Tag Archives: gluten sensitivity

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


Gluten Free Sandwich…from a Deli!

13 Feb

I have a hard time trusting non-gluten free restaurants, specifically pizza and sandwich places, that try and serve gluten free foods.  The risk of cross-contamination is so great that the uncertainty drives me nuts.  Not only is there an excessive amount of gluten ingredients floating around but also, I can’t watch the kitchen staff handle my order.  Honestly, it feels like a sick form of gambling, a Celiac version of Russian roulette, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort that restaurants are making to provide food to GF customers, but I feel that they are targeting the gluten intolerant as opposed to Celiacs, which can be confusing and dangerous for consumers.

Despite my hesitations, I recently dined at a sandwich shop that offered gluten free bread.  Luckily, the sandwiches at this establishment are assembled within view of the customers so I had the opportunity to watch how they handled making a gluten free sandwich amongst a sea of gluten sandwiches!

As a UC Berkeley Bear, it is much to my dismay that my fabulous experience at the sandwich shop happened at Stanford University’s CoHo Cafe.  Here is what I observed:

First, when I ordered the sandwich, I told the cashier that my reaction to gluten is severe and that my sandwich “could not come into contact with any utensils or products that have been touching wheat.”  Similarly to how I sometimes describe a Celiac as being “functionally allergic to gluten,” I did not use the phrase “cross-contamination” so as to avoid confusion over jargon.

You should always remind waitstaff and/or chefs at restaurants offering GF products about cross-contamination.  Some places start offering GF products before they do the necessary research about safe kitchen practices.

After placing my order I watched as the person constructing the sandwiches read my order.  She promptly removed her gloves and took a few knives and a cutting board to a sink to wash them with soap and water. Next, she put on a new pair of gloves and grabbed a package of Udi’s bread from a cabinet.  Interestingly, these were the largest slices of Udi’s bread I have ever seen, they must have been special ordered.

The woman toasted the bread in a designated panini press.  While they were toasting, she went into a back room and brought out a small assortment of condiments that had never been used on wheat products.  She assembled the sandwich on the clean cutting board and cut it in half with the newly washed knife.

It was so great to watch such efficient and proper protocol!  I think Subway could learn a lot from this tiny sandwich shop!  Check out this youtube video of a gluten free customer at Subway checking for cross-contamination.  I also think that college campuses should try to catch up with Stanford’s quality service (I am cringing while typing this).  I had  a meal plan at UC Berkeley for a year and the sandwich station in the dining hall was 100% off limits for me.  Not only was there an unreliable supply of gluten free bread but the staff was simply unaware about cross-contamination and how to avoid it. You know someone has fantastic service when a Bear is willing to compliment the actions of anyone or anything even remotely related to Stanford, let alone a Cafe on their campus.

My sandwich was delicious.  Since my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I have been craving a deli-made sandwich.  I don’t know why, but there is something special about a sandwich made by a deli…for some reason my sandwiches at home simply aren’t the same.

It is important that restaurants offering GF meals are aware about cross contamination!  Next time you dine out, try talking to your server or the chef about how the food is prepared. California Pizza Kitchen had trouble with cross contamination when they tried to offer  a GF pizza crust. How did they figure out there was a problem?  A pro-active Celiac spoke up.  Now, CPK is working with GIG to develop safe kitchen protocol for their GF products.

Cross-contamination is a serious issue.  You do not have to be an expert, you simply need to advocate for yourself, in order to help a restaurant improve their GF service.

-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

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolutions

30 Dec

New Year’s Resolutions typically focus on self-improvement: a new diet, more exercise, waking up earlier etc.  Although we all work incredibly hard to adhere to the gluten free diet, there is always room for improvement! Making a New Year’s Resolution focusing on improving your gluten free diet is a great way to improve your health and happiness in 2012.

I hate when I get “glutened.”  I find it so discouraging and depressing, not to mention the fact that I am in physical pain as well.  There are steps we can take, rules we can follow, that will decrease the likelihood of getting sick at a restaurant.  The steps aren’t fun…that is why I advise that you take this GF challenge as your New Year’s Resolution.

#1 New Year’s Resolution: Be Gluten Free.

What am I talking about?  I’m already gluten free!!  What I mean is, be extremely gluten free.  I sometimes find myself experiencing this at restaurants: I am fairly confident that a dish on the menu is gluten free but I just want to double-check, only to discover that my waiter has NO idea what I am talking about and can’t answer a single question. Despite my diminished confidence in the dish, I order it anyways.  I sometimes find myself experiencing this at friends houses: someone offers me something to eat that they have made but they have no idea what gluten is and stare at me with their eyes glazed over as I try to ask what ingredients they used, but I eat it anyways.

Many times, I feel so frustrated when I am almost certain, but want confirmation that something is GF that I just give up trying to communicate and just eat whatever the food in question is. My New Year’s Resolution is to stop doing this.

At restaurants, order things that are naturally gluten free (still double-check for cross-contamination though).  Instead of asking questions about a chicken dish that may or may not be dredged in flour, order a salad without croutons or dressing.  Instead of ordering a soup that may or may not be thickened with flour order a hamburger patty without the bun.  DO NOT order french fries at restaurants.  They can be coated with a beer batter, coated in a wheat paste and/or fried in contaminated oil, all scenarios that a waiter is unlikely to know about.  Don’t try to “beat the system,” instead, proudly embrace being gluten free.

Being truly gluten free means giving up uncertainty.  If you are unsure, do not eat it.  I find that erring on the side of caution is better for my health but is difficult to do because of social pressure to be less “picky” about food.

My New Year’s Resolution is to be truly gluten free by giving up uncertainty and erring on the side of caution.

#2 New Year’s Resolution

My second New Year’s Res is to become more informed by following some gluten free blogs and twitter accounts.  This may sound funny, as I am a blogger but I am not very involved in the gluten free blogging world as a reader!  My goal is to find some GF blogs that I find helpful/interesting and that are updated regularly and follow them.  Of course, you can always start off the New Year by following my blog, CC Gluten Freed.  In the future I will post some of the GF blogs that I have started following as part of my New Year’s Resolution.

Following blogs is a great way to get new information that will motivate you to continue on the gluten free diet but if you aren’t in the mood to sit down and read a long post, I suggest finding some GF twitter accounts to follow.  Twitter is a forum that lets you absorb a lot of information very quickly.  I have a twitter account that I update whenever I am out and about and have an interesting gluten free experience.  Look to the right of this post and you will see a few of my tweets!  Follow me at http://twitter.com/#!/CcGlutenFreed

You can search #glutenfree or #celiac to see relevant tweets about being gluten free.

#3 New Year’s Resolution

My third GF New Year’s Resolution only applies to people with “smart phones” and it is to start using the phone to help with the gluten free diet.  How?  Download apps like “Find Me Gluten Free,” an app that takes your current location and gives you a list of GF restaurants near you.  The app provides info about the restaurants, their GF menu, phone number, address and directions.

Other useful phones apps are “scanner apps,” like Celiaccess, that allow you to scan the bar code of a product at a grocery store and the app will tell you if it is GF.  This means you no longer have to strain your eyes reading the teeny tiny text of the ingredients.

I also suggest downloading a News Widget set to update you on any news about gluten.  Set gluten as the key word and everyday you will have new articles about gluten from all over the world right on your phone.

I hope the New Year is filled with health and gluten free food!  Good luck with whatever you decide to do for your New Year’s Resolution!  If you have anymore GF Resolution ideas post a comment.

Happy New Year

-Cc

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