Thursday, September 2, 2010

Making your kitchen (and home) gluten free

Freeing your home of gluten can be a difficult thing. I know that when I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease I went through my cupboards and emptied them of everything that definitely contained gluten and maybe had gluten depending on what I had read about gluten up to that point. Little did I know that it wasn’t all about the food and that I should be looking at my medicine and cosmetics as well, and then considering cross contamination and throwing out half of my kitchenware!

It is crazy how much there is to learn about where gluten hides and to this day I’m still discovering things I should be looking at, and I’ve been gluten free for over 3 years now.

I recently discovered that my next-door neighbour is also a Celiac but she is new to being gluten free and runs a super chaotic life, so is struggling with what to eat. She mentioned making lasagna (regular) for her husband and hadn’t made anything for herself for dinner. She is why I’m writing this particular post. She reminded me of how hard it can be to go gluten free, especially when you are the only one in your household who has to.

Technically I was lucky. I was diagnosed during a time in my life where I was single and living on my own (no roommates). So when I went home to clean out my kitchen, I didn’t have to think about keeping gluten around for anyone. It’s a lot easier to do it this way, but it’s not impossible to share a mixed kitchen (gluten free and not), it’s just way easier.

So if you can convince your spouse to never bring a stick or crumb of gluten into your house ever again, you’ve solved half the battle. I haven’t been able to convince my boyfriend of this yet. But if I ever get married and if my partner ever wants to have kids then they might have to sacrifice gluten in the home, as gluten can lead to miscarriages and infertility in Celiacs … and if I wanted to have a child, I wouldn’t be taking any chances … especially with how frequently I get contaminated these days.

So back to what you do when your partner hasn’t caved to no gluten and your trying to feed your family. First things first, deep clean your kitchen, and I mean deep. Empty all of your cupboards and drawers and wash them out. Most places say hot soapy water is good enough, but I like to think you need a little acidity in there to really clean, so try a mixture of vinegar and baking soda or use straight up hydrogen peroxide. Just Google natural cleaners and you will see what I’m talking about.  Vacuum out any drawers incase the previous owner stored bread or other gluten related items in them. Wash every pot, pan, dish and utensil you own. Wash your utensil holder … those things are always filled with crumbs. Basically pretend you are moving in and clean every nook and cranny first.

Before starting to put stuff back designate part of your kitchen as either the gluten free part or the gluten part. My kitchen is mostly gluten free with one corner designated to my boyfriend where he can make his sandwiches in peace and make all the mess he wants. I loathe that corner. So many things get put on that counter and then placed elsewhere and contaminate other parts of my kitchen. So this is when I recommend duplicating things.  You will need to have separate condiments in your fridge so that when your partner double dips in the butter after making toast, you don’t get sick. Have your own: butter, jam, peanut butter, honey, ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, and cheese. I think I might go overboard and get my boyfriend his own salt and pepper when I have the chance as I’m always finding them on the crumb counter and they are the kind that sit upside down, so not so good for me. When you are putting the dishes away, please note that plastic and wooden utensils trap gluten easily and are difficult to decontaminate. This makes them ideal to give to your partner for when they crave Kraft Dinner and need a spoon to stir it with. Buy yourself new metal and glass dishware (when you have the time and money) that is easier to clean if it does accidently get contaminated. Buy new cutting boards and make sure you designate one solely for your partner’s bread. Try to buy a large one that can capture most of the crumbs. Another dish item that is difficult to clean is a strainer. Make sure to buy a new metal strainer/colander for yourself and pick up a different colour one or a plastic one strictly for the gluten lover.  Check your appliances! You are going to need a new toaster, as toaster hide crumbs from years ago at the bottom of their trays. If you want toast you’ll have to make some in the oven (if you haven’t gotten yourself your very own new toaster) or you can buy toaster bags that help prevent cross contamination.

While you are decontaminating your kitchen you will have to go through your food. Even if you are mixing environments with gluten lovers, you can still get rid of most gluten stuff (you will figure it out in time) but for now, just designate a cupboard or two for foods you can’t eat (or pass it on to friends and family). Some things are obvious, like regular pasta, bread, cookies, etc. Some aren’t as much. If you see ‘natural or artificial flavours’ or ‘spices’ you will have to contact the manufacturer to find out what’s in it. I have mostly given up on this as a lot of places give me the run around these days, so if it says it, I don’t eat it. Don’t forget to check your beverages as well. Some coffees, hot chocolates, rice milks and teas contain wheat or barley. Some places that hide gluten are pre-sliced and pre-shredded cheeses. Many products out there use flour to keep things from sticking together and that includes cheese, candies and several spices. Try to switch to a spice company that can prove they are gluten free … two good names here are McCormick and Frontier.  But don’t take my word for it; things change daily in the world of food manufacturing so check with them yourselves before switching all of your spices. If you live in Canada you don’t have to worry about caramel colouring (or so says the Canadian Celiac Association) but you might if you are in the United States. Don’t forget to chuck any old baking products you had as they are highly likely to be contaminated. Throw out your flour (duh), sugar, baking power, baking soda and any other type of product that may have come in contact with flour when baking. Then buy new stuff (making sure your baking powder and soda are gluten free).

Now that your kitchen is clean and set up here is what you’re going to do … put yourself first! Your family can eat gluten free dinners without a problem. Rice and corn pasta (including lasagna noodles) can be found at almost every grocery store out there these days and are an easy switch. No one ever notices the difference when I make it. Well that’s a lie, sometimes it can be a bit slippery and sometimes the spaghetti noodles clump, but there are ways around that (stir pot regularly breaking up clumps and rinse with cold water to remove slippery effect) and the taste is pretty much identical. Almost all dinners or entrees are naturally gluten free anyways and those that aren’t almost always have a quick fix to it.  Roast beef and potatoes, salmon and vegetables, chicken, etc are all safe to eat. My boyfriend eats gluten free dinners and is not lacking. When I go out to a class or travelling he treats himself to beer and pizza, but he does eat well when I’m around.  We eat burgers (I wrap mine in lettuce and purchase our patties from Costco because they don’t add bread crumbs or make our own), steak with cattleboyz gluten free bbq sauce (also found at Costco), stir-fries made with gluten free tamari, chicken with MontrĂ©al steak spice, roast beef with gravy thickened by arrowroot powder or tapioca starch or corn starch, rice or corn pasta and sauce, roast turkey, gluten free lasagna curries galore, quesadillas made with rice wraps, tacos with corn wraps, maple glazed salmon, quiches made with almond flour and so on. So as you can see your family can eat well and not feel ripped off in any way.

Breakfasts and lunches can be fend for yourself (if you aren’t making food for children that is) during the week and gluten free on weekends. That’s what we do here. During the week I eat glutino breakfast bars or breakfast smoothies or glutenfreeda oatmeal and on the weekends I will make eggs and bacon with gluten free sausages or Pamela’s gluten free pancakes/muffins or my boyfriend will make use cheese omelets.  Don’t ask me what my boyfriend eats for breakfast during the week … I think he just drinks coffee. For lunches, leftovers are the easiest. I also love corn thins (similar to rice cakes, but thinner and made of corn … you know kind of like their name). I use these instead of gluten free bread, as it can be so hard to deal with crumbly bread at work and on the road. Corn thins make full sandwiches with Frebe deli meats or I spread nut butters and fruit on them. Salads and homemade soups always work for lunches; so do corn chips and salsa, veggies and dip (hummus, dilly dip), rice crackers and cheese, boiled eggs, Frebe pepperoni sticks or European wieners, nuts and fruit. My boyfriend makes himself sandwich wraps with granola bars and the rare piece of fruit for his lunches.

 So as you can see you can make going gluten free work, even if you have to share a kitchen. Once you’ve eliminated all of these sources of gluten and contamination you should start feeling better soon. It also helps to put yourself first and feed yourself first because you will start to discover that dinners are easy to make gluten free and if you can’t, just feed yourself and make your partner order pizza or go to any of those fast food chains that you can’t go to. One night of fending for them selves won’t kill them and will eventually turn into a nice treat every now and then. 

p.s. don’t forget to double check your medicine and go through your bathroom products for gluten. You wouldn’t believe how many conditioners use wheat in them! And yes, I know you don’t eat conditioner, but it does run down your face in the shower and it might get on your mouth … which in turn means it might get in your mouth and in your belly. Same goes for moisturizes and make-up.

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