Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Gluten Free Vacation With Kids: Not a Complete Oxymoron

We live far from away from both sides of our family - and for many years, our vacations were filled with going home to catch up with relatives.

Over a decade into our marriage, after we moved to Cincinnati, my husband was really burned out from his new job (he deals with flooding and it was the summer that the rain wouldn't stop) - and it was the first time we consciously said "we need to take a break." We loaded up the family and went to a State Park - one of our favorite things to do - and it was simple and nice. And we agreed that the next year we wanted to attempt it again - but for more than two days.

Traveling with Celiac disease is not easy, though it is getting easier by the year. It has not slowed us down, we have just made adaptations - mainly packing a huge cooler in the back of our car filled with safe food, as well as researching our routes and destinations for places to eat or places to buy food (grocery stores, Wal Mart, Target, etc.). We've even been amazed at the selection of foods at some gas stations now (we were on our way home from a wedding in Pittsburgh last spring and stopped at a Sheetz that was better stocked than some grocery stores!).

There are times we have had to stay at hotels - and that is the part of travel I often find most frustrating. No kitchen, no dishes - so you have to find a safe place to eat lunch and dinner (though I pack enough food usually to make lunch). And breakfast - we often stay at places with free breakfasts - at least we can get milk and a bowl and spoon for the cereal we bring down to breakfast ourselves. Thankfully usually there are hard boiled eggs and fruit as well.

In planning for our first "real" vacation, we wanted to find a place we could really relax and also be near water. But we wanted a kitchen so we could make most of our own meals (the reality of Celiac disease - there is no vacation from food planning and making, ugh!). So we used - and have used since - Vacation Rental By Owner - vrbo.com - to find a house we could rent for a week. It is an amazing site, with rentals most anywhere you would want to go. We have used it four or five times now and plan on using it again.

What we were looking for - and found! Grand Haven, Michigan
In trying to find a beach that is not 14 hours away from Cincinnati, we turned our eyes north to Lake Michigan. We chose to go to Grand Haven, Michigan, as it's beaches were rated some of the best in the country and it was also noted as family friendly. We also have friends that are from that area - and one has a friend with Celiac that befriended me on Facebook and shared all the safe and wonderful places to eat out! We've now been up there several times and hope for many returns. The beaches are so clean - the water at some beaches is crystal clear - and so much is walkable. Farmers market, museums, putt putt, shops, restaurants, blueberry picking, and their very own musical fountain that plays a few songs and dances with light every night at sunset.

Each year we have rented a different house - trying out different neighborhoods and different streets - but all have been worthwhile. I have learned to plan each and every meal out before the trip. I pack from home the spices we need (usually measuring them out and putting them in a ziploc bag, instead of taking jars and measuring spoons) and pack some of the ingredients that are shelf stable. I pack a few boxes of cereal, as well as pretzels and other dry goods, a few bags of pasta and spaghetti sauce. Then when we get to town, after we unload our car, we go take a trip to Meijer (my favorite, right?!) and I already have my shopping list ready and we get the rest of our groceries for the week. With most rentals, you will also need to buy staples like butter and condiments (or bring them from home in smaller containers), as well as paper towels and/or napkins.

One of the things that has kept us coming back has been the food. We have been able to eat well up there - not just cooking for ourselves, but each year finding new gluten free restaurant offerings. We were finding ice cream stands with gluten free cones up there years ago --- while that is still a rarity here in Cincinnati. There is a pizza shop up there that does gluten free correctly, right on the way to and from the place we like to pick pounds and pounds of blueberries.

New this year, we went to an all gluten free restaurant up in Muskegon, Live Gluten Free. We have never seen anything like it. The restaurant was 100% gluten free and had such a nice atmosphere. They had a bakery case with amazing looking cakes and cookies and other confections right when you walked in. Then there were seats and tables and a fireplace on the restaurant side. Our food was delicious, and it was nice to see as we were eating that more people were coming in to eat as well as simply to pick up orders. You just want to see a place like this succeed!
Love the mural at Live Gluten Free restaurant in Muskegon, Michigan

Cookies, brownies... one of two cases!

A gluten free cake like this - so rare!
A partial view of the seating area

French soup with croutons
Pasta salad and a wrap
Mac n Cheese With Bacon

I am so glad we took the chance on renting a house and taking our first "real family vacation" a few years ago. We had no idea it would become a repeat destination every summer possible. It is a time we all look forward to, knowing we can rest and have fun, explore and try new things. It is a definite break from the routine for all of us, yet I can still keep my son safe at each meal - and for that, I am so thankful.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Gluten Free Dog - Seriously?

Years ago, before kids, we adopted a dog we loved very much. We had our sons, and sadly, the dog passed away when our youngest was 8 weeks old. She was the perfect family dog, a lab mix with a very sweet temperament - didn't care when the toddler was body slamming her, just loved to be loved.

Every few years (months?), I would miss her and wish so badly we could adopt another dog - but timing was wrong. We moved (bad time!), husband was traveling a lot with work (not optimal!), we had busy summer travel planned most summers (not getting a dog just to have it boarded so soon!), etc.

Another piece of the dog-planning that scared me was dog food. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I have made our kitchen gluten free (at least for eating at home sake), and having no gluten to worry about has been such a stress reliever I didn't want to invite it back into the house. I didn't want to have to start having two sponges again for the dishes and also didn't want to worry about the dog kissing or cuddling with my Celiac son after gulping down a meal. I know the chances of my son getting glutened would be slight, but if I have an option where my worry can be zero instead of slight - I'm going to pick zero.

Additionally, it is my Celiac son that was the one that wanted the dog the most in the family - he had been begging for a dog for years. He wanted to be able to feed him and give him treats and take him for walks. (and I will vouch now that the dog has been here a month and a half - he is an incredibly responsible kid, feeds the dog most every meal and even does poop patrol without asking! let's hope that lasts!) He washes his hands after handling the food regardless - but again, why worry about gluten if we have many gluten free options.

Finally, after years of thinking and wishing and then a few hard core months of applying and searching, we brought home a pug from a shelter in early September:
My new shadow, sitting patiently (and getting nothing) at the dinner table)
In shopping for food, and in questioning the readers here at Gluten Free In Cincinnati, I was astounded and pleased to find so many gluten free food options for dogs! What an amazing time to be a Celiac family and have this many options! Here were some of the brands that were suggested to me:
- EVO brand
- Taste of the Wild
- Argos - local store in Madiera that makes their own food, and they deliver! 
- Nature's Recipe

Since I am a research addict, I also found this website helpful: DogFoodAdvisor. I love that it shows me all the ingredients (from the comfort of my home) and rates the nutrients and overall product.

We are currently feeding him Rachel Ray's Nutrish and he LOVES it. It actually smells okay! (I do not like dog food smell!) It rates pretty well on the DogFoodAdvisor site too.

We've also tried the Purina True Instinct Grain-Free Formula - it is okay, does not smell that delicious to me, and the dog was kind of meh about it - so I personally won't buy it again.

Our dog also eats a spoonful of pumpkin with each meal to keep his fiber intake up - and he loves it so much. He is also a huge fan of yogurt, which the vet said is okay as long as it is plain with no sugars and flavors, etc.
Yogurt: his absolute favorite, though a bit messy

The dog is the messiest eater I have seen. Totally unlike our other dog, this one will NOT lick the floor clean. He will shatter a biscuit, or carrot (yes, he likes those too), eat the big pieces, and then walk away. Every every every time I see those crumbs all over the floor, I am grateful that I do not have to worry if those crumbs contain gluten. (Our other dog could have been named Hoover, she sucked up every crumb in the house. What is with this new dog?)
"Yeah, I'm only going to eat the big pieces. You humans can clean up the rest."
In writing this post, I hope it helps others out there that are in the rare camp of needing to think about every ingredient that comes into their house. When I googled this, there were very few websites that spoke about this - but in talking to other Celiacs, I know that we are not alone. And if you are reading this and have other favorite gluten free dog foods, I'd always love to hear about them!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Make-Your-Own Gluten Free Cookbook: Pinterest

I think Pinterest is the best thing to happen to the internet. If you are not already "pinning" on Pinterest - here is a primer of what the website is/does, as well as a my favorite recipe found through Pinterest!

Back when we went gluten free, after I ordered the zillion cookbooks and realized - hey, these don't all have pictures! (I need pictures to know if I want to eat a recipe! at least most of the time!) - and I'm looking for a recipe that uses ground beef and peppers because that's all I have on hand! (or whatever the cupboards dictated that night) --- I started compiling quite a lot of recipes from searching on Google.com. 

When searching like that, the way to save those recipes in your browser is to bookmark them. I found that I saved hundreds of bookmarks, and it was becoming hard to find the recipes when I was scrolling through the bookmarks. (the bookmarks only give you a few word description of the recipe, no picture!)

So when Pinterest hit the scene, and tried it and was hooked. Pinterest is simply a website that functions like bookmarks - but instead of making a list, it makes a bulletin board of sorts, with each website you bookmark being an item "pinned" to your board. So now, instead of bookmarking the recipe into a list of words/recipe titles, I have boards of recipes that I can see by pictures and descriptions I type in:
A few recipes that are on my "Recipes/Gluten Free Dinners and Sides" board
When I first started, I had all of my recipes on one "Recipe" board. Over time, I have divided the recipes into different boards:
- Gluten Free Recipes
- Gluten Free Desserts
- Cake decorating (this has icing recipes)
- Breakfast recipes
- Drinks
- Breads, Crackers & Biscuits
- Snacks
- Soups/Chili
- Salads and Dressings

Even if the board has only 20 recipes (like my salad and dressing board) - I find it easier to find recipes when they are divided more specifically and there is also less to scroll through when looking for a recipe.

A portion of my boards - several different ones for recipes, plus household stuff and more

Then, since I do not have an Ipad or tablet, and I don't know that I would even use one for this purpose, I will often print a recipe to take with me into the kitchen. If the recipe does not turn out, I recycle the printed out copy (which is rare) and I delete the pin. If it works, I then put it into my "Make My Own" cookbook (and I try to write on the recipe the date we tried it, and if I made any changes or would recommend doing so the next time):
A leftover Badger notebook from my husband's grad school days holds my treasures!
Magazine pull-outs, copies, and Pinterest print-outs, divided by category

Pinterest is also a way to share other "pins"/bookmarks with friends. Much like Facebook, you find other people to follow so that you can see their pins. Some people don't like this aspect as stranger can follow you, and you can follow people that don't know you - but in a sense, you aren't sharing anything but links to other people's websites. Pinterest has changed this in a way, though - as you can have boards that are "private' - so that no one can see what you are pinning. (I have found that useful for gift and vacation ideas)

Many of our favorite recipes have come through Pinterest. I will leave you with our favorite, what we simply refer to as Quinoa and Cheese, pinned off of one of my friends over three years ago. The pin looked like this:
The pin links to this website: http://aroundthetableri.blogspot.com/2012/02/cheesy-quinoa-mac-cheese.html
I had been looking for ways to get more protein into my children - and ways to use quinoa instead of rice. This recipe was a hit right off the bat, even with my picky eaters. It is such a favorite, is often the request for birthday dinners. Served with chicken or even hot dogs and broccoli - so good!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Finding Support in Real Life and Online (my favorite GF Mom Bloggers)

Having a child diagnosed with a not-overly-common (not sure it can be called "rare") disease can be a bit frustrating, paralyzing, isolating. It is strange, having to make major lifestyle changes, yet not knowing one other person in the entire world personally that is doing the same. No one that can relate to tearful episodes in the grocery store. Or trying to figure out how to protect their three-year-old at school. Or not wanting to go to the church potluck as you can't eat anything, and really don't feel like making an entire meal all afternoon just to take it and watch everyone eat other (better looking!) foods. (and that last one is about the food as much as it is the social aspect of the disease - but again, if you have Celiac or have any food allergies or intolerances, you already understood that!)

In looking for support, it turned out that northeast Ohio has an amazing Celiac support group - though we ended up moving before we got plugged into it. I am still on their mailing list though and even that is nicely done! (their website: http://www.neohioceliac.com/) Sadly, I have not found the same here in Cincinnati. I have some friends that are hoping to change that, though, and I will share more as that develops!

Then, low and behold, I came to find out my son's preschool teacher has two children with Celiac --- so that when I would have to send him to school in September, I would have a mom watching him that would understand and protect him! The teacher, who was also in my neighborhood, invited me over to talk and she really started me off on the right foot mentally. She offered to go shopping with me, whatever I needed. After school started, she was a literal God-send in adjusting to letting my son try and be gluten-free, as a three-year-old, away from home. Both his teacher and I found it funny and wonderful - she would sometimes bring him a gluten free treat from home and he would always tell her "I can't eat that, I'm gluten free!" -- and I love this - she would just give me the treat later. She did not want to confuse him, so she didn't say anything or make a deal of it. He simply ate from his designated snacks that we packed in a designated Rubbermaid. What a blessing to have that as his first school experience.

The best support I have been able to find, though - one that didn't have to change when we moved - has been gluten free bloggers, most of whom are mom bloggers. I wanted to hear from other moms who were dealing with the scary-ness of healing their children from their own kitchens. (no pressure) Or from others who simply have the disease, and could tell me that they were okay. I wanted desperately to keep a good attitude - and wanted to pass that on to my son! Here are a few of my favorites (in addition to the ones yesterday that also have cookbooks):

Gluten Free Mom, http://www.glutenfreemom.com/: Jamie is a gluten free mom, and her daughter (who is now in college) is gluten free too. Jamie shares some recipes, some Celiac research, and some of her life. Her stories about sending her daughter off to college were captivating and very frustrating as the college did not accommodate the daughter's gluten free needs very well - and very inspiring to read how much this mom advocated for her daughter.

Gluten Free Homemaker, http://glutenfreehomemaker.com/: I have Linda, the Gluten Free Homemaker, to thank for my most favorite meal in our house: pizza night. My husband claimed it his duty to make pizza, and Linda's recipe is amazing. It has become the meal of choice for our SuperBowl celebration each year too. Here it is, the best gluten free pizza: http://glutenfreehomemaker.com/friday-night-is-pizza-night/  (My husband does sometimes substitute 750 grams or 5 cups of gluten free all purpose flour instead of all the different flours, and started using milk instead of water and omitting the dry milk as we ran out of it and I haven't bought it since!)
SuperBowl, Valentine's Day, Saturday night - all good nights for pizza!
Linda has a lot of great other recipes. Another favorite of mine is her french bread - I ended up buying a French bread pan off of Amazon, and that pan plus this recipe makes amazing bread! http://glutenfreehomemaker.com/gluten-free-french-bread-recipe/

Lynn's Kitchen Adventures, http://www.lynnskitchenadventures.com/: Another treasure trove for good recipes. She has recipes for several different baked oatmeals - the blueberry one! the peanut butter one! The cinnamon roll one! Oh so good. http://www.lynnskitchenadventures.com/2013/12/15-baked-oatmeal-recipes.html

And her "Oven Omelet Roll" - it is so easy, yet looks really complicated and if you take it to a party everyone will love it and ask for the recipe. Trust me. And then you can share: http://www.lynnskitchenadventures.com/2009/11/oven-omelet-roll.html

Hard to get a good picture - but unique and easy and delicious!
Gluten Free Is Life, http://www.glutenfreeislife.com/: Kim at Gluten Free Is Life has Celiac, and her son (who is now in college) does as well. Kim also writes over at Celiac-Disease.com - but she resposts most of her articles on her site as well.

Kim's blog was the nearest and dearest to my heart when I started blogging. Since my son does not seem to react when he eats gluten, I truly began to trust Kim's blog to figure out if a product or restaurant was "safe" (remember, this was back in 2010, years before the FDA would enforcing a gluten free label - and not much back then was labeled at all). She would talk about new products and when she would find them at Kroger or Meijer, which I found so incredibly helpful as I was trying to figure this whole gluten free world out. (should sound familiar to my Facebook followers - I try to do for others what she did for me!)

Her blog is also one that will talk about the parenting aspect some, and the emotional component of the disease too. Not overly so - but enough to be real.

These bloggers are one of the many reasons I started my blog. I wanted to be able to be that source of encouragement to others, and wanted to help them along the journey - even if it is simply finding a new product on the store shelf or saving a few dollars on the grocery bill. Thanks to each and every one of you that reads this blog and Facebook page, you are also a support and encouragement to me!

Monday, October 12, 2015

My Post-Diagnosis Cookbook Binge

The month after my son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease was an expensive one. Trying all sorts of new gluten free foods (many were not good investments!), buying a second toaster, cooking utensils, and frying pan (to ensure no cross-contamination), and then cookbooks, because I have an addiction to recipes.

As I am not a great cook, I rely heavily on books and recipes to tell me what to do. I dropped around $90 on Amazon right after we were given the green flag to start the gluten free diet.

Back then, the library was not a source for many - if any - gluten free cookbooks. Now, I consistently find the newest ones on the shelf!

Back then, blogging was not the "thing" it is now, but there were a few gluten free bloggers that really touched my life and saved my sanity. I'll be talking about them tomorrow.

Back then, Pinterest did not exist - my favorite way to find and keep new recipes. That's a topic for Wednesday!

AND, to top it off, one of my favorite haunts, Half Price Books, did not have gluten free cookbooks back then. When I was there last week? My, how things have changed for the better. :)

Half Price Books in Deerfield Township now has a gluten free cookbook shelf
So of those first books I ordered, I only use a few of them with any regularity - but I won't part with any of them. Part of it is I simply love books and like to flip through them, but sometimes they are just a great resource when trying to figure something out. I would like to share a few of my absolute favorites, though!

I always like perusing people's bookcases in their homes - so I'll offer up a chance to look at mine! First shelf: 

Living Gluten Free for Dummies - EXCELLENT resource when starting out. Highly recommend - but it is not really a recipe book.

Gluten Free on a Shoestring by Nicole Hunn:  Some of my favorite recipes are from her cookbooks and blog. Often the recipes are easy to follow and the ingredients are not crazy (at least in her first book - I cannot attest to the more recent ones). Her "Perfect Yellow Cupcakes" really are that - perfect! (her website: http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/)

Happy Birthday to me! Hydrangea cupcakes using Gluten Free on a Shoestring's recipe

Easy Gluten Free Baking by Elizabeth Barbone: The holiday spritz cookies recipe in this book is worth the book's price. Period. They always turn out PERFECTLY and even my gluten-eating friends think they are delicious and can't get enough of them. (her website: http://www.glutenfreebaking.com/)

Easy Gluten Free Baking's Spritz Cookies

Second shelf:

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'Dea: You would not believe what this woman has pulled off with a crock pot. From soups to baby food to crayons - she figured it all out. She has a great website/blog - and I have found that if the recipe is in the book it is helpful to check out the comments on the blog, sometimes there are helpful additions or tricks readers share. (her site: http://www.ayearofslowcooking.com/) Our absolute favorite of hers is "Traditional Stuffing" - best Thanksgiving stuffing ever. Like Stove-Top, but a better. And you can keep that space off the stove for the day. SO GOOD.

Traditional Stuffing - in a crockpot! by Make It Fast, Cook It Slow

Third shelf:
Classics, though I use them for reference more than anything. What I find interesting is that I was ready to trash my non-gluten free cookbooks early on, getting frustrated at recipes that called for bread crumbs and soy sauce and other ingredients that were expensive and hard to find gluten free. Now, six years later, those bread crumbs and soy sauce bottles are in most every Kroger and Meijer, and it is interesting how some meals have made it back into the rotation.

In upcoming days I will share some of the bloggers that have provided our favorite recipes, as well as how much I love to use Pinterest as a free recipe book!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Worth the Trip: Nationwide Children's Annual Celiac Conference

Back when we were newly diagnosed, it was recommended to us (I don't remember from where) that we attend the annual Celiac Conference in Columbus at Nationwide Children's Hospital. I signed us up, and an awful bug spread through our school - including both my boys - and I ended up not being able to go that first year we had registered.

Forward to Cincinnati and the first several years we lived here - the conference is always the last week of October - as are soccer tournaments. Three years I said no, we are staying home and playing soccer should be the priority - I want fun to trump going to some "boring" conference, and I'd rather my kid enjoy his sport than focus on his disease. And how much would I really learn?

We finally made it to our first Celiac Conference in 2013 (our soccer team wasn't so hot that year, lol!). I take back any thoughts of "boring" and not fun --- and that is why I am writing this post. And each year I learn so many new things. If you haven't attended, I highly, highly recommend you check it out if you are able.

When arriving at the Conference, there is a nice area of vendors set up. SO. MANY. SAMPLES. Columbus has a lot of options that we just don't have here in Cincinnati yet. My favorite samples (and purchases) are often from Soodles Bake Shop and from the Raisin Rack grocery store. This area is open at the breaks and lunch-time as well, so if you don't get to the conference early, it isn't a big deal.

Nationwide Children's in Columbus actually has a "Celiac Disease Center" - whereas Cincinnati Children's does not, and I am incredibly jealous. The two Conferences we attended so far have been MC'ed by Mary Sharrett, their Celiac Center's Dietician (how nice would that be to have as a resource??). We have heard several doctors and nutritionists speak (love hearing Nationwide's Dr. Ivor Hill - smart man with a good sense of humor). Some information is basic, the mechanics of Celiac, the gluten free diet, etc. - but other times they share new, ground-breaking studies that are being done. They also take a lot of questions from the audience, which always turns out to be a very interesting portion of the day too.

Their slogan, 
"When your child needs a hospital, everything matters," 
always gets my teary-eyed

The Conference isn't just about research, though - there is so much practical application. Another favorite speaker of ours is Steve Plogsted, pharmacist at Nationwide, and he is THE leading expert on gluten in medications. (His website is here: http://www.glutenfreedrugs.com/) The confusion with this topic is astounding - both from the pharmaceutical companies themselves and for those of us trying to figure out if something is gluten free. Plogsted takes away that confusion.

Lunch - I underestimated how nice it is to show up to a cafeteria and have a delicious meal where EVERYTHING is gluten free. And I did not have to cook it. I love love love having that time to eat with my husband, discuss all of the things we learned that morning, and then there is often enough time that we can take a walk outside.

Speaking of outside - the past two years there were fresh doughnuts being made in a machine just outside the Conference room doors. GLUTEN FREE. The smell alone - wow. I am not a huge doughnut fan, as they always made me feel sick prior to my gluten-free days... but no stomach ache with these and what an incredibly rare treat!

Fresh gluten free donuts?!? For real!?!

What makes this Conference really excellent in my opinion, though, is their children's program. It is NOT babysitting. The kids actually get their own conference. Students from OSU pursuing degrees in nutrition (I believe? I cannot exactly remember) run the kid's program, which is in a separate area of the building. Many of the speakers give a presentation to the children (my son has dreams of being a Celiac doctor one day - how great is it to have Celiac doctors talk directly to them?). Each year they also do a session on how to be a detective and read labels. At lunch, they have a make-their-own lunch (I think it was pizza one year). They do a scavenger hunt and other fun activities as well. My son - who likes to fly under radar at school and not draw attention to himself - was so unbelievably excited after each Conference. He enjoyed the learning, the eating, and I think most of all, being with other kids that "get it." One year they wrote a book of their Celiac story, and it was amazingly touching to read. He also loves getting attention and having fun from college kids - and the freedom of being away from mom and dad at an event like this!

This year's Conference is on Saturday, October 31st - Halloween - so we will not be going. I do not know if there are still seats available (especially for the children --- their seats fill up FAST) - but I highly recommend checking it out at some point if you or a loved one has Celiac! Hope to be there again next year and I will be sure to advertise on my Facebook page when the registration form arrives in the mail.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Gluten Free Halloween Candy Lists 2015

Though my brain is still firmly planted in September, the leaves on the trees have really started changing this week and it is quite a visual reminder that fall is in full swing, we are in October, and it is time to start prepping for Halloween!

I made a late-night Kroger run last night for three items --- walked out with $46 of deals. ;) Some of the deals were quite good - including Halloween candy for $1.88. The GOOD stuff. The M&Ms and Three Musketeers. (sorry, it was a one day sale and by the time I reaped the benefits, it was too late to share!)

I thought today I would share a few of my favorite gluten free Halloween lists. You can always go to Google for a specific candy, or to the manufacturers website, but I find lists like these helpful for shopping.

Also a thank you to the Tootsie Roll company for advertising their gluten free Halloween products at Target --- all of the company's products are gluten free!  http://www.tootsie.com/faqs

How sweet is it that my neighbors text me pictures like this?

My absolute favorite lists the past several years have been from this site, due out October 13th:
myGlutenFacts --- http://www.myglutenfacts.com/index.phphttp://www.myglutenfacts.com/index.php

And perhaps my new favorite - a printable .pdf of 2015 Gluten Free Halloween Candy from the Celiac Disease Foundation: https://celiac.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Halloween-Final-Candy-List-Combined1.pdfhttps://celiac.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Halloween-Final-Candy-List-Combined1.pdf

From 2014, but a good starting point and I found helpful last year:
Sure Foods Living --- http://surefoodsliving.com/2014/10/gluten-free-halloween-candy-quick-list-2014/

An all around good gluten-free candy list, which the author updated for Easter 2015:
GlutenAway --- http://glutenaway.blogspot.com/2012/10/gluten-free-candy-list.html 

Happy Shopping!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why the Freak-Out Over Gluten Free Cheerios

When General Mills announced that they would be making Cheerios gluten free in Fall of 2015, most of us parents of gluten free children freaked out in a good way. Our kids could have their favorite toddler cereal back! We could use coupons! That is one of the cereals that often goes on sale! It's one of the cereals that isn't too sugary and has no food coloring! When the preschool or classroom breaks out Cheerios for a snack or project, I won't have to worry anymore! Did I mention coupons???

The story behind gluten free Cheerios
The story goes that a top executive at General Mills has a daughter-in-law with Celiac, and wanted her and others with the same dietary restrictions to be able to enjoy Cheerios again.

We all know that while this may be a true story, a catalyst perhaps, that General Mills did this as they are a business and they know the cash-cow that is the gluten free food market. Companies - all of them - exist to make a profit, not for the sole purpose of compassion. (and you know what? I'm not sure I care their motivation if they make a great product!)

So as details emerged, happy parent freak-outs became cautious parent freak-outs. General Mills created a proprietary machine to sort the gluten out of the oats, essentially sifting the wheat and barley grains out of the batch. This is the first time (except for Omission Beer) that oats would be specifically labeled "gluten free" that were not grown as certified gluten free oats, from fields and mills that are kept separate from wheat and barley cross contamination.

GM invited several gluten free bloggers to tour the new facility and see how it works. Some were skeptical that the machine could truly filter out enough wheat and barley to produce a product that consistently contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Others were - and still are - very concerned as well with how General Mills would actually test the product to make sure they were in compliance with the FDA's gluten free label. A great explanation here: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/gluten-free-cheerios-updated-position-statement/   According to General Mills, they were testing twelve to eighteen boxes per production cycle.

However, what happened that triggered this week's recall of 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios completely contradicts what we were told of how this product was ensured to be safe to eat. According to the article, http://www.startribune.com/fda-says-125-people-complained-about-problems-from-gluten-free-cheerios/330957131/ , "Since the oat flour had been tested twice at the Fridley mill, General Mills didn’t check the cereal itself as its rolled off the production line."

Oooof. Cue an absolute freak-out from the Celiac community. And gluten free. And wheat allergy.

General Mills claimed to have a personal, vested interest in doing this right. That is simply not compatible with what occurred. The FDA recall (http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm465986.htm) is for four days of production of regular Cheerios and THIRTEEN days of Honey Nut Cheerios. How on earth do you not test at all for thirteen days? Back in July? When this was brand spanking new?

This could have been a game changer. For General Mills, for other companies, for Celiacs and gluten free eaters everywhere. Gluten free oats are incredibly expensive (I pay anywhere from $4 to $7 a bag, and we go through oatmeal like crazy around here), and I was super excited and hopeful that the new technology was going to help make breakfast a little more affordable --- and a little more available. We travel a lot, and to be able to go to a hotel and eat breakfast, instead of hauling our boxes of Chex into the dining room, would be wonderful. For my son to have more options at a better price as he gets older and is existing off of cereal while he's in college - it is comforting to a mother's heart. I am deeply saddened that General Mills botched their implementation so badly.

At our house, I purchased two boxes of Cheerios when they first came out: one original flavor, one multigrain. I thought cross-contamination might be minimized with the multigrain one as oats is only one of many other grains in it. (no idea if this is true, just my crazy mom brain) We allowed our son to try it on a weekend, just in case he did react (he didn't). My son was "meh" over the cereal - thought to be fair, he shoved fistful after fistful of the original into his mouth as a tot, not multigrain. He didn't even want another bowl, but my gluten-eating son was very pleased to have Cheerios back in the house and took one for the team and finished the box.

I gave the other box to the food pantry several weeks ago. The worry and mind games (and this was before the recall, though stirrings were being heard of complaints in the gluten free community) were just not worth it. There are so many brands out there that do it right and that my son enjoys - and no one should have to play Russian Roulette with their food.

 It is hard and heart-braking explaining to a Celiac child why they can see this and can't eat it...

As we were standing in the grocery store, looking at all the boxes of newly labeled gluten free Cheerios, my older son pleaded with General Mills what I believe we were all thinking and hoping... "please follow through."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Labels and Assumptions: Gluten, Gluten - Everywhere!

Once you start looking, it seems like gluten is everywhere. Even in places you would not expect to find it.

Rice Krispies? Yep.

Soy Sauce? Yep.

Play-Doh? Yep.

Licorice? Yep. (insert huge, sad Emoji here)

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and malt. Someone on a gluten free diet also needs to avoid oats, unless they are certified/labeled gluten free, as oats are often cross-contaminated (essentially mixed) with enough wheat or barley grains to make a gluten-sensitive person ill. Gluten is Latin for glue, it acts to bind and give "chew" to baked goods - think of the most delicious bagel, or pizza.

Gluten "hides" in a lot of ingredients or foods - a quick Google search of "sources of gluten" will yield long lists that most of us stuffed into our purses to take to the grocery store those first few months as we learned to read labels to figure out what was safe to eat.

To not reinvent the wheel, here are two I thought were helpful:

From the Celiac Disease Foundation:

From Cooking Light:

After a while, I got into a routine, and pretty much figured out what foods I bought regularly that were gluten free, and I went shopping on auto-pilot. Bad move.

My first mistake was buying guacamole and not reading the label carefully - or at all, I seriously do not remember. My sister was watching my son for the first time since diagnosis, and she had studied better than I. I brought food for him - including his favorite, guacamole. We usually made it from scratch, but since we were traveling, I thought it would be a fun treat to buy a jar and take it with us. When I returned to pick my son up, my sister pointed out the label, which clearly listed wheat as an ingredient (!!??!!), and thankfully questioned it while I had wrongly assumed guac would be safe. It was a wake up call that no assumptions are safe.

I had a second wake up call a few years ago when I picked up Good Seasons Italian Dressing packets --- not realizing that the formula had changed as wheat was now an ingredient. It HAD been gluten free, but then all of a sudden, it wasn't. Thankfully I follow enough other bloggers and Celiac newsfeeds that this was a topic of conversation before we used it! I had fallen asleep on the job, not double checking the label of a product I had purchased numerous times before. The silver lining is that I found an amazing recipe online that we love more than any other dressing, a simple vinaigrette by Budget Bytes: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2011/05/budget-panzanella-salad/

 Never did I think I would need to check anything on this plate for gluten...

In August of 2014, after NINE years of discussion and debate, the FDA made a ruling on what constitutes a "Gluten Free" food. A company can use that claim on any food that tests at under 20 parts per million gluten. However, a gluten-free food does not need to be labeled gluten free - even if it is (take bottled water, for example). The FDA does not inspect these gluten free claims unless there are complaints, however (like the Cheerios debacle that erupted this week). Great FAQ from the FDA on the labeling law here: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm362880.htmhttp://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm362880.htm

I think my biggest source of frustration - and I'm sure others would agree - is that "gluten" itself is not listed on most any ingredient list in America. (it is on many European foods - it is fun to go to Jungle Jim's International Market and see that!) The top eight allergens that are listed if a food contains them or are processed in the same facility - which includes wheat -- and that helps when reading and deciphering labels. However, even if a food is wheat free it may contain barley/malt or rye, and that does not need to be specified. Maybe someday!

This video was making the rounds on the internet a few months ago. My family found it humorous - gluten really does seem to be in everything! Thank you, CollegeHumor!

College Humor's "What Happens When You Tell People You Can't Eat Gluten"

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The $20 Waffle and Other Reasons My Kitchen Is 99% Gluten Free

Not long after my three-year-old son's Celiac Diagnosis, he looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, "Mom, I need someone to go gwooten fwee wif me."

And I told him he should ask his father.

Just joking. I told him yes, of course I would go gluten free with him. I figured if I was the one having health issues that lead me down the rabbit trail that ended with his diagnosis - what did I have to lose? (my Celiac bloodwork came back negative, and my doctor then backed me trying it, monitoring for vitamin deficiencies a gluten free diet can sometimes cause)

Going gluten free with my son has made me a much more empathetic mom. I constantly think of how to keep him safe, and also share feelings of frustration and exclusion when at a party or gathering when he can't eat what he wants - as I can't eat it either. More than that, joining him on his journey, it has forced me to be a better cook and baker. As I've referenced on Facebook and the blog, I do not have a natural gift for cooking. Going gluten free has been a great motivator to try new foods and recipes - and since I am eating them, I know they taste good. (not sure I would have trusted a three-year-old's judgement on that)

Back then, we decided to have a divided kitchen - gluten free for the two of us, glutenous goodness for the other two in the family. I was cooking separate pots of pasta (with separate strainers, as even those little holes contain too much gluten for a Celiac), using two separate toasters, keeping two separate sponges for dishes. My kitchen, though I loved it, did not have a ton of cupboards - so housing extra sets of cookware and small appliances was not an incredibly easy task.

My happy but not very storage-full kitchen in Cleveland

I was frustrated after a while, though, as gluten free leftovers (particularly of pasta) would often go to waste. Not to mention the feelings it evoked in my son, wanting to be like the rest of the family (he loves me, but the boy REALLY wanted to be like daddy!).

As we were adjusting to the gluten free world, we were also in the midst of my husband applying and ultimately being hired for a job in Cincinnati. Eight months after the Celiac diagnosis, our belongings were being loaded onto a truck and we were saying farewell to our friends, doctors and grocery stores. I grieved on so many levels - everyone misses their friends, but not everyone can say they miss their gastroenterologist, right?

Not long after we moved here, by son sat down for lunch and I handed him microwaved leftover macaroni and cheese. After a few bites, he excitedly said, "MOM! These noodles are big! Just like the gluten ones!" I whipped my head around and grabbed the bowl, and saw that indeed, THOSE WERE THE GLUTEN ONES. I felt so awful - I eat, sleep and breathe to keep him healthy - and I handed him the wrong bowl. I told him my mistake, and that we needed to watch and see if he didn't feel well in the next few days, and that I would have to check after he went to the bathroom too.

I checked for at least five days. Nothing. NO outward reaction. (much like before his diagnosis) I would have thought this diagnosis was all a cruel joke except for the fact his bloodwork showed significant improvement already, and that he had also grown several inches in not even a year. The internal healing had begun.

My son's takeaway from the incident? "Mom, I can eat gwooten!"

Um, no.

So that, combined with one of us putting a gluten waffle in the gluten free toaster (even crumbs can make a Celiac sick, so bye bye toaster!), on top of jealousy issues that were arising - my husband and I agreed that we wanted the kitchen to be gluten free. (at least 99% of it - he would make his and my other child's gluten sandwiches to take to work/school, as well as pretzels)  At least at this young age, we wanted the kitchen to be a safe haven, our house to be a place where he did not have to worry about the issue at all. Gluten free wouldn't even be a thought, it would just be the norm. He would have to deal with it at school and church but not in our home. And it also took a huge amount of worry off my shoulders.

We still operate like this, almost six years later. I make a "regular" lunch for my one son and a gluten free one for the other. All breakfasts and dinners are safe for everyone. Any baking is gluten free, as I do not want the creases and cracks in my baking pans to hide gluten, nor do I want wheat airborne in the house.

I do not know if we will operate this way forever - as the boys grow into teenagers and their appetites follow, it may not be feasible. Currently, the cost may be a little higher, but compared to throwing away gluten free leftovers as we did before - it isn't as much as I expected. What it has provided is an amazing sense of security for my Celiac son, and an incredible friend and watchdog out of his older brother.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Meijer's MPerks: My Favorite (Gluten Free) Coupons

I am not the best coupon-er.

We do not get a newspaper regularly - and I find when I buy the newspaper for $1.00, I don't cut many coupons and therefore don't often get my money's worth. (especially since most coupons in the paper are for processed foods that are not gluten free)

I have also tried online coupon-ing - but am not good about going to multiple websites and browsing through pages of items that are often not on my shopping list.

And to top it off, even if I remember to cut out or print coupons, half the time I get to the store and remember that I have left them on my kitchen counter at home.

When we moved to town, I was excited to be near a Meijer. (and Kroger too - my first trip there I spent around $80 where in Cleveland I was spending around $120 for the same trip) I went to graduate school up in Michigan and Meijer was my favorite store of choice back then as a broke grad student. Having shopped there the past five years, I've seen their gluten free selection go from okay to one of the best I have seen in all of our travels, and their prices are often comparable or lower than other stores.

For years, the cashier would ask "do you have MPerks or any coupons?" and I half listened and responded "no." I thought MPerks was somehow tied into their credit card and I wasn't interested. I don't remember what made me look into it (probably my grocery bills!?!), but once I did, I thought - I need to tell people about this! Go me, it has only taken me a few years to think to put this on my blog.

MPerks is a digital coupon website or app for your smart phone - much like Kroger's or Target's Cartwheel or others out there. You can do it from a home computer, though - which is great because I am relatively new to the smartphone world. You can clip all the coupons at home, or on your phone, and then when you are at the store the only thing you need is your phone number. When you are checking out - both at the regular checkouts and the self-checkouts, you push the little "MPerks" icon at the bottom and follow the prompt. That is it. Your phone number and a PIN of your choosing. No paper to remember, no plastic card to put in your wallet or keychain.

The coupons are good - there is a search function so if you only want to know if there are yogurt coupons, you can just type that in. They also have featured coupon bundles each month - and since October is Celiac Awareness Month, this month there is a "Gluten Free" coupon bundle:

  Screenshot of some of the October coupon bundles, including "Gluten Free." 
This post was not even scheduled for today, but when I saw a gluten free coupon category for October, I wanted to share it with everyone as soon as possible!

 And here are some of the coupons. I will definitely use the Eggo coupon as those are rarely on sale and my kids love them more than any other waffles, as well as the King Arthur coupon as that is a large coupon and I like to keep a box or two of their cake mix (my favorite) on hand. 
There are also many $1.00 off Glutino products as well.

I clipped all of the coupons in the Gluten Free bundle, though I likely will only use a handful of them. 

An added bonus with coupons - once every few months there will be a coupon for gasoline at their gas stations. It usually takes the price per gallon under any other station in the area! 

The coupons alone are not enough to make me love MPerks, however. There are two components that make it worthwhile to me:

1) Friday and Saturday deals. Every other weekend - or sometimes Fridays and Saturdays - MPerks will send a text or e-mail alerting members to sales --- and all you need is your free MPerks account. They range from $5 off purchases of $50 to 5% off all groceries (hello, Friday has become grocery day) to 10% off clothes and other sorts of "sales." At first I thought it really wasn't much - but over the course of a year, it really adds up if you can shop on those days. (scarily, the app will track your savings and the number really grows! the receipt will show it to you up at the top as well)

2) MPerks "Rewards." Here is an additional big coupon every 30 days or so. Each cycle there are different "rewards" to choose from on the website/app. Usually there is a "total purchase" or "total grocery" one - where if you spend $600 you can earn a $15 coupon or something along those lines. The categories change, but "baby" is often one (I think anyone that buys diapers there should definitely be enrolled in MPerks!), dairy, meat, sporting goods, household goods, pet supplies are other common ones.  The only trick is that the app does not remind you when your 30 days are up - you need to remember to go in the app, and either click on the coupon if you earned it, or just pick new categories if you did not.

 Here is a screenshot of my "Total Purchase" Reward - looks like I will not get the $14 coupon as I only spent $100.45 this month. Extremely low month for me as I usually do most of my shopping at Meijer - but this month I have spent more of my time and money at Kroger and Costco!

I am not affiliated with Meijer in any way (though I often think I should get a job there!), but just wanted to pass this along in case there are any other shoppers out there like me, always answering "no, no MPerks" to the cashier at checkout, and not taking advantage of those Friday/Saturday/Sunday sales and Rewards. Anything to keep the cost of gluten free groceries down is a good tool to have!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Old Dog, New Tricks: Finding New Products

We were all invited to a goodbye party on Friday night. It was a super rare occasion where the host of the party is gluten free too, so there was a LOT we could eat. (mentally stole some great ideas for the next time we host a gathering!)

In hanging out, I also found another gluten free guest, and it was a very interesting experience. The guest has been gluten free since June, and the host went gluten free in the past two years. Having started the diet more recently, they were discussing products I had no idea existed.

As most followers of my Facebook page know, I try and share new products when I see them locally. I subscribe to many other blogs and newsletters to try and stay current on new research about Celiac and about new products. However, finding those products is sometimes not possible (as our stores may not carry them), or might not be easy as the cracker might be in the regular cracker section or it might be in the "gluten free" section and I'm not always on the lookout. If I don't know there is a new product out there, I will stick to my normal path through the grocery store, which doesn't usually involve going into the "glutenous" (ie regular!) grocery aisles, and I typically am brand loyal or product loyal to something we have liked in the past. This is typically a good practice, though, as I don't need to spend more money on food as our grocery bill is high enough, and I also don't like feeling sad over seeing all the products we miss or would love to have in our cupboards.

But sitting at that party, it was a very strange feeling. There have been so many gluten free products flood the market in recent years, I was totally feeling like the parent that has to ask their kid to program the DVR. There is a whole new generation of gluten free folks that have different go-to brands and staples, just as we do with ours. Back six years ago, there just weren't that many options - you wanted pretzels, there were two options. Now, just in ten seconds, I can think of six. So incredibly thankful for this!

This is one of my motivators to post to Facebook - if it's new to me, it might be new to you too. And when we are spending $6 for a loaf of bread, or several dollars for a box of crackers, we want it to be the best one out there. (and if it is on sale, time to stock up!)

So here are two new products from the party, with thoughts from those of us that were sitting at the kitchen table taste testing:

These disks of deliciousness took me by surprise. Very, very chocolate-y, which I love. I know of the Immaculate brand - but from the dry baking aisle. The cookies are in the refrigerator section and are pre-made, just pull apart and throw in the oven. I typically make cookies from scratch or use a King Arthur mix (that brand loyalty thing... great products so I don't look elsewhere often, though we just tried the Pillsbury ones with sprinkles in them and they were delicious), and the refrigerator section Pillsbury ones were good but I just don't make cookies often enough that I have visited that part of the grocery store lately. So to find these - perfect for that time when you know your child will need something to take to a party or school and you know you won't have the time to pull it together from scratch the night before. Or, just because!

Now these - were a shocker. I have been looking for them but have only found Pamela's small cinnamon and chocolate grahams locally (and had posted those to FB). The guest that brought these received these in her recent Green Bean Delivery shipment (which I am going to have to look into after our talk that night). When we opened the box and these huge crackers popped out, we were all surprised! Their taste was not quite graham cracker, but it was good. Another taste tester said it reminded her of Biscoff cookies. What impressed me was that these crackers were solid - you can see in the picture that the one that was split did not crack or crumble into bits. They would be excellent for making s'mores! Hoping to see these on local shelves soon - and if you see them, please as always, let me know where you spotted them. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Cleanup in Aisle 9: The Adjustment Phase

Every Celiac or parent of a Celiac does it.

I did it the week before we were officially diagnosed. Some wait until after.

The first trip to the grocery store, in which you find there is nothing to eat anymore.

And tears were shed in Aisle 9.

My boys were at VBS that week, so I had literally one morning I wasn’t helping and could instead, go to the grocery store and read labels and make a plan of how I was soon going to feed my Celiac son. Keep in mind this was 6 years ago. In many aspects of life, that is not that far ago. In gluten-free-speak, it was not quite the dark ages but it was before the industrial revolution. Betty Crocker was the first mainstream brand to release gluten free items – and she had not debuted yet. Gluten was still very much confused with glucose (“uh, ma’am, I think you want the sugar free section?” Um, no!) and certainly did not have its own section yet in most stores in the greater Cleveland area. Gluten free items were not to be found in Target or Wal-Mart or gas stations or vending machines.

I have never counted, but I feel that I likely rotate through around 20 dinner recipes with any great regularity. The trick to going gluten free for us was to keep as many of those routine meals as possible by simply substituting gluten free items (usually noodles), but some meals had to be completely dropped. A casserole made with stuffing or croutons, or anything that relied heavily upon breadcrumbs – no longer were such meals cost effective or not did they taste right. So new recipes did indeed have to be found, but that actually has turned out to be a good thing. (more on that in an upcoming post)

We felt the absolute hardest replacement, of course, was bread. Most every Celiac parent has this story too. The one in which you spend $6 or more for a small, very hard and dense loaf of “bread,” bring it home, eat it and cry. Not only because you just wasted $6, but also because the bread should not even be called bread. Again, though – this was our experience 6 years ago, when there were only one or two companies that produced gluten free bread. The bread needed to be toasted to even be edible, literally. When Udi’s bread came into the market I rejoiced. I know some gluten free folks compare it to “Wonder Bread” – but I simply felt it WAS a wonder. It could be frozen yet it is shelf stable --- meaning I could pack it and travel with it for days at a time. And no toaster was required, it could simply be eaten like regular bread. Again, for travel, which we used to do a lot of – this helped get life one step closer to normal. And now there are several other tasty brands too!

Traveling was also overwhelming, though we did not let the diagnosis slow us down. Not long after, we took a ten day trip through 7 states, visiting friends, family and attending two family parties. It was exhausting and so hard to find food back then. Very few restaurants were able to accommodate our son safely (nor did I expect them to) – so I packed a large cooler and planned the best I could. We were so new to the diet, though, it was still hard deciphering labels when we did have to shop or go to a restaurant – so we ended up literally pulling into a Best Buy at one point and buying an iPod (cheapest available, but still, yikes!) and then standing outside coffee shops to use their wi-fi signals to figure out how we would feed the child safely at times.  (disclaimer – we were very late adopters on smart cell phones – we had just new to cell phones back then and they were the flip kind. Now we are so spoiled we have smart phones and I use mine often at the grocery store to double check ingredients!)

Traveling has become easier as many restaurants have added gluten free menus (though I do not trust all of them), but more exciting to me than that is seeing gluten free sections in so many grocery stores across the country. Often times when traveling, we will go to a grocery store and buy and make lunch or dinner instead of risking cross contamination at a restaurant that does provide a truly gluten free meal.

 Lunch in State College, Pennsylvania - fresh gluten free bread and brownies from 
Good Seed Baking Co., with a stop at a local market for pepperoni, cheese and drinks

As with any diagnosis, there is a time for grief. Losing the ability to eat without research and worry has a huge, daily impact. It changes your kitchen cupboards, travel, school and church, dinner dates and playdates. We have tried very hard to keep a positive attitude here – trying to make food a non-issue. If there is something delicious being handed out as a post-soccer treat for example, my son knows when he goes home that he has a bin he can pick from some of his favorite treats instead. If there is something being served at school, I work hard to replicate it and send it in that day. And it has worked. My son’s attitude is amazing – he gets bummed at times, but always knows that he can get something better another time. He shows amazing restraint and can delay self-gratification longer than most adults I know. He has come to embrace being gluten free as good, as part of who he is. A few months ago I told him there may be a cure someday, and when he is old enough, he might decide to take a medicine and then be able to eat gluten. His response? He likes being gluten free, and thinks he would rather just keep eating gluten free.

One of his many dreams is to own a gluten free pizza restaurant someday, and he knows I will be first in line when it opens.