How to be a fun, gluten-free goddess and get away with it
by Christine Garvin
If you're on a gluten free diet it means that food containing wheat, barley, and other glutinous things is out to get you like a bad horror film. If the queen of nectars no longer gently covers the food-digesting intestines of your stomach, we have the perfect guide to living on a gluten-free diet and still feeling like a fun-filled godess of foodiciousness.
"What do you MEAN I can't eat gluten anymore? I can't believe I have to give up such a life-enhancing substance. I can't comprehend that my days will no longer include basking in the glow of this elixir of life. I don't see how I will get out of bed in the morning with the knowledge that the queen of nectars isn't gently covering the food-digesting intestines of my stomach.
Wait. What is gluten again?"
Well, it is something you most certainly DON'T want to cover the intestines of your stomach, especially if you have been diagnosed with a little something called celiac (aka coeliac). Gluten is the protein found in many grains, including its most commonly-known source, wheat (and yes, kids, that includes white bread). But it can also be found in barley, spelt, couscous, rye, durum, matzo, seitan, kamut, and oats (via cross-contamination). It gives bread its bounce. It gives baked goods their fluffiness. If you have celiac, it gives your insides a mowed-over look. Not quite as cute, or fun, as a mohawk.
And celiac is spreading like wildfire, especially with those of Irish or British descent. Why, you ask? Well, it's hard to say - could be that wheat is found in just about every packaged food you buy, everything you eat at a restaurant, every drink you slurp down, and generally jumps down an unsuspecting throat while making out with someone who has been sucking on a sugar-free Altoid. GMO (genetically-modified organisms) have abounded over the last 10 years, which some think may contribute to the epidemic. I've even read that the problem may be that grains used to be fermented (which some consider the only digestible form of the food) before they were used to bake bread and cakes, and today a 45-minute start-finish baking time prohibits this approach. The Irish/British thing? Who knows - freezing temperatures and rain makes gluten especially stretchy and plaster-like inside the colon?
With celiac, so that you can continue to digest all of the rest of the food you are eating and, well... continue to live, you gotta stop partaking in anything that contains the dreaded gluten. Some people just about have a heart attack when they hear this, as their daily diet consists of toast, scones, muffins, sandwiches, cookies, pasta, and maybe some bread pudding for dessert. Others think, 'OK, I can cut out bread - I've done Atkins before.' Umm, it's a wee bit different than Atkins. But you have the right idea.
Still, this how-to is not simply about hopping on the GF bandwagon (but get used to looking for "GF" as much as possible). It's about living this lifestyle and still enjoying life. It takes a little while to maneuver, so don't get upset with yourself if you slip up. Just curse the bastards who "glutened" (another important phrase to remember) you.
How to live life with a gluten-free diet
First of all, learn to read labels and love health food stores. Both are your friends. In the UK and Australia, GF (and vegetarian/vegan) labels are a bit easier to spot than in the US, even in regular grocery stores, due to better laws. But commit to memory that if it isn't labeled gluten-free, yet you don't see any of the common culprits in the ingredients list, that doesn't mean it is safe. Wonderful we-have-no-idea-what-this-really-is ingredients such as natural flavors, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and some of the FD&C colors contain gluten. Immediately throw this product back on the shelf and walk away in disgust. Then go directly to a health food store that has an entire section of goodies dedicated to us gluten-free goddesses (and guys).
Second, be prepared for parties. That means bringing along whatever food you love of which they will be offering a glutened version. Biscuits, chips, and most importantly-- BEER. Ah yes, you hadn't thought about beer yet, right? I'll give you a moment to compose yourself. Ok, here's the good news-there are now quite a few gluten-free beer choices (not "quite a few" in comparison to the choices of all other beers, but only imagine the GF beer drinker of 10 years ago... Now that IS sad). These beers tend to be made out of sorghum or rice, and therefore have a more sweet finish. Green's (http://www.glutenfreebeers.co.uk/) has eight different types, ranging from a lager to "Dubbel" dark; Bard's Tale Beer is probably my favorite in the GF world. Even Anheuser-Busch (yes, the makers of Budweiser) has jumped on the bandwagon, offering their moderately-enjoyable Red Bridge beer.
And if you are seriously, seriously susceptible to gluten, wine can even be a problem. Turns out those wine-makers sometimes use a sealing compound in their barrels that contains gluten. Although it is hard to say whether or not any residuals remain in the wine, some people have been known to have reactions. Here's a quick reference list of gluten free wines. Also, it seems to be a pretty common occurrence that those with gluten issues have a problem with sulfites. Red wine tends to be high in those, so just pay attention to how you feel. I stick with mostly white these days.
Third, tip your waitress well. In fact, tell them up front that you will tip them well. Be kind and humble in your requests of whether or not you can order something minus wheat - that way, your server will refrain from spitting in your food, and your friends will continue to invite you out into public with them. Some people call restaurants beforehand to ask if foods can be specially made-I find that means you actually have to plan where you are going to eat. Keep in mind the world cuisines that are friendlier to us GFers - Indian is pretty good if you stay away from the naan and samosas - and others that are less so - Chinese food uses soy sauce in everything, and you guessed it, soy sauce (unless it is Tamari) is made with wheat. A lot of Thai or Vietnamese sauces that you wouldn't think have wheat in them either contain soy sauce or a little bit of flour added for thickness. Also, salad dressings are something to be wary of - typically you can depend on a balsamic vinaigrette, aiolis mostly work, but there's always the old standby of oil and (distilled) vinegar if everything else fails.
Fourthly, don't be afraid to cook up a storm. Invest in a breadmaker and you'll get gluten free bread whenever you feel like it at a fraction of the cost. And check out these gluten free recipes for ideas of what to feed yourself like a queen, not a pauper.
Finally, stock up your gluten-free fridge and pantry (check out www.glutenfreemall.com in the US and www.gffdirect.co.uk in the UK). And contemplate before you leave home whether you are going to have a hankering for a chocolate chip cookie around 3pm. I bring along all manners of baked goods wherever I go - cafes, book readings, strip clubs. If they serve food and give you the evil eye for spreading out your delectable carrot cake right across the counter from their wheat-oozing variety, smile sweetly and say, "I'm really looking forward to you guys carrying some gluten free goodies since I am just deathly allergic to wheat."
And then lick the frosting off your finger seductively to really get your point across.
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The above doughnut is actually genuinely gluten-free. Roll your tongue across it now.