Thursday, December 27, 2012

A New Dilemma: Good GF Party Food and Tight Jeans!

This year I followed my usual advice of eating a little something before going out to a holiday party.  Whether it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or some rice with a little stir fried vegetables or some noodle soup, I ate before I went out this entire month.   Now, squeezing into my jeans is nearly impossible.

Everyone in my circle of family and friends seems to be serving up gluten-free hors d’ouvres, side dishes, main courses and desserts.
Two Saturdays ago, I went to an annual party that is a collective December birthday party.  My husband is one of those December birthdays.  The appetizers were all laid out on the table with little signs that said “gluten-free,” “nut-free” and in some cases “dairy-free.”  I had serious choices and everything was fabulous.  Then the entrée and sides were laid out…beautiful tenderloins of beef, one rare and one medium to well,  potatoes roasted simply with olive oil and garlic, a green salad and a quinoa–kale salad, green beans and maybe one other vegetable.  Then the hostess laid out the desserts…a Pavlova, labeled “gluten-free,” fruit and berries and an assortment of GF cookies from a local bakery. 

I have never been so stuffed at a dinner party and was very grateful when the Christmas music went off and the dance music went on because I needed a work out!
At my cookie exchange last week, which I wrote about earlier this month, the hostess had made gluten-free crostinis for me. She had found gluten-free baguettes and toasted them up and topped them with a variety of GF garnishes.  There was a basket of rice crackers for the dips and cheeses as well.   I was in heaven and other people who snacked from the gluten-free crostini platter never realized they were eating a gluten-free baguette with savory toppings!

At the family Christmas celebration, my dishes were gluten-free but so was my brother-in-law’s cornbread stuffing and my sister-in-law’s butternut squash with gluten-free panko.  My other sister-in-law tried a gluten-free corn bread mix for her corn bread pudding and declared the gluten-free version better than the original. 
I thanked each and every person for the extra effort to make the entire dish gluten-free, or to provide gluten-free starters or desserts, and one good friend looked at me and said “the gluten-free stuff is right there on the store shelves, I didn’t really go to any extra effort.”

I think that was the best thing anyone has said to me all year.  Have we finally reached the point where enough people are aware of gluten-free and are there enough readily available products that a gluten-free option isn’t any extra effort?  I REALLY hope that is a movement that continues into 2013 and beyond.
Happy New Year!

Kendall Egan

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Update on Celiac Disease in New England Journal of Medicine

A review article on celiac disease by Alessio Fasano, MD, and Carlo Catassi, MD, was published today in The New England Journal of Medicine. The article, titled Celiac Disease, provides updates on gluten intolerance and celiac disease, including how the conditions are diagnosed and how they affect the body. The article is designed to help make sense of the changing landscape of gluten-related disorders. 

It’s been 10 years since publication of Fasano’s and Catassi’s seminal article that established the rate of celiac disease at 1 in 133 Americans. This follow up a decade later presents a comprehensive review of the condition. It includes the latest epidemiological findings, guidance on diagnosis and treatment, and a discussion on gluten sensitivity, which Fasano calls “the new kid on the block of gluten-related disorders.

Fasano and Catassi are among the leading international experts in the field of celiac disease.  Fasano is the director of the Center for Celiac Research, which is in the process of moving from the University of Maryland to Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. Catassi is the co-director. Their research has helped increase the awareness of  these conditions, resulting in a higher rate of diagnosis and a greater variety in resources to meet the needs of those living a gluten-free lifestyle. 

The full-text of “Celiac Disease” is available directly through The New England Journal of Medicine. 

Beata Rybka

Maryland Celiac Research Center moves to Boston

The University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research, the first of its kind in the U.S., is moving from Baltimore to Boston in January.

The center will leave the University of Maryland School of Medicine and affiliate with the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. Mass General is the largest teaching hospital of the Harvard Medical School.

CFCR will collaborate with the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, also affiliated with Harvard. The two are expected to combine to form the Harvard Center for Celiac Research, pending approval by the dean of the medical school.

Alessio Fasano, MD, founder, director and face of the CFCR, said the move will allow for widespread research collaboration and new advances in the treatment of celiac disease, gluten intolerance and other disorders.

"Our new location in Boston is providing the critical mass of collaborators that would be difficult to achieve in any other institution," Fasano said. He noted that Mass General was ranked the number one hospital in the U.S. and "offers a wealth of investigators, clinicians and scientists with a collegial approach to doing science."

Fasano will continue as director of the center and the Mucosal Biology and Immunology Research Laboratory at Mass General. The Center for Celiac Research Center at Mass General will begin seeing patients in January as a staff of about eight people move there. The celiac clinic in Baltimore will close Dec. 31, and patients have received letters recommending gastroenterologists who are available to provide continuing care.

Fasano said about 60 percent of the patients seen in Baltimore flew there from out of the area, and he expects the clinic in Boston to similarly draw patients from around the country.

"As we adjust to our new environment and learn the research portfolios of scientists around us, new areas for development and exploration will undoubtedly arise," he said. "Meantime, we will continue to treat both children and adults who have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, acute and chronic diarrheal diseases and difficult-to-treat gastrointestinal problems."

At the same time, research into gut permeability, the human genome and microbiome, biomarkers for gluten sensitivity and the relationship between gluten sensitivity and autism and schizophrenia already in progress will continue. Research operations will move over the next few months, with all Boston by June.

Once fully staffed the center will have 10 clinicians, 25 scientists, and five administrators. 

Fasano said several institutions had invited him to move the lab and clinical operations of the celiac center over the nearly 20 years it was in Baltimore. This time, he said, the opportunity was too good to pass up. "I believe this is the right time with the right people and the right circumstances to take the CFCR to an even higher level of excellence," he noted.

He credited early supporters in Maryland with the success of the CFCR and said the center would not have been possible without them. When the center was set up in 1996, there were no labs doing the blood tests that are now routinely used to diagnose celiac disease so the center opened its own.

"Clinical care was very erratic and patients knew more than their physicians," Fasano said, citing the center's landmark study establishing the prevalence of celiac disease at one in 133. He called it the "signature" of the center and said it's what finally convinced U.S. physicians that celiac disease was not a rare disorder. Today, there are celiac centers located across the country.

Fasano will continue to teach at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he is a popular professor, at least through this academic year.

Pam King, the center's director of development and operations, will continue in that role at Mass General. She said the Baltimore Celiac Walk, a major fund raiser, will continue and is scheduled for May 19. Donations from the walk and individual donors have always gone directly to the center so there will be no disruption in fund raising related to the move, King said. Mass General is covering the cost of the move, though the amount was not available.

Amy Ratner

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Expanding My Gluten-Free Comfort Zone

For years I have studiously avoided oysters.  Just the look of them turned me off.  Anything that looks like something coughed up on the half shell should be avoided, right?

I eat any type of sushi out there, which is raw and fresh from the ocean but couldn’t get beyond the look of oysters…until last night.  I have an annual night out with my sisters-in-law in New York City.  We tried to figure it out last night and decided that next year would be our ten year celebration of this December GNO. 
The first time we went I was in charge of picking the place and I chose The Mermaid Inn on 2nd Avenue and picked a nice wine bar as a starter…the only thing that has changed in all these years is the starter location.   We now have instituted a summer dinner out to satisfy my need to try new places, but we will continue to come back to The Mermaid Inn as long as it remains such a delicious option!  In fact, we just call our night out, “mermaiding.”

Oysters are gluten free and as I came to find out last night, they are a succulent, briny and fantastic bite of seafood!   We paired our two dozen oysters with two orders of “Bay Fries,” double fried frites with a liberal sprinkling of Old Bay Seasoning.   That could have been my dinner!
Seafood restaurants are my favorite choice for eating out because simple fish dishes, grilled or pan seared, are delicious and easy to confirm if they are indeed, gluten-free.  As much as I love fried fish, I would choose a grilled filet with just some salt, pepper and olive oil any day of the week.  Last night’s pan seared trout had a light sauté of red peppers with some greens and fingerling potatoes.   They prepare gorgeous filets with just a few, fresh ingredients.

Even though the night out stays the same year after year, which is reassuring in its own way, I was forced out of my comfort zone to try something new.  As a person with a gluten intolerance, I fall into safe ordering patterns when eating out, who wants to get sick?  But last year, my sister-in-law told me to give the grilled octopus at the tapas place a try.  This year it was oysters.  Both the grilled octopus and the oysters were gluten-free and both of them rejected by me previously because of the way each looked on a plate.   Glad I have my sisters-in-law to push me outside of my comfort zone because I will order both grilled octopus and oysters on the half shell again at a future restaurant outing!
Kendall Egan

Thursday, December 13, 2012

General Mills closing gluten-free online store

General Mills is shutting down Gluten Freely, it's online gluten-free store and moving its gluten-free recipes onto two general interest websites run by the company.

The store  is closing Jan. 8 because a wider selection of gluten-free items in supermarkets and groceries has reduced the need for an online gluten-free store, the company said in an email. Gluten-Freely sold both General Mills gluten-free brands, like Betty Crocker and Chex, and those produced by other companies.

General Mills said the closing of the store and website is not an indication that the company is losing its commitment to the gluten-free community "We remain committed to the gluten-free community by continuing to offer more than 300 gluten-free products," the email sent to Gluten Freely subscribers said. Future innovations are also on tap, according to the company.

Gluten-free recipes will be available at in the recipe section under health and diet and will offer "healthified" gluten-free recipes, resources and articles under healthy living gluten free.

Consumers will no longer receive emails from Gluten Freely. While you can sign up for information from BettyCrocker and LiveBetterAmerica, it will not always be specific to the gluten-free diet. The Gluten Freely Facebook page, which has more than 100,000 likes, will continue to operate.

Consumers started reacting to news of the closing on the Facebook page shortly after the email was sent. "I understand for most people it is easier to get gluten-free items locally, but for me it is difficult," Nikki Evans wrote. I have to travel over 90 minutes to a Whole Foods store."

Catherine Barrett wrote, "So sad you are closing. I can't find most of the things I like locally and the prices are outrageous in the stores. I will miss being able to order what I want and need."

Others asked whether the move would mean brands they like would no longer be available. The store closing is not connected to the discontinuation of any products sold through it.

Products sold through the store will be up to 50 percent off until the closing. They will continue to come with a guarantee that they are 30 days from their  expiration date. The consumer services department will be staffed through January to handle questions about final orders. Once the store closes remaining inventory will be donated to food shelters, include some impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Amy Ratner

Monday, December 10, 2012

Surviving the Cookie Swap in a Gluten-Filled World

It’s that time of year again, when my friends gather together with our four dozen homemade cookies and swap them for four dozen mixed cookies.  When you are a celiac, you exchange cookies for the gluten-eaters in your family.   Three of my four kids absolutely love checking out the cookies I bring home and each kid has developed a favorite cookie over the years.  My celiac has slim pickings, but one person ALWAYS makes “magic” fudge (it is the recipe on the side of the jar of Fluff) in addition to her cookies just for me.

But, it’s not just me with food issues!  At my cookie exchange we have a tree nut allergy, a severe peanut allergy and a dairy and egg allergy among the moms or other family members of the women present.  Last year I made cake pops that were gluten free and nut free, but not egg or dairy free.  My cake pops were shaped by hand and then dipped in the Wilson cake melts…red and green…and they were a hit!

In the past, I have also made chocolate dipped pretzel rods, puff pastry Palmiers, peppermint bark and almond brittle.  I have even cheated with frozen cookie dough with fancy glazing. Most people got into a rhythm of bringing the same cookie every year.  Lucky for my celiac, one person always brings red and green peppermint-chocolate chip meringues. 

I have learned a few survival tips over the years.  First of all, make sure you bake up a selection of gluten-free cookies to have at home.  This is getting easier every year with the vast selection of frozen gluten-free cookie dough and high quality mixes.

For the party, buy a cute cookie plate and pick a recipe that looks appetizing.  The plate doesn’t have to be expensive and the cookies do not need to be elaborate, but you don’t want to have the unappetizing platter of plain cookies that everyone politely skips!
Bring a great big tub for cookie collecting.   It is important to have a lid on that container after you have gently packed up your four dozen mixed cookies to bring home.  One year I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a deer and all of my cookies from the exchange went sliding right out from under the plastic wrap, off the tray and onto the floor of the car.  They were covered with dirt, bits of leaves and hair and went right from the car floor into the garbage. 

I always bring a set of small Tupperware containers so those of us with food intolerances can separate the allergen free selections from all the rest of the cookies.

The most important piece of advice is to really know what ingredients are in your cookies.  I would be upset if someone came back to me later and said that she forgot that there was a little bit of flour in the recipe, with the “sorry” and “it was just a little bit of flour.”  The same goes for nuts, egg and dairy.  If you can’t emphatically tell someone “this cookie is gluten free, nut free, egg free or dairy free” then just say so.  I don’t want someone dashing for an Epi pen because I thought the ingredients were nut free but didn’t really scope it out thoroughly.
Also, know why you really go to these parties year after year…it’s for the friendships, the memories, the stories about your kids, the laughter and the chance to pause and enjoy time with friends in the frenetic build up to the holidays.   I don’t really need cookies, no woman my age really needs cookies, but I do need my friends and that is what a cookie exchange is all about!

Kendall Egan

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gluten-Free Living's Holiday Gift Guide

‘Tis the season to give and to receive, but forget the fruitcake as we’ve compiled a gift guide from the personal wish lists of the GFL staff to please every kind of cook, chef or baker. And don’t worry – we won’t judge you if you buy two – one for them, one for you.

1.    Kuhn Rikon Cookie & Cupcake Decorating Set, $19.95, Sur La Table
No more futzing around with flimsy icing tubes or make-shift tinfoil funnels – a cookie and cupcake decorating set like this one from Kuhn Rikon can make putting on those finishing flourishes a cinch. Plus, it also comes in pastel colors.

2.    Magnetic Knife Holder, $16.99, Bed Bath and Beyond
Karen Morgan, the author of the cookbook Blackbird Bakery, Gluten-Free, recommends a magnetic knife holder as just one of the many space-saving tricks featured in the Saving column of the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of GFL on newsstands Jan. 2. Here’s one that comes with a reasonable price tag.

3.    Mini Holiday Silicone Spatula, Set of 3, $16.95, Williams-Sonoma
Whimsical cooking utensils like these spatulas make awesome stocking stuffers. These even come in a set of 3 so you can spread the love without spreading yourself thin.

4.    All is Bright Snowman Set, $8.99 - $14.99, Target
Holiday china can really transform a meal; after all, “Cookies for Santa” without proper signage are just cookies on a plate. “We have a set of Christmas plates that we use from Dec. 1 – Dec. 31 which just adds something festive to the entire month,” says our Associate Publisher, Kendall Egan.

5.    Paper Eskimo Red and White Dot Baking Cups, Set of 25, $7.95, Sur La Table
Think outside the box – baking cups aren’t just for muffins and cupcakes anymore. Sturdy paper ones like these are great for mini ice cream sundaes and holding or displaying toppings like sprinkles and marshmallows.

6.    Flat Stainless-Steel Icing Spatula, $35, Williams-Sonoma
“You would be amazed at how much easier it is to ice a cake with a really good icing spatula,” says our Editor Amy Ratner. “Mine was a treat from me to me. It and a good bread knife I bought are among my favorite kitchen tools.”  We love this one from Williams-Sonoma.

7.    Silpat Silicone Cookie Sheet Liners, $19.96, Williams-Sonoma
I tend to be a pretty by-the-book kind of baker, but greasing the cookie sheet is my weakness – I almost never do it. As a result, things stick, burn, and clean-up’s a mess. Santa, if you’re reading this, slip a silicone cookie sheet under the tree, for me; I’ve been an awfully good girl.  

8.    Claro Cake Stand, $49, Pottery Barn
After you spend hours mixing, baking, and frosting, your baked work of art deserves a place of honor at the holiday table - especially if it’s a gift for the host or a contribution to a holiday potluck. A domed cake stand will not only make your cake look majestic, but also protect it while in transit.

Beata Rybka

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gluten-Free Cookie Bars

On Monday, my gluten-free pantry of packaged snacks was like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard…bare.   I have a six foot tall, 13 year old celiac with a hollow leg and when he walks in the house at 5pm with a wild-eyed, half-starved look in his eye, after skipping breakfast, eating lunch at 11am, following full school day and a two hour basketball try out, he will NOT be nominating me mother-of-the-year with cupboards lacking any gluten-free options.

Thankfully, I was pulling my creation from the oven…my gluten-free pan bars.  I had a box of King Arthur Flour cookie mix in the cupboard and I noticed that I had all of the “wet” ingredients handy.  I also have this laborious recipe for homemade, healthy oat and fruit bars that I really did not have the time to make.  What I did was prepare the cookie batter and use the essence of the oat and fruit bar recipe to come up with my own concoction.

I had leftover thinly sliced almonds and craisins from a Thanksgiving side dish.  I toasted the almonds on the stove top in my cast iron skillet and then dumped both ingredients into my cookie batter.  I had Trader Joe’s White Baking chips for making Peppermint Bark, so I tossed the vanilla chips into the cookie mix. I also had Glutenfreeda Apple Cinnamon instant oatmeal with flax so I dumped two packets of that into the mix as well. 

I used my heavy duty bamboo spoon to incorporate all of those ingredients and then baked them up as pan bars.  I had to guess at how long to bake it but all I know is that I pulled it out from the oven and barely got the pan onto the counter before hungry man was scooping out a massive corner wedge onto a plate.
Of course, you are supposed to let it sit and cool but he happily ate a pile of hot cookie crumble.

Everyone tried a properly cooled and cut cookie bars after dinner and by Tuesday afternoon the entire pan was eaten.   I did not follow either one of the recipes as they were written, but sometimes kitchen experiments turn out to be something worth repeating.

Kendall Egan

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An easy approach to gluten-free recipes

I am thinking ahead a few weeks and planning what I will make for dinner for the two holidays we celebrate in our house in December.

Most of my dishes are family favorites, with some recipes written out in my  grandmother's Catholic grade school perfect penmanship. Others I've scribbled myself while talking on the phone with my mother and getting directions and advice on how to make something. Some come from my mother-in-law, an artist, who sometimes draws illustrations in the margins.

None of these are specifically gluten-free recipes and most of them required just a little change or none at all to make them gluten free.

When you are new to the gluten-free diet, it's easy to get the impression that you always need a specialty gluten-free recipe. When you are unsure of exactly what might contain gluten, it's reassuring to have a recipe that comes from a gluten-free cookbook, magazine, blog or website. And some types of food need a specialty gluten-free recipe, including pretty much any baked good like bread, cookies, cake and more.

 That's why Gluten-Free Living now includes more recipes. We get great feedback on recipes from our Food Editor Jacqueline Mallorca, a true gluten-free expert with impeccable culinary credentials.

But as you grow in knowledge and confidence, you can step outside specifically gluten-free sources and find many wonderful, tasty recipes that don't require a whole cabinet full of specialty items.

I was reminded of this fact this weekend by my daughter, who happened to be home and in the mood to try a new dish. She often looks through magazines, Pinterest, and other general websites to find interesting recipes.

She may look more than she cooks, but she is not intimidated by the gluten-free diet when she does decide to make something. So this weekend she prepared Potato and Butternut Squash Gratin and an escarole salad with toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds that she found in one of her searches.

She didn't need any specialty gluten-free items, though she did have to buy heavy cream, fresh thyme and peppercorns, which we did not happen to have on hand. And since the recipes were designed for holiday entertaining,  they took a little more work than your average Saturday night dinner.

But the whole experience showed that you can find perfectly safe, delicious, innovative recipes that will work in your gluten-free diet without need of a special gluten-free ingredient. And so can friends who want to invite you to dinner or for a holiday meal.

 It seems to me it's a lot easier for someone unfamiliar with the gluten-free diet to prepare recipes like these than to try to learn about specialty gluten-free cooking for one night. In addition to GFL's specialty gluten-free recipes,  we also publish a number that are naturally gluten free.

The next time you get a dinner invitation, try asking what your host wants to prepare and then suggest a recipe that uses techniques and ingredients familiar to them. It's so easy to share recipes digitally they can easily take a look online or on a cell phone and decide if it's something they might want to try. And it might lighten the load of dishes you have to tote along.

Or when you do bring something, make it from a naturally gluten-free recipe. Then you can skip the characterization as some who needs "special food." Instead you will be seen simply as someone who brought the dish that everyone loved and now wants the recipe for.

Amy Ratner