When you step into my home, you are greeted with the smell of homemade food wafting from the kitchen. Most of the foods I make are from scratch. Initially, this was not by choice.
I follow a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease as well as a separate soy-free (SF) diet due to soy intolerance. No wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or some types of oats. That meant no more cake, cookies, and pizza in my book. As for soy, I didn’t even know the beginning of it! Believe it or not, soy and gluten are in almost every processed food – salad dressings, mixes, crackers, cereal, broths, etc.
I couldn’t - and still can’t - tolerate a gluten-free product manufactured on the same equipment as gluten, yet everywhere I turned in a grocery store, I was smacked in the face with gluten and soy. In the early days of being diagnosed with celiac disease, I found myself in the middle of Whole Foods with tears welling up in my eyes. Where would I begin? The thought was overwhelming as I looked down the aisles. My education started right then and there, as I began to read labels. By "reading labels," I mean decoding secret, hidden ingredients: “spices,” “natural flavors,” and “modified starch” could all potentially be code words for (dun, dun, dun . . . ) gluten.
Eating at restaurants became equally daunting. Was I going to feel okay? Would the wait staff really know what I was talking about? The answer was a resounding, “No.” At least, not at first. As I learned more about what made me sick, I got better at communicating my special needs. I started showing up with a dining card that explicitly described what I could and couldn’t eat. I sent that straight to the chef. Who knew that most oil used in restaurants is soy? Who knew that most soups are made with a roux or have flour in them? Even creamed spinach has flour added. The more I learned to cook at home, the more I began to recognize gluten-free and soy-free foods on the menu and ask the right questions.
Eventually, I found that life was actually becoming easier. I could eat all meats, fish, vegetables, and fruits. I could still eat rice, corn, and potatoes, and most restaurants served those things. The tricky part was and still is alerting the restaurant to the fact that if anything gluten or soy touches my food, it is as good as eating either of those foods.
I learned how to make things from scratch, because I didn’t have a choice. My homemade meals are now as good or better than most restaurant food (check out my blueberry jam in the photos). I substitute corn flake crumbs for breadcrumbs, or rice flour to dust my fish. The only thing I’ve had a hard time finding a substitute for is soy sauce.
I’ve also learned the meaning of balance. I can’t just fill up on carbs anymore. When I got rid of them I was starving! So, I learned how to eat food with higher protein content. Now, almost every meal that I cook has a protein, a vegetable (or two), and sometimes a starch (and even a dessert). My diet is healthier now than it ever was.
I do miss good, greasy NY-style pizza, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies, and aromatic, gooey cinnamon rolls. There are substitutes, but they aren’t quite like the real thing. Still, when all is said and done, I feel healthier with every day that passes. My mind and body are so much happier, I can think more clearly, and I move more purposefully through life. I wouldn’t change my diet for the world!
To read more from Annsley, see her post on "5 Rules for Healthy Gluten-Free Living."