Big City….Little City

I had an interesting time last week when I was travelling to Jefferson City MO.  I have traveled since my diagnosis,  I have been to Washington D.C. and a few other places; most of them bigger cities.  Jefferson City was my first trip to somewhere a little more out of the way and definitely a lot smaller.  I wish I could say that this trip was successful from a food stand-point but I ran into more problems than I have anywhere I have traveled.   I can count three times that I was “glutened” in one week; I know that you may say that that is not much but when you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease you are told that you need to be careful because even a small amount of gluten can start the damage to my finally healed intestines all over again.  A few of the things that I ran in to:

  • A restaurant that put flour in their mashed potatoes
  • A few restaurants that didn’t even know what a gluten free diet
  • The hotel where we (GFBill and GFJason) stayed did a great job of getting gluten free deserts but when it came to lunch it was salad for the first couple of days.  If you are going to say that you cater to the GF, then you need to understand that it has to be more than salad.

You know that you are in trouble when people start asking the “well can you have cheese?”  It really shows how much more education is needed for places where food is served.  With so many people (1 in 133) who suffer from Celiac Disease, I think it is very important that restaurants seek out allergen education.  I think it will take time for smaller cities to catch up but I think it is important that they do, in the meantime I think the next time I fly there or to any small city, I will stick to chain restaurants where I can be sure I will be safe.

But not all was bad…see this thing below.  This was a pork steak that I had from a small shack in Warrenton MO called Two Dudes BBQ; the owner’s wife spent time with me and Jason telling us all the ingredients and how things were cooked.  It was so amazingly good and made my week.

pork steak

 

 

Is my house Gluten-Free?

I often ask myself, ‘Is my house gluten-free?’  With Bill’s recent and unfortunate encounters with hidden gluten, it really makes me wonder just how is gluten getting into my gluten-free house – or life!  Neither my wife or my daughter are gluten-free, so automatically there is definitely a place for contamination in the kitchen, which I am very careful with.  But, setting this aside, what else in my house has gluten in it?  – outside of the kitchen.

It’s truly amazing the amount of products that use wheat or other grain as a filler or binding agent.  Bill mentioned lipstick, and that’s not the only bathroom product that may contain gluten.  The list continues in the bathroom beyond lipstick to toothpaste, soap, hair gel, shampoo, blush, foundation, lip balm and deodorant.  Women’s and men’s products alike have the same issues.  Check this site out for a list of GF bathroom products: http://www.glutenfree-lifestyle.com/glutenfreeproductsbytype.html  It’s worth taking a moment to do so. 

You may ask yourself, ‘why would a dude worry about makeup?’ – well … when you are hugging, kissing, or intimate with your partner, you are inadvertently exposing yourself to gluten.  Depending on your sensitivity to gluten, you could be taking in gluten in ways you never imagined.  As crazy as it seems, it’s important to think beyond the kitchen and what you ingest at mealtime. 

The bathroom medicine cabinet brings a whole other myriad of gluten into life as well.  Even disease-specific medications, such as asthma inhalers and other drugs contain gluten.  We’re not medical experts, so you’ll have to research each of the items you take and talk to your doctor.  http://glutenfreedrugs.com/list.htm offers a good list, but your doctor should confirm. 

As we continue our tour through the house, be sure to look in your laundry room.  Many laundry detergents contain gluten.  Yup – you could be wearing, sleeping in, or walking in gluten and not know it!  Again, due to the extensive use of wheat and other products containing gluten to thicken, bind, and extend products, it’s likely you might be exposed to gluten in a way you never imagined.  Here’s a short list of detergents that other GF-folks have researched: http://ourplacelivingglutenfree.blogspot.com/2010/04/update-gluten-free-laundry-detergent.html  I urge you to do your own research as well.

Whether you are new to the GF-club, or a seasoned veteran, it wouldn’t hurt to take a tour of your house with your GF-glasses on to see what else is lurking out there.  It wouldn’t hurt to rethink the things that are marked as gluten-free either!  You never know.  Maybe we need to brand a GF-Flag that can hang outside our doors?!

I’m a bad yoda…

I have not abandoned the blog, this is a real heartfelt journey for me.  In my case, we are still trying to get me to heal and at the same time make sure that I have enough nutrition in my body to sustain my vital organs.  I am not complaining, I get that this is part of my journey and I am not letting it get the better of me.  I am just so crazy busy and have had quite a few appointments that it is hard to find the time to be creative.  Even though what we share is our lives, it still takes a bit of creativity to make our loyal followers want to stay our loyal followers.  So I promise, next week I am back in the saddle…  Bill

Yes, Virginia, potatoes are gluten-free!

Recently, a relative of mine was so excited when I walked in the door, she blurted out – “I made gluten-free mashed potatoes for you!”  I really had to hold in my response – I didn’t want to spoil the moment.  Now, don’t get me wrong, when you are new to gluten free, you pretty much think everything has gluten in it, and assume you can’t eat anything, so it’s natural to think ALL starches mihave gluten.  Well … that’s just not true.  Potatoes, rice, tapioca, and buckwheat (not at all related to wheat) are all naturally gluten-free.  Of course, one reason to not eat any of these is if they may have been packaged in a facility that also packages glutenous items – it all depends on your level of sensitivity and caution.  Celiac.com has posted a list of gluten-free safe foods and ingredients which is worth keeping on hand should you be out at a grocery store and wonder  – “Can I have taro root?”.  (Potatoes, mashed or otherwise are on the list!)

So, eat all the potatoes you want.  Have a baked one with some Greek yogurt in place of sour cream – tastes delicious.  Going with the purest of packaging or growing some of the items yourself, the following are starches that are, in fact, gluten free:

  • Potatoes
  • Rice -white and brown
  • Oats (oats naturally don’t have gluten but are often processed in the same facilities as wheat, so use caution)
  • Corn
  • Tapioca
  • Millet
  • Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash – zucchini, yellow, acorn, etc.
  • Beans – string, garbanzo, white, kidney, lima, etc. 
  • Soy
  • Peas – technically a vegetable, but a starchy one at that
  • Carrots
  • Arrowroot
  • Chia – yes, as in the ‘pet’
  • Sorghum

So, when you grill up that steak, along with some great portobello mushrooms (just a drizzle of olive oil), serve it up with a side of anything from the above.  You’ll be just as full as if you ate a side os glutenous pasta or macaroni salad.  There’s plenty to enjoy that’s naturally gluten free, and many of these items are healthier choices to boot!

Celiac Awareness Month 2011

It seems nowadays that for every month of the year there are at least a dozen diseases or causes to be ‘aware’ of.  May is no exception, and it happens to be Celiac Awareness month.  So, what does it mean to be ‘aware’ of Celiac.   To us gluten free yodas it means the following:

Simply knowing that Celiac exists,

Being sensitive to those who have Celiac or maintain a gluten free diet,

Understanding that gluten free is not a fad and we aren’t doing it to be ‘cool’

Having Celiac disease isn’t a wish that someone makes while they are blowing out their birthday candles.  It’s not something that someone prays for like a kid wishing for a trip to Disney World.  However, it is a welcome diagnosis to those who have suffered in pain and extreme discomfort for many, many years.  It’s not a diagnosis one hopes for, but it is an explanation.  It’s a relief when it is determined.  I know this may seem like a stretch, but it’s about one’s own awareness of Celiac that brings to light a plan of attack, an escape.  Being aware opens up one’s options for moving forward, feeling better, and living.

Being aware of Celiac is being aware of gluten.  Gluten is an elastic protein that is found in many grains, such as wheat, rye, or barley.  It’s what we often see in bread dough making is stretch and stay together even as you continue to kneed it.  In Celiac, it is the gliadin portion of the gluten that causes an immune response resulting in damaged intestines, hence the malabsorption of nutrients the body needs to thrive.

When your body decides not to absorb nutrients, not to nourish itself, it can be difficult to see a way out.  The wonderful thing about the way out is that it is more often one of the most natural forms of treatment – diet.  A strict gluten free diet allows one’s body to rejuvenate, to grow and rebuild itself to become what it knows best to do – to thrive, absorb nutrients, and fuel the rest of the body.  Although a gluten free diet may be supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals, it’s a gluten free diet that is at the core of treatment.

Those of us with Celiac or gluten intolerance are already ‘aware’, so a month of Celiac awareness isn’t really about ‘us’ – it’s really about educating others on the disease and the diet.  So, how can we educate the public and others in our lives … well, here are some places to start:

  1. Celiac Disease Foundation - a wealth of information about the disease, treating it and further education
  2. Celiac.com - pretty much the oldest site out there dedicated to gluten free and celiac – everything from Q&A, rescipes, the shopping mall, to advice and forums
  3. Recognizing Celiac Disease - a very down to earth book explaining the disease, symptoms and how to treat them

In addition to the above, a new forum has been created as an expansion of GlutenFreeWorks.com called GlutenFreeNetWorks – join in the conversation here and you’ll learn a lot about what’s going on in the world of Celiac and gluten free.  We’ll see you there!

So, if you have Celiac, or gluten intolerance, take this month to bring more awareness of the disease to the world – start locally with a friend, or join in the online conversation.  You may just find that the person sitting next to you on the train is gluten free too, and looking for a good place to eat!

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…

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?

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.



Ordering..He’s allergic to Gluten

Shortly after diagnosis I went to a small local joint in Cambridge called Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage to have dinner with my wife.  When I say small I’m talking in terms of physical size; not in popularity, this place has been in the movies (most recently the “Social Network,”) and in the news with a recent visit from Shaq and is one of the most popular places to eat in Harvard Square.

I have to admit I was a little nervous, as this place does not advertise a Gluten Free Menu and I had only eaten at one other “non-safe” place and not had the best experience.

Non-safe is my term so don’t read too much into it; in my crazy mind if the place does not have a dedicated Gluten Free menu it is a “non-safe” place and requires a little extra planning and a lot more questioning.  For example; PF Changs = safe, Boston Market = safe, Texas Roadhouse = non-safe, and Bartley’s = non-safe; remember these is strictly ratings by Bill, not endorsed by any of the Gluten Free associations or society’s.

So when we sat down I started asking questions, I planned on getting a turkey dinner,  no stuffing, mashed potatoes with no gravy and the vegetable of the day.  I asked, does the chef add anything to the mashed potatoes? (consequently I found out they add non-dairy creamer to make the potatoes smoother, which is gluten free by the way). I wanted to know if they added a sauce on the vegetables. Nope, just steamed carrots with a little sugar.  Being a former server myself, I know that this type of questioning can grate on you because you have a million things that you have to do and in this case your main concern is not my intestines. So being on the other side you start to get even a little more anxious…but the server we had that night was great, she answered all the questions and told me not to worry.

That’s where it gets a little hairy, at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage the custom is that they yell out your order to the line (the cooks).  Ok I can deal with that until I hear her scream “Ordering…He’s allergic to gluten.”  Now as I said Bartley’s is small and the other thing about Bartley’s is that it is uber busy all the time so there had to be at least 50 people in this small restaurant at the time that she was yelling my life story to the masses.

I tell you at that point I wanted to crawl under the table, I felt that every pair of eyes were trained on me and they were all talking about my food allergy.  How snifty!! (this is a word that my son tells me means sexy and nifty and seemed appropriate to use here.)  But as I was under the table I started to think …

  • Her yelling meant that everyone on that line who touched my food knew to be careful because if they weren’t they were playing with someone’s health.  (Not that any chef in their right mind would ever trick a gluten free person into eating gluten.  That’s crazy… and I think as they would say in the olden days; he should be boiled in his own oil.)
  • This is not about who I am as a person, my diet does not define me, I have to think I am so much more than just a guy who can’t eat food with gluten (well at least I hope I am)

When we started this blog we decided it was important to let people know the trials and tribulations of having “by diet” to be a little different. We wanted to convey the truth of someone who has lived this life for quite a while and someone who was just beginning the journey.

Life is not always going to be as easy as it was, you are going to have to question more, you are going to have to plan more and going out to eat is going to make you more anxious. But in the end it is worth it, because you are taking responsibility for your own health and making it work for you.

So as Jason so aptly put it earlier in the week “It’s not who I am…It’s just how I have to eat!”

It’s not who I am.

Part of being gluten free was acknowleding that I needed to be gluten free.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s words of wisdom, I’ve learned not to be afraid to tell people that I am gluten free.  With this in mind though, I don’t let it define who I am.  It’s just part of me.

There are a lot of things about me that better define ‘who I am’.  For instance, I am a father, a husband, a singer, a painter, and a poet.  When I tell people that “I am gluten free,” I am not making a statement about my identity, but rather a request that I am taking into consideration when a meal is planned or a restaurant is chosen. 

In other languages, such as French or Spanish, the direct translation of “I am Jason” is really, “I am called Jason.”  One is not identified by a name, but rather referred to by a name, and thus allowed to be identified by things much deeper, and perhaps of one’s choosing. 

My wife’s cousin, Sarah, has epilepsy.  She is incredibly wise for her age and has taken a similar approach to her life as I strive to in mine.  Her website http://itsnotwhoiam.com/ even states it very, very clearly.  She raises awareness about epiliepsy, involves community organizations in these efforts, and has a book written about her and how she defines herself and her approach to epilepsy.  Although her focus is on awareness of epilepsy, she does not let it define who she is, let it stop her from pursuing things, and certainly doesn’t wear it on her sleeves. 

Her same idea and approach is what led to this website – an idea that living gluten free isn’t about gluten free at all!  It’s about being me – the dad, the husband, the singer, the artist, and, now, one of the GF yodas.

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