Okay, this is going to set some people talking.
When I first found out I could no longer eat gluten, I felt no real mourning at giving up bread or hamburger buns or doughnuts. Whatever. Clearly, they made me ill, and so I waved goodbye to them with both hands. Since my diagnosis, I have not eaten anything made of gluten. I don’t sneak a cookie from the bakery, because it looks so good, and think, “Oh, what the hell, I’ll just feel crummy for a couple of days.” It would never occur to me to do that. Who would I be cheating but myself?
That doesn’t mean I haven’t accidentally been glutenized. It happened a lot when I was first diagnosed, more often than I wanted. Sometimes, occasionally, it happens still. Even though I keep this website, and I’m writing a book, and there are other interesting possiblities lurking in the future — still, I am caught off guard. In spite of my vigilance, I get sick from cross-contamination or a hidden gluten ingredient in places I would never suspect. Living gluten-free is hard, and it requires constant vigilance.
All this to say that I am incredibly sensitive. Because I never eat gluten, and because I am so vigilant, I can tell instantly if I have been infected with gluten. A few bread crumbs, unexpectedly (and I am going to tell that story, soon), and I have a blotchy red rash across my face and neck within ten minutes. I develop a dull headache that turns vicious within minutes. I start to feel fogged in and dumb. My stomach hurts. And in the next couple of days, I feel logey and dopey and doubled over in abdominal pain. There are other, unpleasant symptoms, as well, but this is a food website, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.
Because I am so sensitive — and I hate that three-day fugue that occurs when I’ve been glutenized — I avoid anything that could be dangerous for me. And for a year and a half, that meant oatmeal.
Oats are a source of controversy for celiacs. The protein in oats is not gluten, but it’s biologically similar, and some celiacs experience problems with it for that reason. More than that, most commercially available oats are contaminated with wheat, from the way they are grown to the processing in plants. For those reasons, almost everyone who has celiac avoids oats.
I missed oatmeal more than I ever missed bread.
A few months ago, however, I read that McCann’s oats from Ireland are considered safe for people with celiac. Dr. Peter Green from the Celiac Center at Columbia University recommended them. Well, since he’s one of my gluten-free gurus, and I so dearly missed oatmeal, I tempted the fates and bought a can of McCann’s Irish oats.
Oh, that first bite of oatmeal tasted so good. The Chef didn’t quite understand — he has never been a fan of hot cereal — but he watched with pleasure as I spooned each creamy bite into my mouth, the memories of mornings when I ate oats without thinking suddenly in sharp focus in my mind. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” Joni Mitchell sang, and it was running through my head that time. (But I know what I have these days, and I am damned grateful.)
For the past few months, I’ve been eating these oats, sporadically. The official recommendation is that someone with celiac should re-introduce oats slowly, and thus have only 1/4 cup no more than three times a week. That was damned hard to follow when I had a steaming bowl of oatmeal in front of me.
And then I remembered Molly’s granola.
My dear friend Molly, over at Orangette, wrote about her favorite granola recipe almost two years ago, but I have been dreaming of it since I found out I could not eat oats. I loved granola when I was a kid, even the kind made by big-name cereal companies, which probably had more fats and sugars than anything good for me. However, since I was terribly ill for months before I was diagnosed, I had not eaten granola in nearly two years. Almost as long as it had been since Molly wrote that post.
So, this week, I made some granola. Light and crunchy, darkly sweet with chestnut honey, and crunchy without being cloying — this is the best granola I have ever eaten. I crumbled my requisite 1/4 cup on top of plain yogurt and crunched through breakfast, humming. I love it.
Now, since various gluten-free experts began recommending McCann’s, the company has said they cannot absolutely guarantee that there is no cross-contamination. Some celiacs have gone off of McCann’s for this reason. There are two certified gluten-free oats, but they are both exorbitantly expensive. However, they are worth a look:
Cream Hill Estates (in Canada)
Gluten-Free Oats (in Wyoming).
I have not tried either one of these, because they are about $10 a bag and require shipping. McCann’s isn’t cheap either, but it’s at the grocery store across the street from me. That’s hard to resist.
Let me say this clearly: I am no medical expert. I cannot recommend McCann’s to you with a completely clear conscience, because some people might have reactions. However, I know my own story. And my experience is that this gluten-free girl, who is so sensitive to gluten that she gets sick if her fiance kisses her with bread crumbs in his mouth or flour touches a cutting board where her salad is made? This gluten-free girl has had no reaction to McCann’s.
So, you should make up your own mind. Whatever your decision, when you find oats that you feel comfortable eating, you should make some of this granola.
In fact, I’m going to go have a small bowl of it right now.
Good, Gluten-Free Granola
Adapted from Molly at Orangette, who adapted this from The Rancho La Puerta Cookbook
3 cups McCann’s oats
½ cup chopped cashews
½ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup rice flour
¼ cup sorghum flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon (if you can find Saigon cinnamon, use a touch less)
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
¾ cup best honey you can find (I used a chestnut honey from Tuscany)
½ cup cranberry juice, unsweetened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (make sure it’s gluten-free)
2 teaspoons canola oil
Preheat the oven to 250°, at least half an hour before you will put the granola in the oven. Coat a baking sheet with canola oil (or, you can use vegetable oil spray, if you are sure it is gluten-free).
Combine the oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, rice flour, and sorghum flour. Toss them until the flours coat everything else. Then, add the cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. Toss again.
In a large measuring cup (or bowl), combine the honey, cranberry juice, vanilla extract, and canola oil. Whisk them together until they have become a single, coherent entity.
Pour the honey mixture into the dry ingredients. Carefully, stir it all together with a wooden spoon, until the liquids have thoroughly saturated all the oats. Turn the mixture onto the baking sheet and pat it all out into an even layer.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for fifteen minutes. Take the sheet out of the oven and turn the entire mixture over with a strong spatula, as though you are tilling dirt. Spread and pat, then put it back in the oven. Check again after fifteen minutes. When the new layer of granola is slightly browned, turn it all over again. Cook for at least an hour and a half, to two hours, checking and turning the granola throughout this process.
When the granola is thoroughly browned, and dry to the touch rather than sticky, take the baking sheet out of the oven. Let it rest for fifteen minutes, to cool. Afterwards, scrape the granola into your favorite, wide-mouthed container with a lid. Store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to a week to ten days.
Makes four cups of granola.