Sunday, January 25, 2009

Read the Label!

“Read the Label” is the mantra of life for celiacs. Why would I ever put something in my shopping cart, a food product that I am expecting to eat no less, when I haven’t read the label? I do get lazy with the tried and true things like tuna fish or beans. But when something is new, it is pretty cheeky to just assume it’s gluten-free.

I made that mistake at Trader Joe’s last week. They were promoting Super Bowl foods and had a big display of turkey chili. It was a high of seventeen degrees out side and Thursday evenings are just horrible in my household since I am in and out of the car approximately every 45 minutes for basketball and swimming pick ups and drop offs, so I though this would be a great, quick supper for everyone. I dumped four cans into the cart and never even looked at the ingredients.

How long have I been a celiac? Long enough to know better! Thursday night I opened up the cans and warmed up the contents. I had garlic bread in the oven, and the whole house smelled like there was a hearty dinner cooking. As I stirred the chili, I realized that it had a nice, thick consistency. That “uh-oh” feeling of dread came over me as I reached for a can (meanwhile those cans had all been rinsed and thrown into recycling) and I finally read the ingredients for the first time.

“Wheat flour” was there as plain as day. In that pot, I had enough chili for six people. Two announced they wouldn’t eat it because “there’s beans” or “there’s green peppers” in it. Two of us now couldn’t eat it because it had wheat flour.

Dinner was a big let down. I had garlic bread and a couple of Clementine’s. I can’t remember what my celiac ate. My two picky eaters were quite happy with a bowl of cereal. My husband and daughter had the chili, but most of my quick dinner ended up in the garbage.

It could have been worse, we could have eaten it. As a seasoned veteran of gluten-free shopping and food preparation, I should have known better. I need to avoid gluten, so I need to read the labels. I won’t be making that mistake again anytime soon.
Kendall Egan

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sugar and Spice Makes Everything Nice

So far this January I have experienced two random acts of dessert kindness. I never make a “fuss” about my celiac status to a hostess who invites me to dinner. By now, most people who would invite me over know about my dietary needs and make sure there is something I can eat.

Dessert, however, is a tough one. Sometimes it’s an afterthought for a busy party planner or the responsibility is delegated to an attendee. So when I was offered a gluten-free dessert twice this month, it struck me as a very cool thing.

On New Year’s Eve, a group of neighborhood families gathered to celebrate. Boisterous kids hoot it up in the basement and the adults have their own boisterous conversations upstairs. Around midnight, the desserts are placed out with the champagne. One of my friends is the neighborhood doyenne of desserts, she creates beautiful shortbread cookies and bite sized cakes with perfectly piped frosting flower buds. This year she added a “two-bite” Pavlova. Each Pavlova was a crispy meringue basket filled with lemon curd and fresh fruit.

She personally doesn’t like meringue but wanted to make sure that the two celiacs in attendance had dessert. The rest of us devoured them. Each Pavlova was a mouth explosion of sweet meringue, tart lemon and fresh berries. They were perfect with the midnight glass of champagne.

The second evening was a group of friends who rent indoor tennis courts a couple times a year for round-robin mixed doubles. We bash the heck out of each other for two hours of tennis and then convene pot-luck style for good conversation and dinner. I brought the entrée, and my friends who brought dessert arrived with a big fruit salad and a gluten-free cake topped with cinnamon, sugar and almonds.

Ten years ago, I was apt to apologize for something that was gluten-free since it was dense as a brick or dissolved into a puddle of crumbs. This cake was so moist and tasty that the “it’s gluten-free” disclaimer to the non-celiacs was completely unnecessary. We all went back for a second slice, two hours of tennis gave us the freedom to do so!

The growing awareness of which ingredients contain gluten, a little creative thinking and the ubiquity of good gluten-free mixes makes these random acts of dessert kindness possible. Having very nice friends helps a bit too.
Kendall Egan

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gluten-free, cookie-dough ice cream, Part 2

Good news!
I found the gluten-free cookie-dough "ice cream" mentioned in my last blog when I went to my local supermarket.
Turtle Mountain's Purely Decadent cookie-dough flavor was right there in the frozen food case near all the other ice cream.
We had it for dessert that same day.
Amanda said she thought it was good. She never had ice cream with gluten-containing cookie dough so she couldn't compare the two. And she was a little perplexed as to exactly what the cookie dough was made of (the ingredients label says rice, potato and tapioca flours among other things).
Regardless, she thought the cookie-dough chunks were good and wished there were more of them in the ice cream. She said it's a flavor she would buy again, but it doesn't replace her favorite -- Ben and Jerry's Phish Food.
I also tasted it and thought it was a very good copy of the "regular" version. It was a little sweeter, but who can really quibble over sweetness when talking about cookie-dough ice cream!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Gluten-free cookie-dough ice cream

In the 16 years since my daughter, Amanda, was diagnosed with celiac disease, a stunning number of foods have gone from wishful-thinking to actual products on store shelves.

A short list:

Pretzels -- first the hard kind Amanda and I tried to make by squeezing dough out of the corner of a plastic bag into skinny sticks (Not very successfully!) and now the soft kind sold by both Miss Roben's ( and Noah's Pretzels (

Hostess Hoho's -- pretty good copies have been made by Shabati ( for a few years.

Bagels -- made by a number of companies, with decent ones ( now available at my local Giant supermarket (this was another goodie we use to try to make following multiple steps that I seem to remember involved both boiling in water and then baking.)

Pizza and beer -- we devoted a whole section of Gluten-Free Living (It's in the Spring 2007 issue) to these two previously elusive items.

You get the picture.

I have to admit I still get pretty excited when something new is available. I found gluten-free whoopie pies ( in another local grocery and called my daughter at college even as I was loading up my shopping cart.

But some of the thrill has faded. I think we have come to expect all the ingenious gluten-free chefs out there to whip reluctant gluten-free flours into all the foods or our dreams.

Still, my heart went aflutter recently when I read about a company that makes gluten-free cookie dough ice cream. (Technically its a dairy-free frozen dessert.) This is a product I never thought anyone would go to the trouble to make -- but here it is.

I tried to buy a pint of Turtle Mountain's Purely Decadent cookie-dough flavor ( right away just because it seemed so wonderful. Alas, it was sold out locally. So I can't tell you how Amanda thought it tastes. Right now that doesn't seem matter -- though it will in the long run if the "ice cream" is to last. For now it's enough that someone decided to make it at all.


Sunday, January 4, 2009


I opened up the New York Times, Education Life section this weekend to read the article on “Students of Invention: 23 Bright Ideas.” The very first innovation is Soy-Doh, a gluten-free play doh. The story is that a few students in agricultural economics were experimenting on creating a gluten-free beer for their professor at Purdue University. Clearly they were not successful as brewers, but the result was a soy based “squishy staple” of the toddler set. From the look and description--pretty colors and fruit flavors--Soy-Doh sounds like a terrific new product for little celiacs.

I never worried about Play Doh when my son was in nursery school so I wonder if I would buy it if I had a celiac toddler today. The homemade nursery school dough was salty and unappetizing, but more importantly their hand washing policy before snack was excellent. It never occurred to me to be worried about Play Doh since my celiac wasn’t eating it. A diagnosis of celiac disease created other worries about overall health and growth, so I chose not to concern myself with occasional use of wheat based Play Doh.

That was my decision at the time and I chose not to think twice about it. Since Soy-Doh presents an alternative, parents of celiac toddlers have more choices today. The New York Times did not include ordering information, so click on Soy-Doh for ordering information.
Kendall Egan

Friday, January 2, 2009

Will "gluten free" be fine in '09?

It's hard to believe it's 2009 and we are still waiting for the gluten-free label to have real meaning. After all, the heralded Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act said the label had to be defined by August, 2008.

That gave the Food and Drug Administration four years after the allergen labeling law was passed to get its act together on the gluten-free label. At first, at Gluten-Free Living, we fully expected some kind of definition to be finalized by the August deadline. But as it got closer, we started to realize that the FDA was going to let the date go by without any action.

Personally, I don't really understand how the agency can ignore a law passed by Congress and signed by the president, but as a reporter I know it happens.

The official reason for the delay is that the FDA is waiting for a report on all the studies that look into a safe cut-off level for gluten in gluten-free food.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking! How can there be any gluten in gluten-free food? But the truth of the matter is there is likely to be a tiny amount of gluten even in gluten-free food because of cross-contamination. For example, gluten-free flour can have traces of wheat flour in it because of the way grains are grown, transported and milled. It's just a farming fact of life.

Researches have tried to measure when these traces trigger damage to the villi of those who have celiac disease. The FDA is looking at studies from this kind of research to see if a proposed level of 20 parts per million -- a very small amount -- is the safest cut off.

There's nothing wrong with that. Nobody wants a label that allows an unsafe level. I'm just not sure why the FDA waited so long to look at the studies.

Another complication is that FDA recommended 20 ppms because there was no reliable test for any smaller amount that could be used for all kinds of gluten-free food. So much time has gone by, even that might have changed.

The FDA isn't a real talkative agency. It's very hard to get information from them. And now that the agency is under fire for not doing basic things like going after food companies that list flour instead of wheat flour on a label -- a violation of the allergen labeling law -- it's unlikely they will open up about what's going on with the gluten-free definition.

Some have expressed hope that the new presidential administration, with a newly appointed head of the FDA, will change things.

That's my biggest hope for 2009. No matter what else happens in the changing gluten-free world, I hope that we will finally get the gluten-free label we all need. Certainly it will cause some upheaval for gluten-free companies that will have to test their products to prove they can meet the cut off. Surely we have right to be dubious about how the FDA will ever enforce the law behind the label. But without it, "gluten free" means many different things and that's not good for those seeking a healthy gluten-free life.