Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to fix holiday gluten-free cookie mishaps

We have lived in the same house for twenty years. So have three other sets of neighbors who have become like family. None of us have relatives in town so we long ago started a tradition of spending the holidays together. One neighbor always does Christmas Eve, another New Year's Eve. Our family and the family next door alternate having dinner and dessert in our homes on Christmas Day. Then if Penn State is in a bowl game on New Year's Day, we host a bowl game brunch back at our house.
This year, I'm having Christmas Day dessert so my daughter, Amanda, who has celiac disease and I are baking lots of cookies. In past years I've always served a combination of cookies made with wheat flour and gluten-free cookies. All my recipes are marked with little scribbles about how much of the "wet ingredients" I have to mix up and add to the smaller amounts of gluten-free dry ingredients. I let each of my children pick their favorite recipe and then make two versions of each. My son's peppermint candy candy cookies have always been the biggest challenge. You have to roll the dough, half of which is red and half of which is white, into two long strips and twist them together to form the candy cane. You can imagine what this is like using stretch-less gluten-free dough. Still, somehow I manage to make about a half a dozen for Amanda.
But with all the improvements in gluten-free flours over the years, I decided it was time to change to all gluten-free cookies. I reasoned this would make everything much easier and the cookies would taste just as good.
Over the weekend Amanda and I set out to make eight to ten different kinds. We started with a new recipe I found for gingerbread cookies. I was a little worried because the dough did not look like it was going to form the nice ball the recipe called for. But I've been baking gluten-free for almost as long as we have lived in our house so I told Amanda, whose help in baking is a newer phenomenon, not to panic. Some time in the refrigerator would surely firm it up.
It worked and I was able to roll out the dough into a nice flat circle.
We pressed our cute new cookie cutters into it, leaving scraps like a dress maker who has snipped a pattern from a swath of cloth. But we found it nearly impossible to get the cut shapes onto the cookie sheet intact.
Still not to worry. I lifted each carefully with my flattest edged metal spatula, which worked until the dough started to warm up a tiny bit and stuck to the parchment paper. Amanda suggested leaving the dough in the cookie cutter, lifting it and gently tapping it out onto the cookie sheet. You can always learn from the young and this worked. We triumphantly slid the sheet in the oven and peered through the door only to watch our reindeer and Santas spread into amorphous blobs. After repeating this several times, we decided that since everything was coming out as a big circle anyway we would stop trying to make cut-out cookies, just rolled the rest of the dough into circles and baked it that way. They taste great. They just don't look like much.
Next we decided to make a tried-and-true favorite, peanut butter kiss cookies. I've made these gluten-free for many years and never had any problems. But as soon as we put the round, sugar coated balls of dough in the oven, they flatten and spread like pancakes. What was going on here?
I have a new oven. Could that be it? I was using a new pre-made flour mix instead of my old one. Was that the culprit? But wait, there is no flour in the kiss cookie recipe. I switched from margarine to butter (said to be better for baking and your health). Was that a mistake?
I don't really know the answer. I suspect it was the flour mix with the gingerbread cookies because I did a search through the wonderful gluten-free baking blogs and found others had had the same problem with this mix when baking cookies.
The more important point in all this for me was that these cooking "challenges" reminded me what it's like when you are new to the gluten-free diet and you are trying so hard and everything is going wrong. I don't often get that feeling anymore. But I realized my daughter who was soldiering on with me in the kitchen will as she takes over more and more responsibility for her food. I know those new to the gluten-free diet this holiday season may be ready to weep over their flops. All that time, effort and money and nothing to show for it.
In a strange way, I like reconnecting with all of you who are new to the gluten-free diet through my own cookie mishaps. After many years it's easy to start thinking the gluten-free diet is no big deal. But at the beginning it is.
My advice is don't give up. Take advantage of all the experience of really good gluten-free chefs (myself not included) who blog for the love of gluten-free cooking. Their recipes are imaginative and beautifully photographed on their blogs. They have often worked out all the bugs and if you follow their recipes precisely you might avoid the problem I ran into by using a recipe from a general cooking site instead of a specifically gluten-free source. In comments section you can sometimes find someone else has already asked for the solution to the exact problem you are having as I did when I typed "Why are my gluten-free cut out cookies spreading too thin?" into one search section. Karina Allrich, Shauna James Ahern , and Kate Chan are good places to start.
And don't forget the avalance of gluten-free cook books now readily available in your bookstore or through amazon.com. These authors are using new flours and techniques to make better-than-ever gluten free baked goods. I love anything by Carol Fenster and Elizabeth Barbone has 15 holiday cookies in her book Easy Gluten -Free Baking.
Amanda and I have taken a few days off from cooking to shop and to wrap presents. But we'll be back in the kitchen later today to finish off the rest of our recipes. We might not have gingerbread reindeer and Santas, but we were able to fix the kiss cookies in our second try. And we'll make adjustments and teach each other a few things whenever we run into hiccups. I love being in the kitchen with my now nearly grown daughter more than any cookie.
Whatever you end up with as a result of your holiday baking this year, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and are blessed with good health and happiness in the New Year.


Amy

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gluten-Free Living Holiday Gift Guide

When it hits me that December is really here, I know it’s time to get serious about finding gifts for family and friends.
In our house there are special challenges because we celebrate both Chanukah for my husband and children and Christmas for me. On top of that, my husband’s birthday is December 21. He says he never minded his yuletide birthday because it falls in a time of year when everyone is full of good cheer. (That might mean everyone but me as I struggle to find two of his biggest gifts of the year within four days!)
Whatever your reason for looking for that perfect gift, here are some of the most interesting treats, tools, and treasurers for the gluten-free recipients on your list. I combed catalogues, stores, websites, magazines and blogs to find unique items with price tags of all sizes.
Even in this tough economy, I was drawn to gifts that are somehow out-of-the-ordinary and a little bit of a splurge. But this was true whether the gift was an inexpensive stocking stuffer or for a bigger package under the tree.

Fancy Food
When you follow the gluten-free diet, food is a natural gift and there are many beautifully packaged gluten-free goodies out there, from gift baskets, to boxes of biscotti , to cookies that “do good.”

I Can Have That fills a holiday tin to overflowing with dark chocolate, orange cranberries, smoked salmon, Parmesan chips, cookies and pumpkin seed brittle for about $55.





Gluten Smart packs everything from margarita mix, to gourmet cheese crackers to chocolate bars in its snack pack for about $50.


Gifts Gone Gourmet, which emphasizes artisan made products from California, stuffs cookies, kettle corn, pretzels, dried fruit olives and nuts into a pretty white box decorated with gold stars and ribbon for about $37.




Gluten-free Gifts “You Take the Cake” prettily packages Betty Crocker yellow or devils food cake mix with two round cake pans, a stainless steel cake server and platter for about $25.





Curious Cookie adds a fun logo to each of its gift packages. For Christmas you can choose from the Holly Jolly or Christmas Cookie Tree baskets and tins. “Have a jolly with a cookie and holly” or “Have yourself a merry little cookie.” Price range from about $27 to $40








Vanilla Spoons doesn’t have a specific holiday gift basket, but you can find themed packages that might be perfect for that special someone. “Mrs. Doubt That’s Not Gluten” includes treats that no one will notice are gluten free for $105. Other gifts include “Movie Mania” and “Mix in the City,” a collection of gluten-free mixes.




Mariposa, one of our favorite gluten-free bakeries, offers biscotti, brownie and combination gifts packaged in a homey kraft box tied with satin ribbon or raffia. Prices range from about $21 to $38.


Frontier Soups has a slightly different spin on the gift basket, filling theirs with hearty soup mixes. The company makes 27 gluten-free varieties. You can build your own soup basket with five to ten soup mixes. A sale going on now offers the basket, crinkle filler and wrapper for $1. Soups cost from $5.50 to $9.95 each.




Two smaller food gifts also caught my eye. Do Goodies gluten-free cookies come in a six-cookie gift pack in two varieties for about $10. All the profits from the sale of these cookies goes to the Greyston Foundation, which provide jobs, affordable housing and health care to the underprivileged. You can give a nice gift and feel good about it.







I also like Crate&Barrel's holiday star syrup, a 6.75 ounce star-shaped bottle of pure grade A maple syrup for about $14. While the price might seem a little steep, the bottle is festive and unexpectedly in the holiday spirit. It's also glass and reusable so that justifies this little extravagance a bit.
Gift baskets and gluten-free foods make great useful gifts, but keep mind that you need to order early and that postage will add to the cost.


Hanukkah
While most holiday gift baskets have a Christmas theme, we found a few gluten-free Hanukkah treasures.
The cutest comes from L.A. Burdick Chocolates, a gourmet artisan chocolate company whose products are handmade. You can order a box of nine chocolate Hanukkah mice in a wooden box with a blue ribbon with a silver wax menorah seal for $32. Or you can get 16 pieces of chocolate and one chocolate mouse in the same packaging for $20. Burdick’s website cautions those with allergies, but Carolyn Kohler a sales and customer service representative assured me all the companies chocolates are gluten free.

Curious cookie sells both a Hanukkah cookie basket and tin with a label that says, “Cookie, cookie, cookie, I made you out of dough. Cookie, cookie, cookie, I ate them all – Oh No.” The basket has two pounds of cookies for about $40 and one pound for about $27. With Hanukkah so close, you have to order these right away to meet the company’s shipping cut off.





A little help in the kitchen
With all the time spent in the kitchen, any who is gluten free or anyone who cooks for someone who is deserves kitchen gadgets that work well, look nice and last a long time. And it’s even better to find some that are all three.

Although I know you might only use this for special occasions, I love Williams Sonoma’s Oreo Cookie cake pan. It’s actually two pans, top and bottom, that create a cake that looks like an Oreo cookie when you put white icing between the layers. Made with a gluten-free cake mix, I could see this as a big party hit. Williams- Sonoma’s website has a recipe for a chocolate cake that could easily be made gluten free by substituting gluten-free flour for the one cup of wheat flour it calls for.

At Target stores, you’ll find sweet, colorful cookie cutters shaped like Santa, a reindeer and a Christmas present. They seemed a size that would work well with tricky gluten-free cut-out cookie dough. For Hanukkah, you might like the snow flake shapes. All are made by Wilton. At about $4 for a set of three they would make a great stocking stuffer or simple gift for one night of Hanukkah.

I noticed the Animal House kitchen tools at Target a few months ago and thought they would also make great stocking stuffer especially for gluten-free college kids with their first apartment. The design of each tool incorporates an animal, the piranha pizza cutter for example. You’ll find everything from a Veg Hog veggie brush to a monkey peeler at Target and amazon. Prices range from about $8 t0 $10. I’ve since learned these were featured in O magazine, but I found them on my own first!

In keeping with the animal theme, but with a more refined touch, Anthropologie has a charming rooster kitchen timer for $10 that would make keeping track of when those gluten-free cookies are done a pleasure.
I also like the retro double kitchen timer that was sold at Anthropologie until it was mentioned in a New York Times gift guide. But not to worry, I found the same timer at amazon for about $10 less at $14.57.

One of my favorite gift finds is Anthropologie’s florist bloom measuring cups. For $36, the set included four stoneware cups (1, 1/2, 1/3 and ¼) to pretty to hide away in a drawer and perfect for keeping on the counter within easy reach.

A good knife and cutting board are invaluable in a gluten-free kitchen. These two simple, low tech tools can make preparing gluten-free bread so much easier. When I went in search of the best knife, Wusthof is the name that came up most often. Williams-Sonoma pairs an 8 inch Wusthof bread knife with a teak bread board for about $70.
I was also interested in Williams-Sonoma’s Kuhn Rikon bread knife, a less expensive choice at about $20. The knife’s 7-inch blade has a non-stick color coating said to cleanly slice fresh-baked bread. Sound perfect for gluten-free loaves. The handle is ergonomically designed and the knife comes with a red safety sheath to protect the blade.
When it comes to cutting boards, John Boos is the name on everyone’s lips. A 10 by 10 reversible solid hard rock maple board is one of those gifts that seem to meet my criteria of looking nice, working well and lasting long. The smaller board is about $19 or you can buy up for the larger 16 by 10 board for about $26, both at Cutlery and More.

Two things I honestly could not live without in my gluten-free kitchen are my Kitchen Aid mixer, now nearly 20 years old, and my bread machine, a recent replacement for one I had had for nearly as long as my mixer. These are bigger gifts, but you can be sure they will be used again and again for many years. Kitchen Aid is available in many discount and department stores, as well as on amazon for $200 and up depending on the model you buy.
Three bread machines seem to work best with gluten free bread, the Zojirushi – the tried and true brand, the Cuisinart, which now has two machines that can be programmed to make gluten-free bread, and the Breadman, which has expanded to three gluten-free programmable machines. They range from $100 to $200 and are available in stores and at amazon and other web sites. I’ve used all three brands and had success with each.


For the young and young at heart
It’s likely your gluten-free child has some high tech gift at the top of his or her list, but I found a few low-tech but fun and useful items you might want to wrap and give.
For all those times when your child has to tote gluten-free cupcakes to parties and school, Go Go cupcake has cute individual plastic cupcake carriers that look just like, well, a cupcake. A set of two, one “vanilla” with white “icing” and one “chocolate” with pink icing, are about $7 at amazon.

For some laughs mixed with learning, you don’t want to miss the new and likely first, gluten-free comic book. Drawn by the nationally known artist who has done Spiderman and other comics, Amy Goes Gluten Free, is the story of a redhead with ponytails, who is learning to adjust to her new gluten free diet. It’s expected to be available from the Celiac Disease Center at Children’s Hospital of Boston this month.

If your gluten-free daughter likes to help in the kitchen, Anthropologie has an adorable apron that will make her feel like a better cook the minute she ties it up. Special touches include starry sequins and crocheted snowflakes. Perfect for holiday cookie making, $24. Your gluten-free son might like his own apron from dandy lion designs. You can pick from a variety of fabrics, including airplanes, pirates, tools and trucks. Each apron, which fits children 3-7, can be ordered with cooking utensils, $30. A child’s apron illustrated by the Gluten-Free Illustrator, Erin Rogers Pickering, is also available at zazzle for about $16.

A simple T-shirt can also make a nice gift for any gluten-free kid. I am not a fan of the more negative slogans you find on some gluten-free shirts, but I do like the Gluten-Free Kid dinosaur T-shirt in bright blue from café press, $19. This web site has about 900 gluten-free items, ranging from shirts to underwear, to bags and stickers.

For little ones new to a gluten-free family, Celiac Chicks has a sweet Onesie with the hip chicks’ logo in soft pink or blue for about $14. For teen girls, try the chick junior ringer T-shirt in three great colors for about $22. Celiac Chicks donates 5 percent of its proceeds to celiac charities.






Although I don’t have a photo to show you of the very cool GF Keds offered by ZellaDesigns on zazzle, make sure you check them out for your tween or teen. The body of the slip-on shoe is a bold black and white polka dot with a hot pink GF symbol on each side. You can customize the toe cap and inside, choosing from a tiny floral pattern or red, yellow or green dots or strips. You have to see these shoes to appreciate how different they are. About $60.
For girls of all ages who would rather show celiac support on their wrists, Vael Designs, offers an awareness bracelet made with light green Swarovski crystals and an awareness ribbon form $25, with a portion of the proceeds going to celiac research.

In addition to these gifts, Gluten Smart and I Can Have That sell gifts baskets made for gluten-free kids.


For GF Guys


It's not easy to find gifts for our favorite gluten-free guys, but if you know one who loves barbecue, this gifts set from Denny Mike's might be just what you are looking for. It includes one rub - you can choose from flavors that include Chick Magnet and Cow Bell Hell - and one sauce for about $10. Denny Mike's is based in Maine, where it's native son owner has a goal of spreading the gospel of Texas BBQ from Maine to Florida.


For something a little more unusual, try Black Forest Bison's summer sausage gift set, which includes original and garlic summer sausage tied with a raffia bow on a bamboo cutting board for $39. The company is a family operated ranch in Colorado where the animals roam free in the pasture and are grass fed. No hormones, steroids or antibiotics are used. The American Heart Association recommends bison because it is low in fat and cholestrol.

The cost of gluten-free beer can make it seem like a luxury, so gluten-free guys of legal drinking age (and perhaps some girls, too) might appreciate of few six pack of Bard's Tale beer or Redbridge, both of which are increasingly available in beer stores across the country. Heck, you probably don't even have to wrap it. Just tie a bow on and it's ready for gift giving.

If you still need a gift idea
When nothing else seems right, you can always give a gift card. Kinnikinnick sells them in $5 denominations. Although the website seems to indicate you will be charged $10 for postage, that charge is eliminated when you get to check out. Postage for is actually $1.
Whole Bakers, a gluten-free cookie company, also offers gift cards from $10 to $250. You can order a card that will be sent to the recipient in the mail or a virtual card that will be sent by email.
Wegman’s, Whole Foods and many mainstream supermarkets now carry gluten-free items and sell gift cards, as do many restaurants with gluten-free menus, including Outback and P.F. Changs.

In some ways, this gift list involved much more heavy lifting than a trip to the local shopping mall. But I hope it helps you find something special for someone you care about.

Amy


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Our biggest and "best" Gluten-Free Living

You won't want to miss the new Gluten-Free Living. With every magazine we publish, we get bigger and better.
This is our first "Best Of" issue and includes updates of our most popular stories. Here's a sample:
Questions Linger about McDonald's Fries
By Amy Ratner
"If you are on the gluten-free diet and ordering at McDonald's, what do you say to the automatic question, "Do you want fries with that?" The answer is not as simple as it seems. There are some facts you should take into consideration when deciding whether you can include the fries in your diet..."

The Last Word on Vinegar
By Ann Whelan
"In late 1999, I decided to take the plunge and begin an investigation of the question, "Does vinegar contain gluten?" Five minutes after I started I realized the question should not have been asked in the first place..."

Feeling Your GF Oats
By Amy Ratner
"Oats can be confusing for those who follow the gluten-free diet. On the one hand you can't just walk into the supermarket and buy well-known brands of oats for breakfast. On the other, you can find oats that are labeled gluten free. So what is the story on oats?..."

It's Easy to Love Cheese
By Ann Whelan
"The answers to questions about safety of cheese are relatively simple once you understand the differences between the two main categories of cheese: real cheese and processed cheese. There are significant differences between the two…"

And you'll find lots more, including updates on ingredient questions that never seem to go away and enriched gluten-free food. There's also a collection of favorite recipes. Plus we revisit some of our most popular On Your Plate and medical questions and answers.

For these stories and more, go to http://www.glutenfreeliving.com to subscribe. The new issue starts shipping today. It will also be available in Barnes & Noble, Borders, Whole Foods, Wegman's and other health food stores around the country. See our homepage for a full list.

Also on our website, you'll find our free Holiday Guide, with lots of tips for fast-approaching Chanukah and Christmas celebrations, including recipes.Check back here later this week for our Gluten-Free Living Gift Guide. You can also follow us on Twitter as gfliving.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Making Good Food Choices

The Sunday edition of the New York Times had a fascinating article on health care and the unique approach taken by major corporations, where healthy living was rewarded in their health care benefits. I included the article, it’s a good read and interestingly the focus was the relationship between food and health.

(Do Health Care Savings Start in the Cafeteria? NYT, Sunday November 29, 2009)

To a celiac, that’s a big “duh.” The food we eat has a significant link to our overall health. But to the vast majority of folks, they don’t make the link. Food is a root cause of obesity and the many health problems that go along with obesity. Food is related to diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, cavities and on and on. Of course there are other issues like genetics and smoking and sedentary ways, but food is a major player in every aspect of our health.

Food with gluten is responsible for the health trauma related to celiac disease. We all know we can’t eat food with gluten to be healthy. I think that’s a lesson that should carry over to the general population.

One of the “fixes” to the health crisis in America is better eating. The article alluded to the fact that quinoa and kale have to become as enticing as potato chips and cookies. Green tea and water have to replace sugary sodas and posting calorie content on fast food menus is not the way to do it.

Is it going to take more companies like Safeway or IBM or Pitney Bowes (companies highlighted in the article) who incentivize their employees to lose weight and exercise for reduced employee participation costs for health benefits? Healthier employees cost those companies a lot less. This is either draconian or brilliant, depending on how you look at it. Sometimes the carrot/stick approach is more effective than allowing people to make healthy choices on their own. Here’s another “duh” factor, if we have an obesity epidemic most people aren’t making the right dietary decisions.

I know that from a gluten perspective, I don’t cheat. No food is worth it to me to have that gurgling gut and wave of nausea hit me. If I was asymptomatic, would my feeling on cheating be different? I don’t know. I know a woman who indulges in one piece of real NYC pizza every week because she doesn’t have symptoms and justifies it as ok for her.

But if I did cheat, I would most likely be setting myself up to be a greater burden on to my health insurer because of the ensuing health complications that would probably follow a continual intake of gluten. Am I doing my part to keep health care costs down by eating a gluten free diet? Should I be penalized from a cost perspective by the company benefit plan for celiac disease? Would my employee costs go down with good blood tests indicating that I’m sticking to my gluten-free diet? Interesting to ponder!

In the meantime, I try to model the strict gluten-free diet, exercising, good eating habits, reading versus screen time, etc…potato chips and my blackberry remain my major vices. As a mother, I try to steer my kids to daily exercise and five servings of fruit or vegetables. I don’t eliminate the “garbage” choices because it’s important to learn to eat that stuff in moderation.

Only time will tell on which lessons stick and what eating habits they will have as adults. I just hope they relate good health with good food choices and that by the time they are off our insurance plan, there is a solution in place for reasonable, cost efficient health insurance options for them.

Kendall Egan

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why I Am Giving the Bird...

As Peggy Noonan said in the Wall Street Journal weekend edition, I’m thankful to be here. What a totally haired-out, stress-filled year…I will not be sad to clink my glass of Proseco (it’s still a recession in my book) in a little over a month to put 2009 in the history books.

Here’s the latest. I went outside on Saturday to see what my son was doing. He was shooting hoops in the driveway and I stole the ball and sank a little jumper. We started a game of one on one and then I called a “time out” because I was playing in my socks and the pounding on the cement was killing my toes. I went inside to throw on the sneakers and to throw off the old Irish knit sweater I wear around my frigid house (the thermostat is set on "meat locker").

I go back out on the driveway to school that ten year old and the one on one continues. He’s losing…badly…because for some crazy reason all of my shots were going in. I never let my kids win, it’s my “bad mom” trait because I am just way too competitive by nature so I do not let up. He turns around to shoot a jumper and I go up to block it.

I successfully block the shot, but JAM THE DICKENS out of my right middle finger. I managed to suppress the f-bomb but shrieked in pain, wimp that I am.

It is hugely swollen and grotesquely purplish blue two days later. I have enough range of motion to type and to know that it is not broken, but the Costco grocery shop to get ready for cooking the Thanksgiving side dishes was brutal…especially when a ten pound box of sweet potatoes slipped from my grasp from cart to trunk and ended up pinning that particular finger to other boxes already in the trunk. (True confessions…I did not suppress the f-bomb that time.)

So basically, when I slice and peal and prep starting tomorrow and finishing up on Thursday, it’s going to look like I am giving everyone in my kitchen the bird as I keep this puffy finger elongated and out of the way.

In the end, the gluten-free side dishes will get finished! My kids think I should just stick to tennis, but for the record…the score was 20-7 in driveway hoops. That’s probably my last victory since my once-upon-a-time little celiac is now 100 pounds of solid muscle and the top of his head reaches my nose.

This finger will heal, a small thing to be thankful for. Health returned to my son after seven years on a gluten-free diet, a big thing to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to all-
Kendall Egan

Friday, November 20, 2009

Talking Gluten-Free Turkey with Butterball

I'm about to take a much anticipated vacation for the Thanksgiving holiday. My son is coming home for the first time since leaving for law school in the beginning of August. And my daughter has a week-long break from college. We don't have our whole family together that often these days. The chance to have everyone under one roof with myself, my husband and our 15-year-old son is one of the things I am most thankful for this year.

But before I shut down the computer for a full seven days, I wanted to share some info about Butterball Turkeys from my conversation with Sherri Brennan, a registered dietitian who works with the company's Turkey Talk-Line.

The good news that Butterball has changed the gravy packet that comes with its turkeys to make it gluten-free has been all over the gluten-free blog world.

Brennan said the move to gluten-free gravy mix came as a result of customers calling the Talk-Line to ask for it. Butterball decided it made sense to follow the suggestions and replaced wheat flour with rice flour and modified corn starch.

Brennan said the gluten-free mix is used with all turkeys that include gravy so you don't have to worry about which particular type of Butterball you are buying.

"All our fresh and frozen turkeys should have the new gravy," Brennan said. She noted it would be fairly unusual to find any Butterball with the old gravy packet but because Butterball does not control what is in grocery stores, you should read the label to be 100 percent certain.

The new gravy will list rice flour and modified cornstarch in the ingredients list.

All Butterball turkeys, with the exception of any that are pre-stuffed, are themselves gluten free.

That means you do not have to worry about any modified food starch that you see listed as an ingredient in the turkey itself. I have read comments from consumers who are confused about modified food starch in foods regulated by the USDA - mainly meat, poultry and eggs. The concern is that wheat might be used to make the modified food starch. Some consumers have said they do not trust any modified food starch, which is a shame because most of the time modified food starch is not made from wheat.

And since Butterball says the turkeys are gluten free, you do not need to worry that the modified food starch might be made from wheat. It is not.

As for me, I've never made gravy from a packet. In my family, gravy always comes from the flavorful drippings in the turkey pan and a slurry of water and cornstarch. So once I have a turkey that's gluten free - most are - I am good to go.

But if you like the convenience the gravy pack provides, this is great news from another big, mainstream company that is taking the concerns of the growing gluten-free community into consideration - something else to be thankful for this year.

In addition to my gathered family, my list includes my husband's new job after a scary and shocking layoff from the newspaper where he worked for 25 years, my father-in-law's slowly returning good health after major surgery last month and my newborn nephew's recovery from an unexpected trip to the operating room. Those are the big ticket items. I also have long list of constants in our lives that I am grateful for. But if I start spelling them out, I'll never leave for my vacation.

Instead, I will wish all our loyal readers and all our fellow bloggers a Happy Thanksgiving with lots to be thankful for.


Amy

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More details on FDA gluten-free label study

The biggest change in the Food and Drug Administration's study of what consumers think about gluten-free labels is the way the agency will get volunteer participants.

Instead of using celiac support group membership lists, the FDA has asked major celiac disease centers around the US to publicise the study. The centers have been asked to invite those on their mailing lists to participate and to post flyers asking patients as well.

In another change, the FDA will add a paper version to provide greater access to the study to a more economically and geographically diverse group. Originally, the study was only going to be conducted on the Internet. The FDA estimated about 10,000 people will be screened, with about 7,000 completing the study.

The FDA wants to know what gluten-free consumers think of statements like "free of gluten," "without gluten," and "no gluten." The study will also look at what consumers think when they see a gluten-free label on a food that is naturally gluten free, milk for example. Finally, the FDA is trying to gauge consumer reaction to products that are both labeled gluten free and have a statement about how much gluten the product contains.

Under the FDA's proposed definition of the gluten free label, a food tested and found to have less than 20 parts per million of gluten could be labeled gluten free. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires the FDA to come up with a definition for gluten-free labeling. An August 2008 deadline set in the law has long passed.

Changes in the way the consumer study will be done came as a result of public comments the FDA received.

Several comments noted that an Internet-only survey would make it more difficult for the elderly and those with lower incomes to participate so the FDA is adding a paper form. The agency will also select participants who have followed the gluten-free diet for varying periods of time in response to a comment that label reading needs and habits change with time.

In response to another comment, the FDA plans to include people who are avid label readers in its control group of those who do not follow the gluten-free diet.

It's not clear when the study will get underway or when it will be completed. The FDA said it will publish the results.

If you are on a celiac center mailing list, you should receive an invitation to participate.



Amy

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FDA announcement about gluten-free label

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce today that it is changing a planned consumer study of the gluten-free label.


Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, said the FDA plans to get input on the gluten-free label from a much larger and diverse group of people than originally planned.


The study, originally announced in March, will ultimately be used to test how effective the FDA's proposed definition for the term "gluten free" is. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires the FDA to come up with a definition, althought the August 2008 deadline for doing so has long passed.


The FDA said it was doing the study to find out what gluten-free consumers think of statements like "free of gluten," "without gluten," and "no gluten." The FDA also wants to know what consumers think of advisory statements like, "made in a gluten free facility."


The FDA accepted comments on the study and as a result revised how it will collect data. Originally the FDA said about 5,000 people would participate, including those who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance or care for someone who does. A control group made up of participants who do not have celiac disease was to be used for comparison.


In addition to the consumer study, the FDA is still reviewing a safety assessment a detailed study of how much gluten can safely be allowed in gluten-free food.


We will keep you posted as we learn more details.


Amy

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Gluten-Free blog is back and so is Miss Roben's!

I'm enjoying the cycle of the seasons now as I watch leaves skitter through the air and land in the multi-colored congregation on the deck outside my window.


At Gluten-Free Living we cycle through the year, too, following a pattern pinned to the production of four magazines annually. As we come close to finishing each issue, it becomes all consuming for myself, Ann, the editor and publisher, Kendall, the advertising manager, and Vicki, who proves herself to be the most committed designer each time we ask her to do the impossible with no time to spare.


We just put out our last issue of 2009, our first ever "Best Of" collection. We've culled all the articles that have drawn the most reader attention and updated them for you in one place. That's why we've been absent from this blog so much in the past few weeks. So we hope you are glad we're back. We know we are.


And speaking of glad they are back, I just heard from Glenn Molin, new owner of Miss Roben's/The Allergy Grocer who let me know that the company's new web site, http://www.allergygrocer.com/ is up and running.


You'll find a wide variety of products, including 62 Miss Roben's brand mixes. You can shop by allergen, checking off all those you have to avoid, and you'll get a list that meets all your needs. For example, we checked No to gluten, casein, corn and dairy and got a list of 180 items.


If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance and other allergies and have been wondering what to do since Miss Roben's closed earlier this year, rebirth of the company will be welcome news.


Which brings us back to the cycle of the seasons, where each year we are lucky enough to see the splendor of fall lead to the brisk snap of winter, then the rebirth of spring and the warmth of summer.


At Gluten-Free Living each of these comes with a new magazine, our own way of marking off the calendar year. Our new "Best Of" issue will be mailed to subscribers in the coming weeks and will be available in December at bookstores nationwide.



Amy

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Start Planning GF Thanksgiving!

Is blog writing like riding a bike? Even if you haven’t posted for a month, do you still remember how? I sure hope so.

We have been so busy putting together our next issue that everything web based has fallen by the wayside, but I have had so many wonderful gluten-free occurrences that I am looking forward to catching up.

Halloween has come and gone, thankfully. In my opinion, it’s a dreadful, cavity inducing holiday although it is one of the easiest for a celiac. Now I am turning my attention to my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving!

My first Thanksgiving after diagnosis was a hungry affair. I was just completely unsure of what I should or shouldn't eat. I was worried about the ingredients and cross contamination in the dishes that were prepared by other people. Then my son was diagnosed and I really had to make sure the holiday was fun, memorable and not a hungry affair for him.

We now have a vast array of side dishes that safely fill the plates (and stomachs) of the celiacs in our family.

My kids and my nieces and nephews eagerly anticipate my sweet potatoes with marshmallows. The adults have a creamy version with a splash of sherry, but we all look longingly at those puffed up, golden brown marshmallows.

I also make an apple crisp with gluten-free oats, gluten-free flour and lots of brown sugar and cinnamon. It goes into the oven as the turkey comes out. Nobody ever realized it was gluten-free until they saw the two celiacs eating it. Hot from the oven with a heaping spoonful of fresh whipped cream, a squirt of Ready Whip or vanilla ice cream makes it a real family favorite now.

Then, in the spirit of family, my in-laws started substituting corn starch for flour in the cornbread for their sausage cornbread stuffing. For years I watched that dish get passed, and it always smelled fabulous. When my sister-in-law called to inquire about substituting the flour, I was touched.

The mashed potatoes are great, the green beans are safe, the tossed salad is full of craisins and nuts, and the tart cranberries are one of my favorite things. Typically, I don't eat much turkey...it's my least favorite part of the meal. But, the side dishes are savory and de-lish (to quote a celebrity chef).

And the wine, the big reds and the fruity whites from my in-laws' cellar are some of my favorite gluten-free calories as we sit around the table and talk and laugh.

If you or a loved one is newly diagnosed or if you are a seasoned celiac having Thanksgiving somewhere new, start talking to family and friends now! All it takes is a little bit of planning ahead to make Thanksgiving a great day of football, family, friends and gluten-free food.

Kendall Egan

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let's Exchange Gluten-Free Baking Tips

The New York Times Magazine was dedicated to food this past weekend. One of the articles was titled “Rules to Eat By,” by Michael Pollan. He had posted an entry on Tara Parker-Pope’s blog, Well, asked people for their tips on healthy eating and received 2500 responses. There are some fairly interesting observations.

But, after reading it, I recalled a conversation I had with a gluten-intolerant friend where she gave me a great tip. She told me that I should replace the liquid in a gluten-free waffle mix with club soda because the carbonation really made the waffles incredibly light and fluffy. I told her I would try it and gave her a baking tip in return. If I want cookies to get a brown, crisp texture, I add almond meal to the mix. Anywhere from a 1/4 cup to a 1/3 cup doesn’t really alter the recipe, but the cookies come out of the oven with the golden brown color often missing with gluten-free flour.

I also thought about my favorite ingredient in gluten-free baking, Greek style yogurt. Shouldn’t every celiac know how adding a rich product like yogurt or sour cream can add moisture and lessen the crumbly texture of some gluten-free flours?

There have to be thousands of tried and true gluten-free baking tips out there and we need to share them! Part of a gluten-free lifestyle is cooking and baking, which is great since we can control the ingredients and substitute healthy ingredients, lower fat content, add different spices and alter the amount sugar or salt. But, it can also be frustrating when you spend time in the kitchen to produce a tasteless pile of crumbs.

I shared three baking tips—who else has baking tips they would like to share? This could be the start of something really helpful to all celiac bakers.
Kendall Egan

Thursday, October 1, 2009

H1N1 and celiac disease

With all the news about the H1N1 virus, I wanted to see if people with celiac disease would have to take any special precautions. I also wondered if celiac disease would put you in category with others who have chronic conditions and are more likely to have complications from H1N1.
I contacted Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at University of Maryland School of Medicine to find out. Here's what he said:

Since people with celiac disease on a proper diet are not distinguishable from the general population, no special consideration concerning H1N1 vaccination should apply.

The Centers for Disease Control website has lots of important information for the general public about the flu. Included are what to do if you get sick, conditions that put you at risk, emergency warning signs, anti-viral drugs and when to take them, and how long to stay home if you have the flu. You can also get the facts regarding the flu vaccination.

There's another special website devoted just to flu information, including steps you can take to prevent getting it.

Here's hoping everyone gets through this flu season with as little discomfort as possible.


Amy

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gluten-Free Living in a store near you

Gluten-Free Living has been sold in Borders book stores in various locations around the country for almost a year. And this summer Barnes & Noble started carrying our issues.

But I hadn't been able to find a copy in my local Barnes & Noble. Until now.

I was productively spending time in the store recently (Read waiting for my son's high school sport's practice to end!) when I decided to check for Gluten-Free Living once again. I rummaged around in the health section of the huge magazine display. Lo and behold there it was.

I have to admit I really had to look. The only part of the magazine that was visible was a tiny strip of color that I thought I recognized. The health magazines are packed so tightly on the rack, you can't really see the full cover of any but the one of top. I was really excited to find the magazine I write for being sold right in my own town.

For many years, Gluten-Free Living was available strictly through subscription. And we still continue to sell most copies that way. But our marketing manager Kendall Egan was determined to get us onto the shelves of the big bookstores and she succeeded. In addition to the book stores, some Whole Foods and about 40 Wegmans also sell Gluten-Free Living.

As of today, you'll be able to find the store closest to you by going to our homepage, http://www.glutenfreeliving.com/ and scrolling through the list. We're also available at many smaller health food stores, some of which are also included in the list.

When you look for Gluten-Free Living in a store, don't be discouraged if you don't see us right away. Look through the health, nutrition or special diet section, and you'll probably be able to find us. And if you don't, ask the store manager. Also, don't wait too long after a new issue comes out because we might be sold out! Of course you can always subscribe by going to our website.

I have to confess that even though I already had an issue at home, I couldn't resist the thrill of going up to the Barnes & Noble register and buying another for myself. The feeling was like a singer hearing his song played on the radio for the first time or a small company finding its gluten-free product on the mainstream supermarket shelf. Priceless.


Amy

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Gluten-Free Trifecta

We had a big family reunion this summer in Santa Barbara, CA. I spent many long weekends there as a child and kept seeing places here and there that I distinctly remembered. It is such a beach town and despite a lot of morning fog, it was a gorgeous week.

As a celiac, one day in particular stands out. My Dad is the first one up and he goes out to the local places for a cup of coffee, the newspapers and treats for the kids. He walked in one morning with muffins—including a bag of these gorgeous gluten-free blueberry and cranberry muffins. This gourmet grocery store, Lazy Acre’s, had a wonderful selection of gluten-free products and their muffins were very tasty.

We organized after breakfast and toured the Mission of Santa Barbara, which escaped fire damage in May of this year. All that history stirs up the appetite and the whole gang piled into cars for lunch at In and Out Burgers. Once you get all the crazy ordering lingo down, you can order a burger “protein style” and it comes all wrapped up in lettuce….with any of the fixings you desire. While it’s not exactly lo-cal or something that you want to eat every day, they really are the best burgers and fries I’ve ever eaten.

For our dinners, each family took a turn cooking and my sister served up a big taco and burrito fest. As a Mom of two gluten-free kids, she finds some interesting and tasty products. In California they have these teff tortillas and they were just outstanding. You could really roll them up and make a burrito. I must find these on the east coast.

I have my memories and my collection of shells on my desk from that vacation and if anyone knows where I can find those teff tortillas, let me know!
Kendall Egan

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Update on Hardee's gluten-free menu

Sorry to report Hardee's does not use a dedicated fryer for its fries. Even though the regular fries do not have any gluten-containing ingredients, it's highly likely use of the same oil for onion rings and other gluten-containing menu items would result in cross contamination.



I still think it would be a great idea for the company to make the move to dedicated fryers, especially since they have reached out to the gluten-free community. I am trying to get in touch with a company rep to talk about that possibility.


Meanwhile, the burger, the breakfast bowl, and the salad, as well as a few other items, are gluten free. You can download special gluten-free coupons at http://www.hardees.com/menu/indulge that will give you a free Coke or Dasani bottled water with the purchase of the breakfast bowl and a free salad with the purchase of a burger and a Coke.


One positive way to look at this is that the salad is better for you than the fries anyway.

Will let you know if I make any progress on the dedicated fryer.


Amy

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Eat, Eat, Eat

I attended the Gluten Free Culinary Summit at the Culinary Institute of America this past weekend. What a feast! A typical day consists a full breakfast at which more food than you could possibly eat is served followed by several cooking demonstrations each of which include a sample of the food demonstrated. Then you are treated to a full lunch, also consisting of more food than you can possibly eat, several more demonstrations in the afternoon, a break and then a very fancy dinner complete with wine and all the trimmings. It’s like an Olympian eating event and the only way to survive is to pace yourself carefully.

It’s also quite delightful, even for someone like me who does not enjoy cooking nor do I fall into the “foodie” category. Still I had a wonderful time and my take on all this is that those people who like to cook, who even go to school to study food preparation and service, are a special bunch of individuals who are always nice to be around and who like to provide enjoyable experiences for others. That the GF Culinary Summit focuses on, of course, gluten-free food makes it all the more astounding.

As it happens, there are two summits this year. The “western” summit will be held at Johnson and Wales University in Denver on October 3 and 4th. You’ll find full information at theglutenfreelifestyle.com. Check it out. It would be a fine vacation/learning experience.

Ann

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hardee's Gluten-Free Menu

It looks like Hardee's, a fast food restaurant with locations in 42 states, is making a push for gluten-free customers.
The chain got in touch with me through Twitter today to let me know it offers several gluten-free menu items. It also got in touch with the other gluten-free publications and bloggers on Twitter to spread the word.
According to the Hardee's website, you can get almost any burger wrapped in fresh, whole leaf iceberg lettuce, ala California's In -N-Out Burger chain. The fries and the breakfast bowl are also gluten free. The website warns you to stay away from the onion rings and chicken, which both contain gluten.
In fact the website has an ingredient and allergen guide that tells you what's in every menu item and conveniently marks those that contain wheat and wheat gluten with a
W.
The charbroiled chicken breast has a W
because it seasoned and glazed with wheat-containing soy sauce. And the country potatoes and the crispy curls contain wheat flour. But the mashed potatoes, coleslaw and most of the ice cream are among the items that appear to be gluten-free.
The one downside is that allergen guide notes that the restaurant does not have an allergen-free environment in the kitchen.
I'm not sure if that means the regular fries are made in the same oil as gluten-containing items or not. I contacted Hardee's and will let you know what the story is when they get back to me. It would be nice if they already make the fries in separate oil. But if dedicated fryers are not used, perhaps the company would be willing to show just how serious it is about meeting gluten-free needs by switching to them.
Meanwhile, it's nice to see yet another company reach out to the gluten-free community. Just remember even when it's gluten free, fast food should not be a substitute for a healthy gluten-free diet. It's nice in a pinch or as an occasional treat or convenience, but you should mainly be eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat protein.

Amy

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another use for gluten-free soy sauce

The night before last, I went to a Golden Anniversary celebration for Lotus Tours, which is the company Bob and Ruth’s Travel and Dining Club works with for their gluten-free trips. Mike Kong, the owner, has been very supportive of the gluten-free community so I was glad to participate in his celebration.
The party was in Chinatown and if you know lower Manhattan at all, you know it’s a maze of streets that I suspect even those who live there don’t totally understand. Surely the many passers by I had to ask for directions were clueless. So getting there was a challenge.
However, the restaurant was charming, the music soothing and the company delightful. The food, you ask? Well, it was limited in terms of gluten free, so I ate two plates full of rice that contained peas and carrots and was delicious. When I went to congratulate Mike, he presented me with a bottle of gluten-free soy sauce. It was sweet and a little bit funny and we both enjoyed the gesture.
When I got back to the table, I joked that if I was mugged on the way home, I would reach into my purse for my gluten-free soy sauce and menace my attacker. We decided it would be a formidable weapon. Fortunately New York City is now a whole lot safer than it has been in years past so the soy sauce and I got home in one piece.’
It was a good deal easier getting back since I knew where I was going. Once home, I sat down to listen to President Obama talk about health care, secure in the knowledge that come what may, I had gluten-free protection – in more ways than one!

Ann

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Miss Roben's gluten-free products coming back

When I heard Miss Roben's had gone out of business a few months ago I was surprised and saddened.

Jay Berger, who with her husband owned and ran the company, was genuinely concerned about the welfare of her gluten- and allergen-free customers and the safety of the food she was selling to them.

So I am happy to let you know Miss Roben's/The Allergy Grocer will soon be back in business. The company was recently bought by Glenn Molin, a chiropractor and owner of a medical imaging center in Maryland. He says the company's new website should be up and running in about two weeks. We'll let you know exactly when on Twitter, where you can find us as gfliving.

Many of Miss Roben's mixes will return and some new products under that brand name will be introduced. "We are very excited about the Miss Roben's brand. We hope to build on that," Molin says.

Prices have been recalculated and some will go up, while others will go down. "None will go up more than 10 percent and some will go down by four to five percent," Molin says. In response to customer comments that shipping costs were too high, the company will not charge any handling fees. Postage will equal the exact amount it costs to ship a product using the cheapest available method that allows an order to arrive in the time frame specified by the customer.

Miss Roben's commitment to provide specialty mixes for customers with multiple allergies will also continue. "We will still be in the forefront of that effort," Molin says. "We will still do what we can to meet specific needs." While Molin does not have celiac disease, he is extremely allergic to shellfish so understands a little about eating restrictions.

In addition to about 55 Miss Roben's mixes, including the Bette Hagman flour blend the company has the rights to produce, the Allergy Grocer website will sell about 600 products made by other companies.

If you're wondering what happened to Miss Roben's/The Allergy Grocer in the first place, Molin says the company faced significant financial burdens it could not overcome, including tight credit, decreased sales and increased costs. After 17 years, it could no longer stay in business.

While Molin says it is difficult to re-start a business that has already closed, he is confident the company can smooth out production and make the business more current and efficient.

Miss Roben's mixes will also be available in some grocery stores and on websites that sell a variety of gluten-free products. The company is looking at cutting back on sugar and fats and improving the nutritional content of its products, while aiming for better taste and texture.

With all these plans for the future, Molin also counts the value of Miss Roben's past. Berger is available as an advisor. Several long-time employees have stayed on. Most important, though, are all those consumers who relied on Miss Roben's for years.

As Molin puts it, "We hope to earn her customers back."



Amy

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gluten-Free Bargains

We put our next issue to bed and it is now at the printer’s going through the various stages that eventually deposit it in subscribers’ mailboxes. That means I have a little time to take deep breaths, become reacquainted with my life, and catch up on odds and ends.
Last night that meant going shopping.

I stopped at the Christmas Tree Shop which, for whatever reasons, has nothing to do with Christmas trees, at least not in August. Let’s say it’s the home of cheap items you didn’t know you needed and some you do, including an odd assortment of food. I was truly surprised to find a box of Glenny’s gluten-free oatmeal cookies for $2.99.

Needless to say I was dubious about the oatmeal, but according to the box: “Gluten Free Oats are more expensive than regular oats because of the Gluten Free inspection process necessary for growing through baking and packing.” So I called the company and was told they buy their oats from Only Oats in Canada, which to my knowledge is a reputable company.

The price differential was considerable. On the company’s website the cookies sell for $11.99 plus, presumably, shipping, for 20 cookies or two boxes. I got 10 cookies for $2.99, which would be $4 less and no shipping (to be technical about it, I did drive there and back which means some cost for gas and it took more time than ordering on line). Still I would call it a good deal.

My next job is to taste them and if they are really good, to find out how often the Christmas Tree Shop stocks them. I suspect it’s trial and error there and they stock them when they can get a good deal by buying great quantities.

There was another gluten-free product right next to the oatmeal cookies – Goldbaum’s GF ice cream cones. A box of 10 was $2.99, which is a steal. I couldn’t find out much about them or the company, but I can tell you they are delicious. They taste a bit like the fortune cookies we used to enjoy at Chinese restaurants but can no longer eat, albeit with a little cocoa powder thrown in. I wasn’t able to track their price from venues other than the Christmas Tree Shop but suspect it would be more than I paid.

Christmas Tree Shops appear to be an east coast phenomenon with onsite retail sales only so I’m sorry to disappoint those who live elsewhere. It will probably take me six months or more to get back there but my guess is that when I do, there will be a few gluten-free products available and likely the two I bought last night won’t be on the shelves.

What’s astounding, however, is that there were any at all. Apparently the Christmas Tree Shops buy in ultra large quantities when they can get a good price. So you never know what will be available when you visit. Essentially they took a chance on a gluten-free product, which is just one more measure of how much gluten-free has caught on in our society.

Ann

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Five Celiacs in a Beach House

Last summer I wrote a blog post about three celiacs in a beach house, but this year we’ve upped the ante. Five out of eighteen people at this year’s family reunion eat a gluten free diet and that requires some extra preparation! Most people pack bathing suits and sunscreen, and we do that as well, but we also throw in a bread maker, GF flour and mixes.

I’m originally from California and this is the first time in a long time that we have all gathered on the West Coast, so I am not the person in control of the gluten-free food. When the celiacs come East, I’ve got them covered. This time I just have to make sure everyone has food to eat on the airplane. I forgot to tell my sister that I would split the GF grocery bill with her when we arrive at the beach house. Feeding five celiacs is not cheap. So if you read this Whitney, know that I’m good for it!

Summer camp ended today, summer swim season ended today and my kids are a bit melancholy since the long days of endless fun in our home town wrapped up today. They know that six weeks of their precious summer is over and school is lurking around the corner. The good news is that there is still almost one month left and we will all enjoy ourselves after a long day of travel. Once we get there, we will swim, laugh, surf, eat lots of Mexican food and goof around with cousins.

It’s like a Mastercard commercial….Airplane tickets-$1800, Beach Share-$1400...not having to worry about finding gluten-free food upon arrival because your mom and sister are handling it-PRICELESS.
Kendall Egan

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One Year Blog Anniversary

When we were slogging our way through a website redesign way back in 2007-2008, I kept saying to my partners Ann and Amy that we “had to blog.” True confessions, I didn’t read blogs during that time frame and I had zero rational for my insistence on adding a blog to our new website.

I stumbled through a blogspot set up, linked it to the correct webpage and we lurched forth into social media. One year later, we have close to 100 postings of our gluten-free lives. We use and love Twitter and are attempting Facebook. That is a big accomplishment for us…none of us grew up with our noses in a computer screen 24/7. In fact, “24/7” wasn’t even a concept for any of us growing up!

I hope we have added some gluten-free levity in some of these posts and perhaps a touch of gluten-free sanity in others. Many of the posts have been informative and one or two of mine were really lame. We have shared, certainly in my case, some gluten-free foibles like the time I accidentally unplugged the bread machine with a loaf of bread half way through the process to save energy or the lady sneezing all over the pre-washed greens.

Back in August 2008, I told Amy that I had a list of ten ideas for blogs because I was nervous about coming up with a weekly topic. That seems so funny to me now. This blog is such a natural extension of my gluten-free life today. Whenever I am deep into my blackberry, thumb typing away, one of my kids will tease me by saying something like “don’t bug mom, she’s busy blogging right now.”

Amy has educated our readers on many different topics from the rise and fall of the Starbucks GF cake, to some troubling “facts” in EH’s book, to a gluten-free cookie dough fundraiser, to life with a college bound celiac. Our most reluctant blogger has been Ann, but she has added some great stories about her mother’s 90’s birthday, traveling to speaking engagements, trips to see the grandkids and gaining perspective from watching Slumdog Millionaire.

So, thanks to Ann and Amy for believing me when I said that "we had to blog" and for sharing pieces of your lives with me. Thank you to everyone else who has read our postings this year. We love your comments and look forward to them. We are up to our eyeballs right now getting our next issue finished so blogging may take a back seat for the next two weeks, but we will continue posting the exciting and the ordinary tidbits from our gluten-free living for the forseable future!

Kendall Egan

Monday, August 3, 2009

Back to the Bronx

There is an Italian section of The Bronx, usually referred to as “Arthur Avenue,” where you can visit some of the best Italian restaurants in the city and buy the most authentic Italian food. My children (and me, at the time) loved visiting their Italian grandmother who would cook fantastic foods, many purchased on Arthur Avenue, and preside over some of the most memorable meals of their childhood. So Arthur Avenue holds a special place in their memory.

Last week I called my daughter on her wedding anniversary and did not mention it at all. Frankly, I didn’t remember until the day after my call. I felt badly, so before visiting her and her family on Saturday, I went on a shopping trip to Arthur Avenue.

My purchases included bread, “homemade” ravioli and cannolis, which were off limits for me, as well as cheeses, dry sausage, pasta sauce and Chianti, which were fine. I forgot my own pasta so my daughter graciously went out and bought some at her local store -- GF ravioli, in fact. Gone are the days of doing without.

We all had a great meal. Her (Italian) husband was impressed and even her (relatively young) children enjoyed the feast. Everyone was so full, the cannolis were forgotten. I assume they enjoyed them Sunday and I’m fine with the fact that whenever they might be served, all I would get to do is watch.

My daughter said the bread was not quite as good as she remembered, although she admitted she might have idealized it in her memory. She did casually suggest I go back at some point and try one of the other bakeries. Idealizing Arthur Avenue bread is easy to do. When I think of the foods I miss most on the GF diet, Arthur Avenue bread is second on the list just below pizza. But I am not hopeful that anyone will come up with a reasonable facsimile soon. Even wheat-containing bread not made on Arthur Avenue does not measure up to the real thing.

We all had a great time around food, including me, even if I had a few limitations. It seems family, laughter and fond memories trump bread as the staff of life.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Rainy Friday in July

It’s 4:15pm on Friday and it is raining AGAIN. We have had a fairly gorgeous July, but we were supposed to go to a luau tonight on the beach for cocktails, BBQ and fireworks. So the rain out, coupled with the new dishwasher sitting in my living room to be installed on Monday because the old one went KA-PUT and the fact that I discovered my refrigerator leaking water this morning is making me exceedingly cranky.

However, today I was working on New for You, the section in our magazine that features new products to market for the gluten-free consumer and I’ve got to say that I am so pumped by what is new! Several times, as I read press releases, tasted samples or browsed through the websites, I found myself saying “that is a really cool idea.”

There are so many new things out there that we here at Gluten-Free Living have to break things down into new categories like—food, services, travel, books and more.

So since it is all hellfire and brimstone outside, maybe I’ll just sit on my computer and keep discovering new things in celiac-land. Come to think of it, it’s 5pm somewhere, maybe I’ll just crack open a bottle of gluten-free beer too. I have four different beers to choose from in my leaky fridge.

Kendall Egan

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bug or Gluten?

When there’s a celiac in the house who doesn’t feel well, there is always this glimmer of mystery. Is it a virus or is it gluten? Do both celiacs feel lousy? Does anyone else? Is there a cough/fever/runny nose/ear infection….or just a lousy gut and what caused it?

Neither celiac in my house felt well this past weekend, but everyone else seemed to be ok. We were both had icky tummies and were both wiped out. It was hot and sticky outside, but nobody else was bothered one bit.

I go through this process every single time. If the other kids are under the weather, then I assume a bug is going through the house and the illness is not accidental gluten ingestion. But if the celiacs go down first, it’s the added guessing game of “x” or “y,” illness or gluten?

If both of us are under the weather and I, as Dr. Mom, have ruled out a bug, then phase II kicks into gear…what the heck did we eat? I can’t remember my middle name on most days and now I have to go back through the menus of the past 24 hours and try to figure out how gluten slipped into the celiac meal plan.

As for this past weekend, I still haven’t figured it out. I have no clue what the two of us ate that made our tummies gurgle. All I know is that I felt pretty yucked out and my son felt worse, I must have nibbled while he devoured whatever it was that wasn’t quite meant for celiacs.

We’re fine now, but the mystery remains open ended.
Kendall Egan

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Say goodbye to Starbucks gluten-free cake

You might have already heard that Starbucks is discontinuing the gluten-free Valencia Orange cake it started carrying with fanfare about two months ago.
But we have details about the decision from Lisa Passe, a Starbucks spokesperson.
Passe said the cakes were not selling well even though most customers said they liked the taste. She said the word was that the cake was "delicious but very much a treat."
I took that to mean it was too fattening. The cake has 16 grams of fat and 290 calories. "It was not something people wanted to have every day," Passe explained.
Stores that still have the cake in stock will continue selling it until it's gone, so availability will be spotty and short-lived. In fact, Passe said the decision to discontinue the product is so recent that individual stores have not yet been informed of the corporate decision to stop offering it.
Passe was quick to point out that Starbucks has begun selling the KIND bar, a prepackaged gluten-free fruit and nut bar. She said it has "snackability and is a grab-and-go kind of bar."
KIND was chosen the best healthy snack by Health magazine and is made by a company that gives 5 percent of its profit to a foundation that promotes peace in the Middle East.
While the KIND bar might be a great addition to Starbucks' gluten-free selection, I think it's a disappointing substitute for a real baked good to go with the famously strong coffee. It's easy for someone following the gluten-free diet to keep any bar in their pocket or purse. It's something altogether different to be able to purchase a small and tasty piece of cake. To me, the bar is just not as exciting as the cake, even if it is healthier and has snackability.
If Starbucks anticipated that any given customer was going to have a Valencia cake a day, I think the market research was off. I doubt there are very many customers that eat any of Starbucks gluten-containing treats every day.
But the reality is there are enough customers eating the regular cookies and cakes to keep them moving out of the bakery case. If gluten-free customers were not buying the Valencia cake in large enough numbers to do the same, the cake was certainly going to meet this fate. No gluten-free food will survive if it's not financially successful so it probably makes sense to develop one that is popular with both the gluten-eating and gluten-free customer.
Passe said the company, which did try with the cake, is committed to offering some kind of product that is gluten-free. And poor sales of the Valencia cake would not stop the company from offering another type of gluten-free baked good in the future, she noted.
In fact, in face of my obvious unhappiness about this news, she asked me what I would like to see. I suggested a gluten-free brownie, cookies or a cupcake - something a little less moist than the Valencia cake. We have heard that the cake was sometimes moldy, though Passe said she was unaware of any problems with mold.
Starbucks recently announced a push to use more healthy whole grains. We all know there are a number of gluten-free whole grains that make delicious muffins and breads. In fact, banana walnut bread is one of Starbucks new items. It should be easy to develop a you-can't-tell-it's-gluten-free banana walnut bread!
Let us know what kind of baked good you would like to see - and be likely to buy frequently - at Starbucks. It would be nice if the coffee house from Seattle decided to offer two gluten-free items - the KIND bar and something from the oven.
Amy

Farmer’s Market Treat

My cheeseburger blog prompted a comment about eating less meat and I am totally on that bandwagon, which is why I love my Farmer’s Market.

I purchase so much produce every week—bags of lettuce, berries, beets, carrots, corn and soon the first tomatoes will be arriving. There’s actually dirt on this produce since it is so recently pulled from the earth. Other delicious, gluten-free offerings include local honey and wines and artisanal cheeses. There are chicken, beef and fish vendors and I have tried each. It’s worth limiting meat intake and then splurging on some grass fed beef!

One of my very first blogs was about the pickle vendor and his wonderful kraut and he is still there with mushrooms, peppers and the best sour pickles I’ve ever eaten.

Guess what else I bought last weekend? A gluten-free pumpkin muffin! Meredith’s Breads has a kiosk filled with delicious looking baked goods and I have always skipped it. On a whim, I looked over the baked goods and I saw that I had a choice of gluten-free carrot or pumpkin muffins. The pumpkin muffins were very moist with a nice pumpkin spice flavor and I will check back on Sunday to see if there are any more.

I know there is great disappointment at Starbuck's discontinuing the gluten-free cake, but I'm finding specific gluten-free foods to eat everywhere I go these days. Have we arrived at a point where we might expect gluten-free offerings to be commonplace?
Kendall Egan

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

90 and going strong

My mother turned 90 this past weekend so we had a big celebration. I come from a large Irish family where many people had many children, so it was quite a party. I have four siblings. Among us, we produced eight grandchildren and I have five grandchildren – and that’s just for starters. Several of my cousins have five and six children each!

Here’s what’s a bit startling about the whole thing in terms of gluten free. My youngest sister was hospitalized in the early 1950s when she was nearly a year old. Doctors had just about given up as she kept declining, when a physician visiting from Europe suggested celiac disease and saved her life. The cure: No gluten, very few foods, and an emphasis on bananas –which quickly led to a return to good health.

No one had ever heard of celiac disease and we were told that it was rare. So when I started to have increasing problems, CD did occur to me, but I figured lightening wouldn’t strike twice in the same family. That meant I went through endless rounds of testing, many physicians and misdiagnoses, and a lot of needless agonizing about possibilities like cancer or a brain tumor.

I will confess that up until that point, I was vaguely ignorant of my sister’s diet and not at all sympathetic. She was firm about following the diet but not demanding. The main change I remember was my mother using cornstarch instead of wheat flour to make gravy and my searching the dairy case for the one brand of cottage cheese considered safe for her. Throughout the years before my own diagnosis, I rarely noticed what she did or did not eat.

Things changed little during large family gatherings – lots of plain food, much of it containing gluten. Usually my sister and I wind up with a piece of dried out chicken thrown into the oven with whatever else is being cooked and maybe some veggies.

My mother’s 90th birthday was different. This time, aside from the pasta, there were several dishes to choose from. We had to watch the birthday cake go by but unless we bring our own, that’s the way it is. Both of us are fine with that, by the way. I know some might disagree, but unless it’s my birthday, the celebration is not about my food. So I eat fruit, smile and stay very thin.

The celebration was about my mother and she has managed to accomplish a lot in her 90 years. My father died rather young when she still had four children at home, so she carried on, moved them along, held a demanding full time job, and still managed to fit in volunteer work. A bit infirm after all those years, now she takes it easy, reads a lot and watches television.

No matter what I tell her, my mother still seems convinced that celiac disease is rare. But our relatives are waking up, although no one else has been diagnosed. To my knowledge, only one niece has been tested but it was done during adolescence, which is not the best time to test. Yes, it’s frustrating but being ignored in a big family is normal so I choose my battles carefully. I fought this one early on and finally had to surrender. Maybe that’s how my mother got to be 90. She knew when to fight… and when to move on to other things.

Ann

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cheeseburger in GF Paradise

My family is very partial to cheeseburgers, it’s one of the three meals that all four of my children will eat without complaint. We tried a place that was highly recommended for burgers in New Rochelle, NY, AJ’s Burgers. It did not disappoint.

The serving dishes were fry pans, the fries are sliced potatoes plunked right into hot oil and the place had a low key, jeans appropriate ambiance. The cheeseburgers were cooked exactly how we ordered them, the toppings were fresh and savory and best of all, the owner understood gluten-free.

I ordered my burger with the usual “no bun” which prompted the question, “is this a gluten thing?” I replied that it was and I was then asked if I would like my burger wrapped in lettuce in place of a bun. I said yes, my son said no. He hasn’t eaten a vegetable since it came from a jar, with the exception of practically force fed baby carrots.

The sole redeeming quality of iceberg lettuce is to wrap up cheeseburgers with a crunchy, gluten-free “wrap” in order to eat it without a knife and fork. It’s messy but really quite good. In and Out, the California burger chain, has perfected the “double, double-protein-animal style” burger since they wrap the whole thing with lettuce and paper to ease the spillage of delicious condiments right down the front of one’s shirt.

Since I am in New York and not California, it’s great to have AJ’s Burgers so close to home for that cheeseburger fix. I am glad that more and more people are asking if special requests are a “gluten thing” and finding creative ways to accommodate it.
Kendall Egan

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Eating Simply

We have some fun traditions that surround the fourth of July and as the weekend ended, I thought about how much easier it is for my son and me to attend these functions and still follow the gluten-free diet.

In years past, I would pack up a sandwich, pretzels and other snacks when we went to my sister-in-law’s club for their big Fourth of July celebration. This year I just packed bathing suits and towels. I didn’t even have to monitor what my son was eating because he now knows what to order and what is safe to eat. I did get involved after he told me he was on his fourth snow cone and third cotton candy. I realize they are gluten-free, but I also just spent a chunk of money at the dentist getting a couple of cavities filled.

We then went out to the North Fork of Long Island to visit my mother-in-law and once again, I only packed a few slices of bread and a couple of snack bars. I used to pack pancake mix, cookies, cereal and all sorts of food because the gluten-free diet was so unheard of and she felt bad if my son didn’t have food to eat that was just like everyone else’s food.

Our dinner was crafted from the farms and ocean that surround her house. We had a gorgeous piece of striped bass that had been caught a couple of days earlier with a fresh tomato salsa, organic salad greens, corn, asparagus, beets and roasted potatoes….all grown or caught within a ten mile radius. It was a simple, delicious and entirely gluten-free meal.

In the morning, my mother-in-law brought out a selection of Chex cereals just for me and my son. She was absolutely thrilled to have them in her pantry, completely prepared for her grandson’s visit.

It’s easier and easier to eat simply and to eat locally and most importantly, to eat delicious gluten-free foods without lots of preparation.
Kendall Egan

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hot news, cold facts

“Hot” authors like Elisabeth Hasselbeck make news. The resulting publicity the gluten-free world has received from her new book, “The G Free Diet,” is welcome but for one glitch. Elisabeth Hasselbeck does not always know what she is talking about when it comes to gluten free. Still I respect her diligence, her sincerity, her ability to cope and her success in becoming a TV personality. So I was glad when Amy Ratner, our associate editor, said she was going to publish a book review. I even bought the book myself and labored through about half of it.

I say “labored” because the book did not hold my interest. There is nothing in this book that you can’t read elsewhere or find more accurately stated. If you are a new celiac, this is not necessarily the book you need to cope with a gluten-free diet. It might make you feel optimistic, as you should now that you are going to return to health, and that is a good thing. It might make you feel “hot” and that might be a good thing, too.

Informed is another matter. For that, I refer you to Peter Greens book, The Hidden Epidemic, and of course our magazine, Gluten-Free Living. I will take the opportunity here to note that we have a sterling history and reputation for getting things right. You can check that out. Dietary myths were exposed in the pages of Gluten-Free Living. We beat everyone to the punch – the national support groups, the dietitians, even the medical establishment, which still shows a remarkable ignorance of the diet itself.

Alas, we have yet to make Access Hollywood, but that has not been our goal. Our mission is to provide reliable information to help you cope with the demands of gluten-free living. Trust me, it’s not at all sexy or glamorous but we like what we do and we keep on going without the acclaim and with the knowledge that we bring some good into the world.

Amy’s review is now on our site at glutenfreeliving.com. We are posting it because there has been a great deal of concern about the extent of Ms. Hasselbeck’s misinformation and the unintended consequences of making people think they can just adopt the diet like they might a new hairstyle, lose weight on the gluten-free diet so they look better in their bathing suits (not!) and live a happier life.

Nothing is that simple!

Ann