Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gluten-Bombed! or "What's a HypFoodie Like You Doing in a State Like This?"

Allergens are sneaky. They can fly under the defensive radar of any watchful, label-reading, home-cooking, allergy-freedom-loving Food Fixer like you or me. A change of formula or a new vocabulary term for an old antagonist and POOF! You're a sick princess battling cerebellar confusion in an effort to mentally retrace your steps and figure out where you went wrong in your carefully guarded food plan.

Resistance is futile. To the best of my diligent research, this confusion cannot currently be treated. We, the afflicted, must simply wait until the contaminant has cleared our system and we regain the ability to think normally. I stand in the middle of my room at this point, looking to heaven and praying to God, "What happened? I have been so careful! Why am I so confused?" It makes me wonder how much of Alzheimer's and other dementias are actually long-term Gluten problems that were never diagnosed or handled.

Rote activities like laundry, filing, gardening can fill the hours, or days, or weeks until then, but expect to be slower than usual. It's generally fine to drive, as long as you are willing to proceed within the lowered limits of your visual processor. In other words, SLOW DOWN.

Anything that requires forward planning or instant recall will probably be beyond you for the duration. I know it is beyond me when I'm in that condition. And I know I will not get better unless the offending food or condition is eliminated.

Read those labels, 
especially for any product that is new to you 
or any familiar product that displays the word "NEW" on the packaging. 
When in doubt, leave it out. 

That's right! If there's any question in your mind about the fitness of a product for your personal regimen, don't even put it in your shopping cart. This is easier to maintain when you have been sick or reactive recently. Nobody wants an encore of the hour long naps three times per day or the lightning elimination rounds every quarter hour on the porcelain throne.

The truth is, after you've been well for a few short months, you might begin to think you're over it or imagine it was all in your head. So you try the offending ingredient again.


It was NOT a bad dream and you are NOT a hypochondriac. More likely, you're the canary in the coal mine of your neighborhood. Our food and water supplies have been heavily altered by industrialization (and worse influences), becoming progressively more polluted and UN-natural. One must be highly vigilant and proactive to move beyond all that soundly and sanely.

In fact, it's a full-time job for a while to establish reliable data on what is bad for YOU (and/or your loved ones, those who depend on you to keep them safe) and how to replace it with something good. It's easier to find alternatives today than it ever was in previous decades, but many of the actual skills and sources have to be cultivated, curated and relearned in our rising generations. Often, this is why we blog/publish/teach.

A few twisted souls insist on proving the maxim of the fictional curmudgeon, Dr. Gregory House: "Everybody lies." Okay, call it misinformation. Maybe they don't know how to manage cross-contamination. Maybe they don't understand how many products contain some form of the allergen you have asked to be protected from. Or maybe they are skeptical or greedy for profit or just plain mean. However it happens, it's the customer who gets hurt.

Occasionally, it happens that you just don't remember an offender. They say time heals all wounds. Well, maybe, but it certainly blurs the memory of certain food/environmental offenses. You get better, busier, joy returns to your frame of focus and you forget that a certain food or condition will hurt you. I know I do. That's part of why I write about these things: to help me track and remember what I must avoid.

In my most recent incident, it happened because I broke the cardinal rule of the teaching nuns, as all my Catholic-schooled girlfriends have told it to me:

DON'T (make an) ASS (out of) U (and) ME.

Or, as it is expressed in our post-modern, virtual maelstrom:


I confess: I'd been lusting after the latest gluten free loaf bread from my dearest blogging icon, GlutenFreeGoddess. I was longing to partake of its warm earthiness, but spurned the compilation process -- 1,2,3, how many flours? and gums? plus flakes? I exaggerate for effect, but Oh my! I don't actually love to spend more than 3-4 hours in the kitchen each day, including clean up. Unless we are shooting. But that's a different tale.

I procrastinated, imagining it would take hours to prep and complete this bread. But the inviting photos and the sweetly persuasive prose of Karina's blog pursued me. Everywhere. I gave in to the siren song, standing in the grocer's aisle, studying the bag of Buckwheat Flour in my hands.

"It's not labeled gluten-free," my censor cautioned my inner Samurai.

"I know, but it's Buckwheat from Bob's," the Warrior Princess wailed silently. She knows that Buckwheat itself is actually Gluten Free. Gluten contamination is common, but additive.

The Executive Center of my brain was fully aware of how long I'd been standing there, growing increasingly self-conscious. "Okay, we'll try it," it snapped, deciding it was time to move along before the staff sent for the coat with the extra-long sleeves. 

I made my first loaf in the bread machine. It was not pretty, but it tasted G-O-O-D and it was very satisfying. I'm all about convenience as long as it's fresh and healthy, but I decided I might like this bread better as an oven-baked loaf, just as the author had herself prepared. And after all, our Seattle summer was showing a very distinct trend toward total "in absentia," so why not heat up the smaller oven?

Oh my sweet Lord! It was true! The oven-baked bread was glory in a loaf pan! And it was neither difficult or time consuming to prepare! Surprisingly, it was utterly therapeutic -- feeding the yeast with local honey, proofing the loaf in a gentle oven, anticipating the treat as the house filled with this amazing aroma! I was devoted. Instantly.

Two more loaves followed this one, each as the previous went down the hatch. Meanwhile, my joint pain, extreme fatigue with ensuing naps and rashes had flared up again. I thought it resulted from my time in the garden with full, unexpected sun and waited patiently to get better. This bread was so delicious that I ate more of it than I normally do. One slice with lunch became 2 and sometimes a wee bit of toast with butter or honey before bed.

Fresh, organic blueberries flooded our local markets. Gigantic ones, full of flavor; not those tasteless hydroponic fruits that Big Food likes to foist on us. Everyone was blogging about the best ways to prepare these luscious fruits. Blueberry pie, Hubbers' fave, was executed and consumed with gusto! Hand pie experiments were highly rewarding, as well. And then I discovered the GlutenFreeGoddess' Blueberry Muffin Cake recipe. Down to the Buckwheat Flour, I was fully prepared to test drive this one!

In the most completely objective terms, it was hands-down the lightest and most flavorful Gluten Free cake that I have ever tasted anywhere! And I shared it with other Gluten Free friends!

But then, lo and behold! GlutenFreeGirl tweeted a notice that @Bob's_Red_Mill Buckwheat Flour is NOT gluten free.


Did I KNOW that?

Who could verify?

I sought help from Gluten Free friends online for a day and a half, but they were strangely silent on this subject. Finally, I called Bob's_Red_Mill directly and received the sad news: "We grind the hulls back into the buckwheat to give it extra (something) and for this reason, it doesn't test Gluten Free," the cheery but sympathetic CSR reported. "So sorry!"

I felt the Iron Maiden of exclusion clanging shut around me as my lovely new treats became unreachable. I mourned the 3/4 loaf of bread and 1/4 cake that would now go into the bird feeder. I decided it wasn't entirely safe to compost them, because I would still inhale the contaminant gluten when next I mulched the garden.

I spent another 2 days searching out what I hope is a more reliable source of Buckwheat Flour, stone-milled with water power on a family farm in Tennessee. They promised they tear down everything between product runs and thoroughly clean all surfaces. In the spirit of Trust but Verify, I ordered the flour (it sounds so romantic) and bought myself an EZgluten test kit so that I can have empirical proof of the gluten status on all of my flours. 

You see, the Goddess' buckwheat recipes are just TOO GOOD to do without. I was frantic for a source of this artisanal flour that could provide me the means to continue this new and delightful feast of baked fancies.

I resigned myself to the toilet trudgery and stocked up on chlorine-free baby wipes.

I celebrated the realization that dairy-free bread really was much better for me than Gluten Free bread mixes that contain powdered milk products.

And I wait. The new flour has arrived and has been suitably inaugurated by my "kittens" (4 year old supposedly hypoallergenic Siberians that Hubbers jokingly calls "the Russian thugs"). They adore anything Gluten Free, so maybe that's a good sign. I am waiting for the EZgluten test kit to arrive, as confirmation of their feline endorsement.

And, in the interim, I made Blackbird Bakery's Gluten Free Popovers. I replaced the whole cow's milk with unsweetened coconut milk. I took about 2 tablespoons of the Sweet Rice Flour out of the measure and added back the same amount of coconut flour because it makes baked goods so tender. Delicious! Brand new, eggy goodness. Sunday bread. Special occasion, dressy bread.

I'm still longing for the return of the Whole Grain Loaf with Buckwheat Flour. I followed the Goddess' recipe almost exactly. (Aquarians have this incurable need to introduce small, personal, tweaky changes.) Since I don't love the taste of Millet Flour, I used Teff Flour instead. And my local, organic, raw honey is Blueberry, not Buckwheat. Otherwise, E.X.A.C.T.L.Y. what she said. And, like I said, Glory!

So that is how it happens, friend and neighbors.

One way or another, 
We fall down. 
We get up
(usually sometime later  
and sometimes with a big bill to pay along the way). 
We soldier on toward a semblance of wellness, 
replicating Rebecca Boone in our 21st century, 
blazing a culinary trail through the processed food wilderness 
for all of those to whom Mother Nature and Big Food 
have failed to show unconditional love...

Join us! You won't be sorry.