9 Essential Things for a Joyful, Gluten-Free Life

Ms. W, author of The Joyful Celiac blog and an old friend, stopped by the other night to eat decadent hunks of stinky cheese on Grindstone Bakery's quinoa bread and talk about ways that she finds nourishment, joy, and deliciousness in her strictly gluten-free kitchen and life.

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In 2003, Ms. W was diagnosed with celiac disease which is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of gluten. (For more information, see the Mayo Clinic.) There is no cure, but the condition can be managed through a diet free of gluten, which is not easy to accomplish, especially in this era of processed foods and fillers.

At first, Ms. W had to learn to manage her gluten intake on the macro level; in other words, no bagels. Then she eliminated spelt, barley, rye and all other obvious forms of gluten, and finally, she dealt with the micro level in items like vanilla extract and even some teas. "Gluten," sighs Ms. W, "is hiding everywhere. Good thing you can get whole vanilla beans."

So how does she manage? Well, quite healthily and joyfully. Pleasure in shopping, preparing and eating food is not lost to her, despite the fact that she is on a medically-restricted diet. Here are some of her essentials picks for supporting a joyous, gluten-free life.

1) Always have a mason jar of gluten-free mixed grains in the cupboard such as dark quinoa, millet, amaranth, or wild rice. For breakfast, she cooks them up in butter with cinnamon and a vanilla bean, and tops with dates or fresh fruit, and occasional splashes of cashew milk. In the evening, she'll roll them into balls with cooked sushi rice, hijiki, and ginger and bake them in the oven.

2) The Vita-Mix, a super powerful blender that can turn anything into a flour. Once you have one, says Ms. W, you can't go back. She uses her vita-mix for making nut milks, pureed soups, pates and an endless list of alternative flours.

3) A Dehydrator. Lately Ms. W has found this to be a secondary tool as it's a little loud and uses at lot of space and power. But it's really handy for making crackers and homemade Lara Bars, as well as granola.

4) Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix. Every now and then, after a long, cold, foggy, bike ride, Ms. W will treat herself to a batch of blueberry pancakes made with Pamela's (famous to all celiacs), local eggs and her mom's maple syrup.

5) Never let your kitchen go bare. Having a well-stocked pantry and a refrigerator full of delicious produce is essential to keeping the deprivation blues at bay. Ms. W proudly spends a lot of money on food. "It's a priority," she says. "I don't have cable TV, but I do have organic blueberries and a steady supply of fresh vanilla beans."

6) Big Leafy Vegetables. Lots and lots of kale, cooked or raw, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Roasted Vegetables. Make in large batches and you will always have delicious and fast food on hand. Fresh Spices. Use whole spices as much as possible for the best flavor.

7) Never leave the house without food you can eat or at least a plan for where you will eat. "It was hard, but I had to learn to ask about every ingredient when I ate out," says Ms. W. "I had to learn to value myself enough to ask. I had to grow up a lot."

8) The tiffin. The tiffin (pictured above) is a stack of metal containers used in many parts of the world to carry food. Besides being practical, the tiffin helps to make food look more beautiful and appealing, and that makes for a more pleasurable eating experience. "It helps you to feel like you're not getting second best, which is important for people on medically-restricted diets."

9) Eat with other people as much as you can. It's hard sometimes to not feel marginalized when you can't participate in a great, groaning feast with your friends. So whenever you can, celebrate with the many foods you can share together. And go ahead and bring your gluten-free dish. You don't have to make a big deal about it being gluten-free: as long as it's yummy and nutritious, it will appeal to everyone.

Describe a recent favorite meal. "A wedge of Mt. Tam triple-cream cheese, a perfect, gorgeous peach and a handful of raw walnuts."

Any final words? "Try to have a bare minimum of three colors on you plate. It's pretty but its also nutritious. Be careful about eating junk food versions of gluten-free foods -- they're just as nasty as the conventional ones. Don't dwell in a place of exclusion and marginalization. Maximize your nutrient-to-joy ratio and create a life of pleasure. "

As an old friend of Ms. W's, I can attest that I have always enjoyed our meals together and have never found them to be less than satisfying. As a matter of fact, there are often great culinary discoveries to be found in her kitchen. That Grindstone bread wasn't half-bad. As a matter of fact, it was really tasty.

Find more gluten-free tips and recipes on Ms. W's blog, A Joyful Celiac.

Related:
Crispy, Chewy, Gluten-Free: Socca (Chickpea Pancake)
What Are Some Wheat-Free Recipes for Gifting?
Can You Recommend Good Gluten-Free Resources?

(Originally published August 13, 2010)

(Image: Dana Velden)