Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I do not want to become a culinary hermit!

Everyone loved my potato soup again today. I did get some. Mostly because I had it for breakfast. Mostly because there was nothing else I could eat (we do breakfast potluck, too)(yes, my job is awesome).

My gluten-free coworker was at my door at five till noon telling me to come to lunch. As I walked to the galley, several people stepped aside and told me to go ahead of them (the line forms quickly).

I was very careful to find out what was in everything I ate. Rebecca had read the labels of everything she put in the chicken salad. William and I looked up the sausage in the stuffed mushrooms, and it was specifically gluten-free. The meats were prepared with just olive oil and herbs. I was safe!

Not so much.

The only thing I can think of is cross-contamination. There was a lot of bread on the table, and a lot of dishes with bread crumbs or pasta. Maybe a spoon got used in the wrong dish. Who knows? Tomorrow I'll use a dedicated spoon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Better to let it out than keep it in. Good advice for both anger and gas. Especially appropriate in this situation.

Every year during Christmas week, we have potluck all week long at my work. This is the first year for me being gluten-free, so naturally I was concerned. To make sure I would be able to eat something, I decided to make sure there was something I made available each day.

Yesterday, I made a potato soup recipe I adapted from The Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana. It's basically potato soup with Italian sausage, garlic and Italian seasoning added. Last year it got some favorable comments, so I thought it would be well received.

It was. Very. By the time I got to the galley (what we call our kitchen - cool, huh?), it was all gone. A gallon of soup lasted less than a half hour. There wasn't much left of anything, really. There was some pasta salad that everyone said was good, and some breaded chicken wings. There were some veggies and dip, but the dip wasn't gluten-free. Not much help there.

I poured the dregs of the potato soup into a bowl, which yielded about four bites. There was a sweet potato casserole that I had already determined was safe, and there was one small, sad slice of meat.

I took the pitiful findings into the big meeting room where we all gather and made a beeline for the one woman I knew would understand. Lynn has a wheat allergy. She was sitting with Rebecca and Wanda. All of them are sweet, wonderful women. I sat down and started bawling.

I was so frustrated. I hate having to be so careful. I hate having to read every label. I hate having to spend five times the price for a frigging loaf of bread (even when I make it myself) than everybody else does. I said I was just going to give up and go back to being sick all the time. I just didn't want to have to care anymore.

Lynn held my hand and told me she understood, and I knew she did. Rebecca got up and gave me a big hug. At some point my boss came into the room, looked very uncomfortable and confused, and made a hasty retreat. I really must make sure to tell him tomorrow that he didn't do it.

As sat comiserating with Lynn, and she explained to the few other occupants of the room what the problem was, Rebecca came back in with a plate. She had sliced a tomato for me and added some of the olives and peppers that I had brought. Of course this kindness turned on the waterworks again, but I was very grateful.

Later on, I ran into our office manager, who complained that she had not gotten any of the soup, and she had been looking forward to it. After a moment, I remembered that I still had most of the ingredients to make more soup. She had the chicken stock there (we keep some basic soup ingredients in the galley in case of inclement weather), so I made some more soup tonight and will make sure I set some aside tomorrow.

I immediately felt better. It wasn't about lunch. It was about always having to go that extra mile. But ultimately, we're talking about a diet that is naturally healthier.

Since I can't use many processed foods, I have to make everything from scratch using natural ingredients. Win. Since I can't eat hardly any fast food, I don't eat any fast food. Win. Nowadays, I only shop the perimeter of the supermarket, which is where all the good-for-you stuff is. Win. I am determined to make this a plus.

Also a plus, our fleet mechanic gave out corporate gifts today. He gave me the most decadent chocolates I think I have ever encountered in my life (and no malt - I checked). Super awesome double-plus good Win.

No matter what ails ya', chocolate will fix it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks for Options

My sister and I just celebrated our first gluten-free Thanksgiving, and it was a huge success. I test drove my recipes last weekend, so I knew we'd have a great meal, but I was very pleased to find that my nephew, who is not gluten-free, enjoyed everything.

Pre-basted turkeys usually contain gluten, so we used my sister's coworker's recipe and brined our turkeys. I can't believe I have never heard of this! I brined and cooked a small turkey breast for myself, and it was the most moist and tender turkey I have ever tasted.

To make my sausage dressing, I used gluten-free bread made in my bread machine with Gluten Free Pantry Favorite Sandwich Bread mix from Kroger. I find Kroger to be a wonderful resource for us gluten-free folk. Many of their store brand products are gluten-free, and they have a good selection of gluten-free products in their Nature's Market section. They have a great page, too:

Anyway, I cut the bread into cubes and toasted it lightly and threw it into a big bowl (disclaimer: I did not literally throw the bread). I crumbled and cooked some bulk Kroger brand Italian sausage. When I cook sausage or ground meat, I always add some water to help break up the meat into smaller crumbles. For other uses, I drain the meat, but for dressing I leave the juices with the meat. I put all that into a bowl and then I sauteed chopped onions, celery, garlic and Italian seasoning in the same pan.

I mixed the bread cubes, sausage and drippings, onions, celery, et al, together, and added a little Kitchen Pantry (audio warning if you're reading at work, which none of us ever do, of course) chicken stock. I threw (not literally) it all into a pan and stuck it in the oven until it was browned.

So, that takes care of the turkey and dressing. Mashed potatos and sweet potato casserole were no problem, as all the usual ingredients are naturally gluten-free. We made our gravy with the turkey drippings and cornstarch.

One thing that was really important for us all was the green bean casserole. Since I have made homemade cream of mushroom soup before, I wasn't too worried, although the french fried onions are made with wheat. I googled 'green bean gluten free' (note the absence of quotatation marks, which could have limited my search to the words "Green bean gluten free" - damn all this newfangled technology!) and discovered that Funyuns are gluten-free, and they turned out to be a very good substitute.

Last but not least, the pie. I have always been the family pie baker, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I will, however, confess that I have not made a crust from scratch for decades. The Pillsbury refrigerated crusts are very good and have saved me a lot of labor over the years, but alas, they are anathema to the gluten intolerant.

I used Beth's All Purpose GF Baking Flour from Gluten Free Pantry (are you really going to make me link to it again? Have you even been paying attention?!) and followed the standard pie crust recipe in my Betty Crocker cookbook.

I tried rolling out the pastry, but it was way too delicate and I wound up just gently pressing it into the pie pan and spreading it out until it filled the pan. I pre-baked it for a little bit because I was afraid it would be soggy, but it wound up so crisp that I think that step may be unnecessary. All the other ingredients for Libby's pumpkin pie are gluten-free, and I followed the directions on the can.

I also made an apple crumble using Beth's flour (no, I will not link to it again, you lazy git!). I used my own recipe that I made up ages ago, and it worked out great. The only thing I left out was the oatmeal. I used to use the quick cooking oats, which I am avoiding now. I am ok with steel cut oats, but since they need more cooking time, I need to figure out how to include them. Suggestions are welcome in the comments.

I am a "that looks about right" kind of cook, so I can't really post specific recipes just now, but next time I make this stuff, I will write things down and post them. We generally make the same meal for Christmas, so I will post specifics then. In the meantime, post any questions in the comments and I will respond with either a comment or a post.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trader Joe's

A new Trader Joe's opened up really close to my work on Friday. I have been looking forward to it because I understand there are some good gluten free options to be had there. I picked up a couple of things, including a package of quinoa and some brown rice pasta, which I have read is a little less likely to disintegrate than the white rice version. We'll see.

Overall, I was just overwhelmed by the sheer nuumber of people in the store, so I really didn't have the patience to look as closely as I would have liked. Still, I walked away with the quinoa and pasta, along with a couple of ready made Thai and Indian lunches that I look forward to, so it's all good.

B'also, three buck Chuck. Bonus, expecially when you can't drink beer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I can live like this

Last week I made plans with my mom to have lunch and then drive her to the airport for her awesome trip to Africa (color me totally jealous). When I got to her house she was unpacking everything for the umpteenth time so that she could put address labels on everything. She claimed she was not yet excited. Yeah, right.

Then we tried to figure out where to have lunch. What a pain in the ass this is turning out to be.

Between her house and the airport, we could not identify anywhere that we knew for sure was safe. We finally settled on supermarket sushi at Harris Teeter (lots of label reading, because not all of it was safe), with San-J soy sauce instead of the soy sauce that comes with the sushi. It turned out to be as delicious and satisfying a lunch as we could have at any restaurant.

This weekend I made so many meals that my freezer has now reached critical mass. I made a ground beef rice salsa cheese casserole thingy (definately on my Christmas week potluck recipe list), meatloaf (with gluten free bread crumbs I made myself) with mashed potatoes and green beans or brussels sprouts, steak burrito bowls with spicy steak, black beans and cilantro lime rice, and a citrus pork (rice)noodle recipe that I saw on tv this weekend and probably will not repeat.

Or if I do, it will be a lot zestier. Sometimes I forget that much of the US is really not so familiar with strongly seasoned foods. I thank my time living in South Texas and my years living with an extended Italian-American family for gifting me with an appreciation for well seasoned food.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's not even like it seemed like a good idea at the time

The sausage balls looked so good. I said to my co-worker, who is also gluten free, "I'm going to regret this." Then I put two on my plate. She had two little pigs-in-a-blanket, a specialty of our office manager. She had pulled the little hot dogs out and was just going to eat them until I pointed out that she had some cross-contamination from the bits of bread stuck to the wieners. She put down the wiener, and I ate the sausage balls (made from a Bisquick recipe).

And regretted it within an hour. I felt like shit and I felt like a moron. I blew up like a balloon, and I was in serious discomfort. Today is better, but I'm still seriously gassy.

I don't know why I would do that to myself! I knew what would happen. I said it as I was eating them. So WHY????? Was I somehow hoping for a different result?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I can do this.

The bread experiment turned out good. I made a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that was pretty tasty. I didn't much care for the crust, though. It was too crunchy.

Today I used some of the bread I made last weekend, especially the crust, to make Italian style breadcrumbs. I ground them up in my little food processor and toasted them. Then I added salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and parmesan cheese. It smells just like the breadcrumbs I used to use.

I just took a meatloaf out of the oven (btw, Heinz ketchup is safe), and I have some spinach-artichoke dip in the oven. I will spread it on my tasty gluten free bread.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

God help me, I miss bread!

I bought a bread machine today. I got a Quisinart with a gluten free cycle. My first experiment is in the machine now. It's a mix I got at Kroger, made by Gluten Free Pantry. I'll let you know how it turned out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, look! A castle! Oh, look! A castle! Oh, look! A castle!

They say a goldfish has a ten second memory. I don't think that's true, but I know I have a seriously challenged short-term memory. If I write something down, or if there is some other kinetic stimulus associated with something, I will remember it. If not, especially if it is something I hear, I will not remember. It sucks.

Today, my boss very kindly chastised me for forgetting something. I know he was frustrated, and he was so nice about it. We both know I don't remember what I don't write down. And I know it is my responsibility to write it down. Once I write it down, I don't usually have to see it again to remember it. I'm a kinetic learner.

I was very embarrassed to have forgotten a conversation with my boss about the contents of a memo. I brought the draft to him, and as soon as he mentioned what I had forgotten, I remembered it and felt like a fool. When I brought the revised draft back, he told me he wanted me to research something. This is not an unusual request.

He wanted me to research nutritional supplements to improve memory. I got the message. Instead of researching nutritional supplements, though, I googled "memory gluten"

So far, I can't find a single health complaint in my life that can't be explained by gluten intolerance. No wonder it's so hard to pin down!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Puzzle pieces - Still looking for the edges and the corner pieces

It's been roughly a month and a half, and I've been feeling better every day, not to mention having lost over 17 pounds so far. I think I had an exposure yesterday (judging by the fact that I spent the night sick as a dog and the day farting like, well, a dog).

I decided to take the opportunity to listen to my body. In addition to my old friends, gas, diarrhea and other assorted intestinal delights, my knees ache, my boobs ache and my RLS (restless leg syndrome) is (quite literally) kicking up like crazy.

The intestinal stuff - we know about that. The knees - well, I've known for many years that I have osteoarthritis - pretty advanced for my age, in fact. I was diagnosed at 36, so pain is to be expected.

Looking back, though, I remember knee pain being part of the RLS misery of my childhood. As a child, I had no way to effectively communicate all of that. Fortunately for me, my mom's dad had RLS, so she sort of understood my suffering, even though I had no way to describe the sensations. Even now, I would be challenged to try and describe them.

I googled celiac RLS, and I got this. Interesting. I'm wondering. RLS tends to run in families, and so does celiac disease. Could be an edge piece, or just a piece with a straight edge. Who knows?

Oh, as for the achy boobs - I'm thinking perimenopause.

Damn it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm sorry, Wheat. It's not you. It's me. I love you, really, but you make me sick. Ok, it is you.

(Originally from my blog "Complete and Utter Nonsense")
One of the things I have planned for the long weekend is cooking. Yummy, healthy, gluten free cooking. Right now I have a pot roast on that won't be ready for another two hours, but it smells so good that I want to grab it with my bare hands and rip it apart with my teeth. This would be ill advised, as it is very hot and not fully cooked.

I have not blogged about this, but people near me know that I have been mostly gluten free for a month or so. I say "mostly" and "or so" because it is a lot more complicated than just not eating bread and pasta. There is so much to learn. I have to read labels, and even then it involves a lot of guesswork, since gluten does not have to appear on labels (yet).

I'm learning. The internet is a wonderful, terrible thing. There are a lot of gluten intolerant folks out there sharing information. Just so you know, it's called celiac disease (pronounced sell-ee-ack), and it is a pain in the ass. Or more accurately, the gut. I didn't take it seriously until I found out that it can cause serious damage to the small intestine, up to and including cancer. That's when I stopped drinking beer.

Yes, people, it's that serious.

It is estimated that at least 1 in every 133 people suffer from celiac desease. Many of them don't know it, but more and more people are learning. I know I have been suffering from this for many years. I'm glad to have a name for it, and a plan. I may even be able to go off the anti-depressants, since depression is a symptom of celiac disease. I still have a lot to learn, but I know I feel better now than I did a month ago, and I know I will keep on feeling better and better.

As I'm learning, I'm helping others learn, as well. The original Carolina Ale House (formerly the Raleigh Ale House) is a mile or so from my work, and I eat there once in a while. They make an awesome cheesesteak (damn it!) and I like their salads. Friday I went there, plannning to have a salad (hold the crutons). On impulse I asked if they had a gluten free menu. The hostess seated me and said she would check.

In a minute, the manager came out and sat down at the table with me. He told me that he had a number of patrons recently who asked for gluten-free options, and that he had suggested to corporate management that they needed to come up with allergy menus.

I told him I was new at this and was still learning. He asked me about the things that I had learned, then he went over several menu options based on research he had done and he told me that he had read the labels of all the products they used to make sure they knew what was safe for gluten intolerant folks. He also told me that whenever they have an allergy request, he has the staff clean the grill and all the utensils to avoid contamination as much as possible.

Between us, we came up with a plan. I wound up with grilled cajun salmon served with rice and veggies. They left the seasoning off the veggies, but the cajun seasoning on the salmon was safe. It was quite delicious. Even better, it was on the specials menu, so it was also quite affordable! I was very impressed with how gracious he was, and I will be a regular Carolina Ale House patron from now on.

For my own edification, I'm going to start a blog listing my gluten free discoveries, and my gluten laden ones, especially the sneaky ones (soy sauce, barbecue sauce, bullion cubes, and on and on). I'll have a link to it here, in case you have some sort of wierd interest in what makes my bottom burble, or perhaps you wish to stay apprised as I become less and less flatulent. Either way, it will be TMI for many of you.