First Recipe – Peanut Butter Cookies

So my first recipe isn’t new to me, but is still a success with people reluctant to try gluten-free cookies. After a few years of tweaking various peanut butter cookie recipes, I found that this was one of the best cookies I have converted in the seven years of being a Celiac. Where did I originally find the recipe you ask? I’m not sure. My best guess would be the Joy of Cooking. I’ve used that cookbook so much since I moved into my apartment. My grandma gave it to me after I used it more in a few months than she did in the 30-or-so years she’s had it.One of the first things I learned for baking gluten-free after being diagnosed was a gluten-free flour mix that you can use to substitute for all-purpose flour in a recipe. I found it when my parents got me The Gluten-Free Gourmet: Cooks Fast and Healthy by Bette Hagman. Take:

1 part white rice flour

2/3 part potato starch flour

1/3 part tapioca starch

Mix well and store in an airtight container.

With these cookies I prefer extra chunky peanut butter but please use whatever kind of peanut butter you prefer. I decided to try my gluten-free recipe against the “normal” ones in the 2008 Tri County Fair in my hometown and I was pleasantly surprised to see a first place ribbon next to my name. I will be entering them again next week in this year’s Fair to defend my title. Let’s see if I can do it two years in a row. Now on to the recipe:

 

Cook Time: 10 – 12 minutes
Yield: about 3 dozen

 


1/2 cup butter or shortening1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 cup peanut butter

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 -1 1/2 cups Gluten-Free Flour Mix

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

 

 

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

In a bowl, beat butter or shortening until soft. Gradually add brown sugar and granulated sugar and blend until creamy. Beat in egg, peanut butter, salt, baking soda, and vanilla. Add flour. Roll the dough into small balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Press flat with a fork and sprinkle a little granulated sugar on top. Bake for about 10 – 12 minutes.

These are very simple to make and great for teaching kids to bake. I always encourage kids to get in the kitchen. It gives them the knowledge they will need later in life and they might even be more willing to try new things if they help make it.

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Julie & Julia and My Adventure Begins

So I just got back from watching Julie & Julia and all I can say is – such a good movie. While watching the movie, I got to thinking that I have a blog already and I love to cook and I have food allergies that many people around the world can relate to… I could do what Julie did. I grew up watching Julia Childs cook with the enthusiasm that made her who she was. Not only was she a great cook, but a role model for many young women, one of which is sitting right here writing this for anyone who dares to stumble across it. So here I am. My adventure through food and the many complications life throws at you when you’re dealt with food allergies begins.

When I was 11 years old, I started my sixth grade at a new school. I didn’t know very many people and I started getting sick. My pediatrician kept saying that my stomach aches were just nerves from being at a new school and being around people I didn’t know and once I got used to everything I would get better. I didn’t. For a little over a year, she told me that everything I was feeling was all in my head and I would grow out of it especially since I was going through puberty at the same time. Finally my parents took me off dairy and after a week I started to feel better. Then I had a bad day at school and I ate a small bowl of ice cream when I got home. Forty-five minutes later I found myself in the bathroom with a stomachache. My parents told me that I was lactose intolerant. Toward the end of my sixth grade year my uncle got married and I was the trainbearer. My mom told Aunt June that they figured out that I was lactose intolerant and Aunt June told my mom, “Watch her for Celiac Disease. It runs in the family.” We didn’t know what celiac disease was until eight years later.

When I got sick in July of 2002, the main thing I was munching on to help relieve my stomachache were saltine crackers. Who knew that the one thing that has always calmed my stomach was causing more damage rather than helping. When my mom and I went to my doctor (different one than before) my mom remembered what Aunt Junehad said and asked Donna if that could be the cause. Donna said that it could be and told me to go off gluten for a little while and see what happens. The first thing they take away from me was dairy and now bread and anything containing flour. I thought my life was going to end. Obviously it didn’t. Just like I had with dairy, after about a week I tried a small amount of gluten and I got sick. Knowing that it ran in the family and that the insurance probably wouldn’t have paid for any testing, Donna decided not to have me undergo the small intestine biopsy needed to fully confirm the existence of celiac disease. I already showed quite a few of the more common symptoms and I was diagnosed.

Seven years later and I still have celiac attacks. The most difficult thing to come to terms with after being diagnosed is the fact that you now have to cut one entire food group out of your diet. You’d be amazed at what gluten is in. It’s in everything from mayonnaise to soy sauce, salad dressing to deli meat. The next time you’re shopping for food, take a few extra minutes and read the labels of everything you buy. You’d be amazed at what companies put in their products. Gluten can be hidden in products that list it as “modified food starch” but doesn’t say what kind of starch (wheat, corn, rice, potato, or tapioca). Eating has become difficult in the sense that you have to cook about 90% of everything you eat from scratch. You want those frozen dinners that you can just pop in the microwave when your in a hurry? Forget about it. Just about every single one contains some form of gluten. Maybe I should explain a little more about what celiac disease is…

Celiac disease (also spelled coeliac) is an autoimmune disorder that does not allow the body to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and most oats. When a celiac consumes food containing gluten, the villi in the small intestine reacts and send antibodies to kill what they think is a foreign substance, but there isn’t any so the antibodies attack and harm the villi, which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in food. The result is typically a very nasty stomachache. Some of the most common symptoms include diarrhea/constipation, vomiting, weight loss, iron-deficiency anemia that does not respond to iron therapy, fatigue, delayed puberty, joint pain, pale sores inside the mouth, a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), unexplained infertility, and psychiatric disorders such as anxiety or depression and in my case migraines. Most Celiacs will have one or more of those symptoms. It is a genetic disorder that affects both children and adults. There are no medicines and there is no cure. The only known treatment is a life-long strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, which is not as easy as it sounds but is getting easier.

You want to know facts? Well here you go:

How common is celiac disease? Research shows that 1%, or 3 million, Americans alone have celiac disease. However about 97% are undiagnosed because it is difficult to diagnose.

The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center states that in average, 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac Disease. About 1 in 22 will have celiac disease if a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) already has the disorder and about 1 in 39 if a second-degree relative (aunt, uncle, cousin) who are Celiac.

The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research states that “celiac is twice as common as Chron’s disease, ulceric colitis and cystic fibrosis combined.”

Is celiac disease a food allergy? No. Food allergies are usually something that people can grow out of, like lactose intolerance (just not in my case). Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that you will have for the rest of your life. Sucks I know but that’s the truth.

Is celiac disease related or linked to any other disorders? Yes. According to The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, “Celiacs are more likely to be afflicted with problems relating to malabsorption, including osteoporosis, tooth enamel defects, central and peripheral nervous system disease, pancreatic disease, internal hemorrhaging, organ disorders (gall bladder, liver, and spleen), and gynecological disorders.” Celiacs that do not adhere to a gluten-free diet are at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, especially intestinal lymphoma. About 180,000 American that have Type 1 Diabetes also have celiac disease. And about 350,000 Americans with Down’s Syndrome also have celiac disease.

Is celiac disease life threatening? Only when not treated by sticking to a gluten-free diet.

What should I do if I think I have celiac disease? Ask your doctor right away. Please don’t put if off, because if you do have celiac disease and you put it off, you could cause even more damage.

There are plenty of books and websites out there ready and more than willing to help. Some of my favorite books are: The Gluten-free Bible by Jax Peters Lowell (ISBN 0-8050-7746-4) and The Gluten-free Gourmet Cooks Fast and Healthy by Bette Hagman (ISBN 0-8050-6525-3). More companies are recognizing celiac disease and marking their packaging as being a gluten-free product.

One of the best things that has happened to me since being diagnosed is my experience eating, without worry, at Disneyland and California Adventures. If you have any food allergies or special dietary restrictions, go to City Hall in the front of Disneyland (or Walt Disney World in Florida) and explain what you need and they will bend over backwards for you. I know. Trust me. They will give you a sheet of paper listing all the restaurants and foods that are gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, vegetarian and vegan along with anything else you can ask for, but you have to ASK. They will also tell you that if you need to ask for the Head Chef or Sous Chef and they will see you personally. I had the Head Chef, Sous Chef AND Manager at Red Rocket’s in Tomorrowland helped me with one dish. The Sous Chef made my spaghetti and even told one of the cooks to ask someone else for the answer to their question because he was making my dish and wouldn’t be distracted. I can’t begin to tell you how special that made me feel.

My dream now is to open a bakery that caters to everyone, not just Celiacs. I want a place where everyone, no matter what dietary restrictions you might have, can enjoy a meal at the same table and not worry about what you are putting in your mouth and the effect it might have on you later.

If you think you might have celiac disease or have just been diagnosed (with anything, not just celiac disease) my best advice is breathe, relax, and do as much research as you can. It’s a tedious task I know but hang in there. You’re alive and that’s all that matters. Make the most out of life and embrace every curve ball nature will throw at you. As Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers said in an interview for the Disney Channel about his Type 1 Diabetes, “It doesn’t slow me down and I’m not gonna let it.” It’s the same thing with my celiac disease. It doesn’t control me. I control it.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me for the last seven years and will support me for the rest of my life. I don’t think I can thank you enough. You have been the rock that has grounded me when I felt like I had lost everything worth living for. Celiac disease is maintainable. Just keep living life to it’s fullest and never let anything, especially a disease, get in the way of you chasing your dreams.

For more information about celiac disease, please visit the following websites:

The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research

The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center

The Celiac Foundation

Celiac.com 

And so here is my adventure. I am just over two years away from turning 30 and I own so many cookbooks, most of which are NOT gluten- or dairy-free. I start with one of many I own written by Paula Deen and/or her son’s Jamie and Bobby. I fell in love with Paula the moment I first heard her laugh on the Food Network. Her enthusiasm and passion for food and life make me smile when she graces my small screen. I would love to have lunch at The Lady and Sons in Georgia, but I don’t know how much I would actually be able to eat. In The Lady & Sons: Savannah Country Cookbook, Paula says exactly what I would like my mission to be:

“I hope my story will inspire others to accept the challenges that life offers. My experience proves that whenever one door closes, another one always opens.”

I dedicate this first entry of blog to Paula Deen and the late Julia Childs – two women who have inspired me to live life to the fullest and to not fear food, but to embrace it and all the challenges life throws at you. Thank you for being you and not letting anyone say otherwise.