Living gluten free isn’t hard

I couldn’t just leave you with my Angry Celiac post. It’s Celiac Awareness Month after all.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease five years ago. My life has changed quite a bit since then.

Before my diagnosis, I was sick all. the. time. Like, I couldn’t make plans because I’d never know when my symptoms would strike. For nearly a year, I “lived” like this. I struggled – wondering “Is this just normal? Does everyone live like this? Am I just being weak?”

I was in denial and suffering. Eventually, I faced that fear and got my diagnosis.

photo of new grist on the balcony
March 2, 2013 | New Grist – gluten free beer | Ramallah, Palestine

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2013: Year in Review

Because it was so much fun a last year

January:  Spending New Years in the Golan, hiking Masada, and staying in this most amazing of places in the Negev desert (home of the HBDP) — all during Jenelle’s visit.

January 5, 2013 | Negev Desert, Israel

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It’s Celiac Awareness Month, Y’all.

This month is Celiac Awareness Month! Celiac disease is “a genetically-based autoimmune disease that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.” It’s surprisingly common — as many as 3 million Americans suffer from it. And I am one of those people.

I was diagnosed in early 2011. After nearly a year of unexplained symptoms and bouts of sickness, I finally visited my doctor. I wasn’t sure what to say except “What’s wrong with me? This can’t be normal. (Can it?)”

I was lucky enough to have a doctor who is both aware of celiac disease and knew the right way to test for it (the average diagnosis takes 6 to 10 years). She ran me through all kinds of tests to find out what exactly was the matter with me. A blood test came back slightly positive for celiac and she encouraged me to confirm the diagnosis with a GI specialist by undergoing an endoscopy.

I was not thrilled by this diagnosis (understatement of the year), nor was I eager to undergo an endoscopy. But I did it and the diagnosis was confirmed: celiac. The GI specialist gave me a packet of materials and sent me on my way — the only treatment option is to adhere to a strict gluten free diet. And that’s about all she told me.

So I left and was completely at a loss where to start. (Luckily, I had a good friend with the same diagnosis who was a huge help. She showed me that gluten free living could be done, and it could still be tasty. Even so, I felt a little bit weird calling her up to say: “Teach me!!”)

I started by cleaning out my kitchen. Goodbye: flour, cereal, bread, pizza, soy sauce, pretzels, couscous, and so much more. I think I went through at least three more rounds of cleaning. I’d do some research and then realize that, for example, I needed to replace my wooden cutting boards and toaster. Then the next time I pulled out my apron and hot pads, a cloud of flour came with it. Then I’d realize that I hadn’t looked at things like sauces, veggie burgers, and salad dressing. The list goes on.

It was extremely overwhelming. And I felt lost and alone.

Fortunately, I was surrounded by supportive friends and family (in particular, my now-fiance). I’m also one of those people that believes that all answers can be found in a book — you just have to find the right one. I went to Borders (remember those?) near my office and picked up gluten free cookbooks and a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Gluten Free book. A few friends mailed me gluten free cookbooks and many more shared well wishes with me. I read a lot. I signed up for celiac disease email lists and scheduled a visit with a nutritionist. And slowly: I began to learn.

The treatment has been one of the most challenging parts of the diagnosis. On the one hand, I am lucky that my treatment plan doesn’t involve costly medication or surgery — only a change in my eating habits (albeit an expensive one). On the other, it’s a lifelong change that is complicated and affects your life every single day, one that most people don’t or can’t grasp how complex and difficult it is, or how pervasive gluten is in the food that we eat (but that’s a story for another day).

Symptoms of celiac disease vary, and most people (more than 80%) are un- or misdiagnosed. Serious complications can result from undiagnosed CD, so if you suffer from any of these symptoms, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about getting tested for celiac. Today. (Or sometime this month.)

Gluten Free in the Holy Land

Living gluten free is very different here than it is in the States. I don’t eat out, so Jonathan and I have to cook a lot more. A lot more.

Luckily, there is a gluten free grocery store in Tel Aviv where I can buy things like gluten free pita and baguettes, frozen veggie burgers and falafel, and numerous other treats. The only drawback? While Friday-Saturday is our weekend in the West Bank, due to Shabbat in Israel, the store is only open until 1PM on Fridays, and not at all on Saturdays.

So…about once a month, my Friday looks something like this:

(1) Attempt to sleep in. Curse the GF store for closing at 1PM and drag self out of bed at approx. 9:30AM.
(2) Make or otherwise procure tea, coffee, and something that resembles food for breakfast. Leave house and hit the road.

Fresh strawberries
May 18, 2012 | Berries for Breakfast

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Stuffed Peppers

Another weekend, another culinary adventure. This time, Tank and I might have gone overboard at the fruit and vegetable stand, leaving us with an abundance of peppers.

Using an recipe as a base, Tank made stuffed peppers using some TSP that was about to expire.

Tank stuffing the peppers
November 10, 2012

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After work last night I went to yoga. Yoga has kicked my butt this week. (I am proud to report, however, that I attempted Bird of Paradise pose and did not fall over! I didn’t get my top leg straight either, but you can’t win them all.)

Afterward, Jon and I tried a new thing for dinner: Gazpacho. My favorite Kiwi sent me her recipe to try — I couldn’t find all the ingredients, but I tried.

gazpacho ingredients
October 5, 2012

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What I Ate in Akko, or Traveling Gluten Free and Vegetarian

Many of you have asked how The Food Thing has been going. To give you a better idea of what it actually looks like, I’m sharing a rundown of how we handled our Akko mini-vacay. (Plus, maybe you’ll have new, creative ideas for me for traveling vegetarian and gluten free in a land where packaged gluten free foods are few and far between!)

The week before we left, Jonathan and I planned out what we’d be eating while in Akko and either cooked it in advance or brought along the ingredients to make it there. Since it was only a weekend, we tried to be very low-key.

For the car rides, we brought our usual snacks: fruit and hummus with veggies and gluten free crostini. After the bank ordeal, I’m pretty sure we also had chocolate-covered pretzels.

New things first: we tried new recipes from The Gluten Free Vegetarian Kitchen for guacamole (YUM) and peach salsa (not-so-yum). We had this for what basically served as our dinner Thursday night.

Containers of Guacamole & Salsa - homemade! - on Jonathan's beach towel

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