It’s not, actually, strictly, about food for me.
It’s about what happens when we come together,
slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories.
… It happens when we enter the joy and the sorrow of the people we love,
and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed,
and while it’s not strictly about food,
it doesn’t happen without it.
Food is the starting point,
the common ground,
the thing to hold and handle,
the currency we offer to one another.
~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p14~
It was nine months ago that I began a journey with food that I had not seen coming. The whole gluten free craze sweeping my region, my infertility comrades, and even a few friends/relatives has been something I like to keep at bay. Partly because I don’t like hype, and I tend to like steering clear of things that are fads. 🙂 And also partly because I did not want to give up so many delicious things. If you know me well, you might know that I have a longstanding difficult relationship with my body. And while my journey has not lead me to quite the level of epiphany or exposure that some have reached by God’s grace, I continue to struggle on and off with the body the Lord has given me. It feels like quite the feat to even admit that “out loud” into the blogosphere, but there it is. So to suddenly have to throw myself into a “diet” (whether or not you like that word to describe a gluten free, very low sugar lifestyle) after struggling for years to embrace the body God gave me, and to let go of stressing about foods in general, has been a real struggle. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with food for a lot of years, so that’s not exactly something new to me: but this year, instead of trying to look past ingredient lists and calorie counts and nutritional labels in general, and simply accept with open & thankful hands whatever the Lord gives me to feed my body & nourish this temple of His, I have now been forced to stare those labels in the face, to analyze things before I put them in my mouth, even to cook separate things for myself than I cook for my family or guests. I now have to make special requests at restaurants, and figure out ways to humbly & graciously accept hospitality without over-emphasizing my dietary restrictions. Especially when the dietary restrictions are basically self-inflicted. Do I swell up or break out in hives when I eat gluten? No. But it seems like I may have less inflammation throughout my body when I am not including gluten in my diet ~ and I’ve also simply been having less carbs and sugars altogether, so there’s that as well. So why do I care about underlying inflammation in my body? Because it seems that my body’s underlying inflammation is somehow connected to my miscarriages (and nine miscarriages for a 30 year old woman in 7 years of marriage is outside the realms of normal, my friends). My autoimmune problems cause my body to reject my babies, rather than nurture them. It is a horrible burden to live with, and just one huge aspect that causes me to stumble in my relationship with my body.
But ~rabbit trail notwithstanding~ back to the practical side of the gluten free diet. I’ve done a lot of trial and error with recipes and with products over the last nine months of living, cooking, and eating this way. I kept a food log for a couple months, but then that got stressful so I gave it up. I kept lists of recipes to try, and star-rated them after I tried them. Some things were worth a second shot, and some things actually met my garbage can (and as a homemaker who basically never throws away so much as a scrap of food in our home, that’s really saying something). I quickly learned to use cornstarch in a lot of my basic cooking techniques, and that was a nice easy transition. Bread? Desserts? Pastas? Crackers or pretzels? Breadcrumb replacement? Baking flour replacement?
I have had some true duds, but the Lord has been kind to provide me with some delicious finds as well. And I just wanted to take the opportunity to pay it forward, and share some of the things that have made this diet/lifestyle easier as the months have progressed.
Sometimes food is the end and sometimes it’s a means to an end,
and sometimes you don’t know which it is until it happens.
~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p177~
Products I do not like & don’t suggest:
1. Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Flour.
2. Glutino crackers that I thought would be a nice Ritz replacement. Yeah. Not so much.
3. The Crunchmaster rice crackers (esp the Artisan Cheese flavor) that Costco sells.
4. any gluten free bread that comes packaged in a vacuum sealed plastic tube.
5. Bob’s Red Mill multi grain bread mix.
6. Bob’s Red Mill pancake mix.
Products I truly enjoy & highly suggest:
1. Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten Free Baking Flour.
2. Glutino pretzel sticks.
3. This and this for traditional pasta replacements, and these lasagna noodles.
4. the Udi’s gluten free bread that is in the freezer section at Costco.
5. Trader Joe’s bakery gluten free blueberry muffins.
6. Trader Joe’s gluten free version of Joe Joe’s.
7. Pamela’s chocolate cake mix.
8. Pamela’s pancake & waffle mix.
Things I continue to miss:
Ritz crackers, Cheez-Its, and being able to say that I have zero dietary restrictions so don’t need to worry about anything I put in my mouth. Let me tell you: this is a MUCH shorter list than it was six months ago, or even six weeks ago!! The Lord continues to give me new gifts. And I continue to grow in thankfulness. May He bless my efforts to care for this particular temple for His Spirit, and may He enable me to love my husband & children especially through this sacrifice but also in every other way I can.
Before I go though, there have been a couple particular experiences that God has used to encourage my heart along this hard journey that I really want to share.
The first was in September when my husband and I had an upscale picnic with another couple from our new church. They are professional musicians, so have to do whatever they can to take care of their bodies, especially their joints and hands. The husband particularly (a superb violinist, married to an angelic harpist) finds that his hands do substantially better when he lives gluten free. Meeting with another couple who eats gluten free (one spouse 100%, the other spouse when it’s convenient ~ just like Steven & me), and getting suggestions on products and recipes and things was so encouraging. And talking to someone who is on the gluten free diet for a similar reason, in that it isn’t life & death necessary, but it also isn’t just a cool thing to do because it’s such a current fad (in fact, they are as cynical about the fad as I am, but equally as thankful for the gluten free options available due to it being such a fad). What a gift these friends are for so many reasons… but that day, at that picnic, it just felt like that was one little slather of icing on the cake.
The second experience was when Steven and I were in Portland on our long weekend trip in October. That was the weekend I decided to introduce some sugar back into my life (after 4 long months of having only fruit, and an occasional tablespoon of maple syrup or pinch of stevia in my coffee/tea as my sweet options), and going to such a crunchy place as Portland really opened up a lot of eating options for me. It was like a golden gift! Although I was still on a medication that made me have nearly constant nausea (four months of continual nausea is pretty discouraging, especially when it is clearly not because there’s a baby in my womb), I was able to enjoy both sweet and savory foods that weekend in a way that I had not for over four months. What a gift. But the day before we headed home, we went to the famous (or infamous!) farmer’s market in Portland, and found a couple dedicated gluten free booths. At one, an extremely friendly woman stood at the booth of a gluten free bakery stand, but the baker was on a break. I almost kept walking, not thinking it would be worth the wait. But the friendly woman literally grabbed my hand and said that I needed to plant myself there and wait for the baker to return, because she was worth waiting for no matter how long it took for her to return. Looking in her case at bagels, muffins, cookies, and baguettes that looked convincingly delicious, Steven and I stood in the line, and while we did, this friendly woman continued to explain to me that she and her beau were both professional cooks (if I remember correctly, he was an all-around chef and she was a pastry chef), but neither one of them could pull off such delicious gluten free breads as this woman selling at the farmer’s market. Once the booth was staffed again (we probably waited less than ten minutes), the friendly woman filled her market bag with things, and then proceeded to buy me a beautiful, big, crusty baguette. I nearly wept in her arms, as she gave me the bread and hugged me saying “welcome to Portland & welcome to being deliciously gluten free.” I proceeded to buy myself a bagel, and if I’d had enough cash I would love to have tried the muffins and cookies. But what a gift. A baguette might not seem like an incredible gift to the average person, but to me in that moment, that woman was like an angel giving me a handful of the Milky Way.
The third was on Christmas Eve when we went to my parents’ home, and my mama uncovered two plates of Christmas cookies that looked basically identical to one another ~ and she announced that the red snowflake plate was all for me because every last treat on that plate she made gluten free just for me. I can not explain what a Christmas joy it was to have so many sweets just for me: I did not have to give up my great grandma’s chocolate iced cookies or the Tomer tradition of pecan puffs! Crisis averted!
And then for the fourth, there was a man, a Mr. Griswold by name, in customer service at Bob’s Red Mill just a couple weeks ago. After months of trying to stomach some of their gluten free products (which I had bought in bulk in May), I finally decided it was my duty to let their quality control folks know that I was not one of the “guaranteed satisfaction” customers. I was highly disappointed because I had long used other Bob’s Red Mill products, and had simply assumed their gluten free things would be as instantly pleasing and tasty. But no. Really, when all your baked goods taste like ground up garbanzo and fava beans; and when your pancakes and waffles taste like dry cornbread; and when your multi grain bread tastes like a sour rye mess… well, things go in the garbage that I once never dreamed of throwing away! Even my children would not stomach these things. I was not expecting anything from the company, and I was kind & respectful in my note. But if my customers were so discouraged with a product, I would want to know. So I told them. And they surprised me with such kind generosity and blessing that I promised Mr. Griswold I would share my excitement with all my friends! 🙂 They sent me a refund check for over sixty dollars, the amount that I had spent on their products last May. And because his wife has celiac disease & loves their new 1-to-1 baking flour, they sent me a complimentary bag of it. Well, when the UPS guy delivered it one recent afternoon, I immediately put aside other things and whipped up a tiny batch of chocolate chip cookies. I was too skeptical to make a big batch… but oh my goodness!!! I actually CRIED. The cookie dough was incredible (umm ~ I think I ate three cookies’ worth…), so it was the first time I have eaten cookie dough in like 9 months, and the baked cookies are AMAZING. When my husband walked in from work, I gave him one and he gushed, “that is SO good, thank you for baking cookies” ~ and then I stuffed one in my mouth and his eyes did this because he realized they must be gluten free and he could not believe it. They are that good. So I have to say, this new product may have changed my gluten free life. I can’t wait to make more chocolate chip cookies, because that original dozen? Gone far too quickly.
A deep enjoyment of food and its preparation
is evidence of the love of the creativity of God
that is both wildly expansive and precise.
~Deborah Madison (in her preface to Supper of the Lamb)~