Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Bread is Not the Staff of Life.

As a mom, it's my job to stay informed and make the best dietary decisions possible for my family. This is even more important when someone in your family has a food allergy.


Although he was breastfed for 10 months, we realized early on that Little Bear had problems digesting his food. I had to eliminate all peas and beans from my diet as they made him uncomfortable and gassy. Certain foods also aggravated his eczema. It was difficult to pin down exactly which foods in my diet were the culprits and for the first year we struggled to determine the likely offenders. A few thousand dollars in doctors bills and dietary adjustments later we have determined that he is sensitive to tomatoes, melongene (eggplant), ochro (okra) and gluten. Gluten causes the most severe reaction. Not only does it flare up his eczema but he also gets the sniffles and painful tummy cramps. His stomach gets rock hard. He screams for hours and is inconsolable.

Celiac Disease is a digestive tract disorder. When people with celiac disease eat foods which contain gluten, it creates an adverse reaction that damages the small intestine so that nutrients from food are not properly absorbed. While his doctor hasn't diagnosed celiac disease, we have been advised to keep his diet gluten free - for now anyway. My fingers are crossed that it will be as the doctor says and he may very well outgrow this sensitivity. In the meantime I have set about learning about gluten free food so that I can feed Little Bear stuff that doesn't make him ill and cause him pain. I am trying to remain hopeful that as he grows and his digestive system matures, things will work themselves out.

Of course prior to having my son I was only vaguely aware of celiac disease and don't know anyone with this condition. I wonder how prevalent it is in the Caribbean? What I do know is that it is a challenge to maintain a gluten free diet because gluten is the protein found in wheat, oatmeal*, barley and rye. Wheat is the fundamental ingredient in bread, a food so universally important in the diet of so many cultures that it has been described as the staff of life. But what if you are allergic to gluten? Well that means that bread and all other foods made with wheat flour: pies, cookies, cakes, roti, doubles, wantons, dumplings, pasta, macaroni pie, noodles, lasagna, fried chicken, muffins, and pancakes are also off limits. And those are only the obvious gluten containing foods.

Even more difficult to avoid is the 'hidden' gluten that is often present in commercially prepared foods. Wheat flour is often used in processed foods as a binder, emulsifier, and a filler. Here are are some foods which may be a source of hidden gluten: sausages, luncheon meat, soy sauce, snacks, malt and malted milk, icings, baking powder, some curry powder powders, some types of cocoa, some seasonings (where flour is used as a flow agent), Ovaltine, Milo, baked beans (there may be gluten in the tomato sauce), textured vegetable protein, yogurt, chewing gum, potato chips, popcorn, ice cream cones, beverage mixes, and some pharmaceuticals.

In the Caribbean we are blessed with a wide variety of starchy foods that can be substituted for cereal so initially it was easy to avoid gluten. At first, Little Bear ate a lot of porridge made from sweet potatoes, eddoes, tannia, dasheen, breadfruit, green figs, yams, and cassava. Many parents today start their babies on rice cereal followed by barley, oatmeal and wheat. These cereals are not grown in the West Indies but they are readily available in the supermarket. Let us not forget that our own locally grown produce is nutritionally superior to anything coming out of a box, packed with preservatives and shipped halfway around the world. Listen, I am not saying that I don't keep a box of baby rice cereal in the cupboard for emergencies. I do, but for the most part I don't find it at all difficult to boil a root vegetable and smash it with a fork and a bit of milk.

Little Bear is a 'big' boy now and the proud owner of 4 spanking new teeth. These teeth need substance. No more mushy mush for those bad boys. Biting (not always food related) is almost an obsession with him. I suppose chewing will come later. Sigh. At times it's alarming the huge chunks of food that he bites into and swallows without chewing. He bites everything: furniture, toys, his clothes, paper, a grasshopper ( well almost - we got to poor Jiminy in the nick of time).

Time for some toast so that Little Bear can gnaw his way to biting nirvana. I used the only the only gluten free flour that was available to me Doves Farms Gluten and Wheat Free Brown Bread Flour. At $7.00US, it's not cheap. I have made this twice and both times it produced a dense loaf with a depression in the middle. I am a bit puzzled by the picture of the well-risen loaves shown on the Doves Farm site since mine sagged in the middle. The recipe on the website mentions that the dough should be pressed inwards and upwards to form a domed top. I did not do this because that instruction does not appear on recipe on the the package of flour.


In any case the center depression in my loaf makes it look like the bread is smiling when you cut it, don't you think? It has a nice crust but the texture is rubbery. If you don't expect this to taste like bread, then you won't be disappointed with the flavour. It isn't unpleasant. It's just very bland. Think of it as a delivery method for your sandwich fixings. If I was gluten intolerant it would be an acceptable substitute for a sandwich but I can't see myself rushing to eat a warm, buttery slice of this bread straight from the oven. It's not bread; just an acceptable substitute.

Gluten Free Bread
16 oz Brown bread flour (Doves Farms)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Quick yeast
2 tbs Sugar
12 floz warm milk
1 tsp vinegar
2 eggs
6tbps oil

Mix together the flour, salt, yeast and sugar. In a large bowl beat in the milk, vinegar and eggs. Add the flour and mix to form a sticky dough. ( Looks wet and spongy). Continue mixing adding the oil. Place the dough in an oiled 2 lb bread tin, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
Bake in a pre-heated oven for 40- 45 mins 425 degres F


*Oats on their own do not contain gluten. However, they are not gluten free because of the potential for contamination during growing and processing.


  1. I guess you won't be breastfeeding him now he's got teeth, lol!
    Isn't it great to be able to make something that you know is not going to make them unwell? That bread would be brilliant toasted too!

  2. you are a great mom!! I know it is never easy to prepare food specially when they have allergies to certain food!! that bread looks gorgeous!

  3. Hi Wizzy! Thanks for stopping by my blog. It's incredible how many people have celiac's disease. A blessing though that many have amazing food blogs! If you havn't stopped by yet, check out Alta's blog, Tasty Eats at Home. She blogs gluten free, get's her kids involved in the kitchen, and supports the local food movement. She's great!

    You have a great blog and are a fantastic mama!

    Besos!! Diana

  4. Nicisme and Dhanggit, luckily my son has never tasted bread so he has nothing to compare it to. He happily eats this up.

  5. Diana I love your blog I may not always leave a comment but I am always there. Thanks for the link to the gluten free blog. I need all the advice and tips I can get.

  6. Both my daughter and I are gluten sensitive, she much worse than I, having experienced a lot of problems before we discovered what the problem was. So I totally empathize. And that does look like a great blog (thanks, Diana!).

  7. I love your blog as well. We are trying to reduce amount of wheat flour and white pasta in our diet. I'm in a process of writing post about it actually but I still need some more images of starchy foods such as tannia root ;)

    Greetings from London, Margot

  8. Well done with the bread! I can imagine living GF can be quite challenging at times. And your little one sounds adorable!

  9. it baffles me to think of all the people who had gluten intolerance before they even decided to call it celiac disease. there are so many accomodations and alternatives now, and i have no doubt that little bear will grow up well fed and happy, not missing a thing. :)

  10. My son used to have eczema when we gave him wheat, but it is just a wonder I think that his skin is clear ever since we went to Bali. Weather do you think? And perhaps, Balinese eat more rice than wheat. He can eat wheat now although I prefer to give him and his sister gluten-free bread. I bake bread once a week as we eat rice more than wheat. I think rice is safer for them.

  11. Arfi,
    You know it's funny the doc said that the eczema is not diet related but the eczema is so much less severe when he eats gluten free. Other helpful foods - flax seed, yogurt, avocados and coconut milk and oil. We have been two weeks no eczema as I have been especially vigilant about his diet. It's not always easy.

    Coffee and Vanilla - Tannia root - easy for me but where would you find that in London? Maybe one day I will develop some bread flours using roots like those since I find the rice flour to be so bland.

    Thanks Grace and Nigella and Nicisme for the encouragement. I need it.

  12. hey, wizzy, u r such a wonderful mom. and i bet it must be very anxious for u to come up with a good diet tailor-made for your boy.
    my boy used to have eczema, not too serious, but serious enough to get into my worry root! we wasnt told it's food related, so we just put on some oilment my doctor prescribed.
    thx good, he's ok now. did i tell u my boy can actually eat the whole the planet? i dont know what to do if he cant hv gluten in his diet.
    check out this blog
    the recipes in there might not be too baby-friendly. but i just think it might be good to give you some ideas in advance, so your baby could get himself prepared for some home-made gourmet food made by his super mom!

  13. Hi there, thank you for stopping by my blog earlier and nice to meet you. Such an interesting topic regarding the disease. I'm glad I finally got the chance to learn more about it. Thank you so much for the info. Cheers.

  14. Hello there Wizzy and thanks so much for your kind comment on my blog ... its nice to "meet" you!

    Gluten allergies can be a real challenge, I can imagine how difficult it is to find a really good gluten free bread. I don't have much experience with GF cooking - but I have a blog friend who does. Her name is Shirley and her blog is called "Gluten Free Easily".

    Here's the link:

    Not only does Shirley have wonderful recipes, she's got a huge blogroll of gluten free blogs. She's a great person, I met her at a conference in September, and a wonderful resource. Just thought I'd share! :)

  15. Food allergies can be so scary...especially in children.

    All of my children have eczema and we try to restrict their diet as much as possible. It can be hard at times, but so worth it not to have them uncomfortable.

    Hugs and Mocha,