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

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

Glutened.

24 Jun

It happens to the best of us: we get glutened.  In my four years as a diagnosed Celiac I have been glutened by cross-contamination via oil, cutting boards and pasta water, by oats (hiding in a chili recipe) and by barley (in a rice dish)  but never by straight up wheat or “wheat-gluten.”   Though I don’t know if it is because of smarts of obsessiveness,  I have been fairly successful at avoiding gluten ever since my diagnosis. Today was an exception.

I went to a dinner reception where the host was serving a BBQ buffet.  I was very careful about cross-contamination and very verbal about my needs.  I pulled a plate from the bottom of the stack (which was located next to a huge plate of cornbread) and used a fork to grab the “gluten free option” from its pan, despite the objections from the server.  Where did I go wrong?  Well, I didn’t.  The buffet staff told me explicitly that the GF option was the veggie burger, string beans and coleslaw, so that is what I put on my plate.

A few minutes after biting into my veggie burger (bunless), my throat started to feel, for lack of a better word, “ouchie.”  I don’t have a gluten allergy e.g. anaphylactic response to gluten, so I knew my throat wasn’t closing.  Nonetheless, it was hurting, there was a burning sensation.  I got up and double checked with the buffet staff that the burger was GF, they confirmed but I asked to see the ingredient list anyways.  The second ingredient on the list?  “Wheat Gluten.”

This experience was uniquely bad for two reasons:

1. Ingredients are listed in order of relative quantity e.g. if a recipe has just a hint of cinnamon in it, cinnamon will be one of the last ingredients listed.  This means I consumed a pretty substantial amount of gluten.  Additionally, this exposure was to “wheat gluten” one of the worst thing you can make a Celiac eat.  Wheat gluten is wheat that is stripped of the bran and the starch, leaving just the gluten protein.  Its consumption results in an incredibly pure and potent dosing.

2.  Normally, if someone glutens me, I chalk it up to the lack of awareness about Celiac Disease and its complex components e.g. weird ingredients and dangerous kitchen practices.  If I say “I am allergic to gluten” and someone thinks that “malt flavoring” isn’t glutinous,  I consider it an understandable  mistake for someone completely unfamiliar with the issue of gluten.  If I say “I am allergic to gluten” and the ingredient list literally has the word “GLUTEN” in it,  then it is a completely unreasonable mistake!

What I regret most about what has happened tonight is actually my reaction to the experience.  For the past few weeks I have been focused on and working on how I manage complicated Celiac situations. Tonight I realized that I have a long way to go.  When I realized I had eaten wheat, my eyes immediately filled with tears.  I did tell the waitstaff immediately so that they would stop serving the GF kids wheat burgers but after that, I fell to pieces.  Instead of staying at the party and seeing how I felt, I immediately called my brother and asked him to pick me up.  I left without saying goodbye to anyone.

In the future, I want to try and stick it out.  I felt so much anxiety after I left the dinner reception because I felt like I had been severely victimized.  Not only was I anticipating pain and illness but I was isolated from my peers, separated from normalcy, forced to confront the fact that I am different.

I am sitting here, frustrated, because I let Celiacs get me down.  I am sitting here, struggling, because I can’t focus very well on writing this post due to the fuzzy-brain-effect that gluten has on me.  Regardless of the fuzziness, I wanted to write this before I forgot how I am feeling tonight. When I am gltuened, I feel like the world stops.  It reminds me of how a politician must feel after just hearing she has lost the election.  You put in constant work, make sacrifices and, sometimes, go hungry, all for the sake of remaining gluten free.  Despite the work and effort, you don’t always win.  I imagine that a politician would want to be left alone after the news, to go into her room and just process.  This is how I felt tonight.  I let those feelings dictate my reaction and I left a celebratory party as a result. After I got home from the party, I realized that I felt pretty ok.  Certainly not great, but I felt well enough to be mildly social. If I had just remained calm and stayed at the party my experience would not have been so negative!

When you are glutened, take action.  Alert the restaurant, confide in your friends and family, stay calm and do not let yourself be a victim.  People face and overcome obstacles every single day.  I did not need to retreat today.  Next time, I won’t.

-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

Which GF Blogs Should I Follow?

7 Jun

Deciding to follow a gluten free blog is much easier said than done. The vast amount of diverse information on the web makes finding a blog that fits your needs and interests somewhat tricky. As many of my readers may recall, one of my New Year’s Resolutions (NYR) for 2012 was to start following some GF blogs.

Though very active in the GF blogosphere as a writer, my second NYR aimed to increase my activity 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!

What to look for?

1. Content — are you interested in cooking? music? traveling? education? No matter what your interest, you can probably find a blog out there that is a great mash up for your interest in ________ and the gluten free diet. My interests are mostly focused around the social aspects of the gluten free diet, food policy and restaurant guides for cities. With a little bit of digging, I found blogs that matched those interests fairly easily. Are you interested in traveling? Though not one of my interests, I know there are a ton of avid GF travelers out there who would appreciate a blog that updates about being gluten free while traveling. If this is you, click here for posts by Erin Smith.

2. Frequency — check out how frequently the blogger posts. If you like frequent posts in your email inbox then the blog is a great match. If you are quasi spam-conservative (like myself) you may want to find a blog that posts less frequently e.g. ~once every 3 weeks like CC Gluten Freed!

3. Visuals — reading on your laptop, phone or tablet can be hard on your eyes. Try to find a blog that is pleasant to look at and easy to read. When I created CC Gluten Freed, I chose an off-white/cream for the background of the site so that overwhelming brightness would not discourage readers. You may also want to check out the mobile phone format of the blog before committing if you do most of your reading on the go.

4. Writing Style — bloggers write in various styles. For example, some may write in the third person while others may have a more personal/testimonial blog written in the first person. Some may post updates using journalistic techniques you would encounter when reading the LA Times while others may write more colloquially (like CC Gluten Freed!).

What are my preferences?

I try to make CC Gluten Freed representative of what I want to see in other GF blogs. This many be painfully obvious but I write about what interests me about being gluten free. If you enjoy reading about the social aspects of the gluten free diet then I encourage you follow my blog. I update, on average, every 3 weeks and have very diverse topics ranging from holiday survival guides, going to the spa, moving to a new city, commenting on new developments in the GF world and much more.

The blogs I follow:

1. Accidental Celiac – I love this blog. The frequency of posting is perfect. Posting too frequently can make followers feel like they are being spammed but the Accidental Celiac posts at a great frequency. I am always happy to see a new email from her in my inbox. If anything, I wish she would post more! The Accidental Celiac is a blog that emphasizes the realities of being gluten free. In her first post she writes “If you have Celiac and it has been a complete dream for you, then this blog probably isn’t for you.”

Check out her post about the new pizza at Chuck E. Cheese. This is the kind of blogging that I am talking about when I say I care about the social aspects of being gluten free. She admits that the pizza offered at Chuck E Cheese is, let’s just say, far from gourmet. The great thing about the pizza isn’t its taste but what it did for her kid: it let her daughter have a great time at Chuck E Cheese with all the other kids!

2. Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom – Although the name makes it seem like this blog only applies to people with kids: this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I find this blog very interesting and helpful. The blog “represents what all of us following the gluten-free LIFESTYLE are seeking: a place to find answers to some of the deeper questions.” The blog has a mix of posts about living gluten free as well as cooking gluten free.

3. Gluten Dude – This blog is candid, funny and informative. In particular, I love his post “13 reasons to be thankful you have Celiac Disease.” He also does some pretty interesting bits on his blog. For example, in honor of Celiac Awareness month and “to help raise awareness of our disease, [Gluten Dude] will be attempting 31 blog posts in 31 days.”

4. Gluten Free Mom – It is crazy to me that I love all the GF mom blogs so much considering the fact that I am not a mom. Nonetheless, these blogs are great! I find that moms seems to understand the fact that Celiac Disease and the gluten free diet has some serious effects on your social life. In addition, the moms are such great advocates. It is very hard to advocate for yourself but when it is your kid, I believe it becomes natural to advocate for their needs. Gluten Free Mom has fantastic restaurant guides for a bunch of different cities. I exclusively used her suggestions for where to dine in NYC and had a great experience.

5. NFCA — Though not a blog, I find that the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has the best monthly newsletter and website in terms of content and accessibility. The content is applicable to anyone on the gluten free diet, not simply people with Celiacs. NFCA goes out of its way to capture audiences of every generation/age group. Your, your kids, your grandparents and friends can all find interesting things to read that are geared towards their age group. Sign up for their monthly newsletter! Here is an article that I wrote for the NFCA newsletter about how to make a difference in local communities.

In addition to follow these blogs, I also follow all of these bloggers on twitter which is very fun and interactive!

Being engaged in the gluten free blogosphere is incredibly useful for leading a healthy, gluten free life. The constant updates about news in the GF community keeps you up to date with the most current information, the ability to comment on posts or use twitter gives you the chance to interact with people in the GF community and, finally, the blogs are a great source for information about being gluten free.

Get involved today!

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to follow CC Gluten Freed! You can sign up easily by typing your email address into the box on the right-hand side of the screen.

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Check out the other GF bloggers I recommended on Twitter and Facebook.

For Travel: https://twitter.com/#!/gfglobetrotter

For Fun: https://twitter.com/#!/GlutenDude

For Great Information: https://twitter.com/#!/CeliacCentral

For Moms and Dads: https://twitter.com/#!/adventuresgfmom

-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

Quinoa with Cumber and Mint — White Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish

30 May

As most of my readers know, I almost never post recipes. I like to focus on the social aspects of the gluten free diet since there is already a wealth of culinary knowledge out there on the web. Despite this, I find myself posting two recipes. Why? They are simply too good not to share! They are both naturally gluten free, which means you don’t have to splurge on gluten free substitution foods. First, you have the Quinoa with Cucumber and Mint, followed by the Roasted White Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish.

Recipes are from the cooking class I took at Rancho La Puerta, taught by Nani Steele of the restaurant legacy Nepenthe in Big Sur, California. See my post about being gluten free at the spa!

Quinoa with Cucumber and Mint

This dish is gorgeous and its taste is a mix of savory/nutty (from the quinoa) and sweet (from the citrus). It is easy to make, easy to serve (hot or cold) and great as a side dish or as a main entree. I suggest bringing this to your next dinner party or event where you worry that you may not have any GF options prepared by the host.

Ingredients:

3 cups of tri-colored quinoa *make sure the amount of red and black quinoa far exceed the amount of white because the white quinoa cooks faster

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 dried chili

1 bay leaf

4 1/2 cups of veggie stock or water

1/2 cup currants soaked in hot water with a splash of sherry vinegar (or rice vinegar)

1 1/2 cups diced cucumber

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Zest AND juice of 2 lemons

1/4 bunch parsley

1/4 bunch mint

salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

To cook the quinoa, lightly toast it with a small amount of olive oil. Stir in the shallot, the chile, the bay leaf and cook for two minutes. Stir in 4 1/2 cups of water or stock. Bring to simmer, reduce heat and cover until done, stirring on occasion (around 20 minutes). Remove from heat. Let sit covered, to steam, about 15 more minutes. Toss with the remaining ingredients

Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish

Ingredients:

4, 6 oz wild White Sea Bass fillets

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

—-

8 oranges

1 tablespoon minced shallot (sweated with a splash of rice wine vinegar)

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/2 bunch tarragon (picked and chopped)

salt and pper to taste

splash of olive oil

Instructions:

Remove the peels from the oranges using a sharp knife, cutting all the way through the pith. Section the oranges into supremes by cutting between each membrane. Click here for a “how to” on cutting out supremes. Squeeze each membrane of its juices into a bowl (save for the relish!). Corasely chop the orange sections and place in the bowl with the juices. Then add the sweated shallots, vinegar and tarragon to the bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the splay of olive oil. NOTE: feel free to improvise by adding more things to this relish like fresh, diced cucumber.

For the fish: season the White Bass with salt, pepper and olive oil (liberally) on each side. If the fish has the skin on it, heat a pan with olive oil. Add the White Sea Bass skin side down and cook for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom. Brush the top with a little more olive oil. Place White Sea Bass in the oven set to 375 degrees (preheat!). Roast until opaque in the center (12-15 minutes).

Enjoy!

-CC

The Domino’s Effect

10 May

A Little Bit of History

Domino’s Pizza was founded in 1960 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Today, it is the second-largest pizza chain in the United States (second to Pizza Hut) and has more than 9,000 established franchised stores in the world. An incorporation with a successful foothold in 60 countries has a lot of power over the pizza industry’s reputation and the expectations of consumers with respect to the quality of service that a reputable pizza store should meet.

Domino’s has a history of being the first of its industry to adapt certain unique marketing techniques. For example, in 1973 Domino’s started advertising their 30-minute guarantee to customers. If Domino’s couldn’t deliver the pizza within 30 minutes of ordering, your pizza was free. In the 1980s the offer went from a free pizza to $3 off due to liability issues. Consumers began to speak out about the dangers of the 30-minute guarantee, expressing that it caused the delivery people to engage in unsafe driving. Eventually the 30-minute guarantee advertising campaign was dropped due to political and legal pressures.

What does this history have to do with the new gluten-free pizza crust?  Domino’s has a history of being pizza pioneers when it comes to advertising.  Ironically, the marketing campaigns employed by Domino’s seem to have a domino effect: once Domino’s does it, all of the other chains begin to follow suit.  If history is to repeat itself, I wouldn’t be surprised if more pizza chains not only start offering gluten-free crusts but also follow Domino’s lead with regard to how they offer this new product.

Domino’s Gluten Free Pizza

As most people in the GF and celiac community know, Domino’s started offering a gluten-free pizza crust on May 7, 2012.  Ironically announced during Celiac Awareness Month, the company explicitly stated that this gluten-free pizza is not designed for people with celiac disease.  The pizza crust, in a vacuum, is gluten-free.  What is the catch? Domino’s hasn’t taken any of the necessary precautions to prevent cross-contamination.  In fact, on their website they state “While the Gluten-Free Crust is certified to be free of gluten, the pizza made with the Gluten-Free Crust use the same ingredients and utensils as all of our other pizzas.”

Here is a video that Domino’s made to help get the word out about their new product.

Their advertisement for gluten-free crust starts off by saying “Because we are honest people, here is a disclaimer.”  For the record, a more accurate beginning to their disclaimer would state “Because we are lazy people, here is a disclaimer.” It would simply take a bit more education, training and effort to provide a fairly safe gluten-free option.  At the end of the video ad you hear the narrator saying “Ok, enough already with the disclaimers we are really excited to tell you about our new gluten-free crust…”  Not only is the crust not actually gluten-free but Domino’s goes so far as to dismiss their disclaimer as if it is an irrelevant formality

Issue #1: Gluten Free Labeling Laws

The FDA is close to formally establishing the legal requirements necessary to label a product as gluten free.  Despite being on the books as an issue needing regulation for several years, the FDA has failed to respond to public pressure until now. The FDA only regulates food products but I wonder why the government recognizes that products should be regulated for the gluten-free status but not restaurants that offer similar products.

Government entities like the USDA and FDA protect the US population by regulating highly distributed, manufactured and agricultural food products.  This is important to prevent public health catastrophes related to contaminated food products.

In general, it would not make sense to allocate government resources for regulating restaurants on a federal level because, in the past, if a restaurant had contaminated products or unsafe practices it wouldn’t affect enough people for it to be considered a federal issue. Unfortunately, in the world of chains and franchises, the idea that restaurants only impact their immediate surroundings is no longer true.

In this context we are talking about a pizza company that is located in every single state in this country with over 5,000 individual restaurant locations.  The kitchen ingredients used by Domino’s can affect a large part of the US population and, more relevantly, their institutionalized kitchen protocol can affect people on a population level as well.

If Domino’s wants to offer a gluten free crust they should be subject to some form of regulation since their product is so wide-reaching.  If Domino’s had a kitchen protocol that had all their chains set the ovens to a temperature that consistently undercooked meat, resulting in food poisoning, we would have a national health crisis on our hands.  I don’t know why we are turning a blind eye when it comes to gluten free protocol in the kitchen.

Furthermore, calling their pizza “gluten free” should be considered false advertisement, if not fraud. Their appeal to the gluten free market is abhorrent.  The gluten-free market base is depression-proof and has been consistently and substantially growing for the past 10 years.  You should not be able to con your way into this market. If you take a chicken breast and dredge it lightly in flour before frying it, is this entree gluten free? NO. Is the chicken breast itself gluten free? YES. Similarly, if you have a gluten free pizza crust it is no longer gluten free if you cross-contaminate by preparing it in an environment covered in gluten-based flour (similar to a light dredging, if you will).

Issue #2 Corporate Precent

One of the main reasons that I find Domino’s actions completely unacceptable is because of, what I am calling, corporate precedent.  California Pizza Kitchen started offering a gluten free pizza crust before doing their homework.  They developed a crust but did not research cross-contamination protocol.  As a result, customers complained.  Did CPK slap a disclaimer on their menu and call it a day? No.  CPK pulled the pizza from their menu and started working with the Gluten Intolerance Group to develop a strategy to make their kitchen safe for gluten-free pizza cooking.  Domino’s justifies their lack of concern for cross-contamination by saying that the crust is for gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive consumers. Interestingly, although Domino’s argued that they are catering towards the gluten sensitive population, the Gluten Intolerance Group is the organization that stepped up to help CPK prevent cross contamination.  I really enjoyed this post by Linda who points out that, of all the gluten sensitive people she knows, none of them have “mild” senstiives” and they do not appreciate a contaminated pizza!

                                  

Domino’s has stated that they simply don’t have the kitchen capacity to make a truly gluten free pizza.  It seems reasonable that it might be hard to make a profit if they had to change their kitchen set up for this product.  Then I remember PF Changs, a nationally represented corporate restaurant chain that has successfully created a gluten free menu and has changed their kitchen set up to accommodate safe food preparation.

Before Domino’s the precedents set by various corporations trying to go gluten free have been in favor of trying to prevent cross-contamination. I fear for the gluten free future of the restaurant industry now that such a large and financially successful  company has started saying that it is ok to take the easy way out.

The Bigger Picture

Supply and demand: a fundamental concept in economics.  If consumers demand a certain product, the market will supply it. What happens when the supply and demand get muddled and confused?  Poor products. In response to perceived consumer demands restaurants and food companies are responding by creating “gluten-free” products.  The problem is that the market is not understanding the true nature of the current demand.

Supply is not the issue right now.  There are so many gluten free products on the market.  If current product supply were the issue I would pick up some frozen pizza crusts at Whole Foods, go to Domino’s and ask them to heat it up for me.  What is in need, the demand, is education and awareness.  I don’t need Domino’s to create and produce a tasty recipe for a pizza crust. Udi’s, among other companies, has awesome pizza crust already. What we need is a safe place to dine out 

Empowerment

I want to remind my readers that CPK stopped offering their gluten free pizza until they could establish a safe kitchen environment in response to a letter by a customer.  If you want Domino’s to take accountability then send them a letter (or write them an email) explaining why taking the gluten-free pizza one step further could make a huge difference in your life and in the lives of many other people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Here is their mailing address:

Domino’s Pizza LLC
30 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
(734) 930-3030

 

Check out my posts on the importance of writing letters and letter writing tips for advice.

Ultimately, if we want to change the market then we need to change the nature and clarity of our “demand.” The first step to this change? Advocate for yourself.
A note about NFCA

Check out their letter from Alice Bast discussing their involvement with Domino’s Pizza.  NFCA has taken a lot of heat for seemingly endorsing Domino’s.  Domino’s reached out to NFCA to consult about their new gluten free product.  NFCA informed Domino’s that the pizza is not safe for Celiacs and reviewed their ingredient lists and kitchen practices to draw this conclusion.  Although the Amber designation is fairly controversial, it is better than Domino’s advertising their pizza as gluten free without a disclaimer.  Check out this post by Linda from theglutenfreehomemaker.com  about why the amber designation may be a huge step back for the Celiac Community. Without NFCA Domino’s might have simply not let consumers know about the serious cross contamination risks.

-CC

CDF Education Conference!

30 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

drawing a crowd at the CC Gluten Freed table!

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

vendor exhibits



-CC

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

22 Apr

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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