This is Part 2 of Celiac Awareness Month: Going Gluten-Free. Click here to read Part 1.
In the first installment of this article about gluten-free living, I talked about myself and my eating habits and how and why my family and I changed to a gluten-free diet to help my brother recovering from autism.
In this second – and final – installment, I am going to write about my experience with gluten-free cooking and eating, in particular regards to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.
It’s only been fairly recently, this year, that I’ve been having more practice and experience with traditional gluten-free baking – using a mix of flours and, even more recently, within this month, use xanthum and guar gum: two agents in helping gluten-free baked goods hold together and creating a process similar to the stickiness of gluten. Most of my gluten-free baking experience is based on following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which also means that I was making not only gluten-free baked goods but also grain-free, starch-free, and sugar-free.
When we started the GFCF diet, I did a little bit of baking but by and large I made nothing particularly spectacular. We didn’t know about using xanthum or guar gum in baking. I remember I made these rice flour cookies and they were good, but as they cooled off, they became rock hard. We couldn’t eat them. I remember I once threw one of them on the table, just to see if I could break it that way, and it remained fully intact. Not even a crumb came loose. It was incredible. If anyone needed a recipe for Hagrid’s rock cakes, that was it.
My baking streak only really started when we switched to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, after my brother’s improvements on the GFCF diet plateaued. Gluten-free baking, by and large, relies on a mix of flours and often uses an agent like xanthum gum or guar gum. Most of the time, all of those flours are grains and/or starches – which SCD completely eliminates. Not in this article, but one day, I’ll write more about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and how it works – getting into the scientific aspects of it.
With cooking, it’s a different arena in that there isn’t as much fiddling with recipes or tweaking them to make it suitable to a gluten-free diet or for SCD. With SCD, my family cooking didn’t change much except that we no longer used starch, such as potatoes to thicken soups or stews, and didn’t use cornstarch for making gravy. We never used sugar in cooking meals, so that wasn’t an issue. It was less of a transition, to me, in cooking than it was for baking. With baking, almost everything had to be reinvented but with cooking there were still bases, stocks, and basic ingredients that were already naturally gluten-free and SCD.
With grains and starches and all sugars, except for honey and those naturally occurring in fruit, out of the question, finely ground nuts or nut flours, usually almond, are heavily relied on. It’s only been recently that another SCD friendly, gluten-free flour called coconut flour has been used. With traditional gluten-free diets, at least there are usually some good-quality, storebought products that can be eaten. With SCD, though, almost everything is made from scratch. For the most part, conventional staples cannot be relied on because of “hidden ingredients” – ingredients that are not listed on the label because they’re less than 2%. A rule that, if an ingredient is less than 2%, it is not required to be listed on the label.
During the time we followed SCD, I was very strict with myself. Although gluten consumption is not a major issue for me, I did not allow myself to eat anything that was not allowed on the diet – even if I was offered something, I politely declined as best I could. Again, if we ate out, I stuck to what looked safest on the menu. I knew I could eat things that weren’t SCD but I preferred not to.
I started baking, first getting a feel by making some of the recipes from Breaking the Vicious Cycle (some of those recipes I’ve shared on this blog), and then moving on into my own territory – often whipping up things out of seemingly nothing or with little ingredients. The underlying element was always simplicity. I cooked out of other SCD cookbooks, but I mostly made things up as I went along. There are a lot of recipes from those early days that have yet to make an appearance on here, ones that I’ve written down or have memorized, and some have been improved or revised – such as my lemon cupcakes, for example, that I made for March 2010’s Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free round-up. I based my recipe for those cupcakes for another recipe of mine that I made up on my own, out of my own head. If you look at it, you can see that the revised version that I came up with looks very different from the original and it’s a little more involved. The original recipe also makes a good cake (or cupcakes), but it does not have the same texture or density as the revised recipes makes; it’s spongier and has a different texture in regards to mouth feel.
I recall from those times that my family and I ate cake more frequently than we ever did before we became gluten-free, but eating cakes that were ultimately healthier!
As I hardly baked anything prior to going gluten-free, I have very little background or experience in traditional baking – things like using flour and yeast. It’s still mind-boggling; I could understand it in theory, but not in practice. Perhaps it is because of this lack of experiential knowledge that it was easier for me to transition into gluten-free baking to the point of ease and where in some cases I wasn’t thinking as I was throwing ingredients together, only being guided by an invisible force. I also learned that in most cases, flops are more amendable in gluten-free baking (especially in SCD baking) than they are in traditional baking with gluten.
I hope you enjoyed reading these articles! Remember to check my index of all recipes that I’ve made and shared thus far. I’d love to hear your thoughts on gluten-free living whether you’re doing it out of personal health, for a loved one, or just trying it as an experiment.
The gluten-free wristband, pictured, is available on Amazon, sold in a pack of three.
Happy gluten-free cooking and baking to all!