Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Popcorn as a Snowy Day Snack!

I am surveying the wreckage of this morning. Another snow day here in the north east and it was the right call with all the ice and the slippery roads. The problem is that my house takes a huge hit in terms of cleanliness and my productivity as a working mother takes a huge hit as well.

It becomes the non-stop day of mini-meals prepared by the kids—fried eggs for one, pancakes for another, cereal and then later lunches and snacks and cups of hot chocolate and sopping wet clothes and middle of the day requests ‘can you drive me here or there.” This is the second snow day in the past two weeks so the routine is getting a little old.

My eleven year old dog just wants her uninterrupted naps and I would like to make a few uninterrupted phone calls. (All you gluten-free advertisers out there, today is an email day!)

One of the snacks we made is good, old, gluten-free popcorn. There are lots of fun things one can do with popcorn. In Ina Garten’s new cook book, How Easy is That, she makes popcorn with truffle butter! That sounds delicious, but truffle butter is not a refrigerator staple in my house.

I like the combination of butter, a little salt and a little sugar…I believe that is called Kettle Corn. We devoured a batch of that earlier. Another variation is ranch seasonings or a barbeque blend of seasonings.

I have stopped buying the microwave bags of popcorn because the popping popcorn with a touch of oil in a covered sauce pan is really easy, doesn’t start fire in the microwave and is a pretty natural and wholesome snack.

If anyone has any other popcorn ideas, I would love to hear them!
Kendall Egan

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How gluten-free children grow up

When I post a blog, I always ask myself what makes it valuable to gluten-free readers. So I usually don't write a lot of personal stories. I know some blog followers really love personal writing and some gluten-free bloggers are great at it, but this is really a blog for Gluten-Free Living magazine and not me personally.

But today I think my personal story - really the story of my 20-year-old daughter who has had celiac disease since she was two - will be very helpful for any parent worrying about a child who has to follow the gluten-free diet.

Yesterday morning I held back tears as I watched my daughter wind through airport check-in on the first leg of her flight to London. She's studying abroad in the city of castles and queens and royal weddings for four months.

She stood out in the crowd in her bright green coat, with her long blond hair and deep dimples that attract admiring attention she is always oblivious to. To me she looked so small and so strong at the same time.

From the moment she was diagnosed with celiac disease, my husband and I made a commitment to never let her special diet roadblock anything she wanted to do.

She went to pre-school and ate special snacks stored in the cabinet there. She was a Girl Scout who sold the most cookies in her troop one year even though she has never tasted one. She played soccer, ice skated and danced. She traveled to Spain with a friend in eighth grade, went to New York with her marketing class in high school, and attends a college further away from home than any of the other fifteen students and graduates on our street.

There were small things to cope with too -- birthday and pizza parties to which she always brought her own food, classroom treats substituted from a bag of gluten-free goodies provided either by me or an understanding teacher, dinners out that required interrogating the server, college parties that could never include beer.

We hit some bumps along the way including one Oreo cookie she couldn't resist trying, some bigger girls in elementary school who wanted to take her un-tradeable food at lunch and a grumpy middle school cooking teacher who couldn't keep gluten-free arrangements straight. There are probably challenges and temptations she faced that I know nothing about.

But through it all we stuck to the simple motto that while the diet dictates what she can eat, it should never limit what she can do. When she was picking a college, one school was willing to buy special products and keep a designated area in the dining hall for her. But other factors lead her to choose a school where she would be more on her own to deal with being gluten free. We had encouraged her to make a choice that acknowledged her diet but was not controlled by it. We taught her that there are always ways she could find something to eat.

She surely took this lesson to heart.

She decided to study abroad this semester and worked through a labyrinth of arrangements to enroll, choose classes, cover costs and get to London. She is the only person from her large university in the program and headed across the ocean without knowing a soul. When I asked her about eating, she said she was sure she could find enough safe and varied options and never really worried about it.

OK, maybe she learned the lesson a little too well for my liking. We subsequently got in touch with the university in London to double check meal plans, dining hall options and other alternatives.

But deep inside, my heart bursts with how proud I am of her for wanting this adventure and making it happen.

The gluten-free world has changed so much in the 18 years since my daughter was diagnosed. Gluten-free food in those days consisted of a couple of dusty boxes on some back shelf in a health food store. The other choice was to fill out a paper order form and send it (in an actual envelope, with a real stamp, through a real mailbox) to the handful of gluten-free companies that existed. Or you could make the food yourself. We tried and failed many times to make edible gluten-free pretzels so I still get a little giddy when I see the bags of them in my regular supermarket.

Despite the changes, I suspect parents of children diagnosed with celiac disease or who have gluten intolerance have the same worries about the path and the future for their children as I did for my daughter.

Would she be able to grow up normally? Would she be able to eat safely? Would she have friends? Would she be teased because of her dietary differences? What about kindergarten, middle school, high school, college? Would she be able to handle the diet on her own?

So the point of my personal story is to say your children will be just fine. One day you might watch them walk away from you in airport. They will be nearly grown up, gluten free, yet very strong, confident, smart and fearless.
And while it might be a little painful to watch them go, it's what you've really hoped for all along.

Amy Ratner

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Show me the Gluten-Free Money

Anyone on the gluten-free diet has a sense that it only makes sense for restaurants to make gluten and allergen free choices available. Not because they are just trying to be nice (although that's a good reason, too!) but because they can make money.
No business that does not make money can last very long.
Now, Paul Antico, a former stock fund manager at Fidelity Investments, has the numbers to back up the theory. His analysis shows that a casual dining chain like Chili's could increase its sales by 9 percent, or $270,000,  resulting in a $50,000 annual increase in profit.
“From a purely business perspective, it’s in restaurants’ best interests to accommodate the food allergy population, as it can lead to significantly higher profits,” Antico said.
He calculates 9 million restaurant customers concerned about gluten and allergens could be won over by restaurants willing to take the steps to truly meet their needs. (It would be nice if the meals they serve are also tasty, varied, healthy and reasonably priced!)
Antico based his figures on the fact that about 5 percent of the population has allergies, celiac disease or gluten intolerance. That translates into millions of Americans, he said.
In addition, these restaurant customers usually play a key role in deciding where an entire group of friends or family will go when they eat  out. If there is little or nothing gluten-free to eat, the restaurant loses not one, but several diners.
"Savvy restaurateurs understand the financial benefits of providing an allergy-friendly environment," Antico said. "Many restaurant owners are wisely taking extra precautions to accommodate food allergic and intolerant guests, having their employees trained in allergy safety, creating gluten-free menu options, providing ingredient lists, and seeking industry certifications."
Through his website, AllergyEats, Antico is trying to spread the word about restaurants that are allergen- and gluten-free friendly.
The site provides free consumer feedback on how well specific restaurants accommodate those with special dietary needs. He created the site after dining out with his two food-allergic children and becoming frustrated by the inconsistencies in restaurants – some were willing and able to accommodate food-allergic diners and some were not.
Dining out on the gluten-free diet has certainly gotten easier as awareness of celiac disease has grown.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness fills a whole convention hall once a year with Philadelphia area restaurants that provide great gluten-free options. And the group offers training programs to teach restaurants the ins and outs of gluten free dining.
The Gluten Intolerance Group has worked for years to help restaurants come up with gluten-free menus.
But it's still common to run into problems with cross contamination, uninformed and uninterested wait staff, and bland gluten-free menus.
Like Antico, I think that could change really fast if the gluten-free community applies a simple principle made famous in a Tom Cruise movie.
"Show me the money."

Amy Ratner