Monday, July 11, 2011

Surviving in the dorms, gluten free

I’m still here. Still caring. Still eating.

If it hadn’t been for my adventures in Sweden, I don’t think I would have taken on the internship so optimistically where my health is concerned. It’s been almost two weeks in the dorms now, and I’m eating healthily, happily, and simply. I may not be eating Filet Mignon or baking soufflés (Remember now; I don’t have a kitchen.), but I am quite content with what I am eating. I am also quite proud of myself.

Let’s go back in time in the fall of 2009. I had just received my Associates Degree that spring and transferred to George Mason University. My desire to become independent and an adult respected by society led me to being on the waiting list for housing. I wanted to experience university life, but I had to choose wisely. There are quite a few dorms on campus, varying from the average dorm to the suites, apartments, and townhouses. Those who’ve lived on campus (or whose parents who’ve seen the bill) know it can be downright expensive, especially when there’s a kitchen involved. Luckily, I ended up in off-campus housing both times I’ve applied for it. The townhouses are one of the cheaper places to live at, and it’s not too far away from campus. Up to four people can live in each house, and there is a lovely kitchen, living room, and other utilities accessible to you when all you want to do is wear your pajamas and bunny slippers.

I learned the art of gluten-free cooking in those townhouses, and only recently have I started blogging my insights and recipes. I’ve still much to learn, but being in the dorms has taught me much. Even though it hasn’t been a full two weeks since the start of this internship, I think I can help others who may be in similar situations for future semesters to come.

First thing’s first: applying to colleges. Many colleges are aboard the gluten-free train, going so far as to not only labeling gluten-free foods but also providing them specifically for those who have Celiac or gluten intolerance. Even so, parents and potential students alike have more to deal with other than filling out applications, filing loans, signing up for classes, buying books, and decorating dorms. I know it can be scary, because I’ve been there. Questions like…

  1. What can I/my child eat on campus?
  2. Will I/my child get sick because of the lack of labeling or allergen-free options?
  3. I’m/My child is at the dorms. How will I/they manage it without a full kitchen?

… buzz in the back of prospective students and worrisome parents constantly. Some may even choose which colleges they go to because of their food intolerances. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As you can see, I’m doing just wonderfully, and George Mason isn’t exactly what you call a gluten-free/allergen-free friendly school (Regarding our food provider, Sodexo, labeling is only shown for vegetarian or vegan meals. It doesn’t label Halal, Kosher, or other food allergies besides dairy or nuts.) As a result, I often have to decline eating with friends unless I’m cooking or we are at a gluten-free friendly restaurant.

So how do I do it? It’s simple really. All you need are a few appliances, the food you love, and an upbeat attitude.

I couldn’t even begin to tell you how worried I was about this internship. I was afraid that I’d be eating nothing but rabbit food for five weeks. (Which, oddly enough, people think I already eat.) True, I’m eating more simply, but I can honestly tell you that it’s so much more than that.

I have three appliances in my dorm room: a mini fridge, a coffee maker, and a rice cooker named after my friend GM. The top of my dresser is my “dry” pantry, and the third drawer down is where I keep my utensils and other food prep items. Obviously this isn’t the bare minimum, but for someone who’s used to a full-blown kitchen… it’s almost like camping indoors.

Along with the three appliances, I have:

1 plate, 2 bowls (large and small), and 2 mugs (small and travel)
Fork, knife, and several spoons (yes… including the bunny spoon)
Small cutting board and Chef’s knife
Insulated lunch box and Bento box
Can opener
Reusable and BPA free water bottles
Glass jars (for leftovers, but generally used for overnight oats or rice)
Measuring cups and spoons
Sandwich bags
Water filter
Natural dish liquid and sponge
Coffee filters

I’m quite lucky to have my favorite food stores nearby. Trader Joe’s is only a few miles away, and I purchase around fifty dollars of foodstuff a week.

Here’s what’s in the pantry:

Forbidden rice
Hulled millet
Bob’s Red Mill CGF rolled oats
Rice crackers
Olive oil
Dried fruits and nuts/seeds
Unrefined apple cider vinegar
Canned tuna (typically it’s wild salmon or beans)
Chia seeds
Apple carrot fruit sauce crushers
Indian Fare: Pav Bhaji
Creamed honey

As you may recall, I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn’t too keen on purchasing already prepared food or mixes. I’m still not, but the Indian Fare has quite a delicious selection of sauces and is a great addition to any meal. I was also skeptical of the fruit sauce crushers, but not anymore. (To prove it, I have a recipe that puts it in center stage.)

As for my mini fridge:

Peanut butter
Orange juice
Greek yogurt
Cooked chicken pieces
Smoked salmon
Roast beef and turkey bologna slices
Gouda cheese slices
Lemons and limes
Sweet bell peppers
Snow peas
Korean cucumber
Cherry tomatoes
Hard-boiled eggs
Crushed garlic
Liquid vitamins

And the remaining food items:

Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples
English Breakfast tea
Yerba Mate tea
Rooibos Chai tea

It is extremely important that you clean up after every meal. I learned this the hard way when I found ants crawling in and out of my rice cooker where I neatly placed my dirty dishes some few hours before. Try to get as much of the leftovers either in storage (plastic bags, jars, etc.) or thrown away before washing your dishes. Since I’m washing them in the bathroom sink that others use, I have to be considerate and make sure no food remains around the drain. Also, try making meals ahead of time. I like to do this for my breakfast, especially where coffee and overnight oatmeal is concerned.

Really, living in the dorm with food allergies or a specific eating lifestyle may seem daunting and overwhelming, but once you get into the groove of things it’s really quite remarkable. To think, you could apply to virtually any college. You could live practically anywhere and do just about anything. It will require more effort on your part, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Plan out your meals and list the foods you enjoy eating. Bring a croc pot or a blender for even more cooking shenanigans. Pack your meals to eat with your friends at the dining hall. Trust me. If you can think it, you can make it.

And it will still be delicious, nutritious, and gluten free.

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