Gluten Free Cooking

You may have noticed that a large number of my entries have been marked gluten free. This is because my younger brother Matthew was diagnosed with celiac in 2004. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that prevents your small intestine from properly processing gluten, found in wheat, rye and barley. This means Matt can't eat regular breads, cakes, cookies or pastas, and has to keep tabs on the ingredients in many other items, as gluten tends to pop up in all sorts of unexpected places.

A sauce or soup thickened with flour and anything breaded is going to have gluten. Packaged foods as varied as yogurt and sour cream to cinnamon and soy sauce can and often do have trace amounts of gluten mixed in, making it difficult to avoid without significant research. Matt also has to be careful of cross contamination, like making sure the butter doesn't have crumbs of regular bread on it, or that we're not using the same spoon to stir his pasta pot and our own. If you have celiac, you shouldn't even kiss someone who has recently eaten gluten, since the crumbs will still be in their mouths!

Some people take it even further. I read a blog where a woman threw out all her wooden cutting boards and spoons, vinyl spatulas, and even a blender that had a rubber gasket in it. Apparently since they are porous, gluten particles could become ingrained in them. She also religiously washes her hands after touching shopping carts and such to avoid gluten particles, and buys special gluten free shampoo, so I think there may be some hypochondriac tendencies in play there. For Matt, such extreme measures have to this point been luckily unnecessary, but I guess for others, the sensitivity can be greater.

Because the disease is genetic, it is likely that I could be diagnosed with celiac myself one day, or that I could pass it on to my children. As far as I know, I don't have the disease, but I've never been tested. Fear of a life without regular pizza and pasta is a powerful thing, and ignorance is bliss. However, I like to cook for my family, and that means I'm always conscious of what Matt can and cannot eat. As I record the happenings in my kitchen, I keep track of what I make that is naturally gluten free, or what can easily be modified to be so.

Plenty of foods are safe for Matt to eat: meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs, dairy and fish are all fine. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and corn all provide valuable sources of complex carbohydrates in Matt's diet. My parents have found some extremely serviceable gluten free pasta, which can be easily substituted into any of the pasta dishes I've featured on Garlicus Maximus. They also keep several kinds of flours and baking mixes on hand, and we've found that most of them will do in a pinch for dredging cutlets or veggies, or for thickening sauces and soups. Baking is more difficult, as you need strange goodies like xantham gum, which we've yet to experiment with.

In general, most of my cooking can be minorly tweaked by substituting the proper flour, pasta, or breadcrumbs for a delicious gluten free meal. If my family hasn't found a good gluten free alternative that could step in, I have not marked an entry gluten free. When it comes to baking with large quantities of flour, I'm very dependent on gluten, but I've become very comfortable when it comes to swapping out bread crumbs or rice flour to thicken a bechamel sauce.

If you're not familiar with celiac, I hope I've been able to teach you a little bit about this pretty crummy disease. If you or a loved one live with celiac everyday, I hope you are able to incorporate some of my cooking in your own kitchen!

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