I’m often asked how I got involved in the gluten free world. As the author of a gluten free cookbook, a frequent lecturer on all issues gluten free and in recent years as a specialist cookery teacher in gluten free food, it’s not difficult to see why people come away thinking….’that’s the gluten free lady’. But before this, my life was very different. I owned a company that made lots of baked goods all of which contained gluten.
The journey started when my daughter Ruthie was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease at 18 months of age. I remember coming home from the hospital feeling exhausted but relieved to know what was wrong with my gorgeous daughter. The gastroenterologist was unequivocal in his diagnosis. Coeliac Disease. The next words I heard were, “she will need to be on a gluten free diet”. And the thing I didn’t quite absorb at the time was “for the rest of her life”. That night we had a very simple meal of buttered rice and went to bed. I was worried about how we would cope. But in truth, I was relieved to know that what was making her ill was food related and that her recovery was based on discovering a new way of eating. Food, cooking and baking are in my blood and I knew that however difficult it might seem, I could do something about it. That was the beginning of our journey.
The following morning I decided to go through my cupboards to remove all items containing gluten. Within minutes there were three black sacks sitting outside my back door. All cereals, breads, pasta, flours, biscuits and sauces were chucked away. Stock cubes, spices, soy sauce and those lovely little decorations for cakes were next. I wish now I had had the foresight to have taken a photo of what remained (which was not a lot) and indeed what had been removed. To some, this looked like madness, but I felt very strongly that if my daughter was going to be gluten free, then we as a family would have to do our best to support her. I did not want to feed her different meals and make her feel different. It was clear in my mind we would go gluten free together. For months prior to my daughter’s illness, I had been preoccupied with her lack of progress in basic things like standing up in her cot or walking unaided.. My GP had re-assured me that all children develop differently, but I remained concerned. Within a week of going gluten free, my daughter was walking. I distinctly remember being in the kitchen downstairs and for the first time hearing little footsteps above my head, not just walking, but running.
The next few months were all about experimenting, learning to read labels and trying to get to grips with the new diet. We spent lots of time in the free from aisles and bought lots of things which mostly ended up in the bin. I started looking for recipes which I could convert. Slowly, by trial and error, I began to build a repertoire of recipes which we could use on a daily basis. The new diet was presenting me with lots of interesting challenges and I was finding new ways of baking and cooking without gluten. With Ruthie as the chief taster, I was also getting expert and sometimes very direct feedback. Then one day, as she was leafing through the first cookbook I had written, she looked up and said….”why don’t you write a cookbook for children like me?” and of course the moment she said it, I knew I had to do it. The Gluten Free Cookbook for Kids was written and developed as an everyday family cookbook with lots of child friendly recipes that both adults and children would enjoy. I wanted to help parents find easy, but delicious recipes, where they could access ingredients easily, from a supermarket. And although it says “for kids”, it really is a very practical cookbook that has some great recipes.
I decided that a website which focused on child friendly food would be the next logical step. The website www.glutenfree4kids.com was developed by my husband and with his guidance I took my very own first footsteps into gluten free cyber world.
And the journey continues. My newest venture is teaching. I want to do more to help people feel good about their diet. I started teaching, trying my methods out on friends at first, to see if this was something I could do. Within a few months I discovered how much I enjoyed teaching and how much I could do to help people embrace the change. Nothing gives me more pleasure then watching my students making pizza, bread, cakes and pastry and being amazed at the results.
Through teaching, blogging, writing and talking about gluten free food, I hope to make people more aware of what is possible and remove the negative barriers that surround the image of gluten free food. No more boring, sandy biscuits, no more cakes that fall apart, no more horrible bread. I enjoy the challenge of finding a new way to bake gluten free bread that doesn’t look and taste like bricks, or pastry that doesn’t fall apart when you look at it and of course everyday there is something new to taste. How great is that?
For more information about gluten free cooking including information on some of the courses I will be running, please see www.glutenfree4kids.com