Monday, June 23, 2014

Crock Pot crackpot

"Clean Out the Vegetable Drawer" Day at the Rollers'. Add  some spice
and a little stew meat and supper's ready in about eight hours. Yum!
Almost weekly someone asks me what I do with all of my time, now that I’m retired. That’s a tough question to answer. I usually say I’m busy traveling, volunteering, spending time with my grown children, or playing tennis. Those activities do take up a lot of my time.

But to be perfectly honest, I spend most of my time these days thinking about, preparing, researching, reading about, writing about, and eating FOOD! I guess I’m lucky that my celiac disease symptoms didn’t manifest themselves (in a manner that I couldn’t ignore, that is) until the summer after I taught my last class and coached my last tennis match and sent my last child out into the world.

I can’t imagine how overwhelming it would be to manage a job, a family, extra activities, and a gluten-free diet all at the same time. My heart goes out to those who find themselves in such a position.

My best piece of advice for busy families on gluten-free diets is to USE A SLOW COOKER to prepare your evening meals. It’s easy to throw veggies, meat, a few seasonings, and a little liquid into your Crock Pot in the morning before you start your day. You can’t really make a mistake—and you will thank yourself at the end of the day when you don’t have to figure out what to cook. If possible, double your recipes so that you will have great gluten-free leftovers for another meal—and you’ll be thanking yourself again the next day.

If you don’t like to go “freestyle” as I did just this morning, there are a number of gluten-free cookbooks, websites, and Pinterest boards out there where you can find great slow cooker recipes—or you can easily modify almost any recipe from your favorite slow cooker cookbook to be gluten-free. Here are just a few of the dozens of good slow cooker sources:

Chrissy Gower, Paleo Slow Cooking
Ellen Brown, Gluten Free Slow Cooking
Carrie S. Forbes, The Everything Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook
Lisa Stewart and Jeremy L., Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook: Gluten Free Diet Made Easy (This one I bought for my Kindle for $.99 on Amazon—and there are lots of $.99-ers available.)

I use my slow cooker year-round, but I’ve found that summer is the perfect time to create slow cooker meals, because a Crock Pot won’t heat up the house the way an oven or stove will. Your slow cooker will also afford you the flexibility to play another set of tennis, work a little longer in your garden, or stay an extra hour at the pool on these wonderful summer afternoons.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My path to gluten-free survival

A few years ago I read a suggestion about weight loss that stuck with me--in a diet book whose title has not had the same fate. Anyway, the author advised his readers to eat the same breakfast, the same lunch, and the same snacks every day. Dinner was the meal he said to change up with interesting and healthy foods. I think the idea was to help the dieter stop constantly obsessing about food (and those dreaded calorie counts) by removing the question: “What will I eat?”

“What will I eat?” is the question that newly-diagnosed celiacs must also ask. Because wheat is such a large part of the American diet, finding and preparing safe foods is a frustrating and time-consuming journey. As I’ve traveled this gluten-free road, I’ve found that the diet expert’s advice is a good roadmap for living a GF lifestyle as well as for losing weight. The fewer decisions I have to make about food, the more I can quit obsessing about my situation and the more quickly I can move on down the road with my daily routine.

In a “normal” week, my food intake follows this route:

I always look forward to my standard Breakfast: Homemade yogurt mixed with homemade applesauce and two cups of hot tea. (I used to drink coffee, but I’ve discovered that, although I love it, my digestive system doesn’t like it at all.)

On occasion, I’ll treat myself to bacon, eggs and fruit or a paleo bar and a banana with my morning tea, but I love that yogurt. My first bite of the stuff in the morning is one of the happiest moments of the day. (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I really, really love it!)

Lunch is also pretty simple: Unless I have leftovers from a previous night’s dinner (my favorite), I eat chicken salad or a panini on paleo bread or vegetable soup—or if I play my cards right, all three. I usually add fruit for dessert. Berries, an apple, or a handful of grapes are my favorites. If I eat out, it’s probably a salad.

If you become bored with your daily meals,
you can always "reroute."
I keep the chicken salad—or at least all of its ingredients—on hand to whip up in a matter of minutes. All it requires is canned chicken breast (or home-cooked leftovers, if possible), chopped celery and hard-boiled eggs (which I prepare on the weekend), pecans, and homemade 20-second mayonnaise. (Find the recipe on this blog under the Favorite Recipes tab.) I also make pale bread (also on this blog) a couple of times a month, slice it up and freeze it, and then pull it out when I need it for the paninis.

My daily Snack is generally one of two choices: A chopped frozen banana mixed up with a tablespoon of almond butter or a paleo bar (or two or three). I have my snack in the evening, because that’s when I find myself hungry.

Dinner is where I usually find a change of scenery, although we have our go-to favorites: Taco salad, chicken and veggies from the slow cooker, grilled meat and asparagus or broccoli, chicken chili.  If we’ve had a busy day, we often opt out of cooking and take a side trip to one of our favorite restaurants.

While you certainly don't have to eat the same foods that I have listed here, you might find that always having a few easy-to-prepare meals within easy reach will prevent you from becoming too hungry and "running off the road." Keeping the gluten-free diet simple gives those of us with celiac disease more time enjoy a saner, more fulfilling, less stressful life. If meals become monotonous, we are always free to make a (GF) detour.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Where to dine gluten-free (when you don't want a salad) ...

Outback has a nice GF menu!
The teenaged son of one of my acquaintances was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. Still trying to wrap her mind around the diet changes her son will have to make, she emailed me to ask about Springfield (MO) restaurants that offer gluten-free foods other than salads. The following is my response: (Maybe it will help you, too, if you are just beginning to explore gluten-free dining options.)

I'm sorry to hear about your son's diagnosis. I know it would be especially hard for a teenager to give up gluten. At first it seems very overwhelming, but it does get easier--and many restaurants are beginning to catch on. I eat a lot of salads, when I eat out, but you are definitely not limited to salads. I'll list a few of my favorite places that have great "teenager" food*:

HuHot is great, because you can build your own dish with gluten-free ingredients. Ask for their allergen brochure, which will tell you which sauces to use. The cooks at the big grill are well-trained for gluten allergies. They clean the grill and separate your food from the other food they are cooking.

Red Robin offers a good GF bun and GF fries! 
Red Robin has a nice gluten free-bun for their burgers and sandwiches. Their fries are also gluten-free. When I crave a burger, Red Robin is where I go.

The Aviary, both downtown and at their new southside location, has gluten-free crepes. They also have a steak and frites meal that I love.

Outback Steakhouse (everywhere) has a great GF menu.

At Maria's and many other Mexican food restaurants, he can eat the nachos. The chips at most Mexican restaurants are generally gluten-free, but just be sure to double-check with the waiter or chef. If the chips are homemade, they may have been fried in a deep-fryer in which other breaded items are fried.

Olive Garden, Bruno's, Gilardi's, and Avanzare all have gluten-free pasta. 

Wendy's chili, baked potatoes, and fries are gluten-free. McDonalds beef is fine without the buns, and in most places you can eat the fries, but you must always ask if they have a dedicated fryer. Some places fry their nuggets in the same oil as the fries, and that's a no-no. Don't eat anything at Taco Bell.

Cafe Cusco on Commercial St. is almost entirely gluten-free. It is one of my go-to restaurants, because there are so many options.

You can get good gluten-free pizza at Cravin' Pizza in Springfield and Bud & Walt's Pizza in Nixa (worth the drive).

You may have already discovered the app called Find Me GF, which will help you find GF restaurants near you. Yelp will also find GF restaurants if you type in "Gluten-Free Menu" in your search. There's another free app called Gluten Free Fast Food. It's not the greatest, but it will give him an idea of what he can eat when he's on school trips.

If your son likes sushi, it is mostly gluten-free, but I always carry my own GF soy sauce. Some places offer GF soy sauce, but you have to be careful. Also, you can eat the meat at most barbecue places. Just quiz the servers/chefs about the barbecue sauce. I have had good luck at Rib Crib and other places. If you want to check out their menu before you go to the restaurant, many chains have GF info on their websites.

As far as school lunches are concerned, leftovers for lunch are definitely the best. For times when you don’t have leftovers, here is a link that gives lots of good suggestions for school lunches for kids (or work lunches for adults):

I hope this list will get you started. Obviously, I am well-aware of how hard it is to avoid gluten, but the up-side is that once you get used to the diet, the food you eat is much healthier than what most people eat. 

*Remember that when you eat out, there is always some danger of cross-contamination. For me, the extremely rare “glutenizing” is worth the risk.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How sweet it isn't

Note the first ingredient in the GF cornbread!
So, a while back I blogged about how glad I was that Aldi’s is offering gluten-free foods (at least, seasonally).  I’m still very grateful that the company is beginning to recognize people’s needs for gluten-free foods.

The problem, however, is that among the main ingredients in some of Aldi’s products (as well as those of other brands) is SUGAR! In fact, sugar is the first ingredient listed on the cornbread mix I picked up.

Since I spent 90 days on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) earlier this year, I have been trying to eliminate most sugar from my diet. (Honey is the only form of sugar that is allowed on the SCD.) I have felt much better in recent weeks, at least in part because of that change.  I’m sure that eliminating all grains and most dairy products also played a large part. (And now I’ve even eliminated my morning coffee, but that’s another story.)
If you care about your health,
check out this documentary!

Last weekend, though, I saw a documentary film that rocked my world: Fed Up.  The film is narrated by Katie Couric and directed by Stephanie Soechtig (who also co-directed the 2009 documentary Tapped, which explores the connection between ocean pollution and bottled water).  Fed Up describes how sugar is ruining the health of our nation, causing obesity, diabetes, and many other life-threatening health conditions. The film will make you aware of just how damaging and addictive sugar is.

Enjoy your last bowl of ice cream or your last piece of pie or your last Snickers candy bar, and go see the film. I came away from it, vowing to work even harder to  (mostly) avoid the not-so-sweet stuff!