Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three Things Thursday

Here's what's happening this week:

1. After my post earlier this week about getting cross-contaminated at work, I had a lot of helpful responses, here on the blog, in a Facebook support group I belong to, and, probably most importantly, from my boss and coworkers. I had been walking on pins and needles about approaching everyone, because I feared it would make me come off as high maintenance, but everyone was so supportive, and we've put some new rules in place to keep me from getting sick. Which is awesome. I think the fact that I work with a small group of people helps - I honestly can't imaging trying to function gluten-freely in a huge office. I think the fact that I coincidentally brought in some Starbucks freebies for everyone earlier in the day helped.

2. I read an awesome book last week that I highly recommend. It's called Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley, and it's a great read for anyone living with food restrictions. She's got quite the list of (anaphylaxis-inducing) food allergies, but instead of being a whiny trope about how the world should accommodate those of us with dietary issues, she offers a realistic look at how she lives her life. It's funny, frustrating and one of the most sincere pieces I've read on the topic.

3. This has nothing to do with gluten at all, but I recently discovered Archer on Netflix. Needless to say much of my free time this week has been sucked up by it. Damn you, Netflix, and your instant access to things I never knew I'd always wanted. Between that and my Amazon Prime instant view, I'm probably never getting anything done again ever.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Need to Sit at the Allergy-Free Lunch Table

My Facebook news feed and Feedly reader have been inundated this week with back-to-school related posts.

There are tons of posts about what to take as a lunch, how to eat healthy for lunch, how to trick a kid into liking kale for lunch.

But, what about being an adult, working with other adults in a tiny shared space? How do you do it then?

A little background: My library is being renovated, and we've been in a temporary location for going on 18 months (strangely enough, my diagnosis came the week after we moved in). It's a great building, but a lot smaller than we had been used to, and with not a lot of staff space. So instead of offices, we have ... public desks. And instead of a break room, we have a small utility room, big enough for a sink, small fridge and microwave cart. To be shared among a staff of about 20 people.
Back in the winter, around the same time I discovered that oatmeal and I were not meant to be lovers, I also noticed myself getting sick post-lunch at work several days each week. Using my deductive skills (read: obsessive tendencies), I figured out that after I would nuke my lunch in our small, shared microwave, within a couple of hours, I'd be feeling my mild glutening symptoms. I did some research, and apparently, it is possibly to get cross-contaminated by a microwave, so I stopped using it, and I stopped getting sick after lunch every day.

Until recently. I have gotten sick at work twice in the past week. Twice. And, folks, let me tell you, taking up residency in a public bathroom, with the toddlers you read stories to sticking their tiny, wiggly fingers under the door and peering in the cracks while singing "hi, library lady!" does not help the already craptastical feelings that come along with (albeit mild) glutening.

I've been re-tracing all of my steps, trying to figure out how I'm getting got. I'm not using the microwave. I have a Keurig that's shared with a few people, but we all use vetted K-cups, and I clean it before I use it each time. I bring my own utensils, plates, cups, EVERYTHING, and they stay in my zipped tote until time to eat. I *know* the food I am bringing is GF, and there hasn't been anything new I've introduced. I'm at a loss.


I do realize that I share a tiny, tiny space with other people. Other not gluten-free people. Other people who may not intentionally be slinging crumbs from God knows what in every direction, but, um, are. And my co-workers, for the most part, are an incredibly considerate bunch. They bring me Alissa-approved snacks, defend me when I need defending, and one has threatened physical violence to anyone who "tries to give Alissa stomach cancer." They all mean well, mostly, so it makes it even harder.

This isn't meant to sound whiny - I'm genuinely curious on how to approach this problem without sounding like a complete douchecanoe. I'm getting to be terrified to eat at work, and that's just can't happen. I need to take in calories to function.

I know there have got to be other people in a similar boat. So your advice? Much needed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Three Things Thursday

Have you ever gotten so bogged down in food routine that you sort of get sick of eating? We're experiencing dinner burnout in my house right now, which means it's time for us to test out some new recipes. Luke and I have been relying on the old standards a little too much lately, so if you have any AMAZING recipes, please share. In the mean time, here are three good food things we've experienced this week (and I'm not including the Fruity Pebbles that were dinner last night - now with neon colors, so your colon can be seen from space).

1. You know how sometimes you eat something GF, and it tastes so. much. like something gluteny you grew up with that you sorta tear up and have a moment? That happened to me this week with a peach "cobbler" I made. My mom used to make it all the time - very simple, just canned peaches, butter and yellow cake mix. Regular ol' Duncan Hines. It never occurred to me to try it with the GF Betty Crocker mix until Tuesday, and I could tell from the smell, before I even tasted a bite, that it was going to be good. Could have been the nostalgia, could have been the wine I'd had with dinner, but seriously, I thought I was going to cry. For those of you who want to play along at home, here's how to make it.
Step 1: Pour a couple cans of peaches into a well-greased 9 by 9 pan.
Step 2: Dump GF yellow cake mix over the peaches. You want to use the whole box, but make sure it spreads out evenly.
Step 3: Melt a stick of butter and pour over cake mix. Just do it, no one said it was going to be healthy.
Step 4: Pop in oven at about 350 for 45 minutes or so.
Step 5: Serve with ice cream. Eat with face.

2. We got the opportunity to dine at Stephanie Izard's diner-style restaurant Little Goat on Friday, and other than feeling like country bumpkins in what is apparently Hipster Central, we had a great experience. I opted for some GF pancakes, but they have a ton of non-gluteny options, and the waiter assured me that when the order goes in the computer, there are "like six exclamation points" so the kitchen knows to take it seriously. Also, I got to enjoy a smoked pork and toffee milkshake. Smoked pork. Toffee. Milkshake.

3. While moving my baby sister into her big-kid dorm last week, we took a lunch break at Biaggi's, which is easily one of my favorite places for safe, yummy GF dining. While we were waiting for our food (and I happily noshed on the GF flatbread), the chef came out to the table to tell us he'd had an accident. I wondered what manner of accident requires my intervention (is there a reference question that needs to be answered? A picture book that must be read aloud? Dear God, do we need glitter?), but he simply confessed that after making my GF pizza, he'd accidentally used the REGULAR pizza cutter on it. He was remaking it, and wanted to let me know there would be a few minute holdup on my food. I was incredibly impressed that he a) understood the severity of using separate utensils for GF food, and b) took it on himself to tell me about it, instead of passing the original off. I gushed pretty hard at the manager for it - yay for Biaggi's for taking cross contamination seriously.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fab Find: Tummydrops

My dad, in his infinite wisdom, believes there is nary a stomach ailment that cannot be cured with Mentos and 7-Up (though not too closely together, you wouldn't want to explode). And though I'm pretty sure that's not 100 percent accurate, there is science backing up the use of mint (and ginger) to soothe your stomach.

Since going gluten-free, my stomach is not the warzone it once was, but I do still have some acid reflux to contend with, and my nerves make me a twitchy mess more often than I'd like to admit. I'm trying to get away from popping Tums and their ilk like they are candy, and looking for more natural ways to soothe my innards, so when the folks at Enteral Health contacted me to see if I would like to review their Tummy Drops, I thought I'd give them a try, but I didn't expect to be so thoroughly impressed.

Tummydrops come in two varieties - ginger and peppermint. What's nice about both flavors is that they *actually* taste like real peppermint and real ginger, probably because these bad boys are made with *actual* peppermint oil and ginger. They are all natural, gluten free, and kosher. They've also been formulated by real, live, board-certified gastroenterologists. They taste yummy, and they genuinely do help with upset stomach issues. Let me just say, I love Tummydrops so much that I keep both the peppermint and ginger varieties in my purse, and I've been handing them out to everyone I know who complains of the slightest stomach ailment (or who needs a mint, ifyouknowwhatImean), like a granny handing out hard candies. What can I say, I'm a pusher. Enteral also claims these drops are awesome for pregnant ladies battling morning sickness, so if you or someone you know is having that issue, you might want to give these a try. I myself am not a prego lady, but as someone who is already dreading that part of the child-spawning party, I'm glad to know about these.

Want to try some Tummydrops for yourself? These amazeballs little drops are available from Amazon, and if you click the link in my sidebar and use the code, you can get $3 off. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Three Things Thursday

If this Three Things comes off a little ... disjointed, it's because I have a few days of absolute insanity in front of me. The excitement of that, plus a new allergy med, makes coherent sentences kind of difficult. But, alas.

1. Today, I move my baby sister into her dorm for her freshman year of college. This seems impossible to me, because there are almost a dozen years between us, and wasn't I just moving in? Odd. Anyway. It's going to be a rough adjustment for me having her far away now, since she was my go-to for pretty much all weekend plans. But I'm incredibly proud of her, and I know she's going to love college life. So, good luck Emily!

2. Luke and I will be venturing downtown on Friday afternoon, and we're planning on trekking to Little Goat for lunch. I have been absolutely longing to try the GF pancakes that Frannycakes blogged about a while back, so that thought alone will be what gets me through today. Did I mention, move-in is rough?
3. Continuing on with my quest to make it into the city more often, I'm getting to try the bounty of the GF Cassava with a friend on Saturday. I've heard good things, so I'm psyched to get to try it. They had me at bacon and cheese roll.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Three Things Thursday

There's been a lot happening in the gluten-free world lately. I'm going to go out on a limb and say they're all pretty good things, but here's the TTT breakdown.

1. FDA passes gluten-free labeling law: I got a bit of backlash last week when I posted some of my concerns about the new ruling, but I still hold to it that this is a GOOD thing, in theory. I'm going to have to see how it plays out in practice. I was surprised that no one really shared my concern - most of the negative feedback I saw about the ruling was about how 20 ppm is still too much. I'll be really interested to see what happens in the next year on this.

2. Tim Horton's releases gluten-free macaroon: Man, I love Canada. Hockey, maple syrup, Tim Horton's ... and now I have even more reason to love those dang Canucks. The nice people at Tim Horton's sent me a sample recently of the new GF macaroon. It's certified by the GFCO, and individually wrapped. Also, it tastes like angels singing. I don't particularly like the texture of coconut, but I could easily get hooked on these. Sadly, there is not a TH anywhere near where I live. Which is probably good for both my waistline and my wallet. And also another reason to go to Canada.

3. Celiac disease is serious and can give you cancer: It was all over the news last week and earlier this week that untreated celiac disease can lead to lymphoma. Which, if you have celiac disease, you are well aware of. But so often we're bombarded with "news" stories about gluten-free being trendy, or celebs doing it to get skinny, so it was nice this week to hear the more serious side come out. And yes, I fought the urge to send links to the articles to everyone who gives me crap, with the subject line "SEE? IT'S A THING!!!"

Friday, August 2, 2013

FDA Makes Life Easier, I Think?

I'm back from my blogging vacation, and just in time, because something sort of awesome happened today.

You can read more about it here, but in a nutshell, the FDA has *finally* laid down some rules about gluten-free labeling.

Direct quote:
"It requires that, in order to use the term 'gluten-free' on its label, a food must meet all of the requirements of the definition, including that the food must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The rule also requires foods with the claims 'no gluten,' 'free of gluten,' and 'without gluten' to meet the definition for 'gluten-free.'"

So what does that mean? Well, it means that if a company is going to plaster the phrase "gluten-free" on its products, they better dang well be ACTUALLY gluten-free, and have the test results to prove it.

Yeah, this is kind of a big deal. Because right now? Anyone can call any product gluten-free, all willy-nilly, even if it's a bag of wheat, with no consequences.

Theoretically, once this goes into effect, you can pick up anything that SAYS gluten-free and it will BE gluten-free, at least to 20 ppm, which is what most studies consider "safe" for celiacs. And that will be great.

The new rules, though, are optional - only necessary IF a company wants to label their product as gluten-free. But what about the companies that don't want to pony up the cash to test their products? Testing is expensive, and while I *know* I need to verify every single thing I put in my mouth, I will admit that I have been guilty of buying products that are labeled "gluten-free" without giving the Web site/customer service rep/Bible a consultation. I mean, clearly, I know to stay away from wheat/barley/rye/oats, but I don't always have the ability to Chinese water torture customer service reps about what constitutes "natural flavorings," or on some occasions, "artificial flavorings." (I know, so sue me. Sometimes I eat things that are fake. And save the lecture, I can't hear you over the sounds of my Skittles.) So sometimes, if I'm buying cheese, or pickles, or ice cream, and the container says GF, I blindly trust. If it doesn't, the product usually goes back on the shelf unless I can make heads or tails of the ingredient list.

A lot of the Aldi and Wal-Mart store brands carry a "naturally gluten-free" logo on them. And what about places like Trader Joe's, who throw that "no gluten ingredients used" distinction on so many products in the store? If they aren't going to test, what happens? I know we should be all high and mighty and only support companies willing to do the leg work that earns the *new* gluten-free distinction, but let's be realistic - until someone wants to sponsor me and bankroll a homesteader/commune/pioneer lifestyle for me, I'm still going to have to visit grocery stores to buy food. And sadly, my public servant income and nowhere-near proximity to Whole Foods doesn't really solve that problem.

I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth, really. I promise I am Christmas-morning excited about this, because it will do a lot of good in helping celiac folk eat safely. I applaud the FDA for acting on this, and I'm so proud of the people who worked tirelessly to get this pushed through. I guess I'm just opening up some talking points. Truly, there are gajillions of products now that ARE gluten free, even if they don't carry that label, and there are tons of things labeled that aren't as gluten free as they should be. So here's to taking a step in the right direction. Now if only we could just martial-law all companies into labeling everything safe as, well, safe, we'd really be in good shape.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I've Got Some 'Splaining to Do

Warning: This post gets a little sappy. And a little excuse-makey.

One of the most awesome experiences I've had this year was hanging out with some of the lovelies I met at GFAF Expo in April. And not just the bloggers - the companies. With my "blogger" name tag around my neck, I was treated differently, and companies were HAPPY to send me samples, sometimes full-size products for review. I felt like a rock star. It was very heady, and it gave me an undeserved sense of self-importance. Until, about mid-May, when the e-mail follow-ups came flooding in, and instead of fueling my desire to write, the stacks of products completely stifled me. I didn't WANT to hock product after product, just because someone gave it to me for free.Yeah, it is an incredibly awesome feeling for companies to approach YOU, because they think you have some sort of sway. But it felt cheap. And it made me feel a little dirty. Because I had just become one of those swag-pirates I'd always made fun of. I left newspaper reporting because I was tired of writing for someone else. When I started this blog, it was on my terms, and yet, for a couple of bags of GF food, most of which I had no desire to eat, I sold out.

So, about the beginning of June, I started having an identity crisis of sorts. I know, poor Alissa has the sads about eating free gluten-free products, boo-hoo. But it wasn't just that. At a year and a half out from a diagnosis, with a virtually clean bill of health, living gluten-free has become sort of less cumbersome. After more than 18 months of firsts, some of the things I wrote about have gotten old hat for me. So if I have nothing new to write about, and I don't want to be a slave to product reviews, what's the point of blogging? For a while, I toyed with ending the site. Everything that I had to say has pretty much been said, either by me or one of the gazillion other gluten-free bloggers out there. So, I quietly went off the grid, waiting to see if anyone would notice. No one did. Nothing brings you back down to earth faster than realizing you can go Interwebs AWOL, and not a soul would try to hunt you down. It made me question if I was contributing anything, really, to the celiac world.

It didn't help that as I was going through this identity crisis, my REAL life got incredibly busy, and in a very good way. Work was flourishing. I was spending time with friends and family, and enjoying my summer. I learned to golf. I read books. I realized there is more to life than just "gluten free." And it was awesome. I became more and more convinced that the breakup had been finalized - I was ready to move on from both Cap'n Crunch and Captain Crunch.

Until, in the span of about a week, three things happened. They are all unrelated, but all three involve people seeking me out to help with a friend, relative, co-worker who had just received a celiac diagnosis. Amid the "thank yous" and the "does it get easiers?", I felt a familiar stirring, and it wasn't the result of a glutening. My job? It's not quite done yet.

So while I will continue to write, there is going to be a lot more life and a lot less product. I'm still going to do reviews, but for the most part, it's going to be things I purchase, because I refuse to feel obligated to have the sun shining out of my behind for any company who woos me with free stuff. If I do get something for free, and choose to write about it, it will be something I would - and will - willingly PURCHASE. I'm also going to be working with another site to do regular columns (more on that later).

There are a lot of great gluten-free bloggers out there. They have huge followings, book deals, swag. That is not now, nor has it ever been, my focus. My goal is simply to navigate the celiac waters as best I can, with humor, because that's all I know how to do.

I hope you guys will stay with me for the journey.