Living, and eating, gluten-free
Cooking classes help celiac sufferers
By Anthony Bonaparte
For almost 20 years, Patricia Allard suffered from indigestion but had no idea what caused it. Last summer, after cutting bread from her diet to lose weight, the Ste. Anne de Bellevue resident noticed her digestion improved. Allard discovered she is sensitive to gluten.
Leah Schneiderman was anemic for many years. Eight years ago she found out she had celiac disease. It was then she realized the connection between her anemia and the previously undiagnosed disorder.
“I have silent celiac. Most of the people with celiac have bloating, diarrhea, gas, and all this unpleasant stuff — but I don’t,” says Schneiderman, who lives in Côte St. Luc and drastically had to change what she ate. “You cut out everything with gluten immediately.”
Allard also had to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle. “It’s really challenging because wheat and wheat products are in everything,” says Allard.
“It’s used as a thickener so it’s difficult to buy any prepared foods that don’t have gluten in it.”
Celiac disease, which affects one in 133 Canadians, is a chronic disorder that causes problems in the intestines when gluten — the main protein found in common grains, wheat, barley, rye and oats — is consumed. Gluten is responsible for elasticity, crumb structure and moisture retention in doughy baked goods.
In addition to common symptoms like diarrhea, cramps and bloating, the damage done to the intestines prevents celiac sufferers from properly absorbing nutrients, including vitamins, calcium, protein, carbohydrates and fats. This can lead to a general feeling of poor health, fatigue and irritability, and can even lead to osteoporosis and anemia.
Gluten sensitivity encompasses a collection of medical conditions in which gluten has an adverse effect on the body.
Allard and Schneiderman, both of whom educated themselves with books and the Internet, turned to Elaine Randolph, a.k.a. the Gluten-Free Gourmet (www.elainesglutenfreegourmet.com), for a hands-on approach to preparing foods without gluten.
Randolph, who’s been studying — and trying — diets for more than 25 years and developed a profound knowledge of food and wellness, says she got into gluten-free cooking after it was suggested by a holistic physician that it might help her digestive problems.
“I went on that and found improvement,” says Randolph, who began offering gluten-free cooking classes from her Côte St. Luc home last fall.
The information she doles out comes from a variety of sources, including her own experiences. “I look at the Internet, I’ve researched a lot, a lot of books, I’ve looked at most of the gluten-free books that have been written and I also look at regular cookbooks,” she says.
“I modify, combine and test the recipes with an emphasis on simple, whole and organic ingredients whenever possible, and great taste. And I try to avoid additives and empty caloric ingredients.”
Randolph’s workshops consist of 4-5 students who assemble the prepared ingredients and, after a demonstration, prepare a dish on their own.
It costs $40 for each three-hour class and there’s a bonus — they get to eat.
“They have a meal. I call it a tasting but they eat quite a bit,” says Randolph. “For the dessert classes, they get to take it home.”
Allard, a self-described food lover, also wanted to learn how to make healthy, gluten-free dishes that her husband and 16-year-old son could enjoy.
“The recipes that Elaine has are really, really good. So I can make them, serve them to the family and they don’t even realize that they’re modified recipes,” she says.
Schneiderman, who also keeps a kosher home, says gluten-free kosher items are not that hard to find, but they are expensive. “I buy kosher, but I see what’s out there on the shelves and there is a lot available,” she says.
“I don’t necessarily have to go to a health food store for what I need.”
Schneiderman’s family is supportive and even her friends are interested and extremely understanding of her condition to the point of using different dishes and utensils in order to avoid cross-contamination when she visits for dinner.
“It’s easy to go eat at their homes because they continually ask what they should do and what they can make,” she says. “They’ll go out of their way to buy the crackers that I can eat — and put it in a separate dish.”