17 and Gluten-Free

by Lauren McMillan | Print This Page

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We are delighted to have Lauren McMillan, aka Celiac Teen, here with us at Zenfully Delicious. She’ll be writing a monthly feature on her gluten-free teenage life, including Q&As for teens and parents on how to accommodate celiac guests for sleepovers, parties and all the fun things they shouldn’t miss out on.

Lauren wanted to offer a little introduction of herself, and why she savors every moment of her gluten-free life. We’ve also included her scrumptious recipe for Maple Date Squares below, so get your taste buds ready.


I’m 17. I’m also in high school. I’m also gluten-free. The further I go in that series of descriptions, the more likely you are to cringe. Being 17 means that most of my friends are also in that age range; that rumors are flying and there is always some sort of drama (“Did you hear?”) and the all-important fitting in thing. And being gluten-free means that I’m automatically different: I can’t eat all of the food that my friends eat. Thank goodness.

I’m lucky; no, I’m insanely lucky. I found out that my body cannot tolerate gluten in grade 9, but the average diagnosis time for celiac disease is 11 years. 15, 20, 30 years; these aren’t unheard of numbers. But by some stroke of luck, the ER doctor I saw — after having been ill for 11 months — checked the box for gluten antibodies on my blood test sheet. I had 15 vials of blood taken that day. After 13 vials, they had to switch arms, because the blood wasn’t coming (superbly low blood pressure and volume was also one of my issues). By January, a mere 2 months later, I was having an endoscopy, and a week later, we knew: I had celiac disease. I was (and still am) ecstatic.

Some people wondered why I was so happy; I was told that I would never eat gluten again — shouldn’t that be sad? For me, no. It meant that I knew what was wrong; that I could fix it. It meant no more medication, and that I could get my long-lost energy back, and wouldn’t be having daily stomach aches. It meant that I was free. That I was back.

When I was at my sickest, standing was a nightmare. When I stood up, the blood would pool in my body as it fought against gravity, which caused there to be not enough in my brain to keep the blackness away. As my blood pressure attempted to normalize, and blood circulated through my head, the world would ease back. I barely had the energy to make it to the bathroom and back. That’s not a healthy 14-year-old. When I think back to my life at that point, I am incredibly thankful that I was always positive, and that I never thought this was forever. Sure, other people did — but I didn’t know that. Once I’d been healthy for a while, my mom told me that one of my relatives had asked if I was going to die. I can’t type or hear that without tears streaming down my face. I’m grateful I didn’t know how bad I was doing. Sure, looking back, I saw these things happening, but it’s all in retrospect now. A bad day was one where I did nothing; not just a mindless summer thing, like fiddling on the computer for hours, but nothing. I laid on the couch. No book, no t.v., just there. Sometimes I slept, sometimes I didn’t.

So, no. Being gluten-free is not a burden to me. In exchange for leaving one protein out of my diet, I get to live. Tell me: Would you trade your ability to live (have energy, play sports, leave the house, think, stand up, travel, go out to dinner, cook) for gluten? I know I wouldn’t.

[Ed: And why would she trade, when she can eat things like the gorgeous treats below?]

Maple Date Squares

350 g pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (maple extract would be lovely too!)
1 cup certified gluten-free oats (100 g / 3.55 oz)
1 cup quinoa flakes (82 g / 2.90 oz)
1/4 cup sweet rice flour (35 g / 1.25 oz)
1/4 cup tapioca starch/flour (33 g / 1.15 oz)
1/2 cup millet flour (87 g / 3.10 oz)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp orange zest
6 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8 by 8 inch pan.

In a saucepan, place the dates, maple syrup (just the first 1/2 cup), and water. Place over medium heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the dates are soft. It’ll take about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in your extract.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, quinoa flakes, flours, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add the orange zest, making sure it doesn’t clump.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and maple syrup. When fairly well combined (it won’t emulsify or anything, just until the bits of butter are quite small and the maple syrup is becoming incorporated), pour into the dry ingredients and beat together. Once the batter is mixed well, press half of it into your prepared pan. Spread the date mixture over the first layer. With wet hands (keep a bowl of water handy), cover the date mixture with the remaining batter*. Sprinkle it on top, ensuring to cover the entire pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. Enjoy!

*Note: To create the top layer, I take a bit of the batter in my (wet) hands and form it into a flat piece then place series of those on top of the dates. Doing this makes sure that I’m not pressing on the date mixture and ending up with one half that has twice the amount of dates as the other. Then, I just take the last bit to sprinkle on top. Using wet hands prevents the dough from sticking to them as well as making it much easier to work with.  Doing it this way also creates a more uniform layer so that one side doesn’t bake faster than another.

Bottom photo: Lauren McMillan

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