It’s Coeliac Awareness Week at the moment, you can find out a bit more on this post.
I’m blogging a few recipes and ideas about how you can support friends and family who can’t have gluten. My sister Deborah is intolerant to wheat, and although that’s not anywhere near as bad as having coeliac disease, she does have to be careful about avoiding wheat.
Here is her story.
Oh, so what happens to you?
The above question is one I am asked each time I admit to being on a ‘gluten-free’ diet, and it’s an embarrassing one to answer. In fact, I am intolerant to wheat, not all gluten, but if I say ‘gluten-free’ it means I avoid wheat automatically. To explain what happens to me when I eat wheat, I’ll tell you about leaving school.
I don’t remember having any problems with my digestion until I left school. At university, both in the UK and the USA, I had to develop my awareness skills to include locating my nearest toilet – not the height of cool! I was diagnosed with IBS around that time, but the suggested remedy didn’t work. At uni, a different doctor suggested I might look at my diet. She suggested I might be sensitive to lactose or wheat and that perhaps 6-weeks off dairy products might make things clearer, followed by 6-weeks off wheat. I went for a couple of weeks without cheese, ice cream, milk, chocolate and all my other favourite things, went home and to my mum’s horror, had lost about a stone in weight – I was on the loo for a lot of the two weeks and not because I was reading a really good book. So the day after I got home, I switched to avoiding wheat and gradually built up my dairy intake again. And I was better.
I have always been a bread and cake lover, but to be honest, giving up cheese would have been a real problem for me. I saw a dietician and had the test for coeliac disease, which was clear. So I have been avoiding wheat ever since. It wasn’t an easy transition to make, and I did go hungry sometimes when I couldn’t snack on proffered biscuits and cakes at friends houses, meetings or in cafes. And sometimes I was hungry because ready made gluten-free food is physically smaller than ordinary food. If you don’t believe me, go to the Free From aisle in your local supermarket and compare a GF croissant to a normal one – it will be one third to one half smaller (I don’t know why – suggestions on a postcard).
My new diet left me a bit underweight to begin with, because at university I mainly lived on bread, pasta and biscuits (with cheese and the odd bit of pesto), and the wheat-free alternatives weren’t as nice. The pasta, to be honest, was an easy swap, my favourite is Garofalo Gluten Free Pasta but supermarket brands are absolutely fine and are what I normally cook with. I avoid ‘rice-pasta,’ because it does not hold its shape well and can be mushy – yuk! Back then, the bread was horrible! I tried a lot of different products and none of them were nice. For a while I stuck to Ryvita, oat cakes and pure rye bread, until more tasty options came along from Genius. Finally, my first attempts at GF baking were terrible – a particular car-wreck was a polenta cake that resembled one of those rubber bricks you had to dive for in swimming lessons.
At last, though, my GF baking career was saved, by something that often helps in a crisis – a friend. I was given a few recipes from my friend Rachel’s mother-in-law (also called Rachel). Rachel senior had been diagnosed with coeliac disease and had finely tuned a GF recipe for scones. Oh the joy. Becky and I, along with our brother, were brought up on home made cakes and I was sick of sugary shop-bought GF ‘treats.’ So I was delighted with the scones and regularly make them either sweet or cheese. Try them yourself, they are really easy and so so good with cream and jam, honey or just butter!
Rachel’s Gluten Free Scones
10 oz rice flour + 2 oz tapioca flour (or, I use 12 oz GF plain flour blend)
4 tsp baking powder (GF)
2 tsp xantham gum
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp caster sugar (for sweet scones only)
4 oz hard margarine or butter
4 oz sultanas (for sweet – optional) or 4 oz grated cheese (for cheese scones)
5 oz natural yogurt
smidge of milk to paint the tops
Sift dry ingredients and the rub butter in (like ordinary scones) add sugar and sultanas/cheese.
Lightly whisk yogurt and eggs.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and add wet. Mix to a soft dough (the dough will be slightly wetter than ordinary scone dough, but don’t worry, it is meant to be).
Flour your board or counter top, knead dough to shape it, but don’t over do it. Roll it out to be just shy of 1 inch thick, and cut out into rounds with your cutter (or whatever shape you like).
Place the scones on a lined or greased baking sheet and brush tops with milk.
Bake 10 mins at 180°C until golden brown.
Serve with loads of clotted cream and your favourite jam (unless you’ve made the cheese version)!
Ten years on it is a lot easier to find GF or wheat-free food in supermarkets and restaurants in the UK – you can even get pretzels and pizza! I am working on a Pinterest board for some of my favourite GF and wheat-free products, so you know what I think are good to buy, give it a click if you’re interested.
I would love to post more recipes and GF wisdom in future, so watch this space and my Instagram feed for more inspiration!
While doing some research for this post, I stumbled on another excellent blog, just dedicated to GF eating – you should check it out!