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The last month has brought many changes to my life. I’ve graduated with a masters degree, moved to San Francisco, ditched my car for a bike, and met Gluten-Free Boy, a wonderful guy who happens to eat a gluten-free diet. If I’ve learned anything in this last month, it’s to take things as they come, as life is bound to throw you curve balls when you least expect them.

When I first met Gluten-Free Boy, there was an instant warmth and familiarity to our interactions, and it just seemed to make sense from the get-go. I knew right away that I wanted this man in my life, no question! To make this a reality, I needed to get my head around an entirely foreign way of eating and cooking — Gluten-Free Boy has Celiac disease, and thus cannot consume any foods containing gluten without endangering his health.

I am fortunate to come from a background of crunchy-granola-California-style cooking, and if you’ve read my blog, you know that I am a big proponent of preparing healthy foods from minimally processed, whole ingredients. This comes in handy in a big way when learning how to cook gluten-free, as the biggest landmines come in the from of processed foods. It is boggling just how much of the supermarket is off-limits to gluten-free folk.

Tips for GF Grocery Shopping

Staying out of the middle aisles of the grocery store simplifies things considerably. After all, this is where you’ll find the majority of processed foods, including cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, snack cakes, pastas, and other grain-filled foods. The outskirts of a grocery store are where you’ll find most Celiac-safe foods, including all fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry.

You can successfully navigate the processed food aisles if you are careful to check the labels on absolutely everything — gluten-filled surprises lurk in just about every category. You’ll want to avoid any foods containing the following grains:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Kamut
  • Spelt
  • Rye
  • Triticale

Furthermore, even if a product does not contain these grains, producers are required to note whether or not the food was made in a factory that also processes allergens such as wheat, dairy, and nuts. Depending on your degree of gluten intolerance, it may or may not be necessary for you to avoid products produced in factories where wheat is processed — to be safest, it’s best to avoid these products entirely. If you find a food you think is safe (rice-based breakfast cereal, for example), scan to the bottom of the ingredient list and check for allergy warnings.

Many products are helpfully labeled gluten-free, including a wide variety of flours and grains from Bob’s Red Mill, crackers and sweets made by GlutinoPamela’s baking mixes, and Nature’s Path breakfast cereals. Health food stores like Whole Foods often have an entire gluten-free section devoted to these prepackaged foods, simplifying your shopping experience considerably. Just remember that products in other aisles aren’t necessarily off-limits just because they aren’t labeled — fresh produce doesn’t have a “gluten-free” sticker, but it is 100% safe to eat, and vital to your health!

Easy GF Breakfast Solutions

If you’d rather avoid processed foods at the breakfast table, skip the cereal aisle entirely and go for whole grains instead. Cornmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, and rice all make great porridges. For a savory breakfast, top your porridge with an egg, some tamari (a.k.a. gluten-free soy sauce), sliced green onions and a squirt of sriracha sauce for an Asian-inspired meal. Or, for a sweet breakfast, add raisins, maple syrup, nuts or nut butter, fresh fruit, or whatever toppings you’d normally add to a bowl of oatmeal. You can even prepare your breakfast porridge in advance for extra convenience, warming up individual servings throughout the week. A programmable rice-cooker is another great option — you can pour water and your grain of choice into the cooker in the evening, set a timer, and wake up to hot porridge for breakfast.

Following is a recipe for breakfast polenta, requiring no special equipment or appliances. Inspired by Italian cuisine, I topped my porridge with a sunnyside egg, shaved grana padano cheese, and freshly ground black pepper. A simple and satisfying breakfast, it came together in less than 10 minutes. If you’re new to gluten-free cooking and your breakfasts have been lackluster, give this a try! You’ll feel anything but deprived sitting down to your sumptuous, savory bowl of whole-grain goodness. With 365 calories, 13 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fiber, this breakfast will keep you full straight through to lunchtime!

Italian Breakfast Polenta

serves 1 (easily doubled, tripled, etc.)

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Medium Cornmeal
1cup water
1 pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large egg
grana padano cheese (or any hard, Italian cheese)
freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small (1-quart) saucepan over a medium flame, combine the cornmeal, water, and salt. Whisk to combine, bringing up to a boil. Turn heat down to low and let simmer for 5-7 minutes, whisking often until thickened. If desired, add more water for a looser consistency.

2. While the cornmeal is simmering, heat the olive oil in a small (6 to 8-inch) skillet over a medium flame. Carefully crack the egg into the skillet, leaving it undisturbed until it is cooked to your liking. Feel free to cover the skillet with a lid if you like your yolk more thoroughly cooked.

3. Transfer your cornmeal mush (a.k.a. polenta) from the saucepan to a bowl for serving. Slide the egg on top.

4. Using a vegetable peeler, shave your desired amount of cheese on top — grana padano is very flavorful, so I only used a third of an ounce. Top with freshly cracked pepper. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Coco Harris


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Coco Harris (a.k.a. Opera Girl of operagirlcooks.com)

Hailing from San Francisco, Coco is a classically-trained opera singer who writes a gluten-free, healthy cooking blog. She develops her original recipes from wholesome, minimally-processed foods, making use of California’s bountiful produce and locally-made products. Her palette of ingredients includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and judiciously-used natural sweeteners, as well as the occasional serving of dairy, meat, or fish.

When not writing her blog, Coco is an avid reader of literature on food politics and foodways. She believes that every dollar we spend on food is a political and social statement, reflecting our worldview and casting a vote for what we believe. She hopes that one day, everyone will have access to healthy, nutritious food.