I was always the dinner guest who said "I'll eat anything, don't worry about me." I prided myself on my inclusive palate, which I thought was de rigeur for a food lover and writer. So I was stunned when I came to the conclusion a few weeks ago that I have a wheat allergy.
I've had seasonal allergies, eczema, and a sensitive stomach all my life, but it was manageable until this summer, when I began to need an inhaler and ever stronger steroid creams to control the rashes that erupted unpredictably on my hands. I have several friends who are gluten-free, meaning they don't eat wheat and other similar grains that contain the protein called gluten. My friends claim relief from stomach and inflammation problems. I was always a bit skeptical. After all, isn't wheat the staff of life, the foundation of the Western diet? We think of wheat as such a mild, innocuous food. How could I be allergic? My ancestors ate it!
I've always believed that diet and health are inextricably linked, and I was so uncomfortable that something had to give. At the urging of my friends and my allergist, I gave the gluten-free diet a try. My rashes cleared up after two days. It was almost miraculous.
Food allergies can be mysterious. When we think of food allergies, we often think of people who have anaphylactic reactions to peanuts. It turns out there's a difference between a gluten sensitivity and a gluten allergy that I don't fully understand. I don't have a clear allergic reaction to wheat, and my blood tests came back negative, but my allergist says the tests are only 85% accurate. The true test is eliminating a food from your system, then seeing how the body reacts when you add it back in. It took awhile to convince me. I went back on the wheat; the rashes returned. I stopped eating gluten; my skin cleared up. Finally, with regret, I decided to go gluten-free.
This changes everything. Eating out is more challenging. Most processed food: out. Cakes, cookies, pastries, semolina pasta, flour-thickened sauces and gravies, licorice, soy sauce, fried chicken - all verboten. Bread, alas! No more tangy peasant sourdough! No more chewy, crispy pizza crust! No more soft pretzels. No more beer!
I though it was going to be really hard. There are some things I miss profoundly, like good bread and pizza. I may even choose to eat certain foods occasionally, especially around the holidays (How can I live without matzo ball soup, bread stuffing, pumpkin pie, and Christmas cookies?!) But this diet has really helped me, and there are so many things I can still eat: Meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit, potatoes, beans, grains like rice, quinoa, buckwheat groats, and corn. I can still eat the whole, traditional foods I believe in.
Gluten-free packaged and processed foods are more and more available these days, but they're very expensive and often not very good. I've learned that I'd rather eat real ice cream or a piece of fruit than a fake cookie. But bread made with tapioca, rice, and potato flours can actually be pretty good. I can use Asian rice noodles in Italian pasta dishes. Traditional Spanish and Jewish pastries and cakes often use ground nut flours. My fear was that my allergy would be a huge limitation for the blog and would curb my enjoyment of food and my ability to share it with others. But I'm realizing that I can still eat many of the healthy and delicious dishes I've always eaten. For baking, sauces, and pastas, I'm going to have to get creative. I have a lot to learn!
It's very important to me that Girl with Spoon stay accessible to those who have unrestricted diets, and that the food stay "normal," simple, and healthful for everyone. I will be including variations for people who do have restrictions, and I'd love for readers to add their own suggestions and adjustments in the comments section.
Thank you for coming on this journey with me!
For Gluten-Free Pizza for 2-4 people, depending on appetite, you will need:
(recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour)
1 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill All Purpose GF Baking Flour. I used this flour for the recipe because it's the most widely available gluten-free flour blend. I've found it in health food stores, Whole Foods, and many regular grocery stores. It produces a nice, light and crispy texture, but it does have its drawbacks. It's made with fava and garbanzo flours, along with some tapioca and rice flours. Bean flours can be a little gritty, which isn't a problem in this recipe, but they do give the finished crust an unusual "sprouted" taste that is mild and not unpleasant, but may taste strange to some people. I recommend using pizza toppings that are strong in flavor (sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, feta, olives, tomatoes, anchovies, etc.) to balance out the flavor of the crust. I'll also experiment with other flour combinations and techniques, and will let you know as I improve on this recipe.
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum. This is an expensive ingredient available at health food stores and places like Whole Foods. It generally costs about $12 for half a pound, but it should last you awhile, and it's essential to many gluten-free baking recipes. It helps to volumize, bind, and texturize the flours and other ingredients in the absence of wheat gluten.
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup warm milk. If you are dairy-free, you may use soy/almond/rice milk or 1 whole cup of warm water.
2 tablespoons olive oil (for dough)
2 tablespoons olive oil (for pan)
Pizza toppings: Tomato sauce, pesto, cheese, cooked or cured meat, vegetables, etc.
(Note: you will need a stand or electric hand mixer to mix this dough. Mixing by hand will not produce a good texture.
- 7 7/8 ounces King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour or 6 3/4 ounces brown rice flour blend*
- 3/4 ounce buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 8 ounces warm water
- 7/8 ounce olive oil (for dough)
- 7/8 ounce olive oil (for pan)
- *See recipe for this blend below.
|Place the flour, baking powder, salt, and xantham gum into a large mixing bowl. Blend well. |
In a small bowl, add the warm water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, yeast, sugar or honey, and about 1/2 cup of the dry mixture. Stir to combine; a few lumps are OK. Set aside for 30 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly and smells yeasty.
Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon to incorporate. Using a stand or electric hand mixer, beat on medium-high speed for 4 minutes. The mixture will be sticky and viscous. Cover the bowl and let rest for about a half hour.
Preheat oven to 425°F. On a 13"x18"x1" baker's half sheet pan, cookie sheet, or similar pan, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the center of the pan. Dip your hand in the olive oil, then use it to scrape the dough onto the pan, on top of the oil. Using your oiled fingers (dip in more olive oil if necessary), press the dough towards the edges of the pan, as far as it will go without punching holes in it. It will cover about 2/3 of the pan and should be about 1/2 inch thick. Allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes.
Pre-bake the untopped, rested dough for about 10 minutes. It will look matte, rather than shiny. Remove it from the oven and carefully loosen the crust from the pan with a metal spatula. Otherwise, you will have a hard time getting your finished pizza off the pan. (You can initially line the pan with a silicon pan liner or parchment paper to eliminate this step.)
Top with any combination of sauce, cheese, meat, and veggies. Return to the oven for about 15 minutes, until the crust is a pretty golden brown, the cheese is bubbly, and the toppings are caramelized.