cooking gluten-free on a budget

ras-el-hanout lentils

Everyone has to go astray. It’s how we find our way.

For the last couple of months, I thought gluten-free girl was gone. We closed our gluten-free flour business. We stopped taking sponsored posts. We freed ourselves from having to post something every Wednesday and finding time to promote it all on social media. I wasn’t prepared for how much relief I would feel.  “It lasted longer than the Beatles,” my brother said and I laughed. True. How much longer did it need to go on? How much longer could I go on with gluten-free girl when I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore? (Luckily, Danny and I were not fighting, so there was no Lennon-McCartney tension here.)

I let go of gluten-free girl.

And now it has come back, anew.

spinach hummus crostini

This past spring, I started thinking, “What if I just got a job? A job with benefits? A job where my writing and being gluten-free girl didn’t matter?” I decided it was time and started writing a resume. My dear friend Tita, always my guru, said, “Why don’t you get a part-time job at Thriftway? They’re union. They offer benefits. You wouldn’t have to ride the ferry and come back home in time only to put the kids to bed. You could still be on the island.”

I thought and thought about it. Would it be weird to have won a James Beard award and then work a $15-an-hour job at a grocery store, shelving bread I couldn’t eat?

When has weird and unexpected ever stopped me?

So I started working at our grocery store in September. And to my surprise, I love it. It’s the best job I have ever worked. I see my community. I walk about 12,000 steps a day. I am doing work mindfully that doesn’t require my intellect, which frees up my mind to write while I put muffins on the table. I like my co-workers, most of whom I had never encountered in my social circle. (Several, including my manager in the bakery department, are my former students who are now in their late 30s.) And for the first time in a decade, our entire living is not dependent on my inventing new ways to work on the internet and hope we earn enough to make our expenses for the month. Working three days a week gets health insurance for the entire family. Bless a union job.

After a couple of months, my calm and clarity was so obvious that Danny started thinking about getting a kitchen job again. He began cooking at Gravy, a new restaurant on Vashon, a couple of months ago. He’s so happy — it’s clear he’s never going to work anywhere else. He works four days a week. I work three days a week. Our lives are a little like a Jenga game, but we’re laughing as we slide the pieces around.

sauce gribiche with roasted fingerlings

After working at the grocery store for awhile, I started to notice something, more and more. Most people aren’t eating the kind of food that shows up on Instagram stories or YouTube channels. (In the first draft of this, I wrote “food blogs” and then I laughed. How old-fashioned of me. No one looks at food blogs anymore.)

What do I see as I put groceries in bags for people, when I work up front? Every order has something from the produce department. Some of them have more produce than others. Most of them have meat. Sometimes chips and a treat from the bakery. Some soda. A little chocolate. Burritos and fried potatoes from the deli. Mostly, rice and beans and spices and some kind of milk. Yogurts. Canned soup. Some bags are filled with packaged foods.

About once a day I’ll see someone whose entire order is chia seeds, naturopathic oils, kombucha, and goji berries. But 90% of the orders I see are people buying basic ingredients to make dinner for their family that night. About 1 order out of 10 is a parent shopping for the entire week at once.

This has only confirmed what I have been feeling for years: most recipes online are aspirational. And the creation of those recipes come from a different urge than feeding people. They come from the need to create a recipe no one else has done before, to rank higher on a Google search. (Today I saw someone on Twitter talking about “pink peppercorn brownies with salted caramel honey-coconut oil frosting.” It gave me a headache to think about the path that led to that.) And the desire to keep making money off a website/social media presence/empire of one means keeping quiet about anything but sweet treats and appealing recipes most people won’t ever make.

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, can never bring about a reform.” — Susan B. Anthony

oven-dried tomatoes and polenta

The fact is, now more than ever, knowing how to make good, simple food from scratch? It matters. Knowing how to shop on a budget and make good choices for our family on basic food? It’s vital. Keeping a garden and buying food in season and inviting friends over for a big pot of soup and salad instead of a dinner party? It is necessary. 

For the past year, Danny and I have been looking hard at how we spend money. In the silence of not writing about food for a living, we could hear our conversations more clearly. After a few months off from gluten-free girl, after nearly a year of trying to figure out how to finally live on a budget after years of spending too much on food, we knew what we wanted to do.

Gluten-free girl is back. And this time, she’s on a budget.

hard-boiled eggs

Great food doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Having food in the refrigerator and a well-stocked pantry, thanks to a solid structure for shopping and cooking, plus recipes we trust, makes our lives better. It helps keep our bank accounts a little more solid, not so close to precarious.

And so, we’re going to start writing posts about the structures we have taught ourselves about how to shop and cook gluten-free on a budget. We’re tackling the tricks we have learned from our dear friend Tita and other people who are much better at saving money than we have been before this. We’re going to be offering recipes for good, simple food here every week.

And we want to emphasize this: having a budget is a privilege. Having a budget means you have regular, expected money coming in, as well as the time and inclination to figure out a structure that works for your family. It’s impossible to be methodical in shopping and meal planning when you are truly impoverished. So we won’t be offering suggestions for how to buy the cheapest ingredients and make them stretch for days. Instead, we’re talking about how to create a commonsense way of buying and cooking food that can last through life. These are the guidelines I want to teach my children.

berbere chicken

I’m writing these pieces as a legacy for my children, so that someday they can do better than we have until this year. I want them to start off grounded.  In fact, after today’s post, I’m going to be compiling all the pieces I write onto a page about cooking on a budget. Essentially, I’ll be writing letters to my kids.

However, I’m writing these pieces for myself, so I can learn more fully by teaching. I’m writing the pieces about living gluten-free on a budget for those of us privileged enough to have a budget, those of us who want to save more money so we can help others.

We are making gluten-free girl entirely free. It has always been free for you to read, but now it will also be free of advertising and sponsored posts. It feels right this way, especially when we’re writing about how to live joyfully on a budget. We have a structure that will allow us to write and create humble recipes for months to come. I’m energized again.

tahini garlic sauce with roasted vegetables

We are still offering Feeding Our People here, however. (All the photos from this post come from Feeding Our People.)

The many comments and conversations we’ve had with so many of you have convinced us of this: there are a clutch of people who really love the work we do. You love the food we make, the relationship we have with food and each other, and my writing. Heck, some of you even like the honest, un-guardedness of us, including the waffling. You’ve been reading for years and you’d like to read more.

Some of you have made it clear that you’d like to support our work. We thought about using Patreon or something else like it but decided it was yet another infrastructure to learn. And so we’re embracing what we have been doing for nearly a year and intend to keep doing for years. It’s a community cookbook, which we build together every week. Think of Feeding Our People as a membership service for those of you who would like to help us to keep doing our work. It’s a community of people who love food, the kind of weekday food you can make when you plan ahead and budget.

Every week, we send out a newsletter with the recipe for a big batch of of something that will make simple meals interesting all week: olive tapenade, steamed eggs, ras-el hanout lentils, spinach hummus, sauce gribiche, oven-dried tomatoes, or berbere-roasted chicken thighs. These foods are all gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined-sugar-free. And there’s a Facebook page with nearly daily conversations about recipe planning, cookbooks, budgeting tips, cooking questions, and live videos. It’s a space for passionate home cooks who see cooking food on a budget as a joy.

And I write an essay every week, meant to be funny and searching, filled with gratitude and certainly plenty of questions. Personal. They’re not for everyone. These are essays meant for that clutch of people who say they love my writing. Connected to the food, sometimes. A love letter every week.

We are offering Feeding Our People to those of you who would like to keep gluten-free girl going, free and clear for everyone else.

* * *

So let’s dig in. As Sam Sifton wrote in today’s New York Times Cooking Newsletter: thrift is the new take-out.

Let’s cook together.

gluten-free cauliflower fritters Print

gluten-free cauliflower fritters

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It took us awhile to embrace cauliflower rice.

You might have seen references to cauliflower rice around the internet the last few years. It’s big with folks who eat low-carb. It’s just like rice! I’ve seen some people write. To which I want to write, No, it’s not. Cauliflower is not rice, even if it’s the same shape. It’s still cauliflower.

Tell truth, I’ve never been a fan of claims that say a substitute is just like the real thing. Why can’t we accept things for what they are? Can’t we celebrate the homely, the second-run, the things set apart? 

So I’ve been resistant. When I want a bowl of soft fluffy white rice, I eat it. When I want cauliflower, I roast it. 

Luckily, I like to keep an open mind.

I still don’t like cauliflower rice as a rice substitute. It’s not a rice substitute. It’s a great way to eat cauliflower. 

All you do is cut up a head of cauliflower, then throw it into the food processor. If you don’t own a food processor, set to work with a knife. Whirl them around for a few minutes and you have particles of cauliflower. (Yes, take them until they look like rice.) Now, caramelize them with onions and pour gravy on the top? You have a deeply flavorful vegetable dish with the taste and heft of Thanksgiving stuffing. Or, if you’re like us, you’re going to want to use the entire, enormous head of cauliflower to make platters of cauliflower fritters. 

Our kids love these. If we are working to make a good meal and skip a trip to the store, we grab a handful of the cauliflower we riced earlier in the week, mix it up with the inch of gluten-free flour we have left in the bag, eggs, baking powder, and some salt and pepper. A skillet with a skim of hot oil? Easy peasy. It doesn’t require much money to make good food.

Ingredients

8 to 12 fritters
1 large head cauliflower, leaves removed
1/2 cup almond flour (or whatever gluten-free flour you want)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

To make the cauliflower rice. 

Cut the cauliflower. Cut the woody bottom part of the stem of cauliflower away from the head. 

Using a sharp large knife, cut the head of cauliflower into 1-inch thick slices.

Process the cauliflower. Working in batches, fill the bowl of the food processor half full with cauliflower slices. Turn the power on high and let it whirl until all of the cauliflower is broken down into small pieces the size of grains of rice. Pick out any large parts that did not break down. Toss them or put them into the next batch. 

When you have processed the entire cauliflower, put it into a large storage container. You can use it all through the next few days. (Remember that the smell of cauliflower is strong, so you might want to hold your nose when you open the storage container by day three. It’s still fine. Just strong.) 

For even more colorful dishes, use orange or purple cauliflower.  

 

for the fritters

Make the fritter batter. Put 1/2 the riced cauliflower into a large bowl. Put the almond flour, eggs, baking powder, oregano, and salt into the bowl. Mix them up until the fritter batter is a wetter form of the cauliflower by itself.

Cook the fritters. Set a large skillet on medium-high heat. (Cast-iron or nonstick are best here.) Pour in enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. When the oil is hot, form a patty with about 2 tablespoons of batter and firm the patty up in your hands. Carefully place the patty in the hot oil. Repeat until you have 4 to 5 patties in the skillet. Do not overcrowd. Let the patties cook until the bottoms are browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip them, carefully, since the top part is not set yet. Let the fritter cook until the bottoms are browned, about 3 minutes. 

Repeat with the remaining fritter batter. 

Eat immediately.

Feel like playing? These are good on their own but you can also top them with roasted red pepper aioli or herby green sauce or sour cream and scallions. You’ll know. And you’re going to make lots of these so play each time. You could also replace half of the cauliflower with riced broccoli as well. 

60 comments on “cooking gluten-free on a budget

  1. CARA

    I love THIS! I GO INTO THE GROCERY STORE EVERY WEEK KNOWING EXACTLY WHAT I NEED AND HOW MUCH I CAN SPEND. EVEN TELLING MY CHILD HOW MUCH WE CAN SPEND AND IF HE HAS A “TOY” BUDGET THAT WEEK OR NOT (HE DOESN’T GET AN ALLOWANCE)– mY FAVORITE PART “And we want to emphasize this: having a budget is a privilege. Having a budget means you have regular, expected money coming in, as well as the time and inclination to figure out a structure that works for your family. ”

    such TRUE WORDS. wE ARE SO LUCKY TO HAVE A BUDGET.

      1. Nancy

        We have recently found out our son has celiac. Moms intuition, when doc said he was fine, but I knew better. My daughter is intolerant, and carries the gene for celiac. We all feel better, abd actually prefer GF eating. Sending you peace and love, may your family be ever blessed. Your blog is a gift to families like ours, we are not alone and that is a blessing for us. Love and hugs.

  2. Lea

    This – all of this – is brilliant! So glad to see you back in a way that makes you feel happy aNd fullfilled. Cheers!
    Can’t wait to try the fritter recIpe – love caulIflower. Oh, and the picture of what i assume is the spinach hummus loOks dElicious.

  3. Janice

    Just clariying. To make all the caulidliwer ruce into fritters i would need To doubke the ither ingredients? Also, approximately how much caUlirice is 1/2? Live that you are back and live the articles.

    1. shauna

      You can double all the ingredients. But we wanted to show you how to rice an entire head of cauliflower and have some left over for later use in the week. Batch prepping and cooking is one of our best methods for cooking on a budget, after all. And this recipe makes a fair number of fritters!

  4. Ginny

    Shauna, whatever you want to write about, I’m glad to read! The last decade+ has been insane for you and Dan, you built the gluten-free community with all of your efforts and have left many resources. I’m so happy tou got off the crazy train.
    One thing you occassionally did early on in your blog was name a food, then let people tell what they like to make with it. You said it felt like cheating as others were contributing ideas, but I learned a lot.

    1. shauna

      Thank you. It did feel a little insane, looking back. But we enjoyed so much of it. We are, however, enjoying having our lives much quieter now. And I hope that, in the end, what we’re offering from that quiet place might be even more helpful for our calm.

  5. Sarah

    Shauna, you make me laugh & cry all the time. It is an honour to navigate life, love, family & food being the centre of our universe. Thank you for everything you do. You are wise & brave & fabulous!

  6. diane leach

    For some reason this is all caps; forgive me, I am not yelling, HTMl is. I agree with all this, especially the aspirational cooking. So many recipes I see posted are frankly nauseating. Even as somebody with time to cook, i’d never prepare them. what’s wrong with simple food?
    Again, so sorry for the all caps here….

  7. DamsElflydiary

    First, i am not offended by ads and sponsors so if you can do that Under your new model and make a little extra money, pLease do. Please.

    SeCond, i hate caulifLower. But i love cauliflower rice and roasted cauliflower.

    I have eaten a whOle head of cauliflower that was riceD and rOasted. I have also sauteed cauliflower rice and then added scrambled eggs. GreAt way to stretch eggs and eat your vegetables.

    Cant wait to try your recipe! Welcome back. You have been missed.

  8. Kelli S

    So happy to hear you happy and see you back 🙂

    I love cauliflower so this looks like a great recipe. Is it your blog format or my computer, but I have never been able to print your recipes, all that comes out is a huge 8×11″ photo and that’s all. weird.

    Anyway, happy come back! Glad you are all loving what you are doing 🙂
    Blessings

    1. shauna

      These recipes should print. If you click on the print icon, it should take you to a print-only page. Maybe try another browser?

  9. Tara

    Shauna
    I aM sO glad Youre back .
    I have been readjng your essays sInce My son was diagnosed 12 years ago at the age of 1– can it be that long?
    Cant waiT to see what is cOming next . I hope it inspires me tO get more orgAnized and dare i say thIfty?

    1. shauna

      I started writing in 2005. In May, it will be 12 years since I started. Goodness! Gluten-Free Girl is almost a teenager, like your son!

  10. CC

    I love you in all Your forms. Evolving and growing and changing with the times. I have recently added eggs back into my diet and look forward to trying this reciPe. It fits into my budget! Thank you 😊

  11. Vicki Randall

    I was diagNosed as a Coeliac more than 25 years ago.At that time it was almost impossible to find GF Food.So different Now,and as I have always cooked from scratch I have not found mucH of a problem. However I get annoyed with the current trend of eating G.F food whenn you do not need to.It just shoves up the prices for Genuine Gluten Intolerant people.

    1. shauna

      Do you mean the rest of the cauliflower? We showed you how to rice a big batch of it, then you use 1/2 of that batch for the fritters. That way, you can make something with the rest of the cauliflower. Or, you can make another batch of the fritters later in the week.

  12. Pat

    so glad you’re back. I missed your writing. I am not gluten-free, but i love many of your recipes (just had cauliflower rice for the fIrst time a couple weeks ago).

  13. Rayanbe

    Never tried califlower rice cause i luke rice. But i will try this nEw way to cook and eat califlower.

    1. shauna

      Ours are so popular around here that they have never made it to the freezer! But I imagine they would freeze just fine.

  14. connie

    welcome back, so needing budget friendly, new to the gluten free thing, recent diagnosis and it is spendy to be healthy, thank you

  15. Molly

    Finally! a place for me to share my recipes and enjoy others, thank you so much…i love coming up with new ways to enjoy gluten free meals and I am a great cook! 😉

  16. Genevieve Gil

    Beautiful! I used to organize a nutrition conference for medical professionals, and most often the complaint was, “This is all great, but how can real people make this food, especially when they don’t live in Sonoma, near an AJ’s, or are on a budget.” It’s nice to aspire and dream, but we still have to feed our families every night, after working a full day. I’m a long-time fan, but I adore the new approach and I Look forward to reading more.

    1. shauna

      Thank you. I think we all have to meet people where they are. And most people don’t have the time, energy, or money budget to create most of the recipes online. we really feel energized to help.

  17. Kay

    I’m so happy you’re back! I’ve missed you!! I bought a bag of frozen riced cauliflower but i haven’t used it yet. This gives me the motivation to make my own.

  18. sunny

    This….”Our lives are a little like a Jenga game, but we’re laughing as we slide the pieces around.” So happy gluten free girl is back, and I love how happy you and your husband are in your jobs and life now! I laughed out loud about the detailed brown recipe you saw online. Thanks for putting it back into perspective for us!

  19. Nora

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for reminding me that the ADJUSTMENTS ive made to get back to normal are okay. Thank you for being human. Thank you for all the great Gf recipes. And thank you for giving me a new idea for that head of caulifower in my fridge!

  20. jill

    Yikes, accidental all-caps here. anyhow, HOnestly I stopped reading when the sponsored posts started. I know that was your business/income; it just wasn’t my sort of thing. But you’re back! Hurrah! so I will be too. Your post was lovely in so many ways. I send you blessings for your new paths, wherever they may lead.

    And cauliflower rice…I *know*. It’s like zucchini noodles (which I had for lunch today, and it was clearly NOT pasta). If I want pasta, I eat pasta…but they are fun, healthful, and tasty in their own way!

  21. Ruth Leon

    Guess what, I just like reading your blog because I like it– the glimpses into a family so far away from mine, insights into a different culture, general mundane things. You write well & engage my interest. It makes no difference to me what you cook or how you do it– I do ordinary good for ordinary people, most of whom have no issues. Occasionally someone is gluten free but aside from gaining insight as to how important it is to avoid ANY gluten in your meals, I’ve never even followed one of your recipes! For those guests I have just been extra careful to make all their meals completely gluten free. just write what you like to write because I for one like to read it. I wish you & your family all joy in your life.

  22. gabriela

    I like your new approach to gluten-free. I totally share your view on everyday cooking. “Fancy stuff” is fun and interesting to read and learn, I can’t do it every day. I have a request, could you add some recipes for “only one person” cooking on a budget? Thank you.

    1. shauna

      Yes. We will be happy to do that. You might also love Joe Yonan’s cookbooks, which are geared for single eaters.

  23. Susan

    I so enjoyed your post today. The honesty and your feelings felt real to me. Thank you for sharing. I’ve followed you from the beginning of your gf journey. Wishing you and your family much joy.

  24. Lu

    These fritters look yummy, and like they would go amazingly well with some sort of salsa verde (we do a 50-50 cilantro and parsley, plus salt, olive oil, and either lemon juice or vinegar depending on what we have around)

  25. Ken

    I would love to see some writings on making sauces. Something that you can add over cooked grains, beans, vegetables, etc. that will take a bunch of ordinary items to delicious. There really isn’t a place out there that gives you an overall formula (e.g. Two parts acid to four parts fats, etc.) that can be a model to throwing together what you have in the house.

    1. shauna

      I love this question. In fact, I think most of interesting cooking happens with sauces. You can roast vegetables every week but they are new every time with a new sauce. We do a lot of sauces in Feeding Our People — you might like it there. But we’ll think about a sauce post for the future.

  26. Jenny

    Shauna, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, through periods of gluten free, and not. Truly, I’m just happy to see you writing. I love your perspective on life, watching your lovely family grow and change, and hear about life on Vashon. Whatever you write, whether I’m eating or not, I’ll read.

  27. Valari Jack

    I was just thinking recently that I missed you….and your wonderful writing. Your first book was the one that gave me hope and encouragement a decade ago when I was sick and trying to figure out the gf world. I’m happy to know that you have made these recent choices for your family’s well-being. Courage, integrity and joy have always been what you communicate to the world. Thank you!

  28. CougarGirl

    So happy for you and your delightful family beginning a new chapter. Would just like to point out that there are a lot of us out here that do not use Facebook, Twitter, Google, or any of the other social media options. Email is the only thing we have time to read and respond to. Please keep that in mind as you go forward. Thanks so much.

  29. Susan Meisels

    Shauna, I’ve been reading your blog since forever. My mum has a skin condition resulting from gluten, and I look to your site for treats I can make for her.
    So I know your story and I’m so happy that you have a union job and you like it. I’m happy for you and your family that you took some time off and now are refreshed.
    Also I’m happy for the focus to thrift.
    Thanks!
    Susan.

  30. Esther Maier

    Hej Shauna!
    I really enjoyed your recent posts and the new orientation of your site. I have been following you since 2006, just for the recipes, no one in my family had issues with gluten back then. When my husband had to avoid gluten between 2011 and 2015 we were well prepared, thanks to your site. Now he is back to gluten, but for example we still make waffles with the recipe from your gluten free girl and the chef book, because they are so tasty (without the gum, the eggs are enough). I am glad the baked goods period seems over. While I understood the need to promote the flour, and the appeal of delicious gluten free baking recipes (on which you have become a true expert) I missed the simple and the elaborate meals that are naturally gluten free. Good luck with the new approach and your calmer life style!

  31. ki

    Love reading your writing and seeing what you’re cooking up!
    Thank you for sharing all your wonderful work!!!!
    What is the dish in the first photo of article “Cooking gluten free on a budget”? Looks like beans….?

  32. SML

    What can you use if you can not use any flour? I need to eat clean due to Lyme disease and I love making Cauliflower balls/cakes but they fall apart.
    Same with Eggplant. I try to use Quinoa but it is so nutty at times. Up for any suggestions.
    I am dairy free, except for eggs
    Gluten free as well. Yes, boring but I love to cook

  33. Carlin

    I’ve been a reader since right around when you met Danny, yes I loved even reading all about your blossoming relationship too (though I respect your change in direction to be more private about your beautiful family). I”m so glad you’re back, and I love the new focus as our family deals with my husband’s cancer and my full-time work necessitating huge childcare bills, well, budget is first and foremost on our minds these days. I would also like to say that ads (related to your theme and esp if related to budget food and minimalism) wouldn’t bother me, but you do what’s best for you. I may be signing up for Feeding our People too, I feel like it would be a good escape and community for me right now. Most importantly, your newfound peace and happiness is shining through, and I am so happy for you.

  34. Swanzie

    Ha! So glad you’re back. I just could not believe you would drop the whole project after you had put so so so much into it and built up so much useful information for everyone, published those beautiful books, etc.. So this is great news. I love your writing , your humor, your pics and your great recipes.- Hooray.

  35. Kelly

    I’m so glad you’re back, and I love the budget focus! I read your book Gluten Free Girl 7 years ago when I first decided to go gfree (I’ve never gone back), and I’ve loved you ever since.

  36. Tami

    I found you on Yummly for this recipe and fell in love with you for the blog post. I can’t wait to read more of you! Thank you for who you both are.

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