Monday, November 30, 2009

GF Menus: A Cautionary Tale

I will keep this short, but here is a lesson recently learned about gluten free menus. A couple weeks ago my husband and I ate at Molly Woo's at Polaris. We choose the restaurant because it has been our experience that Cameron Mitchell restaurants are well prepared to meet my gluten free needs. I was thrilled to find that they had a gluten free menu printed out and gluten free soy sauce in case I wanted anything off of the regular menu (they would prepare it specially with the GF soy sauce).

I ordered the calamari appetizer. I LOVE calamari and had missed it so much. Keep in mind that I ordered from the Gluten Free menu and told the server that I needed her to make sure that it was gluten free (the whole speal). When she brought it to the table, it had two sauces in ramekins on the plate. I hadn't seen the sauces listed on the GF menu so I asked about them. I was SHOCKED to find that one of the sauces contained gluten! and the server knew it! and no one would have told me if I hadn't asked!


I explained the problem with the scenario to the server, but I don't think she got it. Rather than make a scene, I have emailed about my experience to corporate. We'll see if I hear anything back.

Lesson learned. You can't assume that ordering from the GF menu is enough. Speak up. Ask questions.

Important note: I didn't get sick (Hurray!) but it was a close call.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spending Hours On What Used To Be An Excuse Not To Cook

I miss take-out Chinese food. Happy House on 5th Avenue in Grandview was my go-to spot. Their General Tso's Chicken is so good I never managed to order anything else on the menu! If you are not gluten free I suggest you go eat some. Now.

So, after almost a year of no General Tso's, I decided to make my own. I had been sitting on a recipe for General Tso's Chicken and finally set aside an evening to make it. Good thing I had an evening. It took almost 2 hours. Maybe it will be faster next time, but probably not by much.

It was delicious, and I'll definitely make it again, but wow. Deep frying in a wok was easier than I expected, but I had to fry the chicken in small batches. I think that's what took so long... I think next time I make it I will try to convince my husband to do that part. :)

I found the recipe here and doubled it. I used chicken breast, added sliced onion and broccoli, and used pepper flakes. Next time I will triple the sauce and add more red pepper.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ode to Cinnamon Chex

Cinnamon Toast Crunch was my favorite cereal of all time before my diagnosis. It was desert and breakfast and snacks and I'm pretty sure I've even made dinner out of it.
When General Mills announced that they were reformulating Rice Chex to be gluten free and making other flavors gluten free, I (like a lot of Celiacs) was thrilled. I was even more ecstatic when I found Cinnamon Chex. It's not the same as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, I won't try to kid myself. But it's the closest thing I've got. And it's healthier. A grown-up version. When I have a bowl of Cinnamon Chex with yogurt, I don't care that I can't eat a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
What I don't like about Cinnamon Chex is the price and availability. Kroger doesn't always have it. Target, Marcs, and Giant Eagle have it sometimes. At Giant Eagle I paid $4.75 for a box! Tonight on a rare trip to Walmart I found it for $2.00 a box. Normally, I'm not a fan of Walmart. I'd rather buy from a local grocery, but in this economy, when gluten free food is already 300% more than the regular versions (I never thought I would consider mac and cheese a luxury), that's a deal I can't pass up.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the choices we make

This is a story about my most recent gluten free fail and why I should always listen to that little voice that tells me to step away from the food.

I was at my parents' house this weekend, and they are truly wonderful about feeding me gluten free food. But they can't protect me from myself.

Now, at my house, I am very strict about not double dipping into jars. My husband has been well trained, and if he forgets and there's even a slight potential gluten contamination, we label the jar and he eats the rest (I open a fresh jar for myself). This rarely happens, but if it does, this method has been very helpful for us.

So why, oh why did I think that I should put jelly from the 1/2 full jar in my parents' fridge on my gluten free bread bed time snack? There were many unopened jars in the cupboard for me to choose from. I could have opened a fresh jar and eaten my bread and jelly worry free? why, after putting the potentially contaminated jelly on my gluten free bread and having the thought "I shouldn't eat this" did I go ahead and wolf it down?

Because if nothing else: I am a gluten for punishment.

I told that nagging voice in my head "It will be fine! I don't know for sure that there are crumbs in this jelly. I only have a few pieces of GF bread with me. It would be sacrilege to throw these away..." and it was delicious. I went to bed smug that I was feeling fine.

and then about 12 hours later I felt it. The tightness in my abdomen. the pokey pain around my insides. the rapidly expanding stomach (I looked about 4 months prego by lunch time). the overwhelming feeling of failure. Because this time, I have no one to blame but myself.

My mom did everything right. None of the food she put on the table for me made me sick. It was my choices, my lapse in the vigilance, my gluttony that did it.

So while I didn't dive face first into the donut case at the grocery like I wanted to, I still failed to follow the first and most important rule of gluten free eating: don't assume that what you don't know to be safe will be "ok".

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Making From Scratch What Others Buy At The Store

I grew up in a family that made things from scratch. No frozen pie crusts for us. If it was worth making, it was worth making the long way. Mom still bakes the majority of her bread (except Dad's sandwich bread) and Grandma make homemade noodles that put to shame anything you can buy. So with my gluten free diagnosis, it didn't seem like such a big deal that I should have to make pretty much all of my baked goods from scratch, especially if I didn't want to shell out the equivalent of a dinner out for a small cheesecake from Whole Foods. Besides, the majority of the pre-made gluten free fare isn't that great. Not when you're used to things made from scratch.
Most of this has been fun. I've been challenged to make things that I normally would have bought at a store or relied on someone else to make for me. Case in point, cheesecake. It took two tries, but I now have a fantastic and relatively simple recipe for gluten free cheesecake that even the gluten-eaters enjoy.
Last winter I did a stint at an Italian restaurant as a second job. While there and while in denial of my diagnosis, I fell in love. With gnocchi. Sauteed gnocchi with garlic and olive oil and sausage and onions finished with a wedge of grilled lemon. Yum... Oh gnocchi, how I missed you... Until tonight. Tonight I decided to make my own gluten free gnocchi as part of a lovely dinner for my husband.
Have you ever watched "them" make gnocchi on TV? They make it look so fun and easy! They even get the kids to help with cutting the long ropes of dough and marking them with a fork. It's a wonderful family activity. Right... it's wonderful... if you have help. The reason that it is a family activity is because it is too damn tedious to do by yourself. Having never made any kind of gnocchi before, it is also a bit nerve racking because they look like doughy lumps of par-boiled dough and taste like nothing or worse until you cover them with sauce. Fortunately, about 1/3 of the way through my cutting, forking, boiling, and freaking out about whether they were coming out like they were supposed to, my husband came to the rescue. He took over the cutting and forking while I concentrated on the boiling and the sauce.
The result: delicious. The process: long. The plan: next time I need to convince an ambitious 8 year old that this is "fun."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gluten: It's not sugar

A rant and rave about restaurants

The rant

As a former waitress, I have nothing but love for my comrades in the restaurant industry. However, sometimes, people are really frustrating. Twice now, I've gone to a restaurant, explained to the server that I needed to maintain a gluten free diet. I have asked questions about specific menu items. I have said the magic words "wheat, barley, and rye" and yet, when I finish my schpeal, the servers have looked straight at me and said, "So, no sugar, right?"


I get that my order might sound a lot like that of a person on a low-carb diet, but come on! An Atkins dieter would not ask about the ingredients list or brand names for your salad dressing. An Atkin's dieter will not get very very sick if you drop a crouton in her salad.

The rave

Anyone who is or has eaten with a Celiac knows that going to restaurants can be a challenge. This weekend, I met some friends for dinner at a newer Mediterranean restaurant in town. That type of food is usually pretty safe and Aladdin’s even has a GF menu printed, so I went in with more confidence than usual. I still prepared myself for a dinner of lettuce drizzled in olive oil and vinegar (my fall back when nothing else appears safe), but was cautiously optimistic. I would feel better if the person I ordered from knew what gluten is… So, I spoke with the person behind the counter who immediately went to a cook and asked about a gluten free menu. It was apparent that this was not the first time they’d been asked and that they did have some sort of plan for feeding people who can’t have gluten.

The cook came over and discussed my options with me, which were far more than I had anticipated! In the end, I got a Greek salad with lamb. Wonderful, gyro style seasoned lamb. DELISH!

So, if you are Celiac, or a friend of a Celiac and want to choose a fantastic dinner place where everyone will be happy and where you will spend far less that you’d expect, go to Lavash in Clintonville. You won’t be sorry.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sometimes it's not so bad

The salon where my hair stylist works just got a line of gluten free hair products (AND all their shampoo and conditioner is GF). Hurray!

Then I went to Robeks and they were super nice about helping me find a smoothie combo that would be gluten free. Word to the wise, the fiber-bek powder has barley malt in it.

At home I had a delicious Italian sub (bread thanks to Holiday Baking Company).

And today, gluten free doesn't seem like a difficult way to live at all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Got zucchini?

I had a lot of zucchini. Since my zucchini bread failed, and i wasn't motivated to do more baking, I needed a new plan.

Most of my cooking involves looking through the kitchen and coming up with a "concoction" that will be gluten free and won't involve a trip to the store. Sometimes it's barely edible, other times it works out well enough for me to write it down. And so I give you:

Creamy Zucchini Casserole
equal parts shredded zucchini and cooked brown rice (enough to fill your casserole dish)
ground pepper and chives to taste
1/2 onion chopped small
1/2 c kielbasa sausage diced into small pieces
sour cream (use enough to coat everything, but not so much that it's all you can taste)
shredded cheddar cheese to cover the top of the casserole

Mix everything except the cheese together in your casserole dish and smooth out the top. Cover the top with the shredded cheddar cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-60 minutes until everything is hot, the zucchini is tender, and the cheese is beginning to brown. Baking time mostly varies based on the size of your casserole dish.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Fall Favorite

Here is one of the first recipes that I made after going gluten free. I like to stick to foods that are naturally gluten free and that are easily reheatable. Many of my gluten-y friends have asked for this recipe. It's just good. It makes a great one-bowl dinner.

Stuffed Squash Casserole
1 acorn squash peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound ground meat
1 onion diced
1 cup uncooked wild rice blend
1 medium carrot
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 tablespoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 handful raisins (or dried cranberries)

Cook the rice and set aside.
Place the squash in the bottom of a buttered baking dish.
Sautee the veggies in butter and add the meat and spices. Once the meat is browned, add the rice.
Remove from heat and mix in the raisins.
Put the meat/rice mix over the squash and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Diagnosis

It’s been over a year since I heard the term “Celiac.” A coworker was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and suggested that I see her doctor. I hoped that he would be able to help my myriad of symptoms, but knew that if he said “Celiac” that my life would be over.

As with most Celiacs, the road to diagnosis is never straightforward. On my first visit he said “no gluten.” And drew some blood to test for the “Celiac gene.” This gene does not mean that you have Celiac, but 95 percent of Celiacs have the gene, so it’s a pretty good indicator. I stopped eating gluten. Started feeling better. Blood test came back negative for the gene. Now, I’ve played over what exactly the doctor told me at that point. I’m not sure what he said, but I'm sure it wasn't what I heard (and did) which was this: Don’t eat gluten…most of the time. In a couple months when Thanksgiving and Christmas comes, a little gluten won’t hurt you.

So, by the time the fourth family Christmas (yep. My first Christmas as a married lady involved 4 family Christmases) rolled around, I had thrown caution to the wind and was eating pretty much every warm, sweet, gluten-y thing I could put in my mouth.

January. Back at the doctor with stomach pain that won’t go away. He takes one look at my distended abdomen and says “what have you been eating?” Ummm… bagels every day this week? Right. I was presenting with classic celiac symptoms. Also, my blood work showed some of the malabsorption issues and the deficiencies that had begun to correct themselves were getting worse. “No gluten.” That was my answer. I was one of the 5 percent. (No, I did not have a small bowel biopsy done. It is the gold standard of Celiac disease testing, but the blood work and gluten test were enough to convince my doctor, so that’s good enough for me. I also had an antibody test, which showed gluten antibodies.)

Now, one might assume that I went home, purged my life of gluten and lived happily ever after… Well, I never claimed to be the brightest crayon in the box, so that night I went out and ate ½ a large Plank’s pizza. I was so sick for days afterward that from that day on, I have not purposely eaten gluten. Anyone who has observed a gluten free lifestyle knows, however, that purpose is only part of the battle. I’m still figuring out the gluten free life; still training my husband not to poison me with his crumbs; still explaining that no, a “little bit” will actually hurt me. That is what I want to share here.

I have learned so much from the seasoned Celiacs in the web community that I want to share my own challenges, goof ups, victories, and stories. And so I give you: A Gluten for Punishment. I hope you enjoy!