Tag Archives: food

Back To School: the brown bag

26 Aug



Most of the school districts in the country have just finished with their first week of school.  As a first year teacher I am relearning what it means to need to bring your lunch to school everyday.  I know that teaching isn’t the only profession with an almost non-existant lunch break. So, what do we grownups do about lunch?  We need to revert back to a childhood strategy: the brown bag.

Being active in the field of public health has exposed me to many health conundrums that individuals must work to overcome despite the fact that the real answers to these problems can only be solved by city planning and public policy.  One such problem: food deserts. The food scenes in these deserts are dominated by fast food restaurants and mini-marts.  You can drive for miles without seeing a healthy food option.  These food deserts impact the health of lower-income, both urban and rural, communities across the country.  For a Celiac, the prevalence of food deserts are exponentially greater because options that are typically considered “healthy” are  often unavailable to us. A gluten-free-food-desert is an area with very limited GF options.  Maybe it is near where you live. Maybe it is where near you work. Either way these GF deserts make planning a necessity for any successful Celiac.

My current job happens to be in a food desert.  When my school had a faculty meeting we had to pass up six proximal pizza places because none of them had a salad option.  We ended up picking Lido’s pizza which was much further away than the other six pizza options near my school.

The lunch break for a teacher can more accurately be called a lunch moment.  We have about twenty minutes to take care of anything personal (eating, restroom, making phone calls, organizing, grabbing something we left in the car, etc.), then it is back into the trenches.

This is where the brown paper bag comes into play.  I don’t have time to run out to a local fast food place to grab lunch.  To boot, none of the places near me have viable GF options.  My school is surrounded by a buffalo wings place, Chick-fil-A, a couple of pizza places and a supermarket whose buffet is made up of chicken strips, mac n’ cheese and fresh baked bread.  The only viable solution to daily hunger-induced grumpiness (grumpy teachers aren’t good for the children) I could come up with is packing my lunch.

my lunch bag

So what should we put into these brown bags?  I like to pack a combination of nutritious and filling foods.  For example, blueberries are great for you but if you are hungry they really aren’t going to do the trick. That being said, opting for filling or calorie laden foods at the expense of nutrition will eventually wear your health down, breaking down your immune defenses and daily stamina.  If your job requires interacting with lots of people then you really need to make sure your immune defenses are at their best.

Here are some of the things I will have in my lunch this week.  Keep in mind that packing a lunch often requires either planning and prepping the night before or getting up a little bit earlier than you would like.
MONDAY

Using my favorite tupperware from Target, I pack the tupperware full of dark leafy greens, leftover meat (did you make chicken or steak this weekend? Save leftovers!) and grilled eggplant.  I do not like dressing.  It is messy, it makes the salad limp and the ingredients always make me nervous. Instead of dressing, I use other components like meat or grilled veggies to compliment the salad.  I think of it like a breadless sandwich.

Grilled Eggplant Recipe:

1. Slice eggplant vertically


2. Heat up a grill-pan or sauté pan

3. Cover both sides of the sliced eggplant with a light coating of olive oil

4. Season with salt and pepper. Feel free to spice up your seasoning by using onion powder, chili powder, paprika etc.

5. Let the eggplant cook on each side for about a minute and a half.  When the sides look dark (they will turn from off-white to an olive green) they are ready!

Once your salad is ready pack an apple, a bag of baby carrots and a yogurt.  Don’t forget utensils! If you don’t finish everything that is ok! You can nibble what is left on your commute home. Your goal should be bringing the perfect amount of food but if you have to miscalc on that you would way rather have too much than too little.
WEDNESDAY

Wednesday I am packing a good old fashioned sandwich. The best GF sandwich bread is Udi’s whole grain loaf (the one with the green label!). It stays together really well, it isn’t too dry/crumbly and it has a nostalgia-inducing classic sandwich bread taste. 

When you buy sandwich meat at the grocery store make sure it is GF! Giant market (this is an east coast thing) has GF meat at their deli (it is labeled and everything!).  I have been using honey-roasted turkey, sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, dijon mustard, cracked pepper and (of course) I sub out iceberg lettuce and opt for dark leafy greens. Don’t forget to pack up snacks likes carrots, berries, yogurt, rice chips or a banana.

FRIDAY

Let’s say it is the end of the week and your groceries are running low.  What do you do?  One of my favorite lunches is leftover chipotle burrito bowls.  Chipotle (or Qdoba) has all GF ingredients for their burrito bowls.  Chipotle is notorious for overstuffing their bowls. I can never finish them! So, to facilitate the leftover lunch making process, I divide the bowl in half before I start eating.  By dividing it in half early on, I guarantee that I will have enough leftovers to make my lunch the next day.

Don’t have any leftovers like this?  You can make a salad with dark leafy greens but instead of using leftover meat or eggplant, make your own dressing.  My personal favorite is an orange vinaigrette. You should make this the night before because there is no way you are going to be down to supreme oranges early in the morning!

Here is how it works:

1-2 oranges

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

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

chopped herbs of your choice (dill, tarragon, basil etc)

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 this for dressing!). Corasely chop the orange sections and place in the bowl with the juices. Then add the sweated shallots, vinegar and herbs to the bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the splay of olive oil.

You can make this fancier and more complicated by adding diced cucumber to the dressing OR you can make this recipe simpler and quicker to assemble by taking out the shallots and/or herbs.

Unlike dressing you buy at the store, this dressing is made of 100% fresh ingredients, no preservatives AND it is nutritious. Fresh oranges and herbs are great for you!  Instead of adding empty calories to your salad you end up adding vitamin C, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

As for kids, a lot of my ideas are for a grown-up palate, although I do find that Celiac kids have pretty sophisticated taste for their ages!  When it comes to packing a kids lunch try and do things that will look like what all the other kids have.  Again, I recommend Udi’s bread because it really does look and feel like classic glutinous bread. Udi’s also has cookies that look and taste great.  I would try and stay away from GF products that…look like gluten free products. Being GF can be very isolating which is difficult for children to cope with. Making sure to buy products that are similar to what the other kids are having is a great tool for any Celiac of GF parent.  Kinnikinnick has delicious products for kids like their graham crackers.  These don’t look exactly like what the other kids will have but they really are delicious. They even have an animal cracker that will work well with school lunches!  In addition, for kids, you can always stick with the basics.  A PBJ with some baby carrots and string cheese.

Enjoy your lunches! If I get bored with these, as I am sure I will over the next few months, I will post my new creations!  This way we can keep our palates and our bodies happy and healthy throughout the year.

-CC

Expectations.

4 Aug

Expect: to consider reasonable, due or necessary

Up until very recently my GF expectations have been low.  I did not consider it reasonable that all people should know what gluten is. I did not feel that I was due a gluten free meal at catered or work events.  I did not think it was necessary that people put in extra effort to accommodate my dietary needs when I could always work my way around it on my own.  I expected people to be accepting of the fact that I might bring my own dinner to a catered event but I did not expect the event to accommodate me. Even though precedent dictates that people with alternative diets should be accommodated (look at how mainstream providing vegetarian options has become), for some reason, to my shame, I did not hold those same high expectations for myself or my gluten free community.

Now, my expectations have changed.

I realized that my expectations were being shaped by experience and patterns and not based on what is reasonable, due or necessary. It took  sustained positive experiences to break the pattern of my experiences with food to adjust my expectations.

I was recently accepted into Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to close the achievement gap in the United States.  In order to begin teaching in the Fall I needed to complete a six week training program.  The catch? Room and board were to be provided. Most people rejoice at the news that they get free room and board for six weeks but as someone with Celiac Disease, I expected nothing but trouble.  My experience with Teach For America (TFA) has changed my expectations for the better.  Check out what happened:

The room and board arrangements at Temple University for close to 1,000 corps members and staff members were made by my new organization Teach For America.  Although Temple University already had the infrastructure in place to accommodate people on the gluten free diet, it would not have been operational during the summer without the insistence of Teach For America. The fact that TFA went out of their way to communicate with the dining hall specifically about GF options is pretty astounding for several reasons:

1. TFA was accommodating close to 1,000 people’s needs.  They made accommodations for vegetarian diets, Kosher diets, vegan diets, rooming issues due to disabilities and many more issues.  There were so many needs and people to accommodate. I was so pleased that the Celiacs did not fall through the cracks.

2. TFA had to coordinate with twelve public schools in Philadelphia, finding summer teaching jobs for 800 corp members.  This took much time and effort due to sheer mass of teachers, schools and students. Add in the complicated and ever-twisting bureaucratic channels that TFA had to navigate and I think we can consider the GF accommodations close to a miracle.

Temple designated GF toaster with my Udi’s bagel warming up.

Temple’s GF zone — the GF food options are located in a designated “gluten-free/Kosher zone.” It remains unclear to me why you would combine the Kosher and GF options but…what can you do!

Temple’s GF microwave — Temple had many frozen GF products stored in a freezer in the GF zone.

I was very impressed with Temple’s gluten free infrastructure.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect. The food was bland and unhealthful but that wasn’t because it was GF. It was college cafeteria food!  In addition to the GF zone and availability of GF products the dining hall provided all TFA corps members with bagged lunch. The people with restricted diets (ranging from GF to Kosher to Peanut Free) would pick up their lunches in a separate, designated area.  Each food item (entrée, sides, snacks and drinks) was labeled with the person’s name and dietary restriction. Mine read: Cecilia Bonaduce — Gluten Free

In addition to the five weeks at Temple I spent one week in Washington DC at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel.  The accommodations there were even more impressive than at Temple.  The hotel served breakfast sandwiches every morning for the Teach For America people but at the end of the buffet line there were individually packaged and labeled GF breakfasts consisting of bacon, eggs and fruit.  When they served Italian food for lunch they had a labeled and separate area with GF pasta and sauce.  Though the salad had croutons mixed in it took nothing more than a simple request to one of the waiters to receive a fresh crouton-free salad.

This was my absolute favorite food moment:

The hotel provided bagged lunch and instead of a wilted, undressed salad or a couple of carrot sticks (my old expectations for an “accommodation.”) I opened my brown bag to find a brown rice wrap.  Real food!

After this experience I realized that even if you are going to a catered event with 1,000 people like I did this summer we should be accommodated.  I have officially raised my expectations.  I am hoping for a Pygmalion effect of sorts in which my high expectations will yield positive results in terms of promoting awareness and making accommodations for gluten free people as reasonable, due and necessary  as providing options for vegetarians has become in recent years.

It is time that you, just like me, adjust your expectations in order to protect your health and well-being. I used to hold low expectations because I did not think that GF accommodations were possible. I am telling you now that I am positive that it is possible. I witnessed such accommodations this summer and I hope to continue to experience such positive and inclusive events.  Furthermore, in the event that accommodations are not met, I will be holding myself to higher expectations as well. I expect myself to be an advocate, to speak up and to stand up for what I believe is reasonable, due and necessary.

-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

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

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

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