restaurant kitchens are safe for the gluten intolerant.  As a result, meeting friends or family for a meal out means most of the time she has to eat before she arrives at the function and then while everyone else eats, she sips a beverage (maybe). 

Holidays are a challenge.  It’s bad enough she has to forgo some of her old favorites served at the family gatherings, she also is faced with people who don’t understand why she can’t eat the food cooked in someone else’s kitchen.  This is not something she just has to “get over” and she is not being a finicky eater.  

Step off the soap box, Barb. 

Deep breaths...

Back to the observations during my cake baking the other morning....

After we made Suzanne's kitchen safe, I walked into mine with new eyes.  How do I make my kitchen safe for my daughter to feel comfortable?  I have thirty years of "gluten" cookware.  My first step was to gradually procure a separate set of (inexpensive) cookware to use when I cook for our daughter.  I store these in plastic bins outside of my kitchen.  I keep all of the gluten free utensils (wooden spoons, cutting boards, measuring cups etc.) stored there as well. I also have an entire set of dishes and silverware stored separately to increase her comfort level. Baking powder (gluten free), baking soda, corn meal, anything that might get mixed by an uncareful scoop are also kept in separate containers.  

Having different cookware is one thing, but adapting one's cooking process is another. I vowed to myself I would be aware of everything I use in my kitchen so that when she walks into Mom's kitchen she can feel safe.  I arranged my pantry so there are now gluten free zones. Gradually, as I worked in my kitchen, I realized that every utensil I use I now question whether it is safe for her. I have had to get used to guiding people who work with me in my kitchen who haven't learned what I have learned.   Now, I can promise her it is okay.  If there is the least concern, I need to be able to tell her.  Her worries here are lessening.

That is what I was thinking as I baked that cake. It is more difficult for me to work with gluten flour in my kitchen than it is for me to work with the alternative.  I hadn't even realized it.  The expensive cookware I have accumulated over the years is the next hurdle.  I am starting to make a transition there as well. I received a wonderful cast iron dutch oven as a gift last week.  It is designated to be gluten free. Eventually, will my old cookware be stored elsewhere and these new items take their place in my kitchen?  I am guessing yes.

The holidays are ahead.  I have a gluten free Thanksgiving planned.  Our second. And, this will be our third family Christmas dinner. I have learned from these and continue to make adjustments. I know they will be excellent meals, even with the changes from the traditional menus.  If our dinners aren't potluck, people eat mostly gluten free here and usually guests are unaware.  

I would be interested to learn from others about their transition to "gluten safe zone" kitchens.   Our daughter lives on her own. If she lived at home when we had to make this transition, how would I have gone through my well stocked kitchen in a matter of hours and come out with a safe environment? Certainly others have gone through this. We read the gluten free chefs. How about more from those who live with them? Are there ideas out there from which I can learn? Can I give ideas to people new to this?

Incidentally, the apple cake was excellent.  I will make the recipe again, only gluten free.  I sent the leftover cake with our son to take to his always hungry friends.  It just didn't seem right to have it here in the kitchen.


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Very well written, Barb! It's really frustrating to educate people since they don't really know what gluten is (I didn't either, really, before going gluten free).

Going GF has been tough but has ultimately been the best thing I ever could have done - I just wish I had done it sooner. I feel like a different person. No more stomach problems, I rarely get headaches, I have more energy. I am sure there are some who think this is 'all in my head' but oh well. They can think what they want. I can't let them experience the crap I went through (no pun intended. ha.) so they just have to take my word on it when I say the lifestyle change has been wonderful for me.

Jennifer said...

I know some people with celiac, but had no idea how difficult it was to manage.I think just making people aware of this issue is a big help.

I also, as always, love how you weave the photos into your story line!


Marlys said...

Great post, Barb! It would really be tough to be gluten free, and I completely sympathize with people who are as it is so hard in this world we live in. I know a little 4 year old boy who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as a baby and just recently was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue! Can you imagine that? What will it be like to go to school or to friends houses etc? One tough life to life, for sure!

qwerkyqook said...

I loved the post mom. I was even compelled to follow up with one of my own. I can't tell you how important to me it is that you understand. You truly have to approach the problem like a chemistry lab. and yes, microscopic amounts matter. All we can do is live our lives and try to spread the word. I truly believe it's lack of education. Awareness all around!!!! WE should make pins :)