Oct 022013
 

Due to a somewhat recent post that I finally got around to reading on another gluten-free blog, all about the health benefits of gelatin/collagen, I started to look into it in earnest. I try to make bone broth when I can, but I can never make enough so that I always have some. And depending on the chicken I use, sometimes the bone broth never gels, which means low-quality birds I guess. I wanted to keep it on hand for the “in case” I get sick, but I end up just cooking with it.  Given that everything I’ve read says to take the chicken broth path the 24-hour simmering mark, it’s a long process. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot sleep if I can smell food cooking. It triggers my brain to wake up and panic “Oh no! We forgot that we’re cooking again! Wake up, the house might burn down!!” because yeah, I really do often walk away from cooking, get sidetracked and forget I was cooking until I smell it and then run to kitchen to prevent something from burning.

But the posts I was reading, talked all about gelatin/collagen as a supplement in it’s own right, outside of bone broth.  There are so many benefits, it’s unbelievable. The top 5 that were talked about over at The Balanced Platter are:

  • Better sleep
  • Less joint pain
  • Better digestion
  • Improves hair/nail/skin health
  • Metabolism booster

So after doing a lot more reading (links are all at the end of the post), I settled on the Great Lakes brand of powdered, unflavored gelatin due to how humanely the animals are raised and the quality of the product. It’s nearly pure protein, unlike Knox brand, and Great Lakes attests that the animals used aren’t given hormones or antibiotics or anything bad that might transfer over to the final product we ingest.

I first bought the red package, the type that gels. I figured I could make some of the pureed-fruit jello or fruit juice jello. I’ve not had the best luck though, so far, in getting it all just right without clumping. And while the fruit jello is quite tasty and a great way to get more antioxidants in the form of berries, I had to eat a lot of the jello just to get the 1-2 tablespoons of gelatin that is a recommend beneficial serving.  Now that I’ve been doing this for 5 days and I can feel a marked difference in my knees (by far my worst of my joint problems) I’m hooked. I bought a 6-pack of the non-gelling type from Great Lakes directly, and I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival. Since it is tasteless and doesn’t gel, it can be stirred into anything. Anything! Suddenly, my morning coffee will be healthy, in addition to absolutely necessary.

Do your own research; there are plenty of other people just like me who have written about it because they love it, and there are many doctors who back it up, too. Here are some links for you to start with:

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend that I can give health advice. I’m not being compensated by anyone, this is just my opinion. 
Oct 012013
 

Lately, I’ve been made to feel like not having an official diagnosis is a Very Bad Thing tm.  The sentiment is ranging from all areas of my life, but mostly from well-meaning strangers. And a little from my mom.

My entry into the gluten-free lifestyle was purely by accident, as I’ve explained here. I didn’t expect to see that big of a reaction. Some have suggested that I only have a reaction because of the elimination–not, perhaps, because I’m actually sensitive to it. But I know of others in that same online community who were able to go back and have something containing gluten, and not feel a reaction. Those that did have a reaction, many just had a little gas, and other intestinal issues.

So since the beginning, I’ve had reactions. Strong reactions. But it’s not, apparently, like most with Celiac. I don’t immediately have to go running for the bathroom. In fact, I won’t even know until the next day. But I will indeed lose 2-4 days being mired in agony. As I’ve explained before, my glutening symptoms feel an awful lot like the flu–which is also what a fibromyalgia flare-up felt like for me (except that wouldn’t usually last 3 or 4 days). It’s the all-over body aches (right down to “even my eyelashes hurt”), extreme exhaustion, and abdominal/intestinal cramps and general unrest in that whole area. It’s the insomnia at night, and emotional upheaval–I’m either cranky or crying, it’s the headaches, and generalized anxiety/discomfort in my own skin. It’s not just physical, it’s mental and emotional.

My mom keeps suggesting that I go see an allergist and find out if I can get “desensitized”, since apparently people with the serious sorts of allergies can get desensitized over time. Once I read about that, I read that it would entail, simply, me ingesting gluten until I’m…..what….less sensitive? I don’t see that happening. I spent a time period of 5 weeks feeling various levels of glutening side effects and not knowing why, until I discovered that some hair products I’d gone back to using off and on contained gluten.  So, didn’t I essentially right there go through what a desensitization might entail? I sure as heck didn’t get any less sensitive or any better.

So here we are, back to “Should I get tested”? Because if I did find out that I have Celiac, wouldn’t life just be a little easier? Couldn’t I just say “no, I can’t get desensitized, the gluten is doing long-term damage each time” or have an easier way of explaining what is wrong with me to people instead of the “well, I’m super sensitive to it but I don’t know if it’s Celiac, or gluten-sensitivity, or gluten is simply a trigger for my fibro”? Would it do anything for me, health-wise, to know one way or the other?

I don’t think it will. I’m tempted, sometimes, yes to go back to a gluten-filled life–sometimes, when the gluten-free living gets so hard and is filled with such fear and anxiety. But regardless, this is not a fad diet for me. It’s been 15 months. I feel like my skin is better–my dark circles are less raccoon-like, zits are way less often. I think there’s a possibility that my hair loss that occurred suddenly a decade ago is starting to get better, at a snail’s pace.

And to get tested, I have to eat gluten for a month. I would be an emotional train wreck by the end of week 1. I would not be able to go anywhere, or do anything even around the house. I would be unable to cook dinners, do laundry, etc. I would be in a constant state of pain and discomfort and have varying levels of exhaustion. I go crazy trying to prevent cross-contamination because I can’t even tolerate the 3 days I get at a cross-contamination glutening. It’s unbearable. So why should I put myself through hell for a month, when the blood test may not even give me a diagnosis? What would happen, then? Would I be expected by all to stop this silly charade and stop making the lives of everyone around me miserable, as I keep a hawk-like vigilance over food?

So, please….stop writing me off as less “authentic” because I’ve not been tested. I regret that it had to happen this way, but you can thank a lifetime of clueless doctors for never thinking about gluten and never testing me.  Am I really supposed to go through the fires of hell just to fit into a box a little better?

Sep 102013
 

For those just starting off with a serious, gluten-free lifestyle in 2013, you have it pretty good. A lot of the hard work has been done for you, and new grocery store products are quickly on the rise. Yet still, it’s daunting, and there’s a lot to get accustomed to.  What happens if you live in an area where the gluten-free section isn’t very developed yet? Or you’re scared off by the prices? You make your own, from scratch. But….wait. We’re not in Kansas, anymore.  So from one “idiot” to another, let me share with you what I’m learning so that you may learn a little faster than I did.

37 Flours

Wee bit of an exaggeration, but the flours used in gluten-free baking are varied and overwhelming. There aren’t really any standards, and you’ll see premixed blends, like Better Batter or Bisquick or etc, and then plenty of cookbooks and recipe blogs that simply call for things you’ve probably never heard of until now like sorghum flour, millet flour, coconut flour, and so on – they’re creating their own blend and they have one for bread, one for pastries, one for this and one for that. Not only are there a lot of flours/starches, but there are many ways in which you can combine them. Ask 6 different gluten-free baking bloggers/authors and you’ll have 6 different responses on the flour mixes they prefer.

Something I learned from Annalise Roberts during a baking class at the GFAFExpo is that, not only are you going to see different reactions between ingredients and different textures/tastes depending on the types of flours and starches used (and the ratio) but you’ll see differences between brands of flours. They don’t all mill them to the same level of “grit” (think sandpaper). The sorghum flour from Company A is a larger “grit” than the finely ground sorghum flour from Company B, and you’ll see a difference in the reaction between wet and dry ingredients, where the dry will soak up more wet and your finished product will be too dry. Another will not soak up enough liquid, and the finished product will be too moist.  It’s like Goldilocks visited the bears again, but this time the bears are a Latino Catholic family (huge and lots of cousins).  The combination possibilities now, when you consider that you can use 2-4 flours and 1-3 starches and a few different gums and all in varying ratios and now add in all the brands and the differences in milling? It’s no wonder us mere mortals flock to the packaged mixes and finished products.   You know what? I need a minute. I’ve got a baking panic attack coming on now that I just wrote all that out.

I’ve not yet tried anything from her yet,  I will soon and will update, but this information from Annalise on flours, grinds, brands and blends is what I’m going to stick to for now.

Gums

In addition to mixing together umpteen flours and starches, you now will have to add in something that will mimic the elastic properties of gluten. For many bakers, the preferred method is xanthan gum or guar gum. Some people seem to have trouble digesting those, and so it has been suggested that those people try a slurry mixture of ground flax and chia seeds. However, that will drastically alter the taste of the end result. You may like it, but it won’t create an item that will fool your newly-gluten-free tastebuds.  If you find that they bother you but you like the taste and texture of baked goods made with them? Simply back off. Eat less of the products.  When Rebecca Reilly was talking about making gluten-free pasta, she noted that a recipe she found that had pasta dough which performed a lot like wheat flour dough, had a lot more xanthan gum in it than she was accustomed to. But it was necessary, to get that certain texture and chew. If you take it out, you’ll have crumbly pasta.

A word of caution on the price of gums: You’re going to want to just throw in the towel. Learn from my mistake, and shop around first. I went to a natural foods store (New Morning in Woodbury CT) because I know they have the flours, and I just naturally turned to grab the xanthan gum from the, too. $14.99 for an 8 oz package of Bob’s Red Mill!!! I then could have cried when I got to the natural foods section of Stop n Shop and found the same thing, same brand, for $10.99. Shop around!!!!! Once you determine that you like the results of making your own baked goods and pastas, you’ll want to locate a bulk source. If you can find any coupons for Bob’s Red Mill products, that might help to lower the cost more if you can find the same grocery store deal I did.

What IS that….?

In this new, weird world, breads are not going to be made from doughs that you kneed, they will be batters that you pour. Brownies might resemble oily Playdoh before baking, rather than batter that you pour. And please, don’t lick the bowl/beater/your fingers. You usually won’t like it. Too often I made that mistake, only to end up frightened that the end result would also be nasty, but somehow the strong flavors of the weird flours mellowed out during baking.  Throw out your knowledge from baking with wheat flour and listen to the recipe authors when they warn you how the raw item will look prior to baking.

No scooping! 

One thing I learned at the baking classes during the GFAFExpo was that you cannot just drive your measuring cup down into the container of flour, nor should you sift the flour. The best method is to use a medium bowl with your measuring cup sitting in it, and a big serving spoon. Spoon out flour (not too gently, just plop spoonfuls in the cup) into the measuring cup, allowing it to overflow. Using a metal cake frosting spatula or butter knife, scrape across the top to make it even. Whatever is left in the bowl, just put it back in your container.

Read and try, and try some more

If you’re looking to fool people, I think that Annalise Roberts’ book will be your best bet.  Also, don’t give up if you failed the first time.  This isn’t easy. It’s different from what you may have  grown accustomed to with wheat flour.  Feel free to try out prepackaged mixes; there are a number of really great ones out there. And they will all be a little different, so if you didn’t like one, try another.

I need more fiber in my cupcake! 

This made me laugh, and made me see the silliness. Listen, I get being on a diet. Especially Weight Watchers, where fiber rules the day. I get trying to be healthy and lose weight, or just be more healthy overall. One thing that was pointed out during one of the baking classes (I can’t remember if it was Annalise or Silvana Nardone) was that adding things in like flax and chia and whatnot for their protein and fiber to make a “healthy” cupcake is a bit ridiculous. Likewise, using a sugar substitute may create fewer calories, but your body reacts to sweet on the tastebuds, regardless of the calorie count or how processed it is.  Sure you may not see as big of a blood sugar spike from Agave Nectar vs white sugar but……it’s still a cupcake. You want more fiber? Have some broccoli. Leave the poor cupcake alone, and let it just be a cupcake. So this means you just have one, on the weekend. You don’t need a cupcake with breakfast every day. Not until you’re 90. After that, no one can tell you what to eat.

In the near future you’re going to be reading a little more from me about baking gluten-free; I’m going to get Annalise’s book and review it, and I’m going to be checking out a recipe website that aims to teach you how to cook & bake gluten-free. Stay tuned!

Sep 082013
 

I was lucky enough to go to the Secaucus, NJ GFAF Expo and my head is still swimming with all I’ve learned. Over the next few weeks I plan to shine more in-depth spotlights on some of the products/foods/classes from the Expo.

Things I Didn’t Expect:

  • There was beer. In fact, I counted 5 or 6 gluten-free beer vendors! I didn’t sample any, as I’ve never been a fan of beer.
  • Cleaning supplies and how they might tie in to gluten/allergen-free lifestyles never occurred to me, but there it was!
  • It was exhausting. Next time, I need to come up with a better plan because getting up at the crack of dawn to drive two hours just to get there left me so that I was a zombie by 4pm.
  • To find foods I’ve been dreaming of, foods I’ve missed since going gluten-free, and not only that but to find that they were yummy? Yay! 

Some of my favorite finds:

BSmfH6VIcAEvPSqGlutenFree Labels: Seriously, it’s like Martha Stewart meets food allergies. Unless you live in a bubble where you only ever interact with others who are gluten-free, you’ll find times when these labels feel like a necessity. Living in a shared kitchen household? Visit certain family a lot? These products are glorious. And cute!! The silicone hang-tags are oven-safe and dishwasher-safe, and are a great way of obviously tagging everything “Mine!Mine!Mine!Mine!” Expect to hear more from me on these.

2013-09-07 09.26.55-1Local Oven: Based out of Texas, they’ve got some really great products. The creator managed to create a bread that is nothing like the heavy, dense, and dry items so many of us have become accustomed to. They also make these dinner rolls that have onion bits baked on top, which caramelize and then the whole roll smells like French Onion Soup. My only wish is that they made those in full sandwich-size rolls. In the past, I’ve said “no thanks” to an onion roll, I can remember picking the onions off a sandwich bun at Arby’s. But I fell in love with the Local Oven rolls immediately. Their baguettes were great. Their croutons were flavorful and crunchy.

2013-09-07 09.34.57Glutenfreeda: Gluten-free “hot pocket” style frozen sandwiches. Without the crazy ingredients! I tried one bite of their roast beef + caramelized onion + provolone cheese, and swooned. It was better than the big name gluten-filled sandwiches. These aren’t for the dairy-free folk, but for the gluten-free crowd it’s amazing. It’s not something that I would eat daily, of course, but I would love to have these around to warm-up before I head out to visit my mom 4 hours away, wrap in foil, and be able to have a satisfying, hot sandwich on a trip. They’re supposed to be in grocery stores, so I need to start hunting!

943135_574946039212456_1235860012_nGillian’s: I’d already been buying their gluten-free breadcrumbs and had never even seen anything else  by them. I found out that they recently launched frozen french-bread style garlic bread, and pizza. I didn’t try the pizza but the garlic bread was fabulous. It’s another thing I’ve been missing. The texture was great, the flavor was wonderful – not bland, not overwhelming. I have a few product request sheets to thrust at my local grocery stores.

2013-09-08 10.29.31Basic Batters: A Pennsylvania company, I’m hoping that their products will start to spread out to stores. I don’t want to give away any big spoilers on it all, but let me just say that their stuff is amazing and I wouldn’t have known it was gluten-free, from what I’ve tried. I have only tried two products, but I like them well enough that I feel like anything else they make would be great, too.

I was very interested by a company called “Against the Grain“, who had some great pizza for sample. A company called Sevierly Good had some truly great “Wow, that’s gluten-free??” baked goods to sample; I wish I had brought more cash with me to buy up some of their brownie mix!  I spoke with a woman about all-natural Aloe products and I was surprised at what I learned from her. The products are currently a bit out of my price range, but if I could afford it right now it would definitely be a must-try.  The folks at Red Apple Lipstick were friendly and welcoming, and even though I don’t wear lipstick personally, they have enough other products that I still liked. Their lip balm seemed to be great! I swiped a little on myself and was impressed. It’s a bit pricey, but it seemed worth it – great ingredients, no bad things like parabens and no gluten. Enzymedica, the makers of Gluten-Ease, were on hand to educate and I got some great tips from them. I plan to add their “Digest Gold” to my Gluten-Ease and see what that does for me, since I’m still not feeling up to par half the time. So Delicious had a great booth, as did Udi’s & Glutino. I learned that Udi’s has some cookies out that seem to be pretty good! I only tried a bit of the Salted Caramel Cashew and while it was pretty sweet, it was also a good texture and very tasty. It would be a great occasional treat. The Schar & Applegate booth was huge! They were giving out sandwiches and were paired up with Bard’s Beer, so it was a picnic in the Expo. CHEESE! Cabot Cheese was on hand. I can’t turn down a good Cheddar and the lovely ladies of Cabot obliged me a time or three. Conte’s Pasta was there, reminding me that they offer gluten-free pierogies that I’ve yet to see in my stores.  JD’s Pizza was pretty good; I’d like to look into their stuff a little more and hope to find them in my grocery stores. I wasn’t as impressed with Bread Empire, but they had some very stiff competition there. Oh! Gluten-free corndogs! Who knew!  Gluten-free dumplings and egg rolls! The egg rolls were fried, so I wouldn’t be to recreate that in my home kitchen but they were tasty and makes me want to try their other items (Feel-Good Foods). Full Flavor Foods had powdered mixes; I tried their Cheese Sauce which was good, and their base for Cream Soups which was wonderful. Since I’m not too great with creating these things on my own yet, their mixes will be a welcome help. They had more mixes, so look them over.

A few of the vendors were just so constantly overwhelmed with people that I couldn’t get in to talk to anybody. San-J had a throng of people lined up to grab multiples of whatever items they were handing out for free, like plastic cutting boards and silicone basting brushes. The people just wanted the free stuff, I just wanted to chat! I kept trying to chat up the Namaste Foods and Pamela’s Product people, but kept showing up at the same time as other chatty attendees. In between classes, I was often pressed for time and couldn’t wait around. Same with Hail Merry and a couple others.

Since I am such a newbie, though, I really needed the classes. I’m sure that next year I’ll feel more secure in my gluten-free lifestyle and be able to spend more time concentrating on the vendors. I sat in on nearly all of the classes on Saturday, and learned something from all of them. From Annalise Roberts, I learned that using flax & chia in place of the gums is fine, but it won’t mimic the flavor of what we remember and it won’t go over well with the gluten crowd. It has it’s place, but if your goal is to fool people? Stick with her, she’s got you covered. Her cookbook is for people like me, people who can’t bake for squat. She gave out a small bag of a flour mix she likes, something she developed with Authentic Foods, and there’s a recipe on the back for Vanilla Cupcakes. I’ve had a boxed mix, and the cupcakes of a local bakery. Her recipe will be the defining moment and if all goes well, I’ll be buying her book. She’s just the best, though, and assured us all she’d be there if we had problems.

From Rebecca Reilly I learned that I can make pasta, and I can make some awesome pasta. I learned about what I did wrong the first time my mom and I tried to make noodles. I feel confident now that I can follow her recipe for Italian egg noodle pasta, and create something wonderful. I just need those Kitchenaid attachments!!

I do hope that next year for the NJ location, a different expo venue is chosen simply because the area where the classes were held was a little less than ideal. The doors to the class area were all very squeaky and wouldn’t shut without being slammed; when the door opened for every late-comer and early-leaver, the door noise, the slamming, and cacophony of floor noises flooding in all made it a bit hard to hear the speaker and keep my attention going. If you’ve got an Attention Disorder, do yourself a favor and sit closer to the front and farther from the doors, no matter which location you’re at!

The Expo heads next to Dallas Texas, and then starts the tour all over again in the new year by going to San Fransisco and more. Check out their locations and if you need to eat gluten & allergen-free foods, do yourself a favor and go!! The bigger the city you’re near, the bigger the Expo will be, I think. I feel sad that those of you on the West Coast won’t get to try out some of the NJ-local businesses, but I know I missed out on some great Chicago and West Coast foods, too. Small companies are wonderful but I hope in a few years we see their items all across the country!  Thanks so much to the team of the GFAFExpo for having me as an official blogger. This year I was just shocked and awed, so next year I hope to buckle down and focus on being a reporter moreso than a learner. It’s absolutely worth it for you to go, no matter how long you’ve been gluten-free.

 

I was comped with free entry in to the Expo thanks in part to Holy Crap cereal and of course the great people of the GFAF Expo itself, in exchange for social media chatter and blog posts. However, my opinions are my own and I speak from my core with truth! 

Aug 302013
 

tasteriejanuaryLast year I started out with 3 monthly gluten-free subscription boxes and gradually whittled my way down to just one: Tasterie. Tasterie has always been the better deal; even on the months where there is more than 2 products I dislike due to personal taste, I still feel like it’s a great deal. Unlike other services, I’ve nearly never (ok maybe once) looked at the box contents and thought that I was being ripped off. Tasterie also has a pretty wide array of allergens that you can have left out. At first, I had a gluten & dairy free box, but now I chose gluten-free only. You can get dairy free, dairy & egg, gluten/vegan, nut, all Top 8, etc.

2013-08-23 11.52.46

Back then, though, Tasterie cost $20 a month. These days the price has gone up to $25 a month for the Signature Box, which goes beyond just small single-serving snacks. It’s more than worth it, as we usually get one or two full size products. Last month’s delivery (July) was two boxes taped together; one box contained an entire full-size bag of Pamela’s brand Pizza Crust mix. August’s box, shown here, contains 4 mixes from Wholesome Chow, plus a few snack items. At the top of the post is a box from January. Every other time I’ve simply been too excited, and then I rip into my box and go through the items and forget all about taking a photo for this review. Even though they’re raised the price, I feel like they also increased what you get and it does feel worth it.

I will say that things haven’t been 100% perfect; the boxes are supposed to ship out from Tasterie around the middle of the month and you’ll get it within a week or two depending in where you live.  Tasterie is based in Massachusetts; I live in Connecticut and it takes me about a week to get the box. It’s delivered FedEx Smart Post, which is a pretty slow (but affordable for all) shipping service. In July sometime, it occured to me that I never received a box for June. I checked and found I hadn’t been billed, either. Something, somewhere, got screwed up and my ongoing order had been cancelled without a word to me. It took me two emails, but I did reach someone and they were able to send me out a July box, since by that time I should have also received a box for July. I have noticed on Facebook that a few others are having problems with their accounts and having trouble reaching Tasterie by email or even on Facebook. Since that isn’t normal for them, I’m going to assume that something temporary is going on.

Getting these subscription boxes is awfully exciting. It would be even more exciting if I weren’t so picky. The food doesn’t go to waste, though, I send off the things I don’t like to my husband’s coworker who has, so far, liked everything I’ve fobbed off onto her. Her toddler son even inhaled the “cheeze” covered dried kale chips that I couldn’t stomach. I do wish that I could also get another box delivered at the beginning of the month, so I may look into a service I’ve not yet tried, just so that I have more variety.

And while Tasterie does include products sometimes from the allergen-friendly company Enjoy Life, they’re not as deeply embedded with the company like Savorfull is. I’ve disliked/hated 90% of the Enjoy Life products that I’ve tried, and their persistent residence in monthly Savorfull boxes was my reasoning for dropping Savorfull after 6 months. I also tried GFreely, but didn’t end up sticking with them for very long, either. At the time I was trying to be soy and dairy free, and GFreely was strictly a gluten-free service.

Edit: Apparently, Savorfull no longer offers the monthly subscription boxes?? 

Aug 292013
 

Yes, it can, and it has.

I’m sure that gluten-free veterans all over will read this and find that it’s common knowledge to them. And people who don’t have to worry about gluten are asking me silly questions like “Why does it matter – you don’t eat your hairspray, do you??”. I hope that I can save someone else from unknowingly making themselves sick, like I have been doing for months now.

I just had a very irritated version of a Hot Damn! moment this past week. Someone I follow on Facebook shared this post from Andrew Cordova at WeAreGlutenFree.com. At first I thought for sure that, since I am pretty sure I’m not Celiac, I wouldn’t have to worry about this. After all, one aspect of Celiac is the skin irritations and rashes, which I didn’t have a lot of, no more so than the average person. But I never, ever, expected there to be gluten in my hairspray or body wash. And I never expected that something non-food could make me sick like that. I didn’t realize that I’ve become that sensitive.

I reign myself in, but I can really be a Sephora addict sometimes. As I poured over my bottles (or the Sephora site, as needed) this weekend armed with Andrew’s list of ingredients, I found that I didn’t even need the list for these products:

  • Philosophy Amazing Grace Body Wash – Avena Sativa (oat) Extract
  • Philosophy Amazing Grace Conditioner – Hydrolyzed Wheat Germ Oil
  • Ojon Revitalizing Mist – Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten
  • Bumble & Bumble  Shine on – Wheat Germ Glycerides
  • Bumble & Bumble  Thickening Hairspray   – Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein

Just having a gluten ingredient didn’t mean a lot to me though until I really thought about things. I had just purchased the Bumble & Bumble stuff; last Monday I used it for the first time. I sprayed it on to damp hair, and then worked it in with my fingers. I probably washed my hands at that point since my hands would have been sticky, but I had a decent amount of product in my hair. Since I’m both a chronic fidget-er, pick-er and general restless individual, combine that with my long hair and I end up touching my hair a lot. I touch it when I re-do the hair clip holding my bangs back. I touch it when I scrape it up into a ponytail, when I readjust the ponytail. I touch it a lot when my face/head sweats (something that happens very easily for me). Most of the time after these instances, I don’t wash my hands, so a little of the product is on my hands. It is then ingested by way of food that I touched, or I licked a dollop of hummus off my finger, or I picked a piece of food out from in between my teeth. Most people don’t pay attention to that stuff.  Anyway, I remembered that Monday evening, I felt tired. Tuesday, I was short-tempered, low on patience, achey to my bones and exhausted. I have been thinking that for a month I was sick with something else. I can pinpoint at least 4 times in the last month that I used one of the above-mentioned products and quite probably ingested enough to make me sick. I’ve been feeling off and couldn’t figure out why I would have random days of bad exhaustion, stiff joints and achy muscles.

That covers the hair products. Body wash? If you don’t rinse any off well enough, you could transfer it.  Also, my little travel bottle of that body wash leaks a little, so the product would get on my hands if I touched the bottle. I wouldn’t always wash, just wipe it on my jeans. Worse yet, that bottle lived in the same little travel bag as my travel toothbrush. I can distinctly remember trying to wash the bodywash product off that had gotten on to my toothbrush but I bet I didn’t get it clean enough. The toothbrush will now be tossed.  So yeah, there are plenty of non-traditional ways that a non-food gluten-containing item can make me sick.

Non-food products that you need to check, and contact the manufacturer if need be: All types of medications, vitamins, etc. Hair styling products, body lotions and washes, shampoo, conditioner, even dish washing products. It has been spotted in lipsticks and lip balms, makeup, dental hygiene products, sunscreen and baby products.  Of extra importance is latex & rubber gloves, if they are powdered the powder could contain wheat. Please be sure to look into it for yourself at home but also whenever you see a doctor or dentist. Since gluten (think glue) is sticky, you may also see it in stamps, envelopes and more. Spend a few cents on an envelope moistener from the office supply store. In a pinch, use a damp corner of a paper towel. 

I’ve been doing more research. I wondered why cyclodextrin was on the list, since I couldn’t find yet anything online saying that it can or is made from wheat, yet maltodextrin was not on the list. According to Wikipedia:

“Maltodextrin can be enzymatically derived from any starch. In the US, this starch is usually corn; in Europe, it is commonly wheat. While wheat-derived maltodextrin may cause concern for individuals suffering from gluten intolerance, maltodextrin is such a highly processed ingredient that the majority of the protein is removed, rendering it effectively gluten-free. If wheat is used to make maltodextrin, it will appear on the label. Even so, the maltodextrin itself will be gluten-free.”

I would keep an eye out then for maltodextrin IF the product is made in Europe. You can see Andrew’s entire list here, but I’ve condensed it down, removing redundancies and made it up so that it can be printed on to a business card (or just cut down to a business card size) to carry in your wallet for shopping trips.  Many of these ingredients are obvious and you don’t need to memorize them. However, for purposes of condensing on labels it is possible that a shampoo may simply list “triticum vulgare” and not put (wheat) in parenthesis, but I’ve not yet found that to be the case.  My only real question is if Vitamin E derived from wheat germ oil is always going to be listed as such – do I need to worry about Vitamin E when it doesn’t mention wheat germ oil?

Thanks to someone on Reddit, I can warn you to check out your nail polish. They found a wheat-derivative in Sally Hanson polish!

If you want to use the card-sized list I created, just click the photo below and the download will start of the PDF version. I printed it on regular paper, cut it out and then used packing tape to secure it to a business card I didn’t need. The packing tape can be trimmed off the sides and acts like laminate.

IMG_20130827_112346

Aug 282013
 

Dunkin Donuts Gluten-Free DonutAfter my less-than-stellar experience with the gluten-free blueberry muffin, I wasn’t about to try the donut – but a friend wanted a little nosh with her coffee and wanted to split one with me. I was curious, but not expecting much. I’ve actually never tried a gluten-free doughnut before, because the cost was high the size was small and really…..how good could it be?? I’ve always preferred a cake doughnut so I wasn’t avoiding them due to them not being raised and glazed.

While the Dunkin version isn’t laughably small, it’s a lot more pricey than a standard gluten-filled doughnut. But of course, you expected that. We all do. It’s a sad fact of gluten-free life that is still taking me by surprise sometimes. $1.89! For 1 doughnut! Oye.  And as you would expect, of course, the calorie and fat counts are astronomical and the ingredient label is not friendly. Reading it made me not want to eat the doughnut.  IMG_20130825_092031

The cinnamon-sugar doughnut has no artificial flavors, like the blueberry muffin did, so the taste was better. I don’t think that putting sugar on the outside was smart of them, though. While on the one hand it kept the doughnut moist, on the other it created a sticky mess wherein the “skin” on the doughnut flakes right off like it’s got a disease. It wasn’t as crumbly as the muffin, either, but it did fall apart a bit in ways a true cake doughnut never would.

Since I can only compare this to my somewhat-distant memory of a real cake doughnut (I’ll hazard a guess that I consumed my last one in April 2012), and not other brands of gluten-free doughnuts, I’m not sure how good my assessment is. Regardless, it felt a little less dense than a good, gluten cake doughnut. It lacked that freshly-made sorta-crunchy exterior – of course – but the flavor felt pretty spot-on.

Having had both of their offerings now, I would firmly choose the doughnut over the muffin any day just based on taste alone. Of course, I will probably only buy these twice a year, if that. The reason I chose the muffin over the doughnut for my own trial was because I always love things that have fruit baked in, but Dunkin killed that with their weird, artificial blueberry flavor.

Aug 272013
 

I’ve dealt with breakfast while at my mom’s house (which is easy, since I can leave my stuff there), my in-law’s and while traveling. I’ve learned a few really important lessons through making mistakes. Unlike lunch & dinner, breakfast is usually something you can plan ahead for and know that you’re going to be away from home.

Rule #1: Bring Your Own

–> Margarine, butter, jam, cream cheese, peanut/nut butter…..all popular toast & bagel spreads, which means that in a gluten-household, these products will no doubt be contaminated with crumbs. The jam and peanut butter is the easiest to take care of. Most grocery stores that have a health food section will have a few types of Justin’s nut butters. For kids, you can buy Jif in single-serve tubs (Jif has said it’s gluten-free). I found single-serve packets of Bonne Maman preserves at Minimus. They also have the Smucker’s mini tubs, but while Smucker’s has no gluten in it, Smucker’s won’t say it’s gluten-free, either. They’re really pretty vague on their site. I have some mini leftover containers that I use for carting around my raw honey and my Earth Balance – Earth Balance though needs to be in the fridge when you’re not traveling. If I am trying to conserve space, I’ll create my own “packets” for the butter/margarine and honey by using that Glad Press n Seal stuff. It does work. I don’t think it’s airtight enough though to prevent mold from growing or mayo from spoiling if kept from the fridge for too long.

–> Bread….of course the above is all moot if you have nothing to spread it on. When visiting someone else for a weekend, I always pack a loaf of gluten-free bread.

–> Oatmeal…I’ve also brought along my own oatmeal. I buy gluten-free oats, and then toss them in my food processor for about 4-7 pulses. Breaking it up that way allows it to cook more quickly. I then portion out a couple servings in ziploc bags, adding in a few tablespoons of golden flax for protein & fiber, cinnamon and a sweetener plus some dried fruits like raisins, cranberries or goji berries. By also bringing along one of your own plasticware containers you can ensure that you have a travel-friendly container to cook and eat it out of. Letting it sit 10 minutes after pouring on boiling water will usually suffice.

–> Cereal…Remember the mini travel boxes from when us 30-somethings were kids? You can still get those! Chex has gluten-free versions in either the plastic single serves or the box, for those more adventurous about carefully opening the box and the bag to make it into a bowl. It can done!

Rule #2: Practice Safe Toasting!

410itecv5CL._SY450_–> Toaster bags…again, the above is all moot if you don’t have a safe place to toast!  I’ve used these bags and while they’re a little weird, they certainly keep it clean. They do trap steam, so don’t let kids make their own. Despite the steam they do actually allow the bread to toast, it just takes a little bit longer if you like it really toasty.

 

Rule #3: Think Twice About the Fruit

A banana, orange or grapefruit? No problem. But what about the pre-cut melon from a continental breakfast or that bowl of grapes from someone’s fridge? For the melon, you don’t know what surface it was cut on. For the grapes, think about the household members. Someone could have reached in to grab a few grapes after handling a sandwich. Since gluten doesn’t wash off, I’d think twice about fruits with a skin you eat.  Apples, nectarines, plums, grapes, etc. If you really want it, bring your own.

Create a Travel Kit

My travel kits are essential for me. While I still need to carry the bread with me, other than that I’m set. My breakfast kit gives me three toast-topping options: Honey peanut butter, preserves, and butter/margarine. I have oatmeal for mornings that I want something more hearty, or breakfast bars for mornings when I’m short on time. Since I’m also a coffee freak, I learned the hard way while traveling Cape Cod with my mom that hotel room coffee makers do not give you enough coffee for more than 2 cups. Cheaper hotels won’t even give you an in-room coffee machine, they expect you to get dressed and be presentable before you hobble off somewhere like a zombie for the breakfast room (nothankyou). So I have a few packets of Starbucks Instant (Colombian isn’t bad if you use a little more water than they call for) plus creamer & sugar.

College kids – just have a few Luna or Kind Bars on hand plus a peanut butter packet. It’ll hold you over until you can get back to your room or the dining hall. It’s also just simply a good idea to have those in case you’re out til 3am and the munchies hit.

Aug 262013
 

You’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes online these days for homemade gluten-free bread. But some of us just cannot bake. I couldn’t bake when gluten was involved, and I fail that much more now that things are harder. In the world of gluten-free baking, there are a dozen or so flours and starches that you can use and a myriad of combining possibilities.

For many people who are new to gluten-free, they are well acquainted with gluten-containing breads and the property that eludes most gluten-free bakers: elasticity. It makes the bread moist and chewy and pillow-y soft. Those attributes are not usually found in gluten-free bread.

Huffington Post reviewed 12 gluten-free breads, yet they left out a whole lot!  Here I cover my favorites plus a few most commonly found in stores near me.

Schar

scharYou’ll find Schar on the shelves, unlike the majority of the gluten-free breads which hang out in the freezer. I’ve actually not tried the sandwich bread by Schar. What I have tried, though, gives me a good idea about their sandwich bread. I’ve had the baguettes and the sub rolls. Both are a little tiny bit on the dry side, but they’re not super heavy. They also have a slightly sour note to them. They’re supposedly par-baked, and you put them in the oven for a short bit. I’ve also had good results putting it in the toaster oven.  I have eaten them without doing that, and the slightly sour note was more pronounced when eaten “raw”. The stand-out product to me, though, is the multi-grain ciabatta rolls. They’re heavy on the seeds, they’re hearty and they’re tasty. I actually have trouble staying with just one when I slice them in half, toast it, and slather on sweet cream butter. They make for really great cold sandwiches, too. A little too crumbly unless you toast them, and even toasted they’re crumbly. They’re not heavy and dense, either.  I try to keep them on hand to use as a dinner roll, mostly, for the few times I feel that I need one. I’ve been known to bring it along to a restaurant.  Schar also makes crunchy breadsticks which I’ve not tried, but they’re not something I see often. That’s one thing I really like about Schar – they are going above and beyond the buns and loaf breads.

Canyon Bakehouse

316053_10150420027040968_4542127_nI first had this brand at a local diner that caters to the gluten-free crowd. The diner is not fully gluten-free, so when I had my first item, a fried-egg-and-manchego sandwich on a bun, I had a moment of panic -  “Is this really gluten-free????”. I double-checked and sure enough, it was. The bun had sesame seeds on top and was amazing in taste and texture. Sometimes I’ve been disappointed with their buns, since the light-and-airy factor many brands claim to have, Canyon actually does have but it can go too far, resulting in crater-like air pockets.  If only they could fix that, I’d support them 200%. I mentioned this on Facebook to them twice, but had zero response.

The bread. Oh the bread. No store in my area carries the white, so I have to get the whole grain, and that’s fine too. Only Whole Foods has the raisin bread, and it’s dangerously good. Their breads are never sour, and have a texture that reminds me of gluten bread. Ever take a slice of gluten bread in the days BG, rip off the crusts, and roll up the bread into a ball? You could do that. It wouldn’t crumble. ALL other GF breads I’ve tried are crumbly. NOT Canyon. I’ve pressed a finger into the bread slice to try and show you what I mean. So this means that the dough has some elasticity to it and moistness. With the Canyon buns, I don’t have to do my microwave-steam trick.  Canyon also makes the best gluten-free raisin bread I’ve had, and I’ve even tried one made by a local bakery. Plenty of raisins, distinct cinnamon flavor, and perfect texture. Perfect. Addicting.

Udi’s

udisYou’ll find this brand in most any store if they have even a small gfree section. The white bread tastes, to me, like a commercial Italian bread. And for that, I kinda like it. It’s not the best for sandwiches like Canyon, but it’s not sour, either. When I’m not in the mood to go 40-minutes away to track down Canyon, I’ll happily have Udi’s. The whole grain is fine, too, I find the two interchangeable. I’ll get their hotdog and hamburger buns simply because it’s easier than tracking down Canyon, but I have to wrap up each bun in a very-slighty-damp paper towel and microwave it for 30 seconds to steam them shortly before eating. Otherwise, it’s just too stick-in-the-throat dry.  Udi’s also makes a raisin bread which I’m unimpressed with. Barely any raisins and a little too dry for me.

Rudi’s

I’ve gotten their bread because a 2-pack was available at Costco, but after doing that twice I’ve vowed never again. It’s more dry than Udi’s and the taste is mediocre. I can’t say I’m a fan; I’ll pick Udi’s over them any time if it comes down to that.

French Meadow Bakery

Gluten_Free_Sand_4dcd7ef8c739eOddly, my neighborhood corner store will carry this brand in their little gfree section but not Canyon. I don’t get it. The sandwich bread loaves look like half a loaf, yet weigh a ton. This bread is, to me, kinda like Saltines. You know how people would try to eat X number of Saltines in a minute, and can’t? It’s like that. It’s more heavy/dense than Udi’s or Rudi’s and a lot more dry, to boot. Flavor? Couldn’t tell ya, I was too busy drowning each bite with water to get it to go down my throat. I didn’t even finish the loaf.

Glutino

I’ve had their “Genius” sandwich bread, which reminded me very heavily of the Udi’s white sandwich bread. Same flavor, density and so on. They’re pretty interchangeable to me but I’ll usually pick up Udi’s over Glutino.

tl;dr – Seek out Schar for the out-of-the-ordinary styles, the baguettes and the sub rolls; absolutely try the multi-grain Ciabatta rolls. For superior quality sandwich bread, raisin bread, and buns get Canyon Bakehouse. Watch their social media, sometimes they run sales, and sign up for their newsletter. Order by the case to save money. If you cannot find Canyon, get Udi’s but be prepared to require the use of condiments, and quickly steam the buns for a better texture.

Aug 252013
 

00082.MIn my first months being gluten-free, I was told by numerous people that the San-J Tamari Soy Sauce was my only gluten-free soy sauce option.  I’m not sure why; Kikkoman has had a rice-based soy sauce out since 2011! Sadly I’d not yet found it in stores.

When I was picking out minis for my lunch & dinner travel kit, I got both the Kikkoman Gluten-Free Soy Sauce and Kari Out packets, because they were labeled low-sodium. After I made my first large batch of rice in my new rice cooker, since I finally had fried-rice-worthy leftovers (usually my rice is not in individual grains) I decided to try my hand at homemade fried rice. I was pleasantly surprised and instantly in love.

There are so many recipes out there for fried rice; I’m sure that everything served at the average Chinese restaurant in the US is still a very Americanized version of Chinese food, and so I’ll bet that even something as simple as fried rice at those places isn’t “authentic”, but trying to match up to restaurant quality is my version of “authentic”. When I want to try my hand at Chinese food at home, I am immediately disappointed if my creation doesn’t taste just like what I’ve had at my favorite restaurant. This is one of the few cuisines where I don’t like variations, I like it one way: the right way. I’ve never had raw green onions in fried rice, so an “authentic, tastes just like take out!” recipe that called for raw green onions immediately threw up a red flag. The same for recipes telling me to fry the scrambled eggs first and remove them. I’ve watched a few restaurants make fried rice, and the eggs got poured over the hot rice in the wok.

IMG_20130823_125519I didn’t even have a plain oil the first time I made it, I had to use Light Extra Virgin Olive Oil but it turned out fine. I first slowly sauteed chopped onions until very soft (I just don’t like crunchy nearly-raw onions), added a little more oil and then cranked up the heat. I tossed in my (warmed up) leftover rice and let it fry. Then I poured the scrambled eggs on top and quickly tossed things around. I pushed all the rice to the sides of the pan, and poured the gluten-free soy sauce in the middle, letting it sizzle for a few seconds before mixing it in. I’ve added leftover veggies, shrimp and chicken breast.

The first few times I made it, I used a combo of the KariOut and Kikkoman, since I was using up packets. I’ve only got a couple left now, so I want to keep them for my travel kit. I broke out the San-J Tamari Sauce for this most recent batch and was very disappointed. I would rank the KariOut first, and the Kikkoman a close second. I really am not a fan of the Tamari and won’t be using up the rest of my bottle. Hopefully I can locate the Kikkoman in a store; even better would be to find a local restaurant that has the gluten-free KariOut packets and start hoarding those.

Apparently, Kikkoman used to think that their soy sauce was gluten-free, despite being derived from wheat. I guess they’ve changed their tune, since the advent of their gluten-free sauce.

BONUS: Kari Out gives you a printable card to hand to your local Chinese restaurant!

I’ll have to look for Kikkoman at my grocery store, but for now I’ve seen it on Amazon. Best price, for Prime Members, seems to be $23 for 3 bottles. Go in on it with your friends unless you’re addicted to soy sauce.