We’re excited to launch our free-from interview series with our first interviewee, Saara. Saara, 24, who studied at Manchester Metropolitan University, blogs at The Gluten-Free Student Cookbook. Her site features quick, tasty, and cheap recipes aimed at those living the student life. You can contact Saara on twitter @CoeliacStudent.
FFB: When were you diagnosed with Coeliac disease?
Saara: I was officially diagnosed with Coeliac Disease back in 2007 whilst at studying at university. I’d been experiencing the ‘symptoms’ for a quite while but assumed they were probably a result of the stress I was going through with leaving home, going to university and having to balance a healthy social life alongside my studies. I remember being told I had it and not realising how it was going to change my life until my doctor started to reel off a never ending list of things I couldn’t eat or drink any more – including my beloved pot noodles and Yorkshire puddings!
FFB: Had you heard of Coeliac disease prior to being diagnosed?
Saara: I’d never even heard of coeliac disease before I was diagnosed and when I was, it did take me a while to get used to saying it, let alone how to spell it! I was aware some people suffered with food intolerances so I assumed coeliac disease was just a fancy name for a wheat/gluten intolerance. It was only when I took the time to properly research it that I realised it was actually an auto immune disease and was damaging my body!
Finding this out did make me feel quite alone, as I assumed if I hadn’t heard of it, then nobody else would have the foggiest idea what it was either. So understandably I felt quite isolated. It was only when I spoke about it to others that I discovered more people either had it or knew someone with it! So that helped me feel a little better about myself and my diagnosis.
FFB: Which aspects of student-life make being gluten-free difficult?
Saara: Personally for me, it was learning how to cook! I know it’s a general stereotype of students that they all live off beans and toast – but I was that epitome of that student stereotype! My culinary skills stretched from pouring boiling water into a pot noodle to toasting bread [and at times I failed that!]. So trying to balance an active social life, studying, learning to cook and understanding coeliac disease affected me emotionally, psychically and mentally. It was only when I confided in close friends, family members and the university counsellor, that I felt I could get control and move forward. Which is why I can’t stress enough how important it is to get support from friends, family and from your university and not be afraid to ask for it. It’s difficult adjusting to new situations and more so, when you have to change a lifetime of habits but, having that support really helped me cope with my coeliac disease.
FFB: What inspired you to start blogging?
Saara: I really enjoy reading other peoples blogs and there is some really fabulous gluten free blogs out there that we’re spoilt for choice! However, it was through this love of blogs that I discovered a lack of gluten-free blogs dedicated to just student grub. This is what inspired me to set up my own blog: The Gluten Free Student Cookbook. I wanted to find the easiest student friendly, gluten free recipes and show others that if I can cook, then anyone can!
Also, I’ve always had a passion for helping others which is another reason why I not only created gluten-free recipes, but also participated in restaurant and gluten-free product reviews.
FFB: Your blog is all about recipes for students, do you have one that you’re particularly proud of that you can share with us?
Saara: It’s hard to pick just one recipe that I’m particularly proud of because I’m really proud of everything I’ve made! But, if I had to pick just one, it’d have to be my gluten-free pizza recipe. I always assumed it’d be really hard to make my own pizza dough and be really time consuming so I was surprised when I managed to make my own which was quick, simple and cost effective!
FFB: From your experience, is there a general awareness of Coeliac disease among students?
Saara: I feel there’s a lot of support and awareness for those suffering with coeliac disease in general but from my experience there is a lack awareness of coeliac disease amongst students. Although, websites such as StudentCooking.TV do provide awareness of coeliac disease by providing some gluten free recipes as well as allowing other gluten free bloggers to post their own recipes and information on there!
FFB: Favourite gluten-free/Coeliac-friendly restaurant?
Saara: My all time favourite gluten-free/coeliac friendly restaurant has to be Dough Pizza Kitchen /Apotheca in Manchester! They provide the most amazing gluten-free starters, mains and desserts that are both inexpensive yet very, very tasty! They also give you a choice of either having a lovely sit down meal in their stylish restaurant or delicious cocktails and gluten-free nibbles in their bar Apotheca. Not only that, but they hold their own gluten free taster evenings to allow other sufferers to come along and sample their up and coming gluten-free pizzas and desserts!
(Dough Pizza Kitchen is located at 75-77 High Street, Norther Quarter, Manchester.)
FFB: Favourite gluten-free product/brand?
Saara: I can not get enough of Dietary Specials frozen, gluten-free Yorkshire puddings! I love, love, LOVE Yorkshire’s and it was one of the things I really missed when I embarked on a gluten-free diet. I did manage to make my own gluten-free Yorkshire puddings from scratch but I missed the convenience of having them already made, where all you had to do was pop them in the oven for a couple of minutes. So when I cam across Dietary Specials gluten-free Yorkshire puddings I could have actually screamed with delight as they taste just like ‘normal’ Yorkshire puddings. Even my boyfriend, who doesn’t have coeliac disease loves them just as much as normal ones!