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CC Gluten Freed’s Best of 2012

5 Jan

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

Best-of-2012

#1 Post of 2012

So you want to take a cooking class…

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

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

#2 Post of 2012

The Domino’s Effect

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

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

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

#3 Post of 2012

The Importance of Letters

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

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

#4 Post of 2012

The Unsuspecting Celiac: Five Things That May Be Getting You

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

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

#5 Post of 2012

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

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

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

Check out this post for the recipe!

 

 

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

 

-CC

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolution 2013

30 Dec

new-years-resolutions


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.

Vitamins-For-Acne

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?

multivitamins-good-for-me-1

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

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

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

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

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

fish-oil

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

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

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-CC

Happy-New-Year1

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Tweaking Tradition: Holidays

19 Dec


happyEnding

It is that time of year again! We have shining lights on all the streets, the fire light of Menorahs shimmering through windows and stars twinkling atop 6-foot tall trees.  The winter holidays are by far my favorite despite the accompanied stress they tend to bring.  Personally, I love when the whole family gets together for the holidays. We don’t have any of the often satirized family drama you see on TV and in the movies about family gatherings during the holidays.  The holidays usually bring around a different type of stress for me: how to avoid gluten during all of the holiday dinner parties.  This year, however, this won’t be an issue because my family has figured out how we can tweak our Italian traditions to be totally gluten free.

If you have followed CC Gluten Freed since the beginning then you already know that my big Italian family has a big Italian Christmas Eve feast every year.  A couple days before the big dinner party a few of us would get together to make ravioli.  This isn’t any old ravioli either.  This is our family recipe that has been made for Christmas Eve dinner more Christmas Eves than I can count.  Growing up, it was fun. We would make the dough and fold each little bundle of goodness by hand, spilling flour all over the kitchen in the process (this was before my diagnosis with Celiac Disease).  After being diagnosed, we weren’t really sure what to do with our ravioli tradition. The first year we made our ravioli as usual but also tried making GF gnocchi which really did not work out. Our gnocchi tasted like mashed potatoes and egg!  My second Christmas as a Celiac we discovered the wonder of GF lasagna made with De Boles GF lasagna sheets. We could use the same meat mixture and sauce that we use for the ravioli just with a different starch-medium for it!  Instead of pining for the ravioli on everyone else’s plates, I was perfectly content with my personal lasagna. Year three and year four worked out the same way: ravioli for the gluten-eaters and lasagna for the gluten free guests.

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Close to five years after my diagnosis one very important thing in my family has changed: a good portion of us are now gluten free. My dad, brother, uncle, aunt and grandma. In fact, the only people who would be eating the ravioli would be our family friends at our Christmas Eve dinner party! So what do to? It seemed odd to spend 12 hours cooking a meal that not a single Bonaduce would eat.  How can we tweak this tradition to be gluten free but still please out guests who wait all year for Bonaduce ravioli?

ravioli

My Aunt came up with the answer: a modified ravioli-lasagna. Traditionally, lasagna is made with sheet-noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese (people add all sorts of other ingredients though to keep things interesting).  Also, traditionally, our ravioli is our secret-meat-mixture wrapped in dough. My Aunt realized that we could break down our lasagna until it is basically the exact same ingredients as the ravioli: noodles and meat mixture. We will serve it with the same sauce we serve with the ravioli.

This year we will have (1) GF traditional lasagna, (1) GF vegan lasagna, (1) ravioli-lasagna and a host of side dishes ranging from caprese salad to Italian brijole (all GF).

It is sometimes hard not to feel like the Gluten Free Grinch who stole christmas.  I mean, this was a family tradition for years and years and, I will be honest, I do feel like I ruined it (just a bit). But let me remind you of something very important: the Grinch ultimately saved Christmas and was invited by the Whos the dig in for the holiday festivities.  So yes, maybe I stole this tradition from my family but now we have an even more meaningful tradition. We came up with our own recipe for a hybrid ravioli-lasagna. We have all heard the saying “change for the sake of change is no good.” Well, along those lines tradition for the sake of tradition is also no good.

red-pepper-chevre-lasagna

I’m very lucky to have a family that is so supportive but I know there are a lot of people out there with Celiac Disease whose families have not yet realized what a fundamental life change the diagnosis represents.  All I can tell you is to hold on, advocate for yourself relentlessly and it will get better.  My first christmas after my diagnosis I didn’t even know how big of a deal being diagnosed with Celiacs was. I even helped my the ravioli that year and wound up feeling ill from all the air-borne gluten.  It takes time for people, yourself included, to get a hold of what it means to be truly gluten free.

My advice? Start the conversation about tweaking traditions now.  Maybe you can’t change things for this christmas but at least you can dialogue with your holiday guests about what to expect next year!

happy-holidays_1890_1

-CC

Should being gluten free impact your politics?

24 Oct

The election is right around the corner! Make sure your vote is an informed one!

Although the issue of food policy was under highlighted in the Presidential debates, it is nonetheless of political importance. From the farm bill, which impacts the cost and availability of food, to USDA public health promotional campaigns, to FDA food regulations, there are many avenues US leadership can take to change the way we access food in this country.

So what are the issues that a savvy Celiac should consider before casting their vote? The farm bill, food safety programs and access to and promotion of nutritional foods are the key issues that I want to explore so that I can make an informed decision at the polls.

This post is not an endorsement of either candidate.

FARM BILL

The farm bill impacts a population much broader than US farmers. When (or should I say if?) the farm bill is passed it will impact the cost of food as well as our access to certain foods. The next President will not only have to deal with getting the farm bill passed but will also play a role in shaping it.

As someone who is gluten free, the availability of gluten free food is a very important issue. Since gluten free foods tend to be more expensive than products made with wheat flour it would be in our best interest to support policies that make farming more economical, especially for small farmers. Here is the catch: the farm bill attempts to support all farmers, making all food more accessible and affordable. Cheaper brown rice would be great but if wheat flour is also made more accessible and even more affordable than it already is we are likely to see some unintended consequences.

If wheat flour is made more expensive don’t you think that restaurants might think twice about dredging their meats in flour? They might consider using an alternative like cornmeal or rice flour. Cost and accessibility shape our food options both at the market and when dining out.

The President has repeatedly articulated the importance of passing a farm bill this year. He calls for adequate protection of American farmers from draught and natural disasters and promotes diverse, specialty crops like fruits, nuts and veggies (which is great for us!).

Romney has taken jabs at Obama during the campaign about his failure to get the House the pass the bill. Romney thinks that Obama does not have the leadership skills necessary to get a bill passed. He argued that “[P]eople have been waiting a long time for a farm bill. And the president has to exert the kind of presidential leadership it takes to get the House and the Senate together and actually pass a farm bill.”

Romney supports disaster relief as well but also indirectly supports subsidizing American farmers. Romney says that other nations subsidize their farmers and if the US is to compete we will need to do the same.

When you get down into the nitty-gritty of both candidates’ farm bill positions there are more similarities than differences. Both candidates will cut about $30 billion out of agricultural spending by eliminating many of the subsidies that currently go to crop insurance companies. Much of the farm bill is allocated towards food stamps. Here lies the biggest difference between an Obama supported farm bill and a Romney supported bill: Romney/Ryan support decreasing the amount of people using food stamps. They said that they don’t need to cut the program to reach their goal. Romney said, “I want to make sure we get people off food stamps, not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs.”

FOOD SAFETY

President Obama created several programs that promote food safety. He established the Food Safety Working Group, which is a group that focuses on updating and improving US food safety systems. Obama also increased the authority of the FDA so they can more effectively enforce food safety regulations.

Although Romney believes in the importance of access to safe foods his approach to securing such food is very different from Obama’s approach.

Romney supports a more hands off approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. He argues that “preventative practices” are the best way to prevent outbreaks. These practices/protocol would be developed by the private sector because Romney believes that the people in the fields are the best equipped to handle this issue. Romney’s campaign states that it is most cost efficient and effective to allow food growers, handlers and processors to create food safety protocol. As for the role of the FDA, Romney’s campaign said that the Romney Administration would prioritize collaboration between the FDA and the private farm sector on this issue.

NUTRITION

The Obama family is very committed to promoting healthful food choices in schools and encouraging people of all ages to lead active lifestyles. Michelle Obama worked to get more salad bars into schools, President Obama supported the USDA’s new food pyramid, MyPlate as well as their Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Snack Program and both of the Obamas encourage cities to get involved with the Let’s Move! program which provides local towns and cities with tools to get community members exercising. President Obama believes that partnering with the private sector and supporting federal programs to promote healthful lifestyles is the best way to improve the health of the public.

Romney does not support nanny-laws and is committed to making sure the federal government does not overstep its role in American lives. These beliefs about the role of the government shape Romney’s strategies for tackling public health.

In response to questions about promoting nutrition the Romney campaign gave a quick and short response:

“The federal government should not dictate what every American eats… An emphasis on a balanced diet will be crucial to addressing this crisis and public health programs in a Romney Administration will highlight the importance of healthy eating.”

Romney and his campaign have not articulated a plan nor a specific commitment to promoting nutrition and healthful lifestyle choices.

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Now that we know where each candidate stands on these issues the next question is “Does it matter?” As someone who studied Public Health it greatly matters to me but this post isn’t about public health (in general) it is about whether or not being gluten free should impact the way you vote.

The answer is: probably not. The gluten free diet, though more popular and well-known than ever before, is far from the norm. A farm bill that cuts the profitability of wheat farmers is not going to change the fact that people love their gluten. It is an ingredient that has dominated palates across continents. Although I do believe it is important for voters to take the issues I described above into consideration when casting their vote, I do not think that our gluten free fate is in the hands of the future President.

Ultimately, it comes down to constant vigilance, commitment and willingness to speak up for your needs. There is no quick-fix solution to the lack of awareness about gluten intolerance, Celiacs and food allergies in this country but every time you explain it to a waiter at a local restaurant or to a new acquaintance you are making a difference. It isn’t just about being gluten free! I am talking about spreading awareness about restricted diets and cross contamination, issues that make the lives of millions so challenging in the US. Not many people can say that when they dine out they help change the world but we can.

-CC

Sources

http://www.unitedfresh.org/programs/wppc/presidential_nominees_responses

http://articles.aberdeennews.com/2012-08-24/farmforum/33373582_1_farm-bill-programs-that-benefit-farmers-farm-safety

http://cornandsoybeandigest.com/issues/obama-romney-weigh-more-agriculture-priorities

http://insidetrade.com/Inside-Trade-General/Public-Content-World-Trade-Online/romney-hits-obama-on-farm-bill-gridlock-reiterates-trade-policy-plans/menu-id-896.html?S=SM

GF New Year’s Resolution: Have you kept it up?

29 Jun

How many of you have followed through with your New Year’s Resolutions?

I have and, as promised, I am following up with my readers regarding my gluten free New Year’s Resolutions!  On December 30, 2011, I decided I would come up with 3 New Year’s Resolutions that would improve my gluten free life, making it easier and more enjoyable.

NYR #1

As most seasoned Celiacs know, there are various levels of “gluten freeness.” You have the people who are comfortable scraping the cheese/toppings off of a pizza or the icing off of a cake, the people who avoid gluten but don’t ask questions about cross contamination and, finally, the people who avoid gluten as if it is the plague and we are living in 1349.  Though I strive to be the latter, I do find that on occasion I just don’t feel like doing the gluten free dance when ordering, so I order something I am pretty sure is safe.  My NYR was to STOP DOING THAT!  I am happy to report that I have been super gluten free since January 1st.

Results?  I find that I am much less stressed at restaurants, though not always as pleased with my meal.  For example, instead of ordering the burger on the “specials menu” at Red Robin (now offering GF buns!), I chose the classic cheese burger that was listed on the “gluten free menu.” In my head, I know that the specials aren’t on the GF menu because they are new and are probably GF but I stuck with the simpler and safer choice.  Not only is dining out less stressful but I do believe that I have been “glutened” fewer times this year compared to previous years.

NYR #2

Though very active in the GF blogosphere as a writer, my second NYR aimed to increase my activity in the GF blogosphere as a reader.  I have started following a couple GF blogs and have discovered that not only are there many GF blogs out there but they are all very different. If you started following one or two blogs and simply felt it was not meant for you, I encourage you try one more time!  I realized that there were some blogs that I really liked in terms of content, frequency of updates, visual style and writing style and others that just weren’t a good fit for me.

You can check out my post Which Gluten Free Blogs Should I Follow? for a list of suggested blogs to check out.  The GF blogosphere is, with all due respect, cluttered.  There are tons and tons of blogs out there.  I suggest picking three to follow: CC Gluten Freed, for updates about the social aspects of being gluten free and how to manage tricky social situations, Simply Gluten Free, for close-to-daily recipe posts, and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) newsletter for monthly email updates about Celiac Disease and the Gluten Free Diet.



Steps to being GF literate:

1. Follow CC Gluten Freed by submitting your email in the box on the right hand side of the screen

2. Follow or bookmark Simply Gluten Free for GF recipes

3. Sign up for the NFCA newsletter

 NYR #3

 My third and final NYR was to start using my iPhone (Androids work for this as well) to help with being gluten free.  This has been a huge success for me.  I used Find Me Gluten Free to choose where to eat.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I ate at a restaurant NOT listed on this phone app.  It is great for finding a quick place to eat when out with friends in an area that I am not familiar with.  The app takes your GPS location and then tells you where the closest GF friendly restaurants are, how to get there and what they offer.  I highly recommend downloading this app.  I actually bought my first smart phone for the sole purpose of downloading this app. It was the best, strategic phone decision I have ever made.

What was your New Year’s Resolution? Have you been true to it?  We are officially half way through the year!  If you haven’t been following your NYR, it isn’t too late — get started now.  Either create a new NYR’s for the mid-point of the year or choose to follow mine.  Either way, I find that the New Year gives us an opportunity to better ourselves and reaffirm our commitment to health.  I look at the mid-point of the year as a great opportunity to renew my commitment to my health and make being GF easier and more enjoyable.

-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

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


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

Tradition

19 Dec

When you are diagnosed with Celiacs you say goodbye to many things. You must say goodbye to  bread, to pasta and to easy, stress-free dining. On the other hand you also say goodbye  to poor health, to weakness and to pain.  Is family tradition amongst this list?  How hard should you work to sustain tradition despite the gluten-free diet or should you simply let go of old traditions and make new ones?  The issue of traditions conflicting with the gluten-free diet seems most pertinent during the Holidays.  What does your family do for Christmas dinner and does it support your gluten-free diet?  Here is my story.

I come from an incredibly family oriented Italian background.  At some point during every Holiday season the family gets together and spends hours in the kitchen making ravioli for our Christmas dinner.  The recipe and process are part of a very old family tradition that brings Bonaduces from across the country together.  When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, the summer of 2008, we were so busy trying to figure out how to be gluten-free on a daily basis that we didn’t think much about my gluten-free future. My first Celiac Christmas there wasn’t much for me to eat, it was as if our family ravioli recipe should somehow be exempt from my GF diet and we didn’t plan ahead.

In the following years we tried many alternatives that would accommodate me while still preserving the family tradition: a side of GF gnocchi (failed), separate GF ravioli (failed) etc..  Eventually we found that the easiest solution, one that tasted good and completely avoided cross contamination, was to make GF lasagna a day before we made the ravioli.

Although this solution is fairly satisfactory there are still some issues at hand.  For one, we make the ravioli at my parent’s house which is where I stay during the Holidays.  This means that the house is filled with flour, the kitchen is completely dredged in flour and must be cleaned thoroughly  to the extreme and the air is a potential contamination risk for days.  Secondly, I am excluded from the family gathering.  I can’t be around people cooking with flour, check out this post for more information about the dangers of air-bourne gluten!  The family gets together and bonds over the process and reminisce about family stories while I have to go keep myself busy outside.

Should gluten-free people impose their lifestyle on the family to the point of altering time-honored tradition? In a way, it makes very little sense for a Celiac to continue a gluten-based tradition because Celiacs is genetic! The family is biologically unfit to have such traditions!  Where do you draw the line between science and sentiment?

I don’t know the answer to this problem.  The best way to sort through the issue of tradition and Celiac Disease is to speak openly and honestly with your family.  I know that my family would be terribly sad if we stopped with the ravioli tradition, I understand that and so for now I am happy to make GF lasagna on a separate day, in a separate kitchen to protect both myself and the family tradition.  Despite my spoken pragmatism, I do hope that one day we can change the family tradition to something that I can take part in.

As always, I hope everyone has an enjoyable and relaxing Holiday season!  The key to holidays and being gluten-free is staying calm and communicating your needs to your family.  There is no clear nor easy answer when it comes to deciding what to do about gluteny traditions when a family member is diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance. Try not to get upset about the things you miss and, instead, get excited for the new things you can bring to the Holiday season like delicious GF lasagna, GF gingerbread etc etc!  Take pride in your ability to make the holiday gluten-free and show off your culinary work to the extended family during the holidays! They will both be impressed by your work and will slowly come to better understand your needs as a Celiac.

Airplanes

30 Nov

Traveling by sky for the Holidays?  If so, this post is for you!  Being a gluten free traveller can be very challenging.  Here are some tips for safe and healthy travels.

The task of eating gluten free becomes monumentally more difficult when internet access is taken away.  Personally, I double and triple check ingredients and restaurant menus on my phone (both with GF apps and plain old google).  This luxury is not a reality when you are 40,000 ft in the air.

This is a problem I faced very recently on my flight home from New York to San Francisco.  I was filled with excitement when I realized that the ticket I acquired by using miles happened to be business class.  Not only would my seat be big enough for me to sit cross-legged but I would also get to re-experience the joys of airplane food.  Now, I know most people are thinking, “Airplane food? Joy? What???” but let me tell you, as a kid, back when the economy was functional, all long flights had a free food service for passengers.  As a child, receiving the mystery lunch or dinner box from the flight attendant was the high light of the flight.  You would think, as a seasoned Celiac, I would have known to call ahead to make sure the flight was going to have gluten free options but I did not.  In my defense, I did not actually know there would be a dining service until I was already on the plane and they handed me their fancy little menu.

Unfortunately, my options seemed grim.  Certainly the Lasagna was off-limits but what about he marinated beef filet over mushroom ragout with roasted potatoes in a merlot sauce?  There are several opportunities for gluten in that description:

  1. Marinade – the fillet could have been marinated in a sauce containing gluten eg Worecestershire, soy sauce or a malt vinegar
  2.  Merlot sauce – this could be thickened with flour
  3. Mushroom ragout – Ragout could mean mushrooms cooked in a tomato based sauce, but it could also mean it is a pasta dish
  4. Roasted Potatoes – These could be breaded or dredged

I asked the flight attendant if she knew what was gluten free on the menu.  She did not.  I asked her if she had a list of the ingredients for the menu items.  She did not.  It seemed that the flight attendants had NO idea what they were serving to the people on the flight.

Why don’t airplanes have a list of ingredients that are in their food? Do you know how devastating it would be if someone with an anaphylactic food allergy accidentally ingested their allergen eg peanut allergy while on the plane??  For their sake, I hope they have epipens and lawyers on board!

The point is: airplanes are not typically equipped to accommodate the needs of a Celiac unless you call ahead. The steak dish I encountered may well have been GF but I will never know because the food did not come with ANY information on board.

So, what should you do?

Before you fly:

1. Research to see if your flight is providing a dining service and whether they have special meal options

2. Call ahead and ask for GF options

Here are links to the special meal request pages for several airline companies: American Airlines United and Continental and Alitalia

Sometimes your requests can be lost in the hustle of bustle that is the airport business so it is important to prepare yourself for that possibility.  Two weeks after my diagnosis, I flew from Los Angeles to Rome and did not come prepared…this is a mistake you do not want to make, trust me!

How to be prepared:

1. Bring your own snacks – Most planes offer peanuts but, when I flew Southwest, the peanuts were coasted in malted barley so it is very important that you bring something to munch on in case you get hungry

2. Bring plastic bags – There is nothing more annoying than a half eaten bag of chips that you cannot close but need to stow away because you have a layover or are landing at your final destination.  Pack a few Ziplocs so that you can securely and neatly pack away your snack foods!

-Cc

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