I recently started sharing an apartment with my boyfriend, and we’ve focused a lot of attention on the kitchen. Kitchen organizing is an important part of every move, but in our case it’s getting extra emphasis because I have celiac disease. We need to set up a kitchen that works for both of us, but most important is a safe gluten-free space. After three years of living on my own in a completely gluten-free apartment, I forgot what it’s like to live with gluten in my own home, where crumbs, cross-contamination and having two of many items became a distant memory.
I’m finding it’s an adjustment to be around gluten at home again. And since our New York City apartment is near a bagel store, you could say I even smell gluten when I open our windows each morning. Yes, the bagel store down the street vents in our direction and wafts right in.
I do see the irony and the humor in this: someone with celiac disease whose windows let in the smell of fresh bagels along with the sunlight. But I have to admit that ever since I was diagnosed 14 years ago, I’ve been more bothered than pleased by the aroma of fresh baked bread and bagels.
Beyond that, I’m adjusting to seeing items that contain gluten in my cabinets. A box of “magically delicious” Lucky Charms, obviously my boyfriend’s, sits on one side of our large kitchen cabinet while boxes of gluten-free cereal are on the other. Our freezer has already had a gluten-free makeover and has lots of gluten-free frozen items. It’s boardering on being as full as my supermarket’s gluten-free freezer section.
Meanwhile, my retro Cuisinart toaster and his toaster oven are peaceably sharing space. Although two toasters are a sign there is gluten in the kitchen, I love what a two-toaster home symbolizes for us: a step forward in our relationship.
But there are still some things to work through, so I turned to dietitians Pamela Cureton and Rachel Begun for suggestions.
Cureton, RDN, LDN, at the Center for Celiac Research at Mass General Hospital for Children, gave me an overview of the foundations for anyone sharing a kitchen. Here’s her advice.
- Thoroughly clean kitchen counters before making a gluten-free product. Use clean cooking and serving utensils and don’t share them between gluten-free and gluten-containing foods
- Prepare gluten-free foods first.
- Use a separate slotted toaster. If using a toaster oven instead, use foil or a clean tray for gluten-free items.
- Avoid “double dipping” in common condiment jars. Use squeeze containers or purchase separate jars and label them gluten free.
Since sharing is the big challenge, the good news is my boyfriend and I have slightly different palettes, which eliminates some potential cross-contamination. I never put cream cheese on my gluten-free bagels so he can double dip all day. Meanwhile, my hummus, tzatziki, and Greek yogurt dips are for vegetables and gluten-free chips only.
Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and gluten-related disorders expert, suggested open communication as the best way to work out any potential differences sharing a kitchen might create.
“Just like you communicate clearly to the restaurant staff about the proper precautions to take, I recommend having a conversation up front rather than assuming things will take shape along the way,” she explained.
Begun also emphasized the importance of figuring out what is important in the kitchen and communicating this clearly. “Since you are the person whose health is at risk, it’s up to you to decide what you are and aren’t willing to compromise on and making your requests clear,” she said.
This week marks nearly two months of sharing our home. I’m happy to report sharing a kitchen has been pretty seamless. My boyfriend is knowledgeable, careful and mindful of keeping things safe for me. He even has his own gluten-free favorite foods.
It does help that he is the neatest person I know. Even before I moved in, he was always quick to clean up crumbs. Now, if there is a crumb anywhere it’s gluten free. In other words, I missed a spot.
If that’s our biggest kitchen problem, I will take it.
Susan Cohen is a regular contributor to Gluten-Free Living. She recently celebrated fourteen years on a gluten-free diet.