Friday, March 27, 2009

Gluten-free cookie dough raises funds

For years my kids sold Joe Corbi's pizza as a fund raiser for everything from band to sports teams.
I never expected to see anything gluten-free in the sales catalog, which lists everything from pizza to cookie dough to churros, pies and even pumpkin roll.
So I was intrigued when I saw notice of the upcoming Maryland celiac support group meeting that is going to feature gluten-free chocolate chip cookies from Joe Corbi's.
I sent off a quick note to Carolyn Evans, a member of the group, to double check that I was reading it correctly. And lo and behold, she got back to me and said I was. The Grandma Corbi's dough comes in a pail and you just scoop out the amount you want to bake.
I don't know how long the fund-raising company has been offering this product --it's Friday evening and there's no one at the company to call and ask. But I wanted to spread the word to anyone like me who didn't know about it.
I've bought so many things for fund raisers over the years that my daughter Amanda, who has celiac disease could not eat. That includes Girl Scout cookies that Amanda sold for her Daisy and Brownie troops.
So I really like the idea that I can both support the local baseball, basketball or dance team and buy something that is safe for everyone in my family to eat. Way to go Joe!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Giving Up Wheat for Lent

A friend of mine, who is a good and practicing Catholic, asked me what I was giving up for Lent. I am, sort of, not such a good and practicing Catholic. In fact, I’m what you would call a “C&E” Catholic. I used to think poorly of those Christmas & Easter Catholics, but what do you know…things change.

So, I responded to her that I was giving up wheat for Lent. She looked at me funny and said, “But, you can’t eat wheat…” Humor as a cover up (for my C&E status) was not working. EDITORIAL NOTE: I’m supposed to be giving up cussing for Lent. My kids are laughing like hyenas in the background right now.

Giving up bread, giving up pizza…when people talk to me about it they are always so horrified. “It must be so hard.” “You must be tempted to cheat.” I often use humor by saying that I’m on a permanent Atkins Diet. Or, I pretend to super diet woman and state that I am just not tempted by those “calories that don’t count.” Moms know what I mean here--the left over crusts from your kid’s grilled cheese that you eat while standing at the kitchen counter—those don’t count. But, in truth, something that made me sick as a dog does not tempt me. Giving it up was really not the end of the world.

My teenager is giving up Facebook for Lent…now THAT is a challenge.

I looked like a famine victim when I was at my worst. My bones jutted out, my cheeks were all sunken and I had these huge dark circles under my eyes and was incredibly pale. My stomach was distended and I felt horrible 24/7.

Giving up bread and giving up pizza, but getting my life back was a trade I willingly made. So I will continue to crack jokes or use humor to defuse a “gosh it must be so awful to be you” conversation. Maybe I should just carry around this particular photo of me during that time period. I was in this electric blue suit that I wore on Easter Sunday and I looked like a freakish, brightly attired skeleton. But why frighten people, I’ll just stick with humor.
Kendall Egan

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gluten-free consumer survey

I've followed gluten-free labeling for a long time for Gluten-Free Living.

I've covered hearings and public meetings where I was the only press representative. And I've learned a few things about the Food and Drug Administration along the way.

That might explain why I had more questions than answers after I read the FDA announcement about the "Gluten-Free Labeling of Food Products Experimental Study."

The first was, what the heck does that title mean?

Simply put, the FDA is going to survey about 5,000 people to see what they think of certain statements printed on the packages of gluten-free products. Examples given by the FDA include "no gluten," "free of gluten," "without gluten," as well as "made in a gluten-free facility." The FDA also wants to know how consumers think naturally gluten-free products should be labeled.

My second question was, why is the FDA doing this study now?

Congress approved the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act in 2004. This law gave the FDA four years to come up with an official definition for the gluten-free label on food. But when the deadline rolled around seven months ago, the FDA wasn't able to meet it.

The FDA has already held a public hearing, gathered consumer comments, come up with a proposed definition of 20 parts per million, and completed a review of how safe that level is for those who have celiac disease.

The only thing that stands in the way of final approval of a much-needed standard for gluten-free food in the US is public release and comment on that safety review.

Suddenly, it seemed to me the FDA was going back to the beginning to ask people what they want on labels of gluten-free food.

I thought that question was asked and answered in 2007 when the FDA first detailed a "gluten free" label proposal and then collected public comments on it. The proposed definition already deals with the question of naturally gluten-free foods, saying that they can only be labeled gluten free if there is also a note that all foods of the same type are gluten free. For example, a can of peaches labeled gluten free would have to say all canned peaches are gluten free.

I started to wonder if the survey was just a way to put off final approval of the gluten free label even longer.

One of the things I've learned about the FDA is that speed is not usually a high priority. And neither is answering questions about documents full of confusing, technical language.

But I did finally get a response from a spokesman who said the survey is not expected to delay approval of the gluten-free definition. He said it's something completely separate and that the FDA just wanted more insight on how people with celiac disease and those who take care of them interpret different statements that food makers might put on packages. He did note that if survey results are in before the gluten-free definition gets final approval, consumer comments might cause the FDA to make some changes.

I couldn't get more information than that.

So I still have questions - why is the FDA asking about terms like "no gluten" or "free of gluten?" They seem pretty simple and self explanatory. Even if food companies use those words instead of "gluten free" they would still have meet the standard set by the FDA.

Would the FDA include a requirement that the 20 ppm standard be spelled out every time the gluten-free label is used? And is it possible that the restrictions proposed for naturally gluten-free foods might be lifted?

I'm not sure why statements about strictly gluten-free manufacturing facilities would be terribly important because once a definition is approved the bottom line on all food labeled gluten-free is that it can not contain 20 ppm of gluten or more. That's true no matter what kind of food processing plant it's made in so the dedicated facility statement seems unnecessary to me. But I don't know if consumers or the FDA will see it that way.

Whatever the consequences of the consumer survey, I hope the FDA was giving it to me straight when I was told further delay won't be one of them.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is there a gluten-free bubble market?

Literally ten years ago, I did some freelance financial research for a money manager in Connecticut. One of the projects was to study past bubble markets and prove that the’s were not a bubble.

He really wanted me to prove that the’s were a “new paradigm” because technology, overnight shipping, a combination of “bricks and clicks” and different measures made the crazy growth sustainable in the long term. In March 1999, I turned in my findings which said that the’s were indeed a bubble market and the growth was not sustainable. He was furious with me because I had not proven his theory with research and that was the last project he asked me to do for him.

A year later I wanted to call him up and ask him how his portfolio was doing, but my husband convinced me not to burn my bridges.

So, how does this relate to my gluten-free life? At Expo West, gluten-free foods were everywhere. There was an incredible enthusiasm to label things gluten-free. Whether it was a side of beef, a protein drink or figs, if the product was gluten-free, then that message was a key marketing point proclaimed on the product banners and literature.

I found myself engaged in a lively discussion with one vendor who called gluten-free the latest “food craze.” He considered it a “Hollywood fad” that was here today and gone tomorrow. We all know those fads, cabbage soup, low-carb, no white foods, low-sugar, low-fat, food for blood type…it’s a long list of trends.

I pushed back and said, “Not so fast.” What about the segment of the population that will be eating gluten-free foods forever? It’s not trendy for me, it is sustenance.

He was not impressed that the rough number of people diagnosed with celiac disease hovers between 150,000-200,000. He didn’t think that “small” number warranted the hype to make a gluten-free product. There is that self-diagnosed portion of the population that “feels better” when they don’t eat wheat, but if they aren’t diagnosed with anything they can go back to eating pizza whenever they want. So I thought about his point pretty seriously.

I pushed back one more time and mentioned the potential for diagnosed celiacs in the US market and we both agreed that this paints a different picture. If 1 in 133 were actually diagnosed, that would be a significant market.

My thoughts on this are that gluten-free will have a soft landing. Every week I am told of at least one friend of a friend who was recently diagnosed. The fad part of gluten-free will be replaced with truly diagnosed, forever gluten-free folks. When the bubble burst, the ridiculous concepts—like the one with the sock puppet spokesman—went away. The rush for gluten-free products may cool or consolidate, but with increased awareness comes increased diagnosis and I don’t see a bubble bursting.
Kendall Egan

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gluten-free surprises

Too fast, my daughter, Amanda, has gone back to school.

She left Friday with bags full of gluten-free food, some homemade, some pre-packaged. Had we known a little earlier about the new gluten-free Chex cereals showing up in supermarkets, I'm sure she would have taken some of those too!

But one nice thing about a big company like General Mills making gluten-free products is that they are generally widely available and can be bought in a store near her university as easily as at home.

I am checking with General Mills even as I write this to get details on how soon gluten-free Corn Chex, Honey Nut Chex, and Cinnamon Chex will be on store shelves across the country. I'll post that information on the newsflash of our website,, as soon as I get it.

Meanwhile, I had a few other gluten-free surprises while Amanda was at home.

First, I forgot how much more quickly gluten-free breadcrumbs brown when you use them to make breaded chicken.

Consequently, when I made dinner one night last week, I had to scrape the burned crumbs off one side of Amanda's chicken breast.

Second, I realized how easy it is to forget about using a gluten-free ingredient in a recipe when you don't do it every day.

I was making meatloaf with plans to use gluten-free breadcrumbs when I dumped in regular ones without thinking. At first I thought I could scoop all the crumbs out, but then I realized I had to start over and make Amanda a completely separate mini meatloaf.

These two mistakes made me think about people who are new to the gluten-free diet, as well as chefs in restaurant kitchens trying to prepare a gluten-free meal for a customer.

When all the steps to gluten-free are second nature to you, as they had become to me in all the years I've cooked for Amanda, things go pretty smoothly. It's easy to forget just how much concentration and attention it took in the early days when everything was new.

So I have a renewed respect for anyone out there just learning to cook gluten free. Keep at it and soon it will be much easier for you.

And I have new appreciation for restaurant chefs who take all the steps to use clean utensils, pots, cooking surfaces and ingredients to make a truly gluten-free meal. In a busy kitchen, they have to go out of their way to pay attention to a lot of details and I'm thankful to the ones who get it right.

As for me, Amanda will soon be home for the summer and I'm sure I'll quickly return to top gluten-free cooking form.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Home for a gluten-free spring holiday

My daughter is home now for spring break of her freshman year in college. At first she and friends were planning a trip south to warm, Palm-shaded Florida instead of north to stiff breezes and still leafless trees.

I'm so glad she changed her mind.

Maybe that helps explain the little dance in my step when I pulled out the bread machine to bake a loaf for her arrival.

When she lived at home, the bread machine had a permanent spot on the counter, but when she left for school in the fall, I put it away since it wasn't getting anywhere near as much use.

The extra counter space is nice, but when I was baking bread this weekend I realized how much pleasure I still get from making her the foods that can be hard to get out there in the real world. The minimal bread supply she can fit in her dorm freezer had run out weeks ago, so I knew she would be hungry for a simple sandwich.

And it's not just bread. As soon as she got up this morning, I popped into the kitchen to see if she wanted pancakes - another food I knew she hadn't had in a while. After a few, she told to me to hold the batter. I was stuffing her in my zest to whip up the things I usually am not around to make.

I have big gluten-free cooking plans for the few days before she leaves again. Homemade chicken noodle soup, cornbread and Irish soda bread for starters.

I never made a lot of fuss about the effort required to make Amanda's gluten-free food in the 16 years since she was diagnosed. It was something I had to learn how to do and then just do it. (With deference to Nike!)

But when she first left home for college, I noticed how much easier it was to shop for groceries and get dinner ready. Only one pot of pasta or breaded chicken made with crumbs from a can -- how simple is that! Then I felt a little guilty for enjoying the simplicity.

But right now what I feel is the pure pleasure of being able to cook for my daughter.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

No complaints

I am leaving on a jet plane tomorrow, bound for California. There are a million things to take care of first, not much time for me to do them -- and virtually no food in the house. It’s the curse of the gluten-free traveler. Airports and airplanes are not yet known as good sources of gluten-free food so we need to plan ahead, especially for such a long trip.

This makes me think of Bette Hagman, the doyenne of gluten-free cookbook authors. She had a little box she reserved for her travels into which she put food she had actually made for her trip. So I pulled out one of her original cookbooks to see how she did it. Here is what Bette wrote in her second book, More from the Gluten-Free Gourmet, which was published 16 years ago in 1993.

“Some airlines offer gluten-free meals, but I still carry some bread, cheese and a few cookies in my carryon in case the order for a special meal never reached the airline kitchen or in case I miss my connection, both of which have happened to me.”

Bette had a specific cookie she baked for her travels. I checked the cookie recipes and according to Bette, her Granola Cookies (p. 130 in More from the Gluten-Free Gourmet) “travel well.” She also recommends toting pretzels, crackers, granola, rice crackers, hard cheese and what she describes as “carefully selected” candies – all of which I can easily purchase nearby. Frankly, I have nothing to complain about.

Oddly enough I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for those “olden days” when celiacs across the country got to know each other without benefit of the internet or even a cell phone. Bette, who lived in Seattle, was a good friend. She went to as many meetings as she could and it was always nice to see her. We were thrilled to meet up and talk about all the challenges. Sure, we complained but we also forged ahead

Those of us who knew Bette still miss her. She lived to a nice old age but not long enough to experience a time when the airlines would not offer meals to anyone, gluten free or not. Nor did she get to experience the big deal gluten free has become. Bette would be thrilled. Without her lead, most of us might still be home complaining.

So, without complaint, I’m off to buy a few things to take along on my trip. One way or another, I’ll be fine.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Expo West-Accidentally Gluten-Free

I plan to find the vendors at Expo West that are accidentally gluten-free. You know this story, someone has a great idea for a new food product for a separate and distinct niche market. It may be a no-carb product for someone on the Atkins diet, or it may be a baked good for Passover, or it may be something for bariatric patients or for athletes training for triathalons. All of a sudden the phone calls to customer service start arriving with one question, “Is this product gluten-free?”

The next thing you know an entrepreneur has an entirely new niche market to explore. These days the buzz builds through the blogs and through good old word of mouth. There are so many delicious products that are accidentally gluten-free and to my delight, many decide to put “gluten-free” right on the label.

Snack foods are evolving to include things such as freeze dried fruit or crispy green beans or dried peas. Alternative flours are being explored for their healthy attributes and interesting texture. Nuts and beans and soy are all used creatively these days. There are teas, juices, yogurts and protein bars all reaching out to the gluten-free market. It’s very exciting to have all of these new options in our restricted diets.

I plan on sending out exciting discoveries from the floor of Expo West through Twitter! If you are a vendor with a product that is gluten free—accidentally or otherwise—let me know your booth number!
Kendall Egan

Monday, March 2, 2009

Expo West-part 1 of 3

On Thursday of this week, I leave for Expo West. I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about this. For years advertisers have asked me, “Are you going to Expo West?” and I was never able to say “Yes, see you there!” I have a lot to say about Expo, but this first blog has nothing to do with the show and everything to do with getting there.

If my husband were going to Expo West, he would pack a bag and go. All of the family meals and scheduling would fall to me to handle while he’s away. But it’s me going to Expo West, so I not only pack a bag and go….I have to make sure there is food in the house. Huh? For some reason, this request was lumped in to my pre-trip planning.

The next responsibility piled on was kid coverage. I have to figure out what the kids are doing after school on those days. I guess that is fair. But now, I also have to lay out the weekend schedule and as Murphy’s Law would have it, there is so much going on it is ridiculous. The following weekend in March is about as quiet as it could be but next weekend is crazy. I have to figure out rides to swim finals, lacrosse tryouts and birthday parties. Um, I’m not sure why picking up the phone to coordinate rides or go to the grocery store is so exceedingly difficult…but perhaps I’m the bigger fool by going along with these requests.

Now, Mother Nature delivers me a cruel blow. Today was going to be an intensive day at my desk preparing my files to bring with me to California and set up my travel file with all the information I need. We are in the middle of a crazy March snowstorm and I’ve got all four kids home from school to keep me company. Actually, they are all outside already. The snow is fabulous and more is falling. I’ll only see them for hot chocolate breaks.

I just want to give a shout out to all the mommies going out to Expo West! Hopefully your pantry is stocked and the kids are covered. I will, of course, walk in the door and heap tons of praise on my husband when I get back that he was able to handle what I do everyday. It will all be worth it, and I can’t wait to meet everyone in Anaheim!
Kendall Egan