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
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.