Gluten free in Wilmington, NC

It’s ironic that I am gluten free because one thing I did when I first moved to the South was make regular trips back to NJ for car loads of my favorite bread. I make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. As a cook, bread was my favorite medium. When I was struggling to make ends meet, turning bread into toast and adding butter made things OK. In fact, when I found out that I was allergic to gluten and it was causing a host of problems in my body I said I am not giving it up. Then my legs stopped working. I decided to reconsider.

Years ago I remember learning of a neighbor’s Celiac disease (which they called Tropical Sprew) and finding out she could never eat gluten. I knew enough about food at the time to know gluten meant wheat. Flour, BREAD! I was devastated for her. How could she possibly manage? What did she eat? I asked her all these questions but I wasn’t really paying attention to the answers because in my mind I was thinking things like I could never have this disease, I couldn’t live without bread. I wished I had paid more attention to her answers because when the realization that I was GLUTEN FREE dawned on me all I could think was: what the heck am I going to eat?

In the beginning it was all about what I couldn’t eat. Pita chips, crostini’s, bagels, biscuits, buns, brioche, beignets. Toast. Texas toast at the Dixie, French bread at the Brassiere. No cookies or scones at Sugar on Front Street. And those were just the things I really liked. That didn’t even include the food I was eating off the kid’s plates. Waffles, cheerios, goldfish, pretzels. And oh yes, horror of horrors, no more high fiber cereal! How was I supposed to function without high fiber cereal?

The answer turned out to be easy. Fresh, whole foods grown or raised right here in North Carolina. Meat and vegetables. Sweet potatoes, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries. Kale. The most gorgeous kale grows here. Suddenly, I was at the River Front Farmer’s Market every Saturday. I bought everything. In the beginning I ate like a lumberjack trying to fill the void that gluten had left. Through my research I learned about how fat soluble vitamins in greens needed fat to be absorbed into our bodies better so I cooked kale and onions in farm fresh bacon fat from Hilltop Angus Grass Fed. I made chicken broth with local chickens from nature’s Way farm in Brunswick County. Venison sweet potato hash was followed by all beef meatballs with cauliflower instead of breadcrumbs. I was cooking my heart out and not using bread and loving it! I was so enamored of fresh vegetables from farms using heirloom seeds and shunning round up.

Ensconced in my kitchen, blissfully cooking my meticulously sourced, farm fresh ingredients for my family it’s easy to forget that not eating gluten is unusual. Outside the kitchen is the real world and in the real world gluten is in every single thing. Make up, soup, sauce, tortilla chips, pickles, curry, sausages, shampoo, shaving cream. Avoiding it is a tiny side job made slightly easier by web sites devoted to seeking gluten out so people don’t have to accidentally eat it or absorb it. And how about the impossibility of eating out? And what if your family isn’t supportive? I am so lucky my family decided to support me by also eating a gluten free diet. It wasn’t a hard decision to maintain when we all realized we were at a normal weight again. Weight loss is a huge ‘side effect’ of going gluten free. I ended up having to spend my entire Christmas bonus on new clothes when I went from a size 14 to a 4 in under 6 months. I was a life long size 14. I started getting mad that no one had told me about gluten before but then I was thankful that someone finally did.