My new take on vegan and gluten-free

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet as well as cooking allergen-free family meals. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat.

A year ago, if you told me you followed a vegan or gluten-free diet, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have you over for dinner. I just wouldn’t have known how to prepare a meal for you because those words were huge psychological barriers.

Whenever we prepare food for our friends, I ask if there are any dietary restrictions. This has been a habit for me for many years. Usually, the answer was no dietary restrictions (phew). Occasionally, there was an allergy to nuts, an aversion to beef, or a religious restriction on pork. One type of food restriction, I could handle.

Now that I have spent almost half a year working on cooking and baking without a number of categories of ingredients, I feel as though I can be a much more welcoming host. My pantry includes a host of gluten-free, top 8 allergen-free products: tapioca and potato starches, brown and white rice flours, oat flour (gluten-free of course), sorghum flour, xanthan gum and egg replacer. I’ve become more familiar with the brands that I can buy from: Only Oats for oat products, EnerG for xanthan gum and egg replacer, and Purest for baking ingredients. Unfortunately, brands like Bob’s Red Mill, which is a super popular and widely available gluten-free option, have precautionary labelling for cross contamination with some of our allergens, making those a non-option for us. It isn’t enough to be gluten-free because it needs to be allergen-free for us as well. And yes, I have been that person, sitting on the floor in the natural foods stores/aisles, phone in hand, researching the companies that produce the products in my hand to see if they are allergen-free. It’s a time-consuming process.

I should note that we aren’t avoiding gluten because of celiac disease in our household. We’ve noticed a few welts and itchiness/redness develop after our toddler consumed wheat products (all homemade so we suspect it’s wheat and not anything else), so we’re taking a wheat hiatus. You’d think that would mean just avoiding flour but it turns out that things like oats are usually contaminated with wheat and that wheat can be masked in many products under many names. It’s actually easier just to avoid gluten because if a product is gluten-free, then it is definitely wheat-free.

My recipe arsenal is also growing. When I’m searching for recipes on the internet or in cookbooks, I use certain key words now: vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free. For baking, I find it easiest to search for vegan recipes because I know they will not include butter, milk, or eggs. From there, I can try to substitute my own home-mixed gluten-free flour for the conventional flour the recipe calls for. The only issue with vegan recipes is that they call for nuts. With savoury cooking, I start my search specifically looking for allergen-free recipes and I am so appreciative of the many blogs that I’ve come across, as well as allergicliving.com. I want meal recipes that I can just follow without having to experiment too much with ingredient substitutions. Sometimes I search for vegan recipes to find bean, vegetable or quinoa-based recipes that don’t call for dairy or eggs. I try to make a new dish at least once a week so that we continue to increase the variety of dishes we can eat.

A year ago, if you told me you followed a vegan or gluten-free diet, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have you over for dinner. A lot can change in one year.

No tip restos

Earlier this month, a restaurant that will be opening in British Columbia gained a lot of media attention by having no tips, offset by increased menu prices and wages for the staff. Servers and cooks will receive more comparable wages instead of the former getting much more due to tips, and for those restaurants who practice tip-pooling, the amount of money each staff member will make becomes much more transparent.

I remember my time living in Japan and how easy it was to become accustomed to not leaving a tip at a restaurant. The general expectation is courteous service and that is how you keep bringing customers into your restaurant, instead of what, to me, feels like an obligation here to leave at least a 10% tip, even for less than courteous service.

A tip is like a little extra thank you to acknowledge above-and-beyond service (or with today’s lowered expectations, just GOOD service). It shouldn’t be expected by anyone. And it certainly shouldn’t become a post-dinner hassle; have you ever had a server tell you that you should be tipping more!? Ridiculous.

I hope that this no-tip restaurant concept catches on in Canada as it has started to do in the United States. I wouldn’t want restaurant fare to become out of the reach, price-wise, for people as we essentially subsidize the restaurant in lieu of tips but at least you are fully aware, walking into a place (or browsing the menu online), of what you will be paying. And if the service is less than par, you can write a restaurant review on sites like yelp or urbanspoon and vow never to return, but you won’t feel obligated to leave a tip. And a clearer, perhaps more egalitarian wage structure for restaurant staff couldn’t hurt.

Some interesting links related to early parenting

Without too many close people around me who have recently had babes, I find myself looking to the internet for discussions around various issues, such as breastfeeding and sleep. On second thought, I bet that even if I were surrounded with many babe-toting friends, I would still be looking to the internet for more information; thus is our lifestyle. Anyways, I’ve quickly learned that for each piece of advice I read, there is a contradictory piece of advice on the next website. Some interesting pieces that I’ve come across during the past few weeks:

The Truth about Maternity Leave

As I look down at the peaceful face of my babe, napping in my arms, I feel blessed to be able to spend so much time watching him grow and interact more and more with the big world around him. But there are definitely days when I wish I could just wake up, press snooze a few times, get dressed, head to work, and do desk work for the day and chat with coworkers…oh and do things like eat lunch while it’s hot but in no big hurry or go to the bathroom alone. It just sounds so easy! (Not diminishing the fact that the corporate workplace has its own challenges….) Some days, I have dinner on the table by the time my partner gets home from work, the sink is clear of dishes, the house is relatively together, and I feel great. I’ve found we do really well on days where we get outside to go and see a movie or to a baby play group. Other days, I wonder where my baby’s snooze button is hidden, where I can find energy to even get some lunch ready for myself, and dinner? Yeah right.

Actually, I should mention how thankful I am that I get maternity leave at work and that this leave is one year long. I was speaking to an American colleague days before my maternity leave was to commence and learned that her leave was a mere EIGHT weeks! Of course, we are both blessed to even have ANY leave at all.

The truth about maternity leave is that it challenges you in ways you may not have been challenged previously. The day can seem to last an eternity yet the time on a larger scale seems to pass much too quickly. You’ll be at your best and you’ll be at your worst. Contradictions. Thus is maternity leave.

The Wait-It-Out Method of Sleep Training

I’ve learned that sleep is a hugely popular topic associated with a baby. Moms ask each other about sleep, moms get asked about sleep from friends and strangers, moms question themselves about sleep…. Where should baby sleep at night or during naps, how long should baby sleep at night or during naps, should baby be on a routine, how do you get behavioural changes out of baby (for example, let them cry until they resign themselves to a new routine), etc.

I really enjoyed reading this post dubbed the wait-it-out method (a twist on the popular cry-it-out method), mostly because it resonated with me. I don’t know why society seems to expect babies to live on the same type of schedule and within the same constraints as adults, right from birth.

Toddler and Baby Sleep Timeline

As I read or hear about triumphs from moms about their babies sleeping through the night, I wonder what my expectations should be around baby sleep needs. I found this post to be the most helpful in understanding what is happening with babe as he grows.

The Good Baby

“Is he being a good baby?” I’ve been asked this numerous times by friends or in line at the store. This is a great post on the ridiculousness of this question as it stands literally. Yes, of course my baby is good. I don’t think he can be malicious or manipulative…yet. He’s so pure.

Did you mean to ask if he sleeps through the night or doesn’t cry at all? Because those are ridiculous measures for my baby as well. My baby sleeps like a baby and uses crying as a communication means. I don’t think it’s normal to not cry as an adult so I’m not sure why babies are any exception. Of course, truly colicky babies cry in excess but some crying by everyone, including babies, should be fine.

So when you ask me, “is he being a good baby”, what exactly do you mean?

Fringe-ing in Ottawa

Last year’s train trip (the Canada portion was from Vancouver to Ottawa) had me stopping in Winnipeg for a handful of days in late July. It was my first visit to this city in the Prairies – also the middle of Canada – and luck would have it that I dropped by right in the middle of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. You may think that this Fringe Fest is small but it actually held the North American record for tickets sold for a few years until another city outsold them in 2011. Pretty impressive!

I was a Fringe virgin but, lucky me, I had a fabulous Frequent Fringer and devoted volunteer acting as my Fringe guide. She took me to see a variety of shows (comedy, drama, musical, improve, opera) and exposed me to Fringe Central downtown, including free shows on the mainstage. The weather was beautiful, the arts were creative, and I walked away with nothing but fond memories.

How do you walk away from such an experience without wanting to be drawn back into it this year! Lo and behold, I’ll be volunteering at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, running in and around the Byward Market area from June 20-30, 2013…and hopefully checking out a number of shows as well. As with the Winnipeg Fringe, the Ottawa Fringe is unjuried so I would expect an eclectic mix of theatre with a range of quality (subjective, of course).

To attend the Ottawa Fringe, each person needs a $3 Fringe pin. The pin is to be worn at any show you are seeing, is purchased separately from a show ticket, and is a one-time $3 donation to the Fringe Festival itself. This allows all of the ticket sale money to go directly to the performing artists. With 50+ productions over 10 days, you’re bound to find something that piques your curiosity. There is also the Fringe Courtyard where you can hang out, buy some food (Stone Soup Foodworks food truck is the vendor), and enjoy some entertainment.

I’m the type of person who likes to buy tickets in advance. However, for the Ottawa Fringe, I am switching it up by buying my ticket at the door. Something like 50% of the tickets are held for door sales, with the other 50% allocated to advance sales, so I presume there’s a good chance of getting a ticket to a desired show at the door.

Check out the productions and come Fringe! And if you are in town on Canada Day, the Courtyard will remain open on July 1 with some free improv and entertainment!