Saturday, July 27, 2013

Even small towns offer GF options

My hometown: Bolivar (MO)
I grew up and lived most of my life in the small southwest Missouri town of Bolivar. My father took a job as superintendent of the public schools and moved my family there in 1966, when I was eight years old. With nearly every amenity a person could ever need--outstanding schools, abundant recreation opportunities, exceptional cultural activities, multiple churches, a progressive hospital, and a fine university, to name a few--Bolivar was the ideal place to grow up and the ideal place to raise my own family.

As our nest emptied and Doug's job demands changed significantly, we decided to explore a new lifestyle. Our two older children had settled in New York City, so in tandem with them, we decided to experience "big city" life for ourselves. Our son had lived in a loft in downtown Springfield while he attended architecture school at Drury University, and his living arrangements had always captured our imaginations. In 2012 we leased a loft in downtown Springfield where we could get a taste of city life and be within easy access of the airport (for Doug's business travel and my frequent trips to NYC), yet maintain regular contact with our friends and family in Bolivar.

The GF shelves at Woods Supermarket
Not long before we moved to Springfield, I learned I have celiac disease. I was suddenly forced to find gluten-free groceries and restaurants in order to heal my damaged intestines and avoid consequent illness. At the time, the grocery and dining options in Bolivar were limited. To obtain many of the staples I needed, I had to drive to one of the health food stores in Springfield, like Mama Jean's or Akin's Natural Food Market, or order food on the Internet. I looked forward to being in reach of the plentiful gluten-free groceries and restaurants offered by the bigger city.

Since our move, however, Bolivar has become an easier place for folks with celiac disease or gluten intolerance to find abundant gluten-free groceries. First, Woods Supermarket, a home-owned, area chain has begun to offer patrons a wide variety of the most popular GF brands. They have a nice selection of those brands on dedicated shelves in one of the aisles, so you don't have to look all over the place to find them.  In addition, they carry Kretschmar brand deli meats, which are also gluten-free. Of course, there are countless other products throughout the store. When I'm in Bolivar, I frequently stop in Woods for my favorites, because it's so easy to get in and out without driving around and parking in Springfield. Ironic, huh?

GF products at Designed 4 Healing 
Another impressive venue for GF products in Bolivar is Designed 4 Healing, operated by Kim Jones. The newly-remodeled natural foods store is located at 451 S. Springfield (in the same center as El Tres Amigos Restaurant). The store offers many wonderful GF products--and if it's not there, Jones will order it for you. She even has a freezer full of Udi's breads, so no one has to be without a hamburger or hotdog bun at a spur-of-the-moment barbecue at beautiful Dunnegan Park!

A word about sticker shock on the GF products that you'll find in these (and many other small-town) stores: The prices compare very favorably with those offered in their Springfield counter-parts. The bad news is that gluten-free products are expensive in general. The good news is that, as more people are discovering the health benefits of eliminating gluten from their diets, and more people are buying more GF products, the prices are gradually going down. I've noticed that trend just over the past couple of years. If you live in a small town, ask your grocer to stock your favorites. They are usually happy to help you.

And speaking of Bolivar, I'll discuss Bolivar's gluten-free dining options in a future blog. You might be surprised at how many places offer GF menu items!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

To market, to market ... jiggety-jig

Scott Jones at Farmers Market  of the Ozarks
A while back, I raved about the virtues of farmers markets. For the past several years, I've enjoyed fresh fruits and vegetables, jellies and pickles, eggs and baked items from the wonderful Greater Polk County Farmers Market in my hometown of Bolivar, MO (open 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays and 3:30-6:30 p.m  Tuesdays).

Now that Doug and I are living in Springfield, I often visit the Farmers Market of the Ozarks as well. FMO, which is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., has recently moved into their spacious new pavilion (at 4139 S. Nature Center Way). It's a wonderful, colorful, bustling place with more than 100 vendors, who, in addition to the standard fare, offer everything from meats and cheese to whiskey and craft beer to pottery and jewelry. In addition, food trucks parked along the edges of the pavilion sell coffee and smoothies and crepes and omelets--a cornucopia of delightful breakfast fare.

This past Saturday I discovered an extra-special treat for those of us with gluten issues: Scotty's Biscotti--an entire booth dedicated to gluten-free baked goods! By the time I arrived at the market--around 9 a.m.--owner Scott Jones had already sold out of his gluten-free hamburger buns, but I still stocked up on his delicious biscuits and biscotti. He also had some good-looking muffins, which I (temporarily) managed to resist.

The friendly Scotty and his charming wife are happy to share their story with the grateful "gluten-avoiders" who stop by their booth. They take special orders for birthday cakes and other baked goods and lend a sympathetic ear to those who want to whine about celiac disease, which Scotty understands first-hand. You can check out Scotty's Biscotti on FaceBook.

Now I have one more reason to drag myself out of bed on Saturday mornings. This week I'll set my alarm a bit earlier and race to Scotty's Biscotti to grab a few of those hamburger buns!

Other Springfield farmers markets to explore include Greater Springfield Farmers' Market (in the Battlefield Mall parking lot; open at 8 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) and the C-Street Market (at 321 E. Commercial; 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Keep calm and carry on

Since 9/11 we have lived in a world where the possibility of a terrorist attack is always lurking in the backs of our minds. One of the goals of terrorists is to create such anxiety in people that they will lock themselves away from their day-to-day lives, that they will mistrust the actions of others, that they will be enslaved to their fears. The best way to defeat fear is to "keep calm and carry on," as the popular slogan (mistakenly) attributed to Winston Churchill points out.

While celiac disease obviously does not cause damage on the same scale as terrorism, it behaves as a terrorist in those who must cope with it on a daily basis. Some days, particularly after I've been "glutened" after eating out, I retreat to my house, vowing to cook every meal at home, to limit my social life, to sit back and feel sorry for myself. At such times I worry about travel, turn down invitations, lock myself in the bathroom, and live on bland food. I live in fear of when and where celiac will strike next.

It doesn't take me long, however--usually by the time my symptoms subside--to pluck up my courage and show celiac disease that it's not going to win. In the same way that our country has been proactive in reducing the threat of terrorist attacks, I have found a few strategies for reducing my chances of avoiding gluten. Here are a few of my best tips for safely "carrying on":

  • Don't take risks at restaurants. Ask questions of those who are preparing or serving your food. If the person seems unsure or doesn't seem to be taking you seriously, don't eat the food. If you're going to a new place, call ahead and quiz the staff before you go. If you don't get the answers you want, go somewhere else. 
  • When you cook, double check every label. If you don't recognize an ingredient, google it or use an app to check it out. One of my favorite apps is called "Is that Gluten Free?" It sorts information by category, brand, or ingredient, listing items that are safe, unsafe or questionable. It also tells you what brands have certified gluten-free products.
  • Ask your friends and family what ingredients they have used in their dishes. Most people are understanding of your issues and are willing to accommodate you. When dining in someone else's home, offer to bring a dish that is gluten-free. That way you know that you can at least eat something.
  • Plan ahead. If you are going to a banquet or party where you will have no control over the menu, eat beforehand to curb your appetite. Promise yourself a your favorite safe treat afterwards, so that you have something to look forward to.
  • Do your research when you are traveling. Use apps such as "Find Me GF" or "Gluten Free Registry" to search for safe restaurants. I've found some excellent restaurants using "Yelp" with a gluten-free filter.
  • Have a backup plan. Always carry something with you that you can eat. I love Kind bars and Larabars, and my new favorite, which I found in a Whole Foods Market in New York, is a goji granola bar from Two Moms in the Raw. (They're a bit pricey, but--oh, my sweet mother of pearl!--they are amazing!) If you are going on a long flight, you definitely need to take your own food.
  • Educate everyone around you. I've found that most people are genuinely interested in learning about how you must avoid gluten. But be patient, and don't take it personally if your friends or family members forget. I figure that they have to put up with a lot because of my issues, so I can put up with the times when they say, "Oh, my gosh! You just have to try the croissants at ..."
  • Don't isolate yourself. Talk to other people with celiac disease. Find a support group or read a few blogs. You are not alone. Other people have and are experiencing the same feelings, and they will be happy to give you advice and sympathy.
  • Depending on how the disease affects you, carry the products you use to treat your symptoms. My main issue is "The Big D," so I carry Imodium with me at all times. (If I've been having issues, I also carry a change of clothing. It's not a pretty thought picture, but it's a fact of life for many celiac sufferers, and we're being honest here.)
Whatever you do, don't let celiac disease terrorize your life. Keep calm and carry a Kind bar ...

Monday, July 22, 2013

... and it's gluten-free!

"Gluten-free" prominently displayed on the labels!
Isn't it funny that when you learn a new word, a word you'd swear you've never encountered before, you hear it nearly every day? For the past couple of years, the word I've been hearing nearly every day is "gluten-free."

While much of the hype is related to the new gluten-free diet fad (which may or may not work long term for weight loss or athletic performance), the increasing frequency of that word and its accompanying products is a blessing to those of us with celiac disease.

No need for labels here!
It has certainly become much easier to find celiac-safe food, both in grocery stores and in restaurants, in the past twenty-some years since Doug's nephew was diagnosed. When I think about how difficult it was twenty years ago for Doug's brother and sister-in-law to educate themselves and those around them about what is and what is not gluten-free, I find it hard to believe how relatively easy it is now. Nearly everyone has at least a basic understanding of it.

I hope that when/if the diet fad passes, the awareness of potential problems with gluten (and processed food in general) continues. I also hope that producers continue to look for ways to eliminate unnecessary gluten from their offerings. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy seeing my new vocabulary word in print and hearing it in the news and advertisements on a daily basis.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The chain-gang (My favorite menu items from popular Springfield-area restaurant chains)

The Burrito Bowl from Chipotle
A few days ago, I posted a list of downtown Springfield (MO) restaurants, along with some of their gluten-free offerings. Today I'm listing area chain restaurants, including fast food, along with the items I've eaten with success. Many of these restaurants have additional gluten-free items on their menus, but I'm listing only those that I generally order.

As always, remember that menus, ingredients, and preparation methods change (and with chains they are inconsistent from restaurant to restaurant); therefore, eating in restaurants is always risky for people with celiac disease.

Chipotle: Burrito Bowl (Most items are GF at Chipotle, but ask the preparers to reglove.) This is one of my go-to restaurants. The food is fresh and safe, and I've never had an issue.

Qdoba: Naked Burrito (Most items are GF.) Also consistently fresh and delicious.

Red Robin: Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger (on GF Bun) with Bottomless Fries. The best gluten-free bun I've found in a restaurant--it usually holds up until I've finished the burger!

HuHot: Create your own combinations from the items at the food bar, and use the list of gluten-free sauces provided by your wait-person to choose your sauce. Tell the wait-person that you must eat gluten-free, and the cook staff will be alerted. They will clean the grill and keep your ingredients separate from others. Keep in mind that there is danger of cross-contamination from the food bars.

Chili's: I eat the Santa Fe Chicken Salad (without tortilla strips) with avocado-ranch dressing. They have a fairly large GF menu, though, so you're not limited to salad.

Ruby Tuesday's: I recently ate the petite sirloin with a baked potato and grilled asparagus. No problems at all. While they don't actually have a gluten-free menu, they'll give you a list of their gluten-free offerings. It's a pretty decent list. Lots of grilled vegetables.

Panera: Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. So good--and I've never had a problem, although the risk of cross-contamination must be fairly high because of all the baked items.

Olive Garden's Penne Rigate Pomodoro
Olive Garden: They have a limited GF menu, but they do have a couple of penne pasta offerings, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Ask for the salad without the croutons, of course.

Steak 'n Shake: Genuine Chili, awesome shakes.

McAlister's Deli: I always order the gigantic Spud. There are many GF toppings available.

Wendy's: Apple Pecan Chicken Salad (Don't eat the pecans, though. Why, oh, why must these have wheat as an ingredient?); Baked Potato; Chili.

Fazoli's: Cherry Apple Almond Salad.

McDonalds: Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Newman's Own Low Fat Balsamic Viniagrette or Fruit 'n' Yogurt Parfait. They are also happy to fix a beef patty without a bun. Ask if their fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer.

Applebee's: In the past year, I've eaten at Applebee's in Springfield, MO, in Marshall, MO (where my youngest child goes to college), and in Destin, Florida. The chain has a pretty good gluten-free menu, but I usually stick to the salads. The Santa Fe Chicken Salad is my favorite. One of my happiest discoveries, though, was that I can eat the Queso Blanco Dip and tortilla chips.

These restaurants also have GF items: Pasta House Company, Arby's, Chick Fil A, Taco Bell, Subway, and Burger King. I haven't visited any of these lately, but I'll report when I do! Let me hear from you about your experiences, good or bad, and I'll pass the information along.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Move along

Wheat is listed second in the ingredient list! 
Funny things happen when you're seeking a restaurant with gluten-free offerings. A while back, Doug and I wanted to eat at a popular sushi restaurant where we had dined before my diagnosis. Now, I've found that it's quicker to get the gluten explanations and questions out of the way before we even allow the hostess to seat us to avoid having to walk out after drinks have been served.

In this instance, I started by asking, "Do you have gluten-free soy sauce?" (Most of you are probably aware that many soy sauce brands have wheat in them. "Why?" I must ask.)

The hostess, obviously not a native speaker of English, didn't understand the question, so I asked her again, adding a bit of explanation.

"Oh, yes!" she answered, "Our soy sauce is always free."

Needless to say, we gave up and left, unable to communicate my needs. I'm sure our hostess never understood my problem.

Another time, when I was trying to explain my issues to a waitress, I told her I couldn't eat gluten.

"Gluten--you know, the stuff in flour," I offered, when she didn't quite understand.

"Oh, no worries!" she said. "Our flour doesn't have gluten in it."

Sometimes you know you're just better off to move along.

By the way, while the most popular brands of soy sauce contain wheat, the store brands often do not. As always, check the label!

Monday, July 15, 2013

How about never?

In my favorite New Yorker cartoon, by Robert Mankoff, a businessman stands in his office holding a phone and reading a calendar, saying, "No, Thursday's out. How about never--is never good for you?" Doug and I often quote this line to each other when one of us doesn't want to do something the other asks of us.

It's a funny quote, unless you happen to be applying it to celiac disease: "How about never [eating another cinnamon roll again for the rest of your life]--is never good for you?"

"Nooooo! Never isn't good for me!"I want to scream.

Well, actually "never" is good for me, healthwise. At this point in time, "never" is the only answer for celiacs: The only way to manage celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet for life. But it sure isn't easy.

As research brings a gluten-killing pill nearer to reality, celiacs are engaging in debate over the question: "If you could take a pill to manage celiac disease, would you do it?"

Many people say they will never eat wheat again, even if a drug becomes available, citing many reasons for giving up the stuff entirely, forever. "Do we really want to take a drug, whose side effects may be worse than a sure cure (in other words, giving up gluten)?" some argue.

Others dream of that first piece of pizza or slice of French bread or bran muffin that they'd stuff into their mouths. More important, some parents see a gluten-killing drug as a way to protect young children with celiac from inadvertently ingesting gluten.

I doubt if I will ever return to eating gluten on a daily basis, but I must admit, that occasional cinnamon roll sounds pretty tempting. If I could take a gluten-killing pill similar to those lactase pills that lactose-intolerant people take, I would likely do it.

Triumph Dining, one of my favorite online sources for information on celiac disease, recently published an article about a gluten-killing drug that could be available within the next five years. Check out for this article, titled "Update on Possible Future Gluten-Killing Drug," and all the other great articles on celiac disease.

And if the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center reaches its goal, they will find a cure for celiac by 2026. If you're interested in the study, go to this website:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eating gluten-free in downtown Springfield, MO

Bruno's (from our balcony)
I'll admit it right up front: I love to eat out. I enjoy cooking, too, but set me down in a nice restaurant and put an interesting menu in front of me and all is right with the world. Finding a restaurant with a gluten-free menu or even gluten-free entrees, however, is often a problem.

That's why I'm sharing this list of downtown Springfield (MO) restaurants where I've had successful dining experiences. Unfortunately, menus, ingredients, and preparation methods change, so I'll quickly remind you that eating in restaurants is always risky for people with celiac disease.

Many people with celiac disease, understandably, never take the risk of eating out. Eating out has been such a large part of my lifestyle, that I find the experience worth the risk. Anyway, here's my list (in no specific order), which I'll update every time I make a new discovery or have a particularly good or bad experience.

Ristorante Gilardi's (Italian Fine Dining): Very understanding of celiac disease. The last time I ate there (Summer 2013), I had a wonderful salmon dish. The manager came out and told me that they would soon be making their own gluten-free pasta. I'll keep you posted. Located at 820 E. Walnut.

Maria's (Mexican): I always order El Nacho with chicken--and I've never had a problem. A long time ago, they assured me that their corn tortillas are gluten-free, so I'm not asking questions. I know I should be more careful, but until my body tells me otherwise, I'm going with it. I love them so much. Someday I'm going to quiz them on their tamales, because I've found that tamales are often completely gluten-free as well, but for now, I'm totally content with the nachos. Located at 406 South Ave.

Caprese Salad at Farmer's Gastropub
Farmer's Gastropub (Casual Dining): This restaurant has been inconsistent with gluten-free offerings. At one point they had their gluten-free options marked on their menu, but that is no longer the case. They do seem to understand gluten issues. I had a reaction to a meal there last winter (2013) and stopped eating there for a while. The lure of their wonderful outdoor patio recently drew me back, however, and I've eaten there several times with no problems. Just tell the wait-staff that you must eat gluten-free, and they'll help you out. Located at 431 S. Jefferson Ave.

Big Whiskey's (Pub): The only items on their menu that I order are their salads--but their Maple Apple Salad is the best salad on the planet (in my humble opinion). I could eat it every day. Really. Their Strawberry Hill Salad isn't bad, either. I'm sure I could eat other items on their menu, but I can't get past the Maple Apple Salad. With or without the grilled chicken on it, I've never had a problem. I eat at the downtown location at 311 Park Central East.

Rebecca Grille (Fine Dining): This restaurant is one of my new downtown favorites. They understand gluten issues, and they have lots of gluten-free menu selections (but you have to ask). I've also had brunch there and ordered an omelet and fried red bliss potatoes (no bread, of course). A great place to eat. Located at 209 E. Walnut.

Bruno's (Italian Fine Dining): This is another great restaurant where the wait-staff understands celiac disease. While there is no gluten-free menu, their chef can prepare many of the menu items gluten-free. Wonderful atmosphere, too. Located at 416 South Ave.

Gailey's (Breakfast): A great little breakfast spot, especially if you're not in a big hurry. I order the Create Your Own Omelet with hash browns and a cup of yogurt. No bread. Truthfully, there is a lot of opportunity for cross-contamination, so if you're super-sensitive, you might want to go elsewhere. I've had problems once or twice, but I forgive and move on. I know that's not a great approach (celiac-wise), but I can't resist. Located at 220 E. Walnut.

Springfield Brewing Company (Pub): They have a couple of salads, but the last time I was there, they didn't have a lot of other options for gluten-free eating, according to the person who waited on us. I love the atmosphere, but sadly, I haven't found it to be very celiac-friendly. I am attending an anniversary party there in a couple of weeks, so I'll update my findings in the near future. Located at 305 S. Market.

The Grad School (Casual Dining): Eat the chili on Fridays. It's so good. That's really about it, though, which makes me very sad, because the food there is reportedly outstanding. Located at 434 S. Jefferson Ave.

J.O.B. Public House (Pub): Great place for a drink, but the only food on the menu that celiacs can eat is the chili (which is so good that I could eat it every day) and the salad. This is one of my husband's favorite places to grab a quick sandwich (called Cubicles). They have several of these very popular little sandwiches and bottomless fries, but sadly, not for the gluten-sensitive. Located at 319 E. Walnut.

The Aviary Cafe and Creperie (Casual Dining): Nice salads, and they have a few other items that are gluten-free. I heard from members of the Gluten-Free Support Group (at HyVee) that they now have buckwheat crepes for people who must eat gluten-free. (Buckwheat, by the way, is actually gluten-free, in spite of it's scary name.) I can't wait to try the crepes. Located at 400 E. Walnut.

Mille's Cafe (Urban Casual): They have a few nice salads, including their signature Honey Pecan Chicken Salad, which is what I usually end up ordering (without the pita bread). Located at 313 S. Jefferson.

Three Corner Bar & Grille (Pub): This new restaurant offers excellent baba ghanoush and hummus (both gluten-free), and they'll serve it with sliced cucumbers instead of pita bread upon request. They also have a gluten-free bun for their burgers! Unfortunately, you can't eat the fries. Located at 400 South Ave.

Bistro Marketplace (Deli/Burgers): This little cafe has a nice salad bar and great burgers (but no gluten-free buns). The best offering, though, is their hand-cut french fries, which they fry in a dedicated fryer. I live in a loft right above this place, so I'm afraid I succumb to the temptation to pick up an order of those fries a little too often. Located at 401 South Ave.

Nonna's Italian (Casual Dining): This is a good restaurant for celiacs. They don't have gluten-free menu or gluten-free pasta, but they serve nice risotto and polenta dishes, as well as beef tenderloin tips, which are very tasty and gluten-free. They also have good salads. Located at 306 South Ave.

Kai (Japanese Fine Dining): This sushi restaurant offers a gluten free menu and their sushi, which I love, is delicious. The only problem is that they don't offer gluten-free soy sauce. (If you've read my other blogs, you might remember my husband's reaction to that little problem.) Other than having to haul your own soy sauce with you, which I do, I highly recommend the food. Located at 306 S. Campbell.

Flame Steakhouse & Wine Bar (Fine Dining): Yes, their food is wonderful. Yes, they understand gluten issues. Yes, the menu is priced a little higher than most, but it's a great place for special occasions. Located at 314 W. Walnut St.

Downtown Springfield has so many wonderful restaurants (including several that I haven't even mentioned here) that really can and will accommodate diners with gluten issues. You may have to do a little (or even a lot) of probing to determine what is safe for you to eat, but I guarantee that it is well worth the effort. In future posts, I will recount my experiences with more Greater Springfield and Springfield Area restaurants.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


As my husband Doug and I were discussing weekend plans a while back, he referred to my celiac disease as a "nuisance."

"What?! A nuisance?! Really??"I responded. "This stupid disease has ruined my life--and you're calling it a nuisance?"

Since then, I've thought about how many aspects of my life celiac has indeed affected: I will never again be able to eat many of my favorite foods. I am often hungry, because there is frequently nothing for me to eat at parties, receptions, banquets or other public events. I am always "that guy" to waiters and cooks at restaurant and bars, being forced to quiz them on ingredients and preparation methods with every order. My friends and family often have to eliminate their personal favorites when picking a place for us to eat out--or worry about what to cook when they invite me to their homes. For one reason or another, I feel like I'm the center of attention--in a negative way--at every meal.

Here I go again, crying in my gluten-free beer!

So I started thinking about the flip-side, the advantages of having celiac disease (not that anyone would ever call having celiac disease a stroke of luck):

For one thing, I am now forced to make healthier choices when I eat. By necessity, I've eliminated from my diet most processed foods, which overwhelmingly contain some form of gluten. I've become more mindful of what and how much I eat.

The disease has also given me an instant peer group. I have made new friends in unlikely places, such as standing in line at the grocery store, where fellow celiacs have looked into my cart and started a conversation about my selections. Celiac gives complete strangers common ground from which to give and take advice and sympathy--we bond over our "war stories."

Another "advantage":  I no longer take food, especially treats, for granted. When friends or family bring me homemade gluten-free cookies, for example, I want to burst into tears at their thoughtfulness. If someone goes out of the way to accommodate me, I know she's a true friend.

Along those same lines, I've discovered the heroes in my own family. Not long after my diagnosis, my mom, in her 80s, researched recipes and surprised me with a gluten-free lemon pie. At Thanksgiving this year, my children prepared a huge dinner at my daughter's Brooklyn apartment without a speck of gluten in the entire meal.

And my husband? The one who calls celiac disease a "nuisance"? You should see this gentle, mild-mannered fellow go to the mat for me when restaurant wait-staff put bread on my plate, after we've done the whole gluten-free routine. (Not long ago he nearly assaulted a waiter at a sushi restaurant which had a gluten-free menu, but no gluten-free soy sauce, for cryin' out loud.) Celiac disease has made realize how much he loves me, as I watch, agape, when he suddenly turns into a raging animal, thinking I've been mistreated. You might even say he's become, well, a nuisance.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chicken Chili, my go-to slow cooker meal

Slow cooker recipes are easily adapted to become gluten-free. In fact, many of my favorites are naturally gluten-free--like my absolute, all time favorite: "Crockpot Chicken Chili." When I know I'm in for a busy day, this is my go-to recipe--summer, winter, spring or fall. It's delicious, and you can't screw it up.

Put the ingredients in your slow cooker before you leave for work, and you'll be thanking yourself when you drag yourself home at the end of the day. Even though my nest is now empty, I frequently make a big batch of this for my husband and me, and we eat the leftovers for a couple of days. (The leftovers are even better than the original!)

Crockpot Chicken Chili (6 Servings)

3-4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 jar (16 oz.) or 2 C. chunky salsa
1 can (15.8 oz.) Great Northern beans, undrained
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, undrained
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tsp. cumin

Grease a 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 slow cooker and place chicken in the bottom. Pour salsa, beans, tomatoes and cumin over the top and stir. Cover and cook on low 6-9 hours. Use two forks to shred the chicken in the bottom of the slow cooker. Stir.

I make mine extra-thick by using four chicken breasts. Serve it with shredded cheese and sour cream. To die for, I'm telling you!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Farmers Markets make summer special


Summer has always been my favorite time of year. Swimming, floating, tennis, fireworks, long walks on warm summer evenings: I love it all!  (I never allow myself to complain about summer's heat, because I believe that gives me license to gripe about the cold all winter.)

Now that I must eat gluten-free, summer is especially sweet. The area farmers markets are up and running, and the fruits and vegetables are especially tasty this time of year.

This morning I visited the Farmers Market of the Ozarks at 4139 S. Nature Center Way (Springfield, MO) in order to collect vegetables for a recipe I recently found on FaceBook called "Kielbasa Skillet." (The source is

Here's the recipe:

6 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium new potatoes, washed, scrubbed and sliced thin
6 carrots, sliced thin
2 C. broccoli florets
1 C. celery, sliced thin
1/4 C. butter*
1 lb. smoked polksa kielbasa, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces**
Salt and pepper to taste

In a dutch oven or large skillet, fry diced bacon until crisp, then remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. In bacon drippings, fry onion, potatoes, carrots, broccoli an celery over medium-low heat until tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, and add butter and the kielbasa slices. Cover and cook on low heat until hot--about 15 minutes. Top with crumbled crisp bacon right before serving.

*When I make it again, I'll eliminate the butter altogether.
**I think I'll try it with chicken breast, rather than kielbasa.

In addition to the vegetables for the new recipe, I bought juicy blackberries and sweet peaches. No gluten-filled cake, pie or pastry from my former life can beat fresh fruit from the farmers market. Ah, summer!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I get by with a little ... support

I walked into our local HyVee a few days ago looking for a few of my gluten-free favorites. One of the staff dieticians was in the Health Food department passing out samples of gluten-free snack bars and chocolate water--that's right, I said "chocolate water"--and she invited me to their Gluten-Free Support Group. I put the event on my calendar, and last night I attended my first meeting.

We met in HyVee's cooking classroom, seated so that we could watch the evening's guest chef, a representative of Udi's/Glutino. She prepared a fresh pesto sauce and spread it on paninis made of Udi's whole grain bread, DiLusso chicken breast (deli meat), and Havarti cheese. Delicious! She also made cheese quesidillas using Udi's gluten free tortillas, and she served a Birdseye pepper mix (from the store's freezer section) on the side. I was especially excited to discover the tortillas, which I will soon be using to prepare chicken enchiladas.

We discussed the need to use dedicated kitchen equipment in our homes to avoid cross-contamination with food prepared by the non-gluten-free members of our family. It is more urgent to replace or purchase some kitchen utensils, such as toasters or wooden spoons, than others, such as stainless steel pots and pans. The Udi's rep, herself a celiac, brought her own panini press to prepare our meal.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the dietician passed out samples and free products available in the store. Some of the attendees also shared their experiences with local bakeries and restaurants with gluten-free offerings. I learned that a bakery called Gigi's (on Republic Road) has GF products on Friday mornings, and that Scotty's Biscotti has GF items at the Greater Ozarks Farmers Market.

Since my diagnosis a couple of years ago, I've read everything about celiac disease that I can get my hands on. Many of those sources extol the benefits of attending a support group, and now I understand why. The instruction, advice, recipes, freebies, and samples were wonderful, but the greatest benefit, in my opinion, was meeting other people who are learning to cope with--thrive, even, in spite of--this "inconvenient" disease.

If you are in or near Springfield, Missouri, I encourage you to check out the HyVee Gluten-Free Support Group. It meets on the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. Email to RSVP.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Putting two and two together

I guess I wasn't really surprised when my doctor called me with the diagnosis: celiac disease.

My husband's nephew has been dealing with CD for more than sixteen years. He had suffered malnutrition and stomach/bowel issues as a baby, nearly losing his life before his doctors finally figured out what was wrong with him.

I probably should have figured it out for myself sooner. I had chronic diarrhea, painful bloating, and dreadful gas. By the time I was diagnosed,  I was swiftly losing weight, and I was severely anemic.

It was the anemia that caused my doctor to rethink an earlier diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and   test my blood for celiac sprue.

When he called to give me the results of the test, he was very concerned. "I have bad news," he said. "You have celiac disease. You're going to have to give up wheat, rye, barley, and rice."

"What a relief," I said. "I think I can deal with celiac disease. I thought it was something worse. And by the way, I'm pretty sure I can still eat rice."

Since my doctor had little knowledge or experience with celiac disease, I turned to my brother-in-law and the Internet for help. I feel so fortunate to have hundreds of reliable sources for tips and information about how to eliminate gluten from my diet right at my fingertips. Restaurants and grocery stores are making great efforts to provide food for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. It has become infinitely easier to avoid gluten since my nephew was first diagnosed.

Two years after my diagnosis, I have learned to (mostly) enjoy a happy and healthy gluten-free lifestyle. I have regained 18 pounds, I am no longer anemic, and I no longer suffer from diarrhea and bloating.  Looking back on my health issues (including Hashimoto's thyroiditis and fertility problems), knowing what I know now about celiac disease, I realize that I've been symptomatic for many years.

I wish I'd put two and two together much sooner!