Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I should be writing some deep, reflective post about the past year, or how to host an amazing gluten- free gathering. But let's be honest. This year? Not my favorite. So instead of waxing poetic about the delightfulness that is overhauling your life, I'm going to go don my ugliest sweater, lay out some yummies for my friends, and get ready to ring in 2013, (gluten free) drink in hand.

Happy New Year to you all. I can't wait to get back to regular posting soon!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Ho, ho, ho! Happy "Awkward Week Between Christmas and New Year." Hope Santa/Hanukkah Harry/Flying Spaghetti Monster was good to you.

1. I hosted my first Christmas this year. Consequently, it was the first large-scale gluten-free meal I had to prep. I didn't remember to take pictures, but it was yummy, everyone loved it, and I didn't get sick. We just won't talk about the couple of meltdowns it took me to get the meal on the table. Now I just have two more events to host until I can pack up my apron and go into hibernation for a while.

2. Thanks to Marlow at Gluten Hates Me for organizing the Blogger Secret Santa. I got some nifty gifties, several of which I'd never gotten to try before. Plus, I got to pick out some of my favorite GF stuff for my giftee, too.

3. Luke brought me into this decade by gifting me a Kindle Fire for Christmas. I am looking for some fun suggestions for games and apps, so let me know if you have anything you love. So far, I've used it as an e-reader ... but mostly I've been playing the logo ID game. Not sure what that says about me. 'Merica.

I'm going to try to get a post up about entertaining before New Year's Eve, but if I don't - Happy New Year to you all. This past year was a bit of a dumpster fire, and I appreciate you all out there, bloggers and readers alike, who made it easier. Let's make 2013 awesome, yeah?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gluten-Free Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I'm going to apologize in advance for the lack of cookies at my house this year. Being celiac and all, real cookies have no place in my house, and let's be honest, if I'm springing for 'spensive gluten-free alternatives, I will be snarfing them myself. Sorry. I thought about leaving you some chocolate, but it turns out I ate all of that. It's the thought that counts, though, right?
I like to think I've been pretty good this year, relatively speaking, so I figure I'm a shoo-in for the nice list. And not to sound like an ingrate, but I've spent the past month politely declining food-based gifts from well-meaning acquaintances, and I'm growing tired of opening presents I can't have. You can only decline so many kolackies before you want to hide in the bathroom and ugly cry. My guess is there are some other celiacs out there feeling the same way, so here's a few suggestions to make their holiday merry.

1. Clearly I wish for world peace, health, goodwill, yada yada yada. But what I really want? A high-tech breadmaker. Just think of the money I'll save! No more $7 loaves of bread ... I can make my own for the bargain price of ... $6 each.

2. Since I am sure the sleigh comes equipped with a freezer, if you could snag some Udi's pizza crusts, that would be swell. They cook up crispy and light, and they fit so nicely in the freezer to grab whenever you forget you need to make dinner. Add some Classico pizza sauce and some fresh mozz, you're golden.

3. For a spa day without the pesky spa, you can confidently gift your gluten-freers with Nourish body products. They've got all sorts of lotions, body polishes and the like. They're gluten-free, organic, vegan and cruelty-free (bet the reindeer love that).

4. While we're on the topic of beauty, you can give anyone, gluten-free or otherwise, ANYTHING from Red Apple Lipstick. Seriously. Anything.

5. For celiacs in certain cities (San Fran, Des Moines, Dallas and Chicago, I'm looking at you), you can give the gift of knowledge. And swag. Lots of swag. Just pre-purchase some tickets for the Gluten & Allergy Free Expo. Makes a great stocking stuffer.

6. Hugh Jackman. Just because.

7. For those of us rocking the celiac pride (yaaaaay intestinal-based autoimmune disease!), you could order us all these shirts. Then we can get together like any well-dressed street gang and dance-fight against toast. Oh, real gangs don't dance fight? Are you telling me that what I see on Broadway isn't real?

8. RumChata. Lots and lots of RumChata.

9. All the Chocolate Chex you can fit in your sack.

10. This one's a stretch, but since you are magical and everything, maybe you could sprinkle some Santa dust on restaurant owners and chefs to make them understand what "gluten free" really is. And if they don't want to cooperate, could you just have Donner and Blitzen leave a nice, warm giftie on their stoops?

So, for me and all those other, hard-to-buy-for celiacs out there, keep this check list handy. And if you're feeling generous, maybe stuff our stockings with some Whole Foods giftcards, because this gluten-free crap ain't cheap. And if all else fails, coal is totally gluten free.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Three Things Thursday

I hope you'll pardon my lapse in posting this week. I had plans to work on a gluten-free letter to Santa post, but after the terrible tragedy in Connecticut last week, I just didn't feel right blogging about the holly and the jolly. Instead, I spent a lot of time with the people I love, because, man, life's short.


1. If you are looking for a tasteful, gluten-free way to celebrate the Mayan-foretold End of Days tomorrow, might I suggest these delightful little Chex noshes? They are easy to make, and who doesn't love a little ancho chile with their chocolate?

2. To anyone in the path of Winter Storm Draco, stay safe and warm. And, you know, play some Quidditch of something. But like I told a co-worker, if you see the Dark Mark in the sky, we're probably all already hosed.

3. No list of Christmas specials for you all this week. Just know that last night involved a lot of Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation and Rumchata. We've got a lot of holiday viewing to get caught up on this weekend. I'm thinking mimosas and A Very Brady Christmas are on the docket, stat. And no, alcohol consumption is not required for holiday merriment. But ... it helps.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Mazel tov, homies. It just so happens it's Hanukkah season. And even though I'm not at all Jewish, I dig celebrating everyone's holidays (just wait until Boxing Day). To get my Hanukkah on, I'm sporting some lovely dreidel-print socks and driving my car on empty, in hopes that I have enough gas to get to and from work today (maybe that last part is more because I'm lazy).

1. I've discovered the secret to drinking more water. Festive holiday themed tumblers. Seriously. Why would you want to drink out of a plain ol' glass when you can have hope, joy and mirth right at your finger tips. Bonus if the straw is reminiscent of seasonal candy or medieval bloodletting.

2. 'Tis the season for cookie exchanges, and since I don't have an army of GF flours at the ready, I looked to an easier option. Check out Immaculate Baking Company's gluten-free chocolate chunk cookies. They are certified GF, dairy free and available all over the place. In the past week, I've found them at Wal-Mart, Jewel, and Target in the Chicago-land area. They taste pretty dang good, and even my gluten-eating friends have enjoyed them. At my Wal-Mart, they run less than $4 a pack and make a dozen cookies, so I think they are well worth it.

3. We're questing on with our holiday film/television extravaganza. Here's what we've watched since last Thursday:
12/7: The Santa Clause (I cannot believe that this movie is almost 20 years old. Yeesh)
12/8: Elf ("Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?")
12/9: Garfield's Christmas (yep. Big orange cat who loves lasagna. Not gluten-free friendly)
12/10: Michael Buble's Christmas Special (can I just say, every holiday should have a Michael Buble special)
12/11: Die Hard (Yipee ki-ayyyy, Mister Santa - or, at least, that's what it says in the edited version)
12/12: Mickey's Christmas Carol (this was one of my faves when I was a little girl. So glad to see ABC Family has decided to air it.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why the University of Chicago is Made of Win, Part II

I must've written and deleted about a dozen versions of this post. For one thing, all medical stuff just sounds jargon-y and boring, and if you wanted legitimate scientific information, you probably wouldn't go looking for it from a blogger who is seriously considering getting this as a tattoo:
"Hi, I'm Stabby the Cupcake. Watch as I destroy your intestines with a smile. No sprinkles, no mercy."
 Another reason? While my visit to University of Chicago was informative and hopeful and awesome and all that, in a lot of ways, it's "To Be Continued ..."

Let me explain. Back in the early fall, I went from feeling pretty fantastic to feeling like a big ol' pile of yuck. So I did what any normal human being would do: visited my good friend Web, M.D. (he's not a doctor, but he plays one on the Internet). And because everything on the Interwebs is true, I immediately determined I had several new, incurable diseases. So I panicked. And by "panicked" I mean I followed the same routine every day: Drag self out of bed, go to work, drag self home, sleep for 11 hours, do it all again. And I never dreamed of doing something so base as consulting an actual physician. After all, I was eating gluten-free, taking ridiculous precautions at home and when we ventured out, and I swapped all my personal grooming products. So I figured, maybe this is as good as it gets.

My darling husband thought otherwise, and he, um, ever so gently encouraged me to schedule an appointment with the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. His reasoning was pretty sound - when you have the best hospital in the world for celiac research essentially in your back yard, it's just plain stupid to ignore that. Plus, I've had a special sort of love for University of Chicago since they sent me a delightful basket of goodies shortly after my diagnosis. As I can easily be convinced into just about anything with Chex and Ian's cookie buttons, I called the center to schedule an appointment ... and got an amazing opportunity.

 The fine folks at University of Chicago asked me to be a part of the preceptorship program the center does. As a librarian and former journalist, research is important to me. Plus, I will talk to whomever will listen (and most people who won't) about celiac disease. This was essentially an invitation to see some of the best CD professionals in the world while at the same time waxing poetic about the importance of advocacy and change. Heck yes, I'm there.

 Luke and I, being the consummate suburbanites that we are, both took the day off work to spend in the city. We figured we'd be in and out of the hospital, and planned on doing some shopping before grabbing dinner. What we didn't expect was a full afternoon of talking with medical professionals (and giving a few vats of blood, but more on that later).

My first appointment was with Dr. Sonia Kupfer and her team of preceptorshippers (sounds like a '60s doo-wop group, right?). I knew right away I was going to dig Dr. Kupfer. She let me do most of the talking for the first part of the appointment, and she just took notes and listened. Not in that "uh huh, uh huh," distracted sort of half-listeny way that I'm used to - she was working through all the things I was saying. Occasionally, she and one of the other professionals would share some knowing look, which I took to mean that what I was saying wasn't unheard of. The preceptorshippers all got to ask questions. I answered as best as I could. We talked for over an hour. It was comprehensive and amazing and I am no closer to having any answers than I was before I went. Well, I suppose that isn't entirely true. Dr. Kupfer ordered some more blood work (done on site. That day. Unprepared Alissa was unprepared). I have to have a DEXA scan done, to see if I really do have the bones of Betty White. And I get to go for the dynamic duo of excitement that is an endoscopy/colonoscopy double feature. We've narrowed my new symptoms down to a couple of things, from a possible secondary autoimmune disease to something as simple to fix as a vitamin deficiency. Hopefully when the blood work comes back in the next few days, I will know more.
The highlight of my visit with Dr. Kupfer wasn't so much getting any new information as it was helping to create new information. In addition to letting the preceptorshippers study me (and yes, I am a complicated, complicated woman), I donated some blood to a research study Dr. Kupfer is leading, as well as participating in another study the center is conducting. Seeing as I think my years of schoolin' are done, this is probably going to be my greatest contribution to science (unless someone wants a lab rat for a study involving chocolate and mood elevation. I am so there.)

I ended my day with dietician Lori Rowell and her team of preceptors(?). I was fully expecting a lecture on the dangers of Pepsi and Hershey's Kisses as meal replacements, but Lori seemed to have a firm grasp on reality. I told her about the horrible experience I had with the holistic nutritionist, and how I feel morally obligated to consume as many delicious animals as I can, while also emotionally eating my way through the gluten-free cookie offerings of Whole Foods. Other than some likely vitamin deficiencies (probably more the result of years of absorbing NO nutrients, rather than my current *ahem* diet), she didn't have too much to correct for me. Being slightly OCD, too smart for my own good and a professional information-gatherer has benefitted me, and I have a really good handle on eating gluten free, what to avoid and what passes for safe. Instead of getting lectured, I really feel like Lori and I had a two-way conversation where we both came away with some new information. 

While I really don't have any concrete answers on why I could medal at the napping Olympics, or why all of a sudden my joints have aged 90 or so years, I still consider it an incredibly successful visit. I laughed, I cried, I promoted the bejeesus out of my blog. I got to advocate for this zany community of food freaks. I met medical professionals who are genuinely interested in learning more about how to diagnose celiac, and more importantly, how to treat patients with the disease by doing more than telling them to "stop eating pasta, and you should be fine." And I got to see first-hand how invested in finding a cure (!) the folks at University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center are (pretty invested - their Web site is

If you are interested in scheduling an appointment, and you live in Chicago, I highly suggest it. Or, if you are feeling pretty generous this time of year and looking for a good cause, visit their site and make a donation. If nothing else, follow them on Facebook for some great Q & A, and a chance to network with other wacky celiac-ies.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Three Things Thursday

I should have called this "Tree" Things Thursday, because today? I am obsessed with my Christmas trees. That's right. Trees. Plural. There's just something about the glow of a thousand tiny twinkle lights reflecting off of glittery dinosaur ornaments that sets this old sentimental's heart aglow. That or maybe I have had too much RumChata. Either way.

1. Speaking of RumChata, if you haven't ever sampled it, you probably should do that right now. Added into hot chocolate it is a delightful winter libation. And the best part?

2. 'Tis the season for joy, mirth and ... cookie exchanges. Anyone have any no-fail, delicious and yet oh-so-gluten-free recipes? I'm talking, cookies you can share with the normies?

3. After last week's post about doing a holiday special or movie every day in December, I had a couple people ask what the schedule was. So here's what we've been viewing so far:
December 1: The League, Season 2, "Kegel the Elf" (unrelated, The League is seriously one of the best shows on television. So freaking funny, in the most obnoxious way.)
December 2: Iron Chef America Holiday Battle: Gingerbread (Seriously, I have a Food Network addiction.)
December 3: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (No explanation needed.)
December 4: History Channel's The True Story of Christmas (It was surprisingly less Jesus-y than one would have thought.
December 5: Bad Santa (Because nothing says "Christmas" like a fornicating Billy Bob Thorton,)
December 6: Trading Places

Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Fakesgiving!

So. Thanksgiving, huh? What's up with that? Nothing like a holiday centered entirely on food to make a celiac turn into even more of a Nervous Rex than usual.

We've been living in Thanksgiving limbo since we got married. Luke and I are both lucky enough to have our families living within 25 miles of us, so there is no travel drama. The bad thing is that we both have traditions we want to uphold with each family, so the past few years have been a clusterturducken of trying to please everyone, all the time, without really making our own traditions. This year, the added layer of complication was that I basically can't eat anything anyone else has ever looked at, thought about looking at, breathed near ... you get the picture. As we headed into November, I was already tired. Stressed. And not looking forward to the FOX-reality nightmare that is Survivor: Thanksgiving Island. I just wanted to get it over with.

But then? Epiphany.

What if we celebrated Thanksgiving on Wednesday with our own meal? It would mean leftovers for me to pack up and take to family Thanksgiving, as well as establishing a tradition for the two of us. Plus, I needed to practice getting a holiday meal on the table, since we are hosting Christmas this year. Win-win situation. Thus, Fakesgiving was born.

I took half the day off on Wednesday, cranked some tunage and donned my delightfully old-fashioned apron. Then the kitchen calisthenics began. In case you hadn't picked up on it from previous posts, I like to cook ... ish. I can handle small meals, but this was the biggest project I'd ever tackled. From scratch. By myself.

Also, I hate following recipes. So that sort of made things interesting. But after several hours, a glass or two of pre-dinner wine and more Taylor Swift than I should admit to listening to, I had this:

I roasted a turkey breast (found at Aldi, their Kirkwood Farms brand, which I called and validated was gluten free, and sooooo much cheaper than anywhere else), made stuffing (sort of following this GlutenFreeda recipe, but subbing out some of the butter and using more herbage), mashed potatoes, Sweet Ali's dinner rolls and, my piece de resistance, GRAVY. Luke has mad cranberry skills, so he whipped up a whole-cranberry relish that I could have eaten for days. We wined, we dined, we watched Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. And it was so incredibly nice to have a tradition for the two of us, something I could see us doing again in the future.

At the risk of letting the puppies and rainbows just explode forth out of my brain, I have to say, this worked out to be a perfect solution. It might not be an option for everyone, but I am choosing right now to take a stand. You may take my Pop-Tarts, celiac disease, but you'll never take my Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three Things Thursday

So, back to a regularly scheduled Thursday, which is not nearly as much fun as a food-gasm Thursday, which is what last week was. I guess every day can't be a holiday. Sigh.

1. In a desperate attempt to eat something for lunch other than a bag of Kettle Chips and a Pepsi, I nabbed some Hormel Natural Choice smoked turkey (yes, I am well aware I should be over turkey, but I'm not. Deal.) I'm not a huge fan of lunch meat, but this was pretty good. Of course, when my gluten-free teff wrap fell apart, it left me eating rolled up slices of turkey with my hands in my tiny work breakroom. Still tasty.

2. Next week is the big date with University of Chicago. I will be seeing one of the celiac specialists there, as well as a nutritionist. Which means my days of Reese's Cups are probably behind me. Maybe not a bad thing, as I am running out of pants that fit? Whoever said going gluten-free makes you skinny ... obviously didn't realize the extent of Hershey's gluten-free offerings.

3. If you are a fellow gluten-free blogger, check out Marlow's Gluten-Free Blogger Secret Santa. She's still taking names for a few more days, and it sounds like it will be a blast.

3.5. Unrelated to any of this, Luke and I are starting our annual undertaking of watching a Christmas movie or TV special every day in December. We have our list pretty much set, but does anyone have any great, must-see suggestions? Bear in mind that our favorites include A Very Brady Christmas, Saved By the Bell Christmas and Die Hard (both one and two).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Three Things Thursday ... on Sunday

Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned. I skipped out on my first Three Things. But, as Thursday was a slightly busy day, I don't feel too badly about it. Hope everyone's Thanksgiving was yummy, and that everyone avoided getting glutened. I have a couple of posts in the works about my Fakesgiving dinner, as well as entertaining in general, but those will come in due time (mainly, when I'm not shopping/recooperating from shopping/decorating/recooperating from decorating).

1. Once again, Sweet Ali's swooped in and saved the day. With their fantastic cinnamon rolls and delightful pumpkin pie, I really didn't feel like I was missing out on holiday sweets at all.

2. We have braved Black Friday every year for as long as I can remember, but this was the first year so many places opened up on Thanksgiving. We skipped out on the midnight sales, and still managed to get everything we were after. On a related note, Menards at 5 a.m. on Black Friday is THE place to be.

3. Sixlets? Gluten free. I may or may not have purchased several bags to put out in my holiday candy containers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Wow, three posts in a week, and none of them are reviews? Holy (gluten-free) cannoli, Batman.
 This week was an interesting week. And by "interesting," I mean that while I much rather would have opted out and stayed in bed watching Boy Meets World on DVD, I came, I saw and I ... sucked it up and did my job (okay, you got me. I spent one whole night at home watching BMW on DVD. In bed. No regrets).

1. I was amazed and touched by all of you who reached out to me after my post about hitting the wall. I am a loner by nature and don't often look to others for support, and when I did, I was shocked at everyone who sent me messages and e-mails. This community is truly AMAZING, and I appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you.

2. Yesterday was my birthday, and while most of the merriment is set to take place this weekend (dinner at Glen Prairie? Check. Cards Against Humanity and wine with friends? Check plus.), I did get some great gifties from my ever-patient husband, like a home-cooked dinner and these beautiful roses:

3. I was also pretty excited about this package from Red Apple Lipstick. Luke splurged and let me pick out some new birthday gift makeup from this most excellent company, which is having a pretty sweet sale right now. If you are looking for some fabulous gluten-free, paraben-free and just generally gorgeous makeup, I highly suggest checking it out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guess Who's a Birthday Girl?

Spoiler alert - it's me.

And while it's not a big birthday, it's the birthday before a big birthday, which in a way is more stressful, because it means I've got 365 days before I hit the big 3-0. And I know that age is just a number, and you're only as old as you feel (although these days? That number is pretty danged high). But still. Wasn't I *just* turning 21?

Despite still feeling a little rotten, I'm determined to make the best of this birthday. I'm looking forward to a Luke-cooked dinner tonight, and fun with friends and family this weekend. A little birdie told me I'm going to be noshing on a Sweet Ali's salted caramel cake on Saturday (the little birdie was Luke. He's also the little birdie paying for it) (also, there will be wine. Lots of wine).


This year has not been great, by any stretch, but I have checked some things off of my bucket list. I headed to not one but two cons. I wrote and directed my first show. I've connected to so. many. folks. I played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time. I finished reading a book series that was totally out of my realm of normal - and loved it. I redecorated an unused room to build me a writing haven. I braved my first vacation with this crazy restrictive gluten thing. I wrote a butt-kicking maid of honor speech. I channeled my inner Bob Ross. I learned more about wrestling than I ever wanted to know. I apparently re-affirmed my nerdiness. Like tenfold.

So here are my goals for my last year of my 20s. Some people are really cutesy and do 30 before 30. I don't think I have 30 in me right now, so mine is 12. Goals are goals, people.

1. Run a 5K. Not necessarily quickly. Just to know I can.
2. Either start my novel or do three short stories.
3. Try yoga.
4. Continue to raise awareness for celiac disease.
5. Donate more to charities.
6. Start doing more GF baking from scratch, not from mixes.
7. Buy a coffee for a stranger.
8. Read something out of a genre I don't typically like (mystery? romance? science fiction?)
9. Learn to knit ... if my hands will let me.
10. Continue blogging, and connecting with this amazing community.
11. Master the "Gangnam Style" dance before the fad dies completely.
12. Try sushi ... again.

Now, let's all eat some gluten free cake, yes?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hitting the Wall

When you are sick for a very long time, and no one gives you any answers, it sucks. You start to question yourself, your symptoms, your mind. It is terrifying and isolating and there are days you would give anything to know what is wrong and how to fix it.

And God bless the doctor who finally gives you answers, at least some of them, and sets you on the path to feeling better.

But what happens eight? Nine? months down the road when you feel awful all the time again, and your blood work shows you are following your stupidly rigorous diet to the letter so obviously, this, too, is all made up?

What happens when it is a struggle, mentally and physically, to get out of bed in the morning and go to work? How about when anything you eat makes you hurt? And all you feel is guilty, because you are making so much hassle for everyone else? What then?

Six months ago I was frustrated at the challenges of following a gluten-free lifestyle, but I was starting to feel healthy for the first time in more than a decade, so the scales tipped in favor of all the work and expense it took to live gluten free.

About two months ago I was slammed with a pretty nasty sinus infection, and within a month, a second one. And I haven't felt well since then. Not just in an "I have some sniffles" way. I'm exhausted all the time. My joints hurt. I've been working on crocheting a scarf for weeks, because I can get about two rows done before my fingers just lock up. And I'm back to having to scout the location of the nearest bathroom any time I leave my house. I have no energy, and some days, it takes all my spoons just to get to work. This comes at an awful time, as we are heading into the holiday season, my first as a card-carrying celiac, and I know it's going to take loads of energy to handle it.

I normally like to keep it pretty light here. Yummy food. Fun events. The sunny side of celiac, if there is one. But pretending everything is okay when it's not? It's exhausting. I'm tired. There's hope on the horizon, though, in the form of the University of Chicago, and I will be visiting them early in December to hopefully find some more answers.

Those of you who are veterans of this nasty disease, did this happen to you?  I'm not looking for pity, I am looking for answers, and maybe a little bit optimism.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The One Where I Geek Out Over Stuffing

 Unless you are new around here (and if you are, hello!), you know that I have a deep and undying love for Sweet Ali's bakery. It all stems back to that first (and second, and third) gluten-free cupcake I had, the day after my celiac diagnosis. Maybe I imprinted on them, as a newborn gluten-freer, or maybe it's just that their stuff is that good. I'm pretty sure it is the latter.

Regardless, I have the utmost adoration and respect for Ali Graeme and her staff, so when I got an invite to a special after-hours holiday goodies preview, I literally jumped for joy. Not only was I nervous about going into my first holiday season gluten-free, but I couldn't wait for the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the bakery.

Wednesday night, after a hectic day at work and a puking dog at home, I was scatterbrained, tired and a little grumpy, but stepping into the bakery, my mood lifted instantly. Something about being in a room full of deliciousness that I can *actually* eat does that to me, I suppose.

Mozzarella cheese sticks. Yes.
The event was broken down into three parts: Appetizers, demos and dessert. We mingled and talked recipes while noshing on pumpkin dip, cheesy pigs-in-blankets, mozzarella cheese sticks and bruschetta. Their app table looked a lot like my typical New Year's Eve spreads (which reminded me, I need to start planning my annual NYE event). The staff put out recipes for just about everything (which I nabbed, because I will be recreating most of these noshes in the weeks to come). It all tasted ... regular, and I mean that in the best way possible. I have no doubt that I could put that spread out, and very few of my gluten-eating friends would even know the difference (spoiler alert to my NYE-going friends: you can thank Ali for the deliciousness you will enjoy). My two favorite treats were the blanketed pigs (Hillshire Farms. Go meat!) and the mozz sticks, and I likely would have snarfed the whole tray if it weren't for my mom physically restraining me  sense of decorum.

So cute! So gluten-free
After apps, we got to go back in the kitchen for a stuffing demo. That's right. In. The. Kitchen. As I have professed here on the blog before, I could live in that kitchen, happily. So getting to go back there? Amazing. Ali herself demonstrated stuffing from the mix the bakery sells. I could watch people cook all day, so I loved getting to see it put together, in addition to getting to taste it. I'll admit, basically the only stuffing I've ever eaten is made from a red box labeled Stove-Top, so my standards on stuffing aren't real high. Even so, the mix the bakery sells was really good, and Ali told several ways to customize it, which I appreciated. Since we are doing a to-go Thanksgiving meal for me, I don't know if I am going to attempt stuffing or not, but if I do, I know which one I am trying. Staffer Carrie also did a food demo, showing us how to make this adorable little pumpkin dip thing that looks like a jack-o-lantern. It would be a great addition to any appetizer table or something like a work potluck.

This is what a happy Alissa looks like.
No well-rounded meal would be complete without desserts, and this is Sweet Ali's specialty. Among the treats I sampled? Pumpkin pie, raspberry tarts, pumpkin bread, pound cake, and more - the sugar buzz sort of kicked in at that point, so I don't recall ALL of the delightful things I tried (bad blogger! Bad girl!). Winner of dessert round was the pumpkin pie - creamy and sweet and delightful. I am the only pumpkin pie fan in my house, so it was nice to get to try some - I probably won't buy a whole one, since Luke doesn't eat it, and I would feel obligated to eat the whole thing (and regret nothing). But I did purchase a few more treats to try at home (frozen cookie dough and cinnamon rolls, and yes, they were both amazing). If you are in the Chicagoland area and looking for a great place to nab some Thanksgiving treats, even if you aren't gluten-free, I highly suggest Sweet Ali's. They even deliver to the Chicagoland area through Artizone, and they can be found in some area grocery stores. If you choose to purchase for Thanksgiving, though, make sure you get your orders in by November 17. I know I will.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three Things Thursday

We're well into the throes of November around these parts, and even though it is that wonky time pre-Thanksgiving and post-Halloween, where every house seems to be having an identity crisis (moldy jack-o-lantern? Check. Icicle Christmas lights? Check), I still sort of revel in these couple of weeks before everything goes HOLIDAY FULL FORCE. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas, but celebrating it for two full months can get tedious. We have a rule in my house that the holiday season officially kicks off when we've watched the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas post-dessert on Thanksgiving Day. Anyway, I really like this time of year when everything sort of slows down momentarily. Could be that I am a November baby:)

1. Obviously the East Coast is still reeling from Sandy, and loads of GF bloggers have been citing resources for donating. It may seem silly to you to think about making sure food pantries have the Udi's, but for people with celiac or gluten intolerance, it's one less thing they have to worry about. Imagine being displaced from your home, without power, without heat, and every food around you is poison. So check out Erin's blog to find some organizations to donate to.

2. I raved about these on my Facebook page last week, but thought they were worth a mention here, too. Perdue now makes breaded chicken tenders, nuggets and cutlets that are GLUTEN FREE. This is a big deal because a) they are available at local grocery stores like Wal-Mart and Jewel, b) they are reasonably priced, c) they are certified gluten free and d) they fulfill a great need I had for yummy quick food. Served up with these, it's like a grown-up Happy Meal that won't make my body attempt to kill me. I think these are going to be a freezer staple.

3. After hemming and hawing for a long time, I finally got around to making an appointment at the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Research Center, so next month, I will get to see a celiac specialist and a dietician. I am pretty excited about this for a lot of reasons. Yes, excited. Don't judge me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day


I try not to get too political on here (except when I am urging you to sign petitions for better gluten-free labeling (which is important regardless of political affiliation (and p.s. we got the required amount of signatures))).

But today is Election Day here in the good ol' US of A, and I would be lax to not mention it. Not like you haven't noticed, I'm sure. I don't know if I remember what it's like to watch television or listen to the radio without hearing some sort of political ad.

Me, with the President, back when he was just a Senator.

Despite the perpetual stream of "such and such approves this message" we've been hearing for months, I still gotta strongly encourage all of you registered voters to get out and do your civic duty. It doesn't matter who you vote for (although, it's pretty obvious who my guy is). What's important is that you go out and exercise the right and PRIVILEGE that people died for. It's so easy to get caught up in the negative campaign ads, or to zone out the white noise of anything political, since we're all pretty inundated with it, all the time. But when I went into my local polling place this morning, I was thinking about those women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought so hard to get everyone the right to vote.

So, you know, go do it. You'll probably get a sticker*.

*Unless you go to my polling place. Apparently, there was a rampant stream of irresponsible stickering that caused the election judges to put a ban on stickers. I may or may not have made my own.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Happy Candy Hangover Day! Hope everyone had loads of delicious, gluten-free treats yesterday. I took a couple hours off work so I could be home for trick-or-treating, and had a grand total of ... ten trick-or-treaters. Looks like I will be eating Peppermint Patties and Skittles until the new year.

1. So, because the gluten-free world is awesome, we managed to get all 25,000 signatures on the gluten-free labeling petition we've all been linking to for about a month. I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make, but to see that many people come together for a cause is pretty inspiring. Go, us!

2. I have a celiac support group meeting on Saturday morning where we will be sharing all manner of delicious Thanksgiving-y foods and recipes. I look forward to sharing some yummy noms with you in the near future.

3. My birthday is in less than two weeks. I am a *huge* birthday celebrator, so prepare yourselves.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Celiac Awareness Tour Recap

Are you aware of celiac disease? You are? Good. I sort of figured if you were reading this here blog you probably had some inkling. And I am pretty aware of it, too. But when I saw that the Celiac Awareness Tour was making a stop in Chicago in October, I pretty much knew I was going to nab tickets. Because I love expos, and expo-like things, and the swag that usually comes with them.  So I wrangled up my mom and dad to go with me, and we braved the nasty weather to check out some gluten-free delightfulness. You'll remember that back in April, I went to the Gluten-Free/Allergy-Free Expo, which was completely nutty and packed with people before the doors even opened, so I was expecting much of the same for the Celiac Awareness Tour, but when we got there at 9:15 (doors opened at 9 a.m.), it was pretty much just us, vendors and staff. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. The biggest advantage was that I could actually stop and have a conversation with vendors, which was really, really nice. The disadvantage? Fewer people got to check out all the great information that was presented.
When we walked in, Eve Becker of Gluten Free Nosh was giving a presentation about the basics of the GF lifestyle, and while it was all territory I've pretty much covered on my own, it was nice for my parents to get to hear all that jazz from someone who is not me. We also got to see a cooking demo from Chef Jean-Rene Renusson of Savory Foods. He made a delicious tomato tortilla soup that was to. die. for. It was gluten free, dairy free and vegan, and even my dad (who considers a sleeve of Double Stuff Oreos dinner some days) loved it. But even better than the soup (barely) was Chef Renusson's explanation about how his kitchens (which manufacture both gluten-full and gluten-free products) are cleaned in between runs. It put a little perspective on the always-scary notion of "shared facility." I also nabbed some of his herbed flatbread and frozen cookie dough to sample.
Though there were certainly fewer vendors that at April's event, the folks that were there were enthusiastic to feed us. There were loads of samples, and I got to connect with my friends from Sweet Ali's again. I even got to try some falafel from a local restaurant. It wasn't a waste of a day by any means, I was just expecting a bigger event. Kudos to the folks who organize the tour, because they're doing good work. It was also nice to get to spend the day with my parents, getting to show them some of the things I love, and giving them a little more insight into what this crazy disease means.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Three Things Thursday

I know. I know, okay? I promised a fun-filled recap of the Celiac Awareness Tour. Plus some fall yummies. And probably a bunch of stuff I don't remember right now. But you'll have to excuse me, because I am (yet again) sick. The good news? It is totally not gluten or celiac related. At all. Probably. The bad news? I have parlayed my virus into laryngitis, so yours truly is sans voice. Bad for me, but good for America? Anyway. Hoping to feel up to doing some more posting soon, but with my limited energy supply, if the options are between carving pumpkins or posting blogs, the pumpkins are going to win every time.

1. Big ups to Walgreens. They've always been my pharmacy of choice, and this weekend, when I went in looking for something to tame the nastiness that I had going on, their store-brand Sudafed knock-off took the guess work out of hunting:
I also found store-brand cough drops and cough syrup labeled "gluten free." Which saved me numerous minutes of frantically iPhone searching and cursing under (albeit hoarsely) my breath. I know you have to take all of the labeling with a grain of salt (gluten?) but I appreciated the effort.

2. Being Throaty McPainerson this week has added a new challenge to feeding. Not only did I need to stay gluten free, but I also needed to stay somewhat mushy and gushy. A new find that I think I will be adding to my pantry/emergency zombie preparedness kit is Wolfgang Puck's line of soups. So far, I've tried and loved the Signature Tortilla, but there are several in the line that are gluten free. And they are organic, for what it's worth. Plus, I am a sucker for celebrity-chef endorsed products. I love tortilla soup, period, but this one is hearty enough to help me fight off illness (and possibly zombies).

3. Have I mentioned yet that I love the fall? Usually I am a Halloween junkie, but this year, I just haven't felt as into it. Between my play and being sick, I just haven't been in the mood. But we did do some pumpkin carving at my in-laws' last night, and it turned out great! (Luke and I did the one in the top corner that looks like a witch stirring her brew.)

Here's hoping I can get a little Halloween mojo going this weekend, maybe take in a haunted house or two. But then again, screaming would probably not be good for my poor lil' sore vocal chords. Hmm.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe weekend-before-Halloween.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Howdy, partners. Bunch of random for you today:

1. I'm testing out some new looks for the ol' blogaroo, so it may be a bit sketchy for a while. Hopefully I won't lose any posts. Feedback appreciated!

2. Celiac Awareness Tour last weekend was pretty cool, and I hope to have a couple of posts up about that soonish - hopefully by Sunday?

3. My new staple for party-bringing fare has become gluten-free Rice Krispie treats. The GF Krispies taste exactly like their malt-containing counterparts, so people don't even have to know they are eating something "different." For some real gourmet flavor, go ahead and throw some cinnamon and vanilla (just a tiny bit). They will be gone. Instantly.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Three Things Thursday

I hope everyone's been enjoying the fabulousity of fall this week, because I sure have been. Pumpkin spice lattes, caramel apple spices, candy corn, the whole shebang. I'm hoping this weekend to attempt some pumpkin bread, maybe some chili if time allows. Live large, right?

1. I had a follow-up appointment with my fairy gastroenterologist Monday. Not only are my levels back into normal (huzzah!), but she also recommended a new celiac doc to work on nutrition-type things (because eating Reese's cups for lunch is apparently a bad thing?). I have an appointment with her next week.

2. If any of you Chi-town gluten-freers are looking for something to do this weekend, the Celiac Awareness Tour will be up in Rosemont on Saturday. Tickets are only $10, and some of my favorite vendors will be there, along with some great chefs.

3. This weekend, I am directing a show that I wrote (squee!). Unfortunately, it is an outdoor walking tour show, and weather in Chicago is not looking promising, so cross your fingers, toes or anything else that the forecast changes for the better. I can use all the positive energy I can get, my cast has worked RIDICULOUSLY hard and I would hate for their work to be for nothing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Caramely Appley Delightfulness

I've already been extolling the virtues of all things fall. And also all things Amoretti. So in my continuing quest to re-create former favorite up-scale coffee shop favorites, the next natural choice was a caramel apple spice.

I've always loved hot apple cider. To me, cider and maybe popcorn and candy corn are the ideal complements to any fall activity. And cider, by nature, should be gluten-free. And if you wanted to get really crafty and heat it on the stove top, you could bypass the spiced syrup all together and instead just throw a few cinnamon sticks in the pot. But I like shortcuts, so I opted for the cinnamon Amoretti syrup (and after a slight mix-up at Amazon, I actually got it).

 This recipe is nice because you can make it by the cup, or you can heat enough apple cider for multiple servings in a sauce pot. I think it works best, though, if you add the syrup to each individual glass, though.

Here goes:

1 to 1 1/2 cups apple cider (I like Indian Summer, but you can pick your favorite brand)
2 pumps of Amoretti cinnamon syrup
Hershey's caramel syrup
Whipped cream to top

Pretty simple - heat up the apple cider, either via microwave or stove. When you get it hot enough, squirt the two pumps of syrup in, and a drizzle of caramel. Stir it up, then top with the whipped cream and another drizzle of caramel. Best if served with Breads From Anna pumpkin muffins. And in the hazy glow of your favorite Halloween decor.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Guys, I am a little shaken today, because we have had a serious security breach last night. Around 11 p.m., as we were enjoying the culinary prowess of one Alton Brown, an intruder invaded our home. He looked like this:
I didn't think spiders had trigger fingers. I was wrong.
We should have known. He's been sending recon missions for a week now, smaller, less threatening spiders. We've detained several, and though we questioned them with standard wartime procedure, they didn't talk. So we squished them. But this guy? We knew we couldn't give him the chance to evade us, so we elevated the spider terrorist threat level to red, and grabbed the closest heavy duty shoe. Victory was ours ... for the moment.
Seriously, though, this weather change has unleashed too many eight-legged unsavories in my house, so I am on high alert. Last night's wolf spider was the last straw. Because spiders are to me what snakes are to Indiana Jones. I have tried to explain to Luke that this means I have to wear a fedora and carry a whip at all times, but he failed to see the necessity.

Today's Three Things is brought to you by fear, vengeance and heavy-soled shoes.

1. This has been all over the gluten-free world for the past couple of days, but it bears repeating, so please go sign this petition for better food labeling laws. You can make a difference! They need about 25,000 signatures, so spread the word. In a highly political month, this is something that is a totally non-partisan way to get involved. So do it already.

2. Despite the mix up last week when Amazon accidentally sent me a refrigerator pump instead of my cinnamon syrup, I got my Amoretti goodness on Friday and have pretty much perfected the caramel apple cider. Look for a recipe in the next few days.

3. I'm going to my first ever celiac support group meeting Saturday. One of the topics? Gluten-free Halloween candy. I could write a thesis on this with all the research I've done lately. Here's hoping for some fun new finds.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pizza and Pasta - Still a Thing!

There was a post over at The Gluten Dude's site last week that really got me thinking. Basically, a reader was concerned that they would have to be all recluse-y to avoid getting glutened. And at first, I totally sympathized, because it is hard to plan, or to watch people eating food you'd like to be eating.

But then, I thought about how ridiculous it all was.

Because guess what? Life goes on. So what if you are eating your dinner out of an insulated tote while your friends snack on off-limits noms? You can sulk about it, or you can put on your big girl panties, make a plan and freakin' enjoy your life.

Us at last year's game. We look pretty much the same.
I got to experience this first-hand this weekend. It was my baby sister's senior homecoming, and my middle sister flew in for a family-filled weekend. Six months ago, this would have sent me into a panic - a whole weekend of being out and about, away from the comfort and security of my kitchen. But I have survived a road trip, and a vacation, so homecoming was easy-peasy. Instead of freaking, we just planned. And planned. And planned. When everyone else was dining on pizza from a favorite local establishment, I was noshing on my Udi's pizza. Saturday, when we were tailgating before the game, I had my own breakfast bag, with Udi's muffins (I swear, I am not employed by them) and fruit and juice and a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I even packed popcorn and candy and such so I could have treats during the game if I wanted.

 And Sunday, for our big family dinner, my mom made us a big pan of this:

That's right, that is a ton of delicious gluten-free mostaccioli made with love. And cheese. Lots of cheese. And because my mom is awesome and knows all about cross-contamination, she had me bring my pasta pot, noodle-stirrer thingy and colander. She keeps a separate cake pan for me at her house that has never TOUCHED gluten, and she even lined it with foil. That's love, people. And everyone else enjoyed dinner, too, even my dad, who is about as un-gluten-free as you can get.

This weekend could have gone completely differently. I could have spent the weekend pitying myself, withdrawing from the fun over something as stupid as food. But instead, I just prepped myself for it, and thanks in large part to an (incredibly) understanding family, I got to have a blast. So, you know, to quote Gluten Dude, quoting Andy Dufresne from the great Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy living or get busy dying."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Three Things Thursday

This has been the week of running into walls. Seriously, it feels like everything I have tried to accomplish gets waylaid. Anyway.

1. After spending last weekend with a very non-Bruce Willis-y plague, I knew I needed to pump up my arsenal of "safe" sinus medications. The bad thing is it is incredibly hard to find real information about non-drug drug ingredients (also? Why do I have to essentially turn my life over to the Feds to buy Sudafed? Do I look like a meth addict?). So you should totally go here to help us petition for better ingredient labels in drugs.

2. I was planning on trying a new recipe for a mock-up of a Starbucks caramel apple spice, but gluten free, of course. I ordered some Amoretti cinnamon syrup, since I loved their pumpkin so much, and I was obsessively tracking it on Amazon for three days. Yesterday I rushed home to find the box on my doorstep. But it contained ... a refrigerator pump. Not syrup. They have straightened it out, and my new, *actual* product should be here tomorrow. So here's hoping for a cinnamony, appley weekend.

3. This did arrive on my doorstep this week:
The Everything Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook: Includes Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla, Peruvian Roast Chicken with Red Potatoes, Lamb ... hundreds more! (Everything Series)
I'm incredibly psyched to get a-cooking on some of these fantastic recipes. There's a couple of soups I wish I had in my belly right now.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bruce Willis Does Not Get Pink Eye

Before I was diagnosed with celiac, I used to get really bad ear and sinus infections about every six weeks or so. It was kind of awful, because I was pretty much perpetually on antibiotics, to the point where my doc would have to prescribe me two rounds of strong drugs to knock out my infection.

So needless to say, when I went gluten free and didn't get sick for one month ... two months ... seven months, I thought I was akin to Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, but instead of fighting Samuel L. Jackson, I was fighting, um, gluten. Since it was the longest stretch I've gone IN MY LIFE without getting (non-gluten related) sick, I was pretty sure that I had developed an immune system of steel, and I would no longer be brought down by sickness.

Until last Monday. We recently went 100% fall here in Chicago, so my slight sniffles and sore throat didn't really bother me too much. I've always sort of had seasonal allergies, so it made sense. I just chugged along, drinking more water and tea and popping throat lozenges when needed.

By Thursday, I couldn't swallow at all, and by the time I finished leading my cast through rehearsal Thursday night, I had a 102 degree temperature and I could barely move. Oops. I made the choice to call in sick Friday, which was a good plan, as I was unable to remain upright for longer than 15 minutes at a time. By Saturday morning, I was feeling a little bit better - enough to venture out of my house to run to Target (also, do you know how hard it is to check labels on meds for gluten? TERRIBLE HARD). That lasted, um, not long, and I promptly spent the rest of the night on the couch (Walking Dead Season 2 is On Demand? Sure, I can watch that). I was positive that I would wake up Sunday feeling right as rain, ready to face the world - or at least face cleaning the house. But then the oddest thing happened. Sunday morning rolls around, my alarm goes off, and I crack one eye to hunt for my phone. Something feels amiss, so I try to open the other one, as well. Nope. Not going to happen. In a panic, I reach for the mirror I keep bedside and am shocked when I see one of the Walking Dead zombies staring back at me. After slight hysterics, I decide medical intervention might be necessary, and head to the local Walgreens for a little chat with their nurse practitioner. Turns out, my virus turned into a sinus infection ... and that gave me pink eye. Pink eye! I have worked with kids for the better part of my adult life, and have NEVER caught it from one of them. Leave it to me to give MYSELF pink eye. I got sent home with an arsenal of pills, antibiotics and eye drops that make my kitchen look a little home meth lab-esque.

And that leaves me here. Monday morning. I should be at work, but I can't, as I am still pinky and gooey and contagious. Do you think this ever happens to Bruce Willis?

But if there is a silver lining (well, maybe not silver. Maybe just less green?), it is that this illness? Probably not the effect of the celiac monster. I guess I must still just be human after all.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Three Things Thursday

So. Who's got two thumbs and is a disappointed celiac? ^ This guy ^ . I was all geared up for Blackhawks training camp on Saturday, where I was to watch hockey, hear the sounds of faces hitting glass, and most importantly, sample the delights found at the United Center's gluten free stand. But because of a hockey strike, none of this will be happening. Boo to that. Guess I will be making my own nachos at home, wearing my jersey and throwing Luke against the back patio door.

1. This week, there's been a lot of talk about the levels of arsenic found in rice, proving, once again, it's not safe to eat anything. If only there were more Arsenio found in rice...

2. I'm a woman on a mission - for candy corn. I know, if only I could use my powers for good instead of, um, candy. So far, the only candy corn I've found to be "safe" is Jelly Belly brand, which they only sell at places like Marshalls/TJ Maxx/Homegoods. This wouldn't be a problem if I could go into one of those places without coming out with a faux-fur throw, new bowls or some other such nonsense. Ears to the ground, folks, let me know if you see any other celiac-safe candy corn. There might be a prize in it for you. (Yes, I know *no one* actually eats candy corn, and they have been recycling the same bags of it since probably 1980, but I love the stuff.)

3. I am in the middle of directing a murder mystery that I wrote (?!?), and I am super-excited to have the chance to do this. But at the same time, it's taking a lot of my time, so expect shorter posts for a while. Hooray for live theater.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fab Finds: Glutenfreeda Oatmeal

The Internet can be a dangerous thing. Especially for celiacs. Because there hasn't been a huge push in the medical community to educate about the disease, it falls on, well, us to make sure we are doing that. We rely on each other to pass on information, and in the months I have been a part of that community, I have learned that we are a fierce, loyal bunch. But its also really easy to get swept up in false or misinterpreted claims. When I am researching a new food or product, and I head to the Interwebs to find information, I am often innundated with completely conflicting information. And I know that it is all well-intended, and that most celiacs post the things they post to help others avoid pain and illness, but sometimes, it seems like there can be a witch-hunt.

The latest thing I've found being burned at the stake? Oats.

There is a lot of good reason for that. Most commercial oats are, in fact, cross-contaminated in the growth/harvesting/production process. But what about oats that are grown in dedicated fields? When I went to the Gluten Free/Allergy Free Expo in April, a rep from a company selling certified gluten-free oats pretty much slapped the sample out of my hand when I told him I was only a couple months out from my diagnosis. He told me the oats would be fine, once I'd healed for a few months. So I skipped oats. But as fall is rolling in to Chicago, and I am getting bored with my usual breakfasts, I thought maybe it was time to try some GF instant oatmeal. And when I went to do my research, I was astounded by the things I was finding. From every source, I was getting a somewhat different answer. Yes, celiacs can have certified GF oats, but only in small quantities; no, celiacs can never have any oats, ever, because the makeup of oats is too similar to gluten; yes, some celiacs can have oats, but at least 10% of them can NOT tolerate oats in any situation; yes, oats were completely fine, as long as they were consumed while you stand on your head and sing the alphabet song in Spanish. I turned to the source I trust the most for my final answer - the Celiac Disease Center at University of Chicago. And what they said was pretty interesting. And though I firmly believe everyone needs to do what is best for THEIR own bodies, I took a chance and, um, trusted my gut, on this. I tried the oats.

I opted for Glutenfreeda instant oatmeal, and I nabbed the variety pack. So far, so good. I am loving the flavors I've tried so far (the apple and the maple raisin). They heat up to a nice consistency, and you can really make out the flavor. One of my favorite things is the amount the packet makes. When I used to eat the old, regular instant oatmeal, it would take two packets to fill me up. One of the Glutenfreeda packs is enough to keep me satisfied until lunch. Plus, they are small and only require water and a bowl, so they're a nice thing to throw in a desk drawer to keep on hand for last minute or forgotten meals. Plus, they are available at my local Big Box Retailer, and while they are a little pricier than the non-GF stuff I used to buy, I still consider them a value. I think anything that is safe and yummy and can bail me out of a meal planning FAIL is a good investment.

So let this serve double duty, as a warning to take everything you read with a grain of salt (which is gluten free ... for now), and if you are willing to try some oaty goodness, give Glutenfreeda a chance.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Totally Unhealthy (But Awesomely Delish) Mac & Cheese

To me, fall = comfort foods.

And as there were some nights it was downright chilly last week, I think I can say that fall has arrived here in Chicagoland, so I started the process of trying to convert old fall favorites to gluten-free creations.

This is a tweak on a quick mac & cheese recipe I used to use back in the pre-GF days. I got it from a Weight Watchers cookbook ... then promptly subbed in things that were full fat:) This dish is not for the dairy-leery, and I wouldn't recommend feasting on it too often, but for a night when you want a fast-ish dinner, heavy on comfort but light on effort, it really hits the spot.

For this recipe (and I use the term loosely), you will need:

1 box of your fave GF pasta
(we love Schar fusilli pasta, because it holds up well)

1 small can of condensed milk

1 1/2  to 2 cups shredded cheddar
(or if you want it cheesier, add more)

1 to 1 1/2 cups of any combination of "softer" cheese
(we used mozzarella and colby jack, for some flavor)

Dash of cayenne

Salt and pepper to taste

Go ahead and get your pasta cooking according to box directions. You want to make sure you leave it a tiny bit al dente, especially if you are planning to have some leftover to reheat for lunch the next day.

Once you get your noodles in the water, start heating up your milk on the stove, over low heat so you don't get it all scaldy. If you heat it too fast or too hot, it will taste like feet, and no one wants that. Once it's heating up, sprinkle in a little dash of cayenne, and then start adding your cheeses. It's important to keep your cheese sauce moving, so once you put that first handful in, keep your whisk busy. Add the cheese about a quarter or half cup at a time, whisking through the whole process.

When your noodles are done, drain them and return them to the pot, then pour in your cheese sauce, SLOWLY. You want to make sure it coats, and if the cheese hasn't melted completely, the heat from the noodles should fix that. Be gentle mixing it in, as GF noodles are a little more fragile than their wheaty counterparts.

Final step? Dig in. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could put your creation in a casserole dish, throw some GF bread crumbs and Parmesan on top and bake for a bit, but I prefer to eat it like this. It's sort of like a better-quality version of boxed mac and cheese, and it's a great way to use any odds and ends of leftover cheeses you have lying around. You can use just about any combination you like, so get creative. This also reheats REALLY well, so it's the perfect thing for someone like me who is bad at lunch planning. And if you wanted to make it slightly less coronary-inducing, you can always sub in fat free condensed milk and lower fat cheese.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Three Things Thursday: Celiac Awareness Day Edition

If you didn't gather from my post title, today is Celiac Awareness Day. No, not Celiac Awareness Month, that was May. Excessive? Maybe. But mostly not. As long as people still scratch their heads and say "Celiac disease? Which one is that?" or "Oh, that's just the food thing," we will need to make EVERYDAY Celiac Awareness Day.

I will be "celebrating" (I use the term loosely, because I hardly think autoimmune diseases are worthy of celebration) by drinking lots of home-made pumpkin spice lattes and noshing on some leftover GF mac and cheese I made last night (recipe to come. Prepare your arteries accordingly).

1. Yes, I know, 97% of you think statistics are boring. But it's kind of interesting to think that 1 out of every 133 people has celiac. That's a little less than 1%. Researchers think that more people have the disease, but because testing and diagnosis are, um, imperfect here in the U.S., they don't realize it. The average amount of time most celiacs suffer symptoms without a proper diagnosis? Eleven years. That's right. Many of us suffer the lifespan of a tween before even being diagnosed. For me, it was longer than that. So even though I am only officially a few months out from a diagnosis, I am pretty sure my celiac is getting its driver's license.

2. The gluten-free product business is booming, as it becomes more prevalent to follow a GF diet. You can even find specialty GF stuff at *gasp* Wal-mart! I was actually a little jealous on my trip to North Carolina last week, because my sister's Target carries a lot of the things I usually have to trek to Whole Foods for. I know, I know, #glutenfreeproblems.

3. I posted this in last week's Three Things, but I cannot stress enough the importance of being tested for celiac if a) you have any of the symptoms or b) you have a close relative with celiac. And University of Chicago is doing it FOR FREE. As someone who lived without insurance for a while, I know how expensive testing like this can be, and some insurance companies STILL don't cover it. So go here, register and get screened.

Also, check out some of the great bloggers I feature on my Rad Reads list - you will find everything from recipes to snarkiness to inspiration ... at least, I do!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Latte, Yes

I LIVE for fall. Maybe it's because I have a fall birthday, maybe it's because I am obsessed with all things Halloween, but I loooooooves me some autumn. I used to have this stupid rule that I couldn't enjoy fall things until the end of September. But then I realized that life is short, fall is awesome, and I will enjoy it as long as I like, thankyouverymuch.

One of the hallmarks of fall is the Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks, but ever since the last debacle, I have stuck to only non-flavored drip coffees from them. So I made it my mission to try to recreate my favorite fall comfort drink, in a completely gluten free way. The secret ingredient? Amoretti pumpkin spice syrup. Not only is it gluten free, but it is shelf stable and will keep for a year (if it lasts that long). And it's pretty yummy. They have loads of other flavors I am itching to try now.

But without further ado, here's my awesome recipe (and yes, it tastes better out of an Anthro mug):

In a microwave safe mug, heat about a cup and a half of milk-type beverage. I used Almond Breeze vanilla, because I love sugar. It's best to do this low and slow, so run your nuker on about half power for 30 second intervals, stirring in between. This will keep your "milk" from scalding. You could also do this on the stove top, but really, who has time for that? Once you've got your "milk" heated up to taste, it's time to add the syrup. I used about a pump and a half of my Amoretti Pumpkin Spice syrup, and I cut it with about a teaspoon of agave nectar, but you could play around with the proportions. Once that's all mixed together nicely, add the coffee of your choice to fill the cup. Mine took about a cup of coffee, but if you like a stronger coffee flavor, you could always cut the amount of milk. Last step? Whipped cream, of course (I didn't say this was low cal) and a dash of cinnamon. I also, um, garnished mine with a home-made banana muffin (Decadence. I haz it).

My next Starbucks mock up is going to be a caramel apple cider .... if only I can find a good gluten-free caramel sauce ... 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What Up, North Carolina?

A round of applause, ladies and gents, because I? Just survived my first *real* vacation gluten-free.

All it took was a little prep work, some tears, a lot of understanding on the part of my sisters, a few trips to Whole Foods and more luck than I should probably ever expect to have in my life at one time.

I was apprehensive (shocker) about this trip for a while, but after Em and I went down last year to see our middle sister, Kady, we knew we wanted to make the trip again. Since Labor Day weekend worked well for everyone, we booked the flights and hotels, and I panicked my little booty off (okay, it's a large booty) about every. little. thing. that could go wrong. I'm a nervous traveler when I'm NOT worried about gluten. We started out strong: a mid-morning flight meant I got to eat breakfast at home (okay, at the airport - thank you, Udi's bread for toasting so well), and much like a kindergartener, I had a back pack full of bars and fruit snacks to tide me over until we landed. When Kady picked us up at the airport, one of the first stops we made was Whole Foods, so I could stock up on "safe" foods (safe, not nutritious. I'm looking at you, Justin's Peanut Butter Bars). The next stop? Starbucks. Mama needed an iced coffee, stat.

We got to spend the rest of the afternoon visiting with Kady and her fiance, Kyle, and doing all the things we needed (like hanging out at the mall, because we are like '80s teenagers). We selected P.F. Chang's for dinner, and they were pretty good about the GF thing. I am both embarrassed and proud to admit that I took down a whole order of spicy chicken myself (usually it's a two-meal dish. Oops).

We checked into the Hampton Inn, and I have to say, I've stayed at a lot of Hampton Inns, and they are always clean, friendly and accommodating, and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a mid-range place to stay. The downside is that neither the one we stayed at in Chapel Hill, nor the one in Wilmington, had a hot tub. Wah waaaaaaaah.

I knew from my experience this summer to be prepped for feeding myself breakfast, and sure enough, I had a yogurt and banana from the buffet, but everything else was off limits. It's a good thing I stocked up on Udi's muffins at Whole Foods.

Day 2 was head to the beach day, and Wilmington is about a two-hour trip from my sister's place, so we coffeed-up for the trek. When we got to Wrightsville Beach, parking was a nightmare, but thanks to the parking gods above, we found a fairly close spot. I had planned on bringing a cooler of snackies and letting this tide me over until dinner, because let's face it, I'm bad at planning lunch in the best of situations. Plus, I figured, the less I ate at restaurants, the better my chances of not getting sick. And when this is your hangout, you really aren't thinking about food.
The water was the perfect temp, the waves were gentle enough to play in, and I only got slightly sunburned. Win for me. And yes, that bag is full of nutritionally devoid snacks like Pirate's Booty. But I also brought fruit, so that counts. The only downside was that we were a ways away from the bathrooms, and they were pretty gross. I kept my fingers crossed I wouldn't have to spend much time in there.

We were hungry pretty early, so we opted for a late lunch on the way back to the hotel. Kady told me about Mellow Mushroom a while ago, and it was on Marlow's list of recs for me, too, so we gave it a go. We went to the location right off of the beach, and because it was so tiny, I was instantly terrified. Not to mention, everyone seemed like a bit of a beachbum hippie, which, no offense to said hippies, doesn't inspire confidence in cleanliness or responsibility. But my GF pizza came out tasty, so I ate up, and while I waited for the next two hours for a situation to, um, arise, it never did. The pizza was pretty yummy - they make their GF crusts out of bean flour, so it had a really interesting texture. The veggies were fresh, and it wasn't real heavy on the sauce. And I was starving, so even if it tasted like a shoebox, I would have snarfed it down willingly. The only downside was that their GF crust only comes in medium, so while I did a fair amount of damage, I couldn't finish the whole thing.

After some showering at the hotel, we went into downtown Wilmington to walk around and get some fro-yo. The downtown area is adorable, with lots of little boutique-y shops (and a ton of tattoo parlors?), so we spent some time browsing before heading to the Fuzzy Peach for dessert. I had done my homework ahead of time, so I knew most of their flavors were gluten free, but it was still nice to see this sticker by the yogurt dispensers. Also, they had Nutella in a vat, with a pump, so I could have pretty much spent the rest of my trip in that store.

Beach day two was a little less successful, because rain moved in in the early afternoon. It was fine, because on the way back to the hotel, we stopped for some Italian ice, and I had one of the most hilarious encounters I've had regarding gluten.

Me, to kid behind counter: Hi! Can I please see your allergen menu?

Kid: Sure (goes to get it). What are you allergic to?

Me: Wheat - gluten.

Kid, staring at me like I am an alien: Um, wheat is in BREAD. Water is in ice.

I debated going into my schpiel about artificial flavorings and what not, but instead just trusted my instincts (and the Interwebs) and got the dang cherry ice. And no, my hand is not that gigantic, the cup was just eensy weensy.

After hosing off the sand, we headed out to do some shopping (yeah, we shop a lot) and get dinner. We picked Bonefish Grill, in part because of their gluten-free menu and in part because Alec Baldwin does their commercials. Once again, I was starving by dinner time, so I had no trouble taking down my steak. It's not in the picture, but they had a house salad that was AMAZING. It had artichoke hearts and the dressing was fabulously citrusy. And the sangria? Win. It had little bits of mango in it, and it was mixed with pomegranate juice. Lovely. I liked that Bonefish listed right on their gluten-free menu that all their wines, martinis and rocks drinks (which they considered the sangria) were all gluten free. I capped myself at one. But I probably could have had two. Or eight. Fantastic.

Monday was the last full day of our trip, and it was back to Chapel Hill for some more quality time in my sister's adopted town. We had more shopping (I know!) and I even risked lunch at Jason's Deli. We have them here in Illinois, too, and I am glad that I gave them a shot, because several of their soups are gluten-free, plus their chips, and their ice cream (very important). Some locations even have GF bread to make sammies with. I opted for their vegetable soup with tortilla chips (they gave me a sealed bag) and finished off with some yummy swirly ice cream. I forgot to take a before pic, but I think the after gets the point across, too. I did get a little squeamish after talking to the manager (accidentally, actually). He said he hated that they did the whole gluten-free thing, because it was a lot of pressure for the workers to do it right, and it created a lot of hassle, and people could still get sick. I told him that it meant a lot to folks like me that restaurants were willing to take that responsibility, and he seemed to take the compliment to heart.

Dinner Monday night was sort of the white whale of my gluten-free life. We went to Maggiano's, to have dinner with my sister's friend. A little background: I used to LOVE Maggiano's. There are a couple locations in my area, and it was kind of a go-to restaurant for family functions. Plus, they give you a boatload of pasta to take home, so eating one meal there gets you like 3 more. I had heard they were good with the gluten free thing, but I was terrified, because as long as I didn't try, it wouldn't make me sick. And if it didn't make me sick, it wouldn't ruin the restaurant for me. Flawed logic, I know. But Kady wanted to give it a try, so we went. They don't have a gluten-free menu, per se, but they do have the chef come out and tell you what he can make for you. I had already decided what I wanted converted (their aglio pasta, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, yum), so he assured me that he could sub in gluten-free pasta. I was convinced, it was delicious, and it didn't make me sick. Hooray! It also didn't hurt that the only gluten-free dessert was creme brulee.

Let me tell you, when my plane touched back down in Chicago last Tuesday, and I had made it through the entire trip without getting sick? I did a little happy dance. Looks like another first I can successfully check off of my list!