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.

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.


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