Many Hats Mommy

Finding Grace & Choosing Gratitude

>Wednesday’s Woman–Jules Shepard, Gluten Free Guru

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>I am so excited to bring you today’s Wednesday’s Woman! When we decided Dr. J needed to go gluten-free and casein-free almost two years ago, I had to find a flour substitute. Today’s Wednesday’s Woman has created my favorite! I can’t believe she’s visiting my little blog! Sadly Dr. J can’t use her flour because we discovered he’s sensitive to corn, too. However, I always recommend Jules’ flour to any new gluten-free friend! It’s still the best, and I miss it dearly! And now, here in her own words, Jules Shepard…

When Jenny asked me to write a Wednesday’s Woman feature for her, I was excited to be included with others of these amazing entrepreneurial women who have contributed their stories of inspiration and perseverance. However, I often don’t think of myself in that way: I am just a diagnosed celiac, single mother of two who loves to bake. That I have been able to translate the necessities of my life – feeding my family and eating gluten free – into my life’s work, to me, is a blessing and a gift.

A little about me~ I was raised in the south and will go to my grave a Southern Woman to the core. I was taught to bake at an early age by the women in my family, and I quickly developed a passion for both creating food and for sharing it with others. I learned the joy of showing love through food and was always quick to bring a dish when a friend was sick, make cookies when a friend was down or to volunteer to bake the birthday cake. This propensity to bake and share made me very popular in the college dorm, where I frequently broke the rules and baked cookies in my toaster oven!

When I entered graduate school, I realized that baking was something else for me as well: a stress reliever. I would often leave the library at the wee hours of the morn, only to come home and wind down by baking. I did so much baking, in fact, that it became expected that I would show up each day with treats to share! The school café sales actually began to suffer because I gave away my goodies for free, so they eventually asked me to sell my baked goods through the café. I was as broke as you’d expect for a grad student, so I was happy to do it! Thus began my first ever taste of baking as a career.

Meanwhile, all was not well with me, physically. My health had taken a turn for the worse in college and no doctor could figure out why. I was ultimately diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) – the catch-all diagnosis given to people with chronic gastrointestinal distress. For 10 years I struggled with my health, through diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, sinus infections, migraines, iron-deficiency anemia … the list goes on, but no one could put it together.

Finally, just before my wedding, I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder celiac disease, and my world changed. I now had a reason for all these health problems, and I had a solution to them as well – living gluten free. However, I had to leave the world I knew behind in order to make myself healthy. No more dinners out with friends, no more Thanksgiving dinners with family, no more potluck suppers, no more lunch with colleagues, no more “grabbing a bagel and coffee,” no more birthday cakes! I felt like every part of my life had suddenly been restricted.

The next few years were uneventful for me in my gluten-free journey; I was mostly depressed, to be honest. Nothing I baked, no recipe I tried, ever turned out well enough for me to enjoy and certainly never well enough to share! My life — which had in many ways been defined by food-based social events and by showing my love through sharing food — was no more.

I’m not sure when exactly I found that I had had enough, but at some point soon after my first child was born, I decided that I could no longer justify making two meals (one for me and one for my family). I threw out my gluten-free cookbooks and bought a bunch of different gluten-free flours. I felt that the old days of me happily baking with one all purpose flour had to come back in order for me to succeed in this journey, so I determined to create my own truly all purpose, gluten-free, flour. It took me two years to perfect it, but I finally succeeded! Working in a bubble, so to speak, I consulted no conventional wisdom on gluten-free baking because I didn’t want to be bound by anyone else’s real or perceived constraints. In essence, I started over and invented my own wheel — one that suited my needs for an easy, go-to, all purpose flour.

At some point I joined a mom’s group, and it was there that I met my first celiac friend. She and I started bringing gluten-free goodies to each meeting to share with each other, and she was blown away by everything I brought. She is the one who actually encouraged me to write a gluten-free cookbook to share my learnings and recipes with others because my food was so much better than everything else she had tried.

I finally took her advice and decided to self-publish my core family recipes. This book, Nearly Normal Cooking for Gluten-Free Eating, was published in 2006. In it, I also shared my recipe for my original homemade flour mixture. The Washington Post, Woman’s Day and other media outlets did stories on me and my journey, so my book got much wider exposure than I could have ever expected.

I began hearing from readers who loved the book and the flour, but who didn’t want to have to mix the flour themselves (wouldn’t an all purpose flour be even easier if it was already mixed for you?!), so I entertained the idea of trying to find a manufacturer for my flour. After a lot of research, networking and just plain hard work, I finally began manufacturing a new all purpose flour mixture for those who just wanted to bake and not deal with the hassle of mixing flours. My newest hat of “food manufacturer” was overwhelming, requiring that I deal with all aspects of R & D, quality control, order fulfillment, payment processing and customer service. Eventually, I couldn’t handle all that on my own, so I brought in partners to help with other aspects of the business so that I could be freed up to do what I liked best: writing books and creating recipes!

My second book, The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free, came out in 2008, and gave me the opportunity to share my life learnings and recipes with others transitioning to this medically-necessitated diet. My third book, Free for All Cooking, was just released and represents the culmination of all my learnings about gluten free when there are other food allergies present (like eggs, milk, soy, nuts, etc.). In the years since my first book was published, I have traveled the country teaching cooking classes and giving lectures on the gluten-free lifestyle and have met so many folks for whom gluten was not their only food restriction. This latest book is really dedicated to all those people like me (I am lactose intolerant), who have learned that some other foods don’t love them back, either!

My flour business is now a flour and mixes business, and three books plus 7 e-books later, I am a busy author and blogger as well. I truly love what I do, and thank God every day for the opportunity he has given me to help others in this gluten-free journey.

I invite you to go here to sign up for a free weekly recipe sent to your email inbox. You may also want to stop by my blog for a sugar cookie recipe and more! Jules told me she does her best to write GFCF recipes for the blog so we who are dealing with both sensitivities can enjoy her recipes.

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