GF KITCHEN EVOLUTION
Gluten-freeing our kitchen has been nearly a two-year undertaking, and things are still evolving. There are some key things like getting rid of the colanders and cutting boards that absolutely had to happen with urgency. Over time, new considerations surface; ideas, practices and ways to safeguard the space to keep your celiac or gluten-sensitive family member safe in our kitchen. Here’s how I approached this evolving journey.
I have a voluminous cookbook collection many of which I regularly use and treasure. I have developed a curious and one-sided kinship to the authors whose recipes frequent our meals, often calling the authors by name (As in, David when we need a dessert or grab Joanne for an appetizer). Ironically, the number of well-worn cookbooks dedicated to crafting scrumptious gluten-rich creations was significant and took up considerable cabinet space. Baking is what I/we do for fun and to scratch the itch of creativity – cakes, cookies, pastries, sweet and savory we love it all. Taking an honest look, I realized those cookbooks could no longer justify their space in our kitchen.
Thus, the cabinet was purged, the shelves realigned, lined and then thoughtfully repacked to provide ready access to the dedicated gluten free food, cookware and utensils. I employed a useful tip that has proven invaluable: assign a color for gf wares that these items are kept separate from their glutenous counterparts. In our more hasty moments, this visual prompt has stopped us from accidentally exposing these wares to cross-contamination. For us, the color is aqua, a signature Grace color.
Lest my nose grow or my pants spontaneously combust, I will not claim that all of our cookware fits in this one cabinet because truthfully, our celiac daughter Grace’s bedroom houses a cache of gf wares. Under her bed, there are sheet pans, muffin tins, cooling racks and more sealed in bins. In her closet, there are utensils and other wares. Storing items away from the kitchen provides a sense of safety, knowing the risk of cross-contamination is greatly reduced. It’s kind of handy that Grace has gone to college so that I can fill her room with all of these items rather than it being filled with all of her clothing!
THE KITCHEN SINK a whole new call to clean.
Despite our best efforts, several months post-diagnosis, Grace was still symptomatic. A second visit to the dietician had us reconsidering some of our practices at home. We discussed all of the changes we made and then she drilled a little deeper. She struck gold when she asked about our dish towels. Specifically, she asked: “Are you certain that the towel you use to dry her dishes has not touched a countertop or dish that has touched gluten?” Certain? The simple act of being questioned about the certainty of anything makes me solidly uncertain. So…no. I was not certain.
A new practice was enacted: A NEW TOWEL…EVERY TIME. This has been a really difficult adjustment, for the obvious reasons and also for the fact that I despise doing laundry and now am compelled to do more. When washing dishes, assuring that all GF items are washed, dried and put away first is great in theory, but difficult in practice, especially amid the hustle of the weeknight dinner experience or when well-intentioned guests try to help with clean up. We do our darndest and count on one another to call it out if we see a towel flung over the shoulder on a gluten dusted apron or graze the counter where an innocent PB&J was earlier assembled.
Before we even get to the towel stage, there is the washing piece to consider. Sponges and dishcloths are legendary bacteria traps, so it is no surprise that they might suck up gluten as well. Knowing this, a pass with a cloth or sponge on your new GF baking sheet runs the risk of compromising the sanctity of the surface. To avoid this, we have a separate set of dish washing implements for our GF wares, also visually reinforced with our signature gf aqua color.
One more cleaning tip: when spraying and wiping down counters, it is important that the GF space is either done first before other surfaces or always cleaned with a fresh cloth.
THE TOASTER OVEN: Our best GF-ing purchase yet!
I have to thank the Gluten Dude for this one. He has celiac and he, too, lives in a not fully gluten-free household. There is a passage in his book wherein he speaks of carving out an absolutely gluten-free space and how he is vigilant in his guardianship of this sacred stretch of his counter. I thought “hmmm… perhaps we should do that!”
As I considered and continued in my research, there were differing opinions on whether it is safe to cook in an oven that has hosted gluten. Some said all foods would pick up trace gluten from the oven itself, others said it was probably safe except for extremely sensitive celiacs. It is safe to say that the bulk of the work done in my oven involved gluten. Given Grace’s extreme sensitivity, it made me wary about preparing foods for her in our ovens. Fortunately, she was away at school, safe from the threat of our dangerous ovens while I wrestled with what to do.
I kicked around the idea, eyed our functional yet small kitchen carefully and did a little research before I pitched and garnered consensus that a dedicated gf countertop oven atop a dedicated gf stretch of counter was vital to making our kitchen safe for our celiac.
I announced the arrival of our believed Breville countertop oven to Grace via text. This little workhorse is amazing! Not only is it completely safe from all gluten, it also does a phenomenal job toasting bread, roasting chicken, baking cakes and beyond. When Grace came home for break, she justified the purchase by resuming her love of creating delicious – and now gluten-free goods!
TIPS & TAKEAWAYS:
- Cleaning tip: When spraying and wiping down counters, it is important that the GF space is either done first before other surfaces or always cleaned with a fresh cloth.
- Color Coding: Having a visual cue reinforces which items are GF and requires extra vigilance. Some items we have color-coded are canisters, storage containers and dishwashing supplies.
- Alternate Storage Location: For items less frequently used, specifically those that take up some space like the bundt pan or muffin tin, consider housing them outside of the kitchen area. This reduces the risk of accidental gluten exposure and frees up vital kitchen space.