Sharing the joy of catering for a vegetarian coeliac teenager
This blog has had a few incarnations over the years, since 40 first hove onto the horizon and scared the bejesus out of me. I think I’ve found its real purpose at last, as I suddenly find myself concerned mum to a vegetarian coeliac teenager. I’ll call her Tamsin, but it’s not her real name. I have lots to say, more to ask, and I’ve always believed in sharing information for everyone’s benefit.
I worked out today that it took two months to the day from initial visit to the GP to confirmation of the diagnosis. As usual the NHS gives excellent clinical care but the admin leaves something to be desired. Clearly that two month wait was the easy bit; having seen the dietitian today I realise that all my food and cooking knowledge is only so much help (god only knows how people cope who have no knowledge of or interest in cooking, especially if they’re on a small budget) and that I’m going to have to be super vigilant all the time.
On this blog I’d like to share our experiences, starting from the first moment I realised we needed to see the doctor. A great deal has happened since then and I can see issues piling up for the future. Fortunately (so far) my daughter’s co-operation isn’t one of them, but her engagement with it is also pretty low. I’m going to write blog posts to cover each stage of the process to diagnosis, and everything we have to wrangle with afterwards. I’m no expert but I’m always happy to help where I can, so please feel free to leave comments. I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @mamafication, and if you’re a knitter find me at www.theordinaryknitter.net.
It’s Easter Sunday tomorrow which means celebration cakes of one sort or another. My last post was at Christmas, which reflects how I think things are going. Day-to-day we manage well, with room for improvement and a lot of me biting my tongue about teenagers’ eating habits, but when it comes to a special occasion things are a lot more like hard work.
Choosing celebration cakes
Typical Easter foods include simnel cake and hot cross buns, neither of which I’ve found in the Free From aisle in the supermarket. I’ve had very mixed experiences with gluten free baking but over the last few months I’ve got better with it and developed a bit of judgment, so I decided to try a gluten free simnel cake. Things snowballed from there as I had already agreed to make gluten free ginger cake for a knitting group I belong to, and when I spotted the hot cross buns that my husband had bought I couldn’t bear to think that Tamsin would be left out so found a GF hot cross bun recipe. The upshot of all this is that we now have a ton of food hanging around that Tamsin won’t make much of a dent in. I really need to get better at managing the flow of GF foods.
I used a regular simnel cake recipe, just subbing GF flour for regular. We’ve amassed a ton of white mix on prescription and it’s ideal for celebration cakes, breads, cupcakes and the mug cakes Tamsin’s quite partial to. It comes in 500g boxes which is perfect for many cake and bread recipes. Using what we had to hand it has a kind of eccentric mix of fruit in it and because I was low on marzipan and wanted to use up what I had (and because I’m terrible at decorating cakes) I put a modest disc of marzipan on the top and replaced marzipan balls with mini eggs on a blob of buttercream, also left over from recent baking. It doesn’t feature here but Tamsin made a fantastic sandwich cake recently, and had buttercream icing to spare. By the truckload. The simnel cake is lovely and is lasting well, always a bonus with GF baking.
The ginger cake is a Glutafin recipe, an old friend. If you try it don’t panic about how runny the batter is: you think the recipe can’t possibly work but it does, though it’s really really sticky on top so try to avoid turning the cake upside down (so don’t do what I did and use silicone bakeware that makes it really hard to remove small and sticky yet crumbly cakes). I made double quantities but we’re now up to our knees in ginger cake, so one will have to be frozen, probably in chunks.
The hot cross buns were an afterthought, literally, so by the time they were ready it was getting late and I didn’t finish them with the melted jam. For now they’ve gone in the freezer and will be brought out a couple at a time to be warmed through then have melted marmalade put on them. I don’t have apricot jam but neither did I have mixed peel, so subbing marmalade for jam should solve both issues at one stroke. I’m a big believer in using what you have rather than slavish adherence to recipes.
This has been our first coeliac Christmas. Much of it didn’t vary from usual – vegetables, Quorn roast (beef for the carnivores), cranberry sauce etc, and Tamsin’s never liked bread sauce. Her dad made his famous sage & onion stuffing with gluten free bread that was slowly turning to dust in the fridge (see last post) and gf mince pies and Christmas cake was easily available in Aldi. Incidentally, Aldi is a great resource for everyday gf staples, including flour and pasta. Tamsin made her own gluten free Yorkshire Puddings which looked fantastic and from what she said tasted lovely too.
As mentioned in the previous post, Tamsin’s food management isn’t good and that caused ructions with her dad over Christmas pudding. To cut a long story short he made arrangements with her over a gluten free Christmas pudding, of which she then had about one mouthful and ignored the rest for a week, by which time it was inedible. This is standard stuff for Tamsin and can infuriate others who’ve made special arrangements about food to accommodate her. I know it’s wrong, but Christmas is a pressurised time for the host and catering for coeliac Christmas foods is just another layer of work. When it’s barely touched it’s hard not to mind a bit.
The problem we have atm is accommodating Tamsin while making an appropriate amount of something for her. Her appetite is much smaller than it was, so we now divide and freeze foods. Tamsin made herself a gf Christmas cake, ignored it for weeks, and then at my insistence cut it into quarters and has put it in the freezer. I expect this time next year it will come out and be fed to the birds.
Maintaining good hygiene at home…
The other issue with a coeliac Christmas is preventing contamination of gf foods with guests and lots of catering and hosting. Day-to-day we have this under control, but I watched like a hawk as people dipped into cranberry sauce, sliced roast, cheese etc, ensuring no-one used a utensil that had been used for anything else.
Tamsin saw friends several times over the Christmas holiday and her preparation was of course non-existent. It was up to me to ensure that she went with something she could eat – crisps or something else suitable for a party or sleepover. Today she was behind herself getting ready to go to a friend’s house and I had to insist she either eat before she went or took something with her; left to her own devices she would have waltzed out of the house having eaten nothing and with no rations.
Although she’s growing up and needs to take responsibility for herself and her condition, I just couldn’t in good conscience let her go out like that, especially as she was going to be in someone else’s house and I didn’t want to land them with needing to feed her. I really look forward to the day that she ensures she’s got what she needs and thinks ahead to how she’ll feel if she hasn’t.
Food management and the butterfly coeliac teenager
Over the last four months since diagnosis, food management has become our biggest issue. Tamsin is a standard teenager – getting up late, doing everything by the seat of her pants, following her whims and never planning more than a few hours ahead. Eating follows this pattern, which means we end up with half-eaten foods sitting around going mouldy and soft, which it seems to us happens faster with gluten free foods – we definitely find they don’t last as long as equivalent foods with gluten.
I’m far too embarrassed to list everything we’ve had to divert to our hens recently but suffice to say that they and local garden bird population ate well over Christmas. Once or twice this led to something only just short of a lecture but although Tamsin says all the right things and means well, at the moment she couldn’t plan her way out of a paper bag, much less apply effective food management to her vast stash of food.
Tamsin’s next lot of prescription food comes round startlingly fast and is building up in our pantry. We now put bread in the freezer, and in future I’ll be splitting loaves and packs of rolls before freezing, as I’ve had to throw away more mouldy bread and rolls than I can remember. The issue is that Tamsin doesn’t eat to a routine of any sort, particularly in the school holidays, so she’ll start a loaf for breakfast, have toast for two days, then eat granola for the next week. In the meantimer it doesn’t cross her mind that there’s a loaf in the cupboard that will be inedible within a few days. I’ve taken to keeping open loaves in the fridge. They dry out a bit even well-wrapped but Tamsin finds gf bread so dry anyway that it doesn’t make much difference, epecially toasted.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Tamsin doesn’t eat a great volume of food. She definitely ate more pre-diagnosis, but counter-intuitively she’s putting on weight, which is long-overdue. Although she’s eating less she’s getting the benefit of it now, or more of the benefit of it, which wasn’t happening before. She’s noticed that gf foods can be more filling but this doesn’t yet inform her portion sizes, so she’ll cook or toast or take a large helping of something then leave 1/3 of it on the plate, completely stuffed. As a parent this is maddening, but I would never insist a child eat once they’re full so depending on what it is it either goes to the hens or is put away for later. It concerns me that Tamsin’s appetite is affected by her new diet but there’s little I can do about it.
Eating what’s easy
One element of Tamsin’s non-existent approach to food management is that she will often eat whatever’s to hand. She has a very generous and well-meaning relative who often rolls up with gf cakes and biscuits and of course Tamsin falls on them, initially at least. I’ll find the packet days later, under a sofa or in her bed, soft and horrible. She’s forgotten about them, there was far too much in the first place and after the initial thrill her appetite has fallen off. I’ve always hated the children eating too much sugar but there’s a path to tread between healthy eating and ingratitude to well-meaning people.
I’m hoping that once the children go back to school Tamsin will fall back into a routine with food and wastage will drop off to negligable.
Gluten free baking is more different from ordinary baking than I could ever have imagined. I understand the chemistry involved but hadn’t realised just how much of a difference gluten made to the finished product, both to the rise and more surprisingly to the moisture content. I’ve fallen flat on my face with both of these.
Early efforts at gluten free baking
Shortly after Tamsin’s diagnosis we went away for a few days. I wouldn’t have chosen that timing but we had a long-standing commitment. It was before we saw the dietitian though and I know now that I made loads of mistakes with the best of intentions, mainly through contamination. I wanted to take a ginger cake to one of our hosts but didn’t want to exclude Tamsin, as my ginger cake is one of her favourite things. It’s also a real volcano of a riser and a bit of a crowd pleaser. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know how badly the GF version was going to turn out when I started.
Being a complete beginner with gluten free baking I took no chances and looked up a gluten free gingerbread recipe on the Doves Farm site. For all that I love the range of GF flours that Doves Farm makes, I really don’t recommend this recipe. Annoyingly I can’t find the image of the finished gingerbread but it was a disaster. The picture here shows it before coming out of the pan but it doesn’t look much better. It was barely an inch high. Having said that it tasted nice straight out of the oven, and if I’d been going to serve it straight away I would probably have got away with it, but this needed to be stored for 48 hours then presented to my hostess – I didn’t think it was going to cut the mustard, somehow.
Instead I decided to cut it into squares and take it away with us as a snack, perhaps for a picnic with a flask of tea. I produced the gingerbread at an appropriate moment, we all took a bite in happy anticipation of the sort of delicious slightly sticky gingerbread we were used to, and we all more or less spat it out. It wasn’t the taste but the texture that was so unnerving. It was dry but not crumbly, rather rubbery and just impossible to force down. Ever since we came home it’s been sitting in the freezer waiting for a suitable occasion to be heated up and drowned in custard.
Gluten free apple cake
This weekend sees an annual family tradition that always includes apple cake and, worryingly, ginger cake.
I felt the apple cake stood a chance as it’s a melted recipe that’s more like a cobbler than a sponge cake. I have a tried and tested recipe that I used, simply subbing ordinary self-raising flour for Doves Farm gluten free ST flour. So far, it looks like it’s worked out just as I hoped. I tried the bits that thoughtfully fell off as I transferred the cake from tin to rack and other than being a bit dry, which I now take for granted with GF baking, it tastes pretty good and isn’t too far removed from what we’re used to.
My biggest concern with the ginger cake is that it will turn to rubber overnight, so I’m going to make it in the morning and hope it cools in time. I’m following the Sticky Ginger Squares recipe that came with the Glutafin freebies, but without the rhubarb topping. I’ll report back. If I can find a good gingerbread recipe then Tamsin will be happy. The next step after that will be gluten free Christmas cake, which must be the ultimate GF recipe to get right.
Prescription changes can be a pain, but it does get better. I’ve catalogued our prescription woes in great and largely negative detail on this blog, but at last I’m feeling better about it all and getting a good feel for Tamsin’s new food intake.
Setting up alerts
I’ve set myself up a four-weekly alert for Tamsin’s prescription changes – prescriptions of gluten free food come every four weeks rather than strictly once a month, so you have to pay attention to your dates if you want to make any changes. It’s great to get 13 deliveries of food a year instead of 12, but it does make it a little more of an administrative headache.
Tamsin is still struggling to come to terms with GF bread, which tends to be dry and not terribly good for sandwiches, and has eschewed bread for school lunches in favour of a rice salad. As she’s reasonably grown up at rising 15 she can manage this, but I wouldn’t want to try it with a seven year old. This means I need to make prescription changes next month, as to date at least half her prescription has been bread and rolls, ordered deliberately with school lunches in mind. Mainly Tamsin has bread for toast and a few rolls which she puts under the grill for cheese on toast. We gambled on Glutafin‘s baguettes (224-0117) last time and she loved those. What I’ve never really noticed before is how Tamsin has a bit of this and a bit of that, and as she’s the only person eating her GF products, we need to keep an eye on things not going out of date. I now halve loaves before freezing them, freeze rolls individually if that makes more sense and have a tendency to bung anything bread-like in the freezer if I have any doubts that it will be finished before going off.
It’s difficult for Tamsin as she doesn’t necessarily want to eat a family-sized amount of something in three days, but then she finds that the thing she does want is in the freezer. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that if I left it to her to manage these things, our hens would be eating a hell of a lot of gluten free food.
Going crackers for crackers
Crackers, crispbread and savoury biscuits have been a revelation. We ordered Glutafin GF crackers (009-3302), Juvela Crispbread (236-6136) and Juvela Savoury Biscuits (310-7893) and she loves those, so we’ll be ordering more of those. The Juvela White Mix (035-2161) has been very useful (for balance we have Fibre Mix too) so a couple of boxes of that a month will be a fixture, especially as we come into a more baking-y time of year. I think pizza bases are something to stockpile or order if we’re a unit or two under the limit. I do plan them for family meals once or twice a month and they’re something Tamsin will create for herself on a whim.
So my advice with prescriptions is to be prepared to make changes, identify the foods you’d rather not have to buy, the things you find yourself not wanting to run out of, and the foods that naturally suit your coeliac’s habits.