Saturday, July 24, 2010

if you give a mouse a gluten free cookie...

this post has been floating around in my head for quite some time, slowly taking form and gathering mass.  eating over at friends and families houses has been something that i miss tremendously.  i've managed it a few times, but i get very anxious and i make sure that i eat before, which kind of defeats the purpose of eating socially.  potlucks are even scarier!  i can't school everyone on gluten free baking and cooking and i can't give every dish the third degree.

two winters ago i visited my family in michigan.  it was my first time as a super sensitive, fully gluten free kid going to my mom and dad's houses.  i hadn't had any real conversations with either of them about how to feed me while i was there.  i was crazy nervous and scared that i was going to get sick and ruin the first christmas that i'd been able to spend with them in a long time.  fortunately, both of my parents went above and beyond what i expected, and that felt very good.  my dad had gluten free chocolate chip cookie and pancake mixes.  he made sure all of his dishes were clean, and then had me wash things, like cookie sheets and pans, a second time with a designated washcloth.  my mom bought a gluten free beef stroganoff mix and a box mix for pizza crust.  it was nice cooking and baking with each of them and it was less stressful than i had anticipated.  neither of them had been schooled in gluten free cooking in a gluten containing house, but they both put effort into shopping and coming up with a few things for us to make together while i was there.  the pizza my mom and i made served double duty.  the next day was a family christmas party, where they always order pizza.  i didn't want to make my grandparents go out of the way to feed me, or worry that i wouldn't have enough to eat.  thanks to my mom, i had leftover pizza to eat with everyone else!  there were chips and plain vegetables and even one of my aunt's desserts was was incidentally gluten free.  i was able to focus on my family instead of on food.

now, back to the title of this post:

...he's going to want to know every ingredient that went into it!

the first step to cooking gluten free is knowing what foods contain gluten and which ones are safe.  gluten is in wheat, barely, rye, and sometimes oats.  there are many tricky names that these items go by in processed foods.  here are a few words to watch out for: food starch (wheat and modified are bad while corn and potato are okay), glucose syrup, flour, durum, bulgar, spelt, couscous, seitan, bran, malt, caramel, monosodium glutamate/msg, semolina, seasonings/spices, binders/thickeners/fillers.

but really, who wants to eat all this processed food anyway?!  wouldn't it just be best to eat food that is food and not ambiguous big words meant to confuse people?  so, you ask, what can she eat when she's at my house?  whole foods are all safe!  all fruit, vegetables, legumes and meat in their unprocessed forms are safe.  frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are safe as long as the ingredient list is checked for the words above.  dried and canned beans are safe with a quick label scan.  almost all rices are safe including white, enriched, brown, wild, and sticky.  i have yet to actually encounter the infamous glutinous rice that is glutinous in deed and not just name.  tofu is safe, unless it is seasoned in soy sauce.  processed meats, like sausages, can be tricky.  i scour their labels and don't buy anything that looks suspicious or has a product by the same brand that clearly contains gluten.

...he's going to want to know if you prevented cross contamination!

most people and dishwashers get dishes clean enough to be safe for someone who is gluten free.  the ones that are of concern: things made from wood, like spoons, cutting boards and rolling pins; things made from iron, like cast iron pans and traditional woks; things that are difficult to clean, like blenders, strainers/colanders, and waffle irons.  these things may come in contact with gluten in your kitchen and cause cross contamination even if they are clean.

other causes for cross contamination include grains that are processed together, oil in deep fryers, pans that are generally used for baking, grill grates (a good scrubbing and a high heat clean them well), or simultaneously cooking gluten containing dishes at the same time.  also, it was recently brought to my attention that the stickers on produce are generally rice paper stuck on with gluten.  though i haven't had any noticeable issues, i make sure to wash my produce before eating it.

basic tips for cooking for your gluten free friends and family:

if you aren't sure, just ask!
personally, i don't mind getting called on the phone or text messaged repeatedly when you are at the grocery store.  in fact, this happened a lot in the beginning with ash and i.  instead of causing annoyance it gives me reassurance that you are being very careful and reading every label.  if you want to cook a meal with alternatives to gluten ingredients (gravies, cookies, noodles, bread, etc) it might be easiest to ask your friend what their favorite brands or recipes are.

suggest they bring a dish!
this way, you get to try something new, and they know that it is safe for them to eat.  it could also relieve the pressures of a certain course, like dessert or drinks, allowing you to focus on the rest of the meal and having a good time.

avoid sauces by seasoning with fresh or dried herbs!
sauces, just like other processed foods, often contain hidden gluten ingredients.  if the pre-made sauce isn't clearly labeled gluten free, then don't use it without first asking a discerning gluten free mouse.

make the dishes you want to!
you friend wants to come eat food with you and have a good time.  beyond having a few things they might not like, they probably are no pickier than yourself.  if they have other allergies or sensitivities, it is there job to let you know.

do a little research!
the internet has a vast wealth of resources for gluten free cooking.  there are many wonderful blogs and websites offering recipes and tips.  even the cookbooks you already have are filled with recipes that are naturally gluten free or easily adaptable.

keep it simple!
using fresh and minimally processed ingredients, makes a better meal in my opinion, and keeps the possibility of cross contamination down.

i had fun writing this and i hope that it comes in handy for me many times in the near future!  just remember to relax and enjoy yourselves.  shopping used to be very strenuous for me, but now it's a lot easier.  no longer wanting to rip open bags of bread and boxes of cereal and cram them into mouth really helps...

1 comment:

  1. I do have say that it is really hard to surprise Jenn with something tasty to eat when I don't know what I'm buying and have to call her to make sure she can eat it. So, I got her a record player instead. ;)