Food Should Taste Good – Yes, yes, it should – even when gluten free!

My brother turned me onto Food Should Taste Good (FSTG) chips recently and I am completely hooked.  I can’t seem to keep them stocked in the house.  My wife loves them too!  It’s hard to find healthy gluten free alternatives to fiber-rich crackers, and these hit the mark.  I suppose they could go on the ‘happen to be gluten free’ list, but I wanted to call them out seeing as I eat them almost every day.  They have pretty much become a cracker-substitute for me.  There’s nothing like a good slice of Cabot NY Sharp Cheddar on one of these chips.  Yum!

So … what makes them so good?!  I think it’s because they didn’t really focus on the non-gluten aspect of the food.  Instead, they focus on what makes healthy food taste good, like incredible flavors and seasonings.  People often ask me when I cook for them – what did you do to make this taste so good?  My answer is often ‘nothing’.  I let food speak for itself.  A little salt and pepper go a long way.  I think that the folks at FSTG work with this philosophy as well.  The food is good already, they are just focused on what makes it healthier and in some instances more sophisticated.

All of the FSTG chips are gluten free, cholesterol free, and are a good source of fiber (which is needed as evidenced by Bill’s recent experience).  Here are a list of my personal favorites:

  • Olive - these taste incredible.  With a little hummus or even guacamole, these chips are great.
  • Lime - Again … dip these in a little guacomole and you’re at your favorite mexican cantina – and you know it’s GF!
  • Cheddar - I know it seems odd to double up, but I do!  I eat these with a slice of cheddar on top and it’s all cheese-kwow goodness.  I would put these in the better-for-you-than-Doritos category. 
  • Toasted Sesame - these are the ones that are most like a cracker to me.  Serve these with a bit of cheese, a shmear of cream cheese or with other crudete.
  • Multigrain - hey, you asked for healthy and GF.  Here it is.  They taste great with anything, really!

I should say that all of the other flavors are great too, I’m just listing my personal favorites.  So … if you stumble on these simply packaged black and white bags of chips – grab a couple.  You won’t regret it.  Crack open a bottle of wine (yes, wine is GF!), get a nice smoked gouda for the chips, and relax – you’ve had a hard day at work!

BBQ Season Opens with UDI’s Buns!

I can’t even remember the last time I ate a hamburger without a fork and knife.  Growing up hamburgers were always being made in our house.  A little ketchup, maybe a pickle on a nice bun – yum!  We’d hang out poolside eating and swimming, then eating more and swimming more.  Those were the days!

Fast forward to today … as I mentioned in my previous UDI’s post, it’s very hard to come by a good bread for anything, let alone a good bun.  Most of the ones I’ve either made at home or bought crumble in my hands before even making it to my mouth.  It’s like trying to pick up sandcastle!  It just can’t be done. 

This past weekend – yes, the weekend before Memorial Day, I had the privaledge of sampling UDI’s new hambuger buns!  The weather was great, and my sister-in-law was visiting (also GF), so I knew it was a great time to grill up some burgers and give them a go. 

Well … without sounding to gushing – they were fantastic.  Both of us cheers’d as we began to bite into our burgers – sans fork and knife – for the first time in ages.  The buns held up amazingly to the juice of the burger and the condiments.  They didn’t crumble, get soggy, or fall apart even as we progressed through dinner.  We didn’t even toast them either! 

The texture of the bun was great.  Unlike other brands I’ve tasted, UDIs buns are not grainy and hold up to their gluten-filled cousins.  The flavor was spot on as well.  It just tasted like a bun – nothing more to it, really.

So … in short, to all you summer-grilling, beach-going, crab salads eating folks out there – turn on the heat and let summer begin – and leave the forks and knives at home!

Life Happens…

So I had originally planned  a trip report from my recent trip to Washington DC; but life has gotten a little in the way.

As we said we would always be honest, so I will give you some information of what it going on.  I have not been feeling all that well lately so I went to the Dr. and subsequently ended up at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.  Well the truth of the matter is my gluten numbers are way too high and malabsorption is still occurring.  So I am having a biopsy on Friday to find out what is going on.  So I am very sorry that I did not have time to finish the post.  Jason will post on Thursday and I will have my trip report for you on next Tuesday…As I said “Life Happens”

To make up for it I thought I would share another picture from my friend Mark. This is the hat that President Lincoln was wearing the night that he was assassinated.  It was displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

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!

I choose number 2!!

(This has nothing to do with the previous post about the lack of fiber in my diet)

I had a much longer post that I was going to write today but I thought that I would give you a little update of what is going on my Celiac condition in hopes of helping people who may be in the same boat.

I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease almost three months ago now.  Right after my diagnosis, and start of a very strict gluten free diet, I stated to feel much better.  I had more energy, more stamina, more focus; in other words I was feeling great!!

I wish I could say that it lasted, but it hasn’t.  Due to some other medical issues I was having, I have been to the doctor a few times over the last month.  The doctor decided to run a Celiac Panel to see how I was doing with my diet.  Now, I know I am being as strict as anyone can be, and not even thinking about cheating, and really try to stay away from things that may cross contaminate me, but I suppose he wanted to check anyway.

Even with being very strict, my Celiac panel is not where it should be.  It could mean that I am getting gluten somewhere (I can’t even fathom a guess).  It could also me that I have a different kind of Celiac that I had not heard about until yesterday called Refractory Celiac Disease.  RCD is a type of Celiac Disease that requires other interventions besides just a strict gluten free diet.

What these interventions are, I am not sure and neither was my doctor (understandable as he is general internist).  So I am in the process of either getting a referral from the hospital in which my doctor practices, or getting an appointment at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston.  In the meantime, I am healthy, all my nutrient levels are up, just not where they should be.  I am and will be OK.

That last line is the reason I wrote this post.  I did not write the post for people to say “Poor me”; I did not write the post because I am feeling sorry for myself.  I did write the post because I wanted people to know that it isn’t always going to be easy and sometimes it sucks and you will not always get the news that you want.

At that point you have two choices; 1. to wallow in self-pity or 2.  get on…and move on and find out what is going on with your body and take care of it as soon as possible.

For the record, I choose number 2!!

People don’t eat grass…cows do!!

I am not a scientist, or a nutritionist, or a doctor; so I cannot tell you hard and fast facts about why gluten is bad.  I can only tell you why I think it is bad!

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.  It is what makes pizza dough stretchy, gives bread is sponginess, and is what thickens soups and sauces.  You can’t see it; you can’t even find a picture of it on the internet.  It is just there! It is hidden in pizza, pasta, bread, wraps, rolls and most processed foods.  Gluten truly is a staple of the American diet.

Two reasons why we are so sensitive to gluten are:

1. The lack of genetic adaption to eat grasses, humans are not meant to eat grass, cows are!  Wheat was introduced in the middle ages in Europe and about 30 percent of people of European descent carry the gene for Celiac disease.  I guess I won the genetic lottery, being of Irish and English descent and all (NOT!!).

2. American strains of wheat are genetically modified to have a much higher gluten content.  That is why the bread we eat is so moist and fresh.  This “Super” Gluten is now part nearly all wheat strains grown in the United States.

The inability to digest wheat is an auto immune reaction - in some it may cause stomach issues, in others it may cause more serious auto immune diseases.  You can find plenty of research studies on the internet which link sensitivity to gluten to many things.  I am not going to list them all here but you can find a great list in the Elisabeth Hasselbeck book that I reviewed before.

For others, like myself, it is much more serious.  Our body looks at gluten like a foreign agent trying to invade the body.   When it invades, it flattens the villi in our small intestines causing malabsorbtion of nutrients.  This malabsorbtion can cause a load of other problems.  In my case in particular, all of my internal systems started to malfuction due to the fact I was so malnourished.

My internist said that when he looked at my vitamin D levels, he thought it had to be a mistake.  It is supposed to be in the hundreds…mine was 4!!  So as you can see in some cases it can be a little bad and in others like mine it can be very bad in some cases even deadly!!

But the reason I decided to write this post is far more personal.  My youngest son has had some of the same problems as me – he gets canker sores; he has some stomach issues; he can be quite pale; he has not grown as much as his brother did at his age, and he’s GROUCHY all the time.  So naturally we thought it was best to have him tested.

While we were waiting for the results, which take a while to return, we switched him to a gluten free diet.  Within a week he was not getting many, if any, cankers.  The color had come back into his face, and he was a pleasure to be around.  We were convinced that the test was going to come back positive.  Well we were wrong – all the tests came back negative; we know that there are false negatives and want to try to get a little more info from a gastroenterologist who understands the disease better than his regular pediatrician.  So for now he will stay on the diet…

But what is most confusing is the change in his health, if he is in fact not allergic, why is all this stuff getting better.  Which brought me to the conclusion that maybe gluten is just BAD for anyone.  After all “People don’t eat grass, cows do!”

Maybe everyone should cut down or cut gluten out of their diets to see if maybe, just maybe, what ails them may go away.

As I said, this is one yoda’s opinion, I am not a scientist or a doctor.   I do know, however, that cutting down or cutting out gluten is not easy and extremely frustrating.  I also know it can cause other problems due to the nutrional things that are missing in gluten free foods.  As avid readers of our blog know, I had a little problem caused by lack of fiber.

So I am not saying “do this now, throw out every bit of food with gluten in it”.  What I am saying is if you have an unexplained illness or are just feeling lousy all the time, maybe this may be an option that you want to explore.  But if you do decide to explore this option, do your research first and never do anything this extreme without checking with your healthcare provider first.

So, if you are looking for me, I will be celebrating Celiac awareness month by registering my new trademark – “People don’t eat grass … cows do!!”  Moo!

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…

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?

Copyright 2011 © Gluten Free Yodas