Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beware the Cross Contamination

I spent the last week feeling crappy. My gut was unhappy. I had a cold coming on. I worked late a lot of nights and didn't go to the gym. Whenever I have the angry gut and sore throat combo I start to wonder if I've been getting some gluten somewhere.

All of this started after my night at the Mellow Mushroom. I can't say for sure that their gluten free pizza wasn't really gluten free, but I realized that I took it on blind faith that it was. I didn't ask any questions about precautions they took to ensure that there was no cross contamination in the toppings or in the oven. I don't think there are any legal obligations that a restaurant has to ensure that their gluten free items are truly gluten free. I know of one pizza place in particular that carries gluten free pizza. I ate there on a regular basis until I found out that they clean everything at the end of the night by blowing the surfaces with compressed air. Gluten blows all around and the toppings, sauces, and utensils are not necessarily covered. There's certainly no guarantee that cross contamination doesn't happen there. I don't know that I ever got sick from eating that pizza, but I no longer feel confident doing so.

At my house, I am the crumb police. I have issued a war on crumbs, and everything, from where we store the gluten-full toaster to what cutting boards are okay to use, has a rule. When a gluten free person and a gluten full person share a kitchen, certain rules have to exist. For example:
1. No gluten shall touch my stoneware (it is porous, and porous materials hang on to gluten).
2. Any gluten-full crumbs must be wiped up immediately and the towel thrown in the wash. Just brushing them onto the floor doesn't count. Use cleaner.
3. Clean the counters before you lay a slice of GF bread on them. Better yet, always use a clean plate.
4. We don't have a dishwasher, so gluten-full dishes get washed AFTER the gluten free ones. Then the dish rag gets run through the washing machine.
5. No wooden utensils. If they come in contact with gluten once, they are never truly gluten free (they are porous and soak up the gluten).
6. Wash your hands after touching gluten-full food. (Dog treats included.)

This is just a handful of the rules around my kitchen that make my food safe for me to eat. I wonder if restaurants with gluten-free menus have rules to keep the food safe. I'm sure that some do. Some chefs are highly educated and aware of food sensitivities (gluten and others). They are the ones that know their ingredients and can tell you everything that is in the food that they prepare.

Ming Tsai, of the PBS cooking show Simply Ming is my hero in this area. On his web site he has a page dedicated to food allergies. He is a spokesperson for FAAN, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. FAAN is an organization dedicated to making it safe for people with food allergies to eat out. It is one of my dreams to make it to Boston someday to eat at Ming's restaurant Blue Ginger.

Celiac disease isn't a food allergy, it's an autoimmune disease. But, as inconvenient and scary as it is to know the health risks I incur if I eat gluten, I don't have to worry about immediate death upon eating the offending food. Still, getting "glutened" isn't okay. It does has serious long term (and short term) affects on my health. It's up to me to ask the right questions and to know what I'm eating.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mellowing out at Mellow Mushroom

Beer and Pizza. The Holy Grail of the Celiac. There are several places around Columbus where you can enjoy a cold one and a slice for that occasional night of carb-filled debauchery. Tonight, we tried a new one. Mellow Mushroom.

I have fond memories of Mellow Mushroom from my gluten-full days. Ben and I had our first encounter with the 'Shroom on our honeymoon in Charleston, S.C. It was the best pizza we had ever eaten. Then, about a year ago, one opened in Columbus. Fast forward to 2011 when I found out that they have gluten free pizza! We finally made it there tonight to give it a try.

Now, the gluten free pizza there is not as earth-shattering as the slice I had in Charleston, but it is pretty darn good. It is unique, and the crust has a soft crisp bite, but is not what I'd call crispy. They also carry Bard's sorghum beer. It was a delicious combo.

Part of what I enjoy about Mellow Mushroom is the atmosphere. Where else can you go for a pizza in the Columbus suburbs where Dancing Bears adorn the walls and the drink special costs $4.20 and is called "Grateful Dead"?


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Re-learning my way around the kitchen

I've been very fortunate to have a husband who has spent a great deal of the last six months cooking for me. Sure, I've made some things here and there, but for the most part, the kitchen has been his domain. Well, this weekend he went back to work. As part of his transition back to work, he's supposed to take it easy at home.

So, I got up on Saturday morning with the plan to make a delicious breakfast and lunch for him. For breakfast I planned to make a gluten free version of my mom's blueberry cream muffins. The recipe makes a ton of muffins, so I was planning on having these all week.

Given my past successes with adapting muffin recipes, I thought this would be a no-brainer. I was wrong. The muffins burned. The bottoms and sides were black, even though the tops were a nice golden brown. I baked them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (which is what the recipe said) and it was too much for too long. I put two muffin tins in the oven at the same time, so that meant two of three batches were burned. And that the house smelled like burning. I turned down the oven to 350 and baked the third tray for 15 minutes. They came out much better. But still not mom's. The didn't really rise, and were kind of tough if you ask me. Ben liked them, but I'm fairly convinced he'll eat anything if there are blueberries in it. And he didn't really expect them to taste like my mom's.

After that debacle, I moved on to lunch. On the menu: bean burgers with rice and broccoli. I have had trouble in the past with bean burgers. They seem so simple, but when it comes time to cook them, mine crumble and break and stay soft. So I thought I would bake them. After baking them for a while, I realized that they were not getting firm, or crisp, or anything but hot. So Ben suggested I finish them up by frying them. I went this route and ended up with a crumbly, breaking mess in a smoking skillet. I gave up. Ben made himself some black bean roll ups with some leftovers.

Now, I'll admit that I do not have a good recipe for gluten free bean burgers, so I improvise. I'll also admit that when I've been away from the kitchen for a while, my improvisation skills are diminished. It takes me a while to find my footing again.

So last night, I made two dinners for us to eat over the next few days. I made a small pan of Mexican lasagna and tried a new soup recipe. The soup was from my newest cookbook The Potato and Rice Bible. I purchased this cookbook after my Saturday morning fails sent me to Half-Price Books looking for something to help me find my way back to "good cook" status.

I love the idea of this cookbook. Potatoes and rice are inexpensive gluten-free staples. Most of the recipes are gluten free by nature, but some do require some tweaking. The recipe I made last night required no tweaking: Chorizo and Kale soup. I did substitute some ingredients that I didn't have (beef broth for vegetable broth and smoked sausage for chorizo), but I think I preserved the integrity of the soup. Ben had a bowl when he came home from work and he was seriously impressed with it. I think it will be in my regular rotation from here on out. Success! Now if only I could conquer the bean burger...