Tag Archives: celiac patients

Gluten Free Pilgrim

13 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

Happy dining!




-CC

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


A Local GF Evolution

21 Mar

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

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

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

La Mediterranee

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

Cream

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

Kirala

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

Filippo’s

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

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

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

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

-CC

Public Health 198: Changing the Restaurant Industry

8 Mar

UC Berkeley, one of the world’s finest public universities, allows undergraduate students to design and teach their own courses offered for academic credit.  I took advantage of this incredible opportunity offered by the university to promote Celiac Disease awareness and make an impact on both my campus and local communities.

Public Health 198 is a course offered for 2 academic units called Changing the Restaurant Industry.  The course focuses on how the restaurant industry accommodates customers with restricted diets.  By thinking of the restaurant’s ability to accommodate restricted diets as a public health issue, I was able to design an intervention strategy based on public health theories to improve the quality of food service in the Bay Area.

Public Health 198 is a series of 14 lectures all focused on promoting allergy awareness in the restaurant industry.  We covered the theory of Community-Based Public health Initiatives, concluding that the best way to improve our community is to have community-members take action.  The course requires that all students (40 students enrolled) recruit at least one restaurant to undergo a training program designed by the students.

Some well known members of the gluten free community have guest lectured for my class including Dr. Emily Nock of Walnut Creek Kaiser, Tom Herndon, the Executive Chef at Hipp Kitchen and owner of Full Fridge and Beckee Moreland from NFCA and GREAT Kitchens amongst many other speakers!

Topics of the course include: community-based public health initiatives, law and liability, peanut, egg, shellfish, corn, soy and dairy allergies, the gluten free diet, veganism, Diabetes Management and an introduction to entrepreneurship in the context of public health and the restaurant industry.

Check out this lecture given by Dr. Emily Nock about Celiac Disease.

Celiac Disease Lecture Part 1

Celiac Disease Lecture Part 2

Check out this lecture by CC about safe kitchen practices and restaurant concerns for gluten free food preparation.

Restaurants: Gluten Free Preparation Part 1

Restaurants: Gluten Free Preparation part 2

Please note these videos were made for students to review, not for professional purposes so please excuse the poor editing

The most important takeaway point from my experience creating this class is the importance of, what I like to call, contextual activism.  It is important to take ownership of your health and your gluten free diet.  One way to do this is to engage in awareness promotion and activism.  Contextual activism is where you base your actions on your personal life context.  I am currently a college student so I used campus resources to create a class to promote gluten free awareness.  You can do this too!  If you are a mom of a Celiac kid, create a play group for kids with allergies.  If you are a lawyer, consider guest blogging on a gluten free blog about law and liability in the context of “being glutened” at a restaurant.  There are countless examples of ways to get involved with awareness promotion: the trick is, creativity!

Take ownership of your life and your health.  Engage in contextual activism to promote Celiac Disease awareness.

-CC

So You Want To Take A Cooking Class…

2 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-CC

Friends or Foes?

16 Jan

“We have to be careful that [the diet’s growing popularity] doesn’t negate the seriousness of the situation for people with celiac disease.”

Carol Shilson, executive director of the Celiac Disease Research Center at the University of Chicago

People who follow the gluten free diet but are not gluten intolerant, gluten sensitive or Celiac are a double edged swords when it comes to awareness.  As a Celiac, I both greatly appreciate and yet resent the people who jumped on the gluten free fad diet band wagon.  So, gluten free fad dieters…friends or foes?

Friends

Despite great improvements in the past ten years, awareness efforts have a long way to go.  Nonprofits have a natural audience consisting of Celiac patients and the medical community but do not have easy access to the general population.  Typically, people are not interested in things that do not specifically concern them.  Why would the average Joe care about an autoimmune disease that he did not have?  Awareness efforts are challenged by the fact that a substantial amount of people do not relate to the issue at hand: gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease.

Fortunately, the gluten free diet eventually caught the attention of health experts and dieters across the nation, sparking a new “fad diet.”  Consumers started asking more and more about gluten free options.  The word “gluten,” usually missing from the vocabulary of your average diner, is now becoming quite common.

When experts and dietitians started remarking about the health benefits of the gluten free diet, it made the gluten free diet relatable and relevant to the general population. The unintended consequence was a huge increase in the level of awareness in the general population, maybe not about Celiac Disease, but certainly about what gluten is.

Foes

Although the fad dieters made “gluten” a much more common utterance in restaurants, they have also morphed the reputation of gluten free people.  I tell people at restaurants to think of my gluten free diet like a nut allergy: even a trace will be terrible for my health.  I want people to group Celiacs with the anaphylactic allergies because, despite their physiological and definitional differences, it is a way for chefs and waiters to understand the seriousness of cross-contamination and double checking ingredients.

Now many people think of being gluten free  as simply a dietary preference or fad diet which changes the perception people have of those on a GF diet.  This means that chefs at restaurants are way less likely to avoid cross-contamination because they think of the GF diner as someone on Atkins or Weight Watchers.

I am grateful that so many people now know what gluten is but I am also very frustrated that the gluten free diet is being viewed as a weight loss tool or dietary preference instead of a medical treatment plan.

Implications?

I went to the Farmers Market in Santa Monica last weekend and witnessed the difference between catering to a gluten free dieter and catering to a Celiac.  One food stand advertised that they made “Buttermilk Pancakes” and “Buckwheat Pancakes.”  They did not say “gluten free” anywhere on the menu or on their stand’s sign.  The Buckwheat pancake ingredients are gluten free but they are cooked on the same griddle as the buttermilk pancakes.  They were catering to people who wanted gluten free food but did not need to be gluten free.

There is a difference between following a gluten free diet and being gluten free.

The stand adjacent to this one advertised breakfast burritos with etiher a whole wheat tortilla or a “Gluten-Free Brown Rice Wrap.”  Despite using the phrase “gluten free,” the wraps were heated and cut on the same surfaces as the whole wheat tortillas.  The cross-contamination was blatantly apparent!  I asked the cook if he used the same knives and cutting board for the GF option and he said “Ya..why?”

**I have already written a letter to this restaurant company explaining the problem with calling their menu item “gluten free.”  Check out the importance of letters and how you can make a difference!

Despite the knowledge of gluten in food, issues like cross-contamination still remain a barrier to health for people with Celiacs.  Make sure you are ever diligent in restaurants.  Ask your questions!  Just because a menu says “gluten free” doesn’t mean it is safe. There may cross-contamination issues that can be easily averted if you make sure to speak up for yourself while ordering.

While I appreciate the way gluten free dieters have contributed to the widespread promotion of information about  what gluten is, I am disappointed that the nuances of Celiac Disease and the gluten free diet have been muddled.  The point is…let go of any resentment you may feel towards people who consider the GF diet a fad and simply be grateful that they know what gluten is.  It isn’t perfect and it isn’t our desired endpoint but it is a step in the right direction. I hope that a deeper understanding of its importance will accompany the ever-growing popularity of the gluten free diet.

-CC

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