Monday, June 27, 2011

What's your gluten-free space like?

I’m leaving New York on Wednesday to attend the Gluten Intolerance Group’s annual Education Conference, being held at the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. It will be my first trip to Orlando, Disney World notwithstanding, and I’m looking forward to meeting old friends and learning new things about the gluten-free life. Some of what I learn will wind up in Gluten-Free Living, our national magazine, or on our various communication channels including Facebook, Twitter and our upcoming e zine, debuting shortly.

Cynthia Kupper, GIG Executive Director, and I go way back. We remember the way it was back then – but I’m sure we will both keep our reminiscences to a minimum. Hearing the “old folk” talk about the old days does little to help the “new folk” cope with the challenges of gluten-free living.

Except for this aspect: The various modern communication channels of today make it so much easier to spread the word quickly. But some of the questions we receive remain the same. Over our several modern channels, we still get asked about vinegar (was always safe…should never have been questioned). Just this morning, I received an inquiry about the safety of vanilla (also safe). And certain other common ingredients never go away. That’s why we recently posted a white paper, still available on our website, called “Top 10 ingredients you really don’t need to worry about.”

One of the first things I will do at the GIG meeting is give a “demo” at 9 am Friday morning in the demo area of the conference. I'll give a (very) brief history of Gluten-Free Living, go over a few of the “quandaries” that never seem to get resolved, and look toward the future and where I think we are headed in terms of food, testing, labeling and research. Suffice it to say that this “new” gluten-free world we live in is generations ahead of the “old” gluten-free world we old folk talk about. That’s probably all I’ll say about the old world – and all you need to know!

That said, I do realize that we all inhabit our own little gluten-free space. My contentment with gluten-free living was achieved after years (now pushing 20 years) of trial and error. So I’m thrilled that I can find gluten-free pizza, or eat out more easily, or pick up gluten-free items at my local supermarket. But not everyone just getting started is as sanguine as I am.

Just this weekend, I met with a relatively newly diagnosed celiac on an aspect of our magazine unrelated to following the diet. Let’s just say he is not the happiest GF camper on the planet. He is frustrated by the challenges involved in living gluten free. He would much prefer to go back to his old life and not have to worry about his digestive system or the items he drops in his shopping cart. Mostly he wants a slice of pizza that tastes just like the one he, a native New Yorker, remembers getting from his local pizzeria. I’m with him there. I miss gooey NY style pizza-by-the-slice. But I have learned to be as happy with what I can get now as I was with what I used to get in my gluten-eating days. It takes time to reach this level of gluten-free contentment – but by golly I got there and everyone can!

So I hope those of you attending the conference will come to the demo and to our booth and introduce yourselves. Much of the demo will be given over to a question-and-answer period where we can talk about whatever you’d like. At the booth, I’ll be able to also chat about whatever you’d like. I might even ask you a few questions about the gluten-free space you inhabit and how comfortable you are in it. The more I learn about you, the better I can make Gluten-Free Living.

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

You ordered a what?

Last night my celiac sent me a text message while I attended a meeting to ask if he could go to lunch in town after his final. I texted back, “Sure, get $$ from Dad.”

My celiac did not get money from Dad, so I handed him some cash and asked him to check in and just let me know where they eventually landed after lunch.

I picked him up after a full day of basketball, Nerf dart-gun battles, wiffle ball and general hanging out with a group of boys that haven’t known my celiac since the pre-K days. That is the thing about moving up and moving on, all sorts of new people have to be introduced to exactly what gluten intolerance entails.

“Where did you go to lunch” I asked.

“Cosi” he replied. Now I cringed a little bit because they have great salads but the bulk of their menu is focused around their delicious looking flat bread.

“What did you eat,” I gingerly questioned.

“A Caesar salad with grilled chicken, no croutons,” said the celiac.

Say what? I mean this is a kid who has NEVER had a green, leafy ANYTHING come remotely close to his mouth.

“It was good, I couldn’t even finish it I was so full.”

I started looking out the car window for the alien spaceship and was wondering what they did to my son. I mean, these are shocking words from a vegetable hater. I thought he would choose skipping a meal over eating a salad any day of the week.

Really, this is big news for the mother of a celiac. Sometimes a salad is the only option. The important thing is sitting around a table, shooting the breeze and sharing a meal with a bunch of friends. These aren’t buddies who have known him since he was three and know all about what he can and can’t eat.

Today I took a little victory lap that my celiac was resilient and worked with the menu selections that were available, prior to that moment he would never have ordered a salad.

Now I just have to hope that some of these middle schoolers like sushi….

Kendall Egan

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gluten-free Mini Cream Cheese Pastry Cups

When we mentioned the story about pies and tarts in our new issue of the magazine on our Facebook page, Tammy Burnham asked if we could post a recipe.

So here is one of the many recipes Food Editor Jacqueline Mallorca includes in her article "Roll Out a Tasty Summer Treat." In the magazine, you'll also find recipes for four basic pie crusts that Jackie says are easier to make than a traditional wheat-flour crust. Who knew!

Jackie does not limit herself to fruit pies in the story. She also includes chicken pie, sweet and savory tarts, and a plum galette. You can subscribe to Gluten-Free Living on our website or look for a copy in stores nationwide shortly.

Mini Cream Cheese Pastry Cups
Makes 24

3/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces) brown rice flour
1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) cornstarch, plus extra for forming
1 tablespoon sugar (omit for savory cups)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for pan
3 ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk

• Grease two 12-cup mini-muffin pans with butter. Combine the brown rice flour, cornstarch, sugar if using, salt, and xanthan gum and set aside. Place the butter in a food processor and pulse until smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the cream cheese, and process until well blended. Add the egg yolk and mix well. Add the flour mixture and pulse to form a soft dough. Divide the dough in half and refrigerate one portion, wrapped in plastic, while working with the other.
• Using a 1-inch spring-release ice-cream? scoop, drop 12 little half-spheres of dough into one of the prepared pans. Tamp down with the bottom of a glass spice jar (or something similar) dipped in cornstarch. Spread the dough evenly up the sides of each cup with your thumb and refrigerate the pan for 20 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough.
• Heat oven to 350°F. Bake the shells for about 20 minutes, until golden. (Check half way through, and if any of the interiors have puffed up, quickly deflate with the tip of a long knife.) Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. To unmold, lay a wire rack over one of the pans, feet facing upwards,reverse both together, and the pastry cups will drop out onto the rack. Repeat with the second pan. Let cool before filling. (The cups freeze well in rigid containers, stacked 2 or 3 deep.)

Recipe copyright 2011 Jacqueline Mallorca. For more recipes visit Jackie's website.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Gluten-Free Aha moment

You've probably seen the television commercial in which people describe "Aha" moments in their lives. Usually they reveal a turning point discovery.

I had an "aha" moment of my own recently, though it was not exactly of the life-changing variety.

Instead, it was just one of those pleasant, exciting instances when you find something gluten-free that you never expected to find. In this case, it was completely accidental, which only added to the thrill.

My daughter and I were shopping to restock the pantry at home with gluten-free items now that she is back from a semester studying abroad in London. She is the only one in our house who is gluten free and had finished off everything before she left.

We were just about to check out of the grocery with a basket full of items we regularly buy -- gluten-free cereal, baking mixes, bagels, and bread -- when we turned a corner and ran smack into gluten-free Tastykake cookies prominently displayed on an end-of-the-aisle shelf. That's a spot usually reserved for items a supermarket is really pushing and not one where you would expect to find a gluten-free product.

Even though I regularly get press releases about new products and follow a number of blogs that are very good at getting the word out when something new hits the market, I had no idea Tastykake had any interest in gluten free. The thought that we were one of the first to find the new cookies only added to the rush we felt as we plopped a carton of Chocolate Chip and another of Chocolate Chocolate Chip into our cart. The $5.99 price tag for eight cookies was a little deflating, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm or slow down my intentions to blog about the find as soon as I got home.

But when I sat down to write I did a little research first and found that Gluten-Free Philly, a blog that details gluten-free developments in the Philadelphia area had beaten me to the punch. Turns out the cookies were mentioned there in March on the same day I left for a nearly two-week trip to visit my daughter in London and I had simply missed it. Tastykake is based in Philly and so it makes sense the cookies were first available there. Not to mention that Michael Savett, the lawyer and father of a child with celiac disease who writes the blog, is always up-to-the minute on gluten-free products and restaurants.

Still, I bring you news of this new item, just in case you missed it like me. And because it falls into the category of "I never thought I'd see that" gluten-free products, which hold a particular fascination for me. It's one thing for a specialty company to work out a cookie recipe using gluten-free flours. It's another for a company that made its fortune with wheat flour to take the initiative to do so.

On the subject of wheat flour and possible cross-contamination of the gluten-free Tastykake cookies, I contacted the company to see what steps they take to prevent it. No one ever got back to me despite several tries and the passage of several weeks (I wasn't in as much of a rush to write the blog once I realized the word was out). But Gluten-Free Philly reports that a company representative said they are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

So if you live in an area where Tastykake is sold, keep an eye out for this new entry in the gluten-free market to show up on your grocery shelf. It might give you  a little "aha" moment.

Amy Ratner

Friday, June 3, 2011

GFree? Who cares, it tastes good!

Yesterday was one of those days where one son had a baseball game at 6, one son had an away lacrosse game at 6:30, one daughter and her coach (my husband) had basketball practice at 7:30, one daughter was working and then staying on to work out and I had a dinner where I was giving a little speech across town at 6:30. So when my youngest walked out of the kitchen with a stack of chocolate chip cookies in his hand at 5:30, I didn’t bat an eyelid because that was the sort of dinner we were facing.

“Those are my cookies,” said the celiac. “Those are gluten-free.”

“Who cares,” said the gluten eating kid, “they taste good and I’m hungry.”

And what happened next was fairly typical of two boys ages 10 and 12, the 12 year old took off and started chasing the 10 year old for the cookies. The 10 year old took off laughing, squeezing the cookies so tightly that the chocolate chips immediately start melting all over his hands.

I was annoyed and hollered over the din of thundering footsteps, laughter and the dog barking, “just let him eat the cookies, there are plenty more in the cupboard, get your own, blah, blah blah.”

The point being, the gluten-free cookies taste good enough that the “gluten-free” part of them is not even a big deal anymore.

The New York Times featured an article on the front page of their Wednesday Dining section entitled, “Gluten-Free: Flavor Free No More” and isn’t that the truth! Food options these days are delicious and, even more wonderful, they are nutritious. I am spotting the whole grain seal on more and more gluten-free products every time I shop!

Interesting grains are replacing the nutritionally void and flavorless rice flours and starches of my gluten-free diet ten years ago. I have made everything from Molten Lava cakes to Lemon Cake with a Berry Compote for guests who have no dietary restrictions and have wowed them with my gluten-free desserts.

While chocolate chip cookies are not the pre-game meal most nutritionists would recommend, I was amused that the kid who could eat any cookie in the cupboard chose the gluten-free variety because they taste good.

Kendall Egan