I usually don’t talk too much about food allergies or intolerances, but for a long time they’ve played a big part of everything I do.
Other than having bad seasonal allergies growing up, I hadn’t been too plugged into needing to stay away from certain foods by necessity. It honestly hadn’t crossed my mind. I didn’t have any friends who had food allergies, and it was certainly nothing that we discussed when I went to culinary school. My moment came when my son was young. He had a number of allergies and intollerances, we came to find out, from dairy to soy to peanuts. It made things really tough at moments, especially since allergens weren’t listed on labels back then. I was a new, young mom, trying to figure my way through this murky new world. Fortunately he outgrew the soy intolerance pretty quickly, but the dairy intolerance/allergy was tough and his peanut allergy was even tougher.
Peanut allergies weren’t as common place back then, so I had to be “that mom.” The mom meeting with the school board. The mom trying to get a safe space for him to eat his lunch worry-free. I was the mom begging the airlines, or the stewardess, to please not serve peanut snacks while he was on the plane. I got a lot of heat for it, and wasn’t always the most popular mom at school. I wasn’t trying to take away peanuts from the other children, just to make sure that my son was safe, and that I could breathe while he was away at school. I was willing to be unpopular, so that my son was safe.
My son did eventually outgrow that peanut allergy. We had him tested when he was about 13. I don’t know how or why, but I was forever thankful. He still doesn’t trust peanuts though, and who could blame him. And the dairy, well he has a few issues with it. But he’s grown and away at college. He can feel the effects when he has a slice of cheese pizza or a frosty milkshake. Fortunately for him, when he comes home to visit, everything I make is dairy-free.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I started realizing that I had issues with gluten. The symptoms were there for a while, but I didn’t know to look for them. I just assumed that the bloating and painful stomach stuff was normal. The horrible stomach aches every time I enjoyed a bowl of mushroom barley soup or ate a seitan sandwich. Seriously, how could this be? I was a professional baker for 20 years, wheat was like my sister. We were one. She would never turn her back on me.
When I cut all of the gluten out of my diet, I felt great. Better than ever. Even my husband would comment on how much energy I had. All my issues went away. And so did a few other ones as well. Headaches, well more like migraines, had been a big part of my life. I ate Motrin like candy. Forget taking one, I was lucky if three would take away the pain. And suddenly, they were gone. So I was a good girl and stuck to a GF diet…for a while. I was feeling so good. That is until I got the opportunity to write a pizza book. I wanted to write that book more than anything! So, I reasoned (very creatively I might add), that it would be okay to eat gluten for a few months, while I wrote the book. So I did. Well, I did write the book, and the recipes are delicious, and the crusts are fantastic and crispy and chewy. Everything that you would want a pizza crust to be. But at the end of that 3 months, I couldn’t stand the stomach distress and pain anymore. It was at that moment that I decided to never willingly eat gluten again.
I have had to banish it from my life. I don’t cook or bake with it anymore. Now the only time it gets past my lips, is if I have been accidentally contaminated in a restaurant. I am so sensitive, that I will react to food that has been fried in the same deep-fryer. Or cut with a contaminated knife. Or only had a drop of soy sauce in it. I am the barometer for my gluten-free friends. Yep, I am no longer “that mom.” I am now “that difficult customer.” That annoying woman at restaurants that elicits the eye rolls. My how things have changed. I am now my own advocate, instead of my children’s.
So, you probably have noticed that my recipes are now gluten-free. They are also naturally free of dairy and eggs too (which goes without saying since I’m vegan). And, because of not being able to eat gluten, I have become a bad-ass GF baker. I am even launching a new company with gluten-free (and allergen-free) baking mixes. Life works in mysterious ways. I wouldn’t change a single thing (well, except for my son having his allergies). Because it is from these experiences that we learn the most and become the strongest.