I still remember the happiness of eating this dish under the cherry tree in our backyard — friends around us, sun filtering through the leaves — even though we ate this dish two years ago. Quinoa salad with cherry tomatoes from our garden, ripe figs, blueberries, pecans, and a champagne vinaigrette. Danny threw it together based on the food that was on the kitchen counter the afternoon of that picnic. Everyone there made satisfied noises after eating it.
Before Danny met me, he had never heard of quinoa. Before I went gluten-free, I had never heard of it either. Now, we always have a big container of it in the kitchen. A few months ago, on Twitter, a friend teased me that Danny, Lu, and I were going to turn into quinoa and kale, since we were eating so much of it for breakfast that week. True. Then we switched to millet. I throw teff flour into the muffins and quick breads I make. We’ve both lost our taste for white rice, which is stripped of almost all nutrition. We eat more vegetables than I ever dreamed possible before I stopped eating gluten. When we get the email update from our favorite farmstands, we are goofy dorks, shouting about the first rhubarb of the season or asparagus finally coming in.
We eat well around here. We eat good food. We eat happily.
I am much, much healthier than when I ate gluten. And it’s not just because I don’t have gluten in my system anymore.
When you find out you have to go gluten-free, you have two options: think this is the worst thing that has ever happened to you or have a party. (I wrote about that choice here.)
Throw a party.
Having your health? No longer suffering from rashes or intestinal upsets or fibromyalgia or debilitating depression or infertility or brain fog? What piece of bread could be worth that? (If you have the time, or any wonderings about whether or not gluten might affect you this way, please read the comments on this post. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing, everyone.)
You have an answer.
However, here’s something else to consider. When you go gluten-free, you could focus on finding replacement foods for all your favorite dishes, but with gluten-free flours instead. Or, you could embrace all the food that’s out there, finding ingredients you never knew existed, and learn to bake for yourself with whole grains.
Guess which way we have chosen in this house.
(By the way, that’s grilled salmon with pickled rhubarb sauce, roasted asparagus, and deviled eggs up there. That’s all gluten-free food.)
I’m thrilled that there are so many gluten-free options out there as compared to the options six years ago. Forget that — think about 20 years ago. A barren desert. So it’s wonderful joy that so many companies understand the desire for (and money-making possibilities in) gluten-free foods.
However, I have to say, I’m also pretty sad that there are so many gluten-free packaged foods now. Why?
Because packaged food, with a few stellar exceptions, isn’t that good. Food made in your kitchen is always going to taste better. And if you use the right ingredients, it’s going to be better for you, too.
Sometimes I hear from readers of this site who ask me: “Living gluten-free is so much more expensive than gluten. What do I do?”
The first thing I say? Stop buying so many packaged foods.
And focus first on the foods that are naturally gluten-free. Up there? Smoked salmon, figs with goat cheese and truffle honey, and broiled plums with lavender butter. And gluten-free blackberry breakfast bars.
It’s all gluten-free. This was also taken last summer, so everything was in season. Figs in season aren’t that expensive. Neither are plums. The lavender butter? It’s butter whipped with lavender buds, which grow all over here in the summer. It sounds all fancy. It’s really not.
And that entire brunch menu was less expensive than a loaf of gluten-free bread in the freezer section, a pancake mix, and a box of gluten-free doughnuts.
Before I went gluten-free, I didn’t eat that well. I enjoyed my food. Oh yes. But eating was a pleasure or guilt. I didn’t think of eating as a way of healing my body, as a means to nourish myself. I tried every diet in the culture, cut out meat, cut out dairy, stopped drinking, and ate a lot of whole wheat in an attempt to make myself feel well. Food was either pure hedonistic pleasure or wholesome obligation.
I also didn’t eat that many vegetables. When I was a vegetarian, I thought the point was to avoid meat, not to celebrate vegetables. (Or fresh fruit. Whole grains. And good sources of protein.)
Sadly, I think a lot of people are doing that with gluten-free food too: avoid the gluten and everything is fine.
It’s not that simple.
It really is all about the vegetables. Most of the time around here, we design meals around the vegetables that are in season. If you start with that, then everything else falls into place.
Asparagus is gluten-free. So are tomatoes, arugula, lemons, mushrooms, and avocadoes.
You know all those super foods that dieticians and magazine articles cajole you into eating? Blueberries, sweet potatoes, salmon, kiwi, carrots, pecans, chard, artichokes, yogurt, peppers. With the exception of a few of them, those super foods are always gluten-free.
A few times, I’ve heard complaints from people about our cookbook: it’s not gluten-free enough. That’s okay. You can’t please everyone. However, Danny and I both believe that’s a narrow view. So many of the gluten-free cookbooks that are being published now are nothing but baked goods. We’ll show you how to replace your favorite foods so you won’t feel like your life is any different! We promise you — with our flour mix, no one can tell it’s gluten-free!
I understand that impetus. However, there seems to be an assumption that we just need to know how to make English muffins and cupcakes, and the rest just stays the same.
Going gluten-free is a gift in part because it gives us the chance to look at everything we eat. What foods have you never tried before? If they don’t have gluten in them, try some. The more kinds of foods we eat, the better. The new vegetables we try or smoked salmon or Indian meals or Thai dishes or any kind of food that’s out of our comfort zone? That’s more choices.
You don’t miss gluten so much if you eat from foods all around the world. Become an explorer of new foods. Push your boundaries.
Just eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast every morning, even if it is gluten-free cereal, isn’t that great for you.
Can we broaden our definition of gluten-free, please?
Of course, it’s all a journey.
When I started this website, and my newfound food life, I was excited about discovering amaranth leaves at the farmers’ market. I also wanted to make crisp with the apricots and cherries I found there too.
I didn’t bake for quite awhile. And then I started using mixes. And then I started mixing my own flours. And, at first, like everyone else does at first, I used rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, and xanthan gum to do everything I could to mimic the effects of gluten.
You know what I say now? The hell with gluten. And the hell with all those starches. White stuff isn’t good for our bodies, whether it has gluten in it or not.
Everything we bake now is with our whole-grain flour mix. (What I love about that mix is that it’s not our gluten-free mix so much. Rather, it’s a list of percentages and flours you can use. You make it your own.) Not only does it make the baked goods healthier, but the high proteins of those flours hold the baked goods together well. You don’t need xanthan gum or guar gum. You don’t need preservatives. You don’t need gluten. And you don’t need to buy it out of a package.
(Even when we splurge on something “unhealthy” once in awhile, like the homemade corn dogs we made last week, we use our whole-grain flour mix.)
Lately, we’ve been playing with using alternative sweeteners like sucanat or brown rice syrup or honey (that’s a huckleberry cake with honey up there). And eating fewer sweets. The longer I am off gluten, the less I am interested in sweets. My body doesn’t seem to crave those carbs anymore.
I’m still learning. And I hope I always will be.
In that process, we hope that by sharing our story, we can convince you to look at everything you eat, and not just the hole where gluten used to be.
Please share some of the foods you have come to love after going gluten-free. Or stories of how your diet improved after giving up gluten. Or what you have learned about food after letting go of gluten. We can all learn from each other here.
p.s. Danny, Lu, and I are leaving tonight for Washington DC. I’m honored to be speaking at the Eat Write Retreat. We’ll be back on Tuesday with more posts about living gluten-free, including how to eat safely in a restaurant, how to convert beloved recipes, some of the myths of gluten-free, and some of our favorite gluten-free products. We’ll see you next week.