Comfortable Comfort Foods is delighted to welcome Karen Ore, life coach and gluten-free chef. Karen gave me the jumpstart I needed to build some confidence with wheat-free baking. She has risen to the challenge of multiple food allergies without flinching, and she has made it her life’s work to help others with similar problems.
CCF: There are several facets to your work, aren’t there? Teaching, coaching … please tell us about it. How did you get into this line of work?
Karen Ore: I completed a Bachelors of Science degree in Nutrition at Montana State University and worked in a couple of different nutrition education programs. I also taught cooking classes through our local Adult Education Program and continue to teach privately. I love good food, and having dietary restrictions has been the impetus for me to try new things. I also like sharing my discoveries with others and realized that I could help people learn about preparing high quality food at home. I attended a Life Coaching training program, and through working with clients who were interested in telling their personal stories I began teaching memoir writing classes. What holds everything together is my love of learning and my desire to be of service to people.
CCF: I understand that you also have dietary limitations. How did you discover that it was food that was giving you trouble?
Karen Ore: I was tested for allergies when I was a teenager. I was an itchy miserable mess. I had been breaking out in hives and my skin was red and irritated. I also had recurring bouts of gastrointestinal distress that didn’t seem to have an identifiable cause. We discovered that I had several food allergies as well as many environmental sensitivities. I came away from the testing with prescriptions for antihistamines and corticosteroids and a long list of foods and substances to avoid without really any information of how to accomplish that. This was 40 years ago. If there were substitutes or allergy specific products I wasn’t made aware of them, and they weren’t available in Montana.
CCF: Where are some of the places you looked for help? Were there dead ends? How did you find what worked?
Karen Ore: I started reading anything I could find about different ways of eating, explored the cuisines of other countries and began seeking out Asian markets and health food stores. It has been trial and error, learning what works for me and what doesn’t. I avoid all dairy products, eggs, wheat and other gluten-containing grains, shellfish, and pistachios. I am also careful about staying away from as many environmental pollutants as possible.
CCF: What’s the first advice you’d give someone who’s sick and tired of feeling crummy?
Karen Ore: I think that consulting a qualified allergist and/or gastroenterologist is important, as is keeping a food diary, if people suspect that the food they are eating is the problem or part of the problem. Food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities as well as Celiac disease are complex issues, and getting professional help is important. I also think that doing your own research is empowering. It seems to me that when food is diagnosed as the culprit, we are told what not to eat without a lot of emphasis on what else is available to us. Flipping that around and concentrating on what you can eat is less depressing and more useful.
CCF: Are there books, websites, or other resources that you like to recommend?
Karen Ore: I cook a lot of foods from cultures that are not as heavily based on wheat, dairy and eggs. My Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Indian cookbooks are used often, as well as the Moosewood cookbooks. Blogs/ Websites that I really like are Indian As Apple Pie, Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, Eating Well, and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
CCF: I took one of your cooking lessons and came away with some recipes that were so good that my free-eating friends love them. Thank you for permission to use them on this website (see Can Not Fail to Impress Double Chocolate Cookies and Dinner Biscuits). Are you still on the lookout for new recipes and flour blends?
Karen Ore: Thank you, I am so glad that they are being used and appreciated. My goal when developing recipes is to make it so that everyone can enjoy the food whether they have dietary restrictions or not. I am always experimenting with new ideas, ingredients, and ways to make food that I can safely eat and enjoy. To me it is a success when someone doesn’t realize they are eating a special diet food.
CCF: I love that, too. Do you work with kids? Are their issues—or their solutions—a little different?
Karen Ore: While I have not worked with kids who have dietary restrictions, I have taught cooking lessons to children. It seems to me that feeling different can be a bigger issue for younger people, so having food to eat that is as “normal” as possible is especially important.
CCF: Definitely. What factors do you think might be contributing to the upswing in IBS, gluten-free eating, etc. over the last several years?
Karen Ore: I think that there are probably multiple causes and am not sure that any one theory applies to everyone. The increased accessibility of alternative ingredients has helped to make cooking for allergies and food sensitivities more mainstream, which is a real advantage for those of us who need to avoid certain ingredients.
CCF: It certainly is. And now, just for fun: What’s your favorite go-to ingredient … and why?
Karen Ore: I’m not sure I can mention only one. The most useful ingredient for those of us who avoid gluten-containing grains is Xanthan gum, because it allows baked goods to hold together. My favorite is good quality dark chocolate because for a long time finding chocolate without milk added was very difficult. The third isn’t an ingredient—it is a sense of adventure, a willingness to try different ways of cooking to achieve delicious results.
CCF: Karen, thanks for your willingness to be interviewed and for the great recipes!
Recipe coming soon: Karen’s killer biscotti, perfect for a Downton Abbey evening.