Now You Know What It’s Not… Time for the What is Is (Or at least, will be trying to be)

Wow. The title for this post is coming out a little bit too much like a 70’s Deadhead… but heck. It’s the odd way my brain tosses things up, so we’ll just roll with it. And with that, I feel I should warn folks. In moments of high brain burbles, I tend to blurt out things rather like the lovechild of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Seuss. Full warning – expect bad puns, plays on words, and jaunts down sidestreets with little to no warning. And before you think that’s bad for writing, you should know I do the same dang thing when I talk. I apologize in advance for any mental jarrings you might experience along the way.

Yesterday, I tried to sum up what I’m not. A daunting task at the best of times, but hopefully it gave you a small sense of my style and let you know where I stand. Today? I’ll explain what you will (hopefully) find here At Wheat’s End.

First – As I said yesterday, I’m not a chef. No classical training at all. A few classes here and there for my own personal entertainment and edification, but I won’t pretend to be someone gunning for a Michelan star here. But I am a serious foodie. I love to cook. I love to read cookbooks, cooking blogs, to rummage in grocery stores, to experiment with new flavors, and most importantly – to feed people. When I was first diagnosed with celiac, one of my big terrors was “How can I feed people now?” I love feeding friends, family, random strangers who wander too close to me at dinner time (My husband and I belong to a group that does historical camping for a week each summer. Our campsite is pretty popular around dinner time, as I tend to a) make WAY too much food, b) make meals like homemade bread and stew when others are roasting week old hotdogs, and c) am incapable of not inviting folks to just sit down and eat.) so to suddenly think I was consigned to only eating “weird” food that no one else would want to touch… broke my heart. I am incapable of not cooking for people. I just can’t do it.

But keeping gluten filled items around me to cook for other people… was insanity. The constant fear of cross contamination, the constant LURE of having something you KNOW you shouldn’t eat… but want… is no way to live. My husband was amazing – he went gluten free at home with me, without so much as a thought. A simple “Okay, this is how we live now.” and he was on board. He eats “normal” food once in a while, he’ll grab the odd case of beer (no loss for me, didn’t like it before, not going to want one now) or a doughnut when we’re out – but for the most part? Our home is completely gluten free. It keeps me free from temptation as well as free from the worries like “Did he use this peanut butter with his sandwich?” “is this the right pan?” or “which cookie is okay?” The transition has, for the most part, been smooth. Bit by bit, I’m figuring out GF versions of the meals we want to eat, and we eat together. And our company eats GF too – in some cases, shoveling it in while telling me how glad they are I’m not ‘eating weird’ anymore because they would hate to eat GF. I try to not laugh until after dinner when that happens, but I will confess to a smirk or two along the way.

I keep hearing from fellow celiacs, or people who are suddenly confronted with having to feed a celiac (or gluten intolerant) that they don’t think they can do it. That it’s too expensive, that it’s too time consuming, that their family won’t eat “weird”, and they aren’t sure how to manage it all.

Most of the time, the expense comes from either buying the GF convenience items and/or buying separate meals for the whole family. GF doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be weird. Honest. I’m not going to lie – getting it figured and getting it all balanced does take some time at the start. Eating GF turns you into a Boyscout (without the unfortunate knickers thankfully) by making you become a bit more organized, a bit more prepared.

So – to that end? This site is what I’ve found that works… and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The biggest thing I want to achieve, is to come up with recipes and meal ideas that are never EVER to be considered “Good, for gluten free.”

I just want them to be GOOD. Items everyone in the family, your roommates, your best friend, your coworkers on potluck day will just think taste good, and are, incidentally, gluten free along with tasty.

What makes me qualified, after saying I’m not a chef?

Well. First of all, I have something most folks don’t have.

I have TIME, folks. At the moment, it’s just my husband, myself, and 4 cats who think they rule the place. We’re starting to have those tentative and terrifying talks (oh… yeah. At the start with the warning about wordplay? I shoulda mentioned my unfortunate tendency to alliterate. Sorry about that, can’t help it.) about children – in the future. But for now? It’s just us. I work from home – your average housewife in a time when that’s not so average. I write, I sew, I’m gearing up to start teaching GF cooking… but I have the time to putter in the kitchen, and the weird ability to shrug my shoulders over a smoldering pile of proto-muffins, trash the lot and try again until it’s right without getting too worked up over the disaster.

Also, well. There is no nice way to say this, so… I’m cheap. REALLY cheap. I buy good quality items but I’m also not happy opening my wallet too wide. Relearning how to cook GF and manage the budget has turned into a giant game of “How Low Can You Go” for me. (Hey, we all have our weird ways of having fun.) In a rotten economy, it’s something I can share and try to help others in the same situation as myself.

So what is this site going to be? One slightly addle-patted gal’s attempt to share really tasty, budget friendly, gluten free food with the rest of the world. Mostly healthy, as made from scratch as possible, with all the tips and tricks I’ve got tucked away.

There we go, the what it is, and what it isn’t… and tomorrow, I’ll stop nattering on a soapbox declaring myself and get to the good stuff. Recipes.

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What It’s Not

Recipes will be coming this week, along with videos over the next month. Pictures (thanks to my husband’s new toys) will be accompanying the recipes – as I know from personal experience that if I can’t see the food the person I’m reading is babbling on about… I’m likely to not bother cooking it. It’s a bit like a personal ad that keeps insisting the poster has a GREAT personality but refuses to mention their looks beyond the vague “medium build, medium height, average looks” that tends to translate in everyone’s head to “Quick! Hide the children, Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy is coming for dinner!”

Tomorrow, I’ll explain just what this site is. What I’m hoping to share, the how and why’s of my cooking style. But today? Something a little different. Today… is what this site isn’t. And what it’s never going to be.

First off… I’m not a doctor. Not a chef. I don’t play either on tv, and while I’ve considered the latter at various times in my life, the former? Yeah. Not gonna happen. My interest level in the insides of other people is pretty much a solid nil. Other than a desire for those around me to keep their insides inside, I’m good without the details. So, any and all medical items that get covered on this site? Consider them “items that have been researched for Jenna’s own personal use and she figured she would share what she found – but her body is weird… and you need to cover the bases for your own and not take her word as gospel”. I’ll do my very best to be accurate, I’ll make sure to tell you when I’m just running on my own personal experience, and if you ARE a medical professional and can prove I’m wrong… I’m a big girl and more than willing to listen.

Secondly – this isn’t a diet website. Celiac and the gluten-free diet has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years or so, becoming downright trendy with the “I wanna be a size 2” set. And, I have to admit, I’ve lost about 100 pounds (sheesh, the room gets a little dizzy when I type that. Didn’t notice an extra 100 clinging to my backside, didn’t notice it coming off until I flashed the world at large by stepping out of my pants. I’m apparently not the most physically aware woman in the world.) in the last 18 months, due in a lot of ways to going gluten-free. But NOT the way I think a lot of people are assuming. This ISN’T a magic carpet ride to the land of sample sizing. Instead – I stopped eating crap (no more junk food), am too cheap to buy much of the overpriced GF convenience items, and for the first time in decades – I felt healthy enough to get OFF my assets and do things. If you suddenly are able to run for something other than the bathroom – weight starts to shift. Also, my body started finally getting real nutrition OUT of food, rather than (sorry to be blunt here) losing everything but the fat a few moments after eating as I rushed to the nearest bathroom. But – weight I’ve lost aside… I’m going to be using butter here people. Sugar too. Meat (albeit mostly grassfed and local). Olive oil. CHOCOLATE. Between celiac and some other allergies (you’re never going to get a recipe for shellfish, bananas, treenuts, and a few others here. Sorry about that, but I kinda like breathing, ya know?) my eating and cooking is already restricted. I’ve had to accept that wheat, barley, rye, and others will never pass my lips again – so I have no interest in limiting myself further. The recipes on this site are all going to be gluten-free, all are going to be made from scratch as much as I can (I’m buying my soy sauce, not crushing soybeans in the back yard and leaving them to ferment. There are SOME lines even as a foodie I’m not interested in crossing and my neighbors already look at me funny as it is!), I’m going to be doing my best to make them affordable and not relying on a thousand odd ingrediants that make you start looking at a 2nd mortgage in order to afford… and they will be Real Food.

But sometimes… into everyone’s life, a little double chocolate salted caramel brownies must fall. If life is to be even considered worth living. I don’t believe in strict calorie counting, I don’t particularly care about how many “Super Foods” I can shove into a recipe, and I absolutely refuse to post anything that is healthy merely for health’s sake – or horrors “Good… for Gluten-free”. I just want it to taste good. I think if we all just relax about about the numbers and instead just eat reasonable amounts of things AND get our butts up off the couch, food isn’t the enemy. It isn’t something to be beaten into submission and sanitized. It should just taste good.

And carob is of the devil.

Last, this isn’t going to be a product driven site. Going gluten-free is a challenge, both in relearning how to cook… and balancing the budget for it. In my mind, you can go GF one of two ways – buy all the new GF products and convenience items that are popping up on the shelves and always have dinner just a 15 minute microwave beep away (oh, yeah. AND triple your grocery budget. There is that little downside.) OR…. be cheap. Make as much as possible at home, and be really really picky on what convenience items are really such a convenience. I buy as good a quality as I can manage, we eat almost only local grassfed meats, tons of fresh produce, and as cleanly as possible on about $60 a week for both myself and my husband (who is gluten-free at home by his own choice. He is amazing… and also not wanting to cook his own dinner – so smart too!) There are a few GF convenience items I keep on hand, and I’ll be honest about them. But mostly, I cook from scratch to keep the cost down, the flavor up, and fears of cross contamination in the manageable. When I find GF products in my own daily cooking and weekly shopping that I like enough to toss into the pantry – I’ll let folks know. In the same vein, when I stumble onto a “Oh… My…. GROSS!” item that is being marketed towards the GF folks, I’ll be pretty vocal about the misstep. I’m not looking for items to review – just items I want to cook with. And, in the fullness of time, if anyone has something they WANT my opinion on, feel free to mail it to me and I’ll give it a whirl. But on the understanding that if it is terrible, what gets written might be a bit more colorful than you were hoping, AND I’ll be stating I got the item for free. (Although, if the meat market I go to wants to cut me a deal to pitch their wares for a free side of beef? Call me.)

But for the most part? I cook as much from scratch as I can to keep my own budget low. And I’ll try to limit the number of esoteric gluten-free ingredients required. Yes, my pantry looks like a medieval alchemist’s cave full of oddities – but I’ll try to not post a lot that requires items that you’ll only use once or something that needs you to figure shipping into the final cost. I understand that not everyone views grocery shopping as entertainment, and my desire to collect hundreds of little bottles of weird and wonderful ingredients is not a quirk everyone shares. (Sadly.)

So. There is my list of what this nonsense isn’t… tomorrow, we get to the good stuff.

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Getting Answers

Now, I’m not going to lie – getting tested for celiac isn’t exactly a summer stroll on the beach. The bloodwork was just the usual same old same old, old hat to someone who had spent years ill and looking for answers. The scope and biopsies… those were no fun. Although points for compassion and a seriously wonderful (and twisted) sense of humor must be given to the anesthesiologist.

The first shot to knock me out was given and a smug “fading out now, right?” was asked.

“Ah.. no. Still here. Still really really here!” came my moderately panicked reply.

A moment of consternation later, a second shot hit the iv “NOW… now it’s all getting fuzzy, right?”

“Sorry mate. Still here, still really too aware of the dude in the corner with the lab coat!”

Almost two years later and I still remember his look of disbelief, quickly followed by a muttered “That’s it. I always win this game!” as the third and final shot dragged me under the waves. That would be the last thing I recall clearly about the next 24 hours. Apparently I had pricked his professional pride and he wanted to make sure I wasn’t alert for the scope. I’m pretty happy about that really.

My husband would later tell me that the doctor wandered in after, shrugged, and simply said “What do you know, guess she was right. Looks like celiac after all.”

It was important for me to know, to go through the work of finding out – but I’ll honestly say that doctor nearly got flattened by a very peeved spouse. I had been jerked around on the bloodwork – told to go off gluten by one doctor, only to be called the week before the test and told if I hadn’t been eating gluten the test was going to be screwed. So when my bloodwork DID come back vague, I actually had to FORCE the issue of going through with the biopsies. Laughed at, told I didn’t know what I was talking about, and frankly called a probable liar and fool. Now, if I was trolling for narcotics, attempting to get paperwork to get disability, or a hundred other scams… I could understand a little bit better how the doctors I dealt with acted. But really – who SCAMS for a stranger to root around in their lower intestines? ARE there people who view 24 hours without eating, drinking a gallon of vicious viscous liquid that turns your lower regions into a slip-n-slide for a day, than having strangers shove a hose where a hose was NEVER meant to go for fun? (Ok. Fine. There may well be. Just don’t tell me if you happen to be one of those souls, please? Some things are better just left unknown.) I wanted – no. I needed answers.

My husband actually had to block the doorway and LOOM to get the doctor to say more that “Huh – celiac after all” – and even than he didn’t get much. I really don’t know why the doctors I went to seemed to have such a hard time with this diagnosis.

And more to the point, I still don’t know why they would seem upset when they got the proof for themselves. I try to be charitable, I try to remind myself that not every doctor is like this, that I just had a bad run… but I’ll be honest. There IS a part of me that struggles, to this day, with feeling like, the moment it became clear me getting healthy was going to be a job of MY effort, MY work and not something that had a whole lot of billable hours attached to it – I got dropped. Hard.

So, here I am. Celiac. Kinda weird gal. And hungry….

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Getting Diagnosed

As embarrassing as it is to admit – I owe a lot of my bettering health to the morning show – The View, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck in particular. I’m not normally a daytime television watcher, but for some reason the day she spoke about her own struggle with celiac and her new book I had flipped the television on for company as I cleaned the living room. Each comment regarding her “mysterious” health issues all her young adult life sounded disturbingly familiar. Confused doctors, bathroom dashes, each symptom sounding as if she had been looking into my past.

I tried to shake it off – it was just another fad diet, another dead end. I was managing – not healthy by any means, but managing. I’d been scoped, poked, prodded, drunk viscous radiation shakes, been called crazy, and BILLED enough times. To say that my faith in modern medicine was low would be rather like saying folks on the Titanic got a wee bit damp.


The emails started. Friends wondering if I had seen the show, did it sound like anything familiar. In a talk with my mother she asked if I thought, maybe…? I started, in a very roundabout way, to poke around online and see what I could find. What I found made my heart race just a bit – after all these years of feeling like hammered horse hooey, was there an actual answer? Something on one hand so big – never again eat gluten (and for a confirmed foodie that was huge) and on the other hand so small – never again eat gluten. No pills. No surgery. No more looking over the shoulder for the specter of cancer to rear up it head… just don’t eat gluten.

It was time to do something I generally loathed. Find a doctor. Beyond my yearly check-ups at my “really don’t want kids today, thanks” doctor, I’d avoided the medical profession for almost 5 years. A few runs to the emergency room – I should mention at this point I am a klutz of epic levels. When I was a kid, people who didn’t know me well thought my parents were beating me… until they saw me walk face first into a door, neglect to notice that last step, or otherwise : puncture, bash, bruise, and generally maul myself. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve gotten used to pitying looks and people trying to discreetly hand me cards to the local women’s shelter. My husband has had to resign himself to getting the same dirty looks my father did – and in a few cases dealing with errant knights attempting to “save” me from the dragon who must be holding me prisoner. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at stitching, patching, and generally putting myself back together, but I still manage about one major calamity a year that requires more knowledgeable help. Or at least someone who can put stitches in where I can’t quite reach… But beyond that, I skip the doctor. Now, I had to actively start looking for one.

Frustratingly, finding one was a bigger problem than I had realized. I think I must have called more than twenty offices in May of last year, trying to find just a GP to start. No takers. Time and time again I was told – unless I was referred by another doctor, wanted to wait 5 to 6 months for an opening, or was currently pregnant… I was outta luck. In desperation, I did what I usually do when frustrated to the end of my rope. I called my mom. My parents live about two hours from my husband and I, so I’m not sure what I was thinking mom could do… beyond listen to me rant, that is. But she surprised me. After we had spoken, she called my father’s doctor and asked if they were taking new patients. She told them a bit about me, gave them my number, told them what she knew about my insurance standing, and to my surprise… eight days later found me trundling my tuckus down to see my folks AND a doctor.

One step closer to finding an answer at last. What I failed to realize was just what the next few steps would entail – and how hard I’d have to fight for them.

An hour in a GP’s office, outlining decades of medical history, current issues, and my new suspicion on what had been plaguing me for so long.

And in an instant… I knew I had made a mistake. There seems to be an switch that gets installed in doctors that clicks on the moment a patient attempts to give themselves a diagnosis, a gut reaction to instantly shake their heads and begin to explain the lack of: knowledge, training, understanding this poor benighted unqualified layman is displaying. Over the course of a few moments I was told:

  • its a trend, people are seeing it on tv and stupidly following the herd
  • its a case of overexposure of media, few people actually HAVE the disease
  • and my personal favorite… It’s an incredibly hard and nearly impossible diet to manage, so really what was the point? Let’s just test all the normal things first.

Test… again. Months and months of expensive tests that I had already HAD, some multiple times, to tell me the same thing they had told me before “inconclusive, sorry”. And than, maybe, perhaps, try the celiac thing later.

I’m proud of myself. I didn’t cry. I didn’t attempt a cranial/rectum inversion on the doctor. I didn’t scream or yell. I quietly said “No. Been there. Done that. I want this tested.”

After a long attempt on the doctor’s part to dissuade me, he shrugged and told me “Fine. If you believe it’s celiac, you need to remove ALL gluten from your diet. Everything. Every speck. You can try… but most people can’t manage it. We’ll schedule you wish a gastro and start testing.*

I left the office feeling…. frustrated. Annoyed. Stressed beyond words… and hopeful. He didn’t think I could manage? He doesn’t know my family. We’re a stiff necked stubborn set of independent cusses who don’t do well when people say we can’t do something. It tends to make us… testy. And danged determined. I went home, told my husband what was going on… and we cleaned out the pantry that very night.*

The appointment with the gastro was in two weeks – one way or another, I’d have some answers at last.

* I should mention, for those reading this and facing an upcoming diagnosis… this is the WRONG thing to be told. You have to be consuming gluten for the blood test portion of the diagnosis to be accurate. To say that I was miffed when I discovered this later on…. would be putting it mildly. But that’s for another day.

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Wherein an Amazonian Gal Tries to Wind Her Way Through Wheat Free Living – while attempting to keep the whining to a minimum

AKA – How We Got Here

Hello, all. Yup. Another blog, another person danged and determined to share their life with the rest of the world. Why am I writing this? Well, first of all.. I’m a writer. It’s sort of what I do. I natter on, playing with words, feeling the shape of them in my brainpan, and than I attempt to share them with the rest of the planet… whether the planet wants them or not. Secondly, well. A little over two years ago I started hearing the words “celiac” and “gluten” shouted at me from what felt like every street corner. Articles plastered on magazine covers, segments on television, hades… the radio started nagging. And… I started to wonder.

I’ve suffered from unexplained health “issues” since I was a kid. A few allergies got identified when I was younger, but for the most part – the doctors I went to were stumped. So were my parents. Diagnosed at different times with – IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerated colitis, ulcers, and the one fun month where the doctor was convinced I had stomach cancer (yeah -that was a fun one). But with each diagnosis came the shrugged shoulders and a weak “well, we think it might be” but no results, no relief.

I’ve spent more than a third of my life either looking for a bathroom, running to a bathroom, living in the bathroom, or recovering from the bathroom. Result? I don’t own magazine racks, I’ve got bookshelves in my loo. And a wireless router for my laptop. And it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that I might possibly have chosen at different times to keep a cooler in the corner of the linen closet for the days I was in there for more than 6 hours at a shot. I’m the girl who could tell you within 5 feet where the closest bathroom was (sometimes without ever having to actually enter the building myself. I have MAD toilet-fu skills). I’m the gal who has pulled into a complete stranger’s driveway, walked up to the 85 year old woman weeding her rose bed and asked, rather bluntly albeit politely, “Ma’am? I’m terribly sorry, but I need to use a bathroom… now. Here’s my wallet, my mother’s phone number is in the front, I swear I’m not a serial killer, call her if you like… but at this point – your bathroom or your rose bush, and there isn’t much time to decide.”

Heaven bless the woman for believing me and waving me towards her upstairs restroom.

The lemonade after was nice too.

By 25, I’d just learned to deal with it. I just was going to be a : tired, drained, cranky, and nauseous gal who ALWAYS put the premium toilet paper ahead of any other purchase. I managed too, more or less. Even with my inability to work “normal” jobs – due to never knowing if today I was going to be fine… or would I spent 8 hours in the bathroom – I managed. On the days I was okay, I worked my tuckus off. Always fighting to get ahead of the curve, to not just catch up but work on ahead… so I could be prepared for the next time my stomach would decide to kneecap me. Not great, but I kept it together – for the most part. I even managed to : find a great guy, make friends, travel, live a life just a wee bit outside the lines of “normality”, and 4 years ago… get married to said great guy. The health “stuff”? I just tried to ignore it. I also have a slight heart “issue” (it gets bored and stops for a few seconds on occasion. But, to quote the great Python “I got b’tter!”) as well as a diagnosis of fibromyalgia (which in my case – translates to the first half hour of the day sucking as I try to stretch everything out to working order… than I shove it to the back of my mind and go about my day. My system is too wonky to take many pills, so a couple Aleve and I manage.) so I already had a standard line of attack when my body would crap out. Deal… and ignore.

Yes. I’m aware that’s not the most… mature way of handling the issue. But it worked. For a while, anyway.

And that gets us to two years ago almost to the day. I’m 31 years old, and my husband and I are starting to have scary talks involving children, the future, and all the things we might want to be when we grow up. Things, that to be honest, I’d always avoiding looking at too hard. Mainly, because its dang hard to see the future through a bathroom door. All those issues I had just jammed my fingers in my ears and ignored over the years… it was time to deal with them.

So I made the mature and adult decision, right? Of course that’s why I restarted trying to find answers. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the shouts heard round the nation when my friends and loved ones found out:

A) In the last 15 years I’ve never gone more than a week without my stomach bleeding.

B) My stomach will go into cycles of misery (and bleeding) for up to 6 months at a shot.

C) I was tired to the point of blacking out… a terrifying thing for others to deal with, as I’m 6’2. I’ve taken out more than my fair share of frightened villagers over the years.

D) Did I mention all the bleeding?

Okay… fine. The screaming, yelling, and threats from my husband to “taser my butt, and drag me caveman style into the hospital” might, maybe, have had a wee bit to do with my sudden burst of adult responsibility. But only a little.

I made appointments with doctors, this time armed with reams of information I’d researched and questions I wanted answers to.

Little did I know, I had finally arrived at wheat’s end.

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