The Gluten Free Photographer

This article is a little off track for a website about landscape photography, but it's a topic that those photographers who suffer from coeliac disease will relate to. Coeliac disease is a condition where the presence of gluten in the diet leads to the body's own immune system attacking the stomach lining and causing a range of unpleasant and potentially dangerous symptoms. The only way for a person with coeliac disease to avoid these symptoms and lead a healthy life is to remove all gluten from the diet. That might sound like a simple solution, but I can tell you it's not.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats so all foods that contain these grains and their derivatives are off limits to sufferers of coeliac disease. The most obvious things to avoid are breads, pastries, cakes, biscuits, cereals, and pasta that contain the problem grains – so far so good – but gluten also finds its way into bacon and smallgoods (like salami), sauces, soups, spreads, chips, lollies and most fast foods. Just about any processed food might contain gluten – the challenge for the person with coeliac disease is to review every food item before it goes into their mouth. This means learning how to read product ingredient lists, talking to chefs before ordering at a restaurant, and never leaving home without a gluten free snack in your bag. This last point is the one I want to focus on in this article – if you have coeliac disease and are out for a day or more hiking, camping and photographing, how do you keep the hunger pangs at bay?

Since being diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2006, I've discovered that there is a big range of suitable snack items hiding on supermarket shelves. And they're not all confined to the health food aisle, although that's a good place to start. Health and energy wise, the best snacks are fresh and dried fruits and nuts. These are naturally gluten free, but you will need to the check the ingredient lists on packaged dried fruit and nuts – although rare, sometimes gluten-containing products like wheat starch are added. A more common problem is that the packaging facility processes other items that contain gluten and there is a risk of cross contamination – this should be identified on the label. 

Another way to carry fruit and nuts, although often with an extra dose of sugar and other ingredients added, is in the form of muesli bars and fruit/nut bars. Most muesli bars off the shelf contain gluten, but there are gluten free options in the health food aisle, and companies like Go Natural and Sun Health Foods proudly promote their fruit and nut bars as gluten free. If you fancy your hand in the kitchen, it's not hard to bake your own muesli bars, or do as I do and use a food dryer. Here's my recipe:

Muesli Bars


½ cup peanut butter
¼ cup jam
50g butter
¼ cup water
2 cups gluten free muesli (mix your own using rolled rice flakes, rice bran straws, puffed amaranth
sunflower seeds, pepitas, shredded coconut, slivered almonds and any dried fruit)

1. Melt butter, peanut butter and jam together in a saucepan
2. Add water and muesli and mix well
3. Line a slice tray with baking paper and press the mixture firmly into the tray to ~1.5cm thick
4. Cool in the fridge for at least an hour
5. Carefully slice into bars and arrange on the drying racks with plenty of space in between
6. Dry for 8 hours

The bars are a little crumbly but very tasty - I usually carry 2 or 3 in a ziplock bag, along with a couple of pieces of fresh fruit and a pack of trail mix on day hikes.

I've inherited a sweet tooth from my Dad, so I do appreciate a piece of homemade slice or some sweet biscuits to go with a cup of tea. A lot of gluten free baked treats get very crumbly unless they are kept cold, but the two recipes below are better than most in this regard so are good choices for hiking. The slice is a gluten free version of an old family favourite, and the biscuits are my own invention.

Date-Walnut Choc Slice


1 cup gluten free self raising flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
170g sugar
125g butter
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup chopped dates
2 tbsp water

1. Sift flour and cocoa together
2. Mix in dates and walnuts
3. Melt butter and sugar together
4. Mix everything together 
5. Line a 20x20cm slice try with baking paper and press the mixture firmly into the tray
6. Bake at 1800C for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean
7. Optional - ice when the slice has cooled
8. Whether you ice the slice or not, don't cut it into pieces until it has chilled in the refrigerator for at least an hour – it will cut a lot more neatly when chilled.

Inca Biscuits


200g gluten free plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup puffed amaranth
80g desiccated coconut
190g soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons treacle or golden syrup
150g butter or margarine
½ tsp vanilla

1. Sift flour and mix with other dry ingredients
2. Melt butter and treacle or golden syrup together and mix with dry ingredients and vanilla
3. Place walnut-sized balls onto a lined baking tray – the balls will spread so leave room between
4. Bake at 1750C for 15 minutes or until golden.

(makes ~30 biscuits)

Salty snack foods like potato and corn chips, savoury crackers, pretzels, salted nuts, and cheese and salami sticks all come in gluten free varieties, but they're not ideal for hiking. When your only supply of water is what you're carrying in your pack, you don't really want to be eating things that will increase your thirst. Mind you, I take a good supply of these treats if I'm setting up a base camp at a drive-in camping area for a few days.

One other snack item that I save for special trips, like my annual 2-3 day hike to a secret spot with a good mate of mine, is homemade beef jerky. The origins of jerky, or jerked meat, lie somewhere in our prehistoric past when people first discovered that dried and/or salted meat would last a lot longer than the fresh variety . Jerky is virtually indestructible – it will keep for months without refrigeration and will give your jaw muscles a good work-out. It's also incredibly tasty. You can use any beef as long as it isn't too fatty or gristly - cheap cuts like skirt steak work well. Here's my recipe using a food dryer.

Uncle Bob's Beef Jerky

500g beef steak trimmed of all fat and cut into strips 5mm thick by 10cm long
½ cup gluten free soy sauce (eg. Fountain)
¼ cup gluten free worcestershire sauce (eg. Spring Gully)
1 tablespoon honey
1 clove crushed garlic
Black pepper and a little salt

1. Marinade the beef strips in a mixture of the other ingredients for 6 hours or longer
2. Let excess marinade drain off, and lie the beef strips flat on the drying racks
3. Dry for ~10 hours

I’ve always been a cereal and toast kind of person when it comes to breakfast. Cereal is easy – there are gluten free cornflakes, riceflakes and mueslis in the health food aisles of most supermarkets, or you can assemble your own muesli (see my Muesli Bar recipe above). If I’m hiking and camping out I carry single serves of cereal in ziplock bags, but make sure to pack them carefully so they don’t turn into powder during the hike. All you need to do is mix a spoonful of powdered milk into some water and breakfast is served. 

Bread is a little more problematic – the heavy little gluten free bricks that supermarkets sell make quite good toast as long as the slices don’t disintegrate into crumbs before you can get them on the toasting rack. I always take bread for base camping – toasted sandwiches make an excellent breakfast or lunch – but usually leave it at home if bush camping. 

Other good breakfast options are to boil some dried rice noodles and flavour them with soup mix, or even make up some quinoa or millet porridge. Quinoa can be bought as either grains or rolled flakes and both make very good porridge. My usual approach is to cook extra quinoa grain for dinner the night before and use the leftovers for breakfast – this makes the porridge preparation quicker, but you can also start with uncooked grains, add 3 to 4 times the volume of liquid, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Quinoa Porridge

1 cup cooked quinoa grain
1 cup water
2 heaped teaspoonfuls powdered milk (or more for a creamier porridge)
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
¼ cup raisins (or other dried fruit)
Pinch of salt

 1. Add all ingredients to a small pot
2. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally

Tasty and nourishing meals are an important part of any hiking or camping trip. If you're setting up a base camp at a drive-in camping area, you can be as elaborate as you like with your meals as long as you have a good esky. If you have to carry your meals on your back, then dried food is the best option to keep weight down. Noodles, rice, packet soups, and the dried packet meals sold at hiking shops are all good choices. Quinoa is an excellent alternative to rice – it's very light, full of protein, cooks quickly and makes a great meal if mixed with dried vegetables and a stock cube. You can also add pieces of beef jerky if you haven't eaten it all on the trail.

For drive-in camping, I usually take some frozen sausages and chops for the first day or two, and a couple of portions of frozen meals I've made at home. A hearty beef or chicken curry always goes down well in the outdoors and can either be taken as frozen portions or cooked on location in a cast-iron camp oven. This recipe has become a favourite and is simple to prepare – I usually cook it at home before a trip so I'm not rushing back to camp from an afternoon/evening photo session to get dinner underway. 

Slow Cooked Beef Curry

(A large cast iron pot on the stove-top is great for slow cooking)

500g diced beef
1 large diced carrot
2 diced celery stalks
1 large diced onion
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 x 400g can diced tomato
3 tablespoons gluten free yellow curry paste (or red or green if you prefer)
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
1 small handful roasted buckwheat
salt and pepper

 1. Coat beef in rice flour and brown in a large pot – remove and keep warm in a low oven
2. Fry curry paste in a little oil for around 1 minute
3. Add onions and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes
4. Add carrot and celery and cook for 3-4 minutes
5. Add tomato and beef
6. Add coconut milk and water to just cover the ingredients
7. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce heat
8. Cook for at least 4 hours, checking occasionally to make sure the curry is just bubbling but not boiling rapidly, and to flavour with salt and pepper as needed.
9. Other vegies like cauliflower and potato can be added during the cooking process – allow around an hour for cauliflower to cook and a little longer for potato.
10. Add the buckwheat for the last ½ hour of cooking – it will help thicken the curry and add great flavour. 
11. Serve with boiled rice or quinoa.

There is a huge range of long-life pre-packaged meals on supermarket shelves that will do the trick for a lunch on the trail or a meal back at camp. A lot of them aren't gluten free, so you will need to check labels carefully. If you like exotic tastes, try the Tasty Bite range of Indian cuisine – they're gluten free, suitable for vegans and contain no preservatives. It's just a matter of heating the foil pack for 5 minutes in boiling water. For a lunch that can be eaten cold on the trail, St Dalfour makes a range of gourmet salad-style meals in foil-sealed cans. Add some flavoured savoury rice cakes to the mix and you'll be dining in luxury in the best setting the world can provide – nothing but trees and hills in all directions.

Water is the elixir of life but there are times you'll want something extra. A cup of tea or coffee is a welcome treat after a hard slog up a mountain – tea or coffee bags, sugar sachets and a little powdered milk weigh next to nothing in your pack and will make the best cuppa you've ever tasted, but of course you’ll need to carry a little hiking stove of some sort with you. Powdered drink mixes like Tang are a good choice for hiking and camping, and will even make a reasonable mixer to go with the contents of your hip flask. Powdered lime drink mix goes well with vodka, and even bourbon and rum – sacrilege, I know, but we do what we have to.

I have to admit I enjoy a stiff drink after a busy day photographing and hiking, for medicinal purposes only of course. On a cold winter evening back at camp, it's hard to beat a nip or two of port to warm the soul – but don't forget the early start the next morning! While most alcohol (apart from beer) is gluten free, be careful with port. Gluten-containing products are sometimes used in the fining process so read the small print on the label. I recently spent several evenings in basecamp forlornly gazing at an unopened bottle of port  - the label clearly identified the presence of gluten but I’d neglected to read that when I bought it. Now that’s real hardship.

Final thoughts
Well there are a few ideas. There are plenty of other options out there – it’s just a matter of putting some time into researching and experimenting. I eat better now than I ever did before I started on a gluten free diet, in terms of both health and quantity, so there’s no reason to let this annoying condition hold you back. The extra energy and zest for life that the gluten free treatment will give to long term sufferers of coeliac disease surely must translate into more and better photographs.

Journey to Dandahra Crags
Exposure blending


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Saturday, 03 December 2022

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