My first impulse was to eliminate all of the gluten in the house. A good impulse, and it could have been the right way to go except for the fact that two family members are solidly gluten friendly. While many of the products containing gluten landed in the big bad box, eventually I found a better solution.
Armed with a clipboard and sharpie, I started in the kitchen cupboards. First to ferret through and dispose of were the flours: all purpose, cake, bread, whole wheat, pastry, white whole wheat, durum wheat. Then I went after the grains: wheat berries, barley, bulgur, farro followed by the couscous, udon noodles, pasta, and the crackers. Soy sauce had to go too! Uh oh, what about some of the other sauces and condiments? Bye, bye to the plum and hoisin sauces, and black soy.
I moved into the garage where we keep our canned goods. I scoured labels for the words gluten-free. I grabbed my sharpie and circled those heaven-sent words. Green light there! When the words didn’t materialize, I read the ingredient list, if it read wheat, barley, rye, they went bye-bye! There were the cans that seemed like they were gluten-free, but who knows? Maybe not. On those, a big “?” was placed, indicating further research had to be done. I am sure you know where the glutenous canned goods were put. Yep, the box was filling up fast. When the garage was done, I returned wild-eyed and invigorated to the kitchen. I was on a mission like a bloodhound hot on the trail of gluten. Into the fridge and freezer I dove. More things to pitch, mostly sauces and condiments. The freezer posed unexpected challenges. Things still in packaging . . . bread . . . pizza crust. Baked goods. “Could I throw this away? It is getting really expensive! My husband and man-child will certainly eat these. Ok, let’s keep ’em.”
And last, I turned to the spice cabinet. I opened the door to it and I couldn’t see where to start. The domino effect of this GF-ing project gained momentum. Unsure about so many products, I closed the cabinet door and I moved into Phase 2.
As a high school career development counselor, I teach the freshmen communication basics like how to make a good first impression or craft a proper email. GF-ing my house provided the opportunity to practice what I preach. In phase 2 , I called or emailed the manufacturers of all of the products that had garnered my purple sharpie “?” on my first pass rummaging through our pantry.
Compiling a list of every gluten-suspicious canned item was the first step. I also noted ingredients that were unfamiliar or those that were unclear if it contained hidden gluten. Then I did a little research. On my journey I found an amazing resource: the gluten-free food list on celiac.com. There I learned that I could safely befriend dipotassium phosphate and ferrous gluconate. With the assistance of this resource, I winnowed down the list. I checked online for others.
The list now culled, I crafted a template for emails and hit the phone.
The email went something like this:
(Insert brand name) has been a favorite in our home for quite some time. We recently learned that our daughter has celiac disease and are in the process of determining which products in our home contain gluten. Can you let me know if your (insert product name here) contains ingredients that might cause a gluten reaction?
Thank you for your help.
And most of the time the response was quick and friendly, like this one from El Yucateco hot sauces:
Thanks for your message! Our hot sauces are gluten-free.
Padilla Import Sales & Marketing, Inc.
Several phone calls were made. Among them, a couple stand out. My first call was to Stonewall Kitchen, in York, Maine whose jams and specialty foods are unparalleled. The summer before celiac joined our family, we visited their shop and returned home with a luggage carry-on full of edible souvenirs. Now I needed to know if they were celiac safe. The woman on the phone was calm and kind in response to what I imagine came across as some super-crazy-pants helicopter-mother on the other end of the line. She expressed her sympathy and support, letting me know that unfortunately the coffee caramel sauce Grace chose was in fact not gluten free but other items were A-OK!
After that first call, I settled in. Most calls were quick and easy. The questionable items were given a star or chucked into the to-go box. When the cans were done, it was time to deal with the spices and my second memorable phone call.
The array of spices in our cabinet is eclectic, as eclectic as our family’s food preferences. On travels, spice purchases are common. When it came to figuring out what was safe and what wasn’t, I started with my favorite spice purveyor, Penzeys, whose motto “Love to Cook, Cook to Love”, which pretty much aligns with my approach to living. Their ever-reliable, down to earth, midwestern kindness and family feel was just what I needed. As I dialed the number and waited for a person to answer, I mentally calculated the potential dollars lost if I had to replace all of the Penzeys products in my cabinet. Nervously I explained our situation. The customer service rep warmly laughed and assured me that all of the Penzeys spices were gluten-free. Relief swept over me. She added “in fact, all of our extracts are also gluten-free and are made with a corn-based alcohol.” Yikes! I hadn’t even thought about the extracts!
Content with a day’s progress, I opted to face the cake decorations later.
SPOILER ALERT: A few passed the test but most landed in the purge box.