Giving up the Good Stuff: Going Gluten-free

Written and Photographed by Jennifer Colosimo

When my cousin said she had to give up gluten three years ago, my first thought was, oh my gosh, that means beer. Unable to picture a diet void of pizza pies and ooey gooey baked goods for myself, I realized my own digestive system was trying to warn me. And, just a year after she was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease, my doctor told me that if I wanted to feel better, I’d need to give up gluten too.

I panicked, at first, over the thought of never sinking my teeth into a deep-dish, extra-cheesy pepperoni pie, and toyed with defiance that I couldn’t still eat what I wanted. But then the side effects would surface — for me, a nagging headache, bloating, serious fatigue and a feeling that I may never be able to eat again.

The decision to go gluten-free (for real) came a couple of years ago, bringing with it a lifestyle overhaul and a summoning of every last ounce of willpower I had to give. Now, with experience under my belt, I can say I’ve settled into a pretty good routine (I still lose the battle every now and then when faced with said pizza), helped by the gluten-free gems in our neighborhood and a lot of ingredient research.

So, what’s a Celiac?
Since my cousin was diagnosed, I’ve met many a Celiac sufferer. Unofficially, it is defined as someone who can’t digest gluten, whether via an allergy, a genetic predisposition or otherwise. It gets bad for some, tearing up the small intestine and bringing with that a long list of varying symptoms that when left undiagnosed or untreated can result in serious lifelong complications.

For the rest of us who “just don’t feel good” when we eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), it may not be a medical reason doctors can pinpoint, but it’s a trial and error process that brings us to realize our body loves us more when we simply avoid the stuff. Whether you’re on one end of the spectrum or the other, there’s a lot to think about when you order off a menu, shop at the grocery store and browse the finger foods at a dinner party.

Like me, or my cousin, it might take months of those headaches, belly aches and downright disgusting taste tests to get it right – but once the new diet clicks (and you realize how many people have Pinned gluten-free goodies), the light at the end of the tunnel starts to look a little more tasty … and less daunting.

Restaurant Swaps
Good ole Mexican food — it’s a staple for many of us. At home, it’s simple enough to use fresh ingredients, avoid flavor packets (almost all of them have MSG or monosodium glutamate, a highly processed form of gluten) and stick with corn tortillas; it’s a different story out on the town. And since I crave some serious queso, tangy guacamole and a layered beef, bean and everything-else burrito almost all of the time, it’s imperative I know how to order it. Luckily, most Mexican-style restaurants already serve a lot of dishes on corn, and fry up the same to dip into their fresh-made salsas. Some, like at Cinco in Cumming, have dedicated gluten-free menus, but double check that the server knows you’re after a gluten-free option, in case there’s a little more mystery to their menu.

Spreading my wings outside of a cheesy concoction usually lands us at one of my favorite restaurant chains in metro Atlanta, Marlow’s Tavern. Their gluten-friendly menu includes a huge chunk of their traditional one with substitution suggestions and how much cross-contamination happens, not to mention options under every category that quickly become a sacrificing food lover’s dream. My favorites are the shrimp & grits and the fish tacos with their famous jalapeño corn grits. Lately, I’ve branched out and discovered the creamy, rich and colorful quinoa, beet and goat cheese appetizer and the tender, savory and fresh black and blue steak salad.

Wearing the Wheat-Free Apron
As a married-into Italian wife, I relish pasta and garlic-bread-filled dinners almost as much as my husband. With a gluten-free gavel of doom, would I be cast out, forced to dine alone during family dinners? Fortunately, no. We’ve found an array of products we can use at home to create those same language-of-love dishes – even fooling my in-laws on occasion!

The best cook-at-home pasta is De Boles, which you can get in various noodle styles at the grocery store. We use Mary’s Gone Crackers products for the crunch we need in chicken Parmesan, or to hold together meatballs.

And, for our pie-nights, we go for gluten-free Pillsbury Refrigerated Pizza Dough. When we’re craving someone else’s Italian cooking (read: we don’t want to do the dishes), we head to Mambo Italiano at The Forum. From the endless pasta dishes served with gluten-free pasta, or the naturally wheat-free Carpaccio di Manzo and Ahi Tuna Salad, we’ve got a meal to please me and my Calabrian family.

Sweets, Snacks and Sandwiches
I am a sucker for fresh deli sandwiches and anything loaded with sugar. When I ran across Good Grub Subs and Mama Bakes Safe Cakes, both in Cumming, my lunchtime crisis was averted. Good Grub serves every one of their signature subs on gluten-free bread options, so whether you’re a classic turkey gal or crave a napkins-please meatball sub, you can eat guilt free as well.

And, since no one (admit it) likes to polish off a meal without a sweet treat, the fresh-made madness at Safe Cakes is perfect. My favorites include the Strawberry Topped and the Chocolate Boston cupcakes, but I’d be lying if I said that with those I could call it a day. Thanks to a boatload of other restaurants jumping on the gluten-free flavor train, the options for sensitive diners are always growing. I’ve even found a few pizzas I could eat with gusto (Domino’s and Mellow Mushroom). I’m lucky to simply have an intolerance, so I can cheat when I want to, but for anyone with a serious sensitivity, it’s encouraging to know our neighborhoods have our appetite — and our health — in mind.

It’s always comforting to vent and trade secrets with a fellow gluten-free dieter, so when I got to go inside the kitchen at The Omni Hotel with Executive Chef Greg White, I felt like it was my chance for true insider secrets. When White was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease, he had to say goodbye to classic NY-style bagels, his favorite pizza and most of his go-to baked goods. The good news was that his new lifestyle helped evolve the kitchen at The Omni Hotel, making it a destination for wheat-free Atlantans and visitors.

What we’re most excited about is the fact that he can still make his favorite dishes — they’re now easier for him (and fellow Celiacs and intolerants) to digest. And while we can’t stalk his kitchens, we can take him up on the offer to share his Famous Fried Chicken recipe.

1 chicken, cut into eight pieces
2 cups buttermilk
3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free
All Purpose Flour
½ tablespoon paprika
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

After cutting the chicken, put it in a bowl and pour in the buttermilk. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes, turning at least twice. In another bowl, combine the gluten-free flour and the paprika. Next, drain the excess buttermilk o of the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour and coat well. Place the chicken on parchment paper and let sit until the fl our takes on a paste-like consistency. (The chicken will not be crispy without following the preceding step.)

Season with salt and pepper again. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a skillet half-way with oil and place on a range at medium-high heat. After a few minutes, check the temperature by dropping a bit of fl our in the hot oil. It should bubble.If the oil starts smoking, it’s getting too hot. Place the chicken carefully in the hot oil and brown both sides well. When the chicken is browned well, transfer to a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Continue cooking for 30 to 40 minutes until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches at least 165 degrees.