Gluten Free Tool Kit

In my family every Saturday is “gluten free shopping day.”  This usually consists of a trip to several different places to stock up on food for the week.  This week we had a special appearance by my 13 year old son Evan who is also now starting on a gluten free diet as we wait for results of his Celiac panel blood test (I will write more about this in a future post.)  We usually hit a local health food store called Good Health, which for a small store has a very large selection of gluten free products.  Sometimes it includes a trip to Whole Foods, but not always, as their selection of gluten free products is not as extensive as Good Health.  The one place that we always go is Allcaneat Bakery, this place has the greatest gluten free prepared meals and baked goods.

What does this have to do with a GF Tool Kit?  Let me tell you.  It never fails that when we are on our shopping trip we always seem to run into someone who is just starting on their own gluten free diet journey.  Getting a gluten insensitivity or Celiac diagnosis can bring on a lot of stress since it is such a major change in your life, and most newbies are just looking for someone to throw them a lifer preserver;  this life preserver comes in the form of information.  I met a young women named Megan on Saturday who had just gotten her diagnosis and was looking for someone to give her some assistance.  So what is a Yoda to do?  This Yoda provided a brain dump of all the information in “his” GF Tool Kit.

Here’s what is inside!!

1. It is great if you have someone who can tell you what products tastes good and what doesn’t.  We have provided that in an earlier post that Jason wrote.

2. Knowledge is power, and the more you understand about your diagnosis and diet the better.  Here are a couple of good books that I think provide a lot of useful information:

3. I also found a few good iPod/iPad apps for eating out:

  • The Gluten Free Registry – finds all the restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores near your location
  • Gluten Freed – has a decent list of places to eat by state
  • Is that Gluten Free - a little expensive but gives you a list of most products in grocery stores and whether they are gluten free

4. The Gluten Free Guide- my nutritionist told me about this book and I could not live without it.  It is called the Gluten Free Shopping Guide.  It has an extensive list of things that are gluten free and includes most local super market chains.  They also update it if products are added or taken off the list.  It can be found here…

5. The Web – there are way too many great sites out there about gluten free living and Celiac disease to list so I will just give the most important one below:

6. I have found that the magazine Living Without has some great articles along with gluten free recipes and resources.

7. Most grocery chains that cater to the gluten free crowd have product lists of all their gluten free products.  Two chains that I know that have them are:

  • Whole Foods
  • Trader Joes (read throughly, some of their things are made in the same plants, cross contamination may happen)

8. A list of Gluten Free Medications, most of us take something even if it is ibuprofen, it is always better to know that you are not going to react to it.

9. A couple of standby restaurants that you know you can go to and get a safe gluten free meal.  Use the The Gluten Free Registry to find local places.  Even though restaurants may not advertise GF, they may have GF – call and ask – you never know.  Mine are:

10. A support system:  this is probably the most important.  Having good friends and family who will help you through this transition make it so much easier to get through.

This is by far not a complete list and there are so many more things that you can have in your tool kit but I thought I would tell you what has helped me.

Hopefully this will help a few more “Megans” come to grips with their new lifestyles…

Flatbread Company is Flat-out GF Good!

Tucked in the back corner of the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton, CT is the Flatbread Company.  I’ve walked by many of times taking in the delicious smells wafting from the clay ovens.  The primary reason why I walked by was that I really didn’t think they had anything for me since I maintain a gluten free (GF) diet.  Well, this all changed last weekend when I saw a small sign out of the corner of my eye stating, “Gluten Free Pizza & Whoopie Pies Available”.  I turned towards my wife with a look of astonishment, also known as “chocolate-face” in my family, and said, “I’m going in to order a pizza to go!” 

I glanced over the menu, which primarily consists of pizza and salads made entirely with organic, local and free-range ingredients.  I chose the vegan pizza - GF style, added the whoopie pie, and waited in anticipation.  I’ve tried a lot of GF pizza along the way, including ones that you can make at home.  The ones I make at home never really hold up.  They ultimately crumble when you try to fold it in half to eat it – which is the correct method for eating pizza (I may get a lot of flack on that point – but that’s how you eat pizza!)  Other restaurants I’ve eaten at have excellent toppings and their sauce is good, but again, the crust falls slight short. 

A short while later, my pizza and dessert were in hand.  The smell was enough to make you want to tear into it immediately.  So, that’s what I did.  My intention was to wait till I got home, but who has time for that when  you have a deliciously smelling pizza in the back seat!  I took one bite and realized what I was missing – as it turns out Flatbread Company has been offering GF options to its patrons for quite some time – I never knew because I never saw it advertised until recently. 

I folded – yes, folded – the pizza in half and took a huge bite.  It was delicious!  My nose and mouth had finally agreed on a GF pizza worthy of scarfing (no, not the kind you put around your neck!)  I put a huge dent in the pie on the way home, with my wife sampling it too.  (I always have her taste GF items to keep me in check.  Having not eaten gluten for over 10 years now, my taste-buds can be askew and need some assistance in the “Is this really that good?” category.  She agreed that it was.)  I finished the rest of the pizza when I got home.  The sauce, the mushrooms, the olives – everything was fantastic.  It was all-in-all the best GF pizza I’ve had thus far.  The whoopiepie wasn’t all that bad either, trust me.  Two delectable pies in one night!

Through this, Flatbread Company is now on my list of preferred eat in/take out restaurants.  While they are primarily found in the northeast, there are a handful of restaurants as far as Hawaii and BC, Canada.  If you have one close to you, call ahead to ask if they serve their GF pizza – and if they do, pick up a pie or 2 or 3!  You won’t be disappointed.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game…Gluten Free Style!

As I write this post, the Red Sox, my home team, sit in the cellar of the American League East with a record of 2-9,  not such a good start to the season.  A season where they are predicted to win 100 games and make the World Series.  Right now, you might be asking yourself, “When did the Yoda’s change this into a sports blog, I wanted to learn about gluten free living.”  Well we didn’t so don’t worry.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend two Red Sox games this week, unfortunately they lost both games, which is now why they sit in the cellar.  OK, that is enough complaining.

Here is the information that you came here for!

As they are finding that Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance are far more prevalent than they thought, many ball parks that are now offering gluten free options.

Here are just a few of them with some examples of what they are offering:

  • Citi Field : Hot dog and hamburger on gluten-free bun, gluten-free snacks, gluten-free beer
  • Citizens Bank Park : Hot dog on gluten-free bun, gluten-free beer
  • Coors Field : Hot dog, hamburger and chicken sandwich on gluten-free bun, potato chips, cookies and brownies, gluten-free beer
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards : Gluten-free crab cake, Asian noodle salad, hummus and vegetables, hot dog and sausage on gluten-free bun, gluten-free beer
  • Turner Field : Grilled sirloin burger served on tapioca-organic rice roll, hot dog on gluten-free bun, potato chips and popcorn, cookies and brownies, gluten-free beer

You will notice that Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, is not on this list.  Needless to say I was a little nervous about what I was going to eat and I didn’t have time to grab something at the house so I knew that I would be hungry.  The park does advertise that they have a selection of gluten free snacks which basically consisted of  a brownie, a chocolate chip cookie and two kinds of chips that are gluten free.

The funniest thing about their gluten free section is the woman who works there who tries to talk you out of anything that you try to buy because they are expensive ($5 for the cookie, $3 for the chips).  I actually asked her jokingly if it was part of her job to talk people out of buying this stuff! 

Since I was a little anxious about not being able to eat, I talked to my “Yoda” Jason about his experiences and he told me that popcorn was OK, and that he has asked for hot dogs and burgers without rolls.  Where I was not thrilled that I had to ask this at the concession stand, I gave it a go anyway.  He was also reminding me to watch out for cross-contamination, of course.

I was lucky enough to find someone from the company that operates the concessions in the park and he explained that asking to have it “your way” was perfectly OK.  He also explained to me that there are concession stands throughout the park that sell only fries so their fryers are dedicated and their french fries are not battered and therefore ok.  When I say they sell only fries I mean they do not prepare chicken fingers or fried dough at that stand.  So things were definitely looking up.

I did order a burger without the bun the first night.  The second night I brought two pieces of Udi’s bread and put the burger on that - very delicious!  I also had french fries, and the best thing was I didn’t have a bad reaction to any of it.  The only bad reaction was from a woman sitting a row in front of me who looked at me a little funny for eating a burger with my fingers (trust me I could not find a fork or knife anywhere, I searched and searched).  So other than that one thing…no problems.  Watch the game lady, not me!

If you go to Fenway, the concession stand I was told about can be found under the bleachers between sections 37-42.  The best way I can describe it is that it is to the left of the “big” men’s room.  Don’t be scared that it says Fried Dough on the sign, they prepare that separately in a different fryer.  So where Fenway Park does not scream “gluten free” there are things availble that you can make gluten free just by asking a couple of questions.

My advice to newbies (like me) who are going to any sporting venue would be to go a little early, take a walk around, survey the situation and see what they have to offer.  They may, like Fenway, have a few gluten free options, but as you walk around you may find many more options that you can make gluten free just by asking.

So its root, root for the the home team, they have to starting winning sometime, don’t they?  I wonder if any of the players are gluten free?

Kay’s Naturals – A Welcome Addition to Gluten Free Snacking!

Kay’s Naturals was thoughtful enough to send us a generous sampling of many of their varied gluten free (GF) products.  We behaved like excited children opening gifts on a holiday when the large cardboard box arrived.  Having done online product reviews in the past for Qwowi.com, we were pleasantly surprised at how much Kay’s Naturals sent us; it was the most liberal product sampling we’ve ever been sent.  On that note, we can certainly understand how Kay’s Naturals must be very proud of their products.  They were excellent.

Dr. Massoud Kazemzadeh created these products with his own wife in mind, who happens to have juvenile diabetes. It is no secret that many tasty treats that happen to be GF or low in carbohydrates also happen to be of low nutritional value.  This fact concerned Dr. Kazemzadeh (Dr. Kay) and that is how Kay’s Naturals was conceived.  We appreciate Dr. Kay’s insights, because it is a noteworthy product line of high fiber, high protein snacks, which also happen to be GF.

For those of you out there who follow a GF diet, you know how agonizing it can be to approach a dessert buffet or tray at a restaurant or party.  While in one moment you are just praying that there is a fruit salad because you know it will be the only thing you can even eat, you would really rather have a gooey slice of chocolate cake.   Eating healthy is, well… eating healthy.  Snacking on fruit is not the same as savoring a piece of cake.  Kay’s Naturals strikes a balance in this notion of healthy eating.  Honestly, some of Kay’s snacks taste “healthier” than others, and we will be honest in our renderings.  Here’s the thing… Kay’s Naturals are healthy… some of the snacks are just “naughtier” tasting than others—and we mean naughty in the good way!

  1. Veggie Pizza Protein Puffs: Yum!  All of Kay’s Protein Puffs have a wonderful crunch and a nice texture.  The flavor in this one really comes out, and it’s a much healthier, yet still tasty version of “a Dorito meets a cheese puff.”
  2. Jalapeño Honey Mustard Pretzels: Surprisingly spicy!  I know, it says jalapeño, but it really does pack a punch!  For me, these didn’t feel or taste like pretzels, yet they were yummy all the same.  They were too crumbly and the wrong texture to be a true pretzel.  Overall, it was good flavor, but I could tell they were healthy.
  3. Honey Flavored, Almond Filled Cookie Bites: These little gems have wonderful flavor, in which the taste of cinnamon and almond really come through, yet the texture is airy.  While tasty and crunchy, they cannot honestly be called cookies; they are more like scrumptious cereal.
  4. Almond Delight Protein Puffs: As mentioned earlier, all of the Protein Puffs were a hit.  Their texture stands up to the non-GF snack world, and for anyone who appreciates a sincere almond flavor, these are perfect.
  5. Apple Cinnamon Protein Cereal, French Vanilla Protein Cereal, and Honey Almond Protein Cereal:  These products are lighter versions of Cheerios.  They are lighter in both texture and in flavor than Cheerios, although much higher in nutrients, so you be the judge.  For us, the flavor didn’t really come through as much as we would have liked, yet the cereal is good, and something we would purchase again.
  6. Cinnamon Toast Pretzel Sticks: These were a hit in our house, and this might have been our favorite product of the samples sent along.  To us, these pretzel sticks actually tasted like cinnamon toast, with a decent texture, and outstanding flavor.
  7. Lemon Herb Protein Chips: Let’s preface this aspect of the review by saying that we love lemon-flavored snacks.  It is rather easy to infuse a food with lemon flavor, too.  Unfortunately, we must be honest and say this snack was not our favorite and we can’t recommend it.
  8. Tomato Basil Protein Puffs: These puffs were surprisingly sweet, and almost tasted more like a sugary, tomato-y BBQ flavor.  We didn’t even notice the basil flavor coming through, which was disappointing.  They are yummy, though, and perhaps should be re-named.  Like all of the Kay’s Protein Puffs, they have nice texture and a great crunch.
  9. Nacho Cheese Protein Chips: If you are in the mood for a much healthier version of a smoky, chili-inspired version of a Dorito, these are the chips for you.  This chip is a fantastic example of a “naughty” tasting snack, which is actually delicious and healthy.
  10. Crispy Parmesan Protein Chips: Awesome!  The taste is perfect, they provide an excellent crunch and texture, and these chips are another example of a yummy snack that you would never believe is healthy, yet carries tremendous nutritional value.
  11. Sweet BBQ Snack Mix: This was another of our favorites.  This was simply great!  It provided a lovely BBQ taste, and varied, exceptional textures, which is rare in the GF snack world.  This was another hit in our household!

One last note—for anyone out there who follows a GF diet, and who is also desiring to lose weight, the Kay’s Naturals website provides a Diet Plan.  We think the Diet Plan is a realistic, affordable, healthy option for GF or non-GF folks to shed pounds.  For anyone searching for a convenient, scripted weight loss program, which is high in fiber, protein, and other nutrients, this may be a viable choice.  The program combines Kay’s Naturals cereals and snacks with other healthy, commonly-available items such as yogurt, lettuce, and canned soups, to make the diet an easy and quick way to step up one’s health, while remaining GF and low-carb.

As you can tell, we really enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, Kay’s Naturals.  We are glad to have found some nutrient-filled GF foods!  We all know what can happen when you overindulge in GF goodies!

Hitting a Wall– So soon?

My story is a little different than Jason’s.  As I mentioned in my last post, Jason has been living gluten free for quite a while.   I, on the other hand, am just approaching my third month.  I have definitely gotten used to eating gluten free, the texture of the food doesn’t really bother me anymore, and the taste of most things is fine.  I have found a pasta I like, Bi-Aglut corn pasta.  Udi’s makes bread and plain bagels that I love.  I am now a big fan of Mi-Del Chocolate chip cookies.  These are just some of my absolute favorites; of course I could list many more things, but most of them are on Jason’s list from one of our first posts.    So what would I have to complain about?

To be quite honest with you, I feel like I am hitting a wall.  I am starting to miss some of the stuff that I ate before I was diagnosed.  I now understand why people cheat.  Those Pillsbury Bunny cookies for Easter look and smell really, really good.  Worst of all, Twinkies are now in three packs for a limited time only.   We have been so busy that we have not really had the time to try to cook new things.  Being a creature of habit, I find myself eating a lot of the same stuff and right now I am kind of feeling like “how much longer can I keep this up?”  My brain and stomach are screaming “no mas!” We want something different and we want what we used to eat.  Remember the Twinkies, remember the #9 with Crab Rangoon and fried rice, remember (and this hurts the most) the chicken teriyaki from the mall food court.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past week or so that I have almost mistakenly bit into things that were not gluten free, in fact I almost just ate a piece of a Bunny cookie that was stuck on my finger a few minutes ago.

Oh how easy it would be to just say to myself “come on, what is one non-gluten free meal going to do to you?  Really Bill, just go ahead and have just one Twinkie”….STOP!!!!

A few things that you should know about this yoda:

  1. I knew that I would hit a wall sooner or later- I didn’t think it was going to be this soon, but I fully expected it to happen.
  2. I am not going to cheat- I have Celiac disease, even the littlest bit of gluten can make me very sick and could reverse the healing of the villi in my intestines (I know, TMI)
  3. I am not even going to be less diligent about cross contamination; I will still ask all the questions that I need to ask to maintain my strict diet.

I am looking at this “Wall Hitting” as a challenge. I am challenging myself to find the time to cook different things, find new recipes to try, look for different restaurants that I can try, and keep on the course that I have been undertaking successfully for the last three months.

So, if you find yourself careening towards that wall at a great rate of speed, step on the brakes and make sure that you remember why you are taking this course of action in the first place.  Take a breath and realize how much better you feel.

Keeping baby gluten free

Having a baby is an amazing experience, as my wife recently wrote about online.  It has its moments of joy and its moments of frustration too.  One of the harder things this first year, has been ensuring that my daughter is gluten free for her first year.  Given that I have a gluten intolerance, it is recommended that for the first year, my daughter also remain gluten free.  So … no wheat, barley, rye, or any other gluten-filled food for her the whole year.

As my daughter approaches her first birthday, I’m letting out a sigh of relief because it hasn’t been so easy finding gluten free foods for her along the way.  We make almost everything at home, and probably would anyway, regardless of GF.  The trouble is that there are very few early pre-packaged foods for infants on the market.  Even teething biscuits have gluten!  And, although in reading the labels on jarred food doesn’t reveal any outright gluten ingredients, one can’t be too careful.  It may be good if the big brands started having their food tested for gluten and labeling it as such.  Maybe it is in the works – who knows.  (Side note: my daughter never ate jarred food – she still rejects it all the time.  She also doesn’t take a bottle either, and hates formula!  I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing though.)

Here are some of the products that we’ve found along the way that are gluten free and have kept us going (in no particular order)…

  • Baby Mum-Mum - these rice biscuits are great for babies who are starting to teeth.  They melt in their mouths and are easy for them to hold and eat.
  • Plum Organics Super Puffs - these aren’t listed as gluten free, but there are no gluten ingredients listed.  We started these later in her first year.  Since she can’t have a lot of the standard Gerber products, these were the next best choice.  We wanted to be able to give her something she could grab and feed herself – a very important task for a little one.
  • Ella’s Kitchen - these are all organic, prepackaged (and the packaging is really cool!) baby foods.  Very good, very simple and just plain great for your baby.  My daughter finally took to these towards the end of her first year.  (It was nothing to do with Ella!, trust me)
  • Healthy Times Rice Cereal - very easy to make, just add some warm water and you are good to go.  My daughter has been enjoying this for dinner since she was about 4 months old. 
  • Mini Prep Food Processor  – ok, so you can’t actually eat the processor!  This is what I use to grind up things like cooked Bob’s Red Mill gluten free oatmeal, fresh blueberries, or pretty much anything else.  It only takes a few minutes to grind up some steamed/cooked veggies, and your baby will love it.

As with anything and everything related to gluten free eating, check with your doctor to do what’s right for you and your family.  Good luck and congratulations to all you new parents out there – it’s definitely a wild ride.



Mebo likes Nebo (I know bad)

What an amazing experience my wife and I had at Nebo last night.  We had an early reservation so the restaurant was not that crowded and went in specifically because we heard they had an amazing gluten free menu.  Everything that we heard was correct.  We enjoyed heated olives, a caprese salad that was amazing and my wife had the tagliatelle cappesante, which was pasta with a cheese sauce and seared scallops.  I had their gluten free pasta with bolognese sauce.  I need to tell you the pasta was al dente and the sauce I could eat with a spoon (in fact I did).  It was so good I ordered one to take home for another time.  The best part of the evening was meeting Carla, one of the two sister owners, she was such a hoot and really cares about making sure that you have a safe GFree experience. I must say Brava to the ladies at Nebo…it really is a great place for the gluten free.

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