“I’m sorry but I can’t make it up the hill.”
One cold, crisp December morning a professional hairdresser and make-up artist turned my everyday cute self into a beautiful cover bride. Snow had swept in the evening before, leaving the countryside picture perfect white. Unfortunately, the snowplows, dirt and salt had left the parking lots and roads grimy and filthy.
Residual light snow fell onto the umbrella my maid of honor carried over my head while faithful bridesmaids valiantly tried to hold up my dress above the filth and grime as we slowly and carefully stepped to the limousine. The driver assured me that the roads were clear, and we were on our way to the moment I had been planning for the past six months.
My husband-to-be was waiting at the church with the family and friends who represented the first twenty-two years and twenty-three years of both our lives. In less than an hour our new lives together would begin. Or so I thought.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but the main road up to the church is closed because of ice. I’ll have to go around.” The road “around” unfortunately was closed as well. As was the third route option. We could see the church sitting at the top of the hill, its steeple standing tall in the middle of the swirling snow, but we could not get to it.
Would my wedding be thwarted by the mercilessness of nature? Would I break my leg if I got out and walked up the icy road? Maybe getting married in December wasn’t such a great idea after all.
In the end, we made it to the church half an hour later as the sun broke through the clouds and melted away some of the offending ice, but for a moment, it had seemed as if the obstacle might be too great to overcome.
We can have the same overwhelming feeling when it comes to changing our eating habits to fit a food allergy or a healthier diet as obstacles we hadn’t anticipated loom before us.
For most folks the biggest obstacle is price. Allergen free foods are more expensive than regularly processed items. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other fresh produce cost more than white flour goods and boxed and canned foods. As well, some people find it difficult to find resources which might help them with their new lifestyle while others discover that it’s not easy to create or revamp their own recipes for healthier or allergen free cooking. Add on that suddenly folks have to “educate” their friends and family about their allergies or dietary restrictions with not always the best responses, and it can seem like one might not be able to make the changes after all.
Cost: When everything you make has to be gluten, dairy, nut, sugar and occasionally egg free at the same time, cooking can become a bit expensive. There are ways to cut back on costs, though.
1. Many “regular” foods ARE gluten, dairy, nut, egg, etc… free. Sometimes we get caught in the mindset that everything we buy has to be “special”, but that’s not the case. You just need to read the labels, but you’ll be surprised by the number of items you find you can still eat.
2. Whole is better than parts. If you’re eating healthier and purchasing more fruits and vegetables, don’t buy the separately packaged, pre-washed, cut up varieties. They always cost more. Purchase the whole lettuce head. Buy the loose vegetables and not the ones already on the foam trays. Get a whole melon and not the halves.
3. Buy when there are sales. Most of the grocery stores in my area will have a sale on different allergen free items at least weekly, so I stock up when the prices are good. You can also find sales online. Comparison shop between the brand companies and Amazon.
4. Frozen is good. Fruits and vegetables which are frozen are cheaper than fresh. While you definitely want to get fresh when it’s in season, you don’t want to when it’s not. It’s too expensive. Go with the frozen and read my post on the “frozen chosen” to learn all you can do with them.
5. Buy in bulk. Places like BJ’s and Costco’s now have many allergen free items in stock for purchase at better prices. At the supermarket, an 11.5 oz of Agave costs me between $4 and $5. At BJ’s I can buy a 48 oz container for $6.99. Also, online, if you purchase more, often the price is less per unit and you ultimately save on shipping and handling, too. For veggies and fruit: If there’s a good price on something you regularly eat, you can purchase it and freeze them for later use.
6. Shop at discount places. In my area Ocean State Job Lot is a wonderful place for picking up gluten free items with good expiration dates for a cheaper price than I’d find it at the store or online. I don’t make a special trip to the Job Lot but if I’m passing by, I stop in and stock up. Look around for stores in your area that provide the same option.
7. Shop with friends. If you have friends who have similar allergy or health issues, purchase even larger quantities of needed items, together and split the costs. I’ve found this helpful, because sometimes a friend wants a little of something while I want a lot or vice versa, and we can take the proportional amounts that we each want while saving some money.
Resources: The biggest question I always get is “Where do I start?” The nice thing about today’s age is that resources abound online so you don’t even have to spend money purchasing books. You can get help for free. Google any food allergy and numerous sites will pop up. Type in “healthy” before whatever recipe you want, and you’ll get a “bazillion” hits. Because it is “numerous”, though, ask around. Friends can tell you what sites have been helpful to them. Once you are at a site, see what other sites are linked to that one. People are very open about sharing site they “like”. If you do want a book, Google your particular allergy and see what pops up. Read the reviews, and you’ll find that people are very vocal about whether a book works or not.
Recipes: If you find that you’re simply are not cut out for revamping or creating your own recipes, don’t worry. There are plenty of people out there who have recipes you can simply follow. Those sites and books you found will always have recipes you can use, and you’ll find allergen free recipes for just about anything under the sun you want to create. And if following recipes isn’t your thing, either, you still don’t need to stress, because there are many, many products on the market, both online and in stores. I personally don’t make my own pie crusts from complete scratch. Bob’s Red Mill has a wonderful gluten free baking and biscuit mix which makes a great pie crust, so I use it. I add my own little touches, a little cinnamon and spice added, a bit of vegan butter brushed on the top, etc…, but I’m using a store bought product. No one says you have to do it all yourself, especially when there are plenty of options out there for you to use.
Education: This is usually the most difficult obstacle, more than even the cost. Too often the obstacle are well-meaning friends and family who simply don’t understand.
1. “But I only used a little.” Sometimes folks don’t seem to understand that “a little bit” can be deadly for someone with a food allergy. In these cases, it’s important to be patient and to take the time to gently explain that a little bit can trigger a reaction which could lead to death. Don’t be dramatic, but matter of fact. In time, people usually begin to get it. If you’re eating healthier for a health issue, simply explain that you really can’t eat certain foods because of your health.
2. “But I can cook for you.” Sometimes folks turn down your offer to bring something you know you can eat. They’ve invited you and don’t want you to have to go through any effort. Occasionally, they’re actually hurt that you want to bring something, as if there won’t be anything they’ve made you can eat. In these cases, you need to be honest and simply explain that it’s no reflection upon them, but you’ve learned to be careful because you’ve had bad experiences in the past. Usually people understand when you explain it that way.
3. “But I’ve read that you can be misdiagnosed with an allergy.” Sometimes people don’t believe you have an allergy. With all the information out there about “sensitivities” verses “intolerances” verse “allergies”, it’s easy to be confused. People aren’t trying to call you a liar. They’re genuinely concerned that your whole life may be changing when it doesn’t need to be. Simply tell folks that you’re aware of the differences and can assure them that you do indeed have a confirmed allergy. If you’re firm, in time people accept the truth.
4. “But don’t you want to eat it.” Sometimes people just can’t understand how you can resist eating foods which are so tempting. They’re not intentionally trying to make you feel badly. They just think they’d have less self-control if they were in your place. This is another time when you can simply be honest. Yes, you’re tempted, but you know it could have terrible consequences – anaphylactic shock, another heart attack, whatever…. People usually do get it eventually.
5. “But what’s left for you to eat.” This one may only apply to folks like myself who are allergic to multiple foods, but sometimes people just can’t take it in. They think you’re somehow going to be deprived. If this is the case, you simply need to tell them all the wonderful foods you’re still able to eat, or better yet show them. Below is a recipe for a chicken piccata that I serve to guests which is not only delicious but easy to make.
1/2 cup Gluten Free Flour*
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp ground onion powder
1/4 tsp ground garlic powder
10 chicken cutlets**
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup vegan friendly white wine***
1 cup low sodium, fat free gluten free chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp vegan soy free “butter”
1. Mix the flour with the oregano, pepper, thyme, basil, onion powder and garlic powder.
2. Coat both sides of the chicken cutlets with the flour, making sure to shake off any excess and stack them on a plate.
3. Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the chicken cutlets.
4. Brown the cutlets one minute on each side and place back onto your plate.
5. Deglaze your pan with the white wine and cook until the wine is almost gone.
6. Mix the chicken broth with the lemon juice and garlic. Add to the wine in the pan.
7. Add the cutlets back into the pan and cook for one to two minutes on each side until the chicken is cooked through.
8. Remove the cutlets to a warming dish, and add the “butter” to the sauce left in the pan.
9. Cook the sauce until it’s reduced a bit and thicker. Pour over the chicken.
* I like to use a garbanzo bean flour, but you can use whatever type you prefer. If you have no wheat or gluten issues, use 100% whole wheat flour.
** I rarely actually buy cutlets because they’re more expensive. I keep frozen chicken breast in the freezer which I defrost only partially, then cut into half both lengthwise and widthwise so I have cutlet sized chicken. (Because the chicken breasts they sell these days are so large, you can do this. If you buy normal sized chicken breasts, you should only cut them widthwise so you don’t have tiny portions.)
*** If you go to vegnews.com or barnivore.com, you can find lists of wines not contaminated with casein.