Monday, March 29, 2010

Naturally Gluten-Free Vegetables

I shopped at Whole Foods today, perfectly ripe Haas avocado were 2 for $4. Growing up, I had this amazing avocado tree in my back yard and it was next to an equally prolific lemon tree. The most perfect way to eat an avocado is to slice it open and then dress it with a little kosher salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

I ate that as my late afternoon snack. I know they have thousands of calories, but that taste just brought back my west coast child hood. The only difference is that it wasn’t plucked from a tree and still warm from the sun.

I started thinking about what else I had planned for dinner. Whole Foods had a nice organic turkey breast and that roasted in the oven with a glaze of olive oil and some herbs. I peeled and chunked up some sweet potatoes and those roasted until the outside was caramelized and the insides were sweet. I also fixed what I call a “can of chicken soup recipe,” I wilted spinach and blended low fat cream cheese, artichoke hearts and water chestnuts.

All of these delicious vegetables as snacks or side dishes are gluten free. The other nice thing about vegetables is that the label is really easy to read…no preservatives or mysterious ingredients.

The “FLOTUS” has inspired me with her White House garden and her "let’s move" campaign. I am trying to serve two vegetables every night for dinner. We are a pretty active family so that’s not a problem, but not one of my kids eagerly (or even forcibly) eats vegetables.

I always tell my celiac that he really needs to learn to eat a salad because sometimes that’s the only thing gluten-free on a menu. There are only so many nude burgers and fries a person can eat.

I dried out the turkey, the sweet potatoes were devoured and only the adults ate the spinach. Three of them substituted an apple for the spinach. But, one daughter polished off the other Hass avocado…California style.

Kendall Egan

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How health care reform will benefit you if you have celiac disease

Here's what the American Celiac Disease Alliance, an advocacy group, said about passage of health care reform and how it will benefit those who have celiac disease.

Today, President Obama signed the 'Patient Protection and Affordable
Care Act' into law. The historic legislation, decades in the
making, will significantly reform the nation's health care system.

Setting aside the politics and views of pundits and pollsters, there
is no question that this law will have a profound affect on the
millions of Americans with chronic medical conditions like celiac
disease. There is simply no disputing that it is unfair, and in some
cases unconscionable, to deny health insurance to an individual who
has: celiac disease, high blood pressure, diabetes (Type I or II) or
to a woman who has had a C-section. The new law puts an end to that
practice and more.

Within the next year:

-- Health Insurers will not be able to deny coverage to children
because of pre-existing conditions;

-- Young adults will be able to remain on their parents' health
insurance until age 26;

-- Existing health insurance plans will be barred from placing
lifetime caps on coverage;

-- Insurers will no longer be able to cancel insurance retroactively,
unless there is proof of fraud;

-- A temporary high-risk pool will be created for adults with
pre-existing conditions so they can obtain insurance coverage; and

--=A0All new insurance plans will be required to cover preventive care.

Additional reforms are included in the reconciliation package (H.R.
4872) which will be voted on in the is being debated in Senate this

On a personal note, I have worked on health issues and health reform
since arriving in Washington, DC in 1987. It is very rewarding to
know that those efforts, as small as they may have seemed at the time,
helped to lay the foundation for today's achievement. As a parent, it
is even more gratifying knowing what it means for my son, now 12, who
was diagnosed with celiac disease at age three and a half. This law
will protect him and allow me to quietly put to rest the question,
'What happens if I were to lose my health insurance?'

Andrea Levairo
Executive Director
American Celiac Disease Alliance

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jump on the gluten-free quinoa band wagon

March is quinoa month which makes this the perfect time to reveal that I am a quinoa convert.

Several years ago, Gluten-Free Living started promoting a gluten-free diet that not only excludes wheat, barley and rye but includes healthy alternatives, like gluten-free whole grains.

Quinoa, a grain so tiny it pours through your fingers like sand, is one of them. It's ground into flour and used to make pasta, but you can prepare the whole grain as a side dish like rice or as a hot breakfast cereal.

I had been writing about and promoting the nutritional value of quinoa, which is packed with more protein than any other grain and is high in iron, calcium, B vitamins and fiber. The only problem was I was not serving it to my family, which includes my daughter who has celiac disease.

I was put off by descriptions that said it had a bitter outer coating, called saponin, which repels birds and insects when it is growing in the field. It seemed like a lot of time and trouble to remove the saponin by soaking the quinoa for several hours and then washing it off. I also suspected it probably did not taste very good, and I was sure it would not be as easy to make as the brown rice I had finally got my family to accept.

And I had an odd history with this ancient grain.

When my daughter was a toddler and newly diagnosed and I knew pretty much nothing about what was and wasn't gluten free, quinoa was not accepted as safe by the celiac group I belonged to. I can't remember the reason why and it seems so ludicrous now I don't even want to try to find out.

But I remember my mother-in-law bringing a box of quinoa pasta to our house in those early, uncertain days. It was clearly labeled gluten free. But I had just received a celiac support group newsletter that questioned its use on the gluten-free diet. At that time I had no confidence in my ability to figure out was gluten free on my own, so I shoved the pasta to the back of the cabinet and forgot about it until years later when I found it covered with dust.

What a shame I struggled for so long to prepare edible white rice pasta that is nearly devoid of nutrients instead of the healthy quinoa I had stashed out of sight. (Thankfully, I did switch to brown rice pasta once I learned it was healthier, tastier and easier to make than white.)

But even with brown rice pasta on my daughter's plate, quinoa nagged me.

One day in the new health food section of my local supermarket I spied a carton of whole grain quinoa on the shelf. Lo and behold the directions said nothing about soaking and washing those tiny grains. So there went my biggest excuse for avoiding it. I've since learned that most quinoa sold in the US already has the saponins removed and at most you have to run it quickly under cold water in a strainer with very tiny holes.

When I opened the box at home, the smell was a little strong and earthy. But I was determined to at least give it a try. Really, it was as easy to prepare as rice. I just boiled some water, poured in the quinoa and let it simmer for about 12 minutes.

When it was done it tasted a little bland to me, so I mixed in some garlic and red onion I had chopped up in a device like the Slap Chop you see hawked on TV. (Mine is from Martha Stewart and is a very sophisticated Tiffany-like blue so I assume it's better!) I didn't even saute the onion and garlic. I added a little lemon juice, a little olive oil and a spice I had on hand.

Everyone in my family, from my picky 15-year-old son to my health conscious daughter, is now a quinoa convert like me.

And we are spreading the word. I take quinoa made this way to parties when I'm asked to bring a side dish and every last bite is always gone. Some people mistake it for couscous (which is not gluten free) but foodies who pride themselves on trying new things usually recognize its interesting nutty taste and aroma.

Either way, I don't care as long as they join me on the quinoa band wagon.

Now it's you turn to jump aboard! And hurry. Quinoa month is almost over.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Caraway or no Caraway in Irish Soda Bread?

My cell phone rang last Friday and the voice on the other end of the phone asked “caraway or no caraway in your Irish soda bread? There are two schools of thought on what’s tasty in Irish soda bread, where do you stand?” I matched the voice to a friend who happens to be Irish and happens to have celiacs in her family. She is probably the best gluten-free baker I know.

“Caraway for sure” was my answer and then I asked if she was just randomly polling those of us from Irish descent or was there another reason for the question. Her reason was a good one, she had big baking plans over the weekend for friends and neighbors, including a big batch of gluten-free Irish Soda Bread.

A ridiculously fierce storm blew into town this past weekend and in dealing with weather complications, I forgot all about that phone call until someone rang my doorbell on Sunday. There she was with a beautifully wrapped loaf of gluten-free Irish soda bread. Her timing was impeccable since we were sitting down that evening for our corned beef dinner.

Our loaf of gluten-free Irish soda bread, with caraway, was gone by breakfast. That was a far better treat than a green, gluten-free beer. I tried to insist that it was just for the celiacs but it was too good and everyone got into the act of devouring it. Next step for me is to get her recipe with her gluten-free flour alterations because a year is just too long to wait for another loaf.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day
Kendall Egan

Monday, March 15, 2010

Healthy gluten-free crackers

Gluten-Free snack crackers made from chickpea, green and red lentil, yellow pea and pinto and navy bean flours are both healthy and tasty, according to a report published in Food Research International.

Researchers at a Canadian food processing development center saw "untapped potential in consumer appeal and health benefits" when these ingredients, called pulses, are used, according to Food Navigator.

The researchers said pulses contain: complex carbohydrates -including dietary fiber, high protein, B-vitamins, folates, iron, antioxidants and polyphenols.

As a result of the study, the chickpea cracker formulation will be tested in a commercial-scale processing trial.

The researchers did note that the market for gluten-free crackers is getting saturated, but argued there is still room for products that are nutrient rich.

I would agree. Anytime there is growth in the number of healthy gluten-free options, it's good for everyone who is gluten free.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lots of gluten free lunch choices

In the 17 years my daughter, Amanda, has had celiac disease, she has come to view the gluten-free diet as second nature. She does not spend a lot of time fretting about the foods she can't have.

In one way she is lucky that she was diagnosed when she was only two, both because she did not go long with undiagnosed celiac disease and suffer the consequent intestinal damage and because she did not develop a love for foods that are hard to get exactly right in a gluten-free form.

She eats a lot of naturally gluten-free, healthy foods and has a favorite bread that we always make at home. We have a few tried-and-true cookie recipes. In restaurants she orders simple meals and if nothing else seems to work she is pretty satisfied with a salad.

But this afternoon we headed to Sweet Sin Bakery in nearby Baltimore to try out their new lunch menu. I can't really describe what a pleasure it was to watch Amanda's excitement at being able to sample the all the soups, order the entree of the day, and then fill a bakery box with an assortment of cupcakes to take home.

The staff, including co-owner Richard D'Souza (whose wife Renee is the gluten-free pastry chef who makes all the baked goods) couldn't have been nicer or more attentive. It would be one thing if we were the only ones in the cute little cupcake shop/restaurant. But customers came in at a pretty steady flow, toting carry-out lunches of Thai chicken and coconut rice, savory soup or a cupcake.

Amanda, a college student who has been known to leave all her gluten-free cookies at home when she heads back to school after a break because she doesn't want to eat a lot of sweets, couldn't wait to pick from the enticing selection of cupcakes displayed like jewels in the bakery case. In the end, she picked the birthday cake cupcake because it had such pretty pink and orange decorating sugars sprinkled on top, plus German chocolate, raspberry, cinnamon, and caramel apple.

She actually had the dilemma of what to choose for a change.

For that I am thankful to Sweet Sin and all the other places like it across the country. If you are gluten free and have a little restaurant or cafe or bakery that meets your needs, count yourself lucky. Despite the growth in all things gluten free, there are still many places where people can only imagine what it's like to order a hot delivered gluten-free pizza, choose from an array of gluten-free sandwiches for lunch at a deli or enjoy a gluten-free cupcake at a local coffee shop.

The economy has put a whammy on many mainstream restaurants so you can imagine the challenges faced by small gluten-free establishments. I urge you to support these gluten-free businesses. Usually, you will get great food and service - as we did at Sweet Sin.

Amanda's father and I raised her to never let celiac disease stand in her way when there is something she wants to do. We did whatever was needed so she could go to birthday and pizza parties, travel to Spain to visit her friend's family when she was in middle school, choose a college that would best help her achieve her career goals and live in the dorms like other freshmen.

I've come to expect her to be very matter-of-fact about what she can and can't eat. And she is.

How nice that at lunch today she did not have to be.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Where Oh Where has Gluten-Free Labeling Law Gone

I just read that The Food and Drug Administration has warned 17 food manufacturers that 22 of their products have labels that violate federal labeling laws. Most make exaggerated or unauthorized health or nutrition claims.

"Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important given the prevalence of obesity and and diet-related diseases in the United States," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said in an open letter to the food industry.

Hamburg in October had encouraged companies to review their labels to make sure they complied with FDA regulations and were truthful and not misleading. Companies that got warning letters have 15 days to tell the FDA how they will correct the labels.

Nutrition labeling is a priority for the FDA, according to Hamburg.

I understand that having accurate label information about total fat in products that contain no trans fat, total juice content in drinks for children, and whether a food can really treat, prevent or cure diseases like hypertension, diabetes and cancer benefits everyone.

But I wonder what ever happened to the poor, forgotten "gluten free" label which has been largely ignored by the FDA even though Congress passed legislation that said it had to be finalized by August 2008. That was 19 months ago - but who is counting. Certainly not the FDA.

The fact that celiac disease is treated solely through the gluten-free diet should give it some priority as a diet-related disease. On top of which, celiac disease is becoming more prevalent as more and more people are getting diagnosed.

The gluten-free definition continues in limbo while experts look at an assessment of studies done on safe levels of gluten for those who have celiac disease. It seems to me they have been looking at it so long it should be memorized by now. Once this endless expert review is complete, the public is supposed to have a chance to comment on the assessment.

Meanwhile, the FDA has also launched what it calls the "Gluten-Free Labeling of Food Products Experimental Study." Basically, the FDA wants to find out what consumers think about various wording of gluten-free labels. The last we heard of the study was in November when the FDA published comments about who should be included in the study and how it should be distributed in the gluten-free community. The FDA said it will ask major celiac centers to recruit participants through mailing lists and posted flyers. And it set a deadline of Dec. 17, 2009 for commenting further on the collection of information. No more word after that.

So the wait is still on for regulation of gluten-free labeling. Meanwhile, we will have to be satisfied knowing the FDA is more diligently protecting us from misleading and false health and nutrition claims.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kitchen Experiments, Part 2

I am happy to report that my Peanut Flour arrived safe and sound this afternoon. I cut the bag open and dipped my finger in to taste it. It has an obviously nutty, but surprisingly sweet flavor. There is a recipe on the side of the bag for “Gluten-Free Fish Fillets” that sounds like it would make bland Tilapia zing to life with incredible flavor.

The National Peanut Board is one of our regular advertisers. They are “a peanut-farmer funded research and commodity board that represents all USA peanut farmers and their families.” Early on they recognized a real synergy between USA grown peanuts and gluten-free diets. Peanuts contain more than 30 essential vitamins and nutrients and peanuts have the most protein of any nut, plus they are naturally gluten-free!

I don’t know about other celiacs, but I wouldn’t survive without peanut products. Peanut Butter on a spoon gives me the energy I need to bust through the urge to nap at 3pm. Peanut butter and honey on toast is my favorite breakfast and salted “blister” peanuts are the best happy hour snack. Peanut Flour is a new ingredient for me. I think my daughter’s peanut butter cookies (aka the peanut butter scones) would have had twice the nutty flavor and twice the protein of rice flour with a ¼ cup of Peanut Flour added to the mix.

The National Peanut Board provided me a Pear & Peanut Butter Smoothie recipe to try out the flour. Several years ago, we did a summer issue featuring smoothies and we had nothing quite this elaborate! This recipe calls for pears, peanut butter, peanut flour, sugar, minced ginger, lemon zest, lemon juice and ice. This is a smoothie that would be wonderful after a big workout at a spa resort with a professional chef and the right ingredients! My Bartlett pear was not ripe enough and my ginger was candied, not minced so if I were a food TV contestant…I would have been “chopped.”

However, I made a second smoothie with pear puree from Trader Joe’s and the smoothie was really good. Then, the kids got into the act and we made a third smoothie…peanut butter, peanut flour, banana, vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. Oh. My. Gosh. It was outrageously good and we are all totally full.

Smoothies for dinner tonight, but I can’t wait to get some fish fillets for some more Peanut Flour experimentation.

Kendall Egan

Monday, March 1, 2010

Kitchen Experiments, part 1

This weekend my kitchen was the scene of many experiments. The first was my celiac’s fifth grade science fair project, which involves lots of cups with lots of teeth soaking in different beverages to study the effects on the enamel. As an aside, he keeps asking me where I got the teeth and I told him I have a good friend who is a dentist. In reality, what does the tooth fairy really do with all those teeth? With four kids, I have a macabre collection in my nightstand drawer…six little baby teeth won’t be missed.

The rest of our kitchen experiments included gluten-free mixes or flour and peanut butter. We were hammered with snow on Friday and for some reason, a snow day brings out the bakers in my daughters. My second oldest always wants to make brownies and that is a gluten-free mix I generally have on hand. This time we warmed up some peanut butter and swirled it through the dough before baking. They were gone by Friday night.

On Saturday, my oldest got a recipe for peanut butter cookies off the internet and used gluten-free flour to make peanut butter cookies. Maybe math really isn’t her thing because the “drop by rounded teaspoon on baking sheet” became “drop by hockey puck sized blobs on baking sheet.” They were unattractive at best, but they actually tasted like peanut butter scones. I just had the last one with my morning coffee.

Ironically, I was the one who was supposed to be experimenting with peanut flour, but I think the foul weather delayed the arrival of my peanut flour…so as soon as I get that peanut flour it will be my turn to experiment in the kitchen.

Kendall Egan