5 Tips For Transitioning Into a Gluten/Wheat-Free Home Environment

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What happens once you are diagnosed with a wheat of gluten allergy or intolerance? Although it gets easier as awareness and need grows for gluten and wheat-free food, there are many concerns that one needs to address whilst adapting to a new lifestyle. Especially if you are living in an environment where other members of the household will continue to eat wheat and gluten containing products. There are a few steps that you can take in order to protect yourself from having a reaction through cross contamination.

1. You’ll need a separate toaster that has not been used with wheat and gluten containing breads. Setting up your own station for preparing gluten free bread products is a must. Clearly label your toaster GLUTEN FREE ONLY so that guests know not to use it for normal bread. Also make sure that normal bread products are being kept away from your food preparation area and that family members/ house mates know to clean up their crumbs!

2. Do no use/share condiments/butter  Unless it’s a squeezable bottle or something that a knife can not be inserted into. Condiments and butter are one of the biggest causes of cross contamination at home and in restaurants as people do not realise that these items are full of gluten and wheat. You’ve done it hundreds of times….you’re making a sandwich and putting mustard on it….you scoop some out on your knife and it’s not quite enough so you dip the knife back in again for a little more. Now the mustard is unusable for someone who is avoiding wheat/gluten.

3. Chopping Boards Collanders and pots are items that you should not share with people in the household who are using them for wheat/gluten containing products like bread and pasta. As a whole it’s worth it to invest in a few kitchen items only used for what you prepare for yourself.

4. Learn to cook this may be a fairly obvious one. But I do realise that in some ways, even though there was virtually no awareness about food allergies or easily recognised safe products at the time when I was diagnosed…I was already a cook/chef at the time so learning to modify ingredients in my diet was a challenge I embraced. I did go through some trial and error, but the cooking bit was always easy for me.  If you don’t like to spend loads of time in the kitchen…all you need to do is start out with a few simple recipes that you can do in 5 minutes or less.  Omelettes, quesadillas, GF pasta and simple salads are a good start. There are loads of pre-packaged gluten-free options out there now…but they are pricey and often filled with ingredients that are often less than healthy. Learning to cook will save you loads of money and keep you healthier.

5. Educate others  Don’t expect other people to know how to keep you from having a reaction. You need to educate other family members and friends on how to keep you safe. They love you…they want to help. Not long ago, it seemed that people viewed food allergies and mental illness in the same way. So many times I’ve been told..”It’s all in your head!” Things have changed. Allergy UK states that around 45% of people in the UK suffer from some sort of food allergy/intolerance. Don’t be afraid to ask people for what you need. You will probably encounter some resistance along the way, but being clear about what you can eat and how it’s prepared is a lot easier than spending the night doubled over or a trip to the hospital. Get used to speaking up…you’ll need to do it a lot.

Obviously there is a lot more to say on this subject, especially about the foods you now can/can’t eat…but that is for another time and I find there’s a lot of good info already out there on the web. I will be posting soon on that subject…but if you need help for now here are some great places to start:

http://www.coeliac.org.uk/

http://www.foodallergy.org/

http://www.glutenfree-crawley.org.uk/index.php

all photos used in this blog are sourced from flickr and licensed through Creative Commons. To find out more info about the photographer and enjoy more of their photos, please click on the picture itself and you will be taken to their flickr page! Enjoy!

Touring with Food Allergies…Tips and Guides for Safe Eating

So I am again off on tour in the USA until July 4th. This trip has been a revelation so far…it’s amazing to see how many allergy friendly places have cropped up since last year and how much easier it is to find proper allergy friendly food at grocery stores. The labeling has also improved and you can pretty much count on the labeling listing allergens which is a vast improvement from past years. So over the next few months I shall be giving you the heads up on some of the places I’ve visited, tell you about some of the people I’ve talked to, and tell you how I tour with a severe wheat allergy. It’s not always easy, but things are getting better! I can’t wait to tell you about Mozzarelli’s in NYC. BEST PIZZA EVER and they are doing everything right. I got to have a nice conversation with manager Judith and she has officially restored my faith in allergy friendly Italian fare. Stay tuned friends!! xoLo.

Dining Out with Allergies, How my Favourite Restaurant Has Let me Down for the Last Time

I sometimes wish that people would get with the program. I also think that a restaurant that actively advertises wheat-free and or gluten-free food is more dangerous to us than one that makes no claim of knowledge or policy. When you offer gluten-free food on your menu…you MUST train staff to know how the seriousness of serving people with allergies and intolerances. The cards are stacked against us already and being able to visit a restaurant where we trust the menu and the staff is a huge relief to us when they get it right.

I love the food at Food for Friends in Brighton, that being said they have a terrible staff. They are nice and friendly but they have almost sent me to the hospital for the last time. I will not return. I had to send my food back 3 times on my last visit. Firstly because I asked for the gluten-free option for my baby’s meal and they brought it out with wheat pita. Next, my main was the gluten -free option of a mushroom dish originally in a filo basket. They brought the item out in the filo and when I asked it to be changed, they just dumped it out of basket and back onto the plate. (I knew this because they brought the plate back within a few minutes) When I asked if it was the same food, they said they didn’t know and would go and check. I am HIGHLY allergic to wheat…to the tune of carrying an epi-pen. Had I just trusted them and consumed my meal, I could have ended up in the hospital.

I don’t want to have to pay a premium for gluten-free food and still have to educate the staff in the process. I also don’t know what other mistakes they were making with my food in prep. Were they cutting my gluten-free bread with the same knife as the wheat? On the same chopping board? Can I enjoy my meal if I don’t trust the staff to know what they are doing?

I am willing to pay for great food properly prepared with care and will spend all my time telling everyone I know all about it. Badly done Food for Friends, I am not risking my life waiting around for you to get it right….and I suggest anyone else who goes there to know that they could be putting themselves or their child in danger and paying a premium for it as well.

Flaxjacks at Borough Market!

We happened to be tooling around Borough Market near London Bridge on Saturday and saw a sign for Flaxjacks (a product developed by The Flax Farm…lovely flapjacks made with ground linseed meal.  Now normally flapjacks are not gluten-free…only wheat-free as one of their main ingredient is oats.  Enter the Flax Farm.  I chatted with the lovely Clare to get to know a little more about the healthful benefits to both humans and animals as well as its diverse uses in cooking.

I remember flax oil (or linseed oil) from my childhood.  My parents used it when refinishing furniture.  The smell brings back pleasant memories of  stripped down furniture waiting to be redressed. 🙂 Until I studied nutrition at university, I had never really thought of using flax seed oil for it’s nutritive qualities.  I came across it a lot in my research on anti-inflammatory foods…though it’s not been a substance I’ve used much due to it’s strong flavour.  But when I tried these Flaxjacks from the Flax Farm, I realised what I’d been missing!  Gorgeous sweets that really make you feel good, and finally something for the wheat, gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan!  For yes, Clare has also developed a range of gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan flaxjacks as well.  YAY us!

So, I’m now hooked and think I’m going to try and replace my normal wheat-free sweet treats with Flaxjacks and see how much better I feel in future.  I’ll let you know!  In the meantime, please go have a sample for yourself, visit Clare and her team every Saturday in the new covered Jublee Market nearest the Rake public house, or make an order online here. The Chocolate Tiffin ones were my favourite, and I’m sure that Clare has also developed a gluten-free version as well. Let me know what you think and if you’re an avid user of linseed oil or flaxseed products and if you’ve experienced any health benefits from your use of them.  Eat well and be happy!

I’ll leave you with a fantastic pic taken by my lovely friend and amazing photographer/videographer Brian Wilson.  You can see some of his video work here (this is from the house concert we did at his place this year)…..have a gander/listen while you’re enjoying your flaxjacks!!

If you’d like to order Flaxjacks by phone, call Clare at: 01403 268844 or 079171 232422

Spicy Sweet Potato Stew

This is one of my favourite recipes, and I find myself craving this when I feel as if I am coming down with a cold. Â You can adjust the spices to your taste. Some people prefer more cumin and less cinnamon, or more heat. Â It’s a very forgiving recipe so feel free to play!

African Sweet Potato Stew

2-3 medium sweet potatoes peeled and cubed
2-3 medium white or red potatoes peeled and cubed
3 cloves garlic peeled and chopped finely
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 inch piece of fresh Ginger peeled and chopped finely
1 medium onion diced
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chili flakes or one fresh chili snapped and added (this way you can take it out if it’s getting too spicy)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
salt to taste
Boiling water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp honey or 2tbsp agave

Add olive oil to heated soup pan or Dutch oven set to medium heat, fry onions until transluscent, sweet potatoes until slightly brown and caramelised, add garlic and Ginger until you begin to smell them. Add spices and  salt and stir to coat.  Incorporate tomatoes and mix well and then add enough boiling water to cover mixture by 1/2 inch. Boil lightly for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Many thanks to Dave Lifeson for the gorgeous photo, licensed under creative commons on flickr. Click on the photo to see more of his work.