Sunday, February 28, 2010

CelKids group, gift baskets, and travel blog

There are three items to talk about this week:
  1. The Raleigh CelKids group meeting at Earthfare.
  2. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center gift basket.
  3. Introduction to my new blog, Travel With Allergies.
1. Saturday afternoon was the quarterly meeting of the Raleigh Celkids support group. We met at Earth Fare organic food supermarket at Brier Creek and took a tour of the store which featured gluten-free products. (Look for the brown wooden shelves scattered throughout the store. Everything on them is gluten-free!) Also, a representative from Rosie's Plate in Raleigh was there to give us information and samples of gluten-free goodies. There is preliminary talk of holding a kids cooking class at Rosie's, so if this interests you, let them know.

There was a good mix of boys and girls at the meeting, with an age range from toddlers to seventh graders. The kids and adults got a chance to socialize and share drinks, snacks, and tips about thriving with celiac. This was our first time joining the group and it was a relief to meet so many local families dealing with the same issues. Everyone was friendly and I was surprised to meet some real live readers of Gluten Free Cary! All in all, the Celkids Network is a great resource for Triangle families; we are already looking forward to the next event. Check out the Celkids website here.

2. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with celiac disease in the last three months, call the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center to participate in their free, one-of-a-kind care package program. My daughter's care package arrived this week and included scores of gluten-free product samples, magazines, books, and coupons. See the pic above for some of the goodies we received. The letter accompanying the package says, "We hope this gluten-free care package reduces the overwhelming feeling that often accompanies the diagnosis," and includes a testimonial by a U.S. Armed Forces member serving in Iraq.

3. My final bit of news is that I've started a new blog called Travel with Allergies.

We love to travel and don't believe that having celiac disease, food allergies or sensitivities should stop anyone from traveling with ease and comfort. There are many, many resources on the web for people with celiac and food allergies, but they all seem to lack something. Even the sites that review gluten-free restaurants in major cities in Europe lack useful tips or resources for travel even slightly off the beaten track.

My attempt with Travel with Allergies is not to be comprehensive, but to aggregate links to as much useful information as possible. My introductory post can be found here. I am actively seeking contributions of tips, useful information, and links. If you have information to contribute, submit it via the comment box or contact me and you can become a guest blogger. The site will be a work in progress for some time.

Have a great week!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Restaurant Review: Chatham Street Cafe

Somehow I never noticed Chatham Street Cafe, a storefront restaurant just steps from the Cary clock in the heart of downtown. A recent News and Observer review mentioned that Chatham Street offers gluten-free options, so it was time to investigate. We went there for brunch and felt at home in the casual and unassuming cafe, decorated with local artwork. A softly crooning singer in the front room added to the mellow aura.

Owner and Head Chef Gayla Bonke, who has a dietetics degree and catering background, told us she could make virtually anything on the menu gluten-free. Like so many business owners who cater to the gluten-free community, Bonke has friends who are gluten intolerant and loves the challenge of cooking without it. I didn't get a chance to see the kitchen but was told that the gluten-free foods are prepared separately.

Between us, we sampled the Gluten-Free French Toast, the House Omelet, and the Grilled Steak Salad. Although all three items are listed on the menu as gluten-free, the Steak Salad comes topped with crumbled gorgonzola. Gorgonzola cheese is one of those sometimes safe, sometimes unsafe foods for celiacs, and I didn't have enough information to make a judgment. We were offered the option to substitute another cheese, and went with Asiago. The peas and sauteed mushrooms added a nice flavor to the salad. The French Toast was indistinguishable from "regular" French Toast, although possibly not quite as heavy. The omelet was tasty accompanied by hashbrowns.

Even packing up half our meal to take home, we had no room for dessert. The Almond Cake, described on the menu as "A dense, buttery cake dusted with powdered sugar served in a pool of sweet raspberry coulis. And yes, it's Gluten Free," sounds scrumptious. I look forward to trying it in the very near future when we return to Chatham Street Cafe.


Chatham Street Cafe
140 E. Chatham Street
Cary, NC 27511


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day

I watched V this afternoon. She was sitting at the kitchen table, happily making cards and packing chocolate kisses into plastic baggies to give to her classmates for the Valentine's Day exchange. Her blond hair, which barely grew for the last three years, has shot past her shoulders in the few short weeks she's been off gluten. Her skin glows.

The nutrients her body could not absorb are finally feeding her. I don't want to speak too soon, but the symptoms which stole countless hours in hospital clinic waiting room have all but disappeared!

The transition from "regular kid" to a person with an immune disease who must eliminate gluten for the rest of her life, has not been easy. It is not about finding replacement foods. We are lucky to have so many gluten free options.

Even as I write this, my temptation is to downplay the difficulty. Oh there are so many options... Grocery stores carry gluten-free products...Starbucks has a new line of GF products piled so high you can barely see the counter. It's not [insert terrible disease name here] so buck up.

Well, I am, most of the time. And she is my hero, for the way she is handling it. But it is hard for her. As I watched her I thought about the challenges of celiac from a few angles. To a certain extent, they apply to sufferers of all severe food allergies:

  1. Food. There are foods you love that you can't have. Period.
  2. Time and Focus. Unless you stay cloistered in the house and eat the same thing day after day, you have to check the ingredients in everything you eat. If something is ambiguous (modified food starch, anyone? Natural flavor?), you must either not eat it, or verify the ingredients from the producer.
  3. Makes it kind of hard to "Oh it's no big deal" it when you're socializing. It's not impossible to be smooth, but let's face it, no matter what age you are, needing to know the exact contents of everything you consume is not going to draw people to you like a magnet.
  4. 1,2 and 3 make you different. Which in school is still called weird.
Which brings me back to the chocolate kisses.

I'm not much of a Valentine's Day person, still less having it be an obligatory holiday observed in elementary school. In past years, V made cards for her classmates, but I never sent in candy for the kids. Because nothing says I Love You more than crap that makes your teeth fall out, right? Oh that gaping black hole is so sexy. I couldn't justify it. But this year, I don't want my baby left out. She won't be able to eat the other kids' candy if it's unlabeled, so I gladly showered her with chocolate kisses to bring to school. It is the least I can do.

Whatever you're eating or not eating, Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The orange walnut biscotti test

My homemade Gluten-Free biscotti:

If you've ever wanted to travel back in time to Ancient Rome, try dunking a piece of biscotti in wine. (Well, it works for me). I don't know if there is sound archaeological evidence of the ancients dipping cookies in wine -- if you've got proof please tell me. The ancient origins of the word biscotti, however, are free for the taking. From the Latin -bis meaning twice and coctum meaning cooked.

Now if only some Roman baker imagined me, two thousand years later in my middle class 21st- century American kitchen (actually it's still a 20th-century kitchen, alas), twice-baking my own biscotti GLUTEN-FREE. That would be a mind-blower. The original, crunchy, golden brown cookie made without wheat? How could it be? And by the way, Tiberius, we still use aqueducts. And when you see steam rising from Vesuvius, you might want to evacuate.

So, I really enjoy biscotti with my coffee and it isn't an indulgence I want to give up now that we've gone gluten-free. As I mentioned in the carrot cake post, Rebecca Reilly's Gluten-Free Baking includes six GF biscotti recipes, with variations given for each recipe. For my first attempt, I chose the Walnut Orange biscotti. People with other sensitivities should note that this recipe is gluten-free, but contains DAIRY, NUTS, EGGS and SUGAR.

The first few steps are familiar to anyone who's baked: combine the dry ingredients; whip the butter, sugar and wet ingredients; combine the wet and dry ingredients. Voila--dough. I'll focus here on the twice-baked part which is crucial to biscotti.

After the prepared dough is chilled, roll it into logs:

Bake the logs.

This is what they looked like after the first baking:

Next, slice the baked logs:

As you can see, the result was extra crumbly.
Spread the baked slices on a cookie sheet and rebake.
Here they are just out of the oven:

Seriously, can you tell these are gluten-free? Yum!