Tag Archives: culinary knowledge

How To Make the Most of Celiac Awareness Month!

30 Apr

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This year I am taking Celiac Awareness Month a little more personally than years past! In March, I went to the Digestive Disease National Coalition and met with Senators to discuss Resolution 550 that officially makes May  National Celiac Awareness Month.

When talking with the Senate staff I explained that making May Celiac Awareness Month gives members of the gluten free community a great jumping off point for awareness campaigns and projects. For example, the Gluten Intolerance Group implements their Chef-To-Plate program every May that gets restaurants to display information about the gluten free diet at their establishments. NFCA’s Fuel the Family program will share family stories from the gluten free blogosphere, daily gluten free product spotlights and will be promoting a Wear Green Day! The Celiac Disease Foundation has their annual Gluten Free EXPO on the 4th and 5th of May in Pasadena, California.

We don’t need to leave all the work to the nonprofits though! There are plenty of small projects and actions you can take to promote Celiac awareness during the month of May.

I want to practice what I preach by using May as a jumping off point for my awareness efforts. Any increase in awareness, no matter how small, can make a big difference in the lives of people living gluten free. How many times have you been at a restaurant when the waiter happened to know all about the gluten free diet and cross-contamination because he knew someone who knew someone? Although there is no instant gratification when it comes to promoting awareness, our collective work really does make a difference!

I know we are all busy; however, below is a list of ideas that won’t take up too much of your time but can still help you promote awareness.  Items on this list should be able to fit into the busiest of schedules. For example, I am a first year teacher at a turnaround school in the DC Region, I am taking the MCAT on May 11 and I am applying to medical school in June but I will be doing the items on the list with asterisks* next to them.

1. **Facebook Banner – if you are a member of  any type of group that hosts events I am sure you have been asked to change your profile picture or banner to promote events.  When I was an undergraduate, my professional sorority used to make it a “sister-requirement” to change our profile pictures during Rush.  This is a simple yet super effective way to promote awareness and it only takes a few seconds! You can design your own banner or picture to display or go to this website for some pre-made banners promoting awareness!

On that note, remember to Like CC Gluten Freed on Facebook!

For the entire month of May, I am changing my banner to:

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2. **Buy a few Gluten Free shirts and wear them every Monday for the month of May (or any day, I just liked the alliteration) Here are some of the shirts I bought for May 2013. If you want to go the extra mile, buy some GF swag for family members too! I know it seems excessive but I really did order all of these items…there aren’t many perks to being gluten free, at least we have cute clothes!

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I also have the Gluten Freek shirt from Mariposa Bakery in Oakland, California amongst many others.

3. **Pinterest Challenge - I am going to post one picture to Pinterest every day for the month of May that will promote awareness.  This is my goal for Celiac Awareness Month.  I will keep you all posted with my updates!

4. Twitter – Commit to tweeting about gluten free experiences during the month of may. You can post about restaurants you go to, foods you make, people you meet, anything just keep the posts coming!

5. Blog – Last May Gluten Dude updated his blog every single day for the month of May.  This is way too big a time commitment for me but if you can do it then more power to you! It is great for boosting your creativity. In order to get ideas to write about you might end up doing some research and learn something new yourself!

6. Donate – Worried about the time commitment? The quickest way, though not cheapest, way to celebrate Celiac Awareness Month is to donate to your favorite GF nonprofit. National Foundation For Celiac Awareness, Gluten Intolerance Group and Celiac Disease Foundation are some of my favorites. They do great work to promote awareness across the country!

7. Make a basket for a friend – Reconnect with members of the gluten free community by sending them a basket! Maybe you met someone at the last gluten free expo you attended or maybe you exchanged business cards with a random gluten free person you met last week or maybe you attended a gluten free support group meeting a year ago and  still have some contacts. Follow up with these connections and send a little GF goodie basket!

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8. Go to an event – Check out this website that lists gluten free events going on around the country. Find one near you. You can also check out websites that list Celiac and/or gluten free support groups. Attend a meeting!  You can also go to http://www.meetup.com and find a MeetUp group in your area that connects gluten free locals.

9. Bake GF cupcakes for your coworkers – What better way to explain about the gluten free diet than by giving people delicious treats? This is a great way to get your coworkers to be more supportive of your lifestyle. If you can, make the frosting Green. Here is a great recipe for Tiramisu cupcakes.  Here is a review of a great GF all-purpose flour so you can convert fun recipes you find online.

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10. **Get friends and family involved  – The best way to really understand what it is like to live with Celiac Disease is to actually try being gluten free for a day.  Have a friend or family member order gluten free while dining out for a week even if they aren’t celiac.  When I first started to show signs that I was struggling with being gluten free, my uncle decided to try being gluten free to see what the problem was.  It then became clear to him how challenging it truly is. Cross-contamination issues, awareness issues, dining out, social problems that arise because of being gluten free are all among the list of challenges that people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance face. These issues are pretty invisible to the average Joe, so get your family or friends informed by teaching them how to live gluten free, even if just for a week. The only way to truly get it is to live it.

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

-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

CC Gluten Freed’s Best of 2012

5 Jan

As the nation reviews the employment, or rather unemployment, data from December 2012, I too feel inclined to take a look at some numbers. CC Gluten Freed had a fantastic year when quantified in terms of hits and viewer traffic! Now, asking a blogger for the number of hits per year/day/whatever is similar to asking a woman her age: it is simply impolite. I will happily reveal some of my aggregate data and post CC Gluten Freed’s top hits of 2012! Just as NPR reviews the best podcasts, I will be reviewing my top posts of this year for you to share with friends or just enjoy for a second read through.

Best-of-2012

#1 Post of 2012

So you want to take a cooking class…

This post offers advice for taking mainstream cooking classes while being gluten free.  The cooking classes advertised as “gluten free” are usually special courses offered sporadically at cooking schools, local markets and local stores.  Gluten free people need to be able to cook for themselves since restaurants always pose a risk and bringing a dish to dinner parties is always a must.  How are we supposed to become master cooks when the only classes we attend teach gluten free baking and/or are hyper-specific classes eg a specific type of cuisine.

I wanted to take a cooking series that covered all the basics of cooking: knife skills, sauces, meats and poultry, baking, grains etc. Check out the top post of 2012 to find out how I managed to make my experience a gluten free on. 

#2 Post of 2012

The Domino’s Effect

Remember when Domino’s thought they were being gluten free? This post looks at the situation critically and examines both sides of the issue: was Domino’s position on gluten free pizza a valid one? Spoiler alert! I conclude that it was an absolutely abhorrent decision on Domino’s part.

In this post I applaud the NFCA for making sure that Domino’s did not falsely advertise their pizza. GREAT Kitchens was able to evaluate the kitchen practices that Domino’s intended to implement and concluded that their kitchen practices are not safe for Celiacs.

In addition, I point out the negative implications of such careless actions on Domino’s part.  Do the decisions of big companies have a domino effect?  Read to find out!

#3 Post of 2012

The Importance of Letters

The third favorite of 2012 is “The Importance of Letters.” I am glad that this post ranked so high in terms of traffic because this was one of my founding pieces for CC Gluten Freed.  The whole idea behind this blog is to spread awareness and teach my readers how to advocate for themselves and other people living with Celiac Disease.   This post discusses the what, when, where, why and how of writing letters to restaurants about gluten free customer experiences.

Check out how you can make a difference by spreading the word.

#4 Post of 2012

The Unsuspecting Celiac: Five Things That May Be Getting You

I am also glad that this post had so many views because it is a great resource for people who are gluten free but are still feeling symptomatic. In some cases, people let bits of gluten slip into their diet from some unexpected sources!  This post looks at five foods that a lot of gluten free people continue to eat even though they shouldn’t.

My favorite part of this post is the very end. I tell you five things you may be surprised to realize that you CAN eat!

#5 Post of 2012

Recipe: Quinoa with Cucumber and Mint – White Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish 

Coming in at #5 we have my recipe for cucumber mint quinoa!  This recipe is absolutely delicious!  It is a great dish to serve in the summer time because it is filling yet refreshing. I include little changes you can make to this recipe to keep things interesting. You can use this versatile recipe in so many contexts.

One tip: the Quinoa dish is perfect for bringing to a dinner party as a gift for the host.  It is filling enough so that if there isn’t anything you can eat your plate will still be full (as well as your stomach) but the dish is light enough that it won’t steal the show from whatever main entree your dinner host is serving.

Check out this post for the recipe!

 

 

Here’s to another year of great posts and many readers!

 

-CC

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolution 2013

30 Dec

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This is my second, and now annual, Celiac/gluten-free New Year’s Resolution post on CC Gluten Freed. The gluten free diet is so much more than a diet. In fact, I usually describe myself as “being gluten free” as opposed to following a gluten free diet. Semantics, yes, but an important point none-the-less. Being gluten free means adapting a whole new relationship to food, something that shapes our every day lives, holidays and traditions. Considering how complicated and challenging being gluten free can be, it seems appropriate to make our New Year’s Resolutions at least related to improving our health and gluten free lifestyle.

Last year I had a slue of NYRs all about improving my gluten free lifestyle. You can check out last year’s list here but in summary, I decided to:

1. Be (even more) gluten free – this means making smart, safe choices at restaurants like getting a salad instead of french fries due to risk of cross contamination.

2. Become informed — I vowed to start following GF blogs so that I can stay current on what other GF advocates are up to.

3. Get techy — there are many phone apps out there that make being gluten free much simpler. I decided to start using those applications including, my favorite, Find Me Gluten Free, an app that takes your GPS location and gives you a list of GFF (gluten free friendly) places nearby.

I wrote a follow-up last June about how I was doing with my NYRs and, I swear this to be true, I was pretty good about staying committed. In years past my new year convictions have always been more like token resolutions. “I will go to the gym every day!” or “I will eat salad at every single meal!” Though enthused, I never seemed to follow through with my generic resolutions. The problem? Conviction. I did not take the time to hash out the reasons why the resolutions were meaningful to me and, not surprisingly, they fell to the way side as the year started getting busy and hectic. I am proud to announce that for 2012 I successfully adopted all of my GF-NYRs and improved my gluten free life as a result.

My resolution this year is much simpler than my complex list of 2012 gluten free NYRs. This year has to do with defense and preparedness. The ability to absorb nutrients is often more limited in someone with Celiac Disease compared to the average Joe. Here’s why: the gluten free diet only works by completly eliminating gluten, not by merely limiting it. Many newly diagnosed believe that a low gluten diet will have close to the same benefits as being exclusively gluten free and that, my friends, is a misconception. When people think of a “diet’ they typically think of weight loss and we all know that if we limit our caloric intake we will lose weight. The more calories we restrict, the more weight that will be lost. Disclaimer: this is an over simplification of metabolism and weight loss but, in simplest terms, the relationship between caloric intake and weight loss is directly proportional whereas the relationship between nutrient absorption and gluten intake is more complicated and convoluted. Even trace amounts of gluten can trigger the production of counterproductive antibodies that will damage your small intestine. My point is that if you kind of diet, you will kind of lose weight whereas if you are kind of gluten free you will not be kind of symptom free, you will remain in the pain and state of malnutrition that originally provided hints for your diagnosis.

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Even compulsive Celiacs like myself (I say that in the most endearing way possible) cannot completely avoid gluten due to cross-contamination and accidents that will inevitably occur despite your best efforts. How can we prepare our bodies for such encounters? What can we do to compensate for the fact that we may not be absorbing nutrients as efficiently as a none Celiac?

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My NYR for 2013 is to take a daily vitamin, religiously, strictly and obligatorily. We have all heard doctors, moms and the like push us to take a daily vitamin but how many of you actually do it every day? I am super health conscious and still happily skip swallowing the disgusting smelling pellet of nutrients frequently. As a Celiac, I need all the nutrition I can get. If I don’t pay close attention to my diet, I cannot guarantee that I am getting all of the vitamins and minerals I need on a daily basis, deplting my body’s supplies and holding myself back from better health.

This year, starting January 1,2013 I will be taking my daily vitamin every morning, even if it is an unpleasant way to start the day. I have decided on taking Multi Vites Gummies. The benefit is that it is labeled as gluten free and the taste and texture of the vitamin but it does not have iron which means I will need to go the extra mile and buy an iron supplement as well. I advise not skipping out on the iron. Iron is essential to your body running properly, it is found in every cell of your body, helps with oxygenation and, if you don’t have enough iron in your body, you may experience fatigue.

Make sure the vitamin you pick is labeled gluten free!! I read through the ingredients on a gummy vitamin made by One-A-Day and concluded it was GF only to find that the allergen label said Contains Wheat! There are so many odd ingredients in vitamins that we may not recognize a potentially gluten containing ingredient so go for something with a GF label!

You may think I am being too picky, I mean come on, it is just a vitamin! Keep in mind that this is something that will start off my day for the next 365 days. The decision is not a small one! What I decide to take will impact my year and potentially my health. I want to make sure I make an informed decision.

If you are really interested in supplements and daily vitamins, another great choice for a Celiac is Fish Oil/omega 3s. The fish oil supplements work to combat inflammation in the body. Celiacs is an inflammatory condition: the antibodies we generate in response to consuming gluten cause a lot of inflammation in the body (thus the arthritis many experience prior to diagnose).

fish-oil

I know it may not be enjoyable to have a regime of pills every morning but think of it this way: we have a disease where the treatment is not a pill cocktail but rather a diet. Even though being gluten free is challenging we are very lucky not to have to deal with side effects and financial expenses associated with prescription medications like the price of seeing the doctor to get your prescription followed by the actual price of the medication. As far as excuses go, we don’t have many with merit to not take a daily vitamin especially considering the nature of Celiac Disease in relation to absorption and nutrition.
Like last year, you can expect a follow up from me in June 2013! In the spirit of no-secrets-blogging, I will even post a copy of my blood work from 2012 compared to 2013 to see if the daily vitamin is making a difference!

Cheers to a new year and to preventative care and newly improved health!

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-CC

Happy-New-Year1

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The Unsuspecting Celiac: Five Things That May Be Getting You

17 Sep

Being gluten free is a like being a full time student while having a full time job.  It requires understanding what is and where it can be found which means you must learn about the basics of cooking, how to read labels, and common restaurant preparation practices.  In terms of quantity of information, it is a lot. Not to mention, the labels on today’s foods are so complicated you feel like you need a BA in chemistry to decipher their code, but we Celiacs manage.  Once you get down the basics of being gluten free the real work starts. Every meal tests your knowledge and the consequence of ill-preparation or even a simple mistake is much graver than a bad grade.  The good news is that it does become easier with time. That being said, even the most seasoned Celiacs run into gluten now and then.

What are those common pitfalls that get even the most diligent gluten free devotees?  Here are 5 things that tend to sneak under the GF radar:

1. Pet Food – who would have though that man’s best friend could be your biggest gluten free enemy?  If you aren’t seeking out gluten free food for your pet I suggest you start right away.  Cats and dogs (at least mine and I’m sure there must be others) tend to wolf down their food. Seriously, when little Cannoli eats it is like something out of a cartoon with food flying in all directions.

In college my roommate had a Chihuahua who, like most small dogs and cats, would pick up a mouthful of food from their bowl and eat in all the way across the room on the floor.  If your pet food is full of gluten (like most are) you may be putting yourself at serious risk for cross-contamination in your house.

If you think labeling laws are lackluster in the human world, wait until you start looking for gluten free pet food. “Grain free” does NOT usually mean gluten free in the pet world. In fact, “grain free” varieties tend to have both oatmeal and barley in their recipes. You want to find brands that say “gluten free” or “no glutens” on them or you can take the time to read the labels on the “grain free” foods because some are gluten free.

Treats should also be gluten free because you typically handle them with your bare hands.  Blue has a bunch of gluten free treats that you can use to train puppies and to simply treat your pet.

Here are some very affordable brands that have gluten free food for both cats and dogs. I have used both Instinct and Blue for my pets with great results.

2. Wine – Many people believe that all wine is gluten free. While most wines are gluten free there are some exceptions that you should be aware of and on the lookout for.  For example, the process of fining the wine can result in gluten contamination if the company uses wheat protein as their fining agent. Fining is a process where the wine is stabilized and clarified by adding a protein (usually a clay called bentonite or animal protein). The proteins drift through the wine picking up solids and then sink to the bottom of the barrel leaving the wine at the top clear and stable.

Wines that don’t undergo fining usually need to be decanted before drinking. Furthermore, the proteins attract and eventually precipitate out phenols which contribute to the bitter taste of the wine. Fining can be used to augment the taste or astringency of the wine.

What is the verdict? Your wine is most likely safe, so drink up! According to Geraldine Newcomen of the Food Standards Agency in the UK, any product containing an allergen must be properly labelled eg if a wine fining process contaminates the wine with wheat it must be labeled on the bottle as “containing wheat.”  This is not true, or at least not enforced, in the US but most wines are naturally gluten free. Most wine companies use bentonite clay as their fining agent due the the vegan movement encouraging them to stay away from animal proteins and the food allergy movement pushing them away from using gluten.  When you drink wine, be conscientious. Check for any allergy labels on the bottle, avoid wines from Australia or New Zealand which have a higher likelihood of using wheat products during the wine making process.

3. French Fries – My go-to food at restaurants when I first got my CD diagnosis was French Fries. It wasn’t until a year into my diagnosis that I realized that French Fries are much more enemy than friend.  Though they are made of potato there are so many ways to contaminate French Fries. First and foremost, they are most likely fried in contaminated oil.  If the oil in the deep fryer is used to fry onion rings, fried chicken, wontons and the like than all foods fried in that oil are essentially infused with gluten and should be avoided.  Additionally, a lot of French Fries are dredged in flour to make them crisper when fried. What is worse, a lot of restaurants buy their French Fries frozen and so the waitstaff and potentially the kitchen staff wouldn’t even know that they have been dunked in flour. Along the lines of restaurants buying frozen French Fries, sometimes the staff does not pay attention to what type of fries they buy. For example, I went to a place in Berkeley, California that was selling beer-battered French Fries but didn’t even know it. I discovered this when I asked to see the packaging.

The moral of the story is stay away from French Fries unless you are at a restaurant that you know really, really well or has been trained in cross-contamination and gluten free awareness.

Are there some safe fries out there? Yes! Five Guys and In N Out both have GF fries and oil that is exclusively used for their fries. Stay away from almost all other fast food French Fries and be sure to inquire at sit-down restaurants before ordering their fries.

4. Veggie Burgers – I don’t fully understand why but many, many, many people assume that if something is vegetarian or vegan then it is probably gluten free too. This is absolutely not the case. Although vegans and gluten free people both have highly restricted diets, read labels and ask questions at restaurant it does not mean that our needs are the same. Sometimes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it simply isn’t a duck. You know?  I have been served veggie patties as the “gluten free option” a number of times, all of which resulted in me being glutened.  I learned my lesson and now avoid veggie burgers unless I can personally read the label or a chef comes out and tells me how he or she made the burger.

One time I was at a catered work event and the caterer said the veggie burger was the GF option. I asked the guy to double check the packaging and I watched as he picked up the box and read.  He came back to report that the patty was gluten free. Literally form 10 feet away and looking over his shoulder I could see a big sticker on the box that said “MADE FROM WHOLE WHEAT!”  Sometimes people can’t get vegans and gluten free people separated in their brains. This is something that gluten free people need to know and counter-act.

Some veggie burgers, like Sunshine burgers, are gluten free. If you are trying to be GF and vegetarian or vegan than be sure to find some reliable brands so you don’t go hungry!  I am actually going vegan until Thanksgiving and I look forward to the challenge.  I’ll be sure to post about my experience once it has been longer than a two-day commitment (I started yesterday).

5. Preschool or Kindergarten – This may not apply to most of my readers; however, many of you either have or at least know a Celiac kid.  Playdough is any Celiac kids worst enemy.  Children play with it all day and then run around touching things with their contaminated, yet adorable, little hands.  If you have a Celiac kid and need to send him or her to preschool or Kindergarten I suggest talking to the head teacher about playdough in the classroom.

Ironically, I discovered how troubling play-dough (brand: Play-Doh) can be through my work.  At a big work conference all of our tables had play-dough at them for people to fiddle with during the long 6 hour lectures.  Unfortunately, we also ate lunch at these tables.  People would rub the play-dough on the table to flatten it out, little bits would stick to the table and dry and my colleagues’ hands were coated with the shiny oil from the play dough, making me feel like I could see the gluten all over them.  As a grown up, I wasn’t too concerned. I made sure my hands and food didn’t touch the table. Kids aren’t this observant. They touch everything around them and are very prone to sticking their hands in their mouths.  The risk of contamination is pretty high!

Solutions? Talk to the teacher about having play-dough removed from the classroom. I am a teacher and I know I would be receptive to a suggestion like this from a parent. If for some reason they believe that play-dough is a quintessential component for their pre-K curriculum than advise they buy a GF brand. If they refuse you may want to consider either going to an administrator at the school or buying the GF play-dough yourself and coercively donate it to the school. If there is one thing I know about parents of Celiac kids, they are persistent and effective advocates for their children.

Alright, I recognize that on top of everything you know about being gluten free, adding even five more things can be pretty frustrating and disheartening.  Let’s end on a positive note. We talked about five surprising things you can’t have but what are some surprising things that you can have???

1. Macaroons and Macarons – Most Macaroons and Macarons are naturally gluten free! Macaroons are the American cookie with coconut in them used by many during Passover. Macarons are typically those colorful French cookies you see in pastry shops. They are also usually gluten free because they are traditionally made with almond flour.

There are always exceptions so always read labels and ask questions but for the most part, you are good to go. Jewish Macarons are used as a dessert on Passover. They are Kosher and gluten free. Additionally, a lot of French Macarons are made with almond flour like this recipe for chocolate Macarons.

Order some now!!

2. Lea and Perrins – We normally avoid Worcester Sauce because it used to always have gluten in it. This also meant we had to avoid Caesar salads and many steak sauces and marinades. Today, Lea and Perrins, probably the biggest Worcester company, has changed their recipe to be gluten free. I still would be cautious about ordering a Caesar salad or ordering something with Worcester without seeing the bottle and making sure it is Lea and Perrins but you can definitely use it at home when you are cooking. In the next few years I think it will be safe to eat Caesar dressing without too much inquiry. Now that Lea and Perrins have set the bar, I expect other companies to follow suit. Until that day, always be cautious but you can start re-including Lea and Perrins into your recipes.

3. Dorritos – These are now gluten free! The original flavor of Dorritos has changed its recipe, which used to include wheat flour, to a recipe that uses corn instead.  As someone in the field of Public Health I can’t really condone eating Dorritos but this will make Superbowl parties and the like much easier considering how popular the Nacho Cheese flavor is!  Yum!

4. Pao de Queijo aka Brazilian Cheese Bread – Ever been to Fogo De Chao? This is a very popular Brazilian restaurant that, like most Brazilian restaurants, serves Pao. This is the most amazing cheese bread on the planet! Seriously, it tastes like a Cheez-It but has the texture of fresh baked, perfectly gooey bread.  It is naturally gluten free.  If you don’t have a Brazilian restaurant in your area than you should order Brazi Bites online (or look for them at your local GF store).

5. Poppadoms aka Indian Lentil Bread – Though the texture resembles that of a chip more than bread, Poppadoms are delicious and available at most Indian restaurants. You should always check to make sure they do not have flour in them because some restaurants do not follow an authentic Poppadom recipe. They have a yummy nutty flavor and are a great GF substitute for Naan. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t taste like Naan, but it is something you can munch on at the table and use to scoop up curry in the bottom of your bowl during dinner.

I hope reading about the five foods that many unsuspecting Celiacs fall victim to will help you avoid gluten contamination this fall and that they five happy gluten free surprises made your day! Go indulge in some Macarons or some cheesy Dorritos. Being gluten free is very challenging. You deserve to indulge every now and then. Enjoy!

-CC

Gluten Free At The Spa

30 May

After four grueling years at UC Berkeley, I have finished my degree in Public Health.  My reward?  A relaxing vacation at the spa, Rancho La Puerta.  Located in Tecate, Mexico, this spa focuses on fitness, wellness and nutrition. Being gluten free makes total relaxation difficult to achieve even when at a spa.  Overall, I loved my experience at the Ranch and took home some interesting insights that I hope will improve my gluten free experience.

Insight #1 Constant Vigilance

Although I often write about the importance of focus and effort when it comes to being gluten free eg reading labels on products you’ve bought a thousand times or asking about cross-contamination even when you think the dish is safe, I thought that a place committed to health with a focus on food might be an exception. I thought I could drop my guard. What I found at Rancho La Puerta is that this is simply not the case.

While at the Ranch, I saw a poster advertising their “Gluten Free Thursday” cooking class.  Here is what happened:

The cooking classes at the spa are usually taught by their Executive Chef, Denise Roa. However, once a week the spa invites guest chefs to teach.  This week, on Gluten Free Thursday, the spa had invited Romney Steele aka Nani, the granddaughter of the founders of the restaurant Nepenthe in Big Sur, California.  The cooking class was set up so that groups of two spa guests would make one dish using a recipe provided by Nani.

I was working with my Aunt Celia on a baked Sea Bass dish with an orange and tarragon relish.  The menu was out of this world.  All of the ingredients were picked fresh from the Ranch’s vegetable garden.  In fact, before starting the class, the spa guests had to go pick (literally) their ingredients from the garden.

The cooking school’s main classroom

All of the recipes were gluten free and things went smoothly for the most part until we encountered a problem: Nani included a recipe for a pea puree that needed some form of chip/starch-medium to eat.  Because this was overlooked when preparing the class, Nani asked one of the workers to go grab some pita bread from the back for the dish.  See the problem?

If someone had blindly accepted the sign on the door saying “Gluten Free Thursday” they might not even think to ask if the pita bread was gluten free.  My Aunt and I quickly noticed and spoke to Nani about the gluten situation to which she replied “Well, you don’t have to eat that dish.”  Despite this discouragement, the Executive Chef, Denise, was horrified at the lapse in gluten free practice and grabbed and grilled some corn tortillas to replace the pita bread.

I don’t usually post recipes but two of the GF dishes we made were simply too good not to post.  If interested in some of the recipes I cooked during this class click here for the Quinoa with Cumber and Mint recipe and for the roasted Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish recipe.

The take away point? Even when places advertise something as gluten free remain vigilant.

Insight #2 Simple Healthful Foods Are The Way To Go

I have read this advice on many blogs, pamphlets, books and websites but I never really understood it.  Ordering simple, healthful dishes can make being gluten free a lot simpler.   At the Ranch, I found that this was absolutely true. Why is it not until now that I experienced the ease that accompanies simply prepared meals?  Simple foods are hard to find at restaurants!

At the spa every dish was made with ingredients found in their gardens or grown within a 30 mile radius of the Ranch.  When you looked at the meal, you could tell what components made up the dish.  Of course, you should always check about sauces and ingredients but I noticed that dishes that are truly simple and truly healthful aren’t muddled with questionable ingredients.  The Beet and Basil Salad was a salad made up of…well, beets and basil.  The extravagant, calorie-laden entrees that you find at most restaurants make being gluten free so complicated!  If I saw  “Carrot Soup” on a menu at most restaurants, I would not order it.  It may have flour as a thickener, contain malt vinegar or come garnished with fried onion crisps. At the Ranch, I knew the Carrot Soup was made of carrots and more carrots.

Beet soup served at the ranch with a fresh flower from the garden as garnish


I haven’t quite worked out how to use my new insight about simple, healthful foods to improve my gluten free lifestyle but when I do, I’ll be sure to post.  For now, I am simplifying the meals I make at home and trying to choose simple items at restaurants but still accompany my order with a long series of questions.

Insight #3 Apparently, Being Gluten Free Is Hard, So Be Nice To Yourself!

Rancho La Puerta is a spa dedicated to health and fitness. The spa’s clientele are hyper-aware of their diets and have strict exercise regimes.  These people demonstrate the type of dietary discipline I can only dream of.  They eat only what they need. In other words, teeny tiny portions.  They limit their sugar intake, their meat consumption and their dairy consumption.  They exercise every day and, when given the choice, choose the salad entrée over the hamburger with fries.

Despite the fact that I found their discipline incredible and something to aspire to, I overheard conversation after conversation about how people had “tried to go gluten free but it was too hard.”  These insanely disciplined and professionally successful people admitted that being gluten free was too much of a challenge!  One woman said “I felt so great after that month but I just couldn’t keep it up.”

View of Villa Sol 2, my room at the ranch

It was so nice and refreshing to hear other people commenting about the difficulty of being gluten free.  It is a thankless job, demanding self-discipline, constant vigilance, intelligence and the ability to not only articulate your needs effectively but to advocate for your health in the face of constant obstacles.  It is funny but talking to the health nuts at the spa about the gluten free diet made me kind of proud that I am gluten free.

Take away point? Every now and then, take a moment to appreciate yourself and all the work you put in to being gluten free.  Most people don’t know how much effort it takes to truly be GF.  Just remember to be kind to yourself and be proud of the fact that you are gluten free.

Although I couldn’t help but think about my blog while at the spa, I did manage to relax and decompress from four tough years at UC Berkeley.  I hope to bring my insights from the spa home with me by practicing constant vigilance, choosing simple healthful meals and appreciating my GF efforts and I hope that you do too!

View from my morning hike to the garden for breakfast

-(the new relaxed) CC

Gluten Free Pilgrim

13 Apr

No, I am not talking about Thanksgiving, turkeys or little white bonnets.  I am talking about someone who journeys to far away places.  One of the challenges of being on the gluten free diet is finding places to eat out with friends and family.  I can always find at least 2 or 3 great gluten free places wherever I am  but the thing is…I don’t want to be limited to 2 or 3 restaurants and neither do the other people coming to dinner.

When I say only 2 or 3 places, I mean places that are actively gluten free friendly.  There are other places around where I can ask questions, explain about cross contamination to the waiter and hope for the best but I prefer restaurants like PF Changs, CPK, Rosti Tuscan Kitchen or The Old Spaghetti Factory where I know the waitstaff and chefs have been educated about gluten and trained in safe kitchen practices.

If you want to dine at more than a couple of restaurants, you are going to have to venture out of your zip code.  I once found this incredibly frustrating.  I don’t want to be the reason that my whole family has to spend over an hour in the car just to get to a dinner place that will accommodate me.  Well, I don’t have a magic solution for the long commute, but I do have some advice: change your mentality.

The other day I really wanted to try this place in Los Angeles called Chili Addiction.  This place serves GF hamburgers, hot dogs (buns and all!) as well as delicious chili.  Only one problem — the long commute.  Instead of dwelling on the drive, I told myself to think of this as a gluten free pilgrimage.  People always say “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”  Despite being overused and somewhat corny, I decided to actively adopt this mindset when trying out a new GF restaurant.

The commute from the San Fernando Valley to West Hollywood requires driving through the canyon.  I made sure to enjoy the views – and my Mom’s company – on the way.  When you exit the gorgeous canyon, you are immediately surrounded by a jumpin’ city.  There is so much to see!

When we arrived at the restaurant we were starving!  I ordered a classic hamburger and chili cheese fries.  My burger had a bun!  What a revolutionary concept!  The restaurant was fast, affordable and delicious.  The bun was so light and fluffy I triple checked with the staff that it was gluten free.  I simply couldn’t believe how great it tasted.

 


I  highly recommend Chili Addiction to anyone who is gluten free.  They are super aware of the importance of protecting their products form cross contamination and they make all of their condiments in house.

Although I really enjoyed my dinner at Chili Addiction, this post really isn’t about the food, it is about how to make dining out less stressful and more enjoyable while on the gluten free diet.  There will be times when, in order to get foods that most people don’t think twice about in terms of accessibility, you will need to drive many, many miles.  As a gluten free person this is your reality. But, to be honest, it isn’t so bad! By being a gluten free pilgrim, you get to try new restaurants all over the city and go to new places, not simply new restaurants.

Happy dining!




-CC

A Local GF Evolution

21 Mar

When I first moved the Berkeley I struggled to find places that offered gluten free options.  Despite being a foodie town, Berkeley has struggled to get on the gluten free bandwagon.  The enthusiasm was, and is, there but the necessary education and safe kitchen practices were simply missing…until now.

Four years later, I am pleased to report that Berkeley is impressively gluten free friendly, improving at an almost exponential rate.  I feel a sense personal responsibility for Berkeley’s improvement, though not sole responsibility. Berkeley’s success is a result of the collective efforts of individual students, community members and nonprofit organizations that work to promote Celiac awareness. In June, I am moving to Washington DC.  I hope to witness and contribute to this, in a sense, evolutionary phenomenom once again.

My father came to visit me last week and I made it a point to take him to as many  GFF (gluten free friendly) restaurants as possible during his stay. It was during this visit when I realized how much Berkeley has changed in the past four years.

La Mediterranee

I always order the same thing at La Med: pomegranate chicken with hummus and chopped veggies. Although my entree option is delicious, I always feel a twinge of jealously towards the people ordering the Tabbouleh, a Greek dish traditionally made with Bulgur Wheat.  Despite having dined at this restaurant over a dozen times, it wasn’t until this most recent trip that La Med told me that they just began offering a GF Tabbouleh, with quinoa serving as a substitute.  I made sure to ask my waitress to let the manager and chef know how much the GF option was appreciated!

Cream

If you visit Berkeley, students will almost invariably point you towards Cream for dessert, an ice-cream sandwich shop that always has a line out the door.  Despite only opening a year or so ago, Cream realized that there is a demand for GF options and began serving GF ice cream sandwiches.  I went to see how they handled cross-contamination and, to my surprise, they did quite well!  Cream keeps the GF cookies on a shelf above the gluten-containing cookies and toasts them on a designated and elevated rack in the oven. The elevation is particularly important because it protects the gluten free cookies from cross contamination via gravity, the last thing you want are little crumbs of gluten falling onto the designated GF oven rack!

Kirala

Arguably the best sushi restaurant in Berkeley, Kirala offers GF soy sauce to customers who ask for it!  The waitstaff is very educated about what the gluten free diet is and what kind of people will want GF soy sauce.  The first time I dined at Kirala, my waiter noticed my packet of Tamari soy sauce and immediately brought me a crystal bottle filled with GF soy sauce.

Filippo’s

It is rare that I find an Italian restaurant that has a GF option.  Filippo’s on College Ave. in Berkeley offers a GF gnocchi.  Unfortunately they used to cook this GF entree in contaminated pasta water!  I found this out the hard way but used my negative experience to improve my community’s GF options.  I wrote a letter to the manager explaining what was wrong with their kitchen practice and he followed up with me in person to show me the improvements the restaurant had made for GF customers. Click here to view sample letters to restaurants about cross contamination concerns. When I talked to Filipo’s about cross-contaomination they had no problem making a change and seemed genuinely glad for the feedback.

These are just a couple of examples of how restaurants can make small changes to their establishments to accommodate GF customers.  Have GF soy sauce in the back, designate oven racks for GF foods, these are cost-free, low maintenance changes that restaurants can make but, despite being a small change, can make a big difference for many customers.

If you have a local restaurant that you used to love before being diagnosed try talking to them about becoming gluten free friendly!

If the restaurant seems very interested in catering to the gluten free population tell them about GREAT Kitchens, an official gluten free training program for restaurant kitchens.  There is no harm in asking! At worst, you educate a restaurant and get gluten/allergens on their minds and at best you get your favorite restaurant back onto your list of dinner options!

-CC

So You Want To Take A Cooking Class…

2 Feb

Cooking at home makes being gluten free so much easier.  Dining at restaurants is stressful, uncomfortable, not to mention, kind of dangerous!  Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat, but I have to admit that it is oftentimes a somewhat draining experience.  Having the option of dining in provides a nice sense of security.  There is only one problem….you don’t know how to cook.

Being diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance requires that you change many, many aspects of your life.  I know for me, learning how to cook was a necessity.  My culinary knowledge was limited to spaghetti and Mac N’ Cheese before I was diagnosed with Celiacs. Without those two dishes, my culinary chops were null.

Knowing how to cook has many benefits for someone who cannot eat gluten.  For one thing, you can host dinner parties (instead of trying to find a safe restaurant to go out with your friends or family).  Stressed about attending someone else’s dinner party? Afraid there won’t be anything you can eat?  Well, fear not, because if you know how to cook, you can bring a side dish to share at the party. In addition to these social benefits, knwoing how to prepare GF dishes at home will help you minimize the costs of the gluten free diet.  Let’s be honest, substitution foods, both at grocery stores and offered at restaurants, are really expensive.  A package of my favorite gluten free spaghetti costs around $6 while a typical pack of gluten spaghetti (I won’t call it “normal spaghetti”) costs only ~$1.20.  Developing skills in the kitchen will expand your food options, allowing you to use less expensive, naturally gluten free foods!  For example, learning how to cook with quinoa or make delicious rice dishes are ways to cut down on costs.

So, I think every Celiac should have the skills to cook GF at home…now the question is, where do we get those skills?

You can find a few gluten free specialty cooking classes in big cities but they are few and far between.  Most gluten free cooking classes that I have heard about only teach you how to make substitution foods (GF bread, cookies, cakes etc.) but never cover the basics of cooking.  How does a Celiac learn the ABC’s of cooking?  Are there any cooking classes out there that are naturally gluten free? Honestly, probably not. Chefs love flour.  The French, the Italians, the English…everyone loves flour!  The use of flour is prominent in all types of cooking, not simply baking.  Dredging meats in flour before pan-searing is very common.  Developing a roux for a sauce or soup, creating a batter or breading for a dish is also a popular culinary trick.

Here is what I did: I found a local cooking series in Berkeley at a place called Kitchen On Fire.  The class is a 12 week course that covers the fundamentals of cooking.  Although the class was not gluten free there were some steps that I took that helped make the class enjoyable, educational and safe.  For one thing, I did not attend the baking classes.  Being in a room full of dry flour is very dangerous for a Celiac.  Check out this post about air-borne flour.  Other than the two baking classes, I was able to attend and participate in every other class.  The class was comprised of a short lecture followed by cooking.  We were set up at cooking stations that fit 4 people. I took the class with a friend which made insisting on a gluten free cooking station much easier. We would tell the other people at our stations that we did not eat gluten and that we could not share ingredients, knives, or cooking supplies with them and also let them know we couldn’t taste their creations.  The people at our table knew not to dip tasting spoons into our dishes.  Everything went fairly smoothly.   On days where we worked with batters, dredging or frying, I used GF flour and worked at a table away from my classmates.

The class was a great learning experience.  I was grateful for the opportunity to learn to cook and found the class mostly enjoyable.  Of course, it was stressful at times.  I had to exercise constant vigilance, keeping a close eye on what I was cooking while simultaneously keeping an eye on what everyone else was doing.  Did someone throw bread onto the shared grilled?  Did anyone use the shared fryer yet with breaded foods?  Taking a class not meant to be gluten free was exhausting yet rewarding.

Here are some GF cooking classes that I have heard about, but have not taken:

Spork Foodsteaches mostly vegan cooking but specifies when a class will be gluten free

Sur La Table: offers GF cooking classes from time to time so keep an eye out for a class at your local Sur La Table.

Hipp Kitchen: Bay Area company that offers GF cooking classes in addition to nutrition advice and consultations.

Check in with local GF bakeries, GF restaurants or GF support groups to find out more information about available cooking classes in your area.

-CC

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