made a name for herself with her TV and film work, including I
Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Crash and Blue Bloods.
But in recent months, shes switched reels to launch her latest
passion: Her gluten free bakery, Jennifers Way, in New York
City. There, she creates delicious breads, cookies and other treats
to satisfy the tastes-and health-of those with celiac
disease. Last spring, she published her book, Jennifers
Way, chronicling her own personal struggle with the autoimmune disorder.
ABILITYs Lia Martirosyan and Chet Cooper made their way
into the bakery as the warm aroma enticed their senses.
Jennifer Esposito [pointing out her freshly baked goods]: So you have
a quinoa bread here. That is a sun butter raspberry muffin. Thats
a pumpkin chocolate chip. Thats a chocolate chunk. Thats
our jelly donut. Thats a cinnamon donut, and that is a jam dot.
All this is gluten free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free, refined sugar-free,
Cooper: Yes, but is it free?
Esposito: For you it is. (laughs)
Cooper: How do you make something gluten free?
Esposito: You take out wheat, rye and/or barley. Thats why we
use things like quinoa. It has no natural gluten protein.
Cooper: What about the sugar content?
Esposito: We dont use a lot of sugar. We use either honey, maple
syrup, or organic, unrefined cane juice. Feel free to taste everything.
These have a little bit of sugar because theyre more of a cookie
and a pastry, but our breads have a teaspoon of honey and no yeast.
Its made of chia flour and millet and stuff like that. I came
up with these alternatives because I was ill, and didnt want
to put in ingredients that I didnt need, or that were empty.
So I started using maple syrup because its a natural antioxidant.
Everything had a purpose; its not just rice flour and tapioca
starch. Thats not what we do here.
Lia Martirosyan: Are the breads without yeast more of a flatbread?
Esposito: No. You see these big loaves? Theyre delicious, and
you would never know that they dont have yeast. There are lots
of different ways of leavening. I had to find them because before
this disease I was obsessed with bread. And to think that I was never
going to have it again... Coming up with a recipe took years. I would
read every book there was on French bread, Italian bread, this bread,
that bread, and every book said, Youre never going to
make a bread bread without gluten or yeast. And that loaf is
proof that thats not true. Its one of our biggest-selling
You see a cupcake or a cookie or a jelly donut and you automatically
think, Oh, I cant do that. Thats trouble.
But if I tell you whats in itbrown rice, quinoa, amaranth
flour or chiayou would never say no to those things.
We get a lot of little kids who come in here and their moms dont
want them to have starch, sugar and preservatives, and we dont
put those things in. I try to show people exactly what theyre
Cooper: After reading your book, I guess the next thing would be pizza?
Esposito: I do make pizza.
Martirosyan: Do you add cheese and everything?
Esposito: No. I top it with things like pear, arugula, figs, olive
oil and tomatoes. But no cheese. So its gluten and dairy free
because a lot of celiacs cannot have dairy, and they suffer because
they really dont want to give that up, either. I havent
really heard of a celiac who can successfully eat cheese or dairy.
Theres usually some hidden pain involved.
My other career was wonderful, and I still do it from time to time.
But this feels like where Im supposed to be. Everything makes
sense. Without having those years behind me, I would have never been
able to get this far and get this much attention. People really dont
want to talk about this subject in a serious manner, for whatever
reason. But youre screwing with something thats very,
very sacred to people: their food, how they eat, and how they live.
Cooper: From your book, I could feel your pain. You said, I
Esposito: when I eat this, right. My symptoms were
so all over the map. There are 300 symptoms with this disease.
Cooper: That many?
Esposito: And thats the thing, you may not know that your symptom
is connected to the disease. Id eat something, and it would
make my headache go away, but then my stomach would hurt. So even
if I did start to connect the dots in the stomach areanot eating
carbohydrates and feeling less bloatedI would still get sinus
headaches, because symptoms are not going to instantly go away just
because you stopped eating gluten. I had so much damage throughout
the years that even after a year without it, I was still going through
Martirosyan: When you were going through the early stages of testing,
doctors never checked for an autoimmune disease?
Esposito: No, never.
Martirosyan: Do you know if it always shows up as an autoimmune
Esposito: I dont know what specific tests they took, because
its been so many years, and I wasnt as knowledgeable as
I am now. The usual blood test is for allergies that will cause anaphylactic
shock. Theres another blood test that looks at what happens
when allergens in food hit the gut. Thats where things show
up like, Oh, youre allergic to this, this and this.
I never had that. Maybe that would have shown I had gluten intolerance.
They did test me for Multiple Sclerosis at one point, and also ruled
out lupus, so I guess they were looking at certain autoimmune diseases,
but then my blood work would come back fine. What was showing up,
over the previous 10 years, was a tricky liver enzyme. They always
wrote it off as an infection somewhere, never thinking that it had
something to do with toxins in my body that werent getting released.
I dont look at the doctors and feel like they did me wrong;
I understand that my symptoms were all over the place. But there needs
to be more attention paid to the individual person, rather than looking
at a chart and saying, You dont fall into this category
or this category or this category.
Cooper: Especially given that there are 300 different symptoms.
Esposito: Yes, and people get used to living in pain. I used to live
uncomfortably, fearfully, because of panic attacks, and the anxiety
was constant. I saw my mother live that way; she saw her mother live
that way. My grandmother died of colon cancer, so I was used to seeing
nervous people. But people get used to just taking a pill.
Cooper: I lived in pain for years, but finally got a divorce.
Esposito: You had to do it!
Martirosyan: Did you ever have Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG) Therapy?
Esposito: No. I have not. My doctors spoken about that, but
I have not. I look into everything because like I said, I still deal
Cooper: Lia has some background in what were talking about;
shes been all over the world and nobody knows what she has.
Martirosyan: Yes, I have symptoms all over the place. But a few years
ago, celiac disease came up, and they were going to do an endoscopyuntil
they told me it would screw with my vocal cords.
Cooper: She sings opera.
Martirosyan: So it wasnt safe for me to do that procedure, and
I didnt follow up. And then I read that part of your book about
your finding a lump on your neck and your brittle nails. A lump was
one of the first things I noticed, and they wrote it off as a virus
or my being sick, but Id never been sick in my life when this
Esposito: I would absolutely check out celiac disease. I saw a woman
walk in here on crutches. Her hands were like this. [balled up] She
had difficulty speaking. They said she had MS, and she was on medication.
Turns out she went to this doctor, and she had celiac disease, through
her diet, she started to reverse that. Now her hands can open up.
Martirosyan: Thats interesting.
Cooper: Does gluten have any friends?
Esposito: Seriously. Glutenespecially for people with autoimmune
diseaseis glue, basically. It holds bread together; it holds
pasta together. Its a binder. Thats why you see it in
a lot of things like makeup and toothpaste. But we cant really
digest that in our systems. We dont have the enzymes to break
it down, so it sticks. For me, if I eat a piece of gluten, I know
it instantly, because it feels like liquid cement in my throat. Thats
what its doing in the body, and then it creates inflammation,
and inflammation causes disease. Same thing with dairy.
Martirosyan: I read that you shouldnt cut it out, though,
until you get tested.
Esposito: In my opinion, if youre suffering stop eating it,
and see if you feel better. If you have celiac disease, you have damage
in your gut. It may not heal in a week, two months, even up to a yearand
even then it sometimes doesnt heal that quickly. I dont
want people suffering any longer. And sometimes Ive heard where
people are off of gluten and they feel better, but they want to get
a proper diagnosis, so they have to eat it and then theyre in
hell. In an endoscopy, they use an instrument to take a biopsy of
Martirosyan: Do you think blood tests would be more accurate?
Esposito: Blood tests are not always accurate.
Martirosyan: So you had the endoscopy?
Esposito: I had both.
Martirosyan: Did you feel any soreness?
Esposito: I didnt. I think its got to be done correctly,
when they take a biopsy of the small intestine they shouldnt
just go down and take one piece, because the villi may be intact in
[Inflammation from celiac damages villi, which are small, finger-like
projections that line the small intestine and provide a greatly increased
surface area to absorb nutrients. In celiac disease, the villi become
shortened and flatten out; intestinal damage causes diarrhea and poor
absorption of nutrients, which may lead to weight loss.]
So they need to really take a thorough biopsy. Ive heard many
people tell horror stories about getting an endoscopy, where they
take one biopsy and say, Youre fine, and then two
years go by and they arent fine. They have celiac, but the biopsy
wasnt done correctly. With me, there were times when I couldnt
walk. My knees would give out completely. And if I get any kind of
gluten, thats exactly where it hits, my knees. I cant
walk. A young girl I know, her mom brought her here. She was 15, having
problems, problems, problems. Didnt know what it was. One day,
I saw it in her face, and then she just fell. They brought the ambulance,
the doctor, and they said, Shes got palsy in her face?
It happens sometimes. Turns out she had undiagnosed celiac disease
that was causing so much inflammation that her brain was swelling.
They had to open up her skull, release the pressure on the brain.
She had to relearn how to talk.
Martirosyan: Destroys everything.
Esposito: Exactly. This is a real issue because your insurance company
will cover a generic drug, and sometimes theyre not gluten free.
So Im paying out of pocket to get a name-brand drug, and I cant
tell you how many times they didnt have it. I went to the hospital
recently because I had some kind of allergy, and my face started to
blow up a little. They wanted to put me on a steroid that Ive
taken before. By the end of that cycle, I had to have a steroid and
an antibiotic, which cost me $1,700 for the name-brand drug. Generic
drugs, thats the next hurdle and its enormous.
Cooper: Are you saying the pharmaceutical companies wont tell
Esposito: if its gluten free. But their version of gluten
free and what a celiac calls gluten free are very different. Thats
why every restaurant, every product says, gluten free,
and then you start asking questions, and you realize, unless that
product was done in a separate area, it is not completely gluten free.
You cannot guarantee theres no cross-contamination if youre
using the same line to make a wheat-derived pill.
Martirosyan: How long have you been off gluten?
Esposito: Probably five years now. Now Im a functioning human
being. I wasnt functioning towards the later years, when I finally
got diagnosed. Now Im functioning in a big way. But I also went
30-something years without a diagnosis, so the longer you go, the
more damage there is.
Martirosyan: Im thinking about the woman you mentioned with
the dexterity issues who was diagnosed with MS. The fact that you
say her fingers are straightening out is a huge deal because its
rare to impossible to reverse atrophy.
Esposito: Huge. She was in a wheelchair, and shes walking on
these crutches now. But she sat here and clearly told me, Im
doing so much better, but I cheat sometimes. But you just cant
cheat. Not safely.
Martirosyan: I figure if you have a solid diagnosis, and youre
feeling bad why play around?
Esposito: I dont understand it either, but its a hard
thing to switch in your mind, because food is a basic need, basic
fun, basic social aspect of life.
Martirosyan: There was a time, I tried going vegan, which was kind
of unheard of, because there werent many options out there.
I was doing more lentils and beans. I lasted six months. So whats
the difference between vegan and gluten free?
Esposito: Vegan is taking away any animal products. What were
doing is taking away the gluten thats in breads, pastas, cookies.
With a vegan diet you can eat bread and pasta and all that stuff.
Its a completely different thing. Thats why when I went
vegan for a whilebecause I tried every diet under the sunI
would feel a better, but then it wouldnt last because I was
still having pasta and bread. Though I was eating a ton of vegetables
and all this other great stuff. These days, they pump so much stuff
into our food to grow it quicker, keep it on shelves longer, make
So the natural gluten that was in these products
is no longer being able to just be what it naturally is. Things have
become so over processed that we cant function any more.
Cooper: So your place in all of this seems to be to create breads,
cakes, and tastey desserts?
Esposito: I always tell people this. These are the things that you
absolutely cannot have out in the world: You cant have bread,
a cookie, pasta. But occurring in life is beautiful naturally gluten
free food. You should be eating that fish, vegetables, meat, beans.
Those are all naturally gluten free. Again, if its processed,
then it could be added. But naturally gluten free foods are everywhere.
Cooper: So you found this is what was missing?
Esposito: Yes. Before this, we werent baking with quinoa, chia
and amaranth flour. Theyre not light and fluffy, and they can
be tricky to bake with. These are different flours and grains that
people werent using before. Theres a difference...
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Sweet Potato Scones MAKES ABOUT 36 SCONES
Maple sugar has antioxidant properties and you can sub it in equal amounts for regular sugar. If you canít find maple sugar, you can use coconut sugar, date sugar, or even brown sugar, but those have much lower antioxidant and nutrient values.
1 cup sweet potato puree (bake and mash a sweet potato, or use
1/2 of a 15-ounce can sweet potato puree)
3/4 cup rice milk (or milk of choice)
1/3 cup grape-seed oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
11/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/3 cup maple sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon fresh dried vanilla (or 1 teaspoon liquid vanilla)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup maple syrup (for brushing on top of scones)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the sweet potato, rice milk, oil, and lemon juice (if using liquid vanilla, add here). In a separate bowl, combine almond flour, arrow-root starch, brown rice flour, quinoa flour, pecans (if youíre using them), maple sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, xanthan gum, dried vanilla, cloves, and salt. Whisk out lumps. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine with a wooden spoon. Take a heaping tablespoon of batter and drop on the baking sheet. Place in the oven for about 15-17 minutes (longer if you want firm texture and/or slightly browned bottoms). After about 11 minutes, or when the tops of the scones get a bit firm, brush maple syrup over the tops and then continue to bake. These scones will keep in an airtight container or Ziploc bag for at least a couple of days, or up to a week in the refrigerator
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies MAKES ABOUT 36 COOKIES
For this recipe, it is absolutely crucial to use certified gluten-free oats, because other oats contain gluten. I was able to have oats later in my journey, but not in the beginning, so youíll want to be sure you can tolerate oats before you make these-not everyone can. The duration of the baking depends on how crispy you like your cookie.
3 cups certified gluten-free oats (important that the packaged is marked as gluten-free!)
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup maple sugar, date sugar, or coconut sugar
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup grape seed oil
1/3 cup applesauce (no sugar added)
3/4 cup raisins
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, combine the oats, brown rice flour, sugar, arrowroot starch, sorghum flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum. In a separate bowl, combine the maple syrup, grape-seed oil, and applesauce. Using a wooden spoon, slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry a little bit at a time. When dough is thoroughly combined, add raisins. Place tablespoon-sized pieces of dough on the baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes. These cookies will last about a week stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator...
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