We are in the second week of my new series called Austin Gluten-Free Story. Where I asked several local bloggers what their gluten-free story is. Fitting because this past Monday was National Celiac Awareness Day. I hope you can relate to their stories or maybe learn something new from these talented bloggers. This week’s guest bloggers are the duo behind Gluten-Free Edge, out of Georgetown. They refer to themselves as Mom (Gretchen) and Rita.
First up is Gretchen… I will be posting Rita’s story tomorrow.
As a certifiable geek retired from a career of data analysis for large computer installations, my head still spins in analysis mode. Most cooks create recipes that focus on flavor and appearance while my creations are more like science experiments revolving around nutritional elements. The element of appeal is always there depending greatly on family and friends with daring, truthfulness, and good taste. Both Grandmothers taught me elements of cooking but it wasn’t until gluten crossed my radar (in a bad way) that I began investigative cooking and research.
How I Became Gluten-Free
Hindsight put the pieces of the puzzle together. Looking back it is clear that gluten was a lifelong factor in digestive/absorption issues. Severe iron deficiency anemia at age 7, severe thyroid deficiency at 12, many undiagnosed gut pain attacks, ruptured appendix with nine days in the hospital, and more gut pain. No wonder travel and eating out are not on my favorite activities list.
I had recognized as early as high school that any product based on wheat caused pain. So I didn’t eat those things except when there were truly no options and I resigned myself to accepting the inevitable unpleasantness. Traveling, working, business meetings and socializing were all stressful. I remember going out to lunch once with a group of colleagues assuming that I could just get a salad at the sandwich shop they had selected. Wrong; lunch for me that day was a large dill pickle and a glass of tea!
About 3-4 years ago gluten showed up on my radar. I was following Shauna’s Gluten-Free Girl blog and reading about her issues with wheat. One day she published a picture of her red, swollen face during a gluten episode and it was like looking in a mirror. That was when I knew – in one stunning moment of recognition.
Since learning that celiac is an auto-immune disease, just how damaging it is, and how deeply buried wheat/gluten is in our everyday food options, daughter Rita and I have tried to share recipes, tips, product information, food contamination issues, and nutrition news. We named our blog The Gluten-Free Edge because living gluten-free is living on the edge of a precipice – you never know when you will stumble unaware into a stray bit of gluten and go over the edge into several days of miserable pain and bloating.
Chicken salad – it is amazing after eating a bazillion of them that I could still order chicken salad without dressing. Maybe because there is no standard chicken salad in the world except at chain restaurants. Still, you must be sure there were no ‘gluten-contaminated cosmetic’ touches applied such as a ‘grill baste’ to make sure the presentation is visually appealing. When did our food begin to require cosmetics?
Resources for someone just starting out:
4) Gluten-Free Restaurants – Locally Jessica’s ATX Gluten-Free, does a good job of staying up-to-date and publishing gluten-free information for the Austin area.
Before you travel elsewhere do a web search on ‘gluten free restaurant in city state’ or search for a specific restaurant’s web page. Check 1) the menu and 2) FAQs. Do the search each time because information may change without notice.
Since I went completely gluten-free there are many more shelf stable items available at local grocery stores and farmers’ markets. The selections are growing both in variety and quality.
My favorite gluten-free pantry staples:
1) Tinkyada brown rice pasta – This pasta is easy, nutritious, tasty, accepted by everyone in the family. They really don’t notice any difference.
2) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free – There are about 14 varieties of this GF flour in my freezer. Not everyone likes to play chemist so there is also an all-purpose gluten-free blend available.
3) Others (often bulk): quinoa, white and/or brown rice, and several varieties of beans
My favorite gluten-free ready-to-eat products:
1) Udi’s Whole Grain Bread – This bread is tastier than many bakery breads containing gluten!
2) Larabars – There was a time when I never went anywhere without a Larabar in my purse .
3) Amy’s Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup – Open the can, heat, eat, and enjoy. You’re safe and well fed!
Of the many restaurants advertising gluten-free; some are very conscientious and worthy of your patronage. Some serve meat sauce over steamed vegetables and trumpet gluten-free dining.
My favorite local restaurant fare:
1) Jason’s Deli – Mediterranean Wrap on Udi’s Whole Grain Bread! Rita and I always order this with the fruit cup option!
2) Carraba’s Italian Grill – Mama Mandola’s Sicilian Chicken Soup (pasta is cooked separately and added before serving so specify gluten-free!) I just crave this soup especially on rainy days.
3) Red Poppy Coffee Co.- Pesto Pita Pizza (This coffee shop is tucked away inside of the Georgetown library. Grab a booth, book, slice of pizza, and a cup of coffee, yum!)
4) PF Chang’s – Many oriental dishes are naturally gluten-free so you have a surprising number of menu options here. My meal was served with a separate little container of gluten-free soy sauce!
How I Travel:
This gluten-free journey has been much like learning to ride a bicycle. There are bumps along the way but it is getting easier. I firmly believe that you should be able to enjoy your food no matter what your issues might be. The Gluten-Free Edge experimental recipes target a mix of dietary constraints but always gluten-free. Some recipes are egg-free, dairy-free, vegan, nightshade-free (pear-plum-date ketchup), and/or even grain-free. Next on my to-do-list are frugal, gluten-free recipes based on staples that are normally found on the shelf at our local food pantry.
Thank you Gretchen for sharing you gluten-free story here at ATX Gluten-Free.
Make sure and stay tuned for more Austin gluten-free bloggers, every Wednesday of September.