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!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Three Things Thursday

You know what stinks about vacation? That it ends. I'm working up a post about the fun in the sun (and rain) that was had in North Carolina last weekend, but in the mean time, in-between time, here's three little bits to hold us all over.

1. You know how I pretty much am food-married to Sweet Ali's? Well, word on the street is that they have mozzarella cheese sticks now. Am I going to be trying them soon? You bet your marinara I am.

2. 'Member how Lady Gaga was all "gluten-free" blah blah blah a couple weeks ago? Yeah, well, she was totally snarfing down brewskis on a trip to Copenhagen. Lady Gaga, you're doing it wrong.

3. The University of Chicago is offering free celiac screenings. For serious. Totally free. You just have to register. The next screening they are doing is October 13. So if you are in Chicago, and want the chance to get tested FOR FREE, click on the link above to find out more details.