I realized something the other day, as I was cutting up potatoes and yet another batch of carrots pulled from our garden, something that has been on the edge of my consciousness for a while now but hasn't yet been fully articulated in my mind. Since I began eating gluten free, I have become so much more aware of food - where it comes from, how it is grown, and politics surrounding access to and cultivation of it.
I've become so much more excited about growing my own food, baking and cooking from scratch, and, recently, pickling and canning the harvest. I've also noticed that I'm not alone in this.
I read a fair number of gluten free blogs and have noticed the trend towards a heightened awareness around what one puts in one's mouth. At first thought, this makes sense because those of us who have to eat gluten free are much safer when we eat things we have prepared ourselves, using whole ingredients. If we don't know the source or method of manufacture of a food product, most of us are hesitant to subject our bodies to gluten-roulette or be the guinea pig of the "does this food have gluten" experiment. Thus, as a rule, food prepared by others is always suspect (unless, of course, they know and love us and take good care of our health by keeping the gluten far, far away!).
Delving a little deeper into understanding, I would even go so far as to say that I tend to avoid even non-gluteny ready-made foods now more so than ever if they have unintelligible ingredients. Because, heck, my body needs some TLC and why would I go to such lengths to treat it well by avoiding gluten and then turn around and harm it with chemically-processed anything? That just seems to defeat the purpose. By the way, I learned last night that the sugar substitute Equal is an effective ant-killer because they are attracted to the sweet taste, but the chemicals kill them. What does it do to our bodies then?
But the thing that really dawned on me the other day was this thing called control. This thing called "internal locus of control" has been a favorite topic for many researchers in psychology (and credit needs to be given to Rotter who is often cited as the originator of this concept). In a nutshell, mounds and mounds of research has evidenced that the more control one feels over one's life, the happier, healthier, and generally better off one is. According to this research, some people generally feel they have control over the trajectory of their lives; if they work towards something, they will one day see the positive rewards of their hard work. Others tend to feel that no matter what they do, the world has more control over what happens to them. Those who genuinely believe they control their life experiences are happier and healthier as a whole. This can also be true for situation-specific sense of control. For example, one thing we can all relate to is feeling a sense of control over one's work day. Are you told when to take your breaks? Are you told not only what to do but how to do it? This low-control environment makes for generally unhappy employees while they are at work.
Now imagine you are told you have a disease in which your body's immune system is attacking itself and the best way to cure your symptoms and heal your body is to avoid a protein called gluten that you can't visibly see in some foods (outside of the obvious) or on cook surfaces. And American food manufacturers seem to put it in all sorts of things under all sorts of names and restaurant staff may or may not pay attention to cross contamination or understand what gluten is...
Woah. Suddenly the blissful ignorance of what went into food others made for you feels dangerous and the steps you have to take to understand your illness and eat safely feels overwhelming - and you want control. By taking action and learning as much as you can about food - the one thing that will heal you - you regain a sense of control over a part of your life that feels out of control. And this sense of control over your diet makes coping with the illness much easier.
I remember in my earlier gluten free days, I would "treat" myself to an expensive item I wouldn't normally buy or try a new product each time I went to the grocery store just for the sake of doing it, because I could. I would pick out an expensive cheese or olive oil or I would try a new vegetable or fruit. It was my way of feeling like I could say "yes" to something new or interesting or fun when I had to say "no" to so many of the other products that lined the grocery store shelves. It made me feel more in control of what was in my fridge.
More importantly, though, I became obsessed with reading about celiac disease, gluten free cooking, and food in general. At first it was intimidating, but it quickly felt freeing; knowledge removed the feeling of suffocation and enabled me to act. Now that Ben and I grow some of our vegetables, get almost all of the rest of our fruit and vegetables directly from the farmer who grows them, cook the majority of our meals at home from scratch, take care to pay attention to stainability in food production, and have begun canning and preserving, I feel in control of the food that I eat and, as a result, in control over my health.
I have never felt so good.
This is the cake I made for Ben's birthday this year (less fancy than the one I made last year, but still totally delicious). It's a cake his mom used to make and I adapted it to make it gluten free! We served it topped with real whipped cream, but you could certainly frost it if you like (cream cheese frosting would probably be delicious with this). I made the cake again in cupcake form this past weekend...but I would recommend sticking to the cake version unless you are able to make 16 cupcakes at a time. I only have a 12-muffin tin and had a bit of batter leftover, even after over-filling the wells. As you can see, the cake is very moist and stays that way for quite a few days in the fridge!
Applesauce raisin cake
2 cups brown rice flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup potato starch
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons nutmeg
1½ cups turbinado sugar
1½ cups applesauce
2 teaspoon baking soda (stirred into applesauce)
1 cup raisins
½ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
½ cup any milk (hazelnut, almond, etc.)
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour (with rice flour) your cake pan(s). You can use a 9x13 cake pan or two 8-inch pans.
Mix dry ingredients (except raisins) until well blended. Stir in applesauce, eggs, milk, and butter.
Fold in raisins and pour into prepared cake pan(s). Use a spoon or spatula to spread to edges.
Bake for about 25 minutes for 8-inch pans, or about 35 minutes for 9x13 pan. Cake should turn golden on top and when a toothpick is inserted into center, it will come out clean.