Tuesday, 21 February 2017

How I learnt to stop loving gluten : Coming to terms with gluten intolerance.

So, what did you do during January? I spent part of it lovingly caressing a sick bucket.. For everyone there comes a moment when you've really had enough of being sick, and if spending the best part of a week in a 'glutened' haze wasn't enough, it was an entire weekend spent feeling as if I was in The Exorcist that did it for me. I may still have a long wait to go until I get to even see the consultant to begin my diagnosis journey properly, but if this is what keeping gluten in my diet feels like, then I really don't want to do it anymore.

It's been a long, difficult journey for me over the past twenty months, and my health in particular has really suffered for it throughout the past year. Starting to discover what may finally be the root of all my major health issues has been a huge turning point for me, it's been both irksome and a relief, but I'm still waiting for an official, medically confirmed diagnosis that confirms whether or not it is coeliac disease that's been causing years of illness.

I'm all too aware of how much 'self diagnosis' is frowned upon but when the symptoms match up so much and the family history is already there, it really doesn't take much to put two and two together. As my own personal journey over the past few months has already shown and proved to myself and others, gluten is certainly bringing me more than just digestive discomfort.

 Deciding to remove gluten from my diet completely will obviously be seen as a bit of a risky decision by some, especially when I still have at least 21 weeks to go until I even get to see the consultant, and that's an estimate at best, who knows how long I could actually end up waiting for an appointment. At this stage, I'm all too aware that the exact cause of my health problems is still vague at best, could it be gluten sensitivity, intolerance or full blown coeliac disease? I've read up so much on the condition, from both self diagnosed and confirmed coeliacs, as well as talking to my relatives, comparing notes as it were on our symptoms, looking for similarities to figure it out for myself.

I shouldn't have to self diagnose, but when the waiting list is so long you begin to lose hope and feel as if you have to take matters into your own hands and put your health first. After realising that I needed to do something about it, I decided to remove gluten from my diet back in December. A strict month of no gluten followed, and personally, I was feeling better, the brain fog was starting to lift, my skin was improving, and my gut was starting to feel a little less disgruntled with me. I was still non the wiser as to the extent of the damage in my gut, or the official medical diagnosis of my problems, but I knew that removing gluten from my diet was making an improvement on my health.

Then came the glutening.. it's my own fault really, I still felt as if I needed to 'prove' my illness to others, and so, I decided to take in a wheaty, gluten-filled meal. Needless to say, I soon regretted that decision..

It turns out that I'm one of those rare lucky few who vomits when glutened.. boy, am I lucky! After spending 24 hours befriending a sick bucket at the start of what felt like a long weekend, I knew what had caused it, it was down to that deliciously wheaty meal. Sure I eventually stopped hurling up my guts after a long 24 hours of illness that barely seemed to stop, but that was followed by an even longer week spent clutching my stomach and feeling as I was having an out of body experience thanks to the curse of the brain fog.

Spending my weekend being glutened was one of the worst experiences in many with my long diagnosis journey, but in a way, it's helped me to show that it really is gluten that's bringing me such misery, the bear bug of my health problems, and the sneaky hidden culprit that's long irritated my gut. That's why I've decided to stick to a gluten free diet for the short, long term, at least until that glorious day when I can finally see the consultant and hopefully begin to really start my diagnosis journey properly.

As I sit patiently waiting for my appointment letter to pop through the letterbox I'll keep on maintaining a vigilant gluten free diet, cautiously wary of any rogue crumbs and pesky traces of gluten. Sure, I may not be medically confirmed as coeliac at this stage, but for the time being I'm happy to call myself gluten intolerant, even if it is still Schroedinger's coeliac disease at this stage of my very long journey.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Gorgeously gluten free tea loaf.

A scrumptious take on the classic tea loaf, this gluten free version still has all the flavour of a traditional boiled fruit tea loaf but without any of the pesky wheat. It's perfect for a gluten free afternoon tea, or for a cheeky tea time treat!

  250g mixed dried fruit
  75ml freshly brewed Earl grey tea
  175g gluten free self raising flour
  1 tsp xanthan gum
  90g dairy-free margarine
  125g light soft brown sugar
  2 tsp treacle
  2 eggs
  80ml lactose free milk

Prior to baking, pre-soak the dried fruit in a bowl. You can use whatever mix you like for this bake, I used a mixture of sultanas, raisins and glace cherries. Pour over the Earl grey tea and stir to mix, then cover and leave to soak overnight.

Pre heat your oven to 160c/150c fan/gas mark 3 and line a square 20 x 20cm sized tin. This is smaller than a traditional loaf tin, but will allow you to slice up some lovely slices of cake once baked!

 Sift together the gluten free self raising flour, xanthan gum and mixed spice – I used Sainsbury's own blend for this bake, which has become my new favourite free from flour for baking. It's nice and easy to use, it's not always in stock so grab a bag when you can!

In a separate bowl beat together the butter and sugar till creamy, stir in the treacle and blend.

Beat one of the eggs into this mixture, followed by 2 tbsp of the flour mixture and stir till combined. Add half of the remaining flour and stir together, followed by the second egg and mix. Then stir in the remaining flour and combine together.

Stir in the milk, a little at a time, till combined, this should loosen the mixture to a soft consistency that should drop from the spoon - you can use any dairy free milk if you prefer. Fold in the pre-soaked fruit mixture and stir.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, and bake for 45 minutes till risen and golden, a skewer should come out clean. Then leave in the oven for a further 5 minutes (with the oven switched off), this will finish the cake off perfectly.

Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool down in the tin for an hour, then cut into slices whilst it's still in the tin. Using the sides of your lining, remove the cake from the tin to finish cooling down, then place the slices onto a wire rack.

This cake lasts well for a few days kept in an airtight container, the tea soaked fruit makes it taste incredibly delicious, it's even better the following day!

Recipe tweaked for a smaller bake from Phil Vickery's "Essential gluten-free".

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Lemon drizzle tray bake : Gluten free.

I've had some hilarious disasters with my gluten free bakes since starting my coeliac diagnosis. You name it, I've probably baked it - from dry crumbly cakes, to bakes so rubbery and hard that I could probably smash a window with them.. but thankfully, these lovely lemon slices have been a delightful turning point!

Perfect for those of you like myself, just starting out as gluten free. It's a relatively painless recipe to follow, and the end result is utterly scrumptious - seriously, they won't last long at all!

  165g plain gluten free flour
  1/4 tsp xanthan gum
  1 tsp gluten free baking powder
  150g caster sugar
  2 eggs
  175g dairy-free margarine, melted
  zest and juice of 2 lemons
  25g granulated sugar

Pre heat your oven to 190c/180c fan/gas mark 4, grease and line a square baking tin (mine is 20 x 20cm).

In a large bowl sift together the flour, xanthan gum and baking powder and mix together. Add in the caster sugar and mix.

In a jug whisk the eggs, then add in the melted margarine with the lemon zest and half of the lemon juice (1 lemon).

Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture, then whisk together to a smooth batter.

Pour the mixture into the tin then bake for 35 - 45 minutes - I found that this took 35 minutes in my fan oven. The cake should be springy and a skewer should come out clean.

Once you've removed the cake from the oven mix together the granulated sugar with the rest of the lemon juice (1 lemon) to form a tasty drizzle for your cake. Spoon this on top of the cake to finish.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then cut it into slices ready to eat! It should last well for a few days when kept in an airtight container.

Recipe tweaked from Phil Vickery's "Essential gluten-free".