Learning how to cook a new way to support my husband with his health needs has been a lot trickier than I anticipated.
About six years ago, my husband and I were visiting his parents in Utah and we went on a walk after dinner. When we got back to my in-law’s house, almost immediately, my husband broke out with the most horrible case of hives either of us had ever seen. (At the time, I took a picture of him and his hives and put it on Facebook. He made me take it down and I am forbidden to ever show it again. So, use your imagination. IT WAS BAD). I reached back to my early motherhood brain and remembered that I needed to get him some Benedryl to calm the hives and the itching. After a couple of doses, he was back to normal and that was that.
Or so we thought. For the next six years, he would always have some form of what we have come to affectionately refer to as “bumpies” – groupings of welts that would pop up randomly on his skin. They would usually start on his scalp and progress down his neck, then on to his back and chest. Sometimes, they would just appear on his arms and/or his legs. Wherever they showed up, they were extremely itchy and irritating. (My husband said it was like having severe mosquito bites under his skin).
After a couple of years of “dealing with it,” my husband finally told his doctor about his worsening condition (you know men). The doctor ordered the typical allergy test: a hundred pin pricks to determine what you may be allergic to. My husband’s results came back: EVERYTHING including apparently most grasses and trees. To get relief, the doctor recommended that my husband take Claritin every morning for the rest of his life. That remedy helped a little bit but my husband still got random bumpie attacks along with an occasional bout of hives. Poor guy.
Well, last fall, my husband got a new primary care physician. When they were reviewing my husband’s health record, the subject of the bumpies came up. The new physician wasn’t convinced with the results. He suggested that my husband might have a food allergy; that the bumpies were not so much being caused by external factors but maybe something internal instead.
Two days later, the doctor called apologizing to my husband and told him he was EXTREMELY ALLERGIC to wheat, oats, and rye. Since my husband ate some variation of those grains multiple times every day, the bumpies were indicators that his body was in critical mass. Great. How to remedy? Do not eat anything that has wheat, rye, or oats.
How guilty did I feel? As the chief cook and nutritionist for our family, I am all healthy eating which included using whole grains in our diet. I baked my own whole wheat bread from wheat I ground myself. I made my own oatmeal from oat groats that I flattened myself. I added grains to most of my cooking. Why? Because wheat flour and products are so much healthier for you than using refined white flour. So, here I thought I was being so helthy when actually, I was the main contributor to his allergy condition.
How to overcome this dilemma? My husband IMMEDIATELY cut out oats, wheat and rye from his diet. And because I wanted to support him, that meant I had to make some adjustments too – especially with my cooking. Do you know how much stuff has wheat, oats, and rye in its ingredients? JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING!!! This new lifestyle required us to re-examine everything about what we ate and adjust accordingly.
Now, mind you, my husband doesn’t have to be gluten free — like celiac people. But buying and using gluten free products makes it easy for him to follow his new diet because being gluten free means there is no wheat in the ingredients.
My first attempt at gluten free cooking was to simply substitute a gluten free flour in my baking. I decided to use almond flour instead of white flour in our family’s favorite scones recipe. WRONG. You cannot do that. It came out a blobby, gooey disaster. I got so frustrated; especially when I thought that this is what my future baking was going to end up like.
So, the first lesson I learned about being gluten free was you can’t just substitute an ingredient to make your recipe gluten free. Flour especially has to be specific to what the recipe calls for.
Along with this revelation, I learned that when using gluten free all-purpose flour, you still have to add some other gluten free ingredients to make it work like what you are used to. I learned this when I went to make a pie crust. I thought I could just use gluten free, all-purpose flour with my tried and true recipe. WRONG. I also needed to add potato starch
and the magic additive, xanthan gum.
Not exactly stuff you keep in your pantry when you haven’t baked gluten free before. Again, frustration. Easy things became very hard.
In the past six months, things have gotten better relearning to cook the gluten-free way. Not great. But better. What have I come to terms with in being a gluten-free cook?
Gluten Free is not cheap. I swear, everything that is gluten free on the grocery store shelf costs $5.99.
Gluten Free is not low calorie. In order to help it taste good, gluten free requires a lot of butter.
Gluten Free most likely will not taste like what you are used to. This is especially true with baked goods. Bread, cinnamon rolls, even cookies all need an acquired taste.
Gluten Free pasta is the worst. We’ve tried all kinds of gluten free varieties (rice, corn, and quinoa) and they all get mushy plus don’t have much flavor. Italian cooking has become a real drag.
Going gluten free is definitely a work in progress with a lot of trial and error (mostly error). There is a lot of kicking and screaming and longing for our old favorite foods. But if we want my husband to enjoy some quality of life, we will get there–slowly.
Are you gluten free? How have you learned to adopt to this lifestyle?