Sharing a Kitchen with Gluten Eaters
Our kitchen is the hub of our house. We are a combined family, so every day is different as to who is home, how many of us will be there for dinner, and who is cooking. Somedays it’s just my partner and I, other days we are cooking a meal for 4 adults and 2 kids. Not every trip into the kitchen is a well thought out meal either, and often everybody is preparing food at different times because of soccer/work/school/basketball schedules. I’m the only one at our house that is gluten free and while I hate to be high maintenance, I have to be. When we first all moved in together, I was getting low key contaminated. I ruthlessly decontaminated the kitchen, stocked up on paper towels, got my own toaster and thought all was fixed. But, I realized that the kitchen and food was a constant source of anxiety for me. Anytime anyone else was in the kitchen I became this crazy person hawking over everyone, paying critical attention to where knives went after they spread peanut butter on wheat toast. I made mental notes of what was prepared on the counter and was going through paper towels like crazy to capture every rogue crumb.
I was exhausted and everyone hated being in the kitchen. By me trying not to be high maintenance and attempting to co-exist in a room full of gluten, I was actually making things worse. For everyone. So. Here’s how we manage our kitchen now. I’m not getting contaminated, we all happily share the kitchen and everyone is enjoying food again.
1. I have a separate counter that is clearly marked (yes, with tape and bold sharpie letters) that is designated gluten free. Nothing else ever goes on this counter, EVER. I found myself holding a plate in midair trying to prepare a sandwich before my counter was designated. I didn’t want to decontaminate the counter everytime I wanted to set something down. So, I claimed the small counter next to our stove and now I have a safe space that is ALWAYS safe. It’s my anxiety free zone and it’s a wonderful security. I taped it off as a reminder to everyone because we have such a big family and not everyone is with us every day. It’s clear communication so I don’t have to hawk over them, and they have the power to help keep me safe.
2. My designated toaster lives on this counter. I keep it far away from the other toaster in the gluten free zone so it never gets accidently contaminated. I’m not awake in the morning while making toast, I can’t expect a half awake, late for school pre-teen to not make a mistake. It’s safely away from the gluten crumb zone.
3. I have my own pasta pot and colander. The starches from gluten pastas snuggle into crevices and stay there. My colander is red and never gets used for anything other than gluten free food. If I wash grapes for the whole gang, I use the red colander. If I rinse greens for a salad, the red colander gets some action. If it’s pasta night, my gluten free pasta gets cooked in its designated pot, drained in the red colander FIRST, and then the sink can get taken over by the gluten pasta (cooked in a gluten pot) and the gluten colander. Speaking about pasta night, be sure to be careful about spooning pasta out of the pot and onto noodles. It’s instinctual to smoosh the bottom of the spoon onto the noodles when pouring your sauce over them. Make sure you get to the sauce first, or have a separate pot of sauce.
4. Coated pans, wooden utensils, and smallwares with crevices and rivets can all hold onto gluten proteins, these aren’t share-able. I’m able to keep a few stainless steel utensils separate from the jumble of the community utensil drawer. The utensils I have that are designated gluten free are a serrated knife and a slotted spoon. Other utensils in the community drawer that I feel can be safely used by both gluten eaters and me include a smooth stainless steel spatula and spoon that don’t have rivets or crevices. These utensils can be adequately washed and don’t have any place for gluten to hide. Utensils that are in the gluten world that I will never use no matter how meticulously they’ve been washed include the pizza cutter, slotted spoons, and wooden utensils. Some utensils are gluten free by nature, like the potato masher, and those are used by everyone. I have a coated frying pan that is clearly labeled gluten free, which ironically, even if my gluten eaters are making eggs, they still won’t use it J These rules go for food storage containers too. Plastic can get scratched and hold on to gluten proteins. Switch to glass if possible, or have separate gluten free containers.
5. Store food separately, and have separate condiments and spreads. I know there’s recommendations out there to have squeezable condiments so dipped knives don’t contaminate the whole jar. I’m a fan of a separate jar all together. Why? Have you ever squeezed mustard on to a sandwich and not wiped the tip on your bread? How can you not? It’s instinct. If you are one of the few people that can resist, I’d be willing to place bets not EVERYONE in the house can resist 100% of the time. I have my own mayo and peanut butter that has GLUTEN FREE or my name scrawled across it in bold sharpie. If we buy a nice jam, I’ll separate out some as soon as it’s opened into a container for myself so I can enjoy it without worry. Also on this note… gluten free panty items should be stored ABOVE the gluten foods. Crumbs are like ninjas, they are sneaky and silent. Designate a gluten free top shelf. If this isn’t possible, use a Rubbermaid container to store your morsels.
6. Washing dishes is an art. Ok, first things first. Hot water and lots of detergent or bleach doesn’t denature a protein, it just makes them wet and clean. I’m a bit Type A personality, so sorting dishes and washing them gives me a weird kind of organizational high. So, here’s how it goes. Wash all of the gluten free items first. Glasses, dishes that didn’t get glutened, the gluten free pasta pot, etc. Then wash the stuff that might have gluten on it, but doesn’t have all the crevices that lets it hide, like the smooth stainless steel spoon, or the spatula that flipped the grilled cheese. Last to get scrubbed is all of the gluten holding-never gonna be gluten free-avoid like the plague pots and utensils. Here’s where all the gluten pots and colanders get washed, the water already has gluten proteins swimming in it, and you don’t care because you’re never going to use the stuff that gets washed last.
7. Use paper towel. My environmentalist soul really hates this last rule. But, it keeps me safe. I do have a gluten free dishcloth and hand towel that hangs off my designated counter which helps cut down on paper towel use. Otherwise, the gluten counters get wiped down with paper towels. There is a bit of relief knowing that the gluten ninja crumbs are safely trapped in a paper towel and suffering a silent death in the trash can.
8. And finally. Label, label, label. Everything. We use disposable bags for a lot of food storage, especially noodles. When my daughter (who is also gluten free) lived at home, she used to label things “cool people” and “normal people.” We are pretty cool, right? Now I just take a bold sharpie and label things “gluten free.” If you don’t want to use Sharpie, there are re-usable labels available (There are some labels in our Tools and Smallwares store). I realized that once something is labeled gluten free, nobody in the house eats it. I mean, they COULD eat gluten free food. But, they don’t eat it. Hmmmm… I wonder if they’d catch on if I labeled the bacon gluten free?
How do you stay safe sharing space with gluten eaters? Share your tactics in the comments below!