Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Interview with Jennifer Esposito, My Kitchen, and the Wide OpenSky

What do these three have in common? On the surface, very little. But when you dig a little deeper, so very much!

My kitchen is where I do my gluten-free baking, creating recipes to share with you all in my cookbooks with Brittany, and here on the blog. On Friday, I'll be sharing a behind-the-scenes look at my kitchen at Celiacs in the House. But today, I have something else to share with you. The kitchen is also where Jennifer Esposito does her gluten-free baking. You didn't know she was gluten-free, did you? I've always known her as that sexy actress with the great hair on Spin City. I had no idea she had Celiac Disease. But Jennifer was diagnosed in 2009, the same year I went gluten-free. After years of struggling, feeling ill, being told by doctors it was all in her head (sounds familiar, right?), she finally got a correct diagnosis of Celiac Disease. That day marked the beginning of a new life for Jennifer, but one that didn't come easily. Sent out the door with little information or support, she did what we've all had to do. She scoured the internet, went on forums to chat with other sufferers, and in the end, had to learn a lot on her own. 

Today, Jennifer is in a different place. She's become healthier and become an advocate for others in the same situation. Not wanting anyone to feel alone the way she did, she has started Jennifer's Way, a blog devoted to sharing her honest story, delicious recipes, and great gluten-free finds. She also has a cookbook in the works (I can't wait to get it!), a gluten-free all-purpose mix and pancake mix coming out, and plans to open a gluten-free bakery in New York City. Plus, she's going to have her own store on OpenSky. According to OpenSky, it's "a social network for shopping that empowers users to connect with the best people in food, style, health and design for exclusive information, advice and insider product recommendations. It’s boutique-like shopping in a Facebook-like environment.  The site’s 100+ experts include: Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay, Cynthia Rowley, Liz Lange, Tom Colicchio, Molly Sims, Kelly Rutherford, Mariel Hemingway, Tony Horton, Padma Lakshmi, Michael Ruhlman and Holly Robinson Peete." I had heard of OpenSky through other bloggers, but this was the first time I really checked it out. It was so much fun, I already opened an account! Jennifer's store will be dedicated to the gluten-free lifestyle, with new items appearing every week or two to keep the selection fresh. She'll be sharing photos, videos, and recipes to give us an inside view into why each item is her favorite and how she uses it. I've already connected with Jennifer's store on OpenSky. Have you?

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer yesterday about her experiences being gluten-free and all the exciting projects ahead of her this year. Here's what she had to say: 

What type of products will we be seeing in your OpenSky store? 
There will be an array of different things, but everything will be geared toward the gluten-free lifestyle. I want to share proper information about what it means to be healthy. There will be recipes and baking products, including my own mixes that I'm developing, and those will be ready soon. 

What makes your mixes stand out from other products on the market now? 
My all-purpose baking mix can be exchanged cup for cup with wheat flour, and I'm also going to have a pancake mix. There are so many products out there that are not really healthy; All gluten-free products are not created equal. I wanted mine to be different. They're loaded with protein and fiber, and are much more nutritious than what I was able to find when I first had to go gluten-free.

Gluten-free is definitely a buzz word these days, and many big companies are jumping on the bandwagon. How do you feel about the gluten-free diet becoming so popular? 
It's upsetting because people are starting to look at this as a trend, which it most definitely is not. It's necessary for people like me who have Celiac Disease, or people with autoimmune disorders or autism. On my blog, I have a "2 week gluten-free challenge" and so many people have contacted me to let me know how much better they felt being gluten-free. I believe everyone can benefit from being gluten-free, but I think it should be taken seriously and not seen as a fad.

You were diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2009 after years of being sick with no answer. What's the most important lesson you've learned from that experience? 
Listen to your gut. There were so many times that I knew something was wrong, even since I was a child. I absolutely knew, and I went from doctor to doctor, and I can say this. If you're doctor isn't willing to test you, or even if you get a negative test and still feel something's wrong, go to another doctor. Find a doctor who will listen to you. 

Do you avoid any foods other than gluten? 
Yes. I still felt horrible for about a year after giving up gluten. First, I went through a painful detox period, but I also didn't know that other foods could be a problem. I had such horrible joint pain from eating dairy that it was hard to sleep at night. Now, I also avoid dairy, soy, corn, and processed sugars. 

What types of recipes will we see in your upcoming cookbook? 
A little of everything. I wanted to share recipes for the things I really missed, like bread and cookies. But I also include meals that I eat every day that are naturally gluten-free. I want people to realize that they if they eat unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables from the garden, it will be much easier to eat gluten-free.

Were you interested in cooking and baking before becoming gluten-free? 
Yes, I used to crawl up on the cabinets and bake pancakes when I was six. It was devastating when I got the diagnosis of Celiac Disease because holidays were such a big deal in my family. Learning to navigate holiday meals and social events was very paralyzing at first. 

How long did it take for you to embrace the gluten-free lifestyle? 
Honestly, there are days I still don't embrace it. It stinks sometimes. I was watching a friend eat an apple turnover this morning and wanted to grab it out of his hands! But that's why I do what I do, because I refuse to feel deprived. Baking makes me feel like I have control over this disease. 

How has your life changed since becoming gluten-free? 
It changed a lot of my life and relationships. I really do feel like a different person. I feel much more grounded, more in control of my life. I really feel for people who are walking around feeling sick, not knowing it's because of the food they're eating. 
Check out Jennifer's gluten-free shop on OpenSky, and her blog to read more about her story and find some amazing recipes! And thank you to Jennifer for sharing her story in the way that best helps all of us...openly and honestly, admitting that even she has hard days where watching other people eat drives her crazy! I know we've all been there, and it's refreshing to hear her say it!


gfe--gluten free easily said...

Excellent interview, Iris! I appreciate Jennifer's candor and all she is doing to educate folks on the benefits of living gluten free, how to live gluten free best with naturally gluten-free, unprocessed foods, etc. I especially love that folks are doing her two-week challenge. While many will say that those folks need to get tested first, the reality is that the majority of them will not get tested or will not get positive results when they do EVEN IF gluten is a big issue for them. So IMO it's beyond fabulous that folks are going gluten free and seeing the positive results! Thanks for this one ... will share for sure!


Amber said...

Hi Iris,

This is so great! Thank you for sharing with us!

Be Well,

Jonathan said...

It just goes to show you - no matter who you are, what you do, or how you were diagnosed, there are SO many common threads between those of us with Celiac or gluten intolerance. Awesome interview, Iris - Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, Why the abstinence from corn after going gfree?

Iris said...

Anon - I can't speak for Jennifer, but I know for myself, I try to avoid corn in products unless I'm eating local, organic corn. Anything else is likely GMO, unless otherwise specified, and I can tell my body doesn't handle that well.


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