Monday, July 30, 2012

Fab Find: Red Mango

When I was little, I thought it would be the COOLEST thing to work in a place that had soft serve ice cream dispensers. To me, she who dispensed the ice cream held the power. When we would go for family dinner to Old Country Buffet, I couldn't wait for it to be dessert time so I could fill my little bowl up ALL BY MYSELF (let's not lie. I could never wait for dessert time, regardless of what was being served).

I was easily impressed as a child.

Then, last year when I went to Wilmington, we found an awesome little frozen yogurt shop that was self-serve, and I was six years old again, and excited that I got to fill my bowl up ALL BY MYSELF. Not to mention the array of toppings they had. It was glorious.

When we got back to Chicago, Emily, my darling baby sister, discovered a place locally called Red Mango that was essentially the same concept - self-serve soft-serve, all frozen yogurt, all the time. Then suddenly it was winter, and I had no desire to eat ANYTHING frozen, and then I was diagnosed and frozen yogurt was the last thing I was thinking about as I struggled to find *real food* to eat.

Summer rolls back around, and my sister texts me one day that Red Mango has gluten free flavors. I put it on my list to check out, and even ALMOST made it in a couple of times, but got sidetracked, most likely by something shiny.

Last night, as we settled in to watch the Olympics, it just seemed to be a fro-yo type of night, so Em and I trekked to Red Mango, finally.

I did my research before we went, and was thrilled to discover that ALL of their frozen yogurt flavors are gluten free, and that they work with the Gluten Free Certification Organization to make sure they are certified. The toppings, not so much, but since you get to serve yourself out of the little soft-serve machines, the risk for cross contamination is so small I was willing to risk it. Plus, they have loads of great flavors that rotate out seasonally (I think I may live in the shop in October when they bust out the pumpkin spice flavor), and you can mix and match whatever flavors you like. Last night, I opted for a vanilla-mango mix, but Emily had some sort of fruity lemonade concoction.

Unfortunately, there isn't one of these too close by me, but there is one not far from my parents' house, and in downtown Naperville, which we frequent on shopping trips. And a new one is being put in nearer to my house ... across from a new Whole Foods opening this fall. That sounds dangerous to me. Also expensive. But very delicious.

So, Red Mango is getting a thumbs up from me. The best part? The "normies" can eat there, too.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Celiac Is Turning Me into a Big, Ol' Softy

I have a new buddy. He's 11 years old.
We have loads in common - we both like dinosaurs, books, and birthdays.
And we both have celiac.

I met him when I was doing a school visit to promote our summer reading program, and he asked if any of our treats were going to be gluten-free. We fist pounded, and he promised to make me gluten-free lasagna, and thus a friendship was born. I got to meet his mom and dad a few weeks ago, and they were incredibly helpful in telling me local joints to grab a bite from, GF products that taste like shoes, and how to use GF Bisquick & Glutino cookies to make a deep-fried Oreo knock-off.

I know I am not supposed to have favorite kids (spoiler alert: anyone who works with kids and tells you they don't have favorites IS A BIG FAT LIAR), but alas.

The reason I mention this is that this past week, my new pal had a birthday. He stopped by the library to say "hi," showed me his new Pokemon toy, and basically just entertained the crap out of me for a good 20 minutes.

And when he left, I went into the bathroom and cried.

I don't know if I cried for this child who will not have a fancy Funfetti cake for his birthday, or if I cried because I won't get to have a fancy Funfetti cake on mine. I couldn't tell you if those tears came from my heart breaking for this little boy who seems so much more normal and brave than I ever feel, or if I was crying for my potential children, who have a good chance of ending up in the same boat. Having this disease is awful as an adult. It's alienating, and painful, and lonely, and people get sick of hearing you talk about gluten-free this or celiac-that, and I cannot fathom doing this as a child. But instead of being mopey or pitiful, my new buddy is just like any other kid I come in contact with - bubbly, funny, adorable. He just has to eat gluten-free and sometimes uses a wheelchair to get around.

I learned a pretty big lesson about pity parties this week. Turns out, birthday parties are way more fun.




Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three Things Thursday: Achy Edition

Dear celiac,
Please stop rearing your ugly head when I have stuff to get done.
Regards,
Alissa

That's sort of the letter I wanted to send today, 'cept who would I send it to? My intestines? My muscles? My headache? Maybe University of Chicago, since they are down with all the celiac-ness?
Don't mean to whine, but before I had a diagnosis, I felt crappy all the time, but it was pretty much the same level of crappy every day. I knew what to expect. Now, I can feel fine one day and completely un-fine the next. Grrr.

Anyway, here's three. They're probably more random than usual, since I am a bit out of it.

1. Thank God for understanding co-workers. Seriously. I have not been fun to put up with over the course of the past ... um... six months or so, and yet they are still kind and caring and wonderful and find someone to cover your shift when you feel not so awesome. Soon I will repay you with goodies. Promise.

2. Since I took a sick day today, it gave me lots of time to tackle the laundry that has been mounting for a few weeks. I found a couple of shirts I totally forgot I bought. Oopsies. Side note: I have way too many clothes if I can go a few weeks without doing laundry. Spoiled much?

3. I never really experienced much joint pain before going gluten free. Sure, I would have back pain allllll the time, and occasionally my knees would give me problems (turns out I am genetically programmed to be a mess. Who knew?). But now, some days I look like I am T-rexing all day. Am I too young for arthritis?

Hope everyone enjoys this last weekend of July (to be heretofore known as the Hottest Freaking Month on Any Planet, Ever).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Bucket List ... a Little Late

Way back in May I had the glorious idea (read: saw it on another blog) that I wanted to create a bucket list for the summer, since every year we get to September and the only *real* thing I've accomplished is kvetching about the heat.
So then May goes by. Same with June. And most of July. And really all I've done is kvetch about the heat. Oops.
But there's still about a month-plus left of summer in Chi-town, so here goes:
1. Eat ice cream on the back porch.
2. Go to the beach (this will be happening in August when I head to North Carolina).
3. Run through a sprinkler.
4. Go on a bike ride somewhere new.
5. Make sangria at home.
6. Go to the zoo.
7. Have a water balloon fight.
8. Spend a whole day in the pool.
9. See a summer blockbuster (I'm looking at you, Batman).
10. Master my grill.

Not a whole lot of time left to get these bad boys checked off, but I am more than willing to give it a go. Anybody have any suggestions of summer must-dos?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day in the Life: Six Months In

Man, time flies when you are avoiding gluten. Seems like just yesterday, I was living my carbolicious life without a care in the world (you know, 'cept where the nearest bathroom was)(oh and also being malnourished)(and constantly having infections of the ears and sinuses). But, boy, could I take down the pizza.

I did one of these right after I started the new lifestyle (not diet - diets are for celebrities), so I thought it was time to do a follow up, six months in.

6:00 a.m.: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze. No longer can blame anemia. Just laziness.
7:00 a.m.: Begrudgingly get up. Dog and husband snore on. Curse the fact that going gluten-free did not suddenly give me Energizer Bunny energy.
7:15 a.m.: Having just showered with my gluten-free shampoo, my gluten-free conditioner and my gluten-free body wash, I slap on some gluten-free moisturizer and apply gluten-free products to hair. Gluten freely, of course. Continue on with gluten-free makeup. Sensing a trend?
7:30 a.m.: Decide that since it will be 800 degrees today, hair is going up. Try to find least heat-stroke inducing ensemble for work, while still maintaining my dignity and avoiding indecent exposure. Curse summer.
8:00 a.m.: Quick breakfast before work. Toasted Udi's with some over-easy eggs and juice. Yay, breakfast. Try to "forget" to take vitamins, but am stopped by Health Police husband. Make iced coffee to take to work and rush to get there on time. Am late. But caffeinated. Very important.
10:30 a.m.: Sing songs and read stories to all the leetle cheeeldren. Discover most of them feel the same way I do about heat. Commiserate in big, whiny circle. Inner three-year-old is appeased.
12:00 p.m.: Uh-oh. Hitting the worst time of day for me. Starving panda! Also remarkably poor at lunch planning. Eat fruit and KIND bar and curse celiac for taking away my right to be lazy at lunch. Still hungry. Sigh.
3:00 p.m.: Temperature in building is near triple digits. Humidity is near 90 percent. I am near point of actually melting. Consider putting ice in undergarments. Remember I will be hosting tweens for a program and decide giant wet spots not worth the ridicule of 11-year-old girls. Sweat.
4:00 p.m.: Time for tween program. Regretting the decision to make candy sushi as craft, as am still hungry and all components are tainted by gluten. Stupid Rice Krispies Treats. Why you no gluten free?
5:00 p.m.: Program over. Temptation vanquished. Feel sense of accomplishment. Also possibly heat stroke.
7:00 p.m.: World's Best Husband makes me steak tacos. Eat with a fervor that would scare Joey Chestnut. Also decide Guy Fieri's secret salsa ingredient must be cocaine. Get to bottom of chip bag and breathe.
9:00 p.m.: Relax on couch catching up on DVR-ed Food Network shows. Start fantasizing about all the awesome meals I am going to make when it cools down enough to turn the oven on.Salivate.
11:00 p.m.: Drop our AC down to "refrigerate" and head up to bed. Sleeeeeeeeep.



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Hola, my g-free amigos. Hope everyone is staying hydrated in this fourth circle of Hell we have been having this summer. Did I mention I don't do well in the heat? 'Cause I don't. Much like an indoor plant, I prefer my temps to be solidly within the 68-82 degree range. Any hotter or colder and I will crab at anyone who crosses my path.

Here are three non-weather related things. Enjoy.

1. There is nothing I love more than being mid-project. Doesn't matter what. If it is something of my choosing, I will throw myself into a new task like whoa. So when my husband and I made a deal to renovate the office (read: room full of misc. crap) in order to make it my new writing room, I was ecstatic. Right now, I am trying to think of some awesome writer-y quotes to decal on my (soon to be) bright blue walls. Anyone have any suggestions?

2. I will be taking a trip to visit my sis in North Carolina next month, and we'll be spending a couple of days in Chapel Hill, and a couple in Wilmington. If anyone knows any great gluten-free restaurants, you get 500 bonus awesome points and possibly my undying devotion.

3. If you love Game of Thrones (and really, who doesn't?), you have to check out this YouTube video. Homeboy's impressions are spot-on. Not safe for work, but hilarious:)


Friday, July 13, 2012

Fab Find: Nutella

It's been a while since I did one of these, which is really too bad, because I have found a TON of great stuff lately. I could probably write a book ... hmmm.

Anyway.

Nutella is one of those things that I had heard of before, but never tried. It always seemed gross to me.

So. Wrong.

We bought the first of many jars back in January, because I read it was gluten-free, and it seemed indulgent, and I was desperately looking for indulgent, gluten-free things. The first jar disappeared pretty quick. As did the second.

This chocolatey, hazelnutty deliciousness is great on toast (with a little coffee, it will make you feel tres French), on crackers, warmed up and drizzled over ice cream, or (my favorite) as the chocolate layer in your s'mores.

So this summery weekend, if you find yourself planning a camping trip or a backyard bonfire, grab a jar of Nutella, some of your favorite marshmallows and some graham crackers (I suggest Kinnikinnick S'moreables) and give it a try. You will thank me.

How to Be a Fabulous Matron of Honor - Gluten Free, Of Course


Everyone knows that a wedding is supposed to be about the bride and groom. Mostly the bride. So I was unsure how to tackle not only my first wedding gluten-free, but a wedding in which I was participating. At an out-of-town location. I stressed about it quite a bit (Me? Stress? Surely this is the first time!). I didn't want my homie to be worried about my wacky-celiacy, but at the same time, I knew I was going to have to be able to feed myself, away from home, for at least a couple of nights, all while feeling (or at least looking) fantabulous and making my gorgeous friend feel like the special bride she was. No small task.

Jaime, the bride, and I
What got me through it?

Planning. Lots of planning. And maybe just a tiny bit of luck.

Hotel Stay
I love love LOVE staying in hotels. It's one of my favorite things to do. I like the change of scenery. I like making a mess that someone else has to clean up. I like jacking the AC up as high as it will go so it feels like sleeping in a refrigerator. I especially love it when my hotel has both a fridge/freezer and a microwave, so that I can haul down a cooler full of breakfast foods and snacks. It certainly made it easier knowing that I had absolute control over at least a few of my meals. We were lucky to stay in a place that also gave us comped drinks (hello, wine at 4 p.m.) and had a great breakfast spread ... or so Luke told me. I took my own food down to eat with him, but the only option they really had for me was fruit and yogurt. I was really glad I had planned for it, instead of just hoping for the best.

Luke is my gluten watchdog

Rehearsal Dinner
When my buddy told me where the rehearsal dinner was, she told me they didn't seem really gluten-free friendly, but that I could have a salad, which, as most of you probably have gathered by now, is not my favorite thing to do. I planned on showing up to the dinner, but not eating, saving my appetite for a gluten-free friendly restaurant I had dined at before. Luke and I were planning on ducking out early enough to still make it over to that place while their kitchen was open. But when we got to the country club, my ballsy husband marched right up to the hostess counter and demanded to speak to the chef. My hubby arranged for the chef to cook me up an off-menu, totally gluten-free meal on the spot. Yeah, it was a grilled chicken breast and baked potato, but it was sustenance. And it was gluten free. And I was swoony over my darling husband. Love is always keeping your wife fed, safely. Put that on a mug.

Bridal party, post ceremony. We'd been out in the heat for more than four hours at this point, and the temp peaked at 107 degrees during the ceremony. But we all still look pretty good!
Wedding Reception
I was terrified of the wedding day. I swear, I was more nervous about this one than I was about my own. We were outside for several hours in the heat for pictures and the ceremony, which didn't help (hello 107 degrees at ceremony time). My friend had assured me that she spoke to the caterers at the hall, and that several components of the meal would be gluten free. But I was skeptical, as I am wont to be. So I made myself some pasta salad and fruit, all ready to go in the hotel room right next door to the reception hall, and Luke was once again at the ready to go fetch me something edible while I did my bridal party duties. We even brought cupcakes from Sweet Ali's, so that I could enjoy the cake time, too.
Sure enough, I give my speech (it was fab, by the way), we get seated for dinner ... and it's a buffet. Huge red flag for me. Now, even if some of the components were gluten free originally, they could have been tainted with all manner of OTHER nonsense. I panicked. And once again, Luke marched himself right up to the chef, who assured him that at the bride's request, the steak dish, the sides (except for the pasta) and the salad were all gluten free. She demanded it. So I hugged my thoughtful newly-wed friend, dug into the food (I got to go first, yay!) and ate to my little heart's content. Topped it off with a salted caramel cupcake (Sweet Ali's, I can't quit you!) and made it through the whole weekend without getting glutened.

 
Bottom line? The wedding weekend went off without a problem, two of my favorite people are now hitched, and everything was gorgeous. Now the heat exhaustion that took me down Sunday is another story...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Three Things Thursday

Okay, the nuttiest part of my summer is sorta behind me now, so I should be back to posting more often than just on Thursdays. In theory.

1. Last week was Fourth of July, and I created an *awesome* gluten-free, not-a-mix pina colada. Unfortunately, because of consuming multiples of said pina coladas, I have no clue the quantities of each thing I used. But my ingredients included: ice, coconut milk, coconut cream, rum, banana, pineapple juice and pineapple for garnish. Just play around with the proportions until you find something that makes you feel this happy:
Me, on the left, with my two sisters. Can you tell we are all related?
2. It always seems that about this time of the summer, after suffering through triple-digit feeling heat, I start longing for the cool crispness of fall and apples and Halloween and delightfulness. Does anyone else feel that way already, too? I need to start cultivating a repertoire of delicious g-free fall foods. All must include apples. A gf knockoff of a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte that tastes the same might actually score you a prize. And my everlasting affection.

3. So. After being *so proud* of myself for keeping my plants alive ... well, we got hit with some pretty bad storms a couple of weeks ago, and my back porch sorta looked like the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, but instead of soldiers, our carnage was plants. I tried, gardening, I tried. Looks like I will be attempting again next year.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Three Things Thursday: Rushed Edition

Hi kids, sorry for the absence this week, been busy with the Fourth, as well as some wedding shopping for my sister, and actual wedding festivities for my college roommate. But I haven't missed a Thursday yet!

1. I don't care how old you are. Fireworks are awesome.

2. I should be writing a maid of honor speech right now. Instead, am thinking of using the speech from Independence Day.

3. Starbucks has a coffee bigger than a venti. It's called a trenta, and they don't list it on the menu. Life-changing knowledge.