Remember when I said that I’m easily amused, and that small things make me inordinately happy? Well, that phenomenon is at work today: I’m incredibly excited about the fact that it’s May. May, you see, is one of my favorite months — it’s when everything is in full, spectacular bloom, the weather is gorgeous, and everybody just seems especially happy.
I also think I must associate May with good memories — graduations, finally leaving the soul-shredding job I had when I first moved to DC after college, being in the home stretch of my year in Jerusalem before returning not only to the U.S., but to my beloved Colorado — because I always feel like good things are just around the corner whenever this month rolls around.
Interestingly enough, May is also Celiac Awareness Month — and, coincidentally, it’s also the month in which I made what I refer to as my Celiac discovery. Five years ago this month, we figured out one of the biggest, most important factors that had been contributing to a lifetime of chronic health problems: Celiac Disease.
Now, in order to start at the beginning, let’s rewind to the mid-80s: I’m sitting on the couch, watching Thundercats — and oh, does my stomach hurt. That stomachache was a constant companion for me, and some of my earliest and most vivid memories involve stabbing abdominal pain. We saw a bajillion doctors, but they all said the same thing: we don’t know why this is happening. Nor could they figure out why I had such severe allergies that I started getting allergy shots when I was 3 — and they had no idea why I developed a walloping case of asthma, either.
Fast forward to 1997: my stomach pains had only gotten worse with time, and I asked my GI doctor if he thought a gluten allergy could be at the root of all this gastric insanity. My BFF’s mom had a gluten allergy, and she said her symptoms prior to diagnosis had been largely the same as mine — so I thought, to quote Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, that strange things could be afoot at the Circle K.
My doctor’s response? “That’s just a bunch of new-age bullshit. There’s no such thing as a gluten allergy.” After decades of testing with no real diagnosis other than the catch-all IBS, I resigned myself to the fact that this was just how life was going to be.
Fast forward again to 2002: I was 21, and my boyfriend at the time noticed a weird bony nodule on the top of my right foot. A few weeks later, an orthopedist told me it’s a bone spur — which means I have advanced osteoarthritis in my feet. I was relieved to know that it wasn’t some sort of heinous foot cancer (confession: I think everything is a sign of cancer and my impending demise. Headache? Cancer. Achy knees? Cancer. A sneezing fit? Cancer.), but then it hit me: what sort of active, normal-weight 21 year old gets arthritis? It was added to the growing list of my unexplained, mysterious health conditions.
Fast forward one last time to 2008, when my dad was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. As my parents learned more about it, they both realized: Celiac would explain almost all the chronic health conditions that had dogged me throughout my life.
I was in grad school at the time and couldn’t get my school’s insurance to cover formal testing, so my mom encouraged me to just go on a gluten-free diet for a week just to see how I felt. (It was basically the starving grad student’s scientific method: isolate the variable (eating gluten) and run an experiment on myself.) I loaded up on some GF staples, and to my surprise, within 48 hours my symptoms started to alleviate. My stomach felt better, my feet weren’t stiff when I woke up each morning, and the brain fog I’d had all my life started to burn off.
I thought that maybe it was just a fluke, so I re-introduced gluten — only to get sick as a dog almost immediately. At that point, I figured it couldn’t hurt to go fully gluten-free. While I didn’t have a formal diagnosis, I could see how different and how much better I felt without gluten in my life. As I learned over the course of the next few months, it turns out I’m uber-sensitive to gluten; any time I’ve accidentally ingested even a tiny bit, I get spectacularly ill and horrible indignities ensue.It took a while for me to feel comfortable with all the ins and outs of eating strictly gluten-free, but I eventually got the hang of it. Last year I even started experimenting with gluten-free baking (from scratch, no less!), and I was largely thrilled with the results. Now, five years after my initial GF experiment, I’m tremendously grateful that my dad’s diagnosis led to my own Celiac discovery. He and I are both much, much healthier now — and although I do miss various glutinous foods, I’ll gladly surrender them in order to feel better.
People often ask what I’m able to eat while on a strict GF diet, so I figured I’d use What I Ate Wednesday — hosted by the lovely Jenn from Peas & Crayons — to highlight some of my favorite GF foods.
I always start the morning with coffee and gluten-free toast (my favorite brand is Rudi’s Multigrain Bread — and, to my immense happiness, you can find it at Costco):
Other favorite GF breakfast offerings include omelets, quiches, and pancakes.
Lunches and snacks (for this week, at least) have included curried lentil and rice soup (I’ll post the recipe for this later this week!), cantaloupe, apples with almond butter, Greek yogurt with Udi’s GF Vanilla Granola, Van’s crackers with cheese, and Pamela’s Whenever Bars.
Our dinners this week have also run a wide gamut — while we have some favorite go-to recipes, I also like to improvise. Our favorite recipes include lasagna made with GF lasagna noodles from Tinkyada:
Za’atar-crusted chicken with Greek salad (both recipes come from the Nigella Fresh cookbook)
Per the usual, though, my favorite thing is dessert. Organic strawberries were on sale at Whole Foods this week, which made me squeal with delight in the store (no, fellow patrons, I don’t have Tourette’s — I’m just super-expressive and easily amused). I combined them with chocolate almond milk, which might have yielded the best dessert concoction this side of self-serve fro yo. It’s not the prettiest thing ever, but gawd, it’s delicious.
If you’re new to the world of eating gluten-free, there are some awesome resources out there — one of my favorites is The Gluten-Free Goddess, who develops some astonishingly delicious recipes. I’m also building my own recipe page for the dishes I create on my own, so let me know if there are any particular dishes/foodie genres you’d like to see here, and I’ll gladly whip something up. 🙂
With all that being said (good Lord, this post is long), have an awesome Wednesday! Questions for y’all:
If you’re eating gluten-free, what inspired you to do so? Are there any gluten-filled foods you really miss? If you could take any gluten-filled food and make it GF, what would it be?