Gluten Free Beginnings
“I’m so tired!” It all started with these three words. To be fair, I had three active boys under 4, and nights weren't a dreamland for me.
“Stop eating wheat,” my lovely husband quips. I wanted to strangle him. (Sleep deprived, remember?) He was referring to something he had done a year prior. He had read that gluten can negatively affect your concentration, and as a man who suffered from ADD, he had given it up.
There is no way, I thought to myself, but I agreed. Not to make him happy, but to prove him wrong. In his research, he had found studies that found many people manifesting allergies to wheat that identified detriments to mood, energy and concentration levels. Many of these people were even addicted to the very foods that they were allergic to! Apparently the body releases endorphins to help the allergy sufferer feel better after they’ve eaten an allergy-inducing food. It’s a nasty cycle, because endorphins are addictive, and it was a cycle I was all too familiar with. Eat, get high on endorphins, repeat.
It was in 2002 – nearly a year before – when he had self-tested to see if he was allergic to wheat. The test was to stop eating wheat for two weeks and then eat it again in any form. Two weeks went by and he was in an office meeting. He reached for the always-provided pastry and nearly fell asleep right there in the meeting. That was the last day he ate wheat. (Well, not technically, but that’s for another post.)
It took a little adjusting since I was a stay-at-home mom and mostly cooked all the meals. Taking wheat out of your arsenal of meals can reduce your regular meal plan a good 85%. I didn’t join in on his crazy wheat fast. Why should I? I’m not allergic to wheat!
A year later we’re having this discussion. “If I do this two-week self test,” I say sweetly through gritted teeth, “we’ll both know for sure once and for all.” I lasted a week. We were having lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant with my in-laws. Mexican restaurants are great for gluten-free people because they generally have so many rice and corn options, but that burrito was calling out my name! Two weeks was too long. I ordered and consumed the burrito.
Within 30 minutes of eating this wheat-flour wrapped monstrosity, my arms had become so heavy that I couldn’t lift them. It felt like an exhausting all-day beach trip, coupled with a test all-nighter. Throw in some papery-thin, scratchy eyes for good measure. In 30 minutes my body was shouting something very clear to me. I wanted to scream the same thing at wheat that so many women scream at their men when giving birth: “You did this to me! I’m never doing this again!”
As my husband lugged me to the car he was rewarded with a murmured, “You’re right, honey,” in his ear. It was a revelation: Wheat was making me miserable!
When my body let me walk the next morning, I went straight to the local health food store and sat down in the cookbook isle and began my research on gluten free baking. The reason why I hadn’t followed my husband’s lifetime fast on wheat was because I loved baking. It was – and still is – one of my favorite things to do. It was like putting a puzzle together - getting out all the ingredients, putting them together in a way that only really fits one way. The thrill of the way it transforms your house into a delicious-smelling wonderland. The house becomes a… home.
Assume the position: Close your eyes; inhale deeply; lift your shoulders chin-level; break a grin. Exhale and enjoy the peace that comes with the swell of sweet memories that are triggered by those particular sugary spices. Don’t diminish the reward of the finished creation! The feelings of cutting into that gooey pan of brownies, or breaking a chewy chocolate chip cookie to devour right out of the oven. The joy that envelopes you when you bring yet another gloriously-lit, beautifully-decorated homemade birthday cake to the waiting crowd. You will never forget watching the untamed expectancy of your kids slavishly willing to eat whatever you put on their dinner plate in anticipation of Dessert. Why? Because everyone loves mom’s desserts.
What about everyone else? What would everyone else have to give up if you couldn’t or didn’t bake anymore? Every great baker is famous for that one or two things. Think of how many great memories your own creative confections brought, or the way that everyone was compelled to smile with their sugar-dusted-melted-chocolate-cornered mouths. No more personal requests at Christmas time for those famous whatchamacallits you make every season? No more sweet smelling kitchens, filled cookie jars, occupied cake plates and tissue-filled Christmas tins. All because you gave up baking. How could anyone give that up? Baking to me obviously isn’t just a task. It touches so many emotional, physical, seasonal and practical realms. I wasn’t about to give that up. I didn’t give it up. And if you’ve been gluten free up till now, you don’t have to, either.