Food is Bliss: My Surprising Gluten-Free Story
My story surprised me. If you have gone through anything similar, perhaps it doesn’t surprise you. I was not optimistic this whole gluten-free thing was ever going to work for my particular troubles. I hate being wrong.
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For about 10 years I was having tummy troubles. Vomiting, diarrhea, passing out and this odd feeling where I felt like I had just downed a bottle of tequila. Dizzy, drunk-like, unsteady on my feet, blurred vision, close to passing out (occasionally actually passing out) and of course vomiting were all part of my symptomology.
One doctor after another came up with a new diagnosis. I needed my gallbladder removed. Nope, that didn’t work. Here, take Zofran (a powerful anti-vomiting medication) for two years and see if that helps. Maybe you are hypoglycemic…on and on it went.
By the time I found my current doctor I was taking Imodium and Advil daily, sometimes twice a day. I was tired, afraid to eat, and felt like I was starving all while being nauseous. Sounds like fun doesn’t it!
Instead of running more tests, he said surprised me by saying”cut gluten out of your diet.”
Great. I thought I had found yet another quack who had no idea what was going on in my body. “Do it for a month, if it doesn’t work, come back and we will talk about the next step,” he told me as I grumbled out of his office.
The First Gluten-Free Month
The first thing I had to figure out was what is gluten and what foods contain it? As always, Google to the rescue. All the way home from the doctor’s office I read, cussed, and whined about the trials I would face in the next month. (Here is a good definition of gluten from the Celiac’s foundation) This can’t be it, I don’t want it to be it. I make homemade bread for Christmas’s sake.
The first two weeks I didn’t notice much of a difference. Haha! Stupid doctor, I knew you were wrong! Then came the third week. I felt a little better and didn’t spend as much time in bathrooms. By the fourth week, I hated to admit it, but I may have been wrong.
Ever the stubborn one, I went to subway and order a six-inch sub on my their seven cheese bread. Immediately I was a bit dizzy. The next day I was tired, my stomach felt like gremlins were trying to fight their way out, and I was enjoying the bathroom scenery yet again. Damn. I guess I might need to quit the gluten.
Adjusting to My New Gluten-Free Diet
The more I researched the more I realized eating fresh foods would keep me on the gluten-free train and might actually taste good. Oh yea, and it might be better for me than wings and mozzarella sticks. Whatever.
For the first few months, I was still pretty reluctant. I stuck to a basic meat, vegetable, and rice diet. It was bland and boring. I felt better, but I was still craving donuts and mozzarella sticks. Mostly though, I was sulking. I take great pride in my cooking and baking, this felt like having the rug ripped out from under me. The joy of cooking had taken a bit of a downturn.
Getting Back on the Horse
After a few months, I stopped sulking and started looking around for ways I could still make delicious meals and eat them too. I was feeling better and it is much easier to find your happiness when you are not tired and feeling sick half the time. It really surprised me much better I felt, and how much easier I smiled. I didn’t think I was really miserable, but after nearly a year of gluten-free eating, I am amazed at the improvement in my mood.
Here were the biggest lessons I learned in gluten-free cooking
- Spices are your best friend. Most gluten-free items are based on rice flour. Rice has no flavor so I often double the spices called for if I am subbing a gluten-free item for a standard item.
- Mexican food is awesome (and usually gluten-free). Because Mexican food usually uses corn as a base ingredient, Mexican food is usually safe for anyone needing to be gluten-free. The only exception is flour tortillas, but you can substitute corn tortillas easily.
- Use cornstarch in gravies and Bechemel sauces. Cornstarch is a great substitute for flour when used as a thickening agent.
All in all, I am learning to love cooking again, but I still get excited when I get to bake for a non-gluten-free crowd. I even made a bacon, chicken, broccoli mac-n-cheese that was delicious! (The recipe is at the end of this post)
My Favorite Gluten-Free Products
Gluten-free products might have a reputation for being tasteless but there are a few essentials that have made my cooking experiences much better, and they taste great!
I have tried a lot of gluten-free bread, and most of them I am not a fan of. This one from Shar actually tastes pretty good. It resembles rye bread a bit and has plenty of flavor. This is available at some grocery stores when I go to the big city, but I usually have to order it from Amazon.
Pasta is the number one thing I craved, so I tried a bunch of different kinds of pasta. This one from Barilla is good and usually available at my local grocery store. If not you can find it here from Amazon.
Gluten-Free Bread Crumbs
For meatballs, meatloaf, and a little flavor on top of your favorite casserole (or mac-n-cheese) This is available at my local Walmart, if not you can get it from Amazon.
These three things are the only thing I consistently use that are labeled gluten-free. Vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, rice, ice cream (very important!) are all naturally gluten-free. I base most of my recipes on these things and so far it is working out pretty well.
If you have any tips for gluten-free cooking please add them in the comments!
Gluten-Free Mac-N-Cheese (with bacon, chicken, and broccoli)
I must confess, this recipe is inspired by this full gluten recipe from my friend Carolina at A Butterful Mind. Her cooking is amazing, and I encourage you to check out her site.
16 oz Barilla gluten-free penne
1 tbsp olive oil
6 strips thick cut bacon (cut into small pieces)
2 chicken breasts (cubed)
1 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 bag of frozen broccoli (thawed. I just run hot water over the broccoli and dry.)
6 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 cups half n half
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup asiago cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp spicy mustard
1/4 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
Just like in Carolina’s recipe, you can do this all in one pot if you have a dutch oven. If not just use a casserole dish for the final portion in the oven. ( I use a casserole dish, but am asking for this dutch oven for Christmas.)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the pasta water and cook according to the package. Drain and set aside.
In the same pot add the bacon and render down until almost crispy. Season chicken with the spices and put in the pot with the bacon, cook until no longer pink (3-5 minutes depending on thickness) drain and add broccoli. Let the broccoli cook with the bacon and chicken for 5 minutes, stirring so it won’t burn.
Put the broccoli, chicken, and bacon into a bowl and set aside (if you are using a casserole dish just put it in the casserole dish)
Add 2 tbsp of butter and the bread crumbs to the pot, saute until golden brown and set aside.
Add 4 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of cornstarch to the pot, mix until you have a paste. Slowly stir in half n half. Add 2 cups of the cheddar cheese (reserve 1/2 cup for the top), the parmesan, asiago, and mustard to the sauce. Once the cheese is completely melted and incorporated add the pasta, chicken, broccoli, and bacon to the sauce and stir.
If you are using a casserole dish, add the pasta, bacon, broccoli, and chicken to the casserole dish, pour the cheese sauce over everything and stir.
Top with 1/2 cup cheddar and breadcrumbs.
Bake for 30 minutes and enjoy.