Gluten-free days

No matter how picky I try to be, my bookmarks list in IE frequently gets a bit out of control and I have to go through and do a bit of a cull of sites and blogs I no longer visit, for whatever reason.  If I get fed up with a blog or site, no matter how famous, my response is to – get this – stop reading.  Given the amount of hate mail famous bloggers receive along the lines of “I used to like you but since you [insert life-changing event] your site SUCKS”, my response is quite unusual, even if I tend to agree. [I’m naming no names … ]

The links I give on my blog are my ultimate preciousesssss and while I may not stop by one or two as frequently as I used to I always return to their safe and beloved pages [I mean, url’s].   One site I hadn’t visited for a while is Gluten Free Girl, who I’ve enjoyed since her beginnings [who could forget her red wedding cowboy boots?]; it was so good to check back and see what she was up to – a book out, and a baby on the way, no less.

Not to mention G-Free Girl’s food is downright yummy [there’s a recipe there for G-Free Irish Soda Bread which I have to make for my own gorgeous Irishman].  It got me thinking though, that I rarely post about being gluten free and Coeliac Disease.  EDS and my sundry aches, pains and grizzles get the air-time, which isn’t fair; not to mention there’s way more people who can relate to Coeliac and it’s distressing consequences than can to my other, more rare, auto-immune whatsit.

I’m going to put up an “About Coeliac Disease” page but I hope to post a bit more than I have been, about going gluten-free and the life changes, gluten-free food and recipes.

. . . . . . . . . .

I’ve been gluten-free for nearly ten years now – wow, has it really been that long?  I remember when I first found out, and the mixed feelings of relief that at last I’d been diagnosed, hope and positivity that I could actually do something about it, anger at the past twenty-eight years of medical practitioners who hadn’t checked for Coeliac even though it was so obvious.  It was all there, in my records, every symptom and red alert blaring “Here Be Dragons” … I know because I got hold of my extensive medical records aged two to eighteen years from the children’s hospital [never you mind how].  All there …

I wanted to commit bloody murder, or at least a fire-bombing or two.  I was incredibly grateful to the gastroenterologist who considered my history and thought to look beyond the oesophageal ulcers for which I was having the endoscopy in the first place.

I remember my first trip to Coles post-biopsy, food shopping, and breaking into mad hysterical laughter at all the foods I could no longer eat because they were “contaminated” not just by wheat et al but by all the derivatives sneaking around at the end of an ingredients list.  Maltodextrin, glucose syrup, vinegar, unnamed starches … the list seemed endless.

Fortunately I had never been a huge consumer of processed foods and junk food.  Not being able to eat pasta, sandwiches/rolls/foccacia, burgers, pizza, chicken and chips was a major bummer of course, and made eating out terribly inconvenient.  It was incredibly hard back then to find anything on any lunch menu I could actually eat.  I didn’t have much weight to lose, but I lost it anyway.  I got very bored with ordering Caesar Salad, no croutons, no dressing, and plain grilled fish. 

Restaurants are more savvy nowadays but eating out is still a game of roulette … Russian Roulette at that.  These days, I never miss an opportunity to proselytise educate, but it’s so much easier to eat out at a Vietnamese or Thai or Malaysian restaurant than a “Modern Australian”.  Italian restaurants are impossible, which is sad; how difficult is a risotto for heaven’s sake?  Italian food isn’t just pasta and pizza, think of all those gorgeous grilled meats and heavenly vegetables.  You can see why I [and Tuxedo by association] really prefer to eat at home.  We do have a couple of favourite restaurants which we know to be “safe”, they even have gluten-free menus and bread.

Being g-free in England and Ireland was so much easier.  There was a greater awareness – as you’d expect, as Coeliac is more prevalent in Celtic peoples and those with Celtic ancestry than anyone else.  The g-free aisles in supermarkets in Northern Ireland were larger and had more interesting products.  I still preferred to make my own flour mixes for baking, even though buying a muffin mix was much easier [also about five times more expensive].

Perhaps the best thing about living g-free in Ireland was that g-free bread was available on prescription.  How basic yet so progressive; Coeliac is the only disease treatable by diet alone, so why not have subsidised products available at the chemist?

Coeliacs don’t have a choice in the matter of their dietary regime.  Ultimately, vegetarianism is a choice, as is Atkins, the South Beach diet, whatever.  A g-free diet is not a choice, or a fad; it really is a matter of life and death.  Eating meat won’t kill a vegetarian, even though it might feel that way to them.  Eating pork won’t kill a Jew or a Muslim even though it will feel like a betrayal of their beliefs.  Unfortunately most chefs and restaurants, not to mention the health and food industries, still treat Coeliac as a fad in the same category with the latest celeb diet.

It’s hardly a fad or the choice of an individual that they will suffer very nasty effects if a chef isn’t honest about what goes into his/her food.  If a chef or waiter gives you incorrect information, you’ll be up all night puking, suffering severe stomach cramps and explosive diarrhoea, sweating and shaking and whimpering, and feeling pale and fatigued and totally drained for the next few days.  It’s hardly a fad or the choice of an individual that their small intestine gets destroyed so they can’t absorb nutrients properly; that they run the risk of all kinds of deficiencies, osteoporosis, mental illness, bowel cancer.  It isn’t fun at all.

. . . . . . . . . .

So how do I eat now, as compared to ten years ago?  I really appreciate now, how much of a huge bonus it was – and is – being able to cook well and enjoy meals made with pure produce and flavours.  I don’t know how people who don’t have a background in cooking for enjoyment cope. 

I’ve always preferred the cuisines of China, Thailand, South-East Asia and Vietnam, so adapting to a gluten free diet was relatively easy for me – much easier than it would be, say, for an American used to a diet of processed and packaged foods.  My parents too, were very big on good nutrition when we kids were growing up, and junk food and processed stuff wasn’t allowed in the house.  I despised the restrictions at the time of course, but am grateful now.  I’m even grateful for the fact that my mum is a pretty awful cook, so I learned to cook at an early age purely in self-defence!

I love rice and rice noodles, and adore spicy stir fries, curries and meal-in-a-bowl soups.  I make my own stocks, curry pastes, condiments, and sauces.  By making them myself, I know exactly how fresh and how pure they are.  They also taste a hundred times better than anything in the shops.

I make my own pasta too – although not of late as the kitchen of The Hovel was too tiny to be mucking about with winding sheets of pasta through a manual pasta machine, let alone room to dry it – as well as gluten-free flour mixes, muffins, pancakes et al.  I don’t do a lot of baking, it’s true.  My tastes have radically changed so now I crave savoury rather than sweet, drool at the thought of a Malaysian style chicken noodle soup with gai larn rather than a blueberry muffin.

A g-free diet is very healthy but never boringly virtuous, and always incredibly tasty, because it requires the use of the very best fresh produce, meat and fish, basic flavouring agents.  You no longer have the “convenience” of bottled sauces or pastes or packaged foods.  Meals can be as simple or as complex as you like, but you can’t cut corners. 

I think my key advice for a g-free cook is not to try to adapt foods and meals that have wheat, oats, barley, rye as a key ingredient; cook differently rather than attempt to cook the same foods you use to.  They will never taste the same; let’s face it, once you get that diagnosis life is never the same.  It’s better.

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