Friday, 16 September 2011

Pantry Overhaul

I get why kitchen makeovers are popular and get high return on investment: people spend alot of time in the kitchen. I for sure do. And we're going to take a crack at making some modest updates to it this winter - but that's for another post. This one is about one specific aspect of my kitchen: the pantry.

The challenge in our current house really boils down to space. I have a small pantry that seems to explode every few months, despite my best efforts at keeping it organized. But this fall, organizing is taking on a whole new level, as I'm turning over my pantry to be gluten free...

So to rewind a bit: My youngest son is allergic to cow's milk, and has bad eczema. After a very successful visit to the naturopath (Dr. Jennifer Luck in Ottawa, who I've been very impressed with and would recommend!), we did a blood test to see what else he might be sensitive to. My biggest lesson in this process was probably that I will never send my husband to a doctor's appointment for the kids again. Upon his return, I asked, "So how did it go? What were the results?". His response: "Oh, good, as we assumed. He's only allergic to milk and gluten."... and wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oh, peanuts. Now, he actually isn't allergic to all of these things - he has an intolerance/sensitivity to all of these items. His only true allergy is to cow's milk. But still.

This news was major. Bigger than his milk allergy, which I've learned to deal with quite easily and without much apparent adjustment to my kitchen and our cooking. But gluten/wheat? This is huge. No pasta - which both my kids love. No regular cereal. No crackers, pancakes, pizza. Or, at least in the form that we were accustomed to.

So off I went to research, investigate, learn -- and figure out how to transform my pantry. And that I did. In the matter of a few days, I first and foremost spoke w/ a few friends that are gluten-free in their house, and their help has been invaluable! And then off I went to purchase cookbooks, add RSS feeds to my homepage, and sign up to kids allergy forums. And then, to tackle my pantry.

I spent a couple of days going out and sourcing a few of the key ingredients that friends had suggested - different types of flour, good brands of rice/corn/other pasta, gluten-free cereals, and endless other products that I had no idea contained gluten. And then, I opened the door to my pantry, and shelf by shelf, I cleared, cleaned and changed over the products.

Our top shelf is home to all of our cereal boxes. And my boys love their cereal. So I knew that all of the wheat-based, tasty cereals they loved had to leave (my boys includes my husband - he was very sad to see his Mini Wheats go). But, the good news is - they were replace-able! And some of them actually don't taste half bad! We are still experimenting on this front - my biggest challenge to date is finding something that is not too sugary yet still tastes too. Chex gluten-free happens to be my favourite so far.

The shelf that holds all of our baking essentials was probably my biggest challenge, and the hardest for me to turn over. Bye-bye to simple, tried and true recipes for banana muffins, chocolate chip cookies and birthday cakes & cupcakes. :( I'm not quite over it yet. Not that I bake all that much, but I do enjoy it when I do. And I can't say that I've ventured into the new world of gluten-free baking yet - although I am set now, with my chick pea, rice, and potato flour. And I've forgotten a few other types that I purchased. I blame the wine I'm sipping as I'm writing this. :)

And finally, it was an excuse to clean out and reorganize my canned goods and other items. And it was probably just time to do that again anyways. I can't say that I'm finished. I need another trip to Storage Solutions to get some additional containers for my flour, and for better storage of other misc. items. But overall I'm happy. I wish I took a before picture, but here's my after - and it's a big improvement.

And more importantly - I think the change is making a difference for my son. And for all of us. Eating gluten free has its challenges, but it also forces some more healthy decisions in our diet. Not that we were eating poorly before. But not as good as we could or should. At least I know that any investment in our kitchen will be even more well founded, given the extra time I'm now spending in it cooking. :)

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