Thursday, March 28, 2013

Three Things Thursday

This Three Things Thursday is brought to you by four-day weekends.

1. It's amazing to have the aforementioned four-day weekend. It sucks when you are on the injured reserve during that period because, like a jackass, you give yourself whiplash pulling out of Whole Foods. Smooth move, Alissa. Thanks to the intervention of my fantastic chiropractor, at least I can sort of turn my head now. Sort of.

2. The issue of bullying really hit home with a lot of you guys in the community this past couple of weeks. I think Erica at Celiac and the Beast hit the nail on the head today with her post. Go read it, share it and let's all just hold hands and sing Kumbaya, without foodshaming each other, yes?

3. It's Easter weekend, so be careful out there with all those potentially gluteny treats. You can never go wrong with some good, ol' Peeps though. I know I'll be mowing through a few packs!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fab Finds: Glutino Toaster Pastries

I'm not a morning person. Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. My husband has referred to pre-8 a.m. me as "the spawn of Hitler and Satan." So every little bit of time I get to spend with my bed is beloved. It used to be, I could hit the snooze a few times, prep for work and stop for breakfast at McDonald's/Dunkin/Insert Any Option here. But now, now I have to think. And plan. And if it sounds like I'm whining, I am. As much as I'd love to enjoy an egg white omelet every morning, unless you're going to make it for me, it's not going to happen.

A couple months ago, I heard Glutino was working on a gluten-free toaster pastry. And when they released it, to Whole Foods only, I stalked my local (and local is still 15 miles away) Whole Foods pretty regularly. And every time I checked, the shelf was empty. These things were selling out as fast as they could stock them. That means they had to be good, right?

Two weeks ago, I had the joy of getting the last box of apple toaster pastries at my Whole Foods. It was a bit banged up, true, but it was there, and I took it home, proud that I didn't tear into it in the car. I do have some self-control.

But when I did  break open that box? I was very impressed, because you guys? These things are AMAZEBALLS.

The box claims it's "like biting into paradise," and I will agree, it's pretty close. I went in expecting them to taste like Pop-Tarts, which is a mistake. These aren't iced, but I don't think they need it. They aren't as sweet, and they don't taste as fakey as some of the toaster pastries I used to eat in embarrassingly large quantities. They are really more adult, I guess? For those of us with the, um, refined palate that a gluten-free diet often brings. The taste really reminds me of the apple pies you can get at McDonald's, but not all gluteny. They are no nutritional bargain, but as a treat, I think they're better for you than a lot of things. Full disclosure: these have been dessert for me more often than breakfast, so I still have my dilemma of being lazy and hungry.

 Pros: They taste fantastical. The crust is flaky, the filling is sweet and appley. They maintain their shape and texture, even after being tossed into my work lunch bag. When warmed up, they smell like what I imagine your grandmother's house smells like. I heart them.

Cons: They are about as easy to get ahold of as a special edition Beanie Baby in 1998. Plus, where "real" toaster pastries come two to a sleeve, these are one-shooters. And there's only five per box. So, basically my only complaint is I WANT MORE.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Take Time Tuesday


There's been a lot of negativity lately. We're in the midst of the winter that just won't end, and between stressing about celiac life and life in general, it's easy to get bogged down in the bad. So I think it's a perfect time to participate in something just plain good! Katie over at Live Life Half Full has started Take Time Tuesdays, and I encourage y'all to take part.

Live Half Full
This week, I'm grateful for:

1. The new bloggy friends I met when Kelly hosted a workshop on Sunday. Not only did I learn more about the blogging culture, I got to meet some pretty swell ladies! Thanks to Katie, Marcia, Emily, Maggie, Erica, Lauren, and of course, Kelly, for letting me hang out with you guys (and not making me run:)).

And a special appearance by Napoleon, Yorkie Dictator Extraordinaire
 2. The totally AMAZEBALLS gluten-free community I am a part of. Seriously. You guys all rock.

3. Clearance wine. I think that's pretty self-explanatory.


4. The nerdgasm brought on by a week of Game of Thrones and Walking Dead marathons. Goodbye, productivity. I'll see you next week. Maybe.

5. Animals doing funny things. Like this duck in a tree. I'm not sure why this is cracking me up so much today, but I thought I'd share.




Sunday, March 24, 2013

Good Surprises

It's been a week of surprising gluten-free finds. I had a conference last week for work, and like usual, I packed up my breakfast, snacks and lunch to bring with me, because even if I request a gluten-free meal, it usually equates to dry lettuce, and I'm so not into that right now. If I bring my own, I at least get something tasty and filling. And not lettucey in the least.

So you can imagine my surprise when I get to the conference, and right there on the continental breakfast table is a big bowl, marked GLUTEN FREE, of individually wrapped muffins and Glutino breakfast bars. I fought the urge to take ALL OF THE MUFFINS and instead politely snagged a single Glutino bar, blueberry, as proof of this treasure trove's existence. I got psyched thinking maybe they'd have a special GF lunch, but it wasn't in the cards.

I did, however, find the most gluten-free friendly vending machine I've ever seen. Kettle Chips, Popchips, Pirate's Booty, as well as Surf Sweets gummy worms and Larabars? What?

Is it sad that this was the most exciting part of the whole conference? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by gluten-free in a place you never expected?





Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gluten-Free Gluttons: Pinstripes

I never thought I'd use the words "bowling alley food" and "gluten free" in the same sentence. Seriously. Think about bowling alley food, and what comes to mind? Cheap, greasy, gluten-y food, yes?

Then clearly, you've never been to Pinstripes.

I hadn't either, until the husband decided that's where he wanted to go for his birthday last weekend. Luke had been several times as part of company outings, and raved that the place was new, clean and "as upscale as a bowling alley can be." Also, they have bocce ball, which I've never played. So, we booked a lane, called up some friends and headed out.

Originally, I was going to pull my usual stunt of eating pre-event, but after doing some research online, I found out that not only does Pinstripes have a gluten-free menu, they actually take it seriously. In fact, University of Chicago Celiac Disease Research Center has hosted fundraisers there before, and if it's good enough for University of Chicago, it's good enough for me. And, they have wine. Lots and lots of wine.


We were there on St. Patrick's Day, and they had a special going that anyone wearing green got a free game. We also had some nice folks on the lane next to us give us some bracelets that were good for free wine. Free wine is, in fact, the best wine.

The place itself is gorgeous, and unlike any bowling alley I've ever been in. It's more like a restaurant that just happens to have bowling lanes and bocce courts. One of the things I hate about most bowling alleys is the smell - you know, that stale smoke smell? Not a problem here. It actually smelled kind of vanilla-y. Go figure. I also liked that the balls were sparkly. I'm very easily impressed.

When it came time to order food, I opted for the gluten-free pizza, because when GF pizza is an option, I'll have two. I went with basic cheese, although the egg and asparagus pizza definitely piqued my interest. They've also got GF pasta dishes, chicken, ribs - it's a fairly well-rounded menu. They even had desserts. The waiter guaranteed me that they were careful with GF items, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I ate that whole danged pizza. It was really good, with a nice, crispy crust. I'm not sure what kind of flour blend they use, but it held up really well and had a yummy taste, too. And, it didn't make me sick. We have a winner.

I am a little sorry to say that even awesome surroundings and multiple glasses of wine can't help my bowling game. It looks like I'm never going to go pro. In fact, my friends suggested that maybe next time I should insist on bumpers. Despite my abysmal score (and the soreness in my arm the next day), it was a fantastic evening with fantastic people. We will be back, Pinstripes.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Advocacy is NOT Spandex

Meaning, it's not one-size-fits-all. Let me explain.

If you would have asked me a year and a half ago what my passion was, I would probably have stared blankly at you and uttered something incoherent about literacy or books or the like. Which is fine. I mean, more than fine. Those are important things. And professionally, I will fight tooth and nail to get books into the hands of the kids who need them.

But it wasn't until I got diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease that I really had a fire in my belly (that's a lie. I'd had a fire in my belly for like a decade. But it was a different kind of fire). Suddenly, I felt like I had a purpose. Angels sang, unicorns pranced and I decided I was being called to be a celiac advocate. I thought, "I'll start a blog! And change the world!"

When I turned to the Internet to find support and inspiration, I did - in spades. I found big blogs. I found little blogs. I found discussion boards, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, a surprising amount about gluten-free sex (is that a thing?) and a community that was as different as any other out there. Which was kind of cool, because it gave me a lot of space to find my particular brand of activism.


But taking on the role of advocate, that's where it gets tricky. What, exactly, does it mean to be an advocate? We can go standard dictionary definition, and my good buddy Merriam-Webster says that an advocate is:

1: one that pleads the cause of another  
2: one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal
3: one that supports or promotes the interests of another

That doesn't really define much, does it? I mean, I support a lot of things. Free speech. Nice shoes. Puppies. But this blog isn't devoted to any of those things, even if there are sometimes too many pictures of my dog. That definition, well, it's pretty vague. It doesn't state that to be a good advocate, you need to reach a large audience. It says nothing about Rafflecopter giveaways, or ads from sponsors. This definition doesn't point out that you have to have a lot of sway in certain circles, that you have to have expensive gear to photograph your gluten-free food, and it definitely doesn't say you have to be a bully. 

I choose humor, or at least, I try, to spread my message. Yeah, I like junk food. No, I do NOT love exercise. I'm obsessed with keeping myself as gluten-free as possible (just ask my incredibly patient, forgiving and HANDSOME husband). I'm not going to lecture you for not eating only whole foods, or only organic. I will get needlessly excited about Glutino toaster pastries, and gluten-free expos and bowling alleys where I can eat pizza. That's my advocacy. It might not be your advocacy, and that's cool. I still respect what you do, even if you are up running in the dark, or harvesting your own chickens or giving up chocolate.

The bottom line? We're all fighting the good fight. So keep on doing what you do - it's making more of a difference than you know.

Three Things Thursday

Wow, it's been one heckuva week around these parts. So, in light of yesterday's controversy, here are three things that should make us all feel warm and fuzzy.

1. The Gluten & Allergen Free Expo will be here in Chicago (well, technically Schaumburg) next month, so go ahead and get your tickets! I'll be there as an official blogger, but even if I wasn't going to be part of the GFAF Expo team, I'd still be going - seriously, so much gluten-free swag, it will make your little celiac hearts burst, in a good way.

2. My friends over at WEGO are urging health activists to blog in their Writer's Month Challenge in April. I signed up to participate, and I really hope I can make all 30 posts. Not familar with WEGO Health? Make sure to check them out, as well as all their Health Activist Award finalists (hey look! You've already visited one!). You just might learn something!


3. And, finally (because who doesn't love animals being cute?) here's some gratuitous Lola adorableness.

She's an old soul. An old, furry soul who likes to chase ice cubes.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An Open Letter to Jennifer Esposito

This post was inspired by the buzz last week that Jennifer Esposito was shopping a new reality TV series about her gluten-free bakery to E! What are your thoughts?

Dear Jennifer,
I've never met you, and chances are, I never will, although if I ever make it to New York, you can bet that I'll be visiting your bakery, because seriously? Yum. And if I ever do meet you, I'll probably invade all kinds of personal space to give you a hug, because after all you've been through, you need it. As a celiac soul sister, I felt terrible last fall when you were so publicly going through your situation with CBS. I'm thrilled that you chose to take your difficulty and make it your mission - I, too, chose advocacy instead of trying to hide my illness.When I heard you wanted to make a reality show about your new bakery, I was cautiously optimistic - reality TV is very seldom real, and with an often-misunderstood disease, I could only imagine the different directions it could go, and very few of them were positive. However, you've been so vocal, such a staunch believer in spreading the word about celiac, and I started to have a little more faith.
But then ... when I read that E! was the network of choice ... I just had to shake my head.
Really?
The network whose mission is to provide entertainment and gossip, home to folks like Kim Kardashian and Joan Rivers - you want them to choose how our serious illness is portrayed? I realize not every network is going to want to pick up a cupcake reality show - Food Network's been there, done that, as well as TLC.  But wasn't there someone, anyone, you could have pitched to that wasn't E!?
Jennifer, I don't doubt your commitment to our cause. I know how hard it is to try to balance a career and a chronic illness. But I really do question your judgement here. There is no way that a network like E!, whose bread and butter is creating drama, will ever, ever portray celiac as a legitimate disease with heartbreaking effects. It's going to be reduced down to nothing but dramatics, and after so many people have worked so hard to shake that reputation, it feels a little bit like a slap in the face. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we don't come off as a giant joke, but I'm not optimistic.

Please prove me wrong.

Sincerely,
Alissa

Chicago GFAF Expo - Countdown is on!

When I heard that the fine folks of the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo were looking for official bloggers for their Chicago event, I *had* to throw my hat in the ring. The expo last year was so much fun, I knew I'd be attending ... and likely gushing about it. So why not do it as a part of the team?

And now, it's official - you can come catch up with me at the Expo! I kind of feel like I've been asked to sit at the "cool kids" table, and I can't wait to meet some of my favorite bloggers in person. I will try to keep the word-vomiting, fan-girliness to a minimum, but no promises.

Plus, I'll be bringing you info on some of the newest GF products, companies and brands - I found a lot of new favorites last year, and I can only imagine that this year is going to be even better.

If you're gluten-free, I cannot recommend this event enough. Seriously. Keep April 20 & 21 open, buy your tickets now and get ready for an awesome time!The list of vendors is tres impressive, not to mention all of the great seminars, classes and GF personalities rounding out the two-day event.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Fab Find: Alterna Hair Care

When I was a bridesmaid for my buddy's wedding over the summer, my main goal was to be supportive and not get sick. I really had no intention of finding any awesome products, because I wasn't looking for them.

So when I sat down in the salon chair, my hairspray from home in hand, I really didn't expect the stylist to ask me about my "allergy." When I told her I was gluten free, I expected the typical reaction ("really? I would diiiiiie if I couldn't eat bread/cookies/cake!"). What I didn't expect was for her to hand me a can of hairspray. Turns out, the salon had just started carrying Alterna's Bamboo line - which, by the way, is gluten free. And paraben free. And pthalate free. To say I was excited was a bit of an understatement. I bought a can of the hairspray to take home with me and planned to hunt Alterna down either via the Interwebs or at a salon near me.

The very next weekend, I happened to be stumbling through Ulta with my sister, longingly glancing at the now-off limits makeup I used to purchase like a drag queen on payday. But before I could get too "woe is me," I stumbled upon Alterna's whole Bamboo line in the fancy shampoo aisle. I picked a couple new products to sample, and I'm really glad I did. I ended up taking home their Super Natural Curl Cream and Uplifting Root Blast.   
 
Pros: Well, gluten free ranks pretty high up there, and it's nice that it's also so enviro-friendly in other ways. Plus, it actually works pretty well. I love the hairspray better than most I had used before, and the can lasted a surprisingly long time (I just bought the second one a couple of weeks ago - six months for a can of hairspray? I'll take it). I'm also a big fan of the curl cream - it works well for smoothing out my wayward locks after I blow dry or heat style. It, too, has lasted forever. The volumizing spray is probably the only thing I wouldn't buy again, just because I don't feel like it made a huge difference.

Cons: Much like the rest of the gluten-free world, it's a tad on the pricey end. But it is a salon-quality product, so I would say it's not more expensive than Fekkai or Bedhead or anything.  The smell of the rootlifter is not my favorite - it's got kind of a dude smell. Not that it's bad, I just like smelling girly.

Overall, I would definitely recommend checking out the line. Just be careful - while I know the Bamboo line is gluten free, I'm not sure about the other products they offer. So, you know, read the labels.
  












Thursday, March 14, 2013

Three Things Thursday

1. If you have one nearby, check out Big Lots. While the store is pretty hit or miss in what they carry, you can find some pretty neat things there. A couple weeks ago, I grabbed a few (okay, seven) bags of Bob's Red Mill GF pizza crust mix for - get this - $1.77 per bag. I cried, for the beauty was so great. They typically carry the pizza mix as well as other Bob's products, plus you can find good deals on things like olive oil, Nutella, and many other wonderful things. Today's haul for me included a snazzy new lunchbox and some new markers (yeah, I'm six, what of it?).

2. Loads of fun and yummies were apparently had at the Natural Products Expo West last week, and Erica at Celiac and the Beast has all the details for you. Look for a cameo by my new favorite GF treat, Glutino toaster pastries.

3. I'll be attending the filming of Jen Cafferty's Living Free TV this weekend. I'm really excited to see what kind of guests she has, but I'm pretty confident that they'll be great (Jen is the brains behind Gluten Free/Allergy Free Expo - more on that in another post).

3.5 This weekend is Luke's birthday, and I think a trip to Glen Prairie and Sweet Ali's are in the cards. How lucky am I to have a guy who wants to celebrate his day at my favorite places? (Answer: Pretty danged lucky).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Three Things Thursday

Well, hello there, Thursday. It was a short week for me, thanks to a mini-vacay last weekend and a snow day on Tuesday. More weeks should be three-day work weeks, don't you think?

1. Today is National Cereal Day. Though I had to break up with most of my old favorite cereals (suddenly the blog title makes more sense, no?), I've developed an unhealthy love of Chocolate Chex. Any GF cereals that are rocking your world?

2. Tickets are now on sale for the University of Chicago's Spring Flours benefit. Unless I somehow inherit a fairy godmother between now and then, I'll be skipping it this year, but this gluten-free gala comes highly recommended - and the proceeds go to my favorite research center, so there's that. If you have the funds, and are looking for a delicious good time, check it out.

3. I think I discovered the root of my feeling crummy the last few weeks - and I'm pretty sure suffering, thy name is oatmeal. Even though I picked up a GF brand, some studies are showing that a small percentage of celiacs just can't tolerate oats. So eating a couple packets, several times a week, may NOT have been the best idea. Here's hoping that's the answer ... otherwise, back to the doctor for this kid.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

GF Road Trip: Peoria

I'm getting to be a pro at this whole road trip thing. After having to take a couple of trips to central Illinois last summer, I found myself back in good ol' Peoria this weekend. And because I've been there, done that, I got a little lax in my planning. It all worked out in the end, but it reinforced some things to remember in the future for road trips:

1. Don't assume anything. Seriously. Luke and I stayed at the same hotel we did on our last visit, the closest thing Peoria has to an upscale joint, and it included a breakfast fit for royalty. Well, for most people. For me, it included a banana and yogurt. But I banked on that banana and yogurt, and when breakfast time came this trip, there were none to be found. Luckily, I had a couple of muffins and some applesauce in hand, otherwise it would have made for a hangry morning.

2. It's not fun to eat JUST because it's gluten free. We planned on lunching and dinnering at a joint I had loved in college, known for its hippie sensibilities, amazing hummus and carafes of sangria. The problem was, even though they have several GF options, nothing really looked good to me. So after inhaling the hummus for lunch, we opted to find a place with more variety for dinner. I realize that I was lucky to have multiple options, and if this would have been the only GF place in town, I would have had to suck it up and eat something I didn't love, as long as it was safe.

3. You CAN be pleasantly surprised. We were out in a shopping center I'd not really frequented in my undergrad days, when what to my wandering eye should appear but a little health food store. I brought a ton of food down with me, but couldn't resist checking the place out and found myriad awesome GF products I hadn't seen before, including Kinnikinnick K-Toos (which taste so much like Oreos I've had to hide them from Luke) and some delightfully pumpkiny Desert Essence lotion (never tried Desert Essence before - totally a convert now).

4. Keep your smarts about you. We picked Biaggi's for dinner, since I love our location up here. And my server was great and knowledgeable, and I felt totally confident eating there. The wine helped. That said, we ventured back for lunch the next day. Different server. Different feeling. I didn't get glutened, but I did not feel as confident as I had the day before, and when the server packed up our leftovers, he definitely slung my sister's (non GF) pizza crumbs all over mine. Needless to say, no leftovers for me.

5. Much like a Boy Scout, always be prepared. Even though we had a list of safe restaurants, access to grocery stores for fresh fruits and veggies, and a microwave AND refrigerator in our room, I still over-packed food. And I'm glad. Because I didn't know we'd run into the central ILL equivalent of Whole Foods. And if I would have relied on restaurants and the hotel to feed me, I may very well have been hungry, or at least unsatisfied.

All in all, I had a nice weekend trip away, and it makes me feel like possibly braving another one in the future. Do you have any road trip staples? Are they all cookies?