When Shauna asked if I would be a part of the virtual tour for her book Gluen-Free Girl she gave a few ideas for framing the entry. I decided eating gluten-free for a day would be the most fun. Of course, when my chosen day arrived I was completely unprepared.
Before I start – much of the day below takes account of what I wasn’t able to eat or do. This was irresponsible on my part since Shauna’s book is not about what living gluten-free means one has to give up – it’s about entirely, joyfully, the opposite. I recorded my day before I read the book (again, completely unprepared, irresponsible of me) and I’m sure her intention was for me to discover what I was not missing out on. I apologize to Shauna for very probably getting the point all wrong. Here is the thing though, I learned an amazing amount from cutting this one thing out of my life for 24 hours and trying to interact will all of the stuff I’m surrounded by. I wouldn’t give up this learning experience.
Had I read the book before I set out on this day I would have known the answer to every question I asked during my day. While the book informs, it does it through telling her story which is moving and entertaining. Recipes are included in each chapter, recipes that I’ve bookmarked to make for myself. And at the end is a love story that brought tears to my eyes while I was sitting on my couch, next to Scott, who was playing Resident Evil 4. And even though I’d come across many of those stories on her site already, not even the big spiky monster could get me to look up while I was reading those pages.
My gluten-free day gave me a much richer understanding of what avoiding wheat gluten means to those with celiac, and Shauna gave me a much richer understanding of what avoiding wheat gluten doesn’t have to mean.
If you don’t know about it already, I insist you go visit Shauna’s site, Gluten-Free Girl, her stories and recipes always bring a bit of shininess back into my day. If you have celiac and don’t know already, Shauna’s husband is the chef at Impromptu Bistro and he’s made the restaurant gluten friendly with the option of gluten-free pasta and strictly contained areas for preparing gluten foods so you don’t have to fret over any detail.
Ok, here we go. I wake up and…
Oh god I hope there isn’t gluten in my Folgers coffee. Lemme see. It says 100% Arabica coffee. Good. I’m glad I drink it black, it’s too early to wonder if anything gluten-y is added to sugar or creamer.
I’m hungry. There is a large loaf of bread I baked last night sitting on my counter which is completely off limits. I wonder if the flour I have not swept off my counter yet would negatively effect somebody with celiac? Oh my gosh it will, if this day were a computer game would I have lost the game already. My bananas aren’t ripe yet. I’ll make two hard boiled eggs.
I’m craving popcorn for lunch and looking at the jar of kernels (ha ha, it says “whole grain”). They don’t add anything to popping corn right? I am growing aware that I expect all of my food to be heavily additived (not a word, but I’m going to use it anyhow). I’ll eat an apple instead, mmm, Honeycrisp. I hope they don’t add wheat products to fruit these days. This thought is completely ridiculous but I’m recalling a commercial where there is a little sign saying “high fructose corn syrup” next to a pile of apples. It’s making me paranoid.
I’m sipping water with a sprinkle of True Lemon when I bolt up, realizing I didn’t check the ingredients list. It contains maltodextrin, that doesn’t sound good. I do some research on Google and find a few things that lead me to pour out my water and get a new, lemon flavoringless, glass. The first bit of research is promising:
“When labeled as maltodextrin in the US, this ingredient must be made from corn, potato or rice but not wheat.”
But the second bit leaves me unsure if my maltodextrin would be ok:
“Maltodextrin is prepared as a white powder or concentrated solution by partial hydrolysis of corn starch or potato starch with safe and suitable acids and enzymes. (1) Maltodextrin, when listed on food sold in the USA, must be (per FDA regulation) made from corn or potato. This rule does NOT apply to vitamin or mineral supplements and medications. (2) Donald Kasarda Ph.D., a research chemist specializing on grain proteins, of the United States Department of Agriculture, found that all maltodextrins in the USA are made from corn starch, using enzymes that are NOT derived from wheat, rye, barley, or oats. On that basis he believes that celiac need not be too concerned about maltodextrins, though he cautions that there is no guarantee that a manufacturer wont change their process to use wheat starch or a gluten-based enzyme in the future.”
Is True Lemon considered vitamin or mineral supplement? Or is it a regulated food stuff?
I’m still hungry. I have a left over hedgehog potato from dinner last night. Let’s see, I put sliced garlic, dried thyme (my fresh had expired), salt, pepper and olive oil. Should be ok. Do they add glutenous stuff to dried herbs? I’m finding gluten-free recipes that call for dried thyme. Ok, going to eat it.
I just realized we ate a gluten-free dinner last night! We had a roasted chicken with hedgehog potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts. Well, we bought the roasted chicken from a grocery store. And not a fancy all natural grocery store, a regular cannot-be-trusted grocery store. So I’m not sure if it was gluten-free. Wow, this is a level of vigilance I don’t think I could keep up without growing frustrated. Then again, had I roasted the chicken myself it would have been a gluten-free meal. And it was excellent.
Here is a list of the things in my kitchen I suspect I cannot have as a snack:
– peanut butter
– Diet Coke
– steel cut oatmeal
– canned soup
– flavored yogurt
– leftover birthday cake (this one is pretty obviously a no)
– Halloween chocolates
When I lived in San Francisco the coworker whom I shared a cube with had celiac. She was starting to do body building and was following a strict eating schedule. On the days when she didn’t have time to pack her afternoon meal she was stuck eating yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit from the cafeteria. It wasn’t horrible, but she did find it boring. She had the familiar diagnosis story about becoming sick for a reason her doctor couldn’t figure out, and staying sick until they figured out it was celiac. She was cool, and gave me gluten-free recipes that were delicious, and not trying to mimic wheat based foods.
I am cheered up when I realize that I can have the tomato sauce I made from scratch last week. Hold on, do canned whole tomatoes have gluten in there? Tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, calcium chloride, citric acid. Looks like calcium chloride is safe but this page makes me unsure about the citric acid: “When citric acid is made in the United States, it is made from sugar cane, sugar beets or corn; however, when it is produced in China, it may be made from wheat.” But other places list it as safe. These canned tomatoes are made by ConAgra Foods. My gut is telling me to give the sauce a pass, just in case. Darn, I was looking forward to getting some gluten-free pasta from PCC to eat with this.
Yes! I can have a Diet Coke. This is making me unreasonably happy.
I’m just finished taking a shower and I’m afraid my hair is looking limp. I wasn’t able to use my Bumble & Bumble Thickening Spray because get this — the second ingredient is “hydrolyzed wheat protein”. I did not see that one coming.
Turns out wheat in beauty products is a problem. It seems that for very sensitive people the gluten can be absorbed, in some cases people think it might be because they touch their hair, and then a fork, and then eat lunch. It can affect people’s skin, making them itchy or giving a rash. I had no idea. Reading how happy this person is to find that Bumble & Bumble’s seaweed line is gluten-free makes me realize I have no idea how big the ice burg is that I’ve grazed the tip of.
Gah, it looks like I cannot use my Curel either, at least not with absolute certainty. The Garnier Fructis shampoo and conditioner were ok. Geez, toothpastes can also be trouble.
I’m craving something sweet. I’ll head to my secret weapon, a nearby PCC Market, tonight and get gluten-free desserts. Last time I was there it seemed like I couldn’t find normal cookies, everything was gluten or dairy or sugar free.
I met another person with celiac just the other week. It was shortly after Shauna asked if I would be willing to be a part of the virtual book tour. We were at a gathering/cooking demonstration and after she told me I realized she was probably watching the cooking a bit more closely than the rest of us. I asked her if any of the gluten-free baking mixes I see in PCC were good. She said not really, but some of the items from gluten-free bakeries were very yummy.
It is very difficult to just not pick up that chocolate ghost on my dining room table and eat it. It’s not that I’m fighting will power, it’s that I’m so used to being able to eat anything without concern.
But now I am craving chocolate. Let’s take a look at the Nestle Semi-Sweet chocolate chips I have. The ingredients list “natural flavor”, which after reading Fast Food Nation I know doesn’t necessarily mean that flavoring wasn’t processed to within an inch of it’s ability to be called natural. Soy lecithin is one have not come across yet today. Let’s see, Nestle chips look ok, they’re in this gluten-free awesome chocolate chip cookie recipe,and I’m finding Nestle mentioned by name in a bunch of gluten-free recipes. And hey look, Alton Brown does gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, with a link to the recipe, no brand of chocolate is specified. I saw that episode. Soy lecithin is safe. I’m eating the chocolate chips now.
Ooh, without the product my hair is doing this adorable flippy thing at the ends.
Are people with celiac unable to make pinatas? This sounds flip, I don’t mean it to be. I was just looking through all the papier-mache Halloween decoration projects on marthastewart.com and realized, duh, wheat paste. Oh lookie, Kiddley has an alternate recipe for wheat paste for those with wheat allergies, sweet. (I miss you Loobylu.)
I’m drinking Numi Jasmine Green Tea. I keep my teas in a little tin so I recycled the box a while ago, but the ingredients on the back of the packet say, essentially, green tea scented with jasmine flowers. I think it’s ok.
Scott gets home and we decide to head out to the, shudder, mall to return something. I figure it will be a real test to see how I fare eating gluten-free in the midst of middle America. We look at our options – Red Robin, Panera Bread, Outback, Johnny Rockets, The Cheesecake Factory. We choose the Olive Garden, both because it’s something of a personal symbol of our collective Midwestern past, and because why the hell not try to eat gluten-free at a pasta place?
(We were party #13. That should have been warning enough.)
When we arrive I tell the hostess I’m eating gluten-free and ask if there is a list of ingredients I might be able to look over while we wait. She nods politely, explains that the restaurant is able to give me a list of foods but indicates I’ll have to ask the server. She is kind about it, I don’t think she’s allowed to leave her post. Our server Jacob arrives, poor Jacob. I tell him I’m eating gluten-free and he stammers a little and says he doesn’t know what that is.
Now, I’ve already decided I’m not going to push the issue on the people who work here. As much as I’m trying to learn about this new world, this particular situation is not important enough to create a more work for somebody who is otherwise doing their job competently. Partly I realize that a person who very seriously needed to avoid wheat gluten would never, ever, ever enter an Olive Garden, and partly I have a soft spot for the guy who did “I am a Host at The Olive Garden”.
I tell Jacob that I cannot eat wheat and ask if the restaurant has a list of foods they can tell me don’t contain gluten or a list of ingredients I could see. Jacob returns with a few things and says that he asked about foods they that are… gluten-free — you can see the wheels in his head turning here. He hasn’t seen the word written down, has never heard this request, and I suspect he doesn’t know if it’s “gluten” or “cluten” or “bluten”. He’s brought me the restaurants official Garden Fare Nutrition Information Guide which is really just nutrion listings for people on traditional diets. The other thing Jacob brings is a hand written list of which items the restaurant considers gluten-free – Garden Salad, Ceasar Salad, those entrees that don’t come perched on a pile of pasta. I suspect he jotted this list while holding a phone to his ear after calling Olive Garden headquarter. I ask Jacob if I could keep the list, he’s happy enough to rip it out of his order notebook and hand it over. I order the Pork Fillatino, knowing that the gig is pretty much up.
(Eating at the Olive Garden is totally oLd.)
After Jacob leaves Scott tells me my hair looks cute tonight. And not in that trying to get into my pants way, just in that observant boyfriend way. I tell him about not being able to use my Bumble & Bumble spray and a little about what I know about celiac disease. Turns out he only knew it as an allergy, not something that causes your body to attack itself. He suddenly understands why I couldn’t use the hair spray.
The bread sticks arrive and Scott makes like he’s doing a solidarity thing and doesn’t touch them. I’m hungry so I slide them towards me and sniff. The salad arrives with croutons on top – I completely forgot to ask for no croutons and dressing on the side. I eat around the croutons, Scott lets me have the single tomato slice. When our food arrives I have hunk of pork loin with a sauce, pan fried potatoes (think breakfast potatoes), peppers and onions. The sauce tastes like bad stir fry sauce, I’m sure it’s got gluten in the thickeners. I’m sure the potato chunks have been sprayed with starch to make them uniformly brown, I’m sure that starch has gluten in it somewhere. (And after reading the book and learning about cross contamination in the kitchen, I know for sure this would be a situation where it would be impossible to ensure there was no gluten on my plate.) I weigh how little I like the taste of my dinner, how much I’ve learned about eating gluten-free in a chain restaurant and how much I’ll be paying for the education. And then I decide to eat a bread stick. Forgive me. (Afterthought: maybe the sauce with my meal wasn’t great because they made a special batch just for me. If so, thanks guys.)
But I didn’t eat the Andes mint that came with the check. I’m trying to find out if it’s safe to eat (we’ve come back into present tense here) and I’ve found this page – celiac Survival in Midland, Texas. Looking at that it seems we might have found a more informed staff at the Outback Steak House. (I was treated perfectly fine at the Olive Garden, for the record). I just found a page on eating gluten-free at the Olive Garden (note to somebody who will give me a Christmas present: see how useful an iPhone would have been?). Looks pretty grim. Ooh, it looks like I can eat the Andes mint (see also), I’m glad I saved it.
So, I’m home now and this is where I would usually have a drink. Obviously the beer is out, I’m not sure about the gin, Cointreau or Campari. A few months ago I met a girl with celiac at a group who meets to knit in a cafe. Actually, I met her right after I came from a book signing where I met Shauna for the first time, I seem to meet people with celiac right after I’ve been in contact with Shauna, it must be her magic rubbing off. Anyhow, the girl was concerned because the bar had run out of hard apple cider. She didn’t want to order wine because she had heard there is a chance red wine has something with gluten added to it during the fermentation. I told her about Shauna’s site, that Shauna’s husband is the chef at Impromptu Bistro and that the restaurant was all set up to be able to serve gluten-free meals, she was really happy to hear about it. (Note: after reading the book I find that the restaurant and menu is now set up to be extremely gluten-friendly and I had a chance to speak with Shauna about it, she told me gluten foods are contained in specific areas of the kitchen so there is no cross contamination.)
Celiac.com has a page on which alcoholic beverages are safe, wine might be ok but I don’t want to open a whole bottle. I’m tired, I’m going to watch Tivo while sipping water with a slice of real lemon in it.
Let me just conclude by saying this – we are surrounded by wheat gluten and I never could have found it all if it weren’t for Google and an amazingly helpful community that people with celiac have come together to form. Thanks for all the information you all made available to me today. And thank you to Shauna for giving me chance to experience all of this first hand!