I know how difficult it can be to come to terms with new food allergies. Finding good quality and tasty gluten-free food can be hard to find, but people are changing and have been able to come up with ways to make dealing with food intolerances and allergies a little easier to handle. When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I felt like I would never be able to cook or bake again. I was wrong. I soon realized that I would have to cook and bake most of everything I eat from scratch. Now came the difficult part. I had to figure out how to change the recipes in my mom’s cookbooks to gluten-free versions and still make them taste flavorful and worth eating, without gluten. I started my research into not only what celiac disease is, but also the science involved with cooking – how ingredients interact with each other and what the ingredients actually do. Of course, like almost every experiment, the first trial might not be perfect. This is to be expected, but the main thing to remember is to never give up and keep trying. Here are a few tips to help you deal with living a gluten- and worry-free life:
One of the first things I found was in The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Fast and Healthy by Bette Hagman. She has a simple formula that I use in just about all of my gluten-free cooking. A lot of my recipes call for Gluten-Free Flour Mix:
1 part white rice flour
2/3 part potato starch flour
1/3 part tapioca four
Expect mistakes, but keep trying. Cooking and baking without gluten as a binder can and will be difficult at first. Samuel Beckett once said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” With anything in life, you shouldn’t give up just because you fail the first time around. Sometimes failing will teach you more than success ever will.
Read carefully. Always read a recipe in its entirety before beginning. Just because you think you know how something should be cooked, you could be wrong. Always look at the ingredients and figure out what can be substituted to fit any of your dietary restrictions. Understand what the ingredients do before beginning to convert recipes – it makes it easier. Look it up on the internet if you have to – it‘s a great resource (and it‘s free).
Sugar is sometimes considered a liquid. In baking, sugar is considered a liquid most of the time and is usually added after the butter or shortening and before the eggs. Just remember to read the recipe first.
Find “Guinea Pigs”. My “Guinea Pigs” are my family and friends. I want my food to taste just as good as the “normal” stuff you buy in the grocery store. Have someone who can have gluten, or whatever food you are substituting, taste the food as well. Always be open for criticism but remember to stay positive. It might not be very pleasant to hear what others have to say, but it gives you an idea of where you need to focus more attention and improve your recipes.
Experiment. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Take a recipe you have “mastered” and change it to make it completely your own. I took the ingredients in an alcoholic drink called Jody’s Delight, a custom drink that I had once at a bar and figured out how to put those flavors in a basic sugar cookie recipe, which I call 21 & Over. I now make these cookies all the time.
Start simple and go from there. Master the basics first and then slowly move up from there. Starting with a difficult recipe could frustrate you to the point of giving up.
Get kids involved in the kitchen especially if they are the ones with the allergies. Kids will be more likely to try new things if they helped make it and if you make it fun for them. Use your judgment as to when you kids can use knives, but before they cut anything with a knife, teach them how to be safe first. You won’t need the First Aid kit as often. Not only will you get them to try a new vegetable, but you will be giving them the knowledge of what will come when they become adults and you release them to the world.