Tag Archives: travel

Gluten-Free Holiday Survival Guide

16 Dec

Healthy-Holiday-Survival-Guide

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

1. Traveling

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

trav

Download Find Me Gluten Free  

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

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

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

photo

Pack Snacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call Ahead

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

Get Everyone Onboard (pun intended) 

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

2. Attending Dinner Parties 

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

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

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

dinner-party

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

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

3. In-Laws/Extended Family

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

family-tree

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

4.Traditions

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

spinach-lasagna-rolls-pan

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

Have a great Holiday season!

Safe travels,

CC

Food Stars Go Gluten Free

18 Aug

investinggold

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!

mary-sue-milliken

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.


sign1

photo-20image

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!

webleft

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.

jose-garces-next-iron-chef-promo-distrito-1

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!

photo-11

photo-12

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.

el-rey-logo-philadelphia1

Chile_en_nogada

images-1

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.

GREAT kitchen logo

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

Flying Gluten Free: an experience of note

14 Feb

With the recent announcement of the merger between American Airlines and US Airways, it seemed a good time to discuss how to be gluten free while traveling.  Based on my customer service experience, it honestly might be preferable if US Airways didn’t save American from their financial crisis.  Being gluten free is challenging even with the many dining options we have on land. If one restaurant doesn’t work, you can always hop in your car and try another. Take us up 30,000 feet into the air and we may be in for what will feel like a very long trip with very few options, if any at all.


Does being gluten free change the way I travel? Absolutely.  There are some things you should take into consideration before hopping on your next 757 to make sure you are prepared. The lesson I learned from traveling with American Airlines? Pack some snacks or starve.

Image

I found that the flight attendants were inequpped to deal with gluten free needs.  Here was my experience with American Airlines on a flight from LAX to DCA on December 29, 2012:

I arrived at the airport at 6:30am. In an attempt to sleep as much as possible the day of the flight, I decided to forgo eating breakfast and sleep for an extra ten minutes instead.  I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I was on the plane and my stomach started to growl angrily at me.  When the flight attendant came around with the drink cart I knew this was my chance: “Excuse me, do you sell food on this flight?” The attendant responded by handing me a menu of overpriced items I could purchase. Over priced or not, it was still food and I was hungry. Every option had gluten. The one thing I saw that could potentially work was a bag of potato chips. All I needed was to read the ingredients and I might be in the clear. I asked if I could read the ingredients on the bag because I have food allergies (a colloquialism I adopt to avoid lengthy conversations about the immune system and molecular biology when trying to place a simple order). The attendant told me she was all out of chips. Plan B: ask if the fruit and cheese plate came with crackers wrapped separately or touching the food already.  When I asked the attendant about the crackers she starting laughing and rolling her eyes at me and said “Why would I know if the crackers are wrapped up?” I asked her if I could see the cheese plate and she said “Well, are you going to buy it?” while begrudgingly taking out the cheese plate from the cart drawers. The crackers were in separate packaging from the fruit and cheese (yay!).  I handed her my Visa card feeling torn about whether or not I should say something about her chair-side manner.

The last time I didn’t speak up for myself I ended up eating a bowl of spaghetti (gluten spaghetti). As someone who proudly wears a CC Gluten Freed bracelet stating “OWN IT” on the back, I reminded myself who I am and what my charge is: make this world more gluten free friendly. I knew I needed to say something. Not wanting to be overly confrontational (a common problem for an advocate) I added in a “ma’am” to show respect.

“Ma’am, in the future, please don’t make it hard for customers to ask questions about allergens because our interaction made me feel very uncomfortable about making sure the food was safe for me. It would be awful if someone stopped asking questions because of the way you react to them and wound up gttting sick or going into anaphylactic shock on your flight.”

Image

 The attendant seemed very offended by what I said and started arguing.“I didn’t say anything. There is nothing I can do about the fact that you have your allergies. You asked me a question and I didn’t know. I have people always tell me they are allergic to peanuts and try to get me to tell the person next to them not to eat peanuts and I always tell them there is nothing I can do about that. I can’t do anything about food allergies and you asked me something I couldn’t answer.”

Not to beat a dead horse because I know all of my readers would be appalled by this reaction, but I just want to point out a few things:

  1. Who said anything about asking other customers not to eat peanuts? More importantly, who said anything about peanuts??
  2. There IS something you can do if someone with a peanut allergy asks for assistance. Talk to the customer with the peanut product, protect the people on your flight and advocate for your customers (that is your job b.t.w.)!  How hard is it to say “Ma’am (or sir), I am sorry but is it possible to eat a different snack because we have a peanut allergy on board.”
  3. I did not ask her a question she couldn’t answer. In fact I didn’t even need an answer from her. I just wanted to see the cheese plate before purchasing it.

 

Anyways, back to the story: I told the flight attendant that I wasn’t accusing her of anything, I just wanted to help avoid a problem with future customers. By the end of the peanut-rant her voice was raised and I wanted to end the conversation with dignity. I said “I appreciate your work here and am glad we could spread awareness about this issue today. Good day!” For the record, “Good day!” sounded cooler and more dismissive in my head than it did when it awkwardly came out of my mouth, but what can you do?! 

Advocating for yourself is not easy.  I have never shied away from a good debate but, advocating for yourself can be so challenging. After that flight attendant walked away I felt all shaky and uncomfortable.  It didn’t help that planes are so confined that I had a built in audience for this encounter.   I think the uncomfortable feeling I was left with is much preferable to the gnawing sense of guilt I would have felt had I not spoken up about the issue. I think bloggers should absolutely practice what they preach!  I take promoting gluten free awareness so personally. This blog is a testament to my passion for helping us, all of us, be safe, healthy and as stress free as possible. 

Moral of the story? Always speak up for yourself because it isn’t just about you, it is about all people with food allergies (dairy, peanut, wheat, whatever), or intolerances or Celiac Disease.  At the very least, I hope my confrontation was uncomfortable enough for the attendant that she thinks twice about scoffing at people with food allergies, if not for the right reasons, then at least to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.   Other moral? If you pack snacks you won’t have to give the gluten speech, plus, your snacks are probably much tastier than what the airline carrier can offer.

And, of course, I will be sending a letter to American Airlines as I always encourage my readers to whenever they have a negative gluten free customer service experience.

Image

Let’s hope the merger with US Airways brings about financial success for both airlines, more flights for customers and much better customer service!

-CC

 

Gluten Free Philly

17 Jul

CC Gluten Freed is a blog about the social aspects of being gluten free but if you flip through my most recent posts you might think that it is a blog about gluten free traveling.  So what is with all the travel talk?  My life is in flux right now. Transitioning into a new career all the way across the country.  I started in California working towards my degree at UC Berkeley.  After graduation I went home to Los Angeles to see my family. Despite this homecoming, I was quickly swept away to Seattle for the GIG Conference (which was fabulous, by the way).  From Seattle, I flew to Washington DC, my new home.  From DC, I took a bus to Philadelphia for a 5-week training institute for new teachers.

The constant traveling has posed an interesting gluten free challenge that I was ready to tackle. Specifically, I would be staying at Temple University where all meals would be provided by the dining hall.

I had very little control over what I could get my hands on, both in terms of my literal food options as well as information about the food.

That being said, Temple has a pretty nice system going but I won’t get into that now. Expect a post in about 3 weeks about the unconventional methods that Temple University has been using to accommodate the demands made on my (and a handful of other people’s) behalves by the Teach For America staff.

For now, all I will say is that the food options have been safe but incredibly bland which led me to venture out into Philadelphia to find some food with flavor!

Philadelphia is quite the GF food scene! Thanks to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness restaurants all over Philadelphia have been trained in GF awareness and safe food preparation.  Let me break it down for you:

Le Castagne

Northern Italian Cuisine with GF gnocchi and penne.  This restaurant is awesome. I don’t say this lightly because I am Italian so my standards for Italian food are pretty sky-high.  Not only does this place have great food but it also has a great ambiance and fantastic customer service.  The environment is quiet, posh and sophisticated.  I ordered the Assaggi Vari which is a plate of  Italian meats, grissini (subbed out for extra veggies and salami), cornichons, salami, vegetables, and cheese.

For my entrée I ordered the Gnocchi al Tartufo Bianco which is a gluten free gnocchi (the best I’ve had since becoming GF) served in a white truffle cream sauce. The gnocchi was perfectly pillowy and the cream sauce was a mild cream flavor  but with a savory , truffle kick in every bite.

I, unfortunately, did not have room for dessert.

Distrito

Trendy interior design at Distrito. Swing-set dinner tables!

Food Network star, Jose Garces, is the creator of this restaurant, boasting modern Mexican cuisine.  Despite the modest prices (entrees averaging around $12), I decided to splurge and order the “Chef’s Tastings” called Frida Kahlo for $55. First things first, this is WAY MORE than $55 worth of food both in terms of quantity and quality.  I was worried the restaurant would not let me order the tasting plate since it is a preset menu and I would need GF accommodations but they had no problem adjusting the order for me.  What I did not know was that I was in for an eight course meal.

I started with chips and guacamole served with fresh crab meat. Next, came the salad.  This was no ordinary salad.  Instead of dressing, this salad was topped with, and foodies please forgive me, ice cream! Well, not exactly ice cream.  It was a lemon sorbet or maybe, more accurately, a scoop of lemon shaved ice.  The burst of cold that accompanied each forkful made each bite of salad taste and feel incredibly crisp.

Next up, ceviche! I have never had ceviche made with such quality fish before. The tuna they used seemed like it melted in my mouth.  In addition to the great taste, the presentation was beautiful.  The ceviche tasted creamy and mild with a perfectly smooth texture.

Next up, a classic taco with a twist.  This taco was served with julienne radish which gave this taco a unique, crunchy texture.

Next up, my favorite, a duck confit huarache.  A huarache is an oblong shaped corn flatbread, grilled and covered with melted cheese. My huarache was topped with duck confit, manchego cream, micro-arugula and tequila cherry escabeche (texture of a thick jam or relish).  I should have only eaten half of this dish but its complex flavor  palate was irresistible.

Lamb Dish with pureed grits with truffle oil

Flatbread with duck confit and tequila cherry relish

Spicy Lobster

As if I hadn’t been served enough, the next dish to come out from the kitchen was half of a lobster.  You know when you go to a restaurant and after you order your heart leaps every time a waiter goes by with food because you hope it is yours? Well, I was so full by course 4 that I had the opposite experience. Every time a waiter walked by I feared it was for me and, more times than not, it was!

The last savory dish they brought to my table was a grilled leg of lamb over a puree of grits with truffle oil, fresh mushrooms and micro-arugula. Micro-arugula tastes very peppery with a little spicy kick.

Finally, dessert. Thank goodness it was tiny.  Though traditionally an Italian dessert, I was served a pineapple-mango Panna Cotta. It was the perfect size and weight, light and cleansing.

Wedge and Fig

Though frequently visited for their pretzel bread sandwiches, I found that Wedge and Fig is a great place for a gluten free diner. The staff was very knowledgeable.  My waitress was gluten free too so she knew the ins and outs of the menu!  I ordered the Manchego, drunken fig, prosciutto salad. The figs were soaked in an orange port which gave the otherwise very sweet fruit a savory punch.  

This wouldn’t be a CC Gluten Freed post without a little nugget of gluten free social advice. I went to Wedge and Fig with a big group of brand new friends that I met in Philadelphia. To make ordering go smoothly, I went and talked to the waitress by the hostess stand before we ordered.  This made ordering very seamless.  No one even noticed that my order was different because I had already consulted with the waitress and chef about what was best to order.  If you are ever out with a big group or a new group of friends, try excusing yourself and talking to the manager or waitress before you order so you don’t have to draw any unwanted attention at the table!

Celiac Awareness Night at Citizen’s Bank Park!

If you are in Philly on July 20th, come out for the Celiac Awareness Night at the Phillie’s game!  I am heading out to the game to see the Phillies face off against the SF Giants. I’ll be sitting at a table answering questions about Celiac Disease and the gluten free diet with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  I’ll be the one with the gluten-free hot dog in hand!

Last on my list, Paseano’s for a Philly cheesesteak sandwich (on bread!)

Who knew Philadelphia was such a great gluten free foodie destination!

Happy Travels,

CC

Wheatless in Seattle

19 Jun

I travelled north to Seattle, Washington to promote CC Gluten Freed at the  The Gluten Intolerance Group’s Health and Wellness Event on June 16th.  Seattle is incredibly gluten-free-friendly (GFF).  I experienced a lot of great food and great customer service.  I have been to many of these GF conferences in the past and, I must say, the GIG’s Health and Wellness Event was one of the best gluten free conferences I have ever attended.

Even for people with Celiacs, the gluten free diet is only one, of many, components to a healthy lifestyle.  The GIG event really brought this point to the forefront of their conference by providing all attendees with free health screenings including Bone Density, Blood Pressure, Type I Diabetes Testing, Spinal Health Screenings and more.

My Dad prepping for the conference

In addition to the free health screenings, GIG also had a ton of great vendors at the conference including brands like Udi’s, Triumph Dining, Glutino, Canyon Bakehouse amongst many, many others (including CC Gluten Freed!!).  I was lucky enough to be in a booth next to Brazi Bites, a company that makes a Brazilian cheese bread that is naturally gluten free.  Before the conference, I had never encountered Brazi Bites before.  They are one of the best GF snack foods I have ever had!  Check them out online.  They have the taste of Cheez-its and a dual texture: crispy, crunchy on the outside and gooey and light on the inside.

In addition to the great vendors, there were some very interesting people there including Mrs. Alaska (Brandy Wendler), promoting her pageant platform for Celiac Awareness and Kyra Bussanich,a gluten free baker and the winner of the Food network Channel’s Cupcake Wars!

My favorite part of the conference was definitely talking with the local Seattle gluten free community.  What a smart city!  I had incredibly interesting conversations with almost everyone who stopped by to chat at my booth.  For example, Junea and Cameron (creators of Brazi Bites/my conference neighbors) and I discussed the important distinction between foods that are naturally gluten free and foods that are created to replace glutinous foods e.g. Brazi Bites vs. GF penne or GF sandwich bread.  You can expect a future post about the issue but, in short, I really do prefer foods that are naturally gluten free like Brazi Bites both in a philosophical sense and from a culinary perspective.  Another chat I had with a local was about how to get groups to adapt to the GF diet.  For example, the person I spoke to is part of a group at her church and always has trouble when they have their monthly potluck.  I also heard that Doritos are going gluten free!  I always learn so much at these conferences.

Many people asked about where to buy CC Gluten Freed t-shirts, so I created a webpage to order the shirts.  From what people said at the conference, they just love the logo!  My grandfather, Ernest Marquez, was a cartoonist for years.  When I created CC Gluten Freed, he drew this logo for me and had it framed (and put on a jump drive) for me for Christmas.

I will definitely be attending the conference next year and I encourage my readers to make the trip out to Seattle as well!  For more information about GIG go to http://www.gluten.net

What else did I do other than attend an all-day GF conference?

A lot.

My Dad and I went to the Mariners Vs Giants game for Safeco Field’s Gluten Free Awareness Night!  I had a hotdog.  My dad asked me why I didn’t wear my CC Gluten Freed t-shirt to the game since we were sitting in the “gluten free zone.”  I told him that I wanted to watch some  baseball, eat a hotdog  and  just enjoy the work of great nonprofits like GIG.  It was a relaxing experience, something I rarely say about dining out!

My Dad and me at the baseball game

We also went to the Flying Apron bakery, a 100% gluten-free, vegan bakery in Seattle.  Pike Place Market  was a great experience too!  I stopped over at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a famous cheese shop, that sells a GF version of their “world famous Mac N’ Cheese.”  We didn’t just dine around the town, we also checked out the tribute to the movie Avatar and the Jimi Hendrix exhibit at the EMP Museum.  This museum was really fun and interactive!  They have a whole section of the museum for making music: my dad and I took advantage of the practice rooms.  He played guitar and I played drums.

No trip to Seattle would complete without a trip to the Space Needle.  We had a great lunch up at the top.  I enjoyed both the food and the view.  The waitstaff was pretty good about making GF accommodations but their menu items are somewhat limited.  If you are in the mood for a great salad (like I was), head up to the top of the Space Needle but if you are super hungry, I’d stop somewhere else for lunch!

The view from the Space Needle. We were able to see Mt. Rainier 

My Seafood Cobb Salad from the Space Needle, 100% GF

The highlight of my trip was going on the radio with KZOK during their morning show.  I was a little nervous going on air, considering it is a live show with Seattle, literally, listening but I had a great time.  In fact, Im quite jealous of my Uncle Danny’s job.  Danny chatted with my dad and me for a bit on air then, during the news section, Danny let me make an announcement about the GIG’s Health and Wellness Event.

After my jam-packed trip to Seattle, I am quite tired but I am so happy that I went. The conference, like I said, was one of the best I have ever attended and the people I met at the conference were so interesting, dedicated to their health and fun to chat with.  In fact, many of the people that I met at the conference are checking out CC Gluten Freed for the first time right now!  I just sent out the “invitation to follow” email and I hope that some of my new GF acquaintances sign up!

-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

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

Easter Holiday Survival Guide

4 Apr

Many families celebrate Easter with a dinner party.  I know in my family, the food served and attending guests are very much grounded in tradition.  Many, if not most, Celiacs are not diagnosed as children and, consequently, their family dinners and traditions may be a gluten free obstacle that they will face this Spring.  Families of Celiacs diagnosed at older ages may not be as familiar with the gluten free diet and how to accommodate their family member as a family that raised a Celiac child.

How do you work around such a challenge?  There are various reasons why trying to tweak your family dinners to be GF may be more difficult than simply telling the appointed cook not to use flour to thicken the gravy.

Here are some scenarios that may apply to you and ways you can gracefully work around them:

You are very recently diagnosed:

If you were recently diagnosed then this may be your first Easter dinner, if not your first big family dinner, since becoming gluten free.  Learning about all the complex components of the GF diet is overwhelming at the best of times, let alone during a hectic holiday filled with out of town relatives, family feuds and the like.  How can you get your family on board with your new lifestyle?

Talk specifically to the host and/or the family cook.  If you aren’t comfortable speaking to your entire family or if you simply don’t have time to explain the intricacies of the GF diet to your entire family, be smart about who you talk to! Around the holidays, time is of the essence.  Figure out who is cooking and make a plan — find places where you can substitute GF ingredients and double check all the family recipes and ingredients that will be used.

You don’t know the host well/are a new guest:

Not everyone has the time to travel to wherever their families may live. Maybe  you have recently moved to a new city and don’t know many people.  In these two situations you may be going to an Easter dinner at a new friend’s  or a friend of a friend’s house.  What if you aren’t able to get in touch with the host before the dinner party?

If this is the case, bring an entree or a substantial side dish to the party with you!  It is completely normal and, often, encouraged to bring a gift or contribution for the host of the dinner party.  Give this gift a dual purpose: a gift for the host, demonstrating incredible etiquette and something filling you can eat, demonstrating incredible preparedness.

What to bring:

There are many simple GF dishes you can bring the an Easter dinner that are filling and delicious.  Try making a quinoa dish, which will be an acceptable side dish for some and, if need be, a main entree for yourself.  I suggest this springtime  recipe for a quinoa dish!

Another easy and filling option is roasted vegetables.  This is very easy to make and is both a homey dish and a very nutritious one!  I suggest picking up fingerling potatoes, carrots and fresh beets.  Chop all the vegetables into similar sized bites and season with olive oil, garlic power, onion powder, oregano, salt and pepper.  Spread the veggies out on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven, set at 400 degrees, for ~30-40 minutes or until tender. The beets and carrots add a sweetness to the potatoes that will surely impress the host of the dinner party.

If not these dishes, I highly recommend brining either a starch (rice, quinoa, potatoes etc) or a meat/poultry dish (a whole, stuffed chicken or a small honey baked ham).  You want to bring something that is substantial enough to serve as your meal so that you are not a lone starving guest.

Other Useful Resources:

This year there are a ton of great GF resources on the web specifically for having a GF Easter.  Gluten Freeville posted a 2012 GF Ham list!  I highly suggest using this resource before purchasing a ham for a dinner party.  Last Easter, I bought a ham that was labeled GF but the glaze on the ham was NOT gluten free!  This was a tricky labeling problem that I overlooked and greatly regretted it!  Make sure you find a ham that is safe, I even suggest calling the company to double check the GF status of their product.

Enjoy some Peeps!

I love enjoying classic food items that are naturally gluten free. It makes me feel like I have a super normal and easy diet!  Peeps are an Easter classic. Though completely devoid of nutritional value, Peeps are a fun, sugary and gluten free dessert you can munch on with your friends.  To top it off, unlike many GF substitutes, they are incredibly cheap!  Bring a large pack of peeps to the Easter dinner party you attend as a dessert.  Even if the host is serving a seemingly delicious glutinous cake, I would bet my blog that the majority of guests won’t be able to pass up the nostalgic, sugary goodness that is Peeps.

Good luck with all of the dinner parties! I hope that these strategies are useful and make the holidays a bit less stressful for everyone!

-CC


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,072 other followers

%d bloggers like this: