Saturday, February 14, 2015

Blog Series: My Favorite Gluten Free {Bread}

The next thing, after flour, that we thought about trying to "replace" on our gluten free diet, was bread.  I could actually give or take bread most of the time.  I've never LOVED it.  I mean, don't get me wrong, fresh baked bread straight from the oven is good stuff.  But it's not been hard for me to turn it down.  There are days though, where I just want a grilled cheese sandwich.  Or french toast.  So after trying all different brands, we have our favorites.

There is a local bakery here in San Antonio that is completely gluten free. They stock some of their products in some of the HEBs around town too.  We like their white sandwich bread for making grilled cheese.  It has a different texture than regular wheat bread, that we don't tend to care for unless it is toasted.  So we just keep a loaf (or 2 or 3) in the freezer, and toast up a couple slices when we need them.  It works great with some butter for a grilled cheese.  They also have a cranberry loaf that my kids love to make toast with for breakfast.

For regular sandwiches with either lunchmeat and cheese or sunbutter and jelly, we like a special loaf from Udi's.  I've only found it at Target (of all places) in the bakery section.  It's called Udi's Florence Street Bakery Farmhouse White Bread.  It's not even on the Udi's website, because I think it's that new.  But it's softer and more like traditional wheat bread.  We can keep a loaf of it on the counter for about a week, but if it doesn't get eaten by then, we just move it to the freezer and toast slices as we need them.

As for hamburger and hot dog buns, we will sometimes use Udi's.  The Udi's buns taste fine, but they are just so very dense.  It makes it hard to eat a whole burger.  So most of the time, we find that just putting some toppings on our burger or dog and leaving the bun off works great.  I will admit that at first, my kids thought the idea of eating a burger without a bun was the worst thing ever, but now they will even forego a gluten free bun in favor of no bun at a restaurant.

My mom was awesome enough to get us a bread machine for Christmas that has a gluten free setting.  We've been whipping up all sorts of breads with it and we love it!  We have the Cuisinart CBK-200.  We've tried various mixes from King Arthur, Bob's Red Mill, and Pamela's and they've all been great.  I plan on trying out some other homemade recipes soon!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Blog Series: My Favorite Gluten Free {Flours}

The very first thing I thought about when making the switch to gluten free was, flour.  There are all types of gluten free flour out there:  brown rice flour, white rice flour, sweet rice flour, oat flour, almond flour (which we avoid due to nut allergies), coconut flour, quinoa flour, corn flour, soy flour (which we also avoid due to allergies), sorghum flour, garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, arrowroot starch, cornstarch and more.

However, one can not simply substitute any gluten free flour for wheat flour.  I imagine if you did you'd be left with a crumbly mess.  You have to find the right blend of other flours and starches, and of course the vital xanthan gum, which acts as a binder.

You can make your own flour blend.  There are plenty of recipes out there.  I try to keep a bin of my favorite in my pantry.  But I'm going to be honest.  My favorite blend has a couple of harder to find ingredients that my grocery stores don't always keep in stock.  And I have found that it isn't *that* much cheaper to make my own if I can find good deals on store bought blends.  So while, I do use and make my own, I probably only use it half the time.  My favorite homemade blend is from the book Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread.  My second favorite is from the book Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook.

 So, what about store bought gluten free flour blends?  There are so many to choose from.  I have my favorites and I have some that I was surprisingly disappointed in.  Let's start there.

I heart Trader Joe's.  It is my favorite grocery store for most things.  I go there about once a month and stock up on so many things there (I'll save that for another blog post).  So I was excited to see that they have their own gluten free flour blend.  However, I wasn't impressed with it.  The ingredients are simple: whole grain brown rice flour, potato starch, rice flour, and tapioca flour. Notice there is no xanthan gum, which is fine.  You just need to add your own when baking.  I just found that this made my baked goods have a weird texture.  Kind of gummy.  And when I used it as a breading for let's say, chicken, to cook in the oven, it never seemed to cook properly or get brown. Sad :(

As far as middle of the road blends, I like King Arthur's, Namaste (found mine at Costco) and Bob's Red Mill.  They all do a good job in baked goods, and hold up well in savory cooking also.

But so far my favorite is Jules.  It's the starchiest to say the least, so probably not the healthiest.  But it makes the best baked goods and works beautifully in dinner dishes.  I order mine online from their website.

Using gluten free flour blends (homemade or store bought) I have been able to make pretty anything we want gluten free at home.  Cake, waffles, chicken tenders, roux... you name it, it can be made gluten free!

Our Gluten Free Journey

It's been quite a while since I've given a true update on our family on the blog.

Last March, our entire family went gluten free.  It started with my husband, who read the book "Wheat Belly" while out of town for work.  He'd been experiencing a lot of symptoms that the book addressed.  So, he figured he'd try cutting out wheat to see if it made any difference.  Within a few days, he noticed a big difference, and by a couple weeks, he had none of the symptoms he'd been dealing with for years.  He encouraged me to try to make changes for the whole family in regards to eliminating wheat.  I was reluctant at first.  After all, I'd had Rapunzel go gluten free for 2 months before in an attempt to heal her skin, and we saw no results.  But he had no plans of eating wheat again, so I figured... why not?  I am an 'all or nothing' type girl though, so if we were going to make the switch to gluten free, we were going to be all in.  So I did my research again, made meal plans and grocery lists, and we started our gluten free journey.

I will admit that even a couple months after we started, I didn't feel any different.  I didn't notice a difference in any of the kids either.  But I stayed the course.  I was a little jealous of my husband, who happened to lose 20lbs just by eliminating gluten.  I was not so lucky.  He was feeling a lot better from no gluten, and by now, I was in the groove and it was easy to continue to eliminate it from all of our diets.  We found out what we could eat where, and what to shop for and cook, and it was not so bad after all.

Even when Belle went off to church summer camp, I made sure to send her with a bag full of safe snacks, and took the time to highlight the things on the camp menu that I thought she could eat with some alterations (hamburger without the bun, breakfast taco without the tortilla, unless there was corn tortillas, etc.).  It ended up working out great for her because they had a salad bar at every meal and she LOVES salad.  They also even had gluten free pasta available on spaghetti night!  Her gluten free diet didn't hinder her camp experience in the slightest.

Over the summer, I saw my endocrinologist to get my thyroid levels checked (I have Hashimoto's autoimmune disease, as well as nodules on my thyroid), and it was the first time in several years that my numbers looked great, without needing to change my med dose again.  I mentioned to the endo that we'd gone gluten free in March, and she had no doubt that was a big reason my numbers looked so good.

Then in January, I went back again, and my numbers were EVEN BETTER.  So good that they said if they get any lower, they'll need to BRING DOWN my dose of meds.  When I was first diagnosed, I was told that my meds would continually be upped through my entire life.  That there was little chance of going backward.  So this new turn of events was very exciting, encouraging news.

Last week, I finally gave in and went to the allergist.  Ever since we moved to San Antonio, in 2009 I've had to take Zyrtec daily for allergies.  If I missed a dose, I felt it!  But as long as I took my Zyrtec, like a good little girl, I was fine.  Until this winter.  The mountain cedar blew in and tried to kill me.  "Cedar fever" is no joke.  I was a stuffy, snotty, sneezy, itchy, miserable mess.  So I finally went to the dr. to get some relief.  As he was looking over my records, he asked me how bad my asthma had been triggered through all of this.  Normally, I have to take my inhaler consistently through the "cold" months (I use the term cold loosely, because we are in central Texas afterall).  But I realized that the only time I needed it (or the nebulizer) this winter was for a short time right before Thanksgiving, when I got a bad upper respiratory infection. That's it.  He agreed that a gluten free diet could be a big contributor to this!

All of this to say, that while I was positive a gluten free diet was the right decision for my husband, I was reluctant to believe it would have any positive effect on the rest of us.  I knew it wouldn't 'hurt', but I definitely didn't think it would help anything.  But I WAS WRONG.  It has taken time for me to see, but it has absolutely made a big difference for me!   No looking back now!