Tag Archives: cooking

20 Ways a Gluten-Free Diet Prepares You to Be the Best Mom or Dad Ever

It occurred to me as I was dutifully packing my own lunch the other day that I’m getting pretty good at this. Maybe not Pinterest good, but I could definitely do a bento box. I’m totally ready to be someone’s mom!, I thought.

I started wondering what other overlap my GF lifestyle has with parenting, and I came up with quite a list. Can you relate?

  1. You pack lunches every day (“love you” notes to yourself probably not included, but I bet you’d rock it).
  2. You’ve lost all discomfort discussing and dealing with poop. Accidents (and maybe vomit) included.
  3. You plan ahead—obsessively—in often vain attempts to prepare for all eventualities.
  4. You spend a significantly larger portion of each day feeling stressed than relaxed.
  5. Looking and feeling pregnant are not foreign to you. (However, if reports are true, no celiac-induced pain you’ve experienced rivals childbirth. Comforting?)
  6. You cook three meals a day, not (necessarily) because you like to, but because someone has to.
  7. You grapple with preparing single meals that satisfy a group of people with completely different wants and needs (allergies, vegetarian/veganism, low-carb, paleo, lactose intolerance, likes and dislikes, and of course gluten-freedom).
  8. You document everything, even the most insignificant milestones: First gluten-free homemade flour blend! First from-scratch cookies! First time eating out! First holiday!
  9. You carry snacks in your bag (and sometimes baby wipes—nothing gets gluten off like ’em).
  10. You’re always tired.
  11. You just know when someone is lying to you (though sometimes after the fact).
  12. You shamelessly ask people to wash their hands before eating. (Only if you’ll be sharing finger food after they just ate, say, fried chicken in front of you. And, okay, there’s a bit of shame.)
  13. You’ve also been known to ask suspiciously, when someone last brushed his/her teeth.
  14. You take grocery shopping very seriously . . .
  15. and keep an eagle eye out for deals. GF food’s not cheap!
  16. You understand the importance of a good burp.
  17. You’re used to not having much of a social life outside of your home.
  18. You’re extremely familiar with saying “no.”
  19. The first thing you look for in any new place is the bathroom.
  20. Sometimes, you can’t remember what life was like before all this. And if a cure is discovered within your lifetime, you’re not totally sure you’ll know what to do with yourself.

See? Child-rearing and chronic disease, two of life’s enduring mysteries, are essentially the same. Both look just . . . like . . . this (with Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels, of course):

Yes, I focused on one particular set of symptoms (that is, mine), which many people with gluten-related disorders may not have; there’s a laundry list of other possible symptoms, including infertility (which makes becoming a parent a bit tougher, though certainly not impossible).

And, yes, there are some ways in which they differ. For example:

  1. GF bread prices and loaf sizes being what they are, you do not cut off the crusts.
  2. Celiac disease doesn’t demand bedtime stories—though I’ve got you covered if it ever comes up.
  3. Strollers and playgrounds are also optional.

There’s one more, utterly crucial distinction: When you yourself are gluten-free, all that extra energy you expend and stressing you do are about YOU. Taking responsibility for your own well-being is admirable (and, for many of us, critical), but as a parent you must take that endless worry, attention to detail, and physical and emotional care and turn them outward.

If it’s your child who eats gluten-free, you already understand that. For those of us who aren’t yet but may become parents, assuming a cure doesn’t come, we’ll continue to manage our own diet while caring for the tiny human beings in our charge. We’ll be taking the “tired” we feel and doubling it, at least.

That, more than anything on the list above, makes parenting sound pretty intimidating. From what I hear, though, it’s pretty fulfilling work—so if anything is stopping you from having kids, I hope celiac disease isn’t it. Some (far-off) day, I won’t let it stop me!

Am I missing anything on my lists of similarities and differences? Parents, did I get any of this right?

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Let’s move! toward awareness of food, fitness, food allergies, and the gluten-free diet (plus a contest for precocious sous-chefs)

I have a big celebrity crush on Michelle Obama. It’s not just her arms (though of course that’s part of it). I also admire the work she’s done to promote childhood healthy eating and exercise habits with Let’s Move! In a (relatively) noncondescending, nonextreme way, the organization has been pushing back against childhood obesity—arguably one of the biggest health issues the United States, among other countries, faces today.

Some don’t believe politicians should get involved with food. But like it or not, by way of crop subsidies, government oversight organizations, and more, they’re involved already. Plus, say what you will about MyPlate (and, as a vegetarian with vegan leanings, I’ve said plenty about that cup of dairy), when it comes to the “food” kids are served and the health education they receive at public schools, we could use a little help.

In a conversation about the initiative, my sister commented that it was annoying how issues of “home and hearth” still seem to fall to the First Lady, in a time when such issues should be equally relevant to men and women. Maybe that’s true. But gendered undertones aside, what Let’s Move! is attempting is important. A campaign to change the food and fitness culture of an entire generation calls for a prominent champion, and Michelle is using her pull to spread awareness about the issue in a way that most people can’t.

Whether or not it’s working is hard to say. I get their newsletter, which means I’m in the bubble, but skimming the initiative’s anniversary highlights is encouraging. In part, I think, due to Obama’s work, policy changes are being made, and large audiences reached. Even the nutrition facts label might get a makeover, and according to the CDC, childhood obesity fell by 43% over the last decade—though tough to tell how much of that can be credited to Obama’s efforts, given that Let’s Move! was only founded in 2010.

Lest you scold me for babbling about my socially liberal heroine on a blog focused on gluten, not politics, I’d argue that a generation of kids learning that what they put in their mouths has a direct impact on their health can only be good for the gluten-free. Children educated about nutrition will be better prepared to care for themselves if food allergies or a gluten-related disorder come their way. Moreover, they just might grow up into a nation of adults who know how to cook, care about food, and value wellness. Again, all good things for them and us.

The reason I’m writing about this now is that (as I mentioned) I receive the Let’s Move! newsletter, and the latest issue put out a call for “all young chefs” to enter the 2014 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.

It’s a pretty cool contest. Kids ages 8 to 12 work with their parents to create and submit a delicious, healthy, original, affordable, and meaningful recipe. A winning child/parent team from each US state will get to head to DC for lunch with the First Lady.

MyPlateThe recipe does have to be inspired by MyPlate (but the protein and dairy can be vegetarian or vegan, if that’s your thing), but it also has to have a unique story—that’s where “meaningful” comes in. When I read that, I immediately thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one of the winning stories was about learning to cook with a gluten-related disorder or food allergies—facing these obstacles together, as a family, and coming through it stronger? 

Right now, the closest I come to parenting is cooing at babies at the farmers’ market and nagging teenagers to study SAT vocab (which, by the way, is due for a change in 2016). So I thought I’d throw out the challenge to those of you who do have a budding foodie in the family.

If you and your child want to enter, you have until April 5th, and I’ll be rooting for you all the way. A healthy diet is good for us all—and a matter of life and death for some. The food allergic and gluten-free community knows that better than anyone, and our food is darn good, too.

What do you think of the Let’s Move! campaign, MyPlate, the government’s focus on obesity, and the possibly changing nutrition facts label? Will your family be entering the contest?

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Hoppin’ John, collard greens, gluten-free cornbread, and the luck we make for ourselves

I’m back, and I hope you’re not all “New Year, New You”-ed out, because I’ve still got New Year’s on the brain. Don’t worry, I won’t talk about resolutions. I want to talk about luck.

December 31st is almost inevitably a day of regrets: most of us are proud of some accomplishments and pleased with how some things worked out, but less thrilled about others. It’s a lucky person indeed who can look back at an entire year with approval.

I, for example, am happy I started and kept up a blog, but I wish I’d written more fiction. I did some fun stuff, including in the celiac community, but I ought to have taken advantage of more of the cultural opportunities New York has to offer. I’m glad I got celiac figured out, but I probably should have made time to go to the dentist. You get the idea.

January 1st is a day to put behind us all the failures and disappointments of the previous year, and, perhaps, the previous night. New Year’s Eve is among the most hyped holidays of the year, but I find it’s usually a letdown.

Angostura bitters and Dominos sugar cubes

Not pictured: the bubbly, which is gone. By the way, if you like trivia, the reason the Angostura label is too big for the bottle is explained here.

This year, it started off well with “classic champagne cocktails” (sugar cubes, Angostura bitters, and lots of bubbly) at a friend’s home, but it ended at a “warehouse party” in Brooklyn that got shut down by the fire department at 11:37 (cruel), watching the ball drop on TV in a random bar, and leaving just past midnight to trek home on the train with only Butterfingers for consolation.

After that, I was more ready than ever for my customary New Year’s Day celebration. I’m honestly not a superstitious person, despite my love of astrology. But a few years ago, I discovered a list of foods considered lucky to eat on New Year’s Day in various cultures. Though I didn’t grow up eating lucky foods on New Year’s Day, I’m a “make new traditions but keep the old” kind of girl, so I decided to pick up the custom.

This year was, as Sprue Jr. dubbed it, “the third annual traditional down-home Southern New Year’s Day meal cooked by wannabe New Englanders,” consisting of:

  • Hoppin’ John, a black-eyed peas and rice dish, lucky because the beans’ swelling represents prosperity (less lucky because we made ours vegetarian and missed out on the extra luck benefits of pork or ham)
  • braised collard greens, made in the slow cooker with leeks and garlic, lucky because greens are…green…like money
  • cornbread, lucky because it’s gold, like money (sensing a trend?), and extra traditional because Southern-style cornbread includes little to no wheat flour, given its former scarcity in the region
  • grapes and pineapple for dessert, because we got lazy, and because grapes are eaten for luck at midnight in Spain. Plus, pineapple is gold, like cornbread, and money.

We were a bit unlucky with how long the rice took to cook (I still don’t understand why), and our grapes were a bit sour, which apparently is a bad sign. But the meal, though delayed, was overall delicious. I felt lucky to have plenty of food to cook and share, and good friends with whom to enjoy it.

Althea, David, and Alex (friends)

Everyone wore their most festive gray sweaters. (Lucky, because it’s the color of quarters?)

Will it bring us luck for the rest of the year? Maybe. One last good omen is to have leftovers of your Hoppin’ John, which then gets called Skippin’ Jenny. Don’t ask me why—no one even knows why it’s called Hoppin’ John. Leftovers demonstrate frugality, which is sure to increase prosperity (according to tradition, if not to some economists).

Sprue Jr. and I just yesterday polished off the last of the Skippin’ Jenny, so we must be pretty lucky. But, we purposefully made more food than we could eat, in order to have leftovers. So if anything, we made that luck for ourselves.

friend serving herself vegetarian Hoppin' John

Not pictured: the pot of Hoppin’ John, which my food photography talents are not equal to portraying in a decent way.

In my opinion, it’s often that way, with luck. As the owner of a chronic disease, I won’t say that there’s no such thing as bad luck. But I do think we can, at least sometimes, set ourselves up for “lucky” things to happen. (And many psychologists agree!)

I felt unlucky after my party was a bust, with not so much as a refund of the tickets (thanks, Rubulad). But the night might’ve gone better if I’d settled my plans sooner and nabbed tickets to a different, quickly sold-out, event—or if I’d bounced back more quickly after the party’s premature demise.

Sure, bad things will always happen. But by adjusting plans and perspectives, we can bring ourselves more of the good stuff. It’s too late now to cook a New Year’s Day meal for 2014 (though you should try Hoppin’ John anyway, if you never have), but you can still make sure you have a lucky year. If you’re gluten-free, for example, you can choose wisely when you go out to eat or shop to avoid unlucky glutenings. In any area of life, putting in some effort and putting on a smile might bring us all the luck we need. 

So, a little belatedly, here’s to 2014. May it bring you good luck, good food, and good times—and may you help make darn sure it does.

Do you agree that we make our own luck? Do you celebrate New Year’s Day or Eve with traditional foods? And did you make any resolutions this year?

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A Recipe for a Simple Weeknight Meal (or, More Likely, Disaster)

There’s nothing like a simple weeknight meal. Now, I don’t mean peanut butter (or sunbutter) straight out of the jar with a handful of potato chips, or peanut butter spread onto gluten-free bread with potato chips on the side, or even leftovers.

tired girl on kitchen floor with coffee maker

This girl should’ve made coffee before starting on her simple meal.
Photo © Evil Erin | Flickr

I’m talking about those gorgeous complete meals that come together in such a snap you feel like you must have cheated to get there. Everyone’s happy, no one’s hungry, and you have time left in the evening to, say, write a blog post.

I’m not the only one who loves these meals. Cookbooks are devoted to them; moms and dads sing their praises; and especially after Thanksgiving, I bet many of you in the US plan to fall back on them for a while.

But, although I believe these perfect meals exist, the formula eludes me. My “quick” meal ideas usually turn into inefficient, lengthy, messy, multiple-pot culinary odysseys. They taste good, but they take forever.

Since I got positive feedback the last time I shared a recipe, I thought I’d share this one with you, too. Your suggestions and criticisms are, as always, welcome. Maybe, with your help, I’ll manage to complete a meal in 30 minutes…someday.


A Simple Weeknight Meal

Yields: 1 dinner, with leftovers (if you weren’t so hungry by the time you finished that you ate it all), and 1 big mess

Prep time: 30 minutes to 4 hours, not counting time spent gathering inspiration on Pinterest (this section of recipes is always BS anyway)

Cook time: varies by recipe and other variables (including but not limited to evenness of pan heating, stove and oven hot spots, vegetable sizes, and altitude of your house), whose effects recipes rarely address and always underestimate

Ingredients

1 to 3 exhausted but ambitious cooks (see Notes)
1 recipe you’ve never tried before and plan to heavily adapt
1 to 2 additional recipes from which you’d like to draw inspiration (optional but highly recommended)
1 or more dietary restriction (again, optional but recommended—see Notes)
Optional garnishes: poor knife skills, inadequately stocked kitchen, multiple other things you intended to achieve that evening, and a low stress threshold

If this is you at the thought of cooking something, you're probably ready. Photo © Brittney Bush Bollay | Flickr

If this is you at the thought of cooking something, you’re probably ready.
Photo © Brittney Bush Bollay | Flickr

Directions

  1. Prep half of the ingredients and leave the rest to peel, chop, slice, etc., later, when you’ll be too distracted trying to stop the onions on the stove from burning to do either bit properly.
  2. Forget to preheat the oven, bring water to boil, or press the tofu until much, much later.
  3. Realize that you’re missing one or more ingredients. Don’t panic; instead, begin a lengthy debate over what in your cupboards might work as a substitute, with recourse to Google as necessary. If consensus cannot be reached, draw straws to decide who will “run out” to the store for the ingredient. Or give up and eat popcorn, since it’s not like you’ve done much yet anyway.
  4. Assuming you’re forging on with the meal, take a few minutes to select some appropriate musical accompaniment.
  5. Next you’ll want to at least scrape the crud off of the cast-iron skillet that has been sitting on the stove since your last simple weeknight meal, unless the flavor profile was similar, in which case forget it.
  6. Start those onions sizzling while you check your bookmarks and open tabs for a side dish idea. Should one appear, start prepping ingredients for that, ideally before finishing what remains for the original recipe.
  7. Text the person who has gone off to the store to request a few more missing ingredients for the new recipe.
  8. Start adding water to the onions because they are seriously going to catch on fire and you can’t believe you haven’t finished mincing the garlic yet.
  9. Accept an incoming phone call and let the onions “brown” a little longer while you chat and attempt to cut up vegetables with the phone wedged against your shoulder.
  10. Jump guiltily when you hear your fellow cook at the door and tell the person on the other end that you’re right in the middle of cooking and really can’t talk. Pretend you only just picked up.
  11. If you are trying to prepare a gluten-free (or allergy-free, or vegan, or what-have-you) meal, inspect the package labels of the new ingredients and ask the buyer if he/she is sure this brand is safe. Regardless of the response, check the manufacturer’s website yourself (with sneakiness to taste).
  12. Fend off any lingering impulse to just eat popcorn. Although you may not have accomplished much, per se, you’re in too far to turn back now.
  13. Set your jaw in a grim line and turn your attention to prepping and cooking in earnest. Bicker as desired.
  14. Begin checking the clock and moaning about how late it has gotten and how this ALWAYS HAPPENS. Repeat until every shred of patience and good will has been used up.
  15. Let the assembled dish bake/reduce/thicken just as long as you can—invariably less than the specified time because you’ll be too starving to care about taste or texture. Throw some plates on the table and serve immediately. (Optional: waste several seconds deciding between plates and bowls.)
  16. Enjoy while you can! Soon enough, you’ll be doing it again. But better. (Optimism will keep in an airtight container indefinitely and is even better the next day.)

Notes

Adages bedarned, this method works best with more than one cook in the kitchen; two cooks can inspire each other to greater and more absurd heights of complexity, and having a partner will lend to each the sense of security that the total prep time will be halved. Three is most likely the upper limit, beyond which point differing tastes and colliding elbows create the danger that no meal will result at all. In a pinch, a single cook will do, particularly if said cook is a fan of Top Chef and/or plans to post about the meal on a blog.

A food processor is not recommended. Let’s not baby ourselves.

Speaking of which…I myself do not have children, and therefore cannot vouch for them as an ingredient in this recipe. However, if you do add them to the mix, I suggest including such optional steps as teaching younguns to chop carrots (after starting the onions, mind) and taking breaks to nag older ones to do their homework and/or set the table.

If you eat meat, you may find it more difficult to stretch out the preparation process quite as interminably as I do. If you find yourself taking less than an hour to put together your meals, I strongly recommend vegetarianism.

Does this sound more or less like your own recipe for a simple weeknight meal, or have you mastered the formula? Share your tips and suggestions for actual simple meals in the comments.

I shared this on Vegetarian Mamma‘s Gluten-Free Fridays.

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