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Gluten-Free Wedding Cake Guide

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—-Originally printed in Celebrate Gluten Free – a quarterly magazine by the Gluten Intolerance Group—-

Weddings come in many shapes and sizes but virtually any wedding occasion includes food. So, what about planning a gluten-free wedding event?  If you’re doing the planning, setting a gluten-free menu with a caterer is relatively easy to do. But what about the cake? There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing entrées whereas the cake may seem more limiting for someone looking to accommodate dietary needs. Whether you have a gluten-free bride/groom or gluten-free guests, the big question remains the same: what do I do about the cake?

I have a distinct memory of walking by a table promoting gluten-free wedding cakes during my first visit to a gluten-free conference. Despite not having any wedding plans, the table caught my eye. To my shock, I felt my eyes fill with tears. When told by my physician that I must adhere to a gluten-free diet it took me a few weeks to really process the complexity of what it meant to live gluten-free. When I realized that a wedding cake was probably not in my future, I was not particularly bothered by the idea. Cake was out. I could accept that. Regardless, when I saw that wedding cake booth I felt so happy and sentimental. Even at a young age, the idea of a wedding cake was special to me and was a tradition I thought would elude me. So, now that you know you can have a gluten-free wedding cake, the question is how to find one.

If you are planning a wedding you have a variety of options for the gluten-free wedding cake. You should choose the option that best suits your needs and your budget. If you want an entirely gluten-free wedding then I suggest finding a dedicated gluten-free bakery in your area and ordering a wedding cake from them. However, if you are not looking for an exclusively gluten-free wedding then you have many options on the table.

Living in our nation’s capital, I stumbled across a gem of a bakery: Sticky Fingers. Two-time winner of the show Cupcake Wars, Sticky Fingers Bakery has made quite a name for itself. They pride themselves on offering delicious cupcakes and goodies that are vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), peanut-free and gluten-free. I stopped by their storefront for an official wedding cake tasting, one of the perks of writing an article about wedding cakes! When I arrived there was a small table reserved with a sign that read “Wedding Cake Tasting.” Kamber, the baker, brought out four options for me to try. Even though they make full-size wedding cakes, the cake tasting is done using cupcakes! My personal favorite was the chocolate cake with buttercream frosting and fresh raspberry puree. The sweetness of the frosting was cut so perfectly by the tart berries that it left me wanting bite after bite.

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Kamber explained that her customers have a lot of say when it comes to designing the perfect wedding cake. Depending on the bakery, you will need to request your cake pretty far in advance. During busy wedding months like May, June, August and September bakeries like Sticky Fingers may need at least a month’s notice, if not more. The amount of time it takes to make your personalized gluten-free wedding cake also depends on the complexity of your design. Kamber also had some great tips on how to save on your gluten-free wedding. Keep reading to see how you can make your wedding delectable and affordable.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of wedding cake planning: the cost. Wedding cakes are expensive. They are usually sold on a “per-slice” basis ranging (on average) from $8-$15 per slice. A typical 3-tier wedding cake serves 82 resulting in a cost of around $900. In addition to that already seemingly staggering number, gluten-free cakes are often priced on the higher end of the spectrum. Sticky Fingers charge $2 more per slice when making a gluten-free cake, adding up to $12 per slice.

There is no denying that gluten-free options are usually more expensive than their gluten-containing doppelgangers. Luckily, there are plenty of relatively easy ways you can cut down on cost!

  1. Dual-Cake: If you are a gluten-free bride or groom without many gluten-free guests you can cut down on costs by ordering the top-tier of your wedding cake from a dedicated gluten-free bakery and the rest of the cake from a traditional bakery. If you opt for this make sure you clearly communicate your plan to both bakeries. You will need to separate the top tier from the rest of the cake with cardboard or styrofoam covered in fondant but the cake decorators should be able to do this without any trouble!
  2. Go for cupcakes: With the national popularizing of cupcakes, gluten-free options have become fairly common at most cupcakeries across the nation. You can order a traditional looking top-tier then place the cupcakes in lower tiers. You may find that cupcakes are cheaper than ordering an entire personalized wedding cake.IMG_0341
  1. Play it up: You can make your cake appear larger by separating the tiers with non-cake layers that are decorated in fondant. If you want the appearance of a grand cake but do not need a huge cake to accommodate your guests this is an affordable way to get the effect you are looking for. You can also use this trick to separate gluten-free tiers from gluten-containing tiers if you opt for cost-savings trick #1.
  2. Be Square: when designing your cake, choose a design that allows the tiers to be square-shaped. Squares are easier to cut in a grid pattern so you will be able to cut more slices per tier, cutting down on costs!
  3. Bottomless cake: In addition to ordering a small three-tiered wedding cake for wedding pictures, order a few large sheet cakes made with the same type of cake and frosting. The chefs or caterers can cut up the slices in the back and no one will know the difference. The sheet cakes will save you a bundle while you still get the glamorous and traditional wedding cake to display and eventually serve to guests.

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The most important thing to keep in mind when planning for a gluten-free wedding is to enjoy the process! Weddings are so fun and so special. You may feel like the cake is a gluten-free bump in the road but there are so many options out there for people living gluten-free! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and definitely do your research! Prices will probably vary from bakery to bakery so call around and enjoy the gluten-free cake tastings while you plan your big day!

Gluten-Free Superbowl Party Ideas

27 Jan

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Gearing up to watch the Seahawks battle the Patriots on the field of Arizona Stadium? You might be feeling stressed at the thought of heading to a 3-5 hour long Superbowl party to watch the game while sitting across from a coffee table covered with snacks and party foods that may or may not be gluten-free.  Set that stress aside because below are some fun tips to prepare for and enjoy the big game!

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On game day there is no such thing as too many snacks. No host will complain about having an extra addition added to the buffet table or coffee table for guests to enjoy during the game.

I suggest bringing chips (corn tortilla chips are the easiest, maybe try buying Scoops!) and an assortment of dips. You don’t want to be limited to one option while watching the game so bring more than one dip in case there aren’t many other options for you at the party.

If you are worried about going hungry then try for a dip that is heartier than onion dip or salsa. Earlier this football season I hosted people for a game and made a hearty Mediterranean dip, inspired by the multi layer dips I have seen at grocery stores.

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Ingredients:

1 lb ground lamb

Spices: garlic, onion, dried basil, salt and pepper

1 cucumber

1 carton of Greek yogurt

4 tablespoons of dill

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

Feta cheese crumbles

Instructions:

  1. Season the ground lamb with the spices listed above. Cook in a pan on high heat until browned. Pour meat onto a plate lined with multiple paper towels to collect grease. Set aside
  2. Dice cucumber and chop the dill. Mix cucumber and dill with yogurt and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste
  3. In a small glass dish put a layer of yogurt-mix then add lamb meat then feta crumbles – repeat layering until dish is filled to the top

This recipe is quick, east and more creative than a traditional multi-layer dip! Enjoy with tortilla chips! Note, although this is a Mediterranean inspired dish do not buy pita chips at the store because they are unlikely to be gluten-free.

Don’t feel like making dip? You can easily find premade dips at your local grocery store. Try guacamole, salsa, hummus, onion dip or multi-layer bean dip for quick purchases that will still be a crowd pleaser. If you buy onion powder mix be sure to read the ingredients label just in case!

Feel like being ambitious? Try my spin on stuffed jalapeno poppers! Whenever I see stuff jalapenos at parties I usually stay clear for fear of the heat. You won’t know how cooked/roasted the jalapenos are before biting down and an undercooked jalapeno can wreck havoc on your palate and leave you running to the fridge for milk to cool off. If you want a crowd-pleasing twist on a classic then make my Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Poblano Peppers instead!

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Ingredients:

Poblano Peppers (5)

8 ounces of cream cheese

1 cup of extra sharp cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon of the following spices: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder

1 package of bacon

20 toothpicks

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil (for easy clean up) then set aside.
  2. Cut the poblano peppers in half lengthwise; remove the seeds and center membrane
  3. In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese, 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, and spices. Add salt and pepper to taste
  4. Using a spoon (or your hands) to spoon the filling equally among the 10 poblano pepper halves.
  5. Wrap each stuffed pepper with one slice of bacon (if too long feel free to cut the bacon strips in half as needed) then stick a toothpick through the center to hold the bacon in place
  6. Place the stuffed peppers on the tin-foil lined baking sheet and bake for 28 minutes or until bacon is crisp

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You can refrigerate these and reheat at the party in the oven or eat at room temperature. The poblano peppers have less heat than the traditional jalapeno so your guests will find it easy to eat without burning out their palates. Want to spice things up? Try buying flavored cream cheese like garden vegetable, chive and onion, jalapeno or chipotle flavors (check ingredients before purchasing to double check)!

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The last component of attending a Superbowl Party? BYOB. Many people associate beer with watching football and there is no reason you cannot partake in the tradition. Try bringing a 6 pack of hard cider or Redbridge beer. My favorite cider right now is Angry Orchard but there are a lot of brands out there that should be easy to find at the supermarket.

If all else fails you can now order gluten-free pizza at Pizza Hut at select locations! You can expect a CC Gluten Freed blog post dedicated to the new gluten-free Pizza Hut option – the latest development in the gluten-free world! Starting TODAY, Jnauary 26th, Pizza Hut has started rolling out their gluten-free pizza option. Unlike Domino’s it is certified gluten-free. Details to come in my next post. PS thank you Udi’s for working with Pizza Hut to support the gluten free community!

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Regardless of whether you are rooting for the Patriots, the Seahawks or are just watching for the commercials you should enjoy all of what Superbowl Sunday has to offer – including the food!

-CC

Celiac Awareness Month: Midway Mid-May

12 May

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With the rush of newsletters and e-blasts that reached our inboxes on May 1st you may have been overwhelmed by the abundance of information about ways to participate in Celiac Awareness Month (CAM). Maybe you told yourself you would read them later or pick an activity to celebrate Celiac Awareness Month when you had a free moment.

For those of you who feel like May has been slipping away at lightning speed, fear not! Here is CC Gluten Freed’s guide to participating in Celiac Awareness month mid-May.

If these options do not appeal to your interests check out CC Gluten Freed’s suggestion for May 2013! 

Whether you want to do something BIG and involved or just a small act to participate in Celiac Awareness Month, this guide will help you find an activity that fits your needs!

1. Be an advocate!

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The best way I can think to celebrate Celiac Awareness Month is by advocating for yourself and making concrete change to improve your community. Be an activist this month by persuading a local business to start offering gluten-free options or receive training by NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens program, GIG’s Chef-To-Plate program or simply talk to the manager about what changes s/he could implement to make the restaurant a safer experience for you!

You can read about the class I taught at UC Berkeley about how to train local restaurants by clicking here.

In a couple of weeks I will post my experience talking to a local restaurant about gluten-free options and post resources for you do try it yourself! If you are going to talk to a local restaurant I suggest printing out materials with specific suggestions and information about gluten-free cooking practices and cross-contamination.

2. Attend a Webinar

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A great way to celebrate CAM is to educate yourself about your diagnosis or your gluten-free lifestyle. Webinars are a useful and free way to learn new information! The National Foundation For Celiac Awareness offers webinars regularly that will keep you informed about the most up to date information about celiac disease. Don’t see one that interests you coming up? No worries! NFCA keeps an archive of their webinars that you can watch! Check it out here.

Their next webinar is Thursday, May 15th at 2:00pm (eastern) and will be discussing best practices in celiac disease diagnosis. Register for the webinar by clicking here.

3. Tweet!

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Connect with the gluten-free community on twitter! This is an easy and fun way to participate in CAM. Start using #glutenfree or #celiac when tweeting and see how engaged and connected the gluten-free community really is. Members in the GF community will retweet you or respond to the tweets you blast off.

New to Twitter? Don’t know many gluten-free groups on Twitter? No problem. Tomorrow night (May 13th at 8:00pm (EST) NFCA is hosting a Twitter Chat! NFCA will be discussing risk factors and diagnosis process for celiac disease. You can share your experiences with others and connect online! Tweeet @CeliacAwareness and use #NFCAchat to join in the conversation!

4. Make plans to go to an event:

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Check out CC Gluten Freed’s Calendar for May and June. Start planning now and you can make it out to the CDF’s Annual National Conference and Gluten-Free Expo on June 7th and 8th. Washington DC also has a gluten-free expo on June 8th! These events are super fun and delicious (you will be stuffed after sampling all of the amazing products from the vendors at these events).

You can also rely on resources from NFCA and CDF to participate in Celiac Awareness Month.

Celiac Disease Foundation:

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CDF encourages members of the gluten-free/celiac community to join Team Gluten-Free’s Week Without Wheat Challenge to raise funds for CDF’s awareness efforts! By joining Team Gluten-Free you aim to raise $100 by getting people to donate to you! The format is similar to the way funds are raised for marathon running/walking teams.

By signing up you receive a Team Gluten-Free t-shirt and a Team fundraising page. You can post updates about your 7-day gluten-free meal plan on your page as well as on other social media sites (use#tgfchallenge on Twitter!)

CCGF twist? Have a friend or family member sign up for the challenge! This gets more people involved in CAM and spreads the word. This is a great way to educate a friend or family member. In my experience, the only way to fully understand what it takes to live gluten-free is to try it out! If you feel like friends or family don’t understand you or lack empathy this is a perfect, non-confrontational way to ask them to test out being gluten-free!

National Foundation For Celiac Awareness:

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NFCA will send you a CAM toolkit that has weekly themes for the month of May focused on increasing awareness about celiac disease via education! The toolkit is a great resource for educating yourself as well as friends or family. You also receive some great recipes as an added bonus!

NFCA also posts a gluten-free product of the day on their awareness month page! Keep track of this site if you are curious about new gluten-free products on the market.

 

One of the silver-linings of living gluten-free is the amazing community you become a part of. May is an opportunity to really engage with the gluten-free community! No matter what you decide to do, every small action made by members of the gluten-free community aggregate to form a united, important impact!

 

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

 

-CC

 

 

Gluten-Free Valentine’s Day

11 Feb

Whether it is your first Valentine’s Day living gluten-free or your millionth attempt at keeping things GF on our Hallmark Holiday of love you can always find new, safe and sexy ways to have a great gluten-free February 14th.


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Here are my favorite romantic (and gluten-free) ideas for the 14th! You will definitely enjoy these whether you are looking to share them with your beau or simply want to eat some yummy desserts Friday night!

French Macarons: There is something about a French macaron that just seems romantic. Maybe it is the extensive spectrum of colors they come in, the eccentric flavors or their delicate texture; whatever the reason they are a great option for Valentine’s day. French macarons are traditionally made with almond flour and thus are gluten-free.

I’ve never made French macaroons but they are on my baking bucket list. Here is a recipe for French macarons (I haven’t tested this recipe myself just yet  but here it is  in case you are curious how they are made.)

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Don’t feel like breaking out the mixing bowl? Search around for a bakery that has macarons! There are many bakeries and restaurants  like Olivia Macaron in Georgetown that sell macarons. Wherever you decide to pick up your macarons, check with the bakery to make sure their recipes are GF. Don’t forget to ask about the risk of cross-contamination! Macarons are not only beautiful, they are delicious and come in so many flavors that making a theme for Valentine’s day will be a cinch.

Flourless Chocolate Cake: believe it or not, flourless chocolate cake is actually a pretty classic dessert even outside the gluten-free community! Flourless chocolate cake is very, very rich. This is  kind of dish  is perfect for sharing because you can’t “chow down” on such a rich dessert; it is more of a nibbling culinary experience. Regardless, it is so delicious I cannot guarantee that you won’t fight over who gets the last bite. Here is the Food Network’s recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake. Want to make yours special? Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for an extra kick.

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Candy: Don’t feel like cooking or questing for bakeries? Go for classic Valentine’s Day candies! When I first went gluten-free I didn’t realize that many of my traditions would no longer be an option for me (eg Italian Christmas Eve!).

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Luckily, one of my favorite Valentine’s Day traditions is safely marked gluten-free: Sweethearts by Necco. I don’t know what it is about these cute little candies but for whatever reason, I look forward to them every single year! The texture is chewy yet crunchy, sweet yet a bit sedate and those little messages…so fun!

Many other gluten-free candies make V-day versions of themselves: m&m’s, Nerds, Dove Chocolate and the like!

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Gluten-free Valentine’s Day Challenges?

Not surprisingly, there are some uniquely challenging situations that potentially  arise on V-day due to being gluten-free.

1. Choices/Planning — if your significant other has opted to take the reins for V-day planning you may feel a bit anxious about whether or not they will get the gluten-free thing right.  For some, their better-halves have mastered the art of all things gluten-free. To the Non-GFBFs and Non-GFGFs (non-gluten-free boyfriend/girlfriend…shout out to Erica Dermer!) out there, knowing all things gluten is a pretty sexy quality in a beau.

If your special someone doesn’t fully get the gluten-free thing just yet then  explain you’d be more comfortable planning Valentine’s Day. You should have the whole “I’m not sure if you planning Valetnine’s Day is such a good idea” talk sooner rather than later so get a move on!

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If you want your special someone to plan the big day then consider offering them a list of guidelines/tips for planning a gluten-free date. Obviously, you don’t want to kill the romance with logistics but the details are important so just be light hearted, patient and funny about it. Have them download “Find Me Gluten Free” on their phones and use that to pick the restaurant.

If he/she wants to cook for you, remind them about cross-contamination (clean the stove, don’t use a shared toaster etc.)  and ask them about the ingredients (they can tell you the ingredients without totally spoiling what the dish will be!)

PS this is not a hint for my valentine: I know you got the gf thing on lock ;)

2. Prix Fixe Menus – You may want to go to a hot new restaurant downtown on Valentine’s day but may encounter prix fixe menus at a lot of nicer places. You may not be aware that a restaurant is doing a special menu on V-day so call ahead and check if they have a set menu or if the regular menu is open to customers.  A lot of restaurants will make changes to the pre-fixed menu to accommodate a gluten-free customer but you should call ahead to confirm they can make the changes.

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3. Dessert — A lot of restaurants will not have a GF option for dessert so maybe plan on having dessert at home using one of the ideas listed above or call ahead and check about gluten-free dessert options!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

-CC

CC Gluten Freed in 2013

3 Jan

Happy New Year! I am looking forward to a new year full of gluten-free living but before we charge ahead let’s take a look at CC Gluten Freed in 2013!

2013 was a year full of excitement and big events. I was picked up as a writer for the Gluten Intolerance Group’s printed publication, Celebrate Gluten-Free, I attended a national coalition on the hill to promote the interests of the gluten-free community and I attended some very fun awareness events throughout the year!

My biggest accomplishment this year was being picked up by GIG to be a regular contributor to their printed publication, Celebrate Gluten-Free. The wonderful staff of GIG send me writing assignments on a variety of topics that test my creativity, critical thinking skills and gluten-free knowledge. You can subscribe here. Sometimes I write pieces offering advice, sometimes I write about a personal experience or struggle with living gluten-free, whatever the topic I have given each article my all.

To subscribe to GIG’s magazine just sign up for membership here: http://www.gluten.net/product-category/memberships/

The magazine is incredibly well done and has diverse articles that will benefit even the most veteran celiacs. The winter edition (coming out soon!) features two pieces that I wrote: a piece about gluten-free weddings and a piece on dating gluten-free, the two extreme ends of the relationship spectrum! The best part about the wedding article? I got to go wedding cake testing!

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In March I attended the Digestive Disease National Coalition, heading the Maryland advocates group  and talking to Maryland’s Senators and some Representatives about policies that, if passed, would benefit our community. For example, we advocated that the Senate should continue to declare May Celiac Awareness month! You can read about my trip to the Hill here.

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I spent a few weeks working with the Celiac Disease Foundation in Los Angeles, California during the summer. My task was to re-write the information about celiac disease on their website. CDF spent a few months putting together a dynamic, user-friendly design for their  website. You can check it out here! I was honored to write information that will benefit the celiac community! It was pretty fun taking a break from my normal, colloquial writing style and writing down just the facts about what celiac disease is. As I am entering medical school in the Fall, it was great practice speaking very technically about symptoms, treatment and the like.

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While working with the Celiac Disease Foundation, I was also trying out a new diet: the raw food diet. My family and I decided to go on, what we deemed, a “raw food detox.” We spent three weeks eating only raw foods! Although it was challenging, I actually felt great! The diet forced me to rely on mostly vegetables and nuts for food which left me feeling energized and light. It was an empowering experience choosing to limit my diet instead of having my diet limited by celiac disease. Though a fun experiment, warm food definitely hits the spot during this cold winter in Washington DC but maybe I will revisit the raw food diet again during the summer.

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What better way to wrap up the summer than a baseball game? In August, I made a trip up to Philadelphia to work with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness at their annual Phillies Gluten Free Awareness night!

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I had a blast. Not only did I get to chow down on a real Philly cheesesteak sandwich but I also got to pull the raffle ticket winners! They had a great turn out! Members of the celiac and gluten-free community came out with signs demonstrating their gluten-free pride (and love for the home-team, the Phillies).

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Although the Phillies were playing my hometown team, the Dodgers, I wore my Phillies cap to support the team that supports the gluten-free community! It was great fun and great company! The highlight? Drinking a beer (gluten-free, of course!) at the game. What an iconic experience that many gluten-free people think may be out of reach but with the efforts of organizations like NFCA, more and more baseball stadiums have gluten-free beer and hotdogs! Sometimes, you just want to enjoy the little things in life!

The highlight of 2013 for CC Gluten Freed? Attending the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Health and Wellness event in Seattle, Washington. The event is a great opportunity for me to meet many of my readers and connect with new members of the gluten-free community. I also get  to spend time with some of my favorite gluten-free vendors like Brazi Bites (cheese bread from Brazil), the Flying Apron (bakery in Seattle), Udi’s and various gluten-free breweries that are popping up along the west coast.

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Just like last year, my dad came with me to help run my booth. I gave out CC Gluten Freed bracelets, brochures, pens and print-outs of some of my more popular posts like my Gluten-Free Tiramisu Cupcake Recipe, 5 Things To Do With Kind Bars and The Best of CC Gluten Freed 2012. 


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Happy New Year, everyone!

-CC

 

Gluten-Free Holiday Survival Guide

16 Dec

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Despite the snow covered trees, glittering lights, smoke from the chimneys and the overall sense of Holiday spirit that store fronts and houses display, for people living gluten-free there is usually a little bit of gluten-free gloom that hangs over the Holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, we are far from gluten-free grinches, but we cannot deny the nagging sense of anxiety that takes over when considering all of the ways that gluten can complicate even the simplest of Holiday celebrations. Your work may host a Holiday party, you may be staying with extended family members during the Holiday season, there may be a slew of dinner party invitations in your inboxes (or mailboxes if you are classic like that). Don’t let the Holidays overwhelm you! This Gluten-Free Holiday Survival Guide should help make the Holiday season gluten-free and stress-free.

1. Traveling

Regardless of your destination, taking the time to plan for traveling gluten-free can save you a lot of time and hassle when you are en route. Whether you are road tripping your way to Grandma’s house or flying to Cabo for a sunny Holiday getaway, these tips will help keep hunger pangs at bay.

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Download Find Me Gluten Free  

Find Me Gluten Free is an app for smart phones that takes your current GPS location and generates a list of gluten-free dining options ear your location.  The list includes reviews (many written by me!), menus, phone numbers and directions to restaurants that offer gluten-free options.

I know some of you may be thinking, “I know my hometown through and through, trust me there is nothing gluten-free,” but a lot can change in a year! Gluten-free products and menu-options are on the rise. In 2012, Time magazine listed “gluten-free” as one of the Top 10 Food Trends of the year and the projected growth of the gluten-free product market (currently at $4.2 billion, is $6.6 billion by 2017 (statistics from Packaged Facts).

You can use this app to find places to eat while on the road. When you have to stop for gas and a snack you may not know the area well which is where Find Me Gluten Free can be a huge help.

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Pack Snacks

Speaking of stopping for a snack…when flying or driving it is important to pack snacks, especially for long flights. About a month after being diagnosed with Celiac I hopped on a plane for a trip to Italy. Being new to the gluten-free lifestyle, I didn’t realize that the plane would have close to zero gluten-free options on board. Needless to say, by the time I landed in Rome, I was starving!

In my recent experiences traveling, there are usually gluten-free options on the flight menus but they are not always in stock or they are not very filling and/or not very nutritious. You don’t want to rely on a bag of potato chips to hold you over for 8+ hours while traveling.

What are some great snacks to pack? Here are some of my favorites:

▪   KIND Bars —  jammed packed with protein, fiber and other nutrients,  easy to eat and convenient to pack. Check out my post here.

▪   Pirate’s Booty — yummy and sold in small, individual servings (great for throwing into a bag or purse).

▪   Glutino Pretzels –  if the plane has hummus you can use your own pretzels! You can also grab the chocolate covered or yogurt covered pretzels offered by Glutino.

Call Ahead

If you are flying this Holiday season make a call to the airline and ask about their gluten-free options. Sometimes websites are not up to date or the information is not true for all of the flights the airline offers. Calling and talking to the airline company about your options while in the air is the most reliable way to get information about gluten-free options. You can read about my nightmare airline experience here.

Get Everyone Onboard (pun intended) 

If you are traveling with family or friends, make sure they are onboard about the gluten-free thing. It is easier to just bring it up at the start of the trip rather than wait until everyone is hungry and searching for a place to grab a bite. If your travel-mates know beforehand that stopping at Pizza Hut is not really an option for you, you won’t have to veto their glutinous choices! Be open and honest about what kind of pit stops will work for you.

2. Attending Dinner Parties 

There are many strategies you can use when attending a dinner party and which one you choose has a lot to do with the context of the party. Is it hosted by a close friend? A new friend? A friend of a friend? A neighbor? My go-to approach for attending a dinner party is a 3 step process.

  1. Call/email/text/Facebook message the host and ask what they are serving
  2. Disclose that you are gluten-free and what thats means
  3. Offer (by offer, I clearly mean insist politely) to bring a side-dish or a dessert.

Approach the chat with the dinner party host as conversational. Your goal isn’t to make the host change their menu or make everything gluten-free. The goal of the conversation is to figure out if there are any gluten-free dishes so you can plan accordingly.

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When you bring a side dish, make sure it is something quasi-filling because it may be all you end up being able to eat. I suggest a quinoa dish (here is my favorite recipe). When it comes to dessert, I suggest baking mini-gluten-free cupcakes (my Tiramisu cupcake recipe is always a hit at parties, check it out!).

Lastly, I suggest eating a little bit of food before heading over to the party. Gluten-free pro-tip? Never go anywhere truly hungry!

3. In-Laws/Extended Family

Does the word “In-Law” run shivers down your spine? Sometimes the idea of being a burden to the in-laws during the Holidays, especially for a new couple, is quite unnerving. What if you ruin their family traditions? What if you are that girl, the one who refuses to eat anything made by the family? Take a breath. Being gluten-free, for people with Celiac or gluten-intolerance, is not fleeting. This will be your reality at Holidays for years to come so it is best not to beat around the bush. Don’t down play how important being gluten-free is to you, just be open and honest about it. In most cases, people will be accommodating even if it does take them a while to truly understand what it means to be gluten-free.

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I have heard so many of my readers tell me that extended family members “just don’t get it” or are “unsupportive” or think that being gluten-free is a cry for attention or a fad diet. I don’t have any magic words of advice to fix that. It happens to all of us. You need to be patient and understanding even if the people you encounter are not. Remember, for most people the idea of being gluten-free is quite literally out-of-this-world-weird. So many cultural and religious traditions center around wheat (as an Italian and growing up in a Catholic household I can personally attest to this). It will take some time for people to accept the gluten-free lifestyle but if you are persistent, patient and willing to answer the questions people will inevitably have, they will come around.

4.Traditions

Here is where you may have to get a bit creative. Some family traditions may not be gluten-free friendly which means you will likely need to make some changes to your tradition or make a new tradition altogether. Check out my post about tweaking holiday traditions. If you or your family aren’t quite ready to make changes to family traditions for the gluten-free diet (maybe you are newly gluten-free and aren’t sure it is for you, maybe your family is still adjusting etc.) then take the time you need! Christmas will come around again next year, you can always make changes for future years. I had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease for four years before my Italian family made a complete transition to a gluten-free Christmas. We spent a few years trying to just add a gluten-free option but eventually  decided to make the entire dinner gluten-free since so many of my family members are now gluten-free. You can read about the Bonaduce transition from classic Italian Ravioli to gluten-free “roliolis” (a hybrid lasagna ravioli dish) here.

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There is no doubt that being gluten-free around the holidays can be a challenge but the most important piece of advice I can offer is to be graceful about being gluten-free. Take the Holidays in stride, be persistent and protect your health. Being an easy-going guest is not worth getting physically ill. By being open to talking about gluten-free options and your needs you can absolutely be gluten-free gracefully.

Have a great Holiday season!

Safe travels,

CC

Food Stars Go Gluten Free

18 Aug

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With Restaurant Week upon us in Washington DC I can’t help but think about how far the restaurant industry has come in the past few years when it comes to serving gluten-free customers!  Between the increase in demand for gluten-free products from the celiacs, the gluten intolerant and the fad dieters to the efforts of nonprofits like National Foundation For Celiac Awareness, Celiac Disease Foundation and the Gluten Intolerance Group, people living gluten-free can enjoy the delicious foodie culture that has spread across the country!

Which star chefs and popular restaurants have joined the gluten-free bandwagon? A lot!

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Two old school Food Stars, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, offer a full gluten-free menu at all of the locations of Border Grill.  Milliken and Feniger starred in 396 episodes of Too Hot Tameles on the Food Network. Mary Sue also competed and was the first runner up in Top Chef Masters Season 3. Check out my pictures from my most recent visit to Border Grill in Downtown Los Angeles.


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Fish tacos with jicama, grapefruit, jalapeño aioli and avocado 

If you are a fan of the Food Network then you are probably familiar with Stacey Poon-Kinney, one of the final five contestants on The Next Food Network Star. Her restaurant, The Trails Neighborhood Eatery was also featured on an episode of Restaurant Impossible back in 2011. Poon-Kinney offers an extensive gluten-free menu at her restaurant including gluten-free pancakes, which, in my experience, are rarely offered at restaurants!

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Another star making delictable gluten-free offerings: Iron Chef  and restaurant owner Jose Garces. My favorite of the Garces Group restaurants is Distrito, a modern Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia. In addition to offering glutne-free options, this incredibly popular eatery can satisfy any top-notch foodie’s palate! Distrito has been trained by NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens.

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Jose Garces also had his restaurants Amada, Chifa and Tinto trained by GREAT Kitchens.  His illustrious Garces Trading Co restaurant offers a formal gluten-free menu. Here are some of the pictures from my most recent visit to Distrito!

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Stephen Starr, another wildly successful restauranteur and winner of Restauranteur of the Year by Zagat and Bon Appetit, has several restaurants that have been trained by GREAT Kitchens and offer gluten-free menus! During my last visit to Philadelphia I stopped by El Rey and enjoyed  a beautiful modern twist on a chille relleno smothered in a walnut sauce and stuffed with dried fruit, walnuts and ground beef.

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About a year ago a friend asked me how I could possibly consider myself a foodie given that I can’t eat most of the food offered by the most acclaimed chefs. Fact of the matter is, the gluten-free lifestyle is becoming more and more common. Restaurants have a financial incentive to cater to the gluten-free community because this particular foodie-niche happens to be an incredibly loyal customer base. When a restaurant makes a commitment to offering safe gluten-free options to its customers the gluten-free community talks about it. Apps like Find Me Gluten Free guide people living gluten-free directly to the doors of restaurants with gluten-free menus. When it comes to gluten-free customers, a gluten-free menu or a GREAT Kitchens logo on your restaurant door attract customers that will keep coming back.

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The gluten-free customer base is loyal and hungry so when chefs like Mary Sue Milliken and Jose Garces offer something gluten-free they are pretty much guaranteed a huge influx of new customers.

Next on my list of places to try? One of the newer Stephen Starr restaurants, Le Diplomate in Washington DC! To my fellow Washingtonians, enjoy Restaurant Week! Remember to ask the necessary questions to avoid cross-contamination while dining out! Check out this link to The Gluten Free Professional to help you become a savvy celiac diner! Check out the section called “networking” for specific tips on dining out!

-CC

The Gluten Free Professional: the gluten free diet and your career

20 Apr

Can being gluten free affect you professionally? The answer may surprise you!  The importance of networking is lost on few careers. From working your way up from server to management to making partner at a law firm, networking with colleagues and others in the biz, can play a big part in your professional success.  Where does networking happen? Where do most social encounters happen…while eating!  Food is social to the point where its purpose is probably more about connecting with others than it is about nutrition.  Come on, birthday cake has very low nutritional value yet has great cultural value. The role of food is social and, when you take that into the workplace, it becomes professional.

Let’s go through a few of the potentially problematic gluten free scenarios you may face in your professional life:

Meetings

The most common place you may find yourself in an awkward GF situation is during regular meetings or conferences at work. Of course, it depends on where you work and how meetings are run, but I am picturing a conference room with a big oval table and chairs squished really close together so all of your coworkers can fit.  Instead of a vase of flowers as a centerpiece you will see a box of donuts, a plate of danishes, or a stack of half-sandwiches from a local deli.  What should you do in these situations?

If you have been with the same job for a while most of your coworkers probably know that you are gluten free (why the lack of GF options then, I don’t know. Baby-steps, people!).   You have a few options:

Option 1: Bring a snack

This is my favorite of the three options for several reasons. It is a happy medium between not drawing too much unwanted attention with a big outside lunch while also not feeling deprived or left out.  Keep snack bars or chips in your desk drawer and bring them to the meeting.  Simple solution to what sometimes feels like a huge problem.

Option 2: Abstain

Plenty of people in your office will probably not partake in the provided refreshments.  Maybe you had a late or large breakfast. Maybe you don’t like whatever is provided. Maybe you have dinner plans later and don’t want to spoil your appetite. Maybe you are on a diet. There are plenty of reasons that people don’t eat food that has been set out before them, not just because it has gluten in it. Don’t feel pressured to partake but also don’t feel pressured to explain yourself.  You don’t have to justify not eating the food!  It is not outside the realm of normal to abstain, so don’t stress about it.

Option 3: Bring lunch

There is nothing wrong with bringing lunch from the outside world into a meeting if everyone is going to be eating anyways. This is my least favorite of the three options, though, mainly because of convenience.  You may not have time to run out of the office and get food before the meeting. Another issue is that bringing a big outside lunch draws a lot of attention to you and your food.  It will smell different, look different and be packaged differently.  I get plenty of attention from being GF and, in a setting like this, I do not want that attention.

The benefits of bringing in your own lunch are that you won’t be hungry and you get to eat with your coworkers! If you do choose this option, do so with pride (OWN IT!).  You don’t have to feel victimized because you can’t eat the deli sandwiches provided. Your lunch is probably fresher and more delicious anyways! Instead of focusing on what you cannot have, focus on the fact that your lunch is something that you chose and enjoy it.

Networking

This situation may be a little trickier than a conference room full of donuts.  If your job requires networking with clients, prospective employees, getting to know your executive team or your boss then you will likely find yourself in the position of dining out!  There are some steps you can take to reduce the GF stress you may feel building in you as you think about giving the gluten speech in front of your boss or prospective client!

Strategy 1: Control the Environment

Try suggesting a restaurant that you know is safe or a restaurant that you frequent (maybe the wait-staff knows you and your GF needs already).  I like to suggest a few diverse options in the hopes that the person in question will choose from my provided list!  If this fails, then move to Strategy 2.

Strategy 2: Benign Deception

Whenever I really don’t want to be a spectacle while ordering I engage in benign deception.  I know this may seem over-the-top but sometimes (often, actually) I just don’t feel like putting myself on display while ordering!  I will excuse myself from the table and say that I am going to wash up or use the restroom. In actuality, I am tracking down the hostess or server to discus GF options BEFORE she/he comes to take our order.  If I can’t find the server assigned to my table I ask the hostess for help.  I explain that I am gluten free and really don’t want to have to ask questions and put on a show in front of the person I am eating with. In my experience, the hostess usually gets it. Make sure you are transparent and honest though otherwise it comes off as really odd that you are going so far out of your way to put in an order!

Here are some potential questions you can ask:

  1. Can you ask the chef which items are gluten free on the menu?
  2. What modifications do I need to make to make ____________________ gluten free?
  3. Do you know which items are gluten free off the top of your head or can you grab someone who does?

Once I figure out what I can order I go back to my table.  When the server comes I can put in an order as smoothly as my non-GF lunch date!

Strategy 3: Order Simply

If you don’t want to implement Strategy 1 or 2 here is another alternative: order simply.  Once you have been gluten free for a while you start to get good at deciphering menus and figuring out what is likely to be gluten free. This is risky!! Not telling your server that you are gluten free can get you into trouble sometimes so use this strategy with care. I might order a salad and specify no croutons, bread or dressing (even if croutons aren’t listed in the description on the menu, say it anyways!). The last thing you want to do is send a dish back in front of a prospective client because you forgot to mention an important detail about what you wanted eg no croutons!

Happy Hours

Happy Hours are pretty common places for coworkers to socialize after work but can sometimes be tricky if you are gluten free.  Most bar food is horrible for the gluten free diet because the menu items are usually fried in contaminated oil (wings, French fries, calamari etc).  Avoid food at happy hour unless you have talked to the wait-staff or cook beforehand.  Since you are not eating make sure you limit your alcohol intake! You don’t want to be that coworker. Beer is super common at Happy Hours, especially because there are great deals on pitchers.  Take pride in not drinking the beer otherwise you are going to feel bummed out and excluded. You don’t have to tell people it is because you are gluten free if you don’t want to. Some people don’t like beer anyways! You can always go for a glass of wine or a mixed drink. Consult GF resources to make sure your drink of choice is gluten free. I keep things simple and order a glass of wine.  Avoid any weird mixed drinks unless the bartender is willing to tell you the ingredients. Check out Triumph Dining’s list of gluten free alcoholic beverages. 

The thing to remember about happy hour is that people are happy to be there! Work is over and I promise you that no one cares what you are eating or drinking so long as you are having a good time!

Holiday party/Retirement Party/Celebrations

A work party is no different than any other holiday event or dinner party you may have gone to in the past. Don’t overthink it! Use the same strategies you use for other parties. You can check out my posts on how to survive Easter dinner parties  for some tips.

One bit of advice: just bring something! Again, you don’t have to make everything about gluten. You can control the narrative so that you do not feel like a victim of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. Bring a dish to be nice/polite/for fun or to show off your cooking or baking skills.  You can bake these awesome Tiramisu cupcakes or bring this savory quinoa dish that will be sure to impress!  If you bring a dish you earn brownie points with the host and it guarantees that you have something to munch on during the party.

Traveling

Some jobs require traveling and this can make finding GF food challenging.  You will be in unfamiliar territory and may be traveling with a team from work.  Download the Find Me Gluten Free application on your smartphone before you head out to your travel destination. This app takes your GPS location and gives you a list of restaurants with GF options near you. You can easily make suggestions on where to dine to your work team. Tell them there is a Chipotle about a mile down the road and they will probably be impressed how well you know your way around the area!

If traveling alone you have more flexibility and the app should be enough to help you find food options. If you are having issues because the people you are traveling with want to go out for pizza remember you can probably order a salad but more importantly, if you are traveling with these people, you should probably just explain the gluten thing! You may be surprised how understanding they can be.  If a conflict arises you will have to just talk it out. Hopefully all parties involved will be professional about where to dine considering it is a work trip anyways and not a vacation!

If traveling, make sure you pack snacks to have on the road.  Pack protein bars or you can always buy Kind bars at Starbucks! Here is a post on traveling gluten free by air!

Being gluten free in the professional world may be an extra challenge but, let’s be honest, being gluten free makes almost all food-related situations more challenging. Why would work be the exception? It isn’t fair but we can make the best of every situation by being prepared and having a positive attitude.  Remember that you can control the narrative. A lot of people experience negative feelings like being victimized, excluded or simply anxious over situations that may arise but we can take steps to change that frame of mind.  By being proactive we can turn negative situations into positive ones like bringing cupcakes to the next work function. Yes you have to put in some extra work but you get to eat cupcakes and your coworkers will enjoy them too!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and, come Monday, get ready to be gluten free professionally!

-CC

Gluten Free Tiramisu Cupcakes

7 Apr


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The national cupcake craze has not excluded those living gluten free.  In fact, as far as a flour-based food fad goes, the cupcake industry has been pretty inclusive.  Shows like Cupcake Wars have highlighted several gluten free bakers in the past few years. How many of you have grabbed a cupcake from Crave Bakeshop in Lake Oswego, Oregon?  If you have, then you have probably met Ms. Kyra Bussanich, the proud winner of Cupcake Wars and promoter of gluten free awareness!  For my neighbors in the DC Metro Region we can always stop by Sticky Fingers Bakery in Columbia Heights, another winner of cupcake wars, for a vegan gluten-free cupcake!  The big kahuna cupcakeries are also jumping on the gluten free bandwagon.  Bakeries like Sprinkles Cupcakes provide customers with a red velvet gluten free cupcake. You can tell it is gluten free because it is marked with a big red “G” on top!

From coast to coast you can find bakeries offering gluten free cupcakes but what about baking them yourself??  Cupcakes are a great home-made good to bring to a friend’s dinner party, they are simple to transport, easy to eat (don’t require utensils) and are sweetly delectable.  Baking gluten free though, is no walk in the park…or is it?

The days of trying to find the perfect ratio of garbanzo bean flour:qiunoa flour:amaranth flour are over!  You also don’t need to search to the ends of the cyber world for a “gluten free” recipe that is more interesting you’re your traditional vanilla or chocolate cupcakes.  I’ll be real; you will have a hard time finding a gluten free recipe for the “raspberry cream cheese chocolate swirl cupcake” that your friend posted on Pinterest but with products like Glutino’s Gluten Free Pantry’s All Purpose GF Flour and King Arthur Flour’s Multi Purpose GF Flour the days of questing for specific gluten free recipes are over. Whenever you find a recipe that calls for 1 cup of all-purpose flour, you simply grab your box of all-purpose gluten free flour and get started! You can check out my review of gluten free all purpose flour here!

I recently made gluten free tiramisu cupcakes that completely exceeded my expectations! I am not a baker and always thought that baking gluten free and from scratch was simply off limits given my lack of experience.  It turns out, anyone can be a gluten free baker if they want to be. Now, if you hate hearing things like “I can’t believe this is gluten free!!” then don’t make these cupcakes because I guarantee you that people who eat them will shout this while devouring your glorious gluten free goodies.  The trick to baking, especially baking gluten free, is following the recipe exactly. Minor deviations can really mess with the texture and denseness of the cake.

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For this recipe, and others like it, I suggest investing in 1-2 mini cupcake pans. They are great for desserts, snacks and are just a bit cuter than your average cupcake.  The cupcake recipe is for a basic (and delicious) vanilla cupcake based on the recipe by Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World.  You can use this recipe for making a ton of different cupcake varieties. This post gives instructions for turning a simple vanilla cake into a tiramisu delight!

Step One: Bake Your Mini Cupcakes

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Before you get started, make sure you have mixing bowls, an electric mixer or hand mixer, cupcake liners and the like! You do not need a Kitchen Aid Mixer in order to bake this recipe; however, it is my absolute favorite tool in the kitchen! It makes baking so much easier!  If you have one stashed in a cupboard somewhere now is the time to use it!

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Ingredients: 1 cup soy milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup canola oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups all purpose gluten-free flour

2 tbsp cornstarch

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup granulated sugar

  1. Combine soy milk and apple cider vinegar in a bowl and let sit for around 10 minutes (this allows the soy milk to curdle)
  2. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix together using a fork
  3. Put all wet ingredients into a mixer and mix on low for a few minutes
  4. Add dry ingredients to the mixing bowl a little bit at a time until all ingredients are combined
  5. Pour batter into lined mini cupcake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 22 minutes

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Step Two: Make Your Tiramisu Frosting

Ingredients:

8 ounces mascarpone

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup powdered sugar (confectioner sugar)

cocoa powder and cinnamon (for dusting)

  1. Use electric mixer to whip the heavy cream. Set mixer on medium speed until you see stiff peaks form in the cream
  2. Combine the powdered sugar and mascarpone in a separate bowl
  3. Gently mix whipped cream and mascarpone mixture together until smooth
  4. Put frosting into plastic baggie and save in fridge until cupcakes are ready

**If you would like a vegan frosting combine ¼ cup margarine ¼ cup vegan cream cheese and 3 cups of powdered sugar in an electric mixer (I add cinnamon and nutmeg for an extra kick).

You will want to use a Ziploc bag so that you can cut the tip off, forming a makeshift pipette tool for frosting the cupcakes!

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Step Three: Assemble Your Cupcakes

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If you want to give your cupcakes that irresistible coffee flavor that people associate with tiramisu then you need to brew yourself a cup of Joe!  I use my Keurig to make a small cup of hazelnut coffee for my cupcakes, there is no need to brew a whole pot of coffee for this.  Once your cupcakes are finished baking you will need to cut out a small cone-shaped chunk from the center of each cake. You will drizzle a few drops of coffee into each cupcake. Be careful not to saturate the cake with coffee. You don’t want the cake to be mushy in the center.

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Once you have drizzled the coffee over the cakes it is time to get out your frosting. Cut the tip off of your Ziploc bag, forming a pipette and get to work! Once the cupcakes are frosted dust them with cocoa powder and/or cinnamon (I use both!).

Voila! You have now made interesting, delicious, gluten free cupcakes!

The next time you are invited to a dinner party and feel stressed about the dessert option just bring a batch of mini cupcakes! They are the perfect gift to a host because they are small enough that they don’t have to be the main or only dessert but substantial enough that you can feel included in the dessert course even if you can only have the cupcakes.  Mini cupcakes are simply a great addition to any event or meal.

Happy baking!

-CC

This Week On The Hill: Celiac Disease and Politics

4 Mar




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When I moved to Washington DC to teach 7th grade Science I never thought that I would end up in the offices of Senators and members of the House promoting legislation that will benefit the gluten free community. Advocating for the gluten free community is one of my greatest passions, it is why I started this blog, go to events and volunteer for many of the gluten free and/or Celiac nonprofits in the United States, but I never thought I would have the ear of the US government.

The Digestive Disease National Coalition held its annual public forum, uniting people from across the digestive disease spectrum for one cause: get our needs on Congress’s radar. DDNC held multiple informational lectures on Sunday preparing the volunteer advocates for our day on the Hill. Sunday night ended in an amazing Welcome Reception. I never expected to worry about over eating at a Digestive Disease event but the food was incredible and 100% gluten free despite the fact that Celiac Disease is only a small subset of the overall coalition. Katz provided the gluten free desserts as well as toast and muffins for breakfast the next day.

The Digestive Disease National Coalition unites people advocating for the treatment and prevention of conditions ranging from colorectal cancer to pancreatisis to gastro paresis to Celiac Disease to Chrons and much much more. The showing of volunteers was truly inspiring because we had policy makers, presidents of nonprofit organizations, patients and the families of patients all working together to promote legislation that will help cure, treat and prevent digestive diseases. I met cancer survivors who showed up to support people still fighting for their lives. I worked with people who were physically exhausted by the end of the day because they are living with serious chronic illnesses. The solidarity demonstrated by the digestive disease community is something to be revered.

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Although I am from California, I was representing the state of Maryland today, my current residence. I was happy to be with Team Maryland because Marilyn Geller, Chief Operating Officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation, was here representing the political needs of Californians living with Celiac Disease. Alice Bast, president of National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, was here representing Pennsylvania along with a small cohort of other members of NFCA. I was very proud to be a part of the Celiac cohort present at DDNC.

DDNC divided our coalition by state, forming teams of around six people. The teams were responsible for planning what would be pushed for during our meetings with Senators and Representatives and had to elect a team leader to facilitate the discussions. I was elected leader for Team Maryland which was both humbling, terrifying and exhilarating.

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I met with the offices of Senator Mikulsi, Senator Cardin, Representative Ruppersberger and Representative Van Hollen. The main goal of our visit was to push for an increase in National Institute of Health funding from $31 billion to $32 billion. Honestly, it was an easy sell given the fact that the people I met with were democrats, on various health committees and the NIH is located in Maryland so its funding directly impacts the state by increasing jobs in the health field.

You may be wondering what can Congress do for someone living with Celiac Disease. That is a fair question, unlike many diseases and conditions out there, Celiacs doesn’t have a very long or involved legislative agenda, something the gluten free community hopes to change in the next few years. However, there are a few issues that are pretty significant: 1. Gluten Free Labeling Laws 2. National Celiac Awareness Month (May)

Currently, the gluten free labeling bill is being reviewed in the Office of Management and Budget which is great. It should get sent back to the FDA soon for approval. The main issue I focused on in my Congressional visits was the declaration of May as Celiac Awareness Month.

In a time when budgets are tight and sequestration has broken the hearts of many members of Congress, pushing for meaningful legislation that doesn’t cost Congress a dime is pretty heart warming business. There is no reason for Congress not to proclaim May as National Celiac Awareness Month; however, there is a risk that this issue gets overlooked given the complicated political climate. My goal was to get this House and Senate Resolution on their radar.

I explained to the members of Congress that Celiac Awareness Month is incredibly important to our community. For one thing, the biggest challenge with living gluten free is the overall lack of awareness in the general population about the condition. Celiac Awareness Month helps get the word out because not only does the government get involved but it gives nonprofits like Celiac Disease Foundation, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Gluten Intolerance Group a wonderful platform for awareness campaigns during the month of May. For example, last year GIG was able to reach over eight million people through their Chef to Plate program that has restaurants that currently offer gluten free menus promote Celiac and GF awareness for the month of May.

In addition to helping people currently diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance, declaring May as an official Celiac Awareness Month can help us increase the number of accurate diagnoses. This is where I got the attention of Congress: misdiagnosed Celiac patients are a drain on the economy. Before diagnosis, many Celiacs see close to ten physicians, racking up medical bills. Additionally, they are usually prescribed medications to treat symptoms that could be completely eradicated by following a gluten free diet. They undergo expensive procedures like endoscopies, blood tests, colonoscopies etc racking up more and more medical bills, potentially going into debt. Furthermore, undiagnosed people tend to be very sick, they may have to leave the workforce, start getting disability checks from the government or declare themselves as unemployed.

Personally, I feel like the quality of life arguments should be enough to tug at the heart strings of members of Congress but if not I am happy to make arguments that tug on the purse strings, and those arguments happen to quite plentiful.

I found overwhelming support for the Celiac Awareness Month Resolution. The staff aides asked me several follow up questions and even asked me for my contact information so they could get more information for their Senator on this issue.

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The Kennedy Caucus Room

I had such a wonderful time. Not only did I meet great people, true champions for their causes, but I got to spend time with NFCA and CDF as well as eat amazing food. I know the food is the least important part of the day but I have to admit it really was amazing to see gluten free accommodations made so efficiently and without error. The luncheon held in the Kennedy Caucus Room was a sandwich buffet that had gluten free and gluten-containing options but avoided cross contamination by separating and labeling the types of bread and providing condiments in packets instead of a common serving bowl and a knife to spread onto the bread.

The people I met today were so inspiring because many of them are patients who came out to represent the needs of people living with their conditions. These are people who took off work in order to promote a good cause, people who were willing to put themselves on the spot and speak to members of Congress about very personal matters. I have always said how much I love the gluten free community because it is such a supportive, connected and united group of people but what I didn’t know is that we have a host of brothers and sisters out there living with digestive diseases who are fighting the same battles for quality of life. I’m proud to be gluten free and proud to be a part of DDNC!

Consider signing up for the Digestive Disease National Coalition next year! It is an experience worth having!!

-CC

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