Celiacs, Congealed Salad, and Pokeweed…

First, I need you to know I ate two pieces of cheesecake for dinner last night.

And every night this week.

May is Celiacs Awareness Month.

(Go ahead and add that to your calendar for next year.)

(I’ll wait.)

So my local ALDI has some special gluten-free treats. Not as many as in years past and I’m gonna need ALDI’s corporate people to explain that change to me. But thankfully, they gave us the magnificent gift of the Cheesecake Sampler box.

Shout out to the swim dress made of chlorine adaptable Spanx.

Celiacs and gluten free cheesecake

Last week, I attended a potluck that would have made any Southern Baptist 5th Sunday Singin’ church goer proud. I contributed a batch of my favorite peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. They’re easy to make and unless I let on, no one knows they are gluten-free.

But for my own lunch, I brown bagged it. I’m sure there were some dishes on the table I could have eaten but that would have required first, finding the chef of that dish, second, interrogating her on the ingredients and then asking whether or not she used plastic or wood in her preparation.

That’s a bit much.

Of course, lots of people (three) commented on my brown bag, giving me that look that says, “Oh yeah? You too good to eat my congealed salad?”

And the honest answer to that is yes ma’am, I am. I do not like a congealed salad, Miss Church Lady. I will not eat it in a box. I will not eat it with a fox. I will not eat it here or there. I will not eat it anywhere.

In response to the accusatory looks, I offered my stock answer. “I have Celiacs so I can’t eat gluten. It’s just easier to bring my own stuff.”

I find the facial expressions I receive from that tidbit of information say either…

“What chew talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”


“Oh, Shelby, it looks like you’ve been driving nails up your arms!”

Peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies

Several weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast with Rick Bragg. The Gun & Garden Whole Hog Podcast.

The name alone makes me homesick.

Rick Bragg is just one of my absolute favorite story-tellers. His latest book is part story-telling, part recipe book, a collection of his mother’s favorites. It includes something called Poke Sallet or Salad made from the poisonous Pokeweed that grows in the South. I’d never heard of such a thing but bless Southerners, leave it to us to figure out a way to make a meal out of a poisonous weed.

Rick (as if we are in some sort of parallel universe where I am on a first name basis with Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author Rick Bragg) and the host were discussing the dying art of true Southern cooking. The host asked him how he responds to that fact, Rick said, “With a great deal of hopelessness. Growing depression. Misery.”

I listened to him describe how his mother makes her biscuits with her old metal coffee can full of flour in her lap at the kitchen table. She adds all the ingredients into the flour and from that, creates little fluffy cakes of magic.

The edges are fuzzy but I can see my Great-Grandmother making her biscuits standing in her tiny kitchen, leaning against the countertop, apron on and hair freshly done up from the salon. No one in the family took on that role of biscuit baker when she left us and we figured out we preferred rolls for our holiday feasts. Biscuits are for breakfast. Rolls are for scooping up mashed potatoes and gravy.

As I was listening to Rick talk about food, specifically Southern food, thinking about our own family traditions and even our everyday foods, I started to feel a bit sad.

My kids will likely never know a homemade biscuit kneaded together with love and buttermilk and covered in homemade fig jelly. But I’m also a little sad because my kids know what it means to be scared of food.

Outside the walls of our home, the world has become a peanut-free, casein-free, non-GMO, organic, cage-free, dairy-free, all natural food prison.

And not by choice.

Let me say that again. And with feeling…


We live in a different world now. And I’m not here to speculate on why that is but I know it’s fact. All of our food lives are forever changed.

That feeling of knowing my kids have a heightened awareness of food sits heavy on my heart sometimes.

But only sometimes.

Because really, we are fine. It’s food. And at least for me and our little family, it’s not hard. Celiacs is more annoying than hard and unless I’m going to a potluck, I don’t think about it much.

My kids will grow up thinking this is just as normal as I grew up thinking reusing the Cool Whip container for leftovers was acceptable. (Is this Cool Whip or last Tuesday’s leftover taco meat? IT’S-A GAME!) They will never look with either shock nor pity when someone says they have some dietary restrictions. That will be as normal to them as Sunny D and Poptarts were to us.

(Although Sunny D and Poptarts feel far more miserable than our cultural loss of Poke Salad)

(Yep, I just ranked Sunny D and Poptarts as more heinous than a salad made from a poisonous weed.)

If you are like my kids, “suffering” through life with someone on a special diet, take a cue from them and simply accept this as a new normal for the part of your life they occupy. They don’t know the difference. They’ve only known me and my gluten-free existence. And, they suffer zero from my accidental ingestion of gluten. It just means Daddy tucks them in without Momma. THEY’RE FINE.

Celiacs disease doesn’t change who I am. Eating gluten-free has not taken the edge off my sarcasm, although, I’m certain there were some prayers that might be the case. Nor has it curbed my love of formal china, thrift stores, running, and true-crime podcasts. It’s simply a small part of what makes me, me.

My identity is defined by my heavenly Father and He says I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

(Please enjoy that Jesus juke.)

Empty plate of cheesecake

If you are struggling with an adjustment, something that feels like it will change every.single.day of your life, hang in there. No doubt these course redirections and new-habit-creating events knock us off kilter for a while. But no need to stay confused and bruised.

You are still who you were divinely created to be. Your life and the lives of those who love you and care for you will adjust. Life shifts and reshapes itself around this Thing making margin for you to craft a new story with new details and new traditions.

And if by chance, this new Thing, offers you a way out of eating or participating in certain activities (like the eating of congealed salad), then all the better.


If you would like to read more about my Celiacs diagnosis, check that out here

And just because I thought this article was crazy interesting, you can learn how doctors once thought bananas cured Celiacs. Science is amazing. And always completely accurate. (there’s that blasted sarcasm again)

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