Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Onion Rings in Beer Batter, Gluten-Free of course!

It’s just two days before the New Year when I will resolve once again to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables daily, but tonight it was culinary sin city…onion rings in beer batter! I served them with a roasted chicken and veges, and while everyone else treated the onion rings as a side dish, they were my main course with a side of beer.

Onion rings are a rare treat since they are rarely gluten-free in a restaurant and a total pain in the neck to prepare. I made the beer batter (Redbridge for my batter, Bard’s for me) and then let it rest for a half hour. Onion slicing, even Vidalia’s, is a tear inducing event and then there is that oil. Right now my house is an olfactory nightmare of hot cooking oil smells and the cover up smell of Pumpkin Spice and Baked Apple scented candles. It will smell like a greasy fry joint for a couple of days, yuck.

The first batch was a bust. The oil wasn’t hot enough and then I tried moving them around with my cooking tongs. Basically, all the batter stuck to the bottom and I had a bunch of naked onions swimming around in oil. I scooped everything out and ate the first batch anyway. The crispy bits of batter were really good. A moment on the lips, forever on the hips…and probably not doing much good for the arteries either.

The second batch wasn’t much better because the oil still wasn’t hot enough, but then it all kicked in to place. Golden brown, hot onion rings gently lifted out of the bubbling oil for a brief pat down on paper towels and then right to the table. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Right now, the onion rings are sitting like lead but they tasted sweet, crispy and light as one after the other went from mouth to tummy. Good thing that my New Year’s resolution to get 150 minutes of exercise per week starts in a couple of days as well. Happy New Year!
Kendall Egan

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gluten-Free Christmas, 2008

It’s a little past five and I’ve got some heavy eyelids! It’s not that Christmas was extravagant this year, but each little Chapstick in the stockings is wrapped (why I started that madness fifteen years ago is beyond comprehension). Plus, I ran out of tape around 11:30pm on the 23rd and resorted to packing tape and scissors….which slowed the process down immensely.

Today started with four kids piled on my bed to wake me up, the usual Christmas day tradition all captured on video. I swear there isn’t one minute of video where I look like a normal person. They were nice to me though, they waited until 8am.

By 8:15 the living room was a sea of torn paper and everyone was happy with their goodies. Since 9am we have had the cacophony of Christmas carols mixed with the atonal sounds of kids belting out Bon Jovi on Rock Band. A full on reminder that I forgot to purchase tomato juice for Bloody Marys today!

How does this relate to gluten? Good question. I did have a delicious Glutino bagel with cream cheese and lox for breakfast. I also used peanut butter, my favorite gluten-free food, to get a big wad of gum out of my youngest son’s hair. (My celiac was enthusiastically playing fake guitar on a Radiohead tune and the gum went flying out of his mouth…they paused the game to try to figure out where it landed. Big sister #2 laughed hysterically when she found it…madness ensued and all was resolved with peanut butter and a shower.) Another reminder of my tomato juice forgetfulness.

Dinner is in the oven and I’ve started prepping food for tomorrow’s extended family celebration. All of it is gluten-free! The marinade for the beef, sweet potato puree, the crumble for the apple crisp and the green salad with all the fixings are prepared for everyone to eat—celiacs included. Food is a large part of any celebration and adapting it to a gluten-free diet is so much easier today than it was eleven years ago when I was diagnosed.

The holiday season is perfect for those treats, savory and sweet, that remind us of our childhood. We in turn lovingly prepare these same treats for our children to carry with them into their adult lives. Gluten-free diets don’t change tradition, it just requires some ingenuity. All of us at Gluten-Free Living wish our readers a delicious holiday season!
Kendall Egan

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gluten-free, Peanut-free, Sesame seed-free Party Snack

Way back in September, at back to school night, I volunteered to bring the snack for the holiday party. Last week I received an email reminder from the class mothers to bring the snack, but with that reminder came the caveat that the snack must be nut-free, sesame seed-free and gluten-free.

It bears asking the question, why are we still serving snacks at school parties that are brought from home? In an era of allergies and in an obesity epidemic maybe the new “paradigm” should be food-free parties, because all these allergies turn the provider of food into a train wreck of fear. Gluten-free I could handle blindfolded with one arm tied behind my back, nut-free is ok too because enough of my kids have a friend with a peanut allergy...sesame seed-free kind of threw me.

Mind you, the celiac wasn’t mine this time! Yesterday's party was in my other son’s class, the one who lives for wheat containing carbohydrates. I really thought long and hard about this party snack---and I have to tell you in the crazy month of December, with only three weeks between Thanksgiving break and the start of holiday vacation AND two half days thrown in for teacher conferences—the last thing I had time for was worrying about this snack.

But, I think I worried enough to come up with a decent snack. I brought in grapes and ice cream sundae cups (strawberry and chocolate). The only mistake was bringing in two flavors, strawberry was definitely not cool. I was just grateful that no one had a dairy allergy because then perhaps I would have resorted to carrot sticks to accompany the grapes.

The real point is that kids have food issues by the dozens these days and too many of these kids are overweight, so I think as adults, we need to refocus kids' gatherings away from food. Perhaps these elementary school parties should include a movement game, a craft and a story and call it a day! I don’t think that sounds bah humbug at all.
Kendall Egan
Kendall Egan

Happy Holidays

Seems everyone you talk to mentions how quickly this holiday season has snuck up on them. The general consensus is that it feels that way because Thanksgiving came so late in November this year.

A rushed holiday season can mean a stressed holiday season, no matter who you are. But if you are managing a gluten-free lifestyle along with all your cards, decorating and wrapping it might seem especially tense. You don't have the option of buying last minute store-bought cookies - unless you're lucky enough to live near a really great and well-stocked, gluten-free bakery.

We've tried to help with the holiday guide on our website, http://www.glutenfreeliving.com/.

And you, like everyone else, you can pick the things about the holidays that matter most or are the most fun and skip the things that you are just doing out of obligation without enjoyment. Sounds so hard, we know. Your family and friends have expectations. How do you cut back?

Interestingly, cutting back is the theme this holiday season. Mostly it's a matter of money and so many people have less of it. Mixed in, though, is a little hope that paring our holiday excess might lead us to a good place.

All the holidays we celebrate this season are rooted in the best of the human spirit - hope, courage, faith, love and peace.

At Gluten-Free Living we wish you all of these both during the holidays and throughout 2009.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gluten-Free Holiday Gift Suggestions

A very sweet reader purchased a subscription of Gluten-Free Living for his sister last Christmas. He sent me an email checking on the status of that subscription and when he found out that there was another year left on the subscription, he asked me for some other gluten-free gift suggestions.

I figured this was a perfect opportunity—since there is still plenty of time to ship things before the holidays get here—to ask for some gluten-free gift suggestions from all of you. What are some great suggestions for a gluten-free gift for Christmas, Hanukkah, hostess gifts, New Year’s Eve and maybe we will just round this out to Valentine’s Day too?

While I think a subscription to Gluten-Free Living is a nice one, tell me your gift ideas…
Kendall Egan

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gluten-Free Holiday Shopping

This morning we got started bright and early to purchase our Christmas tree at Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, CT. It’s a fragrant, tall and skinny balsam…perfect for the spot in the living room.

After we found our gorgeous tree, we went food shopping. Stew Leonard’s is a regional grocery store with top notch butcher, dairy, fish selection, bakery and produce. My kids never go shopping with me, but they enjoy Stew Leonard’s for all of the “food demos.” The celiacs in my family rarely get to sample much. Today, however, was different.

Stew Leonard’s is set up in maze fashion, which is pure marketing genius since shoppers must wind through the entire store to get to the check out. Trust me, extra stuff always ends up in the cart…even more so with four kids in tow. As I rounded a corner, familiar gluten-free packaging caught my eye. On the shelf was Gilbert’s Goodies! As I was pointing them out to my son and picking a few packages off the shelves, Liz Gilbert appeared.

I re-introduced myself because we had met each other at the Colin Leslie Walk in Rye, NY. The first time I met Liz, she was selling her products at farmer’s markets and by word of mouth. Liz inspired a little section called “Baker’s Dozen” in Gluten-Free Living because I thought it would be good to promote new bakers in the process of building their clientele.

Gilbert’s Goodies had a little write up in New for You in the Vol 8, #1 in the first section of “Baker’s Dozen.” Then something exciting happened for me, I saw Gilbert’s Goodies in Whole Foods in White Plains, NY. It means a lot to me to see entrepreneurs succeed and I hope Gluten-Free Living played a tiny part in that.

But, I digress! It was a thrill to see a gluten-free food demo in Stew Leonard’s. My son was excited and another guy rounded the corner and exclaimed “Wow, gluten-free cookies, that’s one less stop I have to make today.” It turns out the gentleman in charge of food demos at Stew Leonard’s, Joe, is a recently diagnosed celiac.

Joe was struggling to figure out what he could and couldn’t eat and I had him write down my website. In the meantime, he was a little sad because he was also setting up a garlic bread and lasagna food demo today…foods that he loved but could no longer eat.

I explained to Joe that in time, he would figure it all out and be able to replace the foods he loved. He had already taken a proactive step by introducing a gluten-free product to his store.

Our tree is now in a bucket getting a large drink of water, the groceries are unpacked and we’ve already opened up all the baked goods. Congratulations to Liz! For more information on these places, click on these links Gilbert’s Goodies and Stew Leonard’s. I hope everyone has a gluten-free happy moment during this holiday season!
Kendall Egan

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gluten-free cookbook with 1,000 - count em - recipes for celiacs!

I was so excited to wake up yesterday morning, settle in with my coffee and newspaper (Yes, I still actually read a real newspaper in the morning!) and find a gluten-free cookbook among the five selected in the Baltimore Sun's Taste section as perfect gifts for the cook.

Carol Fenster's new "1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes" was right up there with books from Bon Appetit and the editors of Food and Wine. Writer Kate Shatzkin said that because of the current economy, she chose books that pack a lot between their covers. "We want the cookbooks we give to offer more - more tips, more variety, more recipes," she wrote.

Carol's terrific new book certainly fills the bill. In fact, Gluten-Free Living editor and publisher Ann Whelan gives the book rave reviews in the new issue of our magazine. Ann also asked Carol to tell a little about what it's like to develop and taste test 1,000 recipes. Check out the magazine for details. (By the way, GFL is being sold at Borders bookstores for the first time this month! The first release is small so if you don't find us ask the manager about offering GFL in the future.)

I had the good fortune of running into Carol at a meeting recently, and I asked how she had managed to maintain her slender figure with all that cooking and sampling. With her usual good humor, Carol confessed she had added a few pounds. It looked like she had also managed to lose them!

If you really like the popover recipe from the book that the Sun included along with the story, you might find yourself tipping the scales with a few extra pounds. Ahh, but it would be worth it. To see the Sun story and recipe, go to http://www.baltimoresun.com/.

I should tell you that my husband is an editor at the Sun and gave me a heads up that Carol's book would be on the food page.

But my 14-year-old son (who may be one of the last teenagers in the country who still reads a real newspaper while eating his bowl of cereal) just happened to notice it. He was pretty excited to find a gluten-free cookbook in the newspaper and made sure he pointed it out to me. Now I'm pointing it out to you.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rebuilding gluten-free confidence

The recent Chicago Tribune stories about gluten in products labeled "gluten free" probably left you wondering how safe the food in your pantry really is.

It was unnerving to read in one story that Wellshire Farms chicken bites, and chicken and beef corn dogs that were labeled "gluten free" were independently tested and found to contain anywhere from 200 to 2,200 parts per million of gluten.

"How could that be?" you probably asked yourself while either sighing with relief that you had never bought the products or searching through the freezer to chuck any that you had purchased.

But the real question is how wide spread the problem of mislabeled gluten-free food really is? And the unnerving answer is that no one knows.

The Tribune, in its broader stories about problems with allergen labeling, reported mislabeling of gluten from only one company. (There was mention of the potential for gluten in Whole Foods corn tortillas, but independent tests found no gluten in them). What would we find if we tested a number of products that are labeled "gluten free?"

There are many specialty gluten-free food makers who take steps to make sure their products are safe. They make them in manufacturing plants where no gluten-containing products are made. They test ingredients and then they test the final food. Many gluten-free companies were started by individuals who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance who are aware of the dangers of cross-contamination and all the precautions that are needed.

But some companies who don't follow such strict practices. Some are small and can't afford to. Others are large and don't have the commitment to the gluten-free customer.

And there are still no regulations that establish one set of rules that every company has to follow before it can put a gluten-free label on a package.

That's why final approval of the proposed definition of "gluten free" is so important and why it's so frustrating that the Food and Drug Administration has let the deadline required in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act go by without any action.

The Tribune stories faulted the FDA (and the US Department of Agriculture) for not doing a very good job enforcing the labeling laws that already exist. So you do have to wonder how the beleaguered agency will ever be able to police gluten-free companies adequately once a standard for gluten-free food is set.

But finalization of the standard is a necessary first step before those who have celiac disease can have real confidence in the gluten-free label.

It doesn't seem there is anything gluten-free consumers can do to get the FDA moving on the definition. The agency says it is still studying the safety of allowing only foods with less than 20 ppm of gluten to use the gluten-free label.

Maybe bad publicity from the Tribune articles will kick start the FDA because it's pretty clear that misleading consumers with a "gluten free" label on corn dogs that contain up to 100 times the proposed standard is not safe.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shrimp Do Not Absorb Alcohol

Sex in the City made cosmos all the rage. I even purchased a beautiful set of etched martini glasses so I could make my very own.

For one holiday celebration—an open house—I mixed up a batch of Pom-itinis for my friend. Pomegranate juice, simple syrup, an orange liquor and lots of vodka combined for a fragrant and fabulous cocktail. They had these delicate twists of orange zest as a garnish and were a lovely balance of tart and sweet. However, Pom-itinis went straight from an empty stomach to the head.

Everyone was sipping and munching as the early afternoon wore on, but there was a big difference for me. I wasn’t munching, only sipping. Those gorgeous canapés all had gluten. The lovely little puff pastry shells filled with salmon, those crostini topped with a bruschetta, the mini lamb burgers, the chicken skewers with a mystery dipping sauce….everything looked and smelled delicious and everything was off limits. I could eat the shrimp and the crudités platter.

But, I learned the hard way that all those little hors d’ouevres are bread related to absorb the alcohol at cocktail parties. So, I ended up pretty toasted and hoped for some food I could eat as they laid out a spread on the table. No luck, the main “filler” food for the open house….a gorgeous display of wrap sandwiches and then an array of desserts were also off limits. Curses…everything had gluten!

Just to finish the story, I didn’t embarrass myself by falling off my chair or slurring something inappropriate, but I remember participating in conversations with reckless gusto. And I had a killer hangover the next day, just a piercing headache accompanied by cravings for Diet Coke and greasy food.

Like most lessons learned the hard way, I have tried to be proactive about cocktail parties and gatherings. I just assume there will be nothing for me to eat and I eat a bowl of cereal, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a slice of pizza before I go out. The real reason I am there is to see friends, catch up and share some laughs…it’s never really about the food or the cocktail.

I also see the virtue in drinking water or a soda in between the glasses of wine because at this point in my life I don’t need the calories of the bottomless glass and my kids play way too many sports to spend a miserable Sunday on the couch.

As you begin to celebrate the holiday season, fill your tummy before you go out! You do not want to be the drunken buffoon that everyone gossips about the next day. Note to all celiacs, shrimp and carrots do not absorb alcohol!
Kendall Egan