Thursday, December 9, 2010

Survey says... pizza.

Make your gluten-free voice heard and vote for your favorite GF brands in Triumph Dining's first annual Best of Gluten Free Awards! Participants receive free dining cards. Check it out here:

In *ahem* extremely exciting gluten-free pizza news, northern Delaware is now home to Extreme Pizza, located in downtown Wilmington. The good news: they deliver and the pizza is really good! (In fact, I voted for them in the Triumph survey.)

On the down side, it's pricey - almost $16 for a 12" plain cheese GF pizza and about $20 for specialty toppings. In comparison, Seasons Pizza is $9.99 but it's smaller and thinner. That's quite a splurge for pizza, but it may be worth it on rare occasions, since lazy + delivery + GF is no simple proposition. (Another unfortunate side effect of celiac disease: $20 pizza?!) Extreme's GF menu also includes a few salad choices. The specialty pizzas are very creative and have fun names like Mr. Pestato Head, Peace in the Middle East (shown above, with hummus, tomatoes, olives, onions, feta, fresh basil, pepperoncinis, and mozzarella), and Poultry Geist. Another perk: Extreme also offers soy cheese.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy gluten-free Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had an enjoyable and gluten-free Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday! This was my first (knowingly) celiac Thanksgiving and it went really well. I hope more people will learn that it's so easy to make gluten-free dishes that your celiac friends and relatives can enjoy - there are many side dishes that are normally gluten-free or can be so easily adjusted that non-celiacs wouldn't notice a difference. Bottom line: just talk to us.

This year I was really craving stuffing, so I made my own. I used up several loaves of GF bread I had in the fridge or freezer (Udi's, Rudi's, and Food For Life) and Trader Joe's Stuffing Starter Mix (chopped celery, onions, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme). I toasted the slices of bread in the oven, let them sit out for a day to harden, then broke them into crouton-size bites. I sauteed the veggie/herb mix in olive oil, then blended them with my croutons and some water. I pressed the stuffing into a sprayed 9x13" pyrex and baked for an hour at about 325, covered with foil. Next time I would probably use broth for more flavor, or I'd recommend doing something to season the bread. I would also bake it for longer, or take the foil off towards the end. But it smelled heavenly and the texture was great (for my first stuffing attempt)! Craving satisfied, almost exactly how I remembered it.

The other dish I've been craving: sweet potatoes! I didn't measure my ingredients, but here's basically what I did. (Also, if I'm cooking small portions, I use my toaster oven since it's so much faster & less electricity than heating up the big oven.) Preheat oven to 350. Peel 2 sweet potatoes & cut into small pieces. Melt about 1 tbsp of dairy-free margarine (or butter) in the microwave. In a large mixing bowl, pour melted margarine and about 1 tbsp of canola oil over potatoes. I added some orange juice, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, a packet of Sugar in the Raw (or brown sugar, or omit), and a pinch of kosher salt. Mix it up, making sure the potatoes are evenly coated. Pour them into a foil-lined pan and bake for an hour, stirring once or twice. In the last 5 minutes, I added some marshmallow pieces on top. They were the absolutely perfect blend of gooey and crispy with an amazing caramelized, citrusy flavor. Really, this couldn't be easier or more delicious at any time of year.

Thanksgiving is also my favorite holiday because it's my birthday weekend. :D We celebrated with a trip to Padi, a new Thai/sushi fusion restaurant in Hockessin, DE from the owners of Wilmington's very yummy Rasa Sayang, another favorite of mine. Located in Lantana Square Shopping Center, Padi has a nice, modern vibe with a sushi bar and big modular booths. The service was attentive and the food was DELICIOUS! I ordered spicy tuna and salmon rolls for starters, drunken noodles with shrimp, and my beloved mango sticky rice for dessert. Our server was very understanding and the kitchen made my noodles without soy sauce. I brought a bottle of wheat-free tamari to use with the sushi, and when the manager came over to check on us, he noticed my soy sauce and asked if I'm gluten-free! He then commented that he's been trying to find a commercial-size container of wheat-free soy sauce so they can keep it in the kitchen, and said he has a number of friends who are gluten-free, so they are very aware and happy to make accommodations. Well, that's what it takes to sweep me off my feet, folks - fresh & tasty sushi, outstanding Thai/fusion entrees, and gluten awareness. I can't wait to go back - Padi is definitely a new favorite. (No links, as the restaurant doesn't have a website. Call for reservations - 302.239.1800.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Udi's coming to Trader Joe's?

I've just learned via Facebook that Trader Joe's will soon be carrying Udi's products. Udi's is well-known and very popular in the GF crowd for their remarkably normal sandwich bread, bagels, muffins, and mini pizza crusts. And even if this is just a cruel rumor, you can find Udi's in the Delaware area anyway at both the Giant and Shop-Rite on Concord Pike, Wilmington and occasionally Newark Natural Foods on Main Street, Newark, or at Whole Foods (not in Delaware). Great to see that Udi's is becoming easier to find.

Last night I threw together a very easy and delicious pot of GF chili-mac, which made for a super tasty lunch at school today! Here's what I did (sorry, no pictures):

- about half a pound of cooked ground beef
- 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes w/ green chilies
- about half a bag of rice noodles - cooked, drained & rinsed (I strongly recommend Trader Joe's brown rice penne or rotini)
- half an onion, chopped
- to taste: chili powder, ground cumin, oregano

Failproof instructions: saute the onion in some oil. Add everything else and mix it up til it's all warm. I used roughly 4 shakes of chili powder, 1/2 tsp of cumin, and just a dash of oregano. Yum! (You could also add corn, beans, chickpeas, etc.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rice Chexie treats & cozy GF soup!

How did it get to be November?! It's that time of year when a girl's thoughts turn to outlines, memos, final exams, and stress stress stress. And cozy comfort food that's perfect for fall. Just a quick post tonight but I wanted to share two easy recipes I've enjoyed recently.

Rice Chexie treats!

By all rights Rice Krispies should be gluten-free but they contain malt flavoring, which comes from barley. No go. I am cuckoo for rice krispie treats, but the great news is that you can make a GF version that's just as good, if not better, using Rice Chex, which are thankfully gluten-free. Here's what you need:

* pan (8x8 or 9x13, greased with cooking spray. I use Pyrex baking dishes.)
* 2-3 tbsp of butter or margarine
* 1 bag of marshmallows (check the ingredients to make sure they're GF. Also, minis melt faster than the big ones)
* 6 cups of Rice Chex cereal
* optional: 1 tsp vanilla extract (again, check ingredients)

Spritz your pan. Over low heat, melt your butter/margarine and marshmallows, stirring constantly. The second it's smooth, remove from heat - don't overcook. Add vanilla and stir. Add your cereal and stir it through the goo; this is always the annoying part. Dump the mixture into the pan. It helps to use waxed paper, the back of a wet spoon, or dampen your hands to press the mixture flat. Now comes the hard part: waiting. Cut into squares or shapes and enjoy! They are amazing and taste just like the real thing. (Note: I have previously tried using organic brown rice krispies. Feel free to try it for yourself but IMO it tasted like cardboard. Rice Chex are about 100x better for this purpose!)

Cozy Comforting Potato-Leek-Veggies I Found in my Fridge Soup

On a cold fall day potato-leek soup hits the spot. I made a big batch of this soup, but it didn't last long. I brought it to school for lunch and received two compliments from passers-by who said it looked delicious. Oh, it was! I based the soup on this great and easy recipe for Cream of Asparagus Soup. I didn't take any pictures, but here's what I used, as far as I can remember:

* 1-2 tbsp butter or margarine (olive oil should be fine too)
* 2 leeks (Trader Joe's, pre-trimmed - chopped & rinsed)
* 2 potatoes, peeled & chopped (I used russet; yukon gold would be delicious too)
* about 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
* about 1/2 pound of asparagus, chopped into 1" pieces
* 1 carrot, sliced into rounds
* 2 cups of Pacific organic chicken broth (1 small box, which is what I had on hand. If you have more broth, omit the water. Of course you could also use veggie broth. It should be a total of 3 1/2 to 4 cups of liquid.)
* 1 1/2 cups water
* 1/2 cup goat milk (Whoa, GOAT? Okay, yes, here's where I got crazy. This was an experiment. Goat milk can be found at Trader Joe's and is supposedly easier to digest than cow milk, so I gave it a try. I wouldn't drink it by itself, but if you like the pungent, tangy flavor of chèvre, it's a nice stir-in for soups or mashed potatoes. While I'm still not on great terms with dairy, this milk seemed to be okay with me. You might prefer to use regular milk, Lactaid milk, or heavy cream.)
* kosher salt & pepper to taste

In a large soup pot or saucepan, melt butter/marg or heat olive oil over medium or medium-high heat. Sauté leeks til they soften. Add broth and/or water, potatoes, onions, carrots, and asparagus. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover & let simmer about 10-15 minutes til your veggies are nice and soft.

I have - and LOVE - an immersion hand-blender, which is absolutely ideal and so easy for pureeing soup (and it's dishwasher-safe). If you have a hand-blender, use that or transfer soup in batches to your regular blender and process til smooth or whatever texture appeals to you. Return soup to the pot. Add your milk and re-heat over low. Season with salt and pepper; serve with a little shredded cheese on top if you like (or perhaps a dollop of sour cream?). Deeeelish. I can't wait to make another batch!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

PF = my GF BF.

After spending this lovely autumn weekend locked up in the law library, I am FINALLY (mostly) finished a much-dreaded memo for school! To celebrate, I ordered takeout online from PF Chang's. Due to the wonders of technology, when I arrived at the designated time, I was told I still had to wait another 35 minutes for my food. Well, that turned out to be a good thing! In the same shopping center (The Shoppes at Brinton Lake) I discovered The Fresh Market. Not merely the only store open at 7:30 on a Sunday, it's a gloriously swanky, upscale food store. As their website says, "Our stores convey the atmosphere of an old world European market, all under one roof, where you can visit an array of departments... The open air feel of our market presents a feast for the senses as colors and fragrant smells fill the atmosphere and classical music plays wafts through the air." This joint is classy! One of my joys in life is wandering around food stores looking for new GF discoveries - again, not a hobby that fits well with the rigors of law school - so it was wonderful to do some guilt-free exploring.

I've read about the new King Arthur GF baking mixes but hadn't seen them in person - voila! Some other good finds included Sharwood's papadums and San-J tamari-ginger salad dressing. They also carry Caesar's frozen GF pasta entrees, which are fantastic, especially the manicotti. Because of the location and not-cheapness, I won't be shopping here often, but it seems like a lovely place to pick up odds & ends or high-quality organic produce and meat/fish.

In other news, this week I finally tried out Seasons Pizza's gluten-free pizza. It's now being offered at the Concord Pike, Christiana, and Elsmere locations. Real talk: nothing can replace the role of gluten in pizza crust, so no pizza is going to be the same. But this is pretty darn good! The pizza comes only in medium size for $9.99 (toppings extra). The pie is small, and the crust is very thin; almost crispy but not quite there, although the melty gooey cheese is so perfect that you can trick yourself. This is about as good as it gets for gluten-free pizza. (It's also good the next day if you pop it in the toaster oven, which does crisp up the crust a bit.)

Despite the pizza talk, I've decided I must recommit to being dairy-free, or as low-dairy as I can get. The time crunch has made me rely too much on carbs and dairy for quick fix meals lately, and it's having a drastic effect on how I feel and look. It's going to be hard but I think it's for the best. Goodbye cheese, I will always love you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gluten Free Torts.

Being a first year law student means you have very little time to breathe, let alone recognize life as you previously knew it, attend to your blog (ahem), or, you know, eat. Stress and celiac disease are not a winning combination. You don't have time to eat as healthfully as you might; your stomach is going to react to your emotions; and of course being celiac already makes things a little more challenging. There's nothing I can really eat on campus, and there's only one day a week when I have enough time to go out and grab lunch between classes. Fun! Somehow I am figuring out how to get by, although it often means eating while studying or standing over the kitchen counter. Long gone are the days of experimental 3-course dinners for one.

So recently I decided to strike back with a crustless quiche - it's very quick to prepare on a Sunday, and then it's ready to reheat all week for breakfast or lunch. (And frankly, it's better for you than real quiche - without all those calories and fat from the crust and cream!) I adapted it from this recipe. It's super easy, phenomenally delicious, and you pretty much cannot mess it up. Here's how I do it:

Chop up some of your favorite veggies. (I chop veggies in advance when I have time and keep them in containers ready to deploy as needed. Or buy them pre-chopped at the store.) Some suggestions: peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, onions, scallions, artichoke hearts, broccoli, asparagus, spinach. You could also do cubes of ham or bacon or cooked turkey if you're into that kind of thing.

Saute your veggies for a few minutes in a small bit of oil, til they're softened and the color is nice and bright.

Meanwhile, crack 6 eggs into a large bowl. (The original recipe calls for 5; I use 6 because my quiche is so loaded with veggies.) Add a little water and beat. Pretend they are your professors if necessary. Totally optional, but I add about 1 tbsp of Pamela's GF baking mix to thicken.

Stir your veggie mix into the eggs.

Cheese! Use a bag of shredded cheese, any kind you like. Depending on how cheesey you are feeling, put in the whole bag or half the bag or whatever. You could use shredded soy cheese too.

Mix it all up. Add some kosher salt, pepper, and (optional) some dried basil.

Pour your quiche mixture into a greased/sprayed 9" pie pan and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until it's beautifully golden on top. Voila!

Some of my other favorite things right now:
* Apple season is here! (I love fall so much!) Organic granny smiths with peanut butter.
* Annie's deluxe rice pasta & cheese is the best (worst) mac & cheese since Kraft! It comes with a squeezy pack of cheese sauce so it couldn't be easier and it is just so yummy. By far the best commercial GF mac & cheese I've tried. (why yes, the time crunch means I have pretty much given up trying to be dairy-free)
* Progresso lentil soup - yup, it's GF! So tasty on its own, or add some ground cumin & garam masala to make it even more amazing (or try pureeing it a bit with a hand-blender and throw in some basmati rice - very filling and Indian-inspired).
* Baked ziti casserole with Trader Joe's brown rice pasta, red sauce, & shredded cheese
* Scrambled eggs with green peppers, onions & cheese (basically the even-faster version of my quiche)

Hope that gave you a few ideas for good fast food! And now I'm very late for a date with my BFF, my bed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's National Celiac Awareness Day!

In case you needed a refresher:
Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune condition. Gluten consumption triggers a toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine - basically, the body attacks itself any time gluten, even minuscule amounts, is consumed. Learn more at

And there's exciting news in honor of the day from perennial celiac ally P.F. Chang's: "We'd like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank the gluten free community for their continued support. Today our gluten free menu expands to 29 choices with the addition of our NEW Triple Chocolate Mousse mini dessert. Enjoy three sinful layers of Chocolate Ganache, Milk Chocolate Mousse, and Flourless Chocolate Cake." Awesome!

They also include links to two GF recipes:
Gluten Free Shanghai Cucumbers
Gluten Free Mongolian Beef

p.s. Fellow True Blood fans may be interested to know that the stunning Deborah Ann Woll (who plays Jessica) semi-recently disclosed that she has celiac disease. I knew there was something extra cool about her.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Good news & bad news.

Savvy celiacs already know that gravy is almost always a huge blinking red flag item for us. One glorious exception was the poultry gravy at Boston Market. Key word: was. Today I spotted a sign proclaiming that it's been reformulated and now contains wheat and soy. Boo, hiss!

It is commendable, however, that they mentioned the allergy info right on the marquee. You get used to relying on certain brands or products, but the reality is you must keep checking ingredients in case anything changes. Thanks to Boston Market for keeping the food-sensitive community (or, more likely, our attorneys) in mind, although obviously it would be even nicer if we could have our gravy and eat it too!

Monday, August 9, 2010

New items at Trader Joe's!

Hello, my gluten-free friends and allies! For the last month I have been incredibly busy packing and moving into my fantastic new home and getting ready for a crazy new chapter in my life, but I'm finally getting settled. One perk of my new location is that Trader Joe's is now only 10-15 minutes away, whereas I used to drive about half an hour each way to get my TJ's GF goodies. (One of the fun realities of celiac life: it is virtually impossible to find everything you need in one place. I shop at three different food stores, at least, to find the products I want/need.) Trader Joe's has been rolling out a number of new items lately, several of which are relevant to this blog's interests.

Item #1: Peanut flour. I haven't tried this personally. I'm not really sure how one would use peanut flour, but the product card recommends using it for baking cakes and cookies. I think it could also make an interesting coating for baked chicken or fish.

Item #2: Snickerdoodles! These are free of the 7 biggest allergens (wheat, soy, egg, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish - whew, that's a relief. I hate shellfish in my cookies!) so they're vegan as well as celiac friendly. Made with sorghum flour and date paste, the texture is very soft and chewy, a rarity in GF cookiedom. They're more like a cinnamon-y fig newton than the buttery sugar cookie you might recall from pre-celiac life, so I'm not sure snickerdoodle is the most apt name. The cookies are quite small with a serving size of 2 cookies at 130 calories and 4.5g fat; each box contains only 12 cookies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gluten-free gossip.

According to, there will be gluten-free menu options at Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky's epic wedding this weekend. Apparently Ms. Clinton is allergic to gluten and the wedding cake will be GF and vegan. I wish them all the non-gluteny best!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why, Trader Joe? Why?

While stopping in to grab a quick bite from Trader Joe's today, I was informed that their fantastic Middle Eastern Lentil and Brown Rice Salad has been DISCONTINUED! Noooooooooo! Apparently it wasn't a big seller and they wanted to make room for new products. It's hard enough to find a GF ready-to-eat meal, so I'm dismayed that they've narrowed the field. (I do also like their Curried Chicken Salad, but still.)

In theory, this dish, consisting simply of lentils, rice, onions, olive oil, and sea salt, would be easy to recreate. It's mujaddara, recipes for which abound online. I have tried several times, though, and haven't been able to make my own version that tastes as good and has the same texture as Trader Joe's - not to mention the convenience factor. Lentils hate my guts, however, despite what my mouth thinks, so being forced to go cold turkey is probably a blessing in disguise.

In case you couldn't tell, today is one of the (few) days where I feel really frustrated about my food restrictions and the fact that so often I still don't feel good, despite being carefully gluten-free. In general I'm surprisingly positive and zen about it but every so often, especially when I'm stressed out, low blood-sugary, and cranky to begin with, self-pity does set in. On one hand, I'm really glad that I can never again succumb to the grossness of fast food, but on the other hand, it's such a pain when you just want to grab a sandwich, or a cup of soup and a slice of fresh bread at Panera, or a quick spaghetti dinner. Yet on the third and largest hand, I'm grateful and lucky that celiac disease is what it is -- an inconvenience, not a tragedy. It could be a whole lot worse.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New GF bakery on the Main Line.

My helpful elves have informed me that a new GF bakery is opening soon (well, TODAY according to their website) in lovely Wynnewood, PA! The bakery is located right at the train station, accessible by the R5 line or the 105 bus. A dedicated GF facility, Main Line Bakery will offer cupcakes, cakes, bread, and other tempting baked goods. Check out their Facebook page for more information. Can't wait to try them out! It's an exciting time to be gluten-free, that's for sure - new products, bakeries, and shops just keep popping up all over the place.

In more personal news, you may have noticed I haven't been posting much recently. There are some pretty huge things going on in my life (all good, but still!) that have been consuming my time and energy - and will continue to do so. I hope that I will have time to keep this blog active, but please bear with me as posts and updates will be even more sporadic.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

GF in the news.

If you're in the Philadelphia viewing area and aren't busy this Friday night, tune into WHYY/tv12 for the show Friday Arts. This week's Art of Food segment focuses on The Greenwood Kitchen, a local GF bakery. The show airs at 8:30pm on July 2 but will be repeated several times; check the WHYY website for more schedule info.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Odds and ends.

Just a few quick notes from today's Delaware Celiac Group meeting.

Two standouts from the sumptuous smorgasbord of snacks we sampled:

* The much buzzed-about Snyder's of Hanover GF pretzel sticks - hands down, these are the best GF pretzels I've tried. They're satisfyingly solid and crunchy and they taste just like normal pretzels, which is the highest praise I can offer. They're dairy-free, low fat, and have been certified by GIG. Definitely give these a try if you see them at your supermarket or Whole Foods (if you're lucky enough to live someplace - i.e., not Delaware - that has one).

* Best cupcake ever! Cupcake Heaven kindly donated a tray to the group, and they were indeed heavenly. Honestly, you'd never guess these were gluten free. The bakery is not dedicated GF but we were told they understand cross-contamination issues and thoroughly clean between batches. GF cupcakes are available by special order or may be bought frozen. Absolutely mouthwatering and highly recommended.

In other news, well-deserved congratulations to my friends at Fresh Thymes Café, recently dubbed Best of Delaware 2010 for healthy fare! Fresh Thymes is a cozy breakfast/lunch spot in Wilmington where the food is fresh, local, organic, super tasty, and very GF-friendly (including bread and treats from Amaranth and Sweet Christine's bakeries).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sem aloo.

So last night for dinner I took my first test drive with The Indian Vegan Kitchen: More Than 150 Quick and Healthy Homestyle Recipes, which I posted about here. I wanted something fast and easy using what I had on hand, and the recipe for sem aloo (green beans and potatoes) fit the bill. The only ingredients: fresh green beans, one Yukon Gold potato, some spices, and a tiny bit of oil and water, plus I threw in some onion for good measure. (Sorry, but it's probably not cool to reprint a copyrighted recipe! You'll have to check out the book for specifics.) There's no sauce involved, just a nice blend of spices on the veggies as they simmer. Either some of my spices are stale or I'm accustomed to more pungent flavors than the recipe calls for, so I wound up adding more salt to help bring out the spices. But I did really enjoy the dish and I'm sure I'll make it again soon. Served on a bed of basmati rice, this was indeed a quick and filling GF summer supper.

In other news: California Tortilla has recently added gluten to their list of allergen info! Previously they only gave information about wheat content. CalTort can be found on Main Street in Newark DE, among other locations primarily in MD and VA. Now if only they could redo their amazing chicken tortilla soup to be GF!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shore thing.

view of the Wildwood boardwalk from Morey's Pier ferris wheel
I blame the heat wave we're currently suffering through for sapping my ability to think, hence this long-delayed post! My oh-so-relaxing trip to the beach seems like ages ago already. I'm happy to report, however, that it was actually very easy to find meals, and I barely touched the huge bag of snacks I'd packed. My stomach was vaguely cooperative, and I can now say I survived my first celiac vacation.

Some of the snacks I brought, for reference: organic carrot sticks, tortilla chips and mini-packs of guacamole, Flamous falafel chips, Potato Flyers, Glutino chocolate peanut butter organic bars, a box of Imagine organic potato leek soup, Thai Kitchen's Bangkok Curry instant rice noodle soup, Dr. McDougall's instant Pad Thai and tortilla soup cups, and a bag of homemade squash muffins. (Naturally, after all that preparation, I didn't need any of it!)

Finding great gluten-free food so easily was the best surprise of the trip. Our first stop was at Lucky Bones Backwater Grille on Rt. 109 (the main road into town) in beautiful Cape May. A gluten-free menu is in the works, I was told, and the server and chef were incredibly helpful. I ordered a delicious filet tip sandwich with grilled peppers, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, served with the best herb polenta I've ever had (in lieu of fries - the fryer isn't safe) and a nice, tangy cole slaw. To my overwhelming shock, they had gluten-free hamburger buns on hand so I ate my first real sandwich in months! Not only that, the bun, from Against the Grain, was really good - great flavor and texture. The meal was nothing short of miraculous and I definitely recommend Lucky Bones for GF dining in the Cape May or Wildwood area.

Also, check out their brunch menu! We weren't there on a Sunday so I'll just have to go back and investigate (darn).

My next recommendation: La Piazza Cucina at 4600 Pacific in Wildwood. This dimly-lit, old school Italian restaurant is like stepping back in time to the golden days of Wildwood; I kept half-expecting Uncle Junior to sit down next to me. La Piazza offers one type of gluten-free pasta per day. I selected penne with clams in a spicy marinara sauce, my long-lost favorite Italian meal. The pasta was so perfectly al dente, I briefly wondered if there'd been some mistake - I'm used to the soggy mushiness of brown rice pasta. But no, this was Sam Mills Pasta d'Oro, made from corn, and the texture and flavor were outstanding and almost unrecognizably gluten-free. In the interest of disclosure, I will admit my stomach was not happy after this meal, but since I still have frequent trouble even with being GF and DF, I have no idea whether it was the pasta, the corn, the clams, the garlic, the red pepper, the preparation, or something else. Verdict: be cautious, but this was one fabulous dinner and I am very excited about discovering Pasta d'Oro.

My final review: Maui's Dog House at 8th and New Jersey in Wildwood. Junk food fans, rejoice. It's a hot dog stand with picnic bench seating out front under a tent - definitely not fancy digs, and they're open for lunch only. The harried proprietress overheard me inquiring about the deep-fryer situation, and yelled over, to our great amusement, "Gluten-free?" But yes, to my happiness, nothing goes in the fryer except fries. They serve a bajillion kinds of heart-stopping loaded hot dogs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. The hot dogs are made of beef, pork, and veal, and since I don't eat pork or veal anyway, it wasn't an issue for me. But the hamburger-sans-bun (two patties for $4.50) was juicy and flavorful. It's such a treat to be able to order fries, so of course I had to indulge. The portions are enormous ($3 for regular, $3.50 for more Old Bay than I could handle) and served in doggie bowls. Somehow our lunch wound up costing more than our Lucky Bones dinner did.

Anyway, thank you, New Jersey, for some much needed oceanfront relaxation and for being more gluten-aware than I'd expected. Thanks also to Gluten Free Philly for the super helpful compendium of GF-friendly eateries, which provided a starting point to tackle the challenge of GF vacation dining.

p.s. This Sunday 6/27 is the first and last meeting of the summer for the Celiac and Gluten Intolerant Group of New Castle County, Delaware. The event will be held at Christiana Hospital and features guest speaker Michael of the aforementioned Gluten Free Philly blog. Check out the Gluten Free Delaware website for more details and to rsvp.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Of stir-fry and Indian food.

(Why yes, I am addicted to redecorating my blog!)

Tonight, inspired by my friend Natalie's cooking, I made an awesome stir-fry with tofu, French green beans, locally-grown asparagus, baby bok choy, and onion. I hate mushy tofu, so I always use extra firm and then press it for as long as patience allows - just put the tofu on a dish and pile a few plates or something heavy on top of it; drain off the water as it squeezes out. I sprinkled the tofu with some wheat-free soy sauce and then sauteed it in a bit of canola and sesame oil. Once it's nice and golden-crispy, I added my chopped veggies, minced garlic, a little cilantro, and a few splashes more soy sauce. Light, yummy, and easy!

I'm also very excited about a new cookbook I recently purchased: The Indian Vegan Kitchen: More Than 150 Quick and Healthy Homestyle Recipes by Madhu Gadia. While I'm not vegan, this cookbook is a fantastic resource for anyone who loves Indian food but can't handle all the ghee (clarified butter) and cream you tend to find in restaurant dishes. It's not strictly a GF cookbook either, but the vast majority of recipes are GF and are labeled as such (obviously, they are all dairy-free and egg-free). Indian cuisine is a great match for GF people, since many dishes are made with chickpea flour (besan) or don't call for flour or wheat at all.

I have yet to test out any of the recipes personally, but they seem straightforward and totally tantalizing. My mouth is already watering for the Chickpea-Potato Snack (Chana-Aloo Chaat), Curried Potato (Aloo Tamatar) Soup, Quick Chickpea Curry, Lemon Rice Noodles (Neembu Savai), and Coconut-Mango Rice. (Is there a better dessert than mango sticky rice? Doubtful.) There are even a few gluten-free bread recipes - sorghum, millet-potato, and corn roti - for motivated cooks, of which I do not number myself, no matter how much I still pine for Indian bread. (On a sidenote, for a quick Indian food fix without having to cook, Trader Joe's frozen Chana Masala is GF and delicious, although it does contain ghee. It's great by itself or with rice.)

On Monday I'm off to the beach with my GF snacks in tow. I'll post the après-vacation gluten-free report when I return. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Delaweekend update.

I'm very pleased to report a semi-new GF-friendly restaurant option in the Wilmington, Delaware area. In the olden days Before Gluten, I meant to try out Big Fish Grill on the Riverfront, which opened sometime last fall, but I'd forgotten all about it. I won't make that mistake again. Not only do they offer a GF menu, there's also vegan, garlic-free, shellfish-free, dairy-free, and egg-free - how incredibly comprehensive is that? I ordered fresh grilled grouper with smashed potatoes and spinach, all of which I enjoyed. (Does grouper always taste like chicken?) I forgot to ask if any of the fish is local or sustainably caught, but I'll get on that next time. For now I'm delighted with their dietary inclusiveness. There's another Big Fish Grill (the original location) in Rehoboth Beach. (Photo from Big Fish Grill's Facebook page)

Another good choice in the Newark area: Cheeseburger in Paradise, a tropical island-themed chain restaurant. (For PA people, there are also locations in Exton and Oxford Valley.) There are several entrées, salads, and many burgers (sans bun) to choose from; beef, turkey, and veggie burgers are all GF. Today I indulged in the West Indies Burger, which is served with goat cheese, spring mix, and some manner of coconut-mango topping with banana jerk chutney dipping sauce and (ooh la la) french fries.

New product alert: Dr. McDougall's Asian Entrée Pad Thai instant noodle cup (not currently listed on the website). There are several other varieties in the Asian Entrée line but as far as I know, Pad Thai is the only one that's gluten-free. I found this in the organic section of my local Giant Food. (Extra bonus: "The cup you are holding is made from paper sourced exclusively from certified sustainably managed forests.") At 200 calories and 2g fat per serving, this is going with me on vacation next week for sure. Let's just hope it tastes good too.

I also discovered a new (to me) instant-favorite snack: Wholly Guacamole snack packs! They're gluten-free, made with actual food, and are 100 calories per pouch, so they are perfect for satisfying a guacamole craving without going overboard. I recommend dipping in with Green Mountain Gringo tortilla strips, which are GF-certified and all natural.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nile Spice: a rant.

Dear Readers, I am royally, celiacly miffed right now. I'll back up: in a little over a week, I'm going to the beach for a few days with my boyfriend. This will be my first gluten-free vacation, so naturally I am very anxious about what to eat and getting sick away from home. We rented a condo that has a mini-kitchen so I could bring my own food and do some light cooking. But I don't know exactly what accoutrements will be there and of course I can't pack up my entire kitchen, so I've been trying to come up with easy and portable things to bring with me. (Suggestions welcome!)

One idea I had was to order a case of my beloved Nile Spice Potato Leek soup, which comes in instant cups - just add boiling water and voilà. This has been one of my favorite snacks for ages. Well, reading the ingredient list more closely, not only does it contain dairy but it also contains those horribly pesky "natural flavors," which could mean almost anything. They could be derived from wheat or barley. I had a vague recollection of being given the runaround via email several months ago regarding this same matter, so I called the customer service line. I was told they do not test their products or ingredients for gluten and can't tell me where these "natural flavors" came from. My comments would be passed along, which is just the corporate way of saying... well, you know.

It boggles the mind that a purportedly all-natural food company would be so uncooperative when it comes to food allergies and dietary restrictions. They're basically sticking their head in the sand and saying, "No, I don't want your celiac money." Nile Spice is a part of the Hain Celestial Group, maker of many well-respected gluten-free brands and products, but I am blown away by their refusal to provide this crucial information to consumers. Mostly I'm just mad that I can't eat my favorite soup! Even if I did take the gamble, I hate supporting this kind of business practice. Well, back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When GF is a little too good for my own good.

My mom (who is also gluten-free!) and I were recently reminiscing about trips to France, and of course the memories included FOOD. I'd need a straitjacket to keep me away from French bread and fromage, despite the pain of le pain, but one thing I don't have to pine for is crèpes! I will always lovingly remember the crèpes sold by Parisian street vendors but the GF version is super tasty as well, thanks to the geniuses at Pamela's Products.

Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix is, to my knowledge, generally regarded as one of the best ready-made GF flour mixes on the market. Their recipe for crèpes is incredibly simple and cooks up very quickly. Since I generally cook for one, I halved the recipe, yielding 4 crèpes. They are a little more gummy and fragile than their wheaty counterparts, but the taste resemblance is so close that I think anyone would enjoy them. I stuffed one with sliced strawberries, one with organic wild berry preserves, and sprinkled the third with a packet of Sugar in the Raw. (The fourth didn't last long enough to make it to the plate!) Absolutely delicious and a nice treat for brunch when you've got the energy.

In other baking experiment news, I bought a box of the famous Betty Crocker Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix a few months ago at Target (!) and was waiting for an opportunity to test it out. I had to make them with a stick of butter, since I didn't have any baking-friendly dairy-free substitute on hand. Not the best news for my stomach, but how could anything taste bad if it's got a stick of butter in it? The dough is crumbly and very stiff to work, but once the butter softens up, it gets more like regular cookie dough. I lined my baking sheets with parchment paper (I did not throw out my kitchen implements after my diagnosis, as many people do) and the cookies turned out beautifully.

I have to confess, I think they look better than they taste. The mix is so gritty, even if the cookies themselves are a perfect combination of crispy and chewy. I brought them to a get-together on Saturday night so I'd have something safe to nibble, and I gave everyone fair warning that these were not normal cookies. But to my surprise, non-GF people actually liked them - a LOT. Like most GF substitutes, once you get over your initial shock and comparison to wheat, these cookies really grew on me (literally. Hello, calories) and I like them better now than I did at first. All the same, I won't be making these often. I don't know how they'd turn out without butter, although now I belatedly see no butter instructions on the website (it would be nice if they'd printed it on the box!), and I really don't need the temptation since I'm constantly trying to lose a few pounds. (When I got diagnosed I thought, "Well, at least I'll lose weight." Yeah right. There's too much good food out there!) But thank you anyway, Ms. Crocker!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Celiac study seeks participants.

Have you been diagnosed with celiac disease within the last 3 months? If you're over 18 and live in the US, you can participate in a study on pre-diagnosis diet. Read the specs here and email <celiacstudy at nventure dot com> to get involved.

Friday, May 28, 2010

It's the little things.

Here's something that makes me happy: going out for dinner with friends, toting along my bottle of GF soy sauce, and having our friendly server exclaim, "Oh, does someone here have a gluten issue? We have gluten-free soy sauce in the kitchen and we can make your appetizer (sesame spinach) with that." AWESOME! Kudos to Mikimotos in Wilmington, where choices include Thai-inspired curries and paella, rice noodle dishes, and a wide selection of fresh, delicious sushi. I really appreciate that the servers and kitchen staff alike are attuned to the existence of their GF customers.

I'm grateful for the advocacy work accomplished by the celiac awareness movement in the many years up til now (celiac disease was first described in the 2nd century CE but wasn't linked to wheat until the 1940s) when gluten intolerance is becoming more widely known in the food and restaurant industries. I feel fortunate, relatively speaking, to have been diagnosed at a time when possibilities are expanding every day. The response I've received from most friends and acquaintances alike has been overwhelmingly supportive, and people in general are more curious about celiac disease than I could have possibly imagined.

That said, the word "diet" makes me so frustrated. It gets thrown around so indiscriminately that many people think the gluten-free diet is the latest fad or trendy health craze or weight loss regimen (au contraire). As if gluten-free is the new macrobiotic or organic or fat-free or low-carb or raw food or grapefruit or caveman diet. As if I had a choice.

The problem with gluten is that it's virtually everywhere so it requires a drastically new way of dealing with all food and avoiding contamination. And the repercussions are in the long-term, in addition to the immediate reaction of being glutened (which varies from person to person), so it requires strict self-discipline at all times. There's no cheating in celiac disease! Even if I don't get sick right away, although I probably would, it's an investment in my future health so that I can hopefully reduce my risk of far more serious problems.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Gluten-free field trip.

Yesterday we took a road trip to our nation's lovely capital. We spent some time wandering around the Mall area before heading to Nationals Park for the Mets/Nats game. My main concern, not surprisingly: what can I eat?

Pickings are slim around the tourist areas of the Mall, besides overpriced food carts and museum cafeterias, but the Mitsitam Native Foods Café is a welcome exception. It's the cafeteria on the ground floor of the beautiful National Museum of the American Indian. There are four food stations, each one featuring indigenous specialties of a different geographic region, and all items are clearly labeled if they're vegetarian or gluten-free. The menu choices are thoughtful and creative, including buffalo/duck burgers, fire-roasted salmon, grilled bison steak, and quinoa salad.

Unfortunately they aren't kidding when they say "limited menu" after 3 p.m. When we got there at 4, only one station was open and there wasn't anything GF except for a few sad pieces of salad. Lesson learned! But the café is clean, sophisticated, and inviting; Mitsitam is definitely the place to eat interestingly and gluten-free on the Mall, but get there before 3 to do so.

I'd read that there were gluten-free snacks available at Nationals Park, so I was looking forward to investigating. There's a tiny cart in Section 110 called the Healthy Plate, which offers wraps, salads, yogurt parfaits (all non-GF), gluten-free chips ($3), and Redbridge beer ($6.50), which is made from sorghum. Noah's Pretzels does indeed sell gluten-free soft pretzels ($5.25), but I just can't recommend them. While I appreciate their effort, I thought my pretzel tasted awful. They are frozen and individually wrapped and heated so there's no cross-contamination worry. Mine was apparently produced in January 2009. Fresh, not so much. The main ingredient is tapioca flour, rather than a more promising flour blend, and the pretzel was dry, pasty, and had a displeasing flavor. Blech. Moral of the story: as always, dear celiacs, make sure you eat first, unless you can make a meal of chips and beer.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wheat dreams.

Right after my diagnosis, I would have vivid, lovelorn dreams about forbidden gluten. (Really, it is just like getting dumped.) I would wake up raging like The Hulk after dreaming of pizza. Well, some major transformation has occurred in my subconscious since then. Last night I dreamed I had a gluten-free pb&j and someone placed their regular sandwich on top of mine, rendering mine inedible. I was crestfallen. It's funny that even my dreams have turned gluten-free. Or maybe a sandwich is just a sandwich.

One of the quirks of celiac life is that, at least in my experience, you need to shop at several different grocery stores to find everything you want. This has become something of an official hobby - I enjoy checking out new stores and exploring the gluten-free items. Even if I'm not interested in the products, it's still dorkily thrilling to see what's out there. (Many of my non-GF allies have gotten into the game as well.)

Newark Natural Foods, a local co-op, is a must for gluten-free staples and treats. The prices are steep (things are usually priced above Whole Foods, which doesn't exist in Delaware anyway, though I suppose that's the cost of supporting independent stores) but I like their selection of organic produce and their huge range of GF miscellany, most of which is conveniently labeled as such on the shelves, that can't be found at chain supermarkets.

Some highlights of today's new-to-me GF haul include Flamous Falafel Chips, which are, as advertised, delicious with hummus, and Amaranth's hot dog buns. If you forget what you used to know about hot dog buns, these are quite good - they're more like a whole wheat/multigrain bun. (Which, in fact, they are. They're made with a brown rice, millet, amaranth, tapioca, coconut starch, and arrowroot flour blend.) Not that I recommend eating hot dogs often, especially given yesterday's monumentally non-shocking news, but I've had a craving. At $6 for four buns, I am reminded that GF life is not for the faint of heart and/or wallet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

GF kitties - who knew?

Even our feline friends can join the gluten-free world! I came across this Blue Wilderness canned cat food at Petsmart yesterday and of course those two magic words jumped out at me immediately. While it's true that cats don't really need grains and fillers in their food, in my cynical and non-veterinary opinion the GF labeling here seems to be capitalizing on the recent wave of gluten awareness. Although who knows, maybe it is a plus for celiac pet owners who don't want any gluten in their house whatsoever. Case in point: my cats' favorite treats do contain gluten, so I have to remember to wash my hands after feeding them to make sure no minuscule crumbs transfer to whatever I eat next. Their regular dry food happens to be wheat-free, by coincidence.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What's for dinner?

Some things never change, whether you have celiac or not: sometimes dinner means scrounging the pantry for anything edible, and sometimes I have the energy and initiative to cook something interesting. Tonight I made my first successful foray into the world of scallop searing and with this guide, it really couldn't have been easier.

Next time I will probably use my cast iron skillet to get more of that nice crispy sear, but they were tender and perfectly cooked. Just make sure you rinse them well and pat dry before cooking. For an alternative, coat the scallops in GF breadcrumbs and give them a quick broil. Or serve them in a wilted spinach salad, à la Macaroni Grill. I see a lot of pan-seared scallops in my future this summer, when using the oven is just too unpleasant.

I paired my scallops with roasted veggies - not as photogenic but they tasted great. I chopped up a small eggplant, green pepper, onion, and asparagus. Put them in a foil-lined pan (or not, but it makes cleanup easier) and drizzle everything with olive oil. Mix it up with your hands to make sure it's all evenly coated and season with some kosher salt and pepper, and if you are so inclined, a few garlic cloves and/or balsamic vinegar. Pop it in the oven at about 400-450° for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring once or twice. Super easy and extremely tasty.

On Friday I was in downtown Philly so naturally I had to drop by Sweet Freedom Bakery, a gluten-free, every imaginable allergen-free bakery on South Street between Broad and 15th. They have sidewalk tables and cozy indoor seating, where you can savor your GF treat and a beverage - or just bask in the heavenly aroma of baked goods you can actually eat. On this occasion I tried (only in the name of science and journalism, of course) the mint chocolate chip cookie and the strawberry-rhubarb oat cobbler. The mint was a bit overpowering for me, but the cobbler was the best thing I've tasted yet from SFB. It had a nice oatmeal cookie crust base with the sweet/tart fruity topping and oats sprinkled on top. A little oily and very sweet but I really enjoyed it. The cobbler and my willpower did not last long enough for a photo.

To complete my weekend wrap-up, I'd like to give a big celiac raspberry to Texas Roadhouse, which, in a rare turn for national chains these days, does not have a GF menu. I'm not sure what I expected from a restaurant that encourages patrons to drop peanut shells on the floor - classy! And the newly-added indoor caution sign is a bit "too little, too late" for those with severe peanut allergies. In my defense, it was close and I was starving. (I feel fine after having a sirloin sans seasoning, baked potato, and plain steamed broccoli, however.) I won't even mention the guy with the swastika tattoo. Check, please!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Celiac 101.

ce·li·ac also coe·li·ac (sē'lē-āk')
adj. Of or relating to the abdomen or abdominal cavity.

[Latin coeliacus, from Greek koiliakos, from koiliā, abdomen, from koilos, hollow; see keuə- in Indo-European roots.]

I love words and I am from that disappearing breed of sticklers for spelling and grammar. So I'll start this blog at the very beginning (a very good place to start) and establish that it's not "celiacs" or "celiac's" disease, just as it's not "cardiacs disease." (But you can say celiac as a noun, as in "person with celiac disease.") Whew. Sorry. That's off my chest now and I feel much better.

Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disorder marked by the inability to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The immune system starts attacking the villi of the small intestine and this wreaks all sorts of havoc and unpleasantness. Someone with unaddressed celiac disease is at great risk for cancer, osteoporosis, anemia, infertility, and other serious problems. Symptoms vary widely and don't always present in a typical manner, so diagnosis may be extremely difficult. A blood test and intestinal biopsy are the current gold standard for diagnosis.

Until I was diagnosed, I didn't give much thought as to why I was suddenly seeing "gluten-free" on so many food labels. But it's not a trendy diet; the gluten-free diet is not remotely the same thing as low-carb or Atkins. For folks with celiac disease, gluten is poison and being gluten-free is being poison-free. We can't have "just a taste" because that's sort of like a tiny taste of Drano. Molecules are enough to cause intestinal damage. It's a zero tolerance situation and it is astounding to discover all the places where the enemy lurks (seriously, lip gloss?!). It's not a matter of "oh, she can pick out the croutons" because one breadcrumb can be enough to make trouble. We have to be careful about not only what we're eating, but how it was processed and how it was prepared. Being gluten-free is a serious game-changer and it requires constant, lifelong vigilance.

When I was diagnosed this past January, it was a total shock. "Beth! This is so interesting!" gushed my doctor. ("Interesting" isn't the word you want to hear in regard to medical procedures.) She had me tested on a vague curiosity and my tTG levels came back among the highest she'd ever seen. I had been feeling increasingly sick for at least 2 years but I was sure it was stress, malaise, or an overabundance of pad ki mao. I tried to eat well but couldn't identify the dietary culprit. Not only did I feel gross all the time, but I'd become accustomed to it; I'd forgotten what normal felt like. But I was certain I didn't have celiac disease!

So I was completely stunned and it only got worse as I researched the list of now-verboten foodstuffs. SOY SAUCE?! Only the most clever and vengeful god could dream up such a punishment for me. As a fiercely independent person (Sagittarius in the house), I resented the sudden restriction on my most basic liberty - eating! - and as a foodie I was devastated by the thought of not being able to dine and explore freely. I mourned for so many favorite dishes I would never taste again, and some early experiments with subdelectable gluten-free products left me teary and hopeless.

Now, lest you think this blog is nothing but wallowing, here comes the happy part. Mostly, as Shauna James Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl fame has written, it is so lucky to have a disease where (a) the damage is reversible, and (b) the only treatment is food! Instead of dwelling on what we can't eat, it's so much more productive to think about everything we can eat. Meats, fish, veggies, fruit, rice, potatoes, legumes, alternative grains - they're all a-okay. Thai and Indian food, two of my favorite cuisines, are still largely open to me, to my great joy. I've even discovered honestly fabulous gluten-free bread. It was a turning point for me to realize that much of what I now live without is stuff I really don't need to eat anyway. All that processed, super-refined stuff that's barely food? Cookies, muffins, French fries? I don't need that. Like most breakups, it's awful at first but soon you look back and wonder why you wasted your time with that jerk.

I am now more than 3 months gluten-free and nearly-dairy-free as well. Yes, it can be challenging, especially with dairy also on the hitlist, but in general it's rewarding to look healthier, to help my insides slowly recover from all that abuse, and to feel great about all the delicious REAL food I now eat. I've even cozied up to vegetables for which my disdain had been legendary (roasted tomatoes, I'm talking to you); who am I now to hold a pre-adolescent grudge against any foods I can still consume?! For further confidence-building on the matter of Real Food and the pitfalls of the Western diet, I recommend reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan if you haven't already done so. I was already on board the organic/sustainable/healthy train, but now I'm even more committed. My health depends on it.

I plan to use this blog to provide more information about celiac disease, to review and discuss products and restaurant experiences in the Philadelphia/Delaware area, and to share my adventures in living well on wheat-nothings!

Thanks so much for joining me.