Keep your stinkin’ gluten on your side of the counter (and other ways to create a safe shared kitchen)

“Best laid plans often go astray.” Or are forgotten. Or are given up on. Some were never best laid plans to begin with.

When Nora was diagnosed with celiac, the guilt was all-consuming, and I had every intention to go gluten-free myself and lead the rest of my family into a mostly gluten-free lifestyle. If my 8 year-old daughter could give up every food she’s ever loved, so could I. And a good mother should, right? I guess that’s where you have to decide what makes a “good mother.” And why should I remove healthy and delicious foods from our older daughter’s diet, without just cause? My attempts to reach this unobtainable goal to create a GF family lasted for no longer than 1 month.

I still make all dinners, desserts, and family breakfasts gluten-free. And I personally eat gluten-free probably 75% of the time. But most weekday mornings, we all go our separate ways. To our separate toasters, and separate areas of the counter.

I have learned through trial and error how to create a safe, shared kitchen, where gluten and GF foods can exist harmoniously. Here are 7 tips to help you do the same.

7 tips to create a shared gluten-free kitchen

1. Clean – Not to sound condescending, but clean your kitchen, refrigerator, pantry, utensils, and cookware really well. Gluten lives on the bottom of that silverware holder and in the corners of your favorite cake pan. If you can’t get the crumbs out, get rid of it.

2. Organize – If you have a child that is GF and you have the space, organize your dry goods so that GF foods are within your child’s reach and your non-GF foods are stored separately in another area of the pantry. For instance, I have a left and right-side pantry. I store all GF foods on the left-hand side and strategically place cereals and snacks where Nora can reach them. If your pantry is small or non-existent, place GF foods on top shelves and non-GF on the bottom so that no gluten falls into your GF foods.Gluten-free pantry

3. Separate – Once again, try to separate your GF and non-GF as much as possible. If you keep your bread in the fridge like us, keep all loaves wrapped up well. I don’t go this far, but I do know that some people will even double-bag their GF bread to avoid cross contamination. If possible, store the GF frozen foods together above the non-GF foods.

4. Label – If you think you can buy one tub of margarine and keep gluten-infested knives out of it, more power to you. But this would never fly in our house. If you’re like us, buy two sets of margarine, cream cheese, peanut butter, and anything else you’d likely stick a knife into. Label one set as GF and keep on the lower shelf of your fridge, so your child can reach it easily.Gluten-free fridge

5. Designate – Even the smallest kitchen can accommodate a designated GF food preparation area. I have designated the right-hand side of our counter as GF. In the mornings, when I have to prepare and pack one GF lunch and one regular lunch, I prepare Nora’s food on the GF side of the counter. And because other members of my family don’t necessarily always follow that rule, I also use either a paper towel, plate, or cutting board to prepare her food on as an extra layer between her food and any possible lingering gluten. I also don’t ever put regular breads directly on the countertop. They always get some type of protective layer as well. That way the plate or paper towel catches most of the crumbs and I can quickly dispose of them and give the counter a quick swipe with a cleaner.

6. Invest – I will not tell you to throw away all your utensils and cookware. If it’s glass, ceramic, or porcelain, it can most likely be easily cleaned of any gluten. However, non-stick baking pans are another story. Oddly enough, my supposedly “non-stick” bread, muffin, and cake pans had tons of unidentified crust and gunk “stuck” in the corners and it was impossible to get these clean. I did use them to bake GF and just used liners or parchment paper, but if you can invest in new GF pans, do so. Or if you enjoy baking as much as I do, ask for new pans as a gift for the holidays or for your birthday!

7. Toasters – I gave toasters their own category because this is one item that you really NEED to buy new. There’s no way to clean a toaster of all gluten. You can shake it as hard as you can and there will still be crumbs inside. We now have 3 toasters on our counters. Ridiculous, I know. But it works. We have a toaster oven which is shared and we put all GF foods that need to be baked, like chicken nuggets, on a layer of foil to avoid cross contamination. We also have two pop-up toasters. One that is dedicated to gluten and one that is dedicated GF and lives on the GF counter. As ugly as this is, our toaster is even labeled GF with permanent marker so that when babysitters come over, they know which toaster to use for Nora’s food.

Gluten-free toaster
Follow these simple tips can help you can successfully create a safe, shared kitchen that accommodates everyone in the family, gluten-free or not.

Share the love: What’s your secret to keeping your kitchen GF? Share them here so we can all learn from one another.

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Gluten-free all-purpose flour

Bake, if you dare
Gluten-free baking is not for those that get easily discouraged. I’m surprised I have stuck it out this far, quite frankly. After several failed attempts, I have come to view GF baking as a teetering cheerleader pyramid, whose success I imagine depends on the teamwork of many and a solid, strong base.

In my mind, the components of a successful gluten-free baking recipe are much the same. If you want to bake gluten-free goodies from scratch, you’ll need multiple gluten-free flours and starches in order to replace a simple regular all-purpose flour. I find this incredibly annoying. But, without a solid gluten-free flour as your base, your recipe will topple and end up in the trash, due to less-than-appetizing taste and texture.

Can’t I just use a box?
There are several gluten-free all-purpose box mixes out there, and I encourage you to try them. But we haven’t found many that we like better than the Celiac Flour Mix recipe published on Karen Robertson’s blog, Cooking Gluten-Free! For you box-lovers, this very flour mixture is now being sold through Authentic Foods as Multi Blend Gluten Free Flour Mix.

Celiac Flour Mix
*
Originally from Wendy Wark’s book Living Healthy with Celiac Disease (AnAffect, 1998).

celiac flour mixture

Yes, that’s my gluten-free only toaster in the background.

2 1/4 cups brown rice flour
3/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2/3 cup tapioca starch
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons xanthan gum

As cumbersome as it is to use so many flours, once you have your solid base recipe, everything becomes much simpler. You know which flours to buy and which you can skip.

Storage
To make my life easier, I just dump each flour into a ziplock bag, shake it up, and I’m done. I always date it, but it never stays around long enough for me to worry about it going bad. If you don’t bake often, store your flour mixture in the refrigerator or freezer to help it keep longer.

Variations
I have tried replacing sweet rice flour with sweet sorghum flour. It’s ok in a pinch, but the taste of the sweet rice flour is definitely preferred in our home.

  • Other variations are also possible.
    Adding ground flax meal gives the flour a nice nutty taste and amps up the nutritional value with omega 3s and fiber.
  • Or try adding whey protein powder to recipes for gluten-free granola or power bars.
  • Coconut flour is also high in fiber and protein and has a smooth sweet taste.

There are many other flours out there that could be added to the base recipe above. These are just the ones I’ve tried so far.

But what if I make something gross?
We’ve all done it. Actually, I did it today, in an attempt to make gluten-free gnocchi from leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. It ended up in the trashcan, after our girls were nice enough to comment on how good the butter sauce was. LOL.

Gluten-free flour is expensive and can be hard to find, so you might be reluctant to experiment with new recipes or variations. If you are trying something new, try a half-batch of the recipe first. That way, if it turns out like a hockey puck (or a nasty dense gnocchi nugget), you’re only out half the cost.

And I will try GF gnocchi again…

Share the love
Do you have a flour recipe you love? Email your favorite recipe to growingupgf@gmail.com, and if it gets a thumbs up from our family, I’ll feature it as a post on the site!

Happy baking!