Posts Tagged 'Celiac Disease'

My First Gluten Free Birthday

Want to know how shallow I can be? Well, when I should have been excited/relieved to find out I had Celiac Disease, the answer to my fatigue and frequent migraines, I was instead heartbroken. I admit one of my first thoughts was “oh no! What about my birthday cake?” All year, I looked so forward to the chocolate cake with chocolate frosting that Mom always made from scratch. My only exposure to gluten free products had been several years ago at my aunt’s house where I tried a gluten free muffin and it was pretty dense and dry, not what I wanted my birthday cakes to be for the rest of my life.

     “Never fear!” said my mom. I was diagnosed in July and my birthday wasn’t until March, plenty of time to experiment in the kitchen with all kinds of flour substitutes and perfect a gluten free birthday cake. Well, Mom was right. I celebrated my birthday a couple days ago and it was a delicious success!

     Before my birthday, my family celebrated three other birthdays with gluten free cake. Just to get her feet wet, about a month before Dad’s birthday, Mom made a basic single layer chocolate cake using a gluten free Betty Crocker cake mix. The gluten free brownie mix from Betty Crocker is so fudgy and spectacular you wouldn’t know it was gluten free unless I told you. But the cake? Not so much. It tasted good, but it was dense and dry as I feared. We all came to the consensus that maybe it just needed some kind of filling like custard or something to moisten it. So in a Betty Crocker cookbook, Mom found a recipe for a yellow cake with a lemon filling. My dad loves the flavor of lemon, especially the Glutino lemon cookies, so we thought this cake would be right up his alley for his birthday. We all agreed it was a recipe worth bookmarking because it was very moist and flavorful, but I’m not as crazy about lemon, so that cake wasn’t going to work for my birthday.

     A few weeks later, we celebrated Mom’s birthday with another Betty Crocker recipe, this one a chocolate cake where you poke holes in the cake while it is still hot and pour a caramel sauce through these holes in to the inner layer of the cake. Unfortunately, the caramel didn’t infuse itself in to the whole cake like Mom had hoped. Some bites would have a wonderful caramel flavor, but others wouldn’t. In the future, Mom wants to try just cutting the cake in half and filling it with caramel rather than the hole method. Despite the uneven distribution of caramel, it was still a good cake, but I’m not as passionate about caramel either. For my birthday, I wanted pure, unaltered chocolate cake!

     Shortly before Mom’s birthday, she had received in the mail a course catalog from a local technical college, in which she happened to spot a class on flourless baking! It was billed as a class to learn how to bake in a healthier way, but it occurred to us that it would be very useful for our newly gluten free household too, so Mom signed up. The class met for two Thursday night sessions and to my delight, after every session she was able to bring home samples of the items she and the other people in her class had baked. Some of the recipes have become family favorites and are now part of our repertoire. Just a couple weeks ago, Mom made another batch of muffins that include pineapple and coconut flour, and we recently made chocolate chip cookies using almond butter too. But my absolute favorite recipe that I have requested the most is this flourless bourbon chocolate cake topped with orange marmalade. Basically I think you just boil bittersweet baking chocolate, butter, sugar and just a tablespoon of bourbon and then bake it in a cake pan. Man, is it melt in your mouth delicious! I am not kidding! It was light and moist in the mouth and really hit the chocolate tooth because it is dark, rich chocolate. I didn’t think I would like the orange marmalade on top because I usually don’t like stuff like that, but it was the perfect flavor complement. Eating this cake, Mom and I realized that maybe the problem with traditional cakes is the idea of trying to modify something designed to be made with wheat flour, whereas this flourless bourbon cake was naturally gluten free.

     Then about a week and a half before my birthday, we celebrated my brother’s birthday. Here I want to pause for a moment and complement my brother. He hasn’t been wild about any of our gluten free recipes, and adamantly refuses to get tested for Celiac Disease, so I told myself not to be surprised if he insisted on a gluten cake. I would have been fine with that. On your birthday, you should get to have what you like, so I would have been happy to just eat the ice cream or something if he wanted a gluten cake, but he said he would be willing to eat a gluten free cake! Like all brothers, he gives me a hard time sometimes, but in this act, I realized that he really does love me and empathize with me.

     Mom couldn’t find any ideas for jazzing up white cake in our gluten free cook books. (I guess they were all written by chocohalics like me because all she could find were chocolate cake recipes. But she found a mix and just cut the cake in half and filled it with extra frosting to moisten it. It was pretty good, but still not up to the birthday cake standards of the old days, so after that party, I officially declared that for my birthday, I would have to go with the flourless bourbon chocolate cake. The only problem was that the way this cake is made, the consistency is really more like that of a thick cookie, which would have made birthday candles difficult if not unfeasible. But I decided I was willing to sacrifice this tradition for a better cake. I am no longer a little kid who needs to make a wish anymore, and besides, since I have always had a fear of bringing my face too close to the candles and catching my hair on fire or something, blowing out my candles in past years has been a comical endeavor that took forever it seemed. I think when I turned twenty, I was having such a hard time that the family started a tradition of assisting me and blowing out a few for me that I just couldn’t reach. So maybe I was getting too old to continue this tradition anyway, I reasoned. But deep down, I kind of still wanted to be a little kid and try to blow out candles again, and Mom hated to end this tradition too. So Sunday morning, she said, “Let’s sit down and look at cake recipes.” It actually didn’t take long to find the perfect recipe. Rather than a box mix, it called for three separate kinds of flour; rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch. It was also different from our previous cakes because in addition to the typical cake batter ingredients like flour, oil, eggs and sugar, this recipe had you melt chocolate chips and milk on the stove and stir this mixture in to the batter. The introduction to the recipe said it would be moist, and any remaining apprehension about my first gluten free birthday cake melted away with the first bite. It was fantastic!

     Two days after I was officially diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I had an appointment with a job coach and my Celiac Disease came up in conversation as I waited for Mom to pick me up. As is common unfortunately with a large segment of the public, she was ignorant about Celiac Disease, so I explained to her that it meant I had to follow a strict gluten free diet. Mom arrived just in time to hear the job coach say, “well, on your birthday, have all the cake you want.” What she didn’t realize was that on my birthday, I would, and did, have all the cake I wanted. It was just made with gluten free flour. It wasn’t healthy by any means, another misconception people have about gluten free food. In fact if anything, it was even more unhealthy than gluten cake because it called for more sugar than Mom’s old cake recipes. But with all that sugar, chocolate and milk to moisten the batter, I doubt the average person would have even realized it was gluten free. Even if we hadn’t found a cake that was just as fabulous as the old days, it would have been worth the sacrifice knowing that even if it wasn’t as good, at least it wouldn’t damage my insides and plague me with migraines and fatigue later. But in addition to everything else–the happy conversation with family, the gifts, the fantastic gluten free lasagna (with extra cheese and sauce to compensate for the heavier gluten free pasta),– the fact that we found such a fabulous cake, one that I asked Mom to mark as a keeper for my birthday next year, was the icing on the cake of an all-around happy birthday!

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I’m Dreaming of a Good Pizza, Just Like the Ones I Used to Know

In the old days before Celiac, there was at least one night every week or two when it was a long day of school or work and we had no energy left to cook an involved dinner, a day when someone was feeling under the weather and needed quick easy comfort food, or nights when we just wanted a yummy dinner that was befitting of a Friday or Saturday movie night. In all of these cases, someone would say, “let’s get a pizza.”

     My parents and I liked to go to a sit-down restaurant for pizza occasionally, and occasionally we would carry out pizza from Pizza Hut or Rosati’s. But as we matured and became (slightly) more health conscious, we became fans of the take-and-bake revolution. When we baked pizzas, not only were they fresher and hotter. They also seemed less greasy. Come to think of it, that was around the time that a Papa Murphy’s opened up just five minutes from our house.

     It wasn’t long before we had the cooking instructions for Papa Murphy’s pizza memorized, so when Mom or Dad called to indicate they were on their way home from work and almost to Papa Murphy’s, whoever was home would set the oven to preheat. If it was a weekend and we were all home, someone would set the oven before we left. (We have one of the new energy efficient ovens that takes forever to be ready, but we had the timing for Papa Murphy’s down like clockwork. If we preheated the oven before we left, or when Mom or Dad was close to Papa Murphy’s, we could hear the “Beep beep beep” announcement from the oven that it was ready as soon as we walked in the door with the pizza.

     Unless there was an irresistible special pizza we had to try, or a silly, cute novelty like the thick-crusted pizza designed to look like a Jack-o-lantern for Halloween, we would almost always get a family size delite pizza (with Papa Murphy’s signature cracker-thin crust). Usually, we ordered it with canadian bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. If Dad found a coupon that was only good for one or two toppings, he would quickly slice up our own vegetables and add them to the pizza. This was delicious too. Occasionally, we also enjoyed trying something unusual like the chicken parmesan delite or chicken artichoke bacon delite.

     The name sure suited these pizzas well. Just carrying them in to the house when they were still a giant cold paper plate of uncooked dough and toppings wrapped in saran wrap was a delight. When we got the fully loaded pizza, I swear that plate weighed five pounds, and it was the kind of pizza you had to carry cradled in the flat palms of both hands or else the plate would buckle under the weight of all the deliciousness it was carrying.

     It only got more delightful from there. In the few minutes when the pizza smelled wonderful but wasn’t quite done yet, I would be salivating like a dog. When Mom or Dad pulled the pizza out of the oven and placed it in the center of the table, those seated at the table would go “ah!” the same expression of contentment as when a cool breeze comes through an open window. Each slice felt like eating a delicious work of art too. They were the kind of slices that fit perfectly on a dinner plate. The crust of each triangular slice fanned out like wings across the whole width of the plate, and each slice also had to be cradled in both hands while being eaten because the thin crust would buckle under the weight of all the delightful toppings. From the crust that actually crunched like a cracker, to the crispy yet moist center where the cheese stretched with every bite and the tomato sauce oozed over the edge onto my face, each slice was a delight from start to finish, and there was always enough for us each to have two or three. In the early days, we would just get a 14-inch large pizza or get the 16-inch family size and have leftovers. But as time went on, we came to love the pizzas so much that we didn’t bother saving leftovers and would go ahead and eat ourselves in to a delightful stupor. With each pizza costing under $10 for my parents, the price was delightful too. What a perfect pairing of gluten and glutton that was!

     We were once loyal customers of Papa Murphy’s with a punch card that rewarded us with a free pizza when it was full, but last weekend, we had to accept reality and give our punch cards to my brother when he came home to visit. Papa Murphy’s does not have gluten-free pizzas and the gluten-free pizzas we have had just aren’t the same.

     On Friday July 20, just two days after my Celiac diagnosis, I was already hit with a pizza craving.

     “We can still have pizza,” my mom said, “we’ll just make it ourselves.” That night, she rolled out two pizza crusts from a Bob’s Red Mill kit. We all agreed it was too thick, doughy and dry. A couple weeks later, we tried putting toppings on pre-made crusts. I think they were from Schar. They were better in that they were thinner than Bob’s Red Mill, but still they seemed dry and doughy to me. The same was true of pizza I had at three local places that offer gluten-free pizza.

     I later found out that these pizza places don’t handcraft a gluten-free crust but throw their toppings on gluten-free crusts from companies like Schar as well. I don’t fault these restaurants for doing this. At this point in time at least, the Celiac population is still relatively small, so I suppose it would be impractical for these businesses to invest in the training and materials needed to make a gluten-free crust from scratch, and I suppose a hand-crafted crust would raise the risk of accidental cross-contamination. I liken it to the availability of Braille menus at restaurants. Since the blind population is also very small, very few restaurants offer braille menus, but when a restaurant does have one, I get a warm fuzzy feeling. This restaurant thought of people with special needs like me! I know I could read the menu online and decide on what to order before leaving home, but it is so exciting to be able to page through a menu with the rest of the family and read mouth-watering descriptions of their dishes rather than sitting with nothing to do while everyone else looks over the print menu. I get flustered when on occasion, I will place my order only to find out that the braille menu is out of date and the restaurant doesn’t offer that dish anymore. But once I recover and find something else, I don’t hold any hard feelings toward the restaurant. Ideally, it would be nice if they kept the braille menu up to date, but the blind population is so small I can understand how a restaurant just wouldn’t think of it, or maybe found it too impractical and expensive to update braille menus all the time for such a small market. It’s the thought that counts. Since a lot of places, including good old Papa Murphy’s, still don’t offer gluten-free options, I will gladly patronize pizza places that do have gluten-free options even if they aren’t spectacular, handcrafted creations because they thought of people with special needs like me! I would much rather eat a less than ideal pizza than live a life where I had to eat dinner at home before going to dinner with family or friends because restaurants didn’t have anything safe for people with Celiac to enjoy. Some people with Celiac have told me this was often the story of life even just five years ago.

     To be fair, there is still one more local pizza place yet to try, Transfer Pizzeria, which some friends I made in a celiac support group said is the best. It is kind of far from where we live so it hasn’t been convenient for us to get there yet, but I cannot wait to try it, especially when I found out that they get their crusts from Molly’s Gluten-free Bakery, a locally popular bakery about twenty minutes from our house that also supplies gluten-free items to stores and restaurants in our area. Their sandwich bread was the best I have had since going gluten-free, and their mint brownies are heavenly too, so I have high hopes for their pizza crusts. If we like the pizza we get at Transfer, we could go to Molly’s and buy their crusts to fill with our own toppings.

     We also have yet to test the truth of the advertising on a kit for Hodgson’s Mill pizza crusts that claims they come out light and crispy. We have a pizza crust recipe on a box of Betty Crocker gluten-free Bisquick we haven’t tried either, and I have high hopes for this crust too because it made the best banana bread I have ever had, including my life before Celiac, and it makes for excellent dipping batter that I never would have guessed was gluten-free. This has caused my parents and I to suspect that while many gluten-free product lines clearly taste gluten-free and cater to people who want to give up gluten for weight loss or a desire to go organic, Betty Crocker’s products must have been scientifically tested (and probably infused with chemicals, but oh well), to make them appealing to Celiacs and their families who are going gluten-free because they have to.

     I have an aunt who doesn’t have Celiac but goes gluten-free most of the time because she is sensitive to it. She has been a wonderful trail blazer giving Mom and I advice. She prefers thin pizza crusts too and told my mom to try rolling the pizza dough out on parchment paper instead of using a greased pan as the directions for these kits say. Mom found that when using the greased pan, she couldn’t get the dough thin because when she rolled it out, it would just spring back like a rubber band. But my aunt said this doesn’t happen with parchment paper so she can roll the dough thinner that way. And once the family comes to a consensus on the best type of flour for a gluten-free pizza crust, she wants to start making them from scratch.

     For now when we want a quick easy pizza, we turn to Udi’s. My parents bought two Udi’s frozen pizzas, an uncured pepperoni pizza, and a four-cheese pizza. Of course these pizzas lacked the delightful freshness and flavor of a fully loaded Papa Murphy’s pizza, but the crust crunched like a cracker! That’s a wonderful start!

     Although less important in the grand scheme of things, I look forward to the day when we–(or Papa Murphy’s? If you are an owner or CEO for Papa Murphy’s and you found this blog, I urge you to think about it)–get the confidence to make pizza crusts from scratch to resolve another disappointment our family has experienced with gluten-free pizza crusts. They don’t come in family size. The standard seems to be 12-inch crusts, the equivalent of a medium size pizza at Papa Murphy’s (and more expensive than the Papa Murphy’s family size too). This is just not enough for our family of big eaters. Of course we can and do make two pizzas which actually amounts to more pizza than the family size as two 12-inch pizzas means we can now indulge in 24 inches of pizza! But our oven can only cook one pizza at a time, so while we start on the first pizza, someone has to check the progress of the second one in the oven. And the presentation just isn’t the same either. We still go “Ah!” as each pizza is put on the table because it still smells wonderful, but 12-inch pizzas don’t cut beautiful masterpieces of slices that spread the entire width of a dinner plate. I can hold gluten-free pizza slices in one hand like a football, and even though we get more pizza, it seems like less because we have started using smaller plates. These skinny slices would look pitiful on a dinner plate. I don’t know why companies make gluten-free pizza crusts so small. Maybe it has something to do with the chemistry of gluten-free dough and the pizza may not hold together if it is too big, or more likely, most gluten-free clientele probably aren’t as gluttonous as I am. But whatever the reason, I have been dreaming of the day when I can enjoy the perfect gluten-free, family size pizza on a cracker-thin pizza crust that would make pizza nights a delite once again.

Some Necessary Perspective on Celiac Disease and Life

Well readers, there is so much more I want to write about eventually regarding my new Celiac Disease diagnosis mentioned in the previous post. Navigating this river has been an interesting journey, complete with wonderful experiences, funny moments, unexpected surprises, and so far only one melt-down. But for this post, I thought I would take a break from feeling sorry for myself to talk about people recently who have found themselves in a sandbar so awful that it almost makes me ashamed to be mournful about my Celiac diagnosis. There are in fact things that are much, much worse. Like going out for what you anticipate to be a fun date, the midnight opening of another Batman movie, never imagining that you or your partner wouldn’t leave that theater alive. Or being a family just going to their usual worship service on a peaceful Sunday, perhaps thinking that after worship, they would enjoy dinner on the grill or a walk in a park, but instead finding themselves in a hospital in critical condition, or planning a funeral for the senseless death of a loved one.

     The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado happened two days after my Celiac diagnosis. Mom had Good Morning America on and told me about it when I came downstairs, but I was so self-absorbed in getting used to eating gluten-free bagels which have a different texture than “regular” bagels and realizing once more that this whole Celiac thing wasn’t a dream–it was my reality, for the rest of my life–that I didn’t grasp the magnitude of this shooting until the evening news. As I was watching the evening news, I decided that I would make it a point to keep things in perspective and ensure that my conscience never got wrapped up in such trivial roadblocks, which Celiac really is in the grand scheme of life. I never imagined I would have to put this in to practice so soon, that another senseless shooting would hit so close to home (Oak Creek is just a half hour drive from where I live), or that in America in the year 2012, people were still being targeted because of their religion. But from that day forward, I have found myself savoring the not-quite-as-tasty gluten-free bread when I realized that just across town, there were nine families who would likely give anything for a life where Celiac Disease was their only source of hardship.

     It is only by the grace of God that you or I have never, and hopefully will never face such a tragic, senseless sandbar. My mom and I had just gotten back from worship ourselves when we heard about the shooting at the Sikh Temple. As if there was no doubt that our worship would be peaceful and safe and we would get home alive, we made plans that morning to throw sausages and vegetables on the grill and enjoy a beautiful Sunday at home as a family. Those Sikh families across town were probably just as casual as we were in making Sunday afternoon plans. In America, houses of worship are sacred and safe, after all. At our church, nothing happened and we returned home as always and put our sausages on the grill as we watched the local news coverage. But just across town, a whole faith community never got to enjoy that Sunday afternoon, and six families will never get another Sunday afternoon with their loved ones again. The Sikh people may speak a different language and have different beliefs, but when you get right down to it, they are no different than Christians. Their faith teaches love, compassion, service to those in need, virtues that Christianity emphasizes as well. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s to say next time, it won’t be us?

     These recent shootings also reminded me of an incident in college I had put out of my mind but will never forget. One day in the spring semester of my freshman year of college, I walked in to another Introduction to News Writing class, as I had done every Monday and Thursday at 4:00 all semester. Nothing had ever happened in all my years of school, so I am sure as I waited for the professor to start class, my mind was wandering to what we would have for dinner that evening and what evening homework I needed to do. But that day, a troubled student got in to an argument with the professor in front of the class. Since she was causing a scene and a guest speaker was expected shortly, the student was asked to wait until after class to continue the argument. I didn’t hear it because I didn’t sit near the student, but the next time our class met, campus security was standing outside the door. Another student sitting near this troubled student reported to the professor that this student had muttered under their breath, “this is how things like Virginia Tech happen.”

     Fortunately, another Virginia Tech didn’t happen in that news writing class. I don’t know how the situation was ultimately resolved with this student. This student never came to class again, nor have I heard anything about this student since. But even though nothing happened, it was an incident I will never forget because something could have. It is so easy to think that nothing could ever happen at my warm friendly college/church/theater/community, but unfortunately as long as there are guns everywhere and troubled people in the world not getting the help they need, Virginia Tech/the Sikh Temple/the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings could happen anywhere.

     As is always the case, time will pass, and as it does, the memory of these recent shootings will fade, at least for those of us who don’t know any of the victims. But I hope that say, a year from now if I find myself stuck in a restaurant with no gluten-free options, that instead of sobbing because I am tired and hungry and the restaurant isn’t accommodating, I might think back to these shootings, hug any loved ones at the table with me and realize there are much worse things to be sobbing about.

River Gets Rough Already

Well readers, just one week after college graduation, a time when I saw no hints of storms on the horizon, the river called life hit an unexpected rough patch.

     My master plan had gone off perfectly so far. The graduation festivities were beautiful. The delicious leftovers were almost gone and Mom and I had driven Granny safely back home to Indiana. All that was left was some blood tests ordered by my primary physician and my pediatric endocrinologist. The plan was that the doctors would quickly glance over my blood tests and then send me on my merry way in to the adult world with a clean bill of health. My pituitary problems that resulted from my brain tumor were well-managed, and although I hadn’t been making the healthiest eating choices amidst the stress of finishing college, I was still thin and even amidst stress, made far healthier choices than I did in high school. Given that, and just the fact that every other facet of my master plan had gone off without a hitch, I just didn’t expect this plan to go off script. But it did.

     So on Wednesday May 23, just as I was finishing my breakfast and settling in to another lazy worry-free day, the phone rang. It was my physician who noticed that my liver enzymes were slightly elevated, and that I was anemic. I wasn’t surprised or concerned about the anemia. The summer after second grade when I had a big growth spurt and basically wouldn’t eat anything healthy, I became severely anemic to the point where I could barely function. I was sleepy all the time, had no appetite and when I started third grade, I was so skinny it frightened the teachers. With some medication adjustments and force-feeding, I returned to a healthy weight and felt well again. I don’t remember hearing anything more about my iron levels for years. Maybe it wasn’t tested or maybe it was tested and reported on my medical charts, but since I felt well and was gradually eating a much more balanced diet by middle school, nobody felt it was worth mentioning to me. Then in the fall of my sophomore year of college, the glands in my neck swelled up and got really painful seemingly overnight which had never happened to me before, so my parents wanted to get me to the doctor right away. But my primary physician wasn’t available, so the receptionist set me up with a different doctor in the same building. This doctor was amazingly thorough. In addition to the usual look at my throat and feeling of my glands, he also ordered a blood test to check for Mono, and iron I guess too, because he called me personally later that afternoon and told me I was mildly anemic. Like I said, by then I was feeling great and eating a very healthy diet, so I just made an effort to eat more high-iron foods like beef and spinach and didn’t think anything of it. Maybe I was just prone to being a little anemic.

     But elevated liver enzymes? That was a new one. How could I have liver problems? I tried one sip of whine, at my brother’s insistence shortly after my 21st birthday, but it was so disgusting I spit most of it out. I don’t abuse painkillers either. Those were the only things I knew of that can cause liver problems. In a panic, Mom and I consulted the internet, but couldn’t find anything reliable or applicable to me so we decided it would be better to wait for the results of some more detailed bloodwork and a liver ultrasound ordered by the doctor. So Mom immediately scheduled an ultrasound for June 6, and took me in for the additional tests.

     Then like clockwork on June 5, just after finishing breakfast, the phone rang again.

     “Your blood results show indications of Celiac disease,” the doctor said, “It is a disease where your body cannot tolerate gluten, which just means you will have to give up wheat.”

     She is a young and very compassionate doctor, and perhaps in an effort to soften the blow, she said “There are lots of foods that are gluten-free. I think even Snickers bars are gluten-free.” I laughed politely, because I do love snickers bars, but still my heart sank, and I apologize if it sounds overly dramatic, but I will be honest and say I felt my gluten abundant life flash before my eyes. What would become of our Christmas cookies, my dad’s quiche, my mom’s family-famous fluffy waffles, my double-layer chocolate birthday cake I look forward to all year, our Friday night pizzas, our comforting lunches of grilled cheese sandwiches or macaroni and cheese?

     Mom and I had decided to have this conversation on speaker phone, and I will always carry with me the image of us sitting side by side on the couch with the phone between us. When she saw my expression fall, she tapped me on the shoulder and whispered enthusiastically “that’ll be so easy!”

     “Yeah right,” I wanted to say, “don’t you realize how central a role bread products play in our family?”

     “I worked with a lady who was gluten-free, and she brought the most fabulous cakes to work,” Mom said when she got off the phone.

     “That’s great. But I cannot live on Snickers bars and cake. What are we going to do for actual meals?”

     “There are all kinds of gluten-free breads and pastas made with other kinds of flour like rice and corn. And, some of your favorite meals like steak and baked potatoes? Naturally gluten-free!”

     This is true. In my shock and panic, I overreacted and interpreted the diagnosis to mean I would never be able to eat anything delicious again, but when I found out I could still eat steak, a baked potato loaded with butter, sour cream, salt and pepper or even my dad’s amazing spicy spaghetti sauce over gluten-free noodles, I started to feel better. Maybe Mom was right and it would be easy.

     And then I found some more information on websites for Mayo Clinic and the Celiac Foundation that had my heart sinking again. To start with, going gluten-free wasn’t as simple as just giving up the obvious wheat products like bread and pasta. Other grains like barley and rye also contain gluten, and products like sauces and salad dressings that don’t taste as if they would have gluten in them could be thickened with wheat. Some companies are transparent about gluten in their products, but others disguise it. In a Betty Crocker book on how to get started with a gluten-free diet, there is a huge list of unpronounceable additives that contain gluten. But the real kicker was when I learned that even trace amounts of gluten can be harmful, so people with Celiac even have to watch out for cross-contamination, meaning that if even a crumb of wheat touches a gluten-free item, it is no longer safe for people with Celiac to eat. In practical terms, this means that those warnings on food packages for items which seem like they would be gluten-free like Quaker oats which say “processed in a facility that also processes wheat,” must also be avoided by people with Celiac. And gone would be the days when I could just walk in to a restaurant and order anything I wanted. Fortunately, more and more restaurants offer gluten-free options these days, but people with Celiac are advised not to blindly trust even these items, because if the staff in the kitchen handles your chicken with the same gloves used to prepare bread items, your gluten-free meal has now been contaminated. And let’s say a restaurant says their caesar salad is gluten-free so long as you order it with no croutons. If the restaurant makes a mistake and brings your salad with croutons on top, people with Celiac cannot just pick off the croutons because it is impossible to remove every last trace of crouton crumbs. People with Celiac are supposed to send the salad back and ask for a fresh salad without croutons. Since customers aren’t allowed back in the kitchen to oversee preparation, people with Celiac are supposed to ask to speak with the manager or chef, inform them that they have Celiac and explain how food must be prepared. Actually, the most polite thing to do is plan ahead and call the restaurant to give them a heads up and find out if they can accommodate you, and try to go to the restaurant at a slower time of day.

     I wanted to cry as it occurred to me that (a) our family, especially my dad and grandma, loves to go out to eat on weekends, the busiest time; (b) sometimes we plan ahead, but other times, my parents like to just drive around and pick new places to try spur of the moment; (c) most of our family  likes to keep our order simple, and we get all embarrassed just when my sister with no dietary restrictions makes a complicated order with substitutes and everything. Dietary restrictions which would require the manager coming out to talk to me would be far worse. And (d), we have all watched too many of those “dirty secrets of restaurants” shows where waiters admit spitting in people’s food when they send it back, and as a result, we never, ever, send food back. Well, my dad has once or twice, but when he did, I remember us all getting nervous and giving him a “what are you thinking?” lecture. And let’s say I ever got in a situation where a restaurant doesn’t like dogs but has to grudgingly serve Gilbert and me because of the ADA laws, AND at the same restaurant I also have to send back a contaminated salad. That could be the perfect recipe for spit (or worse) in my food.

     Did I also mention that this disease is about more than just a little stomach upset (which I never had by the way)? I had more subtle symptoms like frequent headaches and fatigue which I always overlooked. In people with Celiac, gluten destroys the villi which are the carpet-like fibers in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from the food we eat. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet for life. Left untreated, Celiac can lead to liver damage (which I was just beginning to have), and scarier stuff like cancer. If you follow a strict gluten-free diet for life, all sources said the small intestine would heal, but if you stray, even on Christmas, your birthday, your wedding day, damage begins again. I have even heard that after being gluten-free, the body overreacts to gluten, so one speck of gluten can set the healing back three months or more. I remember logging off the internet and coming out of my room somberly for a drink of water, sure that the carefree life I had been so looking forward to after graduation would be hellish now.

     But unbeknownst to me, while I was upstairs researching with my computer, Mom was downstairs doing research of her own. That’s when she found out that Celiac runs in families! I won’t get in to the details, but she said that her and Dad, my siblings and two of my aunts had the classic symptoms. Even if they got tested and didn’t officially have Celiac, my parents both promised they would go gluten-free with me because even if gluten hasn’t caused damage for them, they are definitely sensitive to it. And there was a high probability that other members of the family would test positive for Celiac as well, so by us going gluten-free, we could be a positive influence for the rest of the family. Even if they weren’t sensitive, it warmed my heart when they said they would go gluten-free anyway because we are a family and families suffer together. But since they are sensitive, that was a moot point. Although it didn’t eliminate my anxiety about future social situations, not by a long shot, you cannot imagine the euphoria of finding out you won’t be navigating these rough uncharted waters alone.

     Even so, I wasn’t eager to go gluten-free immediately. The good news was the doctor said I should still enjoy my glorious gluten (well, those weren’t her exact words but that’s how I interpreted them), until I saw a gastroenterologist who knew more about celiac and could do a more definitive test, a biopsy of my small intestine, the only way to diagnose Celiac with absolute certainty.

     The soonest my mom could get me in to a specialist was July 18, but I thought I might still be able to eat gluten even after that because the biopsy is a procedure that involves sedation, not like a blood test that can be done same-day. (If I had been allowed to schedule the appointment, I would have gone with the doctor who couldn’t see me until September). But instead of the carefree blogging I had intended to do, I found myself spending the next six weeks obsessively reading up on Celiac disease, perusing blogs and Facebook pages for information and coping advice, and of course saying yes to gluten every chance I got. I am sure I gained weight those six weeks as I loaded up on ice cream cones, ravioli, Papa Murphy’s pizza (at my insistence even when it was way too hot to be using the oven), as well as items I loved but wasn’t sure about like my favorite caesar salad dressing and store bought guacamole. In my paranoia, I was sure I would find out that everything I loved had gluten lurking in it.

     All too soon, it was July 18, and I had a foreboding feeling that I was sitting down to my last piece of peanut butter toast made with oat nut bread, and I was right.

     The doctor’s first words when she entered the exam room were “you definitely have Celiac. We looked at your blood tests and there is no question.” I guess there is some antibody that my physician didn’t know as much about that confirms Celiac if it is elevated and my levels were off the charts. She still wanted to do a biopsy to see how much damage had been done, but when we asked if we should wait and have the biopsy before going gluten-free, she basically said “are you crazy? No, you should start going gluten-free now.”

     At my insistence, Mom and I went to Chipotle after the doctor’s appointment where for my last gluten meal, I ordered one of their amazing burritos, made on a flour tortilla of course. It was the one thing I hadn’t had the chance to get one more time in that six-week period. When we got home, I savored a Blue Bunny ice cream cone, and dug out one more of my sister’s fantastic chocolate chip cookies which she made for my graduation. And then it was time to resign myself to the necessity of leaving the familiar river I loved and accept the newer, healthier route.