Please join the Chicks in welcoming fab cozy author Libby Klein, who pens the Poppy McAllister Mysteries! The next entry in the series, MIDNIGHT SNACKS ARE MURDER, will be released July 31!
The Life and Trials of the Gluten Free
Gluten. Very few people know what it is. You can’t see it or taste it, but you can feel the effects of it. As a baker, I’m very aware of what gluten does to food. Sometimes you want to develop a lot of it. Like when you’re making French bread and you want it to be crusty on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Sometimes you want to be very careful not to develop it. Like when you’re making a light as air cake and you want a buttery moist crumb instead of a dense brick. Most people live their lives and never ask what gluten is until some annoying granola crunchy hipster comes along and ruins dinner for everyone announcing they’re gluten free now. That’s me.
The day the doctor told me I had an autoimmune disease and had to go gluten free, I left her office and went to McDonalds and bought a double cheeseburger, fries, and an apple pie. Then I went to a pizza place and ordered a pizza. Just so you know, this level of gluttony is unusual for me. Unless PMS is involved and at least then I space it out better.
My first stage of going gluten free was to completely fritz out and pretend I didn’t know what the doctor was talking about. Lalalalala “Gluten? What’s gluten? This isn’t gluten it’s toast.” Before long I became very aware that I had made a horrible mistake. It may have been the Jabba the Hut body double in the mirror or the fact that even my yoga pants were straining to contain the effects of my choices.
So, in my second stage of going gluten free I decided to go scorched earth. I cut out all gluten completely. I didn’t even want to see gluten in my periphery. I wouldn’t eat baked goods for the rest of my life. A person can survive on just meat and vegetables, right? I mean do I really need bagels and cookies?
Sixteen hours later my third stage of going gluten free kicked in. That’s the stage where I ransack the gluten free aisle of the grocery store in my pajamas with a crazed look on my face, a cart full of boxes that make empty promises, and I’m elbow deep in a bag of Tate’s gluten free chocolate chip cookies. (Which are delicious by the way!) Now I’m open to anything. Crackers made out of bird seed? I don’t care, I’ll try them! Cupcakes made out of bean flour? That sounds disgusting. I’ll take all three flavors.
Be careful though, sometimes marketing people try to trick you. “Gluten Free Tilapia!” Okay. Now the only way raw, 1-ingredient tilapia would ever have gluten in it is if you were fishing with donuts as bait and let him get a good bite before reeling him in. (Which would be only fair – I mean, come on! You’re gonna eat him.)
Of course, on the flip side there are some things that you’d never expect to contain gluten that sneak up on you and whack you on the butt. Things like ice cream, chocolate bars, roasted nuts and French fries. (McDonald’s French fries have 17 ingredients and one of them is gluten. I’m convinced two others are spite and vindictiveness.) I’ve tried to order a steak only to find out it contained gluten because it was marinated in beer. Burgers that were soaked in Worchester sauce, and chicken that was brushed with soy sauce. It’s meat. That’s just wrong. But I bet it was tasty! Of course, I’ll never know. I had a salad. I’m fine.
Stage four involves reading all the labels and annoying everyone with your 60 Minutes expose style interview. “Does that have gluten in it? Are you sure? How do you know?” This stage is why so few people want to eat with someone who has gone gluten free.
Stage five, which comes moments after stage four, is being annoyed by the blank stare and lack of confidence that can only mean the person you’re interrogating has no idea what gluten is. “Uhhhhh…..nooooo? Probably not.” You’re gonna guess? That’s good. It’s just my body wracked in pain later if you’re wrong. No big deal, I can chance it. I’m fine.
Eating out is a minefield. I was once denied frozen yogurt when I said I was gluten free because it had dairy in it and “dairy has gluten.” Um, NO. It doesn’t. And I’ve been assured that there was absolutely NO gluten in my “gluten free” food. None. Not at all. We checked and it’s safe. And when the swelling and itching started I discovered that my dish had wheat, bread crumbs, soy sauce and flour. But the word “gluten” was nowhere on the label so they thought it would be okay. Hey, It’s all right. I get it. You go get some more training and I’ll spend the week in the bathroom. Maybe you can send someone over later to hold my hair while I throw up. Do you happen to have a Benadryl for the ride home? I’m fine.
Other restaurants are more vigilant. Like the time I ordered an Asian Chicken Salad and told them I was gluten free so leave off the wontons. When it arrived, not only were there no won tons, there were no peppers, no cucumbers, no peanuts, no onions, no dressing, and no sesame seeds. All I had was a bowl of iceberg lettuce and a grilled chicken breast. They had even picked the carrot slivers out of the lettuce. I do appreciate the vigilance, but now I have a bowl of sadness.
Over the years that I’ve been gluten free I’ve gotten a lot better at it, but I still make mistakes. Just tonight I had barbecue sauce. It was a popular gourmet brand that I bought from the gluten free section of the grocery store. There was a label on the grocery store shelf highlighting GLUTEN FREE. Sweet! Then why am I itching so bad? After an inspection of the ingredients, the bottle contains soy sauce which is made from wheat. I took a special gluten pill that should help. After all, I didn’t have that much. The itching will eventually stop. I’m fine.
The cornerstone of the gluten free market is bread. Or should I say, toast. Because toasting is the secret to gluten free bread. Toasting is the magical process that makes gluten free bread more believable. The first gluten free bread I had years ago was a rice flour loaf that was so dense and stiff it fell apart at the first bite. You could have used it to patch a hole in the drywall. It was hard and sour, and I considered giving the gluten free life up altogether. Who needs a thyroid and working intestines? Don’t they have pills for that now? And what’s with the giant hole in every loaf? Does gluten act as putty to fill the holes in tastier bread? Is that where all the happiness leaked out? You need to sacrifice one piece of bread for every two slices to plug the hole or your peanut butter will just squish out in your lap.
Thank goodness I can bake. I can make you just about anything gluten free and you’d never know it. Okay, sometimes you’ll know. Especially if you have it at the same time as the normal version of it. That’s a big part of going gluten free. Don’t eat the Tastycake and the gluten free cupcake at the same time. If you go without cake long enough, you’ll work up enough appreciation to enjoy what seems like a very dense kinda heavy cupcake. Try to focus on the frosting.
In a stunning coincidence, my protagonist Poppy McAllister is also gluten free due to an autoimmune disease. I mean, what are the odds of it happening to both of us?! She works part time baking gluten free goodies for the local coffee shop and she includes some of her recipes in the back of each mystery. Not only does writing gluten free recipes keep me from lusting after donuts and cupcakes I can’t have, (when I’m writing anyway) I get to share some really yummy recipes with my readers. The only things I’ve haven’t been able to reproduce gluten free are yeast raised donuts, and croissants. And I’m still working on both. Stay tuned!
About the book:
Between trying to get her gluten-free baking business off the ground and helping her aunt remodel her old Victorian into the Butterfly House Bed and Breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey, Poppy is ready to call, “Mayday!” And now Aunt Ginny—who’s a handful wide-awake—is sleepwalking on her new sleeping pill prescription and helping herself to neighbors’ snacks and knickknacks.
Even more alarming, a local humanitarian who worked with troubled teens is found murdered, and the police suspect the “Snack Bandit.” Other than a bad case of midnight munchies and some mild knickknack kleptomania, Aunt Ginny is harmless. Someone’s trying to frame her. Poppy will need to work tirelessly to uncover the killer and put the case to rest—before Aunt Ginny has to trade in her B & B for a bunk bed behind bars . . .
About the author:
Libby Klein graduated Lower Cape May Regional High School sometime in the ’80s. Her classes revolved mostly around the culinary sciences and theater, with the occasional nap in Chemistry. She dabbles in the position of Vice President of a technology company which mostly involves bossing other people around, making spreadsheets and taking out the trash. She writes from her Northern Virginia office while trying to keep her cat Figaro off her keyboard. Most of her hobbies revolve around eating, and travel, and eating while traveling. Catch up with Libby on her website and on her Facebook page.
Readers, do you have any food allergies that make eating out a challenge? Do you have any great gluten-free (or dairy-free or nut-free) recipes to share? Do you have any idea why half the slices in a loaf of gluten-free bread have a huge hole in the middle? Share in comments.