Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I went to see the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” roughly 24 hours before the Academy Awards show began on Sunday night. This engrossing move ran away with almost every award for which it had been nominated. In the movie, and against all odds, a young man from the slums of Mumbai wins the top prize on the Indian version of the television show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The experiences that resulted in his knowing all the answers form the framework around which the boy’s story is told. The bottom line is that the young “slumdog” is resilient. He manages to rise above all the awful things that happened to him.

Resilience is an intriguing characteristic. How is it that some people rise above their challenges and tragedies and others are done in by things that happen to them? Resilience has applications for the gluten-free life. Some people jump right in and deal; others struggle every day to meet the demands of gluten-free living. With 16 years of following the gluten-free life and more than 10 years of publishing Gluten-Free Living, here are a few personal thoughts that might help make the gluten-free challenge easier to accept, at least from my weathered perspective.

Eat to live, don’t live to eat. Some people, and I’m one of them, view eating as one of many jobs humans face over the course of a day. Sure, I like a good meal but I spend little time thinking about food until hunger reminds me that I really have to eat. Somewhat perversely, this lifelong attitude makes the GF life a lot easier.

Do not enjoy cooking. I stay out of the kitchen as much as I can. I get no pleasure from putting a meal together. This approach, too, is a gift of sorts that I did nothing to deserve. But it makes my GF life a bit easier than it might otherwise be – not necessarily richer in terms of enjoying a meal but easier.

Keep gluten free in perspective. I work very hard at not letting the demands of gluten-free living rule my life. I travel and eat out and try to enjoy whatever comes along. Sure, I have to be cautious and occasionally give something up. But life could be a whole lot worse than a long list of dietary restrictions. Some of the children in Mumbai did not have parents or homes or kitchens in which to worry about food. I know that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to cope. But it is something I thought about after I left the theater.

Get good information about the GF diet. The internet and everything on it means we all have access to endless information – good, bad and indifferent. That’s especially evident when it comes to the gluten-free diet. You can read something is safe on one site, switch to another site and read that it’s dangerous. This leads to a certain amount anxiety about eating and means you need to find a source you can rely on. We do a lot of research so naturally I recommend relying on Gluten-Free Living. But you can check us out with more objective sources. I will guarantee that what we publish is the best, most reliable information we can find.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Gluten-free help in hard times

For anyone who has not checked out the News Flash on Gluten-Free Living's website, I wanted to be sure you find out about a smart, made-for-the moment program being set up by a celiac support group in Florida.

The Palm Beach County Support Group has a new food-assistance program that can help those who are facing hard economic times. Anyone in South Florida who has celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis and meets federal poverty guidelines can apply to receive a $25 monthly voucher to help with the high cost of gluten-free food.

President Phyllis Kessler said the current economy and worry about people who have lost their jobs prompted the group to start the program. She said the $25 should help cover the cost of a few essentials, like bread and cereal.

When I talked to Phyllis Friday she was a little concerned that word of the program wasn't spreading and that lack of applicants could stall it. Right now the support group can fund 30 participants and hopes to double that next year.

In a time when we are all looking for ways to help those in need or ways to cope with being in need, this is one of the best ideas I've heard about in the celiac community. People need help with the cost of gluten-free food and this program gets it to them quickly and simply.

So if you are reading this, spread the word. Help Phyllis and the rest of her group step up and help someone who is in a tough situation. And wouldn't it be great if other support groups all across the country could do something similar?

For details and contact info, go to Then blog about it, twitter about it, put it on Facebook. We keep reading about how well social networks work so let's put them work doing some good.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Rice, My Defining Grain...or Starch

I was thinking about grains and what would be a defining grain for a country. In my opinion, wheat would define America, we are a “bread basket” country. That’s not so hot for celiacs. When I watch this show on the Travel Channel, “No Reservations” with Tony Bourdain, I notice that rice is the defining food for so many other countries and cultures. In my little gluten-free world, I am so grateful for the wide variety of rice. Even before diagnosis, I could have eaten rice every day. Now I pretty much do eat rice every day.

Whether it’s basmati, aborrio, sushi , wild, brown, short grain or long grain rice, there is a perfect side dish for every meal. I love the frozen brown rice I buy at Trader Joe’s because it’s nutritious brown rice that’s ready in three minutes from the microwave. I love creamy risotto that I often order in Italian restaurants. I love fried rice with peas, bits of egg, pork or chicken. My favorite lunch happens to be sushi rolls from my neighborhood restaurant. I eat leftover rice with a dash of tamari soy sauce and a hefty helping of wasabi.

Rice is one of those critical food staples that prevents hunger in many corners of the globe. As a writer, I like to wake up my brain with daily vocabulary quizzes by going to the Free Rice site. For every correct answer, the UN World Food Program donates 10 grains of rice. It’s one of those addicting, time wasting, things you can do on the world wide web…but it’s educational and it does some good! Couldn't all of us use a refresher on SAT words like punctilious and perspicuity even if we can’t figure out how to use them in a sentence. Yesterday there was 72,142,820 grains of rice donated, and 59 billion donated to date. Clearly I am not the only one hooked!

Rice is such a versatile gluten-free food, there must be hundreds of different ways to enjoy this staple ingredient. I am signing off to go make dinner, chicken satays with a side dish of, no surprise here, rice!
Kendall Egan

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just do it

I celebrated President’s Day by having a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. Sure, there were plenty of pleasanter things I could have planned. But the appointment was available – and so was I.

I write about this to assure nervous patients that these procedures are more anxiety producing than they really need to be. Preparation for the colonoscopy is far from pleasant. It is what it is and demands a “just do it” philosophy. And the procedure itself is not really a big deal. If Katie Couric can have a colonoscopy with millions watching, I can certainly have one in the relative privacy of a doctor’s office – and be cool about it.

There is no really unpleasant preparation for an endoscopy and the beauty of doing them together (I’m not encouraging this…just observing)is that what I consider the most unpleasant part of an endoscopy – getting by the gag reflex – occurred while I was sedated and not even aware of what was going on, at least in this case. In fact, I thought I was just lying there listing to the doctor and assistants chatter as they got started when I realized it was all over, seemingly without my participation. And that was fine with me.

I had brunch when I got home and wished I’d thought about something a bit more exciting beforehand. I warmed up two slices of bread, covered them with cottage cheese and salt and had fresh strawberries for dessert. It was not a meal to remember but at that point, I was starting to feel hungry so it was just good to eat. On the plus side, the strawberries were a lot better than I would have anticipated at this time of year. That could be one of the keys to enjoying the gluten-free life – anticipating and appreciating the good things we do have to eat. Strawberries are supremely gluten free and one of the finest fruits available on this green earth.

If you are facing either of these procedures, don’t worry. Just do it. But plan some nice meals around the event, especially for afterwards, so you will have that to look forward to. And bring a good book. It will give you something to do while you are waiting besides noticing how silly everyone looks in the skimpy hospital gowns.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Would a ban of classroom treats be good for gluten-free kids?

My local school district is considering banning the use of food as a reward for children in the classroom. There's a poll asking parents if they are in favor of the ban, which the school board says will help fight childhood obesity.

This is far cry from my own childhood, when kids whose parents attended Parent-Teacher Association meetings were given a full-size candy bar as a reward the next day. I think the idea was that kids who didn't get the bars would go home and beg their parents to go to the next meeting. I didn't even bother because my parents, who had four children in five years, were to busy to go to a PTA meeting no matter how much I wanted that candy bar. So I sat quietly while they were handed out, knowing I would never get one.

But the injustice of giving or withholding a prize from a child for something they had no control over did stick with me. Years ago I convinced my own children's elementary PTA only to give out rewards to children for their own accomplishments.

While that might have satisfied my sense of right, it didn't take care of all the situations my daughter Amanda, who has celiac disease, faced when it came to classroom treats.

Creative moms who baked beautiful cookies or harried moms who bought tricked-out grocery-store cupcakes were ever present. Every once in a while a kid would show up with a food that was a wonderful surprise for most classmates but off limits to Amanda. And teachers themselves often had goodie jars on their desks to offer a quick reward for a classroom kindness, a question answered correctly or an assignment well done.

I've was occasionally frustrated when my daughter's whole class would work to reach a goal only to have the prize be a pizza-party that would leave her out unless she brought her own.

So you would think it would be easy for me to vote against treats in the classroom altogether even if this proposal is not prompted by concern for kids on special diets.

But as much as I remember the times when Amanda couldn't have what everyone else was having, I also remember her delight when she could.

A number of her teachers, when told about celiac disease at the beginning of the school year, went out of their way to make sure they had something special for my daughter. Or they would check with me and only buy treats for the whole class that were gluten free.

We came up with ways to cover the other situations -- kept cupcakes in the teachers' lounge freezer and a supply of gluten-free goodies right in the classroom -- for impromptu snacks or unannounced birthday celebrations. For Amanda's birthday, we always brought something special. One year, we made gluten-free "Rice Krispies treat” bears and jazzed them up with M&M buttons and fruit-roll-up bows and bow ties. After a steady stream of birthday cupcakes, they were a big hit.

I recognize the problems food in the classroom creates for children with allergies, diabetes and other health issues. But I think parents of those children usually come up with good solutions.

And even as the parent of a child who went all the way through school on a gluten-free diet, I wonder if it really benefits our children's health to say “no treats in the classroom.” Do we teach the right lessons about healthy eating by sending out the message that all goodies are bad? Can we honestly say the occasional classroom candy is the childhood obesity culprit? Don't even adults look forward to the little break in the routine that a treat can be?

Today, Amanda, a college freshman, loves the nutrition class she is taking. She says she is learning that moderation is the key to healthy eating. I think that's the lesson we want to teach even our kindergartners.

At first I wasn't sure how I would respond to the poll. Now I know.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chocolate or Tulips?

I have this thing for fresh flowers. Twenty years ago I would never have purchased them for myself, but then I realized I didn’t someone to buy them for me. Seriously, $14 of Costco roses or $6 of supermarket tulips makes me a really happy person, which in turn makes the rest of my family really happy people.

But, the other day in one of my favorite little stores, I was about to put a bunch of tulips into the cart when I turned around to see a display of chocolate truffles. Fine chocolate also makes me a really happy person and so many brands are gluten-free. Thirty pieces of dark, creamy chocolate lightly dusted with cocoa powder were calling to me from the fancy red box.

Last year, I would have thrown them in the cart too and would not have thought for a moment about buying flowers and chocolate, but the world has changed. Each cost around $6. I stopped and tried to rationalize buying both, but couldn’t. I didn’t really “need” either of them.

The tulips would open on my kitchen table and probably give me seven days of cheer. The chocolate truffles would be my little reward for dealing with kid kerfluffles, deadline stress of getting the issue done and general hormone swings until the box was empty. Plus, dark chocolate is actually good for your health. Tulips, on the other hand, do not cause cavities or contain calories. Thank goodness our internal ramblings are not broadcast to the entire world, because bystanders would have presumed me to be a moron.

In the end, the chocolate won and the tulips went back into the bucket. They have been delicious over the past two weeks. Unending bad Wall Street and Washington news--two truffles. Contentious evening meeting—three truffles with a glass of red wine. Three straight hours on the phone—four truffles for my efforts!

Everyone I know is cutting back, but don’t buy cheap chocolate. These luscious little chocolate truffles have made me pause for a moment of pleasure, which is good for the soul under the relentless pounding of tough days. We all need to find the rational for these little happy moments, treat yourself!
Kendall Egan

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gift Giving and Marketing 101

I have a degree in Finance, but having been in sales and marketing for as long as I can remember. I always love it when someone else has a really great marketing idea. Last December I had asked for suggestions on gluten-free gift giving, but when I went into the office I saw that Stephanie Robbins, the marketing director for Pamela’s Products, had sent a holiday gift that was a really fun idea.

I parted the golden tissue paper of the box to find a captivating card with iced gingerbread men. The card had holiday wishes and a recipe for gingerbread using Pamela’s Products….but underneath that card were the ingredients wrapped with a vibrant green and blue polka dot bow. The piece d’ resistance was the gingerbread man cookie cutter tied up in the bow.

In subsequent conversations I told Stephanie that her idea was terrific and I never would have guessed that gingerbread cookies could be made from Pamela’s Bread Mix. What Stephanie doesn’t know is how they got made in my household!

We had a rare day without basketball games a few weeks ago, but it was just frigid and the kids were cooped up with cabin fever. After several “leave your brother/sister alone” left my mouth at a high pitched shriek, I started looking for distractions. I handed one daughter the recipe and the Pamela’s Bread Mix and asked her to make them.

As I did some paperwork, I fielded questions from the kitchen. “Do we have a heavy duty mixer?” Yes. “Why does molasses smell so bad?” I don’t know. “Where is the baking soda?” Top shelf of the pantry cupboard, red can.

She followed the recipe, chilled her dough and then rolled them out. I got involved a bit with the rolling by giving her some advice on technique. As an aside, I am last person who should be giving advice on using a rolling pin since I had to rip my kitchen apart to actually find it.

These little guys baked up beautifully and our house smelled like cinnamon and ginger. We all wanted to taste one before the frosting so we sacrificed a mutant looking gingerbread man who had been free-formed from dough scraps for tasting. My husband summed it up best, “These are good, are they really gluten-free?”

So, Stephanie’s gift was actually an afternoon without bickering…and yes, we also had some fresh gingerbread cookies! If you are thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day and sugar cookies…you could box up a baking mix, frosting, a heart cookie cutter with pink and red tissue and ribbon…here is a recipe courtesy of Pamela’s Products.
Kendall Egan