Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gluten-Free Chanukah - Hurry it's almost here!

Even though you probably still have Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge, your thoughts are turning to latkes, applesauce and beef brisket if you celebrate Chanukah. The eight-day Jewish holiday begins at sundown tomorrow, less than a week after the table was laden with turkey and all the trimmings.

With the two holidays snug against each other, you might not be ready for another big, filling meal. And, if your house if anything like ours, gathering everyone together again so quickly might not be possible. Students have returned to college, relatives who visited from far away may not yet have recovered from holiday traffic and the first night is right in the middle of the week.

Perhaps more than other years, this Chanukah seems to call for a relatively simple, easy to prepare dinner with traditional latkes as the center piece. I am thinking roasted chicken, a wonderful salad full of dark greens studded with some leftover dried cranberries and nuts, latkes and sufganiyot (donuts).

The latkes and sufganiyot will serve as reminders of the drop of oil that  Chanukah legend says miraculously burned for eight days in the temple in Jerusalem following the Macabees' victorious fight for religious freedom.

Traditional latke recipes call for some flour, but I have found all you really need are shredded potatoes, eggs, salt, a little onion and oil for frying. If you want the consistency flour creates, almost any gluten-free flour or starch will work. I have used corn starch, potato starch and some ready-made flour mixes over the years. I would just stay away from any that have a strong flavor, plain bean flour or sorghum for example, unless you want to add that flavor to the latkes.

The food processor makes shredding easy, just be sure to squeeze out the excess liquid before you put the shredded potato in a bowl. Mix in the eggs, salt and onion and any gluten-free flour if you are using it. (The amount of each will depend on how many latkes you want to make. Three to four  large potatoes, 2 eggs and about 1 tablespoon of flour if using will make about 24 latkes.)

Drop the potato mix into oil that has been heated in a skillet. When the latkes are brown around the edges, you know it's time to flip them. Fry until the second side is crispy. Drain on paper towels. (You can keep the latkes warm in the oven but they will lose a little crispiness compared to latkes that come right from the frying pan.) Serve with applesauce, sour cream or if you have a real sweet tooth like my family, sprinkle them with sugar.

There is a great recipe for simple donut holes in The Gluten-Free Gourmet, the late Bette Hagman's first and still fabulous cookbook. I have used if for many years. If you are more ambitious and, even with little time, want jelly-filled doughnuts, there is a whole website to devoted to sufganiyot. I am not kidding - it's sufganiyot.com, that includes a gluten-free recipe.

The blog elana's pantry is another good gluten-free resource this Chanukah. Elana has a full dinner menu featuring luscious roasted chicken with olives and prunes that's Chanukah-worthy without being too hard to make. The dinner takes an interesting twist with butternut squash latkes.  The menu meets all my requirements for simplicity and exceptional flavor.

If you have other allergies in addition to celiac disease, check out the Chanukah recipes at hipp kitchen.

I have to admit I feel a little badly that Chanukah will not get a lot of attention this year due to its spot on the calendar. But if you have a nice dinner and light the candles in your menorah ( a total of 44 over eight nights), the holiday will serve as the light that warms and cheers us during the time of year when daylight is shortest.

Happy Chanukah!
Amy Ratner

Swirling Mutant Ninja Glutens

I am not a person who sweats every crumb. I do the best I can in a household that contains 2 celiacs and 4 regulars. Put another way, I do not own two colanders for pasta. I use it first for gluten-free noodles and then for wheat pasta and then I trust that my dishwasher will take care of any sticky gluten particles.

I try not to be paranoid about my kitchen, except for two weeks ago when I had regular flour everywhere. Then I had the freaked out vision of little mutant ninja glutens with fangs settling on every appliance, cutting board, knife and gluten-free product in my house.

My 4th grader, one of my “regulars,” had this incredible Life Skills Bread Baking Program by King Arthur Flour come to his school to teach the kids how to make bread. Baking is incredibly scientific. Bubbling yeast is a chemical reaction that will not work effectively without the right temperature water and the sugar. Kneading the dough creates the “stretchiness,” measurements and temperatures must be precise in order for the gas to form air pockets in the dough. Baking bread is a tactile, and delicious, science lesson!

Part of the Life Skills Bread Baking Program included a home project. King Arthur Flour gave each child flour and yeast in order to make a recipe to showcase the skills learned at school. Their recipe made two loaves, one loaf for the family to enjoy and one loaf to bring back and give as part of an outreach project for people in need.

My son enthusiastically, and sloppily, dove right in. We had spills. We had plumes of flour dust rising from the bowl with his vigorous stirring. We had spoons and bowls and splatters everywhere. All of that was on the kitchen counter, which we decided was too high so we moved the process to the kitchen table. More spills, more plumes and more flour everywhere.

Normally, as I said, I am not paranoid about a crumb or two but this was a stage 4 gluten contamination of my kitchen, a “red” alert on the discarded color-coded terror chart. I scrubbed, I swept, I spritzed, I swabbed and I continued to find lightly flour-coated things in my kitchen.

The bread was beautiful and my son felt a huge sense of accomplishment from his baking project. He proudly brought in his second loaf for a local shelter with several cans of tuna and a jar of peanut butter.

I sent my marketing contact at King Arthur Flour an email telling him how much most of my family enjoyed the program. He informed me that they include gluten-free bread mix if it’s requested for the kids who need it.

Ugh, if only I had known that before…..
Kendall Egan

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

GFL Gratitude Blog

Since the front page of any newspaper these days is a section of political and financial doom and gloom, I take the Pollyanna approach and skip right to the special sections of the newspaper. As an aside, there were two separate mentions of celiac disease in yesterday’s New York Times “Science Times” section, but my favorite special section these days is the “Personal Journal” of the Wall Street Journal.

Yesterday’s Personal Journal had a front page article about gratitude and the many health benefits of practicing gratitude. It is so easy to ruminate on the slights and unpleasantness of daily life, or the aches and pains of growing older but people who practice showing gratitude and who focus on things they are thankful for lead happier, healthier lives.

So as I sit in my home office with the smell of roasting sweet potatoes wafting up the stairs, I am going to focus on what I’m thankful for in celiac-land this year.

I’m grateful for the latitude to have a home office so that I can juggle career and kids in a fairly chaotic, yet seamless fashion.

I’m grateful that our print order has doubled since our March, Vol 10, #1, issue.

I’m grateful that the editors and the graphic artist are still speaking to me after harping on them about the importance of deadlines for the past four issues.

I’m grateful to our partners in advertising, distribution, fulfillment, web hosting and printing who have helped us grow.

I’m grateful for every single inventor—large or small—who created a new gluten-free food this year.

I’m grateful to our readers who subscribe and purchase GFL from newsstands nationwide.

I’m grateful to the fabulous women I work with—Ann, Amy, Vicki, Carolyn and Unkyung. You all have enriched my life.

I’m grateful to my wonderful husband who searched the internet for a sausage and cornbread stuffing recipe and who is making it gluten-free, all by himself!

I’m grateful to my four kids who bust my chops every time I inappropriately get lost in my blackberry with a smarty-pants quip---“whatcha doing mom, blogging again?”

Maybe there is something to be said about this exercise in gratitude! I feel happier and healthier already. To everyone, a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Kendall Egan

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sandwich Screw Up

Yesterday I was in a big meeting at Gluten-Free Living HQ and I received the familiar “ba-dink” from my Blackberry alerting me that I had a new text message. The only person who texts me in the middle of the day is my high school senior from whatever class she’s in and that’s a different problem altogether. Kids these days don’t ever pay attention to one thing at a time.

But, it was the lunch hour and since she has nine scheduled periods, she eats lunch in chorus so I apologized to Ann Whelan and looked at the text.

“I think you gave me the wrong sandwich.”

“Oh crap…” I texted back. Hardly a politically correct or maternal tone, but what she really was saying is that she got the turkey sandwich with the gluten-free bread and my celiac got the turkey sandwich on the loaded-with-gluten bread.

Two minutes later and there is another “ba-dink.” My other daughter happens to be in chorus as well and since both are Altos, they sit next to each other.

“Rach thinks its GF bread too.”

Now at this point, I’m wondering if I packed my celiac the Wheat Thins or the Pirate Booty and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Did I switch up the entire lunch or just the sandwiches? I confirmed that my daughter had the Wheat Thins so at least my celiac had something to eat in his lunch.

I assumed he was smart enough to look at the sandwich and deduce that he had whole wheat bread there. But, when you are hungry, you tend to make rationalizations. I was really ticked off at myself because that’s just a really dumb error.

When my daughter walked in, I asked her if she ate the sandwich and she did. She said that it tasted pretty good and that it took her a while to decide if it was GF or not. I typically buy whole wheat bread for the rest of them, so the fact that it looked more like white bread tipped her off.

When my celiac walked in from school he was grouchy, not because he felt sick but because he was hungry! He did not eat the sandwich, took it out of his back pack and asked me what to do with it. He didn’t even eat the turkey from the bread.

I said chuck the sandwich and I’ll fix you a nice big, GF bagel with cream cheese. What a relief, I’ll take a grouchy, hungry celiac over a kid who made the wrong decision any day. And to Ann Whelan, who puts up with these interruptions during meetings…thank you.

Kendall Egan

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fixed by Facebook?

I was scrolling through my celiac Facebook page recently. There was a posting asking a medical question, if you realize you’ve accidentally eaten gluten is there anything you can do to blunt the side effects before they hit?

There were 57 responses! It was crazy, some of the stuff folks had you popping into your already distressed gut were things I'd never even heard of as "treatments" to an accidental gluten ingestion…aloe vera juice, digestive enzymes, Tylenol, antacids, huge volumes of water and probiotics. There was some practical advice…hot water bottle on yucky tummy and taking a “wait and see” attitude. But who is to say which advice is a conflict of interest from a person representing a product or advice from a complete wack-a-doo or true physician’s advice?

Most of the people on my celiac Facebook page are complete strangers with a common thread of celiac disease. There are some great recipes and good baking tips shared by all sorts of home and professional cooks, which I really appreciate. There are some postings about things going in the medical community or celiac news. But, seeking “medical” advice from just anyone seems weird, even risky. Or maybe not...maybe I am the only one who thinks this is strange.

Would you take medical advice from your Facebook wall?
Kendall Egan

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Justifying an Impulse Purchase

The temperature plummeted in the northeast this weekend reminding me that winter is just around the corner. I think it was the fact that I was chilled to the bone while out and about on a rare Sunday to myself up in Providence, RI that prompted a purchase of a set of totally useless hot chocolate spoons.

They are adorable, don’t get me wrong, but why does anyone need a special spoon for chocolate milk or hot chocolate? In a moment of weakness, I thought they perfectly matched the mugs I purchased for my kids on Valentine’s Day several years ago.

I also bought a Halloween themed silicon spatula that was marked down, but that was a useful and necessary item in my kitchen even with the orange and black, witchy and spidery theme going on. I just keep shaking my head when I look at these hot chocolate spoons.

Every afternoon I have a big mug of green tea. I guess I could shake it up every once and a while and have a hot cocoa…both are gluten-free. My kids make hot cocoa all the time, but they don’t shove all the other mugs out of the way to get to their Valentine’s Day mugs and I certainly can’t see them freaking out if they can’t find the hot chocolate spoons!

I have the green tea for the little bit of caffeine around 2:30 to preempt the late afternoon sinker. Green tea is also in that “good for you” category since it is full of anti-oxidants, unlike a caffeinated soda.

However, as a celiac who is slightly vitamin D deficient, I am thinking that one or two mugs of hot cocoa per week may be an idea to ponder. If I make hot cocoa using skim milk and a high quality dark cocoa, I will get a little bit of caffeine, a little bit of anti-oxidants, calcium and vitamin D. Plus, it has a certain level of decadence even if I use skim milk!

I am going to do it! Who has a fantastic gluten-free cocoa powder to recommend? I am trying really hard to justify my very silly purchase of hot chocolate spoons.

Kendall Egan