There are two myths about living gluten-free that Emma Galloway is keen to quickly to dispel.
“One: that it’s expensive to eat gluten-free,” she says. “And two: that it tastes gross!”
While your Instagram feed might be full of clean-eating lifestyle bloggers, touting the benefits of a gluten-free diet through carefully styled and crafted imagery, Emma is the real deal. She’s a former chef, cookbook author and creator of the internationally acclaimed site mydarlinglemonthyme.com, which has featured on Oprah and won several accolades, including a biggie in the food world – Saveur magazine’s ‘Reader’s Choice’ award. She’s also gluten-free and largely plant-based.
Emma’s cooking principles hark back to the way she was raised – with a bountiful vegetable garden that formed the bulk of their vegetarian meals. After spending eight years as a chef, she left the high-pressure industry to focus on her two children. Around the same time she discovered they were both gluten and dairy intolerant – and she herself had to confront the fact that she also was gluten intolerant.
Frustrated by her options, she started a blog to share her ideas for eating gluten-free and mostly plant-based meals.
“I think they’re valid points people have that it can be expensive and not taste great, if you’re looking at it from the point of view of someone who is buying everything from packets,” she tells. “And 10 years ago, even a lot of the stuff that you found in packets really did not taste nice. Most of it tasted like cardboard! I love to bake, so that’s what led me to try and come up with food that wasn’t really expensive and to make sure that it tasted as good – if not better! – than the original, gluten version of it.”
Emma says she focusses mostly on food that are naturally gluten free – dishes with lots of fruit, veges and rice – and then gets creative with baking.
“The best way to tackle it is to look at the things you can eat, and not focus on the things you can’t. I think there’s definitely a bit of a grief period, which you have to go through. You have to accept there are some things you can’t eat – for me, it’s lovely Turkish bread. But in saying that, there are so many amazing gluten-free recipe creators these days, that there are still options – gluten-free sourdough, you can make gluten-free doughnuts – and a lot of them don’t taste any different to the wheat-based ones.”
From there, Emma’s top tips for eating gluten-free are to buy a good rice cooker, shop online in bulk or at your local Indian and Asian food stores for rice flours, chickpea flour, pea flour, potato starch and tapioca flour instead of buying pre-mixed gluten-free flours which are usually ridiculously expensive.
And from there, if you can, plant a vegetable garden – even if you’re not gluten-free or vegetarian! It’s an excellent way to save money, and you’ll get to understand what veges are in season – so that if you do head to the supermarket, you won’t end up wasting money on out-of-season produce, which is also likely of a lower quality.
“You can buy nearly everything all year around these days, but the quality is never as good when they’re out of season, because often they’re shipped in from overseas or they’ve been cold stored for months and months. There’s that higher nutrient factor, and then that they’re way cheaper – and they’re just better for the environment. Eat local!” she says.
Now she relishes making nutrient packed, delicious meals for herself and her family – but it’s a stark change from her days as a busy chef. “When I was working in Sydney I’d often do 18 hour shifts, which was insane. I’d often start at seven in the morning, prepping, then would finish it at two or three the next morning. I was basically living off miso soup with noodles, or a really quick stir-fry with tofu, because I was so lazy when it came to cooking for myself after making meals for everyone else all day.”
It was a taxing time of her life and, like many chefs, she came close to burnout. So, it came as a big surprise to her that the biggest dive in her health came actually came later, in an unexpected way.
Four years ago she landed in hospital with internal bleeding after doing a charity walk – and, she says, ultimately it was down to her tendency to be a people pleaser. “I’m definitely a people pleaser by personality and I don’t like letting people down so for many years I’d just say yes to everything that came my way,” she says.
Which is why she said yes to doing a 100km walk for charity with friends. She trained hard, but the day of the event she didn’t feel quite well – regardless she kept pushing on. The last hours were excruciating, but it still came as a shock to learn just how dangerously close to the brink she had pushed her body.
“There’s a video of me crossing the finish line, and I find it really hard to watch,” she tells. “I ended up in hospital and that’s actually a big reason why there has been a five-year gap between my second and third book. I’ve had to teach myself to be kinder to myself and take time out!”
Now, part of that self-care involves spending time in the garden, and not just tending to the productive vege garden, but to growing flowers – and literally stopping to smell them and enjoy them..
“I just recently started growing them for the first time, and I had no idea that flowers could bring so much joy,” she shares. “I was always one of those people who was like, no, if I’m going to grow anything, it has to be vegetables and herbs – flowers seemed like a waste of time. It’s bizarre, but it almost feels like my Nanna – who passed away five years ago – it feels like she’s almost channeling through me because she was really into growing flowers. Now, I love flowers more than growing veges!”
Emma Galloway’s third book, My Darling Lemon Thyme Every Day is out now, RRP$60, HarperCollins.