“Cooking without ingredients has never been so easy! Make your own alternatives for the free from lifestyle with no fuss, no calories and no hefty price tag! Buy pure, natural goodness without the natural ingredients! Who said food intolerance wasn’t fun?”
When I first investigated the world of “free from” cooking several years ago in an effort to mitigate the symptoms of chronic illness, little did I anticipate the rabbit hole I was blithely stepping into. I thought that making a few simple changes to my diet would be a piece of cake. (Or no cake at all, as it turned out)
I’ve always been a decent, if fairly homely, cook and I knew a little about wheat-free baking thanks to a housemate of mine so at first, I tried to go it alone. I would be a rebel! A lone wolf! A maverick kitchen crusader, bravely making things up as I went along! That worked for about as long as it takes for a slice of gluten free toast to burn so I did what anyone in my situation these days would do: I sought guidance from the collective knowledge pool.
Anyone consulting the internet for the first time on cooking without a specific ingredient would be forgiven for thinking that food intolerance is somehow an aspirational lifestyle choice. Recipes for free-from cooking are presented in much the same way that all of the other “healthy eating” recipes are; with lots of peppy alliteration, exotic sounding ingredients and beautiful macro photography in an effort to make it all seem ever so appealing.
Most of the websites and blogs I read online seemed either to be one of two distinct breeds. Some were blandly utilitarian; recipe databases or newspaper magazine articles, offering no real insight further than the basic recipe and some buzzy adjectives. The supposedly more personal websites seemed solely to be written by perky super-women who, in my state of frustration and hunger, I found it impossible to relate to. Their advice was generally very good but I was always left feeling wistful and slightly inadequate. Mostly because the recipes I attempted didn’t turn out anything like the beautiful creations in the (suspiciously professional) pictures. The recipe books I consulted were exactly the same. Universally, all of the books and websites chirped about how it was all so easy and simple. They never mentioned the particular kind of despair that comes from having yet another loaf of lovingly prepared organic spelt sourdough sink inexplicably to a flat, inedible brick in the nanosecond you take your eye off it, leaving you without lunch the next day because you cannot eat any of the food in the work cafeteria and the only shop that sells bread you can eat is miles away and it’s just closed for the day.
The essential problem is, most of us are not Superman/woman. Most of us are Clark Kent: tired, busy and on modest incomes. We have families to consider and work to be done. Those of us who need to avoid certain foods for medical reasons may also be feeling ill into the bargain. On a wet Monday morning in February most of us will not be rising at dawn to whip up a 20 ingredient power smoothie before our morning salute to the sun. Most of us would prefer to spend our Sundays relaxing on the sofa rather than batch cooking “energy balls” to take to work that week. What if we don’t enjoy cooking? What if we really just hate quinoa?
I aim to redress the balance. I cannot do anything about those last two questions but as I traverse the treacherous landscape of free from cooking I can log my successes, my failures and all the little tricks experience will teach me along the way. I can talk about what I cook and how I cook it with candour and detail. I can include all of my tips for making life that little bit easier. I can even add a little humour to the mix. I can promise poor quality photography or no photography at all. I can produce dishes that might not look all that great but will probably taste quite nice. I suspect I will annoy everyone by mostly using outdated Imperial measurements. I too will no doubt use more than my fair share of alliteration. I hope that in sharing my experience some stranger somewhere might learn from my mistakes, or simply be comforted by the fact that they are not alone. Oh, and I promise never, ever to be perky.
Note: In writing these recipes I will assume some prior knowledge on the part of the reader of kitchen basics but very little of free-from cooking. I will therefore go into a lot of detail on most recipes.