The Coeliac UK Gluten-free Challenge: Day 1

I almost messed up within a minute of rolling out bed, bleary-eyed. Having brewed up my morning caffeine, I reached into the fridge for my usual milk-replacement of… Oatly. And then realisation jolted me awake: It’s probably not made from GF oats. It was a handy little warning against complacency. I can’t even excuse myself with an admission of having accidentally dropped my guard: I hadn’t even erected the bloody guard in the first place.

A bit mortified at how close I’d come to shameful catastrophe nine hours after midnight, I dug out another whitener in the shape of a sample of Isola Bio rice and almond milk I’d been given at the Natural Products Show – pleasant, but very sweet – and I was away.

Breakfast is typically fruit and yoghurt. No gluten there, but yoghurt, I decided last week, should also be off-limits, on the basis that some newly diagnosed coeliacs are also lactose intolerant. I know this is about awareness and understanding, but I also want to challenge myself, and eat differently. I used Kara’s excellent coconut milk to make a kind of fruity squishy coconutty compote with berries and banana, with pumpkin seeds atop for bite. It was good and I felt virtuous.

I had kept pre-planning to a minimum, and got little food in in preparation. This morning was designated for a GF supermarket shopping trip. All the things coeliacs I’ve interviewed over the years have told me are, of course, utterly true, but it’s sobering to experience it properly: yes, it is much more expensive, and yes, it does take much more time, and yes, it is maddening when you can’t find what you want.

I went to Waitrose and Holland & Barrett. I bought some very odd-looking yellowish bread – the weight of which would make your average brick feel undernourished – and some Dietary Specials ciabatta mini rolls (£2.49 for 4!) which I know are good. I bought a pea protein ‘yoghurt’ from Redwood, about which I have low expectations and high dread, and some Tamari wheat-free sauce to replace ordinary glutenous soy sauce. I bought some eggs, lots of vegetables, Doves Farm GF flour, limes, herbs, ginger, tofu, and, naughtily but with total pleasure, a little salami. Naughtily because I am supposed to be vegetarian; with pleasure because I am Italian. If you’re taking my pasta and my pizza, then I need to claw something back from the gods of banned foods.

Lunch was warmed rolls with homemade cabbage and carrot slaw and some tomatoes. It was tasty but even after I’d eaten all four rolls I remained hungry. I usually eat dense, filling rye bread for lunch, and I can’t deny I missed it.

Afternoon was spent working on book promotion and fielding queries - and discovering that coconut milk and tea Does Not Work. The support for the book so many people have shown me looks set to be eclipsed by that being demonstrated online for the #gfchallenge, as it’s been hashtagged on Twitter, and those taking part. I’ve been really cheered today by Twitterers geeing one another up, and encouragement and advice has come from many people, so big thanks already to Annie of the eponymous Supper Club, Pippa ‘Intolerant Gourmet’ Kendrick, the teams from Coeliac Kids and 24Vend, dietitians like Nicola and Emma, and others I’m omitting because a rollcall of thanks any longer than this on your first day is perhaps a bit OTT.

Anyway, to supper, which was rice and quinoa penne with spicy tomato sauce. Deliberately simple for day 1. The sauce is one I knock up quickly with ordinary pasta, and have served lots of friends over the years. Among Brits the first impression is, usually, ‘Where’s the sauce?’, but if you use intense flavours you only need a little. I love the way the British accept foreign cuisines and incorporate them into their own meal-plans without fuss or question, but I’m less keen on how they sometimes adapt them. Pasta swimming in lakes of red sauce is, I’m afraid, a culinary phenomenon unique to these shores, and I’m not sure where or how it might have started. It really isn’t the way to best serve it. Go for quality not quantity of sauce. Think intensity of flavour, and don’t drown the pasta.

Ingredients (for 2)
200-250g Hale and Hearty Rice and Quinoa Pasta
A punnet of fresh baby plum tomatoes
Two cloves garlic
1 red chilli
A chunk of salami
Pinch of sea salt
Lots and lots of dried marjoram

Chop up the choppable sauce ingredients and set to simmer in a pan (you can fry the chilli and garlic in olive oil first if you like). Add the salt and herbs. Meanwhile, boil pasta in salted water. As the sauce starts to cook, it will dry, so spoon in some of the pasta water. When pasta is cooked – about 8 minutes I think – drain and return to pan, adding the sauce. Cook through and serve.

As you’ll have seen, the pasta does break up a little, but perhaps I cooked it too vigorously and a gentler simmering would help prevent it.

That’s it from Day 1. Although I flirted with GF cooking and shopping when I was researching the book, I suspect this is my first proper GF day since I was weaned, not counting the four days spent in hospital with suspected appendicitis about five years ago, when I was nil by mouth. Thankfully, I’ve certainly enjoyed it more than that experience, and enjoyed it more than I thought I would generally, as I have writing about it too. Would love to hear about your Day 1s too…

To learn more about Coeliac UK's Gluten-free Challenge, click here.

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