Tag Archives: health and happiness

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

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

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).

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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

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FAQ: “So…what happens to you when you eat gluten?”

6 Dec

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One of the most frequently asked questions has got to be “What happens to you when you eat gluten?” This is a pretty reasonable question considering how serious and dire I sound when talking about being GF.  When I order, I double and sometimes triple check that the server understands my needs, I always bring a side dish to dinner parties just in case and many of my friends have seen the blood drain from my cheeks when I suspect I have just been cross-contaminated.  So what is all the fuss about? I mean, what happens to a Celiac who eats gluten?

For years I have given a textbook-perfect answer to this question. You know, the whole “the lining of my small intestines flattens and I can no longer absorb nutrients” speech. I do this partially because it makes it less personal but mostly because I have not had a significant amount of gluten sneak into my diet since becoming gluten free. I know what it was like before being gluten free.  I know how to describe what living with untreated Celiac Disease is like but I did not know what would happen to me if I, say…decided to eat a bowl of spaghetti out of the blue.

In short, I really didn’t know what would happen if I ate a significant amount of gluten, as opposed to the trace amounts I have been exposed to since my diagnosis.  

Unfortunately, I am now able to answer this question with more accuracy and detail than I’d like.  The memory of this Thanksgiving break is still very fresh in my mind. If you are wondering what happens to a highly compliant Celiac after eating a bowl of gluten, you are about to find out.

On Wednesday, November 21, I boarded a flight heading from Washington DC, my new home, to Los Angeles, California.  I had a plan: I wasn’t going to eat breakfast so that I could save room for my favorite food in Los Angeles: GF Spaghetti from Rosti in Encino.  The second I got off the plane I sent a text-message to my dad that read: “Landed! Can we go to Rosti????”

Once I got to the restaurant I ordered GF Spaghetti with Pink Sauce.  When the server brought me the bowl I noticed that the pasta looked different from the last time I was there, about three months ago. Rosti is pretty good about being gluten free. They know all about using fresh water to cook the pasta and designated-gluten free utensils to serve the dishes.  I was pretty confident in their GF protocol but, as an ever-vigiliant Celiac, I decided to double check anyways. I told the waiter that the pasta looked different to me and said “Are you sure this is the GF spaghetti?” He confirmed that it was and I dug in!

After the meal my stomach kind of hurt, nothing major.  As I got to the car, it started to really hurt. I pulled my mom aside and told her that my stomach was hurting and felt kind of crampy.  We decided that I probably upset my stomach by eating so and so much fast after not eating for almost 10 hours (what can I say? I’m Italian and I love my spaghetti!).

On Thanksgiving morning I sang at a tri-lingual Catholic mass with my family.  Halfway through the service I started to feel really woozy, then hot and then really nauseas.  My vision started to blur and black around the edges of my eyes.  I stumbled out of the church to get some air. I made sure I got some water since I thought I must be very dehydrated.

In the evening, while eating my turkey and mashed potatoes, I felt a weird pain in my chest. You know that sharp pain you get when you swallow wrong and it feels like you have gulped air?  I had a persistent pain at the top of my ribs between my chest and my back.  I thought I must have swallowed wrong and that the pain would go away.  When I got home, the exhaustion finally hit me and I collapsed into my bed.  I woke up at around 2:00am because of extreme nausea.  I got up and drank some water, once again, chalking my discomfort up to dehydration.  I woke up again at 4:00am nauseas again but this time frothing at the mouth (gross, I’m sorry but I got to keep it real).  I drank more water and went back to sleep.

The next day that weird pain in my chest had gotten even worse. I couldn’t eat, drink or breathe deeply without writhing in pain.  I had no idea what was wrong with me and had to make a tough decision: spend time with my family or spend the rest of my Thanksgiving holiday at the ER.  I decided to stay with my family. I figured that if something was really wrong with me I would have passed out by now.  At this point, I still do not know what is wrong with me. I definitely was not suspecting gluten.  I had never felt this way before!

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The only thing I wanted to do was get more spaghetti since I was leaving LA the next day. When we went back to Rosti the spaghetti that was put in front of me looked suspiciously different from the bowl I had eaten on Wednesday.  This is the moment when my mother and I started putting all the pieces together.  It wasn’t until the next day that I got my final clue and confirming evidence.

Three days after that first bowl of spaghetti at Rosti a blister, my final clue, appeared on my forearm.  It was the one symptom I could recognize as being from Celiac Disease.  The next thing I did was call Rosti to confirm my suspicions.  When I called I explained the situation which culminated in asking them “Do you have two brands of GF spaghetti?” The answer was no.  I had eaten an entire bowl of straight-up gluten.  I hate having to share this story about my favorite GF restaurant. They are the only place i have found that has GF spaghetti and I am definitely going back even though they really hurt me.

In the future, when people ask what happens to me when I eat gluten, I think I will stick with the short and sweet textbook answer.  The physical consequences I experienced after eating gluten were pretty terrifying and painful! The experience reminded me why I created this blog.  Living with Celiacs is so much more than just following a diet.  The stakes are really high.

When I don’t get contaminated for a while I sometimes lose focus, especially about the purpose of CC Gluten Freed. Sometimes I doubt myself and wonder why I thought it was necessary to start a blog that focuses on helping people comply with the gluten free diet. What’s a little gluten here and there?  It is at these moments that I slip up and wind up hurting myself. After truly finding out what happens to me when I eat gluten, I am even more committed to my charge: help the gluten free community stay happy and healthy by writing about how to deal with the inevitable social aspects of being gluten free.

The take away from my experience? 9 times out of 10 you will be the expert of gluten while dining at a restaurant. It does not matter if the chef went to the best Culinary school in the word or if your waiter’s cousin has Celiacs. You will be the expert and, consequently, you need to act that way. I had a gut feeling that something was wrong with the spaghetti.  I should have sent the waiter back to actually show the chef the pasta dish instead of just taking his word for it.

It has been a week since the glutening and I am still not fully well. I have been experiencing really extreme fatigue but my spirits are high and I know things will get better very soon! You can expect a How-To GF Holiday guide in the next week.  We have go to stick together during the Holidays, readers!  I will have some words of advice  on how to tweak traditions to make them gluten free and how to deal with Holiday dinner parties.

 

 

 

Happy December!

 

-CC

CDF Education Conference!

30 Apr

What a successful conference!  I am sure all who attended will agree that the day of feasting and learning could not have been better.  The Celiac Disease Foundation pulled out all the stops for this year’s Annual Education Conference and Food Faire.

I had a table promoting CC Gluten Freed and got some great feedback from the gluten free community.  I am so pleased to report that many people have found the site very helpful and even inspiring!

I was lucky enough to be considered a speaker at an event where such prominent figures as Dr. Stefano Guandalini of University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University Celiac Disease Center and Dr. Gregory Harmon of the UCLA Celiac Disease Center were speaking.  I lead the Young Adult, Teen and Tween session, designing activities and giving a speech about the surprising social benefits of being gluten free, a silver lining, if you will. At the end of the session I raffled off three Kraft Mac N’s Cheese Powder bottles!  This is one of the only foods I have not found a perfect GF substitute for.  I quested for the powder (sold separately from the glutinous pasta) for days and days and am so glad I found it.  You should have seen the kids’ faces when they won the ingredients for the best Mac N’ Cheese in US history.

In addition to the great speakers and educational lectures at this event, attendees had access to over a hundred food vendors providing samples of delicious GF products.  I, personally, could not help but go back for a second serving of pizza at the Udi’s table!

I learned a lot not only from the speakers but from the gf people who stopped by my table.  For example, I met a ton of people who were diagnosed with Celiacs only after their children or grandchildren were diagnosed!  I wonder if this is because of the involvement of parents in children’s health, the quality of pediatric care in the US compared to adult care or if there is some other explanation!  I also received a lot for requests to purchase CC Gluten Freed wristbands for family members, support groups or gluten free clubs and organizations.  In response, I have made the bracelets available here! I, personally, always wear 3 of them so I can give them away if I meet a GF person on the road!  The bracelets are very fun and meaningful.  Check out the meaning behind OWN IT.

For those of you who are just joining ccglutenfreed.com after meeting me at the conference: WELCOME!  I hope you enjoy the blog.  I had such a great time at the conference.  It was a day I will never forget.

drawing a crowd at the CC Gluten Freed table!

CC Gluten Freed was located next to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center table!

vendor exhibits



-CC

How To Get The Most Out Of Your GF or Celiac Support Group

22 Apr

No time to read? Click here to listen to this blog post!


You may have heard of them,  you may have even been to them but are you making the most out of them?  Gluten free support groups can be very useful and a great addition to your gluten free lifestyle.  The trick is knowing how to make the most of them.  Support group meetings can vary in terms of structure and content.  All of the group meetings I have been to have consisted of an informative guest speaker, usually a leader in the GF community, informal mingling with other attendees and samples from a GF food vendor.

Are there certain things you should keep in mind in order to maximize the benefits of  attending?  Absolutely!

Here are my suggestions that I hope you adopt before attending your next, or first, GF support group meeting.

1. Bring business cards – one of the biggest emotional challenges of having Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance is the inevitable, yet probably only occasional, sense of being alone.  Finding a gluten free support group will show you that you are not alone.  Seeing it is not enough though, you need to feel it.  To do this, make some gluten free friends!  Bringing business cards to meetings makes it very easy for you to exchange contact information with the other attendees.Typically, the mingling at meetings is very informal.  You are unlikely to have a table to write on or pens and paper for trading contact info.  In addition to lack of resources, you may not have the time to have the exchange of contact information in the brief minutes allotted to mingling, especially if you have somewhere you need to be after the meeting.  Business cards are quick, to the point and a great way to help you remember someone!  If you don’t have business cards, get some personal contact cards made!  They are very inexpensive to order and super fun to design at www.vistaprint.com

2. Ask the right questions – at many GF support group meetings, group leaders schedule a guest speaker to come educate the group about various aspects of the gluten free diet.  At the Oakland Celiac Support Group I have heard from speakers such as Dr. Emily Nock, a primary care physician and Celiac Advocate at Kaiser Permanente, and Ann Whelan, the Editor-in-Chief of Gluten Free Living magazine. You want to capitalize on your opportunity to ask questions, especially considering how incredibly talented and qualified the sources at meetings tend to be.  But, what to ask?  Avoid overly personal medical questions.  Though the speaker may be a physician,they aren’t going to be able to give you solid medical advice based on one question in the middle of a group lecture.  In addition, asking personal medical questions takes away from the group’s ability to benefit from the speakers advice.  Ask more general questions that aren’t overly specific to your personal medical status.  For example, don’t ask a 3-4 minute long question that requires you reciting your medical history. Instead, ask questions like “what is the possibility of people finding a cure for Celiacs? What would a cure look like?” or “What is the current status on GF labeling laws and how do you think they will impact my health?”

3. Get to know at least one person really well each time – This goes along with the idea of bringing business cards to the meetings.  Try and establish a genuine connection with at least person at each meeting.  Of course, you won’t have time to get to know everyone which is why having business cards on hand is very helpful.  Try chatting with the person sitting next to you.  Try looking for someone who has a similar lifestyle of life context as you do. For example, if you are the mom of a Celiac kid then look for another Celiac parent to get to know.  If you are a very busy, fast paced business person look for someone who has a similar job or similar job demands.

4. Introduce yourself to the guest speaker -At the time when I heard Dr. Emily Nock speak at the Oakland Celiac Support Group, I was just beginning to consider the medical field as a potential career goal.  After her presentation, I introduced myself and asked her if I could shadow her medical practice.  Although I did not have a personal contact card, Dr. Nock took down my contact information.  I shadowed Dr. Nock for a full semester while at Cal and two years later, Dr. Nock is both my friend and my mentor.  Never miss an opportunity to network with people in the gluten see community, especially GF leaders.

5. Follow up – This is my biggest piece of advice.  Follow up with the people that you meet at these meetings. Shoot them an email or give them a call next Saturday morning.  Make sure that these connections don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of  your life.  The friendships and connections you make at these meetings can really improve your gluten free lifestyle.  There are a ton of different ways you can follow up with people: Linked In, Twitter, Facbeook, email etc.  Choose whichever one is best for you!

If you don’t have a GF support group, I highly suggest finding one!  There are a ton of resources for you on the web.  Check out the Celiac Disease Foundation’s extensive list of GF support groups across the nation.  National Foundation for Celiac Awareness also has a database dedicated to this topic.  For more support group options try signing up for www.meetup.com.  This website is a social media site where people can form and search for groups based on their interests.  In addition to these resources you can always google your city and “gluten free support group” to find contact information for a group in your area.

Hope these tips make your next GF support group an invaluable and rewarding gluten free experience.
-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

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolutions

30 Dec

New Year’s Resolutions typically focus on self-improvement: a new diet, more exercise, waking up earlier etc.  Although we all work incredibly hard to adhere to the gluten free diet, there is always room for improvement! Making a New Year’s Resolution focusing on improving your gluten free diet is a great way to improve your health and happiness in 2012.

I hate when I get “glutened.”  I find it so discouraging and depressing, not to mention the fact that I am in physical pain as well.  There are steps we can take, rules we can follow, that will decrease the likelihood of getting sick at a restaurant.  The steps aren’t fun…that is why I advise that you take this GF challenge as your New Year’s Resolution.

#1 New Year’s Resolution: Be Gluten Free.

What am I talking about?  I’m already gluten free!!  What I mean is, be extremely gluten free.  I sometimes find myself experiencing this at restaurants: I am fairly confident that a dish on the menu is gluten free but I just want to double-check, only to discover that my waiter has NO idea what I am talking about and can’t answer a single question. Despite my diminished confidence in the dish, I order it anyways.  I sometimes find myself experiencing this at friends houses: someone offers me something to eat that they have made but they have no idea what gluten is and stare at me with their eyes glazed over as I try to ask what ingredients they used, but I eat it anyways.

Many times, I feel so frustrated when I am almost certain, but want confirmation that something is GF that I just give up trying to communicate and just eat whatever the food in question is. My New Year’s Resolution is to stop doing this.

At restaurants, order things that are naturally gluten free (still double-check for cross-contamination though).  Instead of asking questions about a chicken dish that may or may not be dredged in flour, order a salad without croutons or dressing.  Instead of ordering a soup that may or may not be thickened with flour order a hamburger patty without the bun.  DO NOT order french fries at restaurants.  They can be coated with a beer batter, coated in a wheat paste and/or fried in contaminated oil, all scenarios that a waiter is unlikely to know about.  Don’t try to “beat the system,” instead, proudly embrace being gluten free.

Being truly gluten free means giving up uncertainty.  If you are unsure, do not eat it.  I find that erring on the side of caution is better for my health but is difficult to do because of social pressure to be less “picky” about food.

My New Year’s Resolution is to be truly gluten free by giving up uncertainty and erring on the side of caution.

#2 New Year’s Resolution

My second New Year’s Res is to become more informed by following some gluten free blogs and twitter accounts.  This may sound funny, as I am a blogger but I am not very involved in the gluten free blogging world as a reader!  My goal is to find some GF blogs that I find helpful/interesting and that are updated regularly and follow them.  Of course, you can always start off the New Year by following my blog, CC Gluten Freed.  In the future I will post some of the GF blogs that I have started following as part of my New Year’s Resolution.

Following blogs is a great way to get new information that will motivate you to continue on the gluten free diet but if you aren’t in the mood to sit down and read a long post, I suggest finding some GF twitter accounts to follow.  Twitter is a forum that lets you absorb a lot of information very quickly.  I have a twitter account that I update whenever I am out and about and have an interesting gluten free experience.  Look to the right of this post and you will see a few of my tweets!  Follow me at http://twitter.com/#!/CcGlutenFreed

You can search #glutenfree or #celiac to see relevant tweets about being gluten free.

#3 New Year’s Resolution

My third GF New Year’s Resolution only applies to people with “smart phones” and it is to start using the phone to help with the gluten free diet.  How?  Download apps like “Find Me Gluten Free,” an app that takes your current location and gives you a list of GF restaurants near you.  The app provides info about the restaurants, their GF menu, phone number, address and directions.

Other useful phones apps are “scanner apps,” like Celiaccess, that allow you to scan the bar code of a product at a grocery store and the app will tell you if it is GF.  This means you no longer have to strain your eyes reading the teeny tiny text of the ingredients.

I also suggest downloading a News Widget set to update you on any news about gluten.  Set gluten as the key word and everyday you will have new articles about gluten from all over the world right on your phone.

I hope the New Year is filled with health and gluten free food!  Good luck with whatever you decide to do for your New Year’s Resolution!  If you have anymore GF Resolution ideas post a comment.

Happy New Year

-Cc

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