10 steps to building a better gluten free life

There are huge hurdles to overcome when you receive your diagnosis of Celiac Sprue.  But there are great things ahead.  Just hold on tight – it does get easier.  Oh, you will have your moments of rueing the lack of gluten free cafe/sandwich & soup shops or convenience food.  You will feel a hunger-pang followed by a mini-angry pity party when you are no where you can easily access gluten free goodness.  And then, with each of these moments, you will wisen up.  Because yes, it is up to you to figure it out.

Since my diagnosis of Celiac in 2000, I have seen gluten free food explode across the market place.  I am thrilled to be able to find something, some where when I need to.  But more importantly, I’ve found the things I love and buy enough to keep some on hand.

Yes, gluten free living is getting easier.  And I hope that this blog helps some of you find more food to love as well.  If I had to give advice to someone who was starting out … just leaving the doctor’s office and wondering what in the world they were going to do, this is what I would say:

1.  Learn what you can/cannot eat.

Get a list and put it in your pocket.  Seriously.  I carried around a 5 x 8 card (yes, pre-SmartPhone days) and used it as my reference guide.  Nowadays, you can put it on your phone, buy restaurant cards (lamented instructions to share with servers/chefs),etc.  So do whatever… but keep it handy.  You will want it.

If you have Celiac and are strictly gluten free (trust me, there are others with *many* more things they have to avoid that “merely gluten”), then check with these REPUTABLE sources.  I love the Celiac Disease Center in Chicago.  They even have a “Care Package” program for people newly diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  It’s a GREAT pick-me-up for people who are struggling and/or for people to get their minds wrapped about this diet.  They have a lot to explore on their website.

2.  Learn how to cook – if you don’t know how already.  

And don’t worry about paying anyone money to take a specialty “gluten free cooking” course either.  Baking takes a while to get a handle on, but cooking?  Nope.  Get yourself a basic cookbook and go.  (No need for specialty cookbooks for cooking either, if you ask me.  I love my Joy of Cooking book so much that the binding is trashed.  HOWEVER, keep this in mind:  KNOW what you can/cannot eat.  THAT is what makes all of the difference.  See #1)

3.  Get a buddy.

There are Celiac Disease support groups (online or in person), but they don’t always fit the need.  And depending on how/who is running it, they may not be up on the latest information (and THAT leads to conflicting information…not good for anyone, but especially not good when you are just starting out).  If you are like me, the support group thing doesn’t always fit, so find a buddy.  My buddy is my spouse.  😀  He’s a willing guinea pig and was the first to walk in the house with gluten free cookbooks (Thank you, Bette Hagman – the only books around were hers at the time).

4.  Take some time at the grocery store the next time you shop.  You’re going to need it. 

Your new grocery budget will appreciate you taking the time to figure out the new scheme of things too.  No longer is the center  of the store your budget’s friend.  I wrote about grocery shopping a long time ago.  Maybe it will help you now.  ?

5,  Just because it says “Gluten Free” DOES NOT MEAN ….  And just because it DOESN’T say that it’s Gluten Free DOES NOT MEAN…

…that it is or is not….. or that it tastes good.

Use your cell phone, call the company.  Ask them about their processing, etc.  Go on the web.  Look around.   Better safe than sorry.  BUT – if you make a mistake, don’t kick yourself for it (your body will most likely do that for you).  Just figure out what you did and then try not to repeat that mistake.

6.  Find a local specialty market (or … take road trip, if possible).  

If you are lucky (like me), you might just have one near you.  The owners of these local shops not only are amazing people for finding our niche market and building their business for our needs but they are also MAGNIFICENT resources for been-there-done-that.  Don’t be afraid to ask them which pasta brand they like (because there are many… and they are NOT equal) or which fresh bread, frozen pizza, flour blend, prepared foods, etc are (1) tasty, (2) good deals, (3) worth the time/money, etc.  The owners more likely than not travel to specialty food shows, so they are also IN the know as far as upcoming products, trends, etc.  ASK.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a town with a co-op or organic grocer (Whole Foods, People’s Market, etc…), you will also find knowledgeable people (or a decent stock) too.  Just don’t expect your local grocery stocking crew to necessarily know the gluten-free section well enough to tell you what tastes good and what doesn’t.  (But you might just be surprised, the woman who stocks the “Natural” section at our local Safeway has a brother with Celiac.  She struck up a conversation with me about helping her brother … I loved having a little influence over what got stocked in that section, to be honest.  LOL)

7.  Grab a cup of coffee (or tea… or whatever) and sit down at Barnes and Noble in the cookbook section.

Read the difference authors and the flours they use.  Find a few recipes that are similar and compare them.  Some authors use only starches (like cornstarch) for their “flour base”.  Not only do you have to figure out if you can make what they are proposing, but are you going to like it?  I, for one, am not a fan of cornstarch-based stuff as it leaves a funky aftertaste.  A buddy I know dislikes sorghum (too bitter for her).  Another thinks brown rice is the only way to go.  Whatever.  Figure out what works for YOU, YOUR KITCHEN, YOUR LIFE, YOUR NEEDS, etc.

8.  Want to bake?  Risk it.  Really.

Just don’t do it with 8 million spendy flours.  Start simple.  Don’t kick off your foray into gluten free baking by looking for the loaf of bread you remember from some far-off place in gluten-land.  Start with a flour mix and make some cookies.  Really.  Follow your recipe for cookies from when you were a kid and use a gluten free flour mix (like Gluten Free Mama Almond Flour Blend (not much almond, by the way), or Pamela’s, etc) and add some xanthan gum.  (1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour in a cookie recipe). (GF Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies, anyone?)

Some gluten free recipes seem fairly elaborate.  If you are trying to re-create a croissant in a gluten free version, it will be a long process.  Have you ever made a croissant?  It *is* a long process.  (Here’s my GF Croissant recipe, if you are so inclined.) Now, if you are trying to make a focaccia bread and the flours are going to cost you $35?  Reconsider.  Really.  Well.. unless you have a different grocery budget weekly than I do.

9.  Choose your gluten free path wisely.

The longer some people are gluten free, the crazier the path they tend to follow.  Or so it seems.

I know a few gluten free bloggers who venture into the never-neverland of food from husks or strips of coconut bark or… I don’t know.  But it’s true.  I don’t think I’ve landed on those islands just yet, but truly, I live gluten free because I have to.  NOT because I want to make a career path out of it.  I still bake/cook like I used to – but just differently.  We probably eat quinoa now because I had to go GF, but there’s no saying I wouldn’t have tried it otherwise.  I think it just came into my life a little sooner rather than later.

Find a gluten free blogger or site that seems to echo you/your family’s eating habits.  Then keep reading.

Check out advertsements in gluten free magazines or websites just to familiarize yourself with the wide variety available, but don’t feel the need to “throw the baby out with the bath water” from your family diet.  I am willing to bet you have SOME things in your repetoire that were gluten free to begin with.

10.  Find nutritional balance.

Not all gluten free goods are going to offer you nutritionally sounds whole grains, etc.  PAY ATTENTION.  Most commercial gluten free breads rely heavily on starch (tapioca, potato or corn) for the majority of the “fluff” and “flexibility” of their toastable creations.  This is a far leap from the whole-grain high fiber breads you may have been eating.  You will need to adjust your baking, buying and consuming to give your body what it needs to be healthy again.  It’s more than gluten free, you need to find gluten free AND good for you.   Start here in blog-land.  You will find lots of treasure recipes that use whole grains.  You can analyze recipes on Nutrition Data too.

Most importantly:

You are not alone.

There are millions of Americans with Celiac Disease.  And MANY more who are gluten intolerant.

You will survive and thrive.

Welcome aboard the Gluten Free Train – 
We travel with food. 😀

Is soy sauce “safe” for people with Celiac?

Just recently my husband and I were talking about soy sauce.  I know, it’s not your typical lovey-dovey conversation, but really – who has those everyday and/or posts them on their blogs?    But in all honesty, our discussion has often bounced back to soy sauce in regard to Celiac/Gluten Free diet.

You see, the reality of my life is this:  soy sauce is in everything (well… almost everything) my in-laws cook.  And while we sadly have not been able to travel in years (read: 2003) to visit them, we would like to.  We want to bring these beautiful babies toddlers (!) we have back to see the rest of our family.  So we start talking about the added expense of traveling when you need to buy food and/or cook.

Primarily while staying at someone else’s home, I don’t want them to feel put-out that I don’t eat what they are serving.  At my parent’s house, I have no problem sliding in to the kitchen and cooking.  In fact, I love it!  But at my in-laws, the kitchen is laid out differently and they do a different style of cooking than what I grew up with.  It makes cooking for them a bit more of a hurdle.  Add to that the fact that food intolerances/allergies are truly not a common topic nor common in the general Asian population (aside from dairy/lactose which isn’t really in the main diet plan anyway) and well… it can lead to some hurdles.

So back to the soy sauce.

When we traveled in 2003, I just bought a bottle of San-J when we arrived for cooking.  It was a great conversation starter (lol!) as we talked about the salty (or non-salty) factor compared to the sauces they liked to use.  (Yes, each varies significantly in saltiness, thickness, etc.)  At one resturant, my father-in-law tried to help my by explaining that I can have wheat/soy sauce and he beamed with pride when the wait-staff and chef told him there was no wheat in what they made.  And then out came the wheat-puffed pancakes for the wheat-soy sauced laden Peking Duck.  (PS.  The “dao mew” – snow pea pods shoots – were AWESOME that night.)

Soy sauce is everywhere in the Asian diet.

And I don’t always trust the labels.

And then I found this study by Frederik Janssen on the GlutenTox blog.  (I am not associated with them, just found them via my search about gluten and soy sauce).  (Copy of the PDF is here:  Safety-of-Asian-soy-sauce-in-gf-diet).

Approaching the gluten free diet frustration of eating-out and the common exposure/concern of soy sauce, the study looked at the varying ingredients found in different soy sauce brands (European based) and analyzed them for their gliadin content.  Remember, the protein that causes the damage to the intestinal track for Celiac patients (like myself) is this protein.  Truly, it is a speck within the wheat grain.

From the anecdotal piece of their survey, Celiac patients who self-reported information regarding how they approach soy sauces responded with the following commentaries:

  • avoided all products with wheat listed on the label
  • consumed soy sauce with wheat listed on label with non-typical reactions that could not be attributed to the wheat/soy sauce
  • consumed soy sauce with wheat on the label with “ease since they know the proteins in these sauces were almost completely degraded; consequently they did not experience any symptoms.” (p.56/Jannsen)

The report further states that “given the results of our analysis, it is quite remarkable that symptoms occurred in some coeliacs after these products were eaten.”

The scientific analysis appears to demonstrate that the levels of gliadin are slightly lower (on average) that the proposed levels (20ppm in the EU).  Most surprising to me was this statement:

“Given the amount of soy sauce used in Asian dishes this level might be irrelevant.   


“There seems to be no correlation between gluten content and the declaration of wheat on the product label.”

The attached PDF (referenced above) then continues on to discuss the types of labeling laws now required (and those not, like for wheat starch) in the EU as well as whether or not the methodology available for analyzing such materials is suitable for the hydrolyzed gluten proteins found in the fermented goods like soy sauce.

As a result of their analysis (please, read it for yourselves) are the following recommendations:

  • that, as far as possible, Coeliacs should choose Asian soy sauces which do not include wheat.
  • if such information (ingredient listing) is not available, they should not be worried about the ingestion of gluten as investigation have shown that hte level so fgluten are almost insignificant in relation to the safe dose as reported by Catassi…
  • Coeliacs should, however, still avoid dishes with very high levels of soy sauce.

Truly I am awed.

I have always wondered.  And in all honesty, have not worried too much about soy sauce.  I have a good handle on food prep/recipes in Asian (mainly Chinese) foods and have felt fairly confident selecting my items with care.  But soy sauce remained one of those ingredients that I question.  NOT because I think it is “bad” but because I wonder what the levels truly are.  This paper has brought the conversation back to our dinner table.

I’d love for it to begin conversation here.

What do you think?  I’d love to collect some info/ideas from you all to post in a follow up post.  I will NOT share you personal information ever.  The results will be tabulated into a graph for sharing.  If you are willing, please click here.

Is soy sauce ‘safe” for the gluten free diet?

Gluten Free Oat & Honey Bread

Honey & Oat Bread

So if you’ve been reading along, you are no doubt in awe (like me) that I am able to sit and actually write a blog post!  The girls are busy (one is next to me “studying” a map and the other is currently occupied by a toy cash register) and life is good.  My Love is even able to catch his breath for a moment.  (I’m sure swearing off all household repairs has something to do with it… LOL)

In the last several weeks, I’ve been working on a bread recipe.  One that would allow me to use the relatively cheaper gluten free flours (saving money), still use whole grains with limited starch, and not have so many esoteric ingredients that reading it would feel like a study in chemistry.  Well, okay, I did use xanthan gum.  (No, I’m not giving up gums.)  I find it really helps the texture and holds the bread together.  In fact, once I left it out by mistake.  Oy vey, what a crumbly mess I had on the counter.

I think gluten free bread baking can FEEL intimidating to people.  But really?  I don’t think it is that bad.  Yes, you will have breads that fail.  Breads can come out crumbly or dry or dense  – or, well, let’s be honest – any litany of maladies can plague your baking.  However, gluten free breads are rather forgiving in my mind.  Once I figure out a ratio of total flours:fats:liquids, I’ve been fairly happy.  My stand-by loaf of bread used to be my Pepita-Powered Bread (made with green pumpkin seeds – aka Pepitas).  But I don’t always have the pepitas on hand (and I have to go to the Food Co-op to buy them) and when I do have them on hand, I like to use them in granola as well.  In a recipe-battle for the pepitas, the granola usually wins.  I just don’t eat that much bread anymore but granola?  YUM!

This bread is super moist.  It holds up well.  In fact, I’ve made it on the weekend and STILL have been able to eat a sandwich with it on Wednesday WITHOUT toasting it.  I actually just polished off the last loaf I made (last Saturday afternoon while the girls napped) this morning for breakfast.  I *love* being able to eat peanut butter toast for breakfast.  And my girls had the last slice for a PB&J sammie at lunch (not toasted!).

If you are not gluten free and are making this bread for someone who is, please be sure to use CERTIFIED gluten free oats.  Other than that, the other ingredients should be easy to find.  (There is even a spice house in my town that will sell xanthan gum by the teaspoon/measurement – hopefully this trend will catch on.  Otherwise, borrow a couple teaspoons from someone if you don’t plan to bake GF because of all the ingredients – that price tag will kill you.  My only consolation is that one bag of xanthan gum lasts FOREVER – and stores easily in an air-tight container in the cupboard.  Really.  It takes a LONG time to use up a whole bag  – even in this house where I like to bake!)

Lunch - Honey & Oat Bread

Just an FYI – I’m a whisk-it-up and scoop girl for my measuring.  Meaning, I whisk through my tub of flour (especially potato starch which seems to become QUITE heavy/compacted over time) and then I scoop and measure out my flour.  Yes, weighing flours is more accurate and I gladly weigh when making things from European cookbooks or from other sources, but I guess you just can’t kick the old-school scoop measuring out of me.  I don’t know my equivalents to convert my recipes easily from the top of my head and scooping is easier for the kids to help me bake the bread as well.  I love having kitchen helpers. 😀  Now if only their clean-up didn’t mean a bigger mess.

I used brown rice flour (superfine or regular), certified gluten free oats, and a small amount of starch.  There are several substitutions that you can easily make without sacrificing the texture of the bread.  Here are the ones I have done:

  • FOR Brown Rice Flour replace with equal amounts of:
  • regular brown rice flour
  • superfine brown rice flour
  • white rice flour (NOT sweet rice flour)
  • sorghum flour
  • millet flour
  • a combination of these to make the same total
  • FOR Certified Oats (not quick cook):  replace with equal amount of
  • quinoa flakes (this will alter the flavor)
  • FOR the starch use:
  • potato starch (makes a slightly more dense bread but very moist)
  • tapioca starch (makes a moist bread with a bit more springy quality)
  • cornstarch (useable but not recommended – adds a bit of a filmy aftertaste to me)

Honey & Oat Bread

Oat & Honey Gluten Free Bread

Gluten Free Oat & Honey Bread

A printable copy of this recipe can be found here.


  • 1 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cup certified gluten free oats
  • 1 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 2 teaspoons xanthan gum
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  (I do leave my oven on preheat when allowing the bread to rise because our kitchen can be cold.  If your kitchen is not, leave the preheating until after your bread is nearly risen.)
  2. Heat your water to 105-110F.  Mix in your honey and yeast.  Set aside to proof. (About 1o minutes)
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients in the bowl of your mixer:  certified oats, brown rice flour, potato starch, xanthan gum, sugar and salt.
  4. Add eggs, melted butter and yeast-proof mixture.  Mix together on slow until well blended.
  5. Mix on medium-high for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Oil the bottom and sides of your bread (standard size) pan (I use olive oil and a basting brush).  Pour bread mixture into oiled pan and smooth out the top with a wet 7.  spatula.  Set aside to allow the bread to rise.  It will rise over the top edges of the pan.
  7. Once risen, pop the bread into the oven.  Bake to an internal temperature of 205F – about 25-35 minutes, depending on your oven.
  8. Once your temperature is right, use a spatula to slide along the sides of the bread pan to loosen the bread.  Remove the bread from the pan by inverting.  Allow the bread to cool on its side on a cooling rack for 20 minutes + before slicing.
  9. Store in wrapped in foil and in an airtight container after cooling completely on the counter or in your refrigerator.
I hope this bread recipe is as delightfully easy for you as it has been for me.  Seven loaves later and it is now our preferred bread.  Even our little ones (who are not bread eaters by choice completely) enjoy this one for the tiny bites that they will take.
Well, I hear the girls gearing up for some interactive time.. the wind is blowing and the rain is coming down.  Winter is here early.  At least we have bread to keep the house toasty and smelling good now!
~Happy Gluten Free Eats!

Help Wanted: Eating GF more wisely, cheaply and saving time. Got tips?

I bet you think I’ve fallen into a large hole around here and have lost internet access, huh?

Well, I have, kind of.

School started.  Just last year I had 135 students a day (5 classes/high school) and this year?  Oh no… this year I see 171 students (same five classes) and it’s A LOT.  Add that to the fact that the baby youngest toddler is a moving, shaking, running, jumping, climbing and the eldest is well…. keeping up and you can see why I’m dead tired by dinner time.

We’re back on the treadmill people.  Up at 5:15, home by 5:00, dinner, play, baths, and bedtime…then school work.  Bedtime comes around 11:40 or later.  Seriously…this is going to be a long winter!

Top that with the fact that our house, just like yours I bet, has been hit by our lovely economic woes.  Thankfully, we are both employed.  However the loss of pay in the form of pay cuts (8% between the two of us) and double to out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance (EEK!) and we are in re-set mode.

We are intentional about the food choices we make.  More than ever now as well.  We have to stretch that dollar farther and we are still choosing to maintain a completely gluten free home.  But as all of you know, that means some serious creativity.

Couple all of that with the fact that time to cook dinner is LIMITED.  Kids (and parents alike) are wickedly hungry come 5:30.  Providing snacks before dinner doesn’t seem like a positive solution at all.  We worry that then we are just giving them outs from dinner – and we want to eat all together as a family.  THAT is important to us.

So.. I guess this post is a conversation starter.  One that I hope will get you all commenting and helping with tips and pointers for ALL of us busy, working gluten-free families.  What are YOU doing to save your brain, your money and your family (health and time together)?

 Home-made GF Quesadillas – add eggs or avocado, etc too

See recipe below signature


I have limited tricks for getting dinner on the table quickly.  This has a lot to do with my brain.  I am NOT the one in my family who can open the cupboard, see what we have on hand and then whip out dinner.  Nope.  Especially not when there are two kids practically pulling my pants off as they try to get my attention after we rush in after work/daycare at 5PM.  And,  I don’t do mania very well at all.  (Can you believe I do mania REALLY well in the classroom – but just not at home?  I don’t get it either – but it is true.)

Sometimes I am organized enough on the weekend to layout a dinner menu for the week.  I get organized after we pick up our box of veggies at the Farmer’s Market on Sundays and start planning.  Each meal we have to include things that are accessible to the kids – as I’m not a short-order cook and we’re going to all eat together.  Sometimes we make miso soup for them (they LOVE tofu) in addition to whatever we are having, but they usually just eat right along with us.  Once I see what we have for the week, I can easily lay out dinner menus on the calendar at home (or the google calendar we share so I can see it on my phone or at work, if needed).  I love those weeks.  I know what I need to do, when, etc.  It’s so helpful when work things pop up last-minute or unplanned after-daycare doctor visits (my pediatrician should have a frequent-flyer coupon card for free coffee after 10 visits or something… I”m just saying…).

Sometimes I’m not so fabulously organized.  And these are the weeks that are (1) most common and (2) the MOST stressful for me.

Like this week.  Unplanned, but at least there is food in the fridge.  These are the days that my husband finds to be the easiest.  Seriously, in 3 minutes flat he can make a meal plan and get it started.  Me?  OMGosh – I have to know what’s in the fridge for the WHOLE day before I can even begin to figure something out.

Take today, for example.  I know there is ground turkey at home.  I can make lettuce wraps or tacos or chili (oh wait… I don’t have any beans on hand) … k then… I could make meatballs with rice (no pasta either), or.  Dang it.  I don’t know.  When my feet hit the kitchen, I will decide then.

More than just meal planning, however, is saving money.  Cheap Gluten Free Eats!  (Yes, they do exist.)

Here’s the list I’ve been working with this last month.  You can see I’m in need of some change-ups, people. One can only eat so many apples with peanut butter before you just don’t want to even look at them again.  So please.  Let’s work together on this.





Cinnamon Chex

peanut butter/apples or celery sticks


lettuce wraps

fresh fruit


hard-boiled egg



cheese & pears

cheese cubes


GF Granola

hard-boiled egg

Trio bar (my spendy snack)

Lundberg risotto + protein and veggies mixed in

Hard cheese & GF tortilla chips

rice noodle soup (so much cheaper!)

Fresh fruit

Cantonese-style family chicken & mushrooms


miso + tofu soup

small salad


yogurt smoothie

meat/cheese or avocado roll

meat/cheese or avocado roll

Chinese Chicken & Corn Chowder

homemade GF torillas with eggs/cheese

nori wraps

nori wrap

Tortilla soup


homemade tortillas/quesadillas


grilled meats/fish and veggies/frui

What are your favorite cheap and convenient GF foods/meals?

Let’s get talking, people!


PS.  Making your own gluten free corn tortillas is SUPER easy (and much tastier, by the way).  Use equal parts corn flour (masa harina or masa harina para tortillas) and warm water.  You can also add a bit of olive oil or spices to your dough, if you’d like. (I added paprika and chili powder in the ones in the photo.)  Mix the corn flour with the warm water slowly until it forms a soft pliable ball.  Pinch off pieces and flatten in your hand to make tortillas (or thicker ones for sopes).  Cook on a hot, non-stick skillet.

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