Navigating the wheat free, gluten free diet

Archive for November, 2010

“Is this gluten-free?” A Plea to Gluten Eaters

I would say this was my most successful gluten-free Thxgiving yet.  Just look at this beautifully stuffed plate of GF foodz:

But even though my extended weekend went off without a glutenous hitch (I was feeling better to boot), I couldn’t help but be a tad irked by my family’s well-meaning but highly annoying inquiries into whether this or that was gluten-free.

People with Celiac friends and family:


I know you’re just interested in our well-being, but here’s the thing: I know you can read.  Is wheat one of the ingredients? How about barley? Rye? Malt vinegar? Okay then. Now you can decide whether it’s gluten-free.

Now, I’m not a mean person.  I know you want to be sure.  Even though the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires the top eight allergens (which includes wheat) to be declared on all product labels in bold, some of those words are confusing, and some of them even sound like they should be contaminants (MALTodextrin anyone?).

So, in the interest of helping all of us out, here’s a quick run-down of what to look for when cooking gluten-free.

Questionable ingredients now deemed gluten-free include:

  • Maltodextrin (see!)
  • Glucose Syrup
  • Carmel Coloring
  • Citric Acid
  • Distilled Vinegars
  1. Hydrolyzed Plant Protein or Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HPP or HVP). Labels are not required to say from what plant or vegetable the protein comes from; for example, corn protein or wheat protein, so this should be clear.
  2. Modified Food Starch. It will need to be labeled Modified Wheat Starch if necessary.
  3. Natural and Artificial Flavor or Flavorings.   While these have been culprits in the past, companies are now required to state whether natural or artificial flavorings use hydrolyzed wheat protein to enhance flavor. A label would read like this: natural flavors (hydrolyzed wheat protein).  However, sometimes barley malt extract/syrup is being added, and labels may not identify that, so one still must be careful with natural flavorings.  Unfortunately, this often requires some trial and error, or a call to the manufacturer.
  4. Starches The single word “Starch” on a food label in the USA refers to corn. If other starches such as corn, tapioca or wheat are being used, they must be declared. Easy enough.
  5. Dextrin is also used as a thickener or binding agent and is usually made from corn, potato, tapioca, rice and wheat. If wheat is in dextrin, the label will read, Wheat Dextrin.
  6. Herbs and Seeds in and by themselves do not contain gluten
  7. Individual spices do not contain gluten, but blended spices may carry a wheat starch, in which case wheat will be in parenthesis after the word spice. For example, Jerk spice (includes wheat).

I know that was tedious, but if you really cook often for someone with gluten intolerance or Celiac issues, print it out and put it in your wallet.  That way you never need to ask, “Is this gluten-free?” again.  You’ll just know. And trust me, that means a lot.



When Gluten-free Isn’t Good Enough

Dramatic reenactment

Today I’m taking a small detour from my smiley, happy posts (though hopefully the wit will remain) because I feel like crap.  Professional blogs aren’t the place to complain – that’s what Livejournal is for – but suffice it to say, I’ve been frustratingly ill-feeling for the last week or so, and no amount of gluten-free food (or no food at all) seems to be doing the trick.

Side note to my parents, who probably read this:  The above is fiction. Creative license. Carry on.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to wuss out and go straight to a doctor, so I sought comfort from the trusty Internet instead, and saw that the reputable had only last month posted an article called “Gluten-free But Still Feeling Ill.”

The author, Dr. Vicki Petersen, discussed concerns about Celiac patients not being provided with follow-up care after a diagnosis, and that’s something I can attest to.  After being diagnosed, it was pretty much “Don’t eat gluten, and have a nice life.”  The experience has made me reluctant to ask that particular physician any further questions.

Dr. Petersen then highlighted four or five conditions related to Celiac Disease that people rarely find out they have after physicians send them on their way. Unfortunately for stubborn, non-wuss me, this means more research in the coming weeks, and probably finding a new doctor. The conditions range from somewhat obvious (infections – our immune systems already attack us; might as well throw in an infection) to the comically badly named (Leaky Gut? Really?).

The article mentions nutritional deficiencies (got that covered with my daily multivitamin) as possible causes, as well as dairy sensitivity, something I ruled out days ago after two whole days with no dairy and no relief.  You can have my pizza and beer, but no one is taking away my Feta cheese and ice cream, too.

Then Petersen talked about a condition called Dysbiosis, an imbalance of good bacteria and bad.

Yes, there is good bacteria. That’s why we eat yogurt, I think.  Petersen explains Dysbiosis like this:

“Because the ‘bad’ bacteria are pro-inflammatory in nature, they can be responsible for creating some of the initial problems with celiac disease, as well as helping to perpetuate them despite following a gluten-free diet.”

This concept fascinates me, and I’ll probably devote an entire post to it after some research with non-Internet entities.  Plus it sounds 10 times cooler than “Leaky Gut.”


The Perfect Gluten-free Thanksgiving: A Work in Progress

My first attempt at a gluten-free Thanksgiving wasn’t pretty. No one in my family (first and foremost myself) had yet mastered the idea of life without wheat.  After all, we’re from the south: land of biscuits, fried okra and gravy on everything. Green bean casserole was off the menu for me, as were crescent rolls and any-kind-of-pie. I’m not even going to get into the failed attempt by my mother and I to make ‘stuffing’ out of rice.

This will be my third GF Thxgiving and I’m getting the hang of it, mostly by winging it and the ever-present guidance of the Internetz.  For example, I’m stoked to try  Gluten-free Mommy‘s recipe for GB Casserole complete with fried onions.  Other ideas I get from friends who are themselves winging it in a/an (nearly always successful) attempt to provide me with tasty, non-glutenous food. (Shoutout to one D. Ledis).  I felt one of those successful attemps to be quite fitting for Thxgiving, and will attempt to recreate the recipe for you here.

Breadless stuffing

This is how Mr. Ledis himself explained the dish:

DL: Um
I don’t really have a “recipe,” so you’re gonna have to figure out the proportions.
It pretty much has whatever you want it to have.
Bunch o butter, apples, celery, potato, carrot, dried cherries, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme i think.  Any herbs for fragrance really.
Me: Sage? Sage is a big thing at t-giving.
DL: Sure sage.

So here’s how I’ll translate that.

What you’ll need:

-1-2 celery stalks, chopped

-1 small onion, diced (a necessary ingredient I’m adding)

-2 tbsp. butter (it’s Thanksgiving. Feel free to add more).

-2 small yukon gold potatoes, diced

-2 peeled carrots, diced

-3/4 cup dried cherries (a necessary component)

-2-3 apples (apples are basically the bread in this, so load up), diced

-1 tbsp. each of thyme, sage

-1 tsp. oregano

-salt/pepper to taste

What you’ll do:

-Chop and dice all the necessary items

-Melt butter over medium-high heat in a medium/medium-large sauce pan.

-Add butter, celery, potato and carrot to sauce pan and saute for 3-4 minutes.

-Add the apples and saute until soft and browned.

-Stir in herbs and dried cherries.

-Add S and P to your liking.

I wouldn’t recommend actually putting this inside the turkey, so perhaps I should call it dressing.  I’ve never really understood the difference between the two.  Feel free to explain in the comments.

Oh, one more thing:

My all-time favorite Turkey Day dish just happens to be gluten-free without any substitutions: pink salad.  Best of all, it follows the tradition of women in my family of making delicious food without actually having to cook.

Not my Pink Salad, but close enough

What you’ll need:

-1 medium can crushed pineapple

-1 large box of cherry Jello mix

-1 pint of cottage cheese (add more for a creamier salad, less for a a fluffier one)

-1 big tub of Cool Whip or other whipped topping

What you’ll do:

-Get a bowl and mix pineapple, Jello mix and cottage cheese.

-Fold in the Cool whip and let it hang in the fridge for at least an hour.

-Garnish with mint leaves.

I like to use the stuff as a substitute for the tart, gelatinous goop that is cranberry sauce, but if that  grosses you out, just serve it in a fancy little bowl next to the main dish.

Happy Thanksgiving planning!


Gluten-free Diet Good for Runners?

I have never been a runner, but I like the idea of running.  It’s just not something my body ever decided it wanted to do, so I found other ways to get my Cardio on.  But here’s what’s funny: If I did run and/or jog on a regular basis, I’d likely have an advantage over my gluten-happy peers. Here’s why:

From the Asics blog:

“Running takes a lot of physical and mental strength, what my grandparents would have called intestinal fortitude. Unfortunately for many athletes, another type of guts comes into play all too often. These runners are forced to alter their workouts because of cramping, bloating or a sudden “I need to find a bathroom now” feeling. Recently I led a pace group on a 20-mile training run, and at Mile 8 we came upon a bathroom. Eight of the 13 runners in the group had to make a stop. What many of these athletes did not know was that cutting back on gluten, the protein found in wheat flour, might have kept them from needing to stop.

“Gluten can be very hard to digest. It breaks up into fragments in the digestive tract, and these fragments can block the absorption of other nutrients. When this happens, the runner can experience a whole variety of GI-related distress, which ultimately robs him of his best athletic performance.”

I know it’s common for people to practice carb-loading before a big run, but they might want to re-think those huge bowls of pasta. Just sayin’.

See the full blog post here, and happy trails.


A Gluten-free Conversation with Satchel Raye

That’s right, the Satchel, owner and namesake of the ESPN-recognized Satchel’s Pizza here in Gainesville.  The pizza is tasty, the deep-dish is incredible, the salad is addictive, and the millet and flax crust is the ultimate indulgence.  You can only order a full-size “gluten-free” pizza (more on that later), so every time I order one I happily eat cold pizza for a week.

Satchel’s is one of the few restaurants here in town with a worthwhile gluten-free option, even if it’s not technically 100 percent GF. (I’ve been lucky enough not to get sick off of it).

I talked to Satchel about the inception of their millet and flax pies and why we should all be grateful it’s even on the menu.  Check it out below:

How long have you been serving gluten-free pizza at Satchel’s?

Oh, I can’t remember for sure.   Maybe 2 or 3 years at least.

Is the dough homemade or brought in?

We could not make a gluten-free product very well simply because our prep room is tiny and we make lots of gluten full products there, like our pizza dough. We buy it from Sami’s Bakery.  They ship them to us weekly.

What made you start serving it?

A customer who works at Ward’s, who is gluten intolerant, brought one in and suggested we sell them. Since my mother in-law has Celiac Disease, and I knew many people were gluten intolerant, I thought it would be a great idea. At first we were buying 4 or 5 a week from Ward’s, and soon they were popular enough to get straight from Sami’s.

Has it been a hit? I certainly love treating myself to a Pineapple and Sausage GF pizza once in awhile.

It has mostly been a huge success.  We sell about 50 per week now and even people who eat gluten like the crunchy sweetness of the millet and flax crust. We used to call them our “gluten-free” pizza, but we had a woman come through who is highly sensitive to wheat and got sick from eating them. She informed us that while she can only tolerate 1 part per 2000 of wheat, the Sami’s crusts are about 1 part per 200 wheat, (or some such ratio,) and she said that since Sami’s isn’t a gluten-free bakery that there food is not entirely gluten-free.

Exactly how safe do you think the pizza is, in terms of cross contamination? I know there’s a warning on the menu, but I’ve never gotten sick from it. Do you take steps to keep it away from glutenous pizza?

Well, I know there are products out there that would be more gluten-free but from what I’ve tasted none of them are great pizza crust alternatives to the one we use currently. Also, since our kitchen has gluten floating all over it, even if we got an entirely gluten-free crust that I approved of, there is no way to ensure it wouldn’t be contaminated in our facility.  So, I decided to stick with what we have, call them a millet and flax crust, and let people know that they contain traces of gluten. We use different peels to make them on, we wipe down the oven stone, and we try and stop spinning pies when they are heading out of the kitchen. We try to make sure they stay as gluten-free as possible but there are limits inside a small pizza kitchen.

Has anyone ever complained that they got sick?

Over the last few years I have heard of 2 people complaining of getting sick from the millet and flax pies. Both were obviously highly intolerant to gluten. Of course, as owner of a restaurant the last thing I want to hear is someone has gotten sick from our food so it is sad. But that’s why we have the warning to customers. We are always trying to make the pizzas with less possibility of contamination from the gluten , but even the product is not 100 percent gluten-free.

How about positive comments?

We have so many people compliment us on this pie. There are folks practically in tears over eating a pizza for the first time in so many years. There are health nuts who are happy to have a more healthy option. Lots and lots of positive feedback on this.

Any plans for more GF offerings?  Your homemade desserts always look so delicious!

We do vegan desserts from time to time and they don’t always sell so good. I have not considered a gluten-free dessert mostly because our baker is so busy keeping up with the dessert menu we already have.  Not to mention that there is the added chance for contamination of gluten. But, I never say never, so it may be something we try in the future.

I know a few people who’d love to not have to order an entire pizza.  Could a smaller serving, perhaps a personal sized pizza, ever be possible?

You know, the restaurant business is crazy… Our food cost is supposed to be 25 percent to allow us to cover the labor and overhead and come out with a profit later. If we put this formula to the millet and flax pizza it would be $16 before we ever put sauce or cheese or toppings on it. It is very expensive to buy and have shipped to us.  So, unfortunately, there is not much of a chance I can see of making a smaller portion.  Seems to me that gluten intolerant people would love to have a couple extra meals in the fridge for the days ahead.  When this pie was something we sold 10 per week of as a bonus to our customers we could take the hit on the cost, but now we are making so many, the cost will have to go up. We can’t have a lot of items that we don’t make money on.

Right now we are well over 50 percent food cost on the millet and flax pies and also our deep dish pies. So, these are specialty items that we will have to raise prices on to continue to be profitable and also have products people want. This is a very difficult aspect to the job, raising prices when I know that people have tight budgets, but in the end it is best if we stay open, have a place the community enjoys, offer great jobs, and are able to pay the bills. The items that will be hardest are the ones that cost so much to make.  Trying to keep one of these millet and flax pies around to cut slices from is just not a viable option since there is so much flour floating around the kitchen and it is trouble to keep them free of gluten as we make them. We’re trying to keep it simple and selling them as we do is the best thing we have come up with so far.


Recipe Thursday: Spaghetti Squash, Pesto and Cheese


I’ve heard a lot of hype about spaghetti squash.  Way before going gluten-free I’d seen it used by a college roommate as a low-carb substitute for spaghetti. While I love me a good squash, I’d never gotten around to cooking it because, well, autumn squash are kind of unwieldy and difficult to deal with in the kitchen.

But I was wrong, and though squash of any variety might be a tad overhyped in a trendy, Food Network sort of way, I thoroughly enjoyed my faux-pasta meal.

Then, the other day at local supermarket Ward’s I became mesmerized by a seemingly endless supply of gourds.  They looked so perfect for fall that I had to get one.  Once I had it it sat on my kitchen counter for about 2 weeks while I figured out what to do with it.  Traditional spaghetti sauce is boring, so I opted for pesto and a lot of cheese.

What you’ll use:

-1 medium-sized spaghetti squash (serves two). Spaghetti squash is so-called because the innards resemble strands of spaghetti. Forking out the little squash noodles was the funnest part of the shebang.

-1 jar of storebought pesto

– 2 cups of mozzarella cheese

-Shredded Parmesan cheese

-(Optional) chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces.

What you’ll do:

-Preheat your oven to 375

-Poke holes into the spaghetti squash all around so it doesn’t burst while baking.  You need only to make little notches in the skin of the squash to accomplish this.

-Bake the spaghetti squash for 1 hour.

-If you’re using the chicken, saute it in olive oil with salt and pepper until cooked through; set aside.

-Remove spaghetti squash from oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Gently cut the squash in half and scoop the seeds out with a spoon.  Use a fork to to remove the spaghetti-like flesh and place it into the saute pan with the chicken

-Put 3/4 cup of pesto and cheese in the saute pan. Cook until the cheese is melted and the dish is heated through.

-Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve with a side of buttered GF bread.



Custom Choice Cereal: Best Customer Service Ever?

Not only did I receive my custom-made cereal lightning fast (in about two days), but I also got an e-mail from the founder, Hajo Engelke.  Turns out they really liked the name of my cereal (named after this blog of course), and featured it on their blog.  Even more exciting,  Hajo had read my blog post and wanted to clear things up personally about the shipping issue.

Here’s what he said:

I saw your blog entry and wanted to apologize for the obvious confusion regarding the shipping cost.  The deal is that there is a $3.80 flat rate charge, and $1.00 for each bag, i.e. $4.80 for the first bag and only $1.00 for each bag you add to an order.  We are aware that that’s not cheap.  While we are already working on a solution to lower shipping costs, we are already cross-subsidizing it.
Thanks for your understanding and have a great weekend.

So yes, shipping costs a lot, but it’s not a bad deal if you buy in bulk, which I will be doing.  My simple corn-flake cereal with organic raisins is the perfect Raisin Bran substitute, especially with a sprinkle of sugar on top.  I was truly impressed by the transparency of this company.  Let’s hope it sticks around.


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