The first thing I, Carol Leather, do when visiting a new web site is to check out the "About" page. I want to know who is behind the site and what qualifies them to provide accurate information about the subject. I am not looking for academic qualifications, but I want them to have firsthand knowledge of the topic so I can trust that they know what they are writing about.
So how am I qualified to guide you through the gluten free diet?
I have followed the diet since 1960. After a three month stay in hospital I left with a diagnosis of Coeliac Disease (spelled Celiac in some countries) and instructions to avoid gluten for the rest of my life. For me it is a matter of life or death. I am extremely sensitive to this protein found in wheat, rye and barley and the slightest hint of gluten in my diet has ghastly consequences!
This was long before eating gluten free became a "fad". It was also long before it was possible to buy gluten free products in the local store or over the Internet (the net didn't even exist!).
My mother had to order gluten free flour by post, from overseas, in order to bake anything for me. It was not only difficult to obtain but very expensive! Sadly it also didn’t work that well, resulting in many failures in the kitchen.
It took a lot of experimentation, varying the quantities and ingredients a little at a time, to get satisfactory results. I persevered (I had to in order to eat) and eventually worked out the best ways to make tasty cakes, bread, etc. Luckily I enjoyed cooking!
However, I can't say that my school years were enjoyable. I was bullied for being different and found it difficult to make friends. I was the kid that wasn't invited to parties: even if I had been, the party food would most likely have been off limits.
School dinners were definitely out, they just didn't cater for special diets back then. Packed lunches were the order of the day. My homemade bread still left something to be desired, and the only commercial offering available was like eating cardboard! So I created new recipes for savouries and desserts to fill my lunchbox and eventually other kids asked if they could swap their lunch items for mine. Although I didn't dare eat their food, I didn't mind sharing my own and often went hungry.
Below is a school photo. I am the one wearing glasses in the second row from the bottom.
After leaving school I met the man of my dreams.
Like many people he had never heard of Coeliac and I had to educate him on what I could and could not eat.
Meals out back in the late 70s and 80s were an EXPERIENCE! Chefs didn't have any knowledge of the gluten free diet either, so it was necessary to teach them how to avoid contamination. Although wheat is found in flour I was often asked if I could eat pasta, and TOLD "oh you can't have potatoes then." Erm.... wrong!
Roger soon found out what happened if they made a mistake, and we decided it was safer to eat at home. Although I never stopped him from eating whatever he wanted, he tended to eat "normal" foods elsewhere and stick to the gluten free meals I cooked in the evenings.
Before long our daughter came along and due to the risk of her also having the disease I had to learn how to prepare and cook gluten free baby food. Luckily when we did introduce gluten into her diet she was fine, as was her brother who came along 7 years later.
My children were teenagers when my younger brother, Tim, got married. He and his new wife, Jenny, lived some distance from us so we only saw them on special occasions, such as the christening of their baby daughter.
A few years later they moved closer and Tim phoned me one evening, sounding distraught. Jenny had been tested for Coeliac disease, and was taking it pretty hard. He asked if I would visit and share some tips in case she needed to go gf.
I arranged to go see her after her hospital appointment the next day.
She was in tears having just had a positive diagnosis. I calmed her down and we put together a plan of action, including restructuring her kitchen to have a gf area. I took her shopping and showed her how to read food labels. We ran through the foods she now needed to avoid, and all the tasty things she could still enjoy.
Despite our age differences we struck up a close friendship as I guided her through those early days. It was also nice not to be the only one that was tricky to feed at "family get togethers".
It wasn’t just Jenny who asked for help.
“Hello, is that Carol Leather? Your sister/friend/colleague passed on your number. I have just been told I need to go gf and she said you might be able to offer me some tips,' were words I heard more and more.
I was often asked the same questions and decided that putting the information on paper (and now screen) meant I would be able to help people who didn’t know me or my family personally.
Of course I always direct folk to their primary carer for medical advice, as I am not a doctor. But after nearly 60 years catering for a gluten free diet I have learned heaps about the cooking side of things that I am happy to share.
Talking of doctors, those at the General Practice I attend, have pointed their patients in the direction of my site!
Finally, just so you know, gluten free life is about more than just food! You need other interests and hobbies in order to thrive. I enjoy my grandchildren, needlework, drawing and wildlife photography. How about you?