Thursday, September 17, 2009

Farewell, Dear Gluten

At a recent physical, I mentioned that my migraines have increased in severity and frequency over the last few years. I attributed them to stress, but my doctor ordered some bloodwork just in case.

At the follow-up appointment, she said, "It probably doesn't surprise you, but these came back positive for a gluten allergy."

"Um," I replied, "actually it does surprise me." Sure, my siblings, aunt, and cousins have Celiac Disease, but I was tested years ago, and I'm negative. "No way, doc," I said. "I love bread and bread loves me."

She asked if I'd go gluten-free for a while, to see if the headaches went away. It's been two weeks, and not only have they nearly disappeared, the ever-present fatigue, soreness, and gastrointestinal distress that I'd attributed to laziness, aging, and food poisoning are gone. For the first time in my life, 7 hours of sleep is enough. I get up in the morning and my back doesn't hurt. I feel awake, and downright sprightly.

I should feel relieved. I should be grateful that I don't have a brain tumor, and that all I have to do to feel better is stop eating gluten. Instead, I'm bouncing like a pinball through the seven stages of grief:

Shock: This is not possible. What will I eat? I cannot survive on Lärabars and fruit alone. Oh my god, I'm going to starve.

Denial: To hell with migraines, I am going to stuff my face with this giant cinnamon roll.

Bargaining: I could just keep eating muffins and taking lots of Advil...

Guilt: Am I being punished for this post?

Anger: Stupid body and your STUPID allergies! Why can't you just work right?

Depression: No more steamed dumplings? No more Dogfish Head beer? No more FALAFEL?!? A life without gluten isn't worth living...

Acceptance and Hope: Without bagels, beer, and cookies, I'm going to get totally skinny.

People ask me if giving up meat, eggs, and dairy was difficult. I tell them it was the easiest thing in the world, because I never liked those foods to begin with. I rarely eat faux meat, soy cheese, or tofu omlettes, because I don't miss the real thing at all.

I already miss gluten terribly. Without wheat and barley, there is a gaping hole in my diet. I have to toss out everything I know about baking and start over. But why bother? Gluten-free approximations will never taste and feel like my old favorites. I'll give up cookies, bread, and pie crust entirely before I'll eat hard, gluey imitations. Isa's Gluten Freedom Cupcakes aren't bad, but they won't get me through the rest of my life.

I had vegan grocery shopping down to a science. I knew which foods I could and couldn't eat. Now, I'm reading labels again and questioning ingredients. I'm drawn to every shiny prepackaged food that has a gluten-free label. A month ago, I was not interested in frozen waffles or Santa Fe Barbeque tortilla chips, but in my self-pity and withdrawal from white flour, I'm forking over big bucks for tiny packages of processed rice and tapioca.

After I left the doctor's office, I went to the library and checked out some medical books, a cookbook, and Gluten-Free Girl, a food writer's memoir about learning how to eat after her illness and Celiac diagnosis. I want your recommendations, particularly for cookbooks, blogs, restaurants, or food producers who are gluten and vegan saavy.

This is probably the end of being invited to dinner parties; people who wondered what to feed the vegan now have to rule out normal bread and pasta. For the first time in a long time, I don't have a good answer when someone asks, "But what do you eat?" I'm figuring that out myself.

From now on, all the recipes on this site will be gluten-free. I'll also tag past recipes that are gluten-free. I have so much to learn. Please chime in, and if you can, have a bagel and an Allagash White for me.


  1. Noooo! Do not give up hope on being a gluten free vegan that socialises! I felt so much better when I gave gluten up and even now when I do eat some (every now and then) I feel worse off straight away.

    If you're eating at someone's place you could suggest gluten free pasta (readily available), risotto or polenta.

    There are more and more gluten free products around here in Australia and I can imagine there must be even more in the USA!

    You'll just have to have fun baking gluten free breads and cakes, they're just as good :)

  2. Awww, sweetie, I am so sorry to hear that. But I know migraines are a bitch, so hopefully that will be *some* comfort. I work with lots of people who are gluten-free and the bakers in town make lots of delicious gluten-free products that you cannot tell are not made with wheat. I swear! Maybe some gluten-free coconut cake will lift your spirits.

  3. Where is this gluten-free coconut cake??? You're right, I shouldn't be such a pessimist, Portland probably has some great options. Unfortunately up near Bangor things tend to be either vegan OR gluten-free, but never both. If your bakers can make decent bread, maybe I can, too.

  4. I'm sorry you're having a hard time dealing with this. I am glad though that you found out what was causing your migranes. I'm sure it'll be hard for a while to get used to being gluten-free, but it'll be worth it if you're not in pain anymore.

    If I find any good gluten free recipes I'll send them your way!

  5. I'm sorry! That's a super big change to get accustomed to! I know you'll be fine though, and will probably contribute much with your kitchen skills to the world of gluten-free vegan food! I thought I might have a gluten sensitivity this summer, so I know what it feels like to at least think that you have to give up a lot of your favorite foods and ways of cooking/baking. I still kinda think I might have a sensitivity that just didn't show up in my bloodwork because I really am always a little tired lately and my digestion is a little off! Anyways, you'll get through it, and anything that makes you feel better is worth it! By the way, the gluten-free baked goods in Babycakes cookbook are AMAZING!

  6. Nora,

    The gluten antibodies (or whatever--the little gluten fighters in your blood) won't show up in a blood test if you've already been avoiding gluten. You were eating all that raw food this summer--maybe you eliminated gluten, too. Talk to your doctor, and if you decide to get the test again, eat lots of bread, etc. for a while beforehand.

    Babycakes is going on my wish list. Thanks!

  7. I am so sorry about your diagnosis. But undiagnosed celiac can cause a lot more problems than migraines, so it’s better to find out sooner rather than later.

    The diet will be difficult at first. I found it helpful to avoid a lot of gluten-free “substitute” foods at first, although there are a couple that might help you out that I’ll recommend. (I’m in your area, so I’ll add some local pointers too.)


    I like the brown rice wraps available at NLC in the freezer section. I make a GF bread that I like as toast, but I have found no GF bread that I like for sandwiches. So I eat wraps instead. (I just checked the ingredients, and they look vegan to me.) Corn tortillas work too, but despite my crazy love for tortilla chips, I’m not crazy about corn tortillas.

    I love corn pasta (also vegan), and if you buy it at Ocean State Job Lot or Reny’s it’s cheap (compared to other GF pastas). My husband even likes it, and he is not gluten free.

    Gluten-free beer doesn’t suck, and is available at NLC and grocery stores.

    Rice Chex and Corn Chex are gluten free and the ingredients look vegan to me as well.

    Some brands of tempeh are GF and vegan. I haven’t actually tried any, but I keep meaning to pick some up.


    In addition to NLC, Ocean State Job Lot has a lot of Bob’s Red Mill as well as other GF products. Reny’s is beginning to carry more things too.

    Blogs: is GF and vegan. is GF and vegetarian with some vegan recipes. isn’t vegan, but for her GF flour blend works good in lots of recipes and it’s cheaper to make that rather than to buy GF all-purpose flour.

    Website: is, in my opinion, the best GF forum out there.

    The bright side:

    Popcorn! Tortilla chips and salsa! Hummus! Thank goodness there are some normal foods that are gluten free and vegan.

    Once again, I am really sorry. I hope you are able to find some foods to fill you up that you also like.

  8. Oh, Mary! I'm so sorry. I have a trip to the allergist scheduled for next month and I am scared of gluten or soy allergies. I am wishing you migraine-free days and new, tasty culinary adventures. Even though it will be a challenge, you're a creative cook. You can do it.

  9. Tammy,

    Wow, thank you so much for all your advice. This is brand new to me, so I haven't fully explored all the gluten-free stuff at NLC. I like corn tortillas, and I had some quinoa pasta the other day that was tasty. And I have rice and corn chex in my pantry right now! I've tried 4 kinds of gluten free beer so far and they were all disgusting, unfortunately. I'll have to look at what NLC has. I will definitely check out those websites and the forum this weekend.

    I realize finding out about this allergy is positive--I won't feel sick anymore, and I won't be doing long term damage to my intestines. I'll get over the self pity soon, I'm sure, and make the best of it. I do love rice and polenta. I'm just allowing myself a few weeks to whine.

    Thanks to everybody for the support!

  10. I'm so sorry, Mary that you have Migraines and you have to give up what you love. I have bad Migraines too, the older I get, the worse it gets. I've been taking "Imetrex" for a couple years, it helps temporarily but I don't like to take it. Maybe it's time for me to avoid eating gluten too. You have the right to whine, I don't blame you. You'll get through it, Mary!

  11. Gluten-free & vegan blog that I like:

  12. Mary, I have been gluten free for 18 months and I still whine sometimes. And I’m not vegan on top of that. So whining, especially in the early weeks, definitely is allowed.

  13. It deeply upsets me that I have similar symptoms to you. I too would rather give up most things than gluten.

  14. Those are some big changes to get used to. I didn't realize that gluten allergies existed until I became vegan (silly me...). Good luck in exploring your options! I'll definitely be taking note of them since I'm trying to cut down on the amount of wheat that I consume. I've also found the mixed grain pastas to be pretty great and comparable to the wheat versions (or, I've been lucky in the brands that I've tried).

  15. I just found this book upstairs in my office and thought of you! It's called "The Gluten-Free Gormet Cooks Comfort Foods," and it has lots of bread recipes. I'm sure you're a pro at adapting non-vegan recipes to vegan, since a lot of them contain butter. Oh, it's by Bette Hagman, and she has another one called "Gluten-Free Gormet."

  16. Oh, I found your canning class! Is it the Orono, Oct. 13th or Hamden Oct. 14th ones? Yay, Extension workshops!

    This is really good tasting pasta! Gluten-free and organic.

  18. Oraphan: Thanks for the recommendation!

    Sarah: I'm sorry you're not feeling well. Maybe ask your doctor to do some allergy tests? Not eating sandwiches is a bummer, but not having a headache everyday is wonderful, so it's a trade-off. Maybe your symptoms are not caused by allergies, but you won't know unless you get tested... good luck.

    Kate: Yes, I'm taking the pressure canning class in Hampden next month. Glad to hear you liked it! Thanks for all your recommendations. I just checked an arm load of gluten-free resource books and cookbooks out of the library. I'll look for Hagman.

    JenG: I've had that pasta, and you're right, it is tasty!

  19. Great post! I almost wish I could get that diagnosis so I'd have a solution to my migraines! I think it's a positive thing, there are still so many wonderful things to eat, you'll be okay. And as creative as you are, I bet you'll come up with some amazing recipes. Looking forward to hearing more.
    Eco Mama

  20. Whole Foods' website has a ton of gluten-free recipes.

    There's also a magazine called 'Living Without' that has lots of gluten-free options. You can find it online, plus it has recipes for bread, bagels and soft pretzels!

    Elana's pantry ( and The Sensitive pantry ( are also good blogs.

  21. Sorry about the diagnosis blow but I am sure with time, it will become a new exciting challenge to overcome! ;)
    I am sure you probably have already heard of it is:
    Karina posts lots of vegan recipes to which is nice and I have made several of her recipes even though I'm not gluten free and they are always excellent!
    Best of luck!

  22. Mary - thank you so much for this post!! I'm harassing my doc into getting me a test THIS WEEK, gosh darnit. And it would be sad, but as often as I feel like crap, it'd be nice to know what's wrong and how to fix it.

  23. just found this link on foods to avoid -

  24. I really understand your angst over the diagnosis since I've been there myself not too long ago. But like you giving up the offending foods made me feel so much better! It's worth it. (I just wish it had cured my migraines, too!)

    There's a huge gluten free community on Twitter that might interest you -- many folks have multiple allergies or are vegan and many have food blogs. It's a good place to share, pose questions, and just journey together.

    Folks have shared a lot of good websites (some of my favorites) with you. Here's another one:

    It's gotten easier for me over time and I hope you have a similar experience! Best of luck.


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