living gluten free in the ATL

My name is Christy and I have Celiac Disease. Please take a few minutes to read MY STORY. My hope is that it will touch you somehow. Maybe you have a similar story. Maybe you have a family member that you are trying to understand a little better. Or maybe you just need a good read. Whatever the case may be I hope that you will keep coming back and share in my experiences as a wife, a mother, a photographer and as someone living gluten free in the ATL.

Grace

Apparently, I am a horrible blogger. If you believe that blogging means actually writing and posting that is. I haven’t posted in almost a year! I honestly can’t believe it.

Why? Well, I have a million excuses. Mainly, I have been trying to raise 2 kids (one under 2), run a business, cook at least twice a day, manage to clean my house once in a blue moon, keep up with friends and family and take a shower each day. It’s a lot. By the time I have a moment to myself at the end of a day, my Celiac brain is usually mush.

The other shameful reason is that I haven’t believed in myself. I’ve let my own insecurities and anxieties get in the way of my purpose. By nature I am a competitive person. I never realized it until much later in life because I was never an athlete or involved in many activities when I was younger. So it has manifested itself in my career, my relationships and in this blog. There are so many amazing bloggers out there and I’ve spent so much of the past year feeling like I couldn’t live up to what they have to offer. I’ve had a hard time feeling like I have a voice that needs to be heard. They have more followers, cool merchandise and people love what they have to say. I let that get inside my head and doubt what I have to offer. If I feel I can’t excel in something I just don’t do it at all. That’s pretty sad. And it’s not fair to any of you or to myself.

My absolute favorite blogger/writer in the whole world is The Gluten Free Girl. And it honestly has nothing to do with the fact that she is a Celiac and sometimes writes about gluten free food. That may be what first brought me to her. Her book The Gluten Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back was the first book I read after being diagnosed. And it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. But what has kept me coming back to her over the years is her spirit, her voice. She writes with such Grace. In my eyes she is one of the most successful people I can think of. And I don’t measure her success by the number of readers and comments to her blog or the number of books she has written and sold. Her success is in the way that she lives her life truly, madly and freely. Read just a couple of her posts and you will see what I am talking about.

What is amazing to me is how she sometimes writes of her own insecurities. She too gets bogged down by worrying if people will read and like her blog. Will her new book sell? Do people judge her? I know we all have these fears in us. But seeing a woman I so admire admit her own was very eye opening for me. I would love more than anything to be able to write the way that she does. You can literally feel her breath and hear her voice in her words. It’s like she reaches out, puts her hand over your heart, smiling her friendly smile and makes you weep for the memories and emotions she has stirred. All of that and she sometimes wonders if she is good enough.

I look at the bits of her life that she shares and I often wish for what she has. She lives in a beautiful part of the world in a small town where people know your name. Where the sky meets the water and the world is full of the most perfect blues and grays. She is surrounded by love and laughter, good friends and a passion for life, family and food. She doesn’t seem to miss the small, significant moments that so many of us take for granted.

Well, I think it is time I stop looking at everyone else and worrying that I won’t measure up. It’s time I start looking around and finding the beauty and Grace in my own life. Focusing on those small seemingly insignificant moments that years from now will be what it was really all about. I’m going to listen to my own words and start living truly, loving madly and eating freely. I hope that you will be there with me, finding your own Grace and feeling that maybe you aren’t so alone after all.

I may never have thousands of followers. I may never have a book or be an award winning blogger. But I am going to continue on. I’m going to put myself out there, spilling my words on this page. I hope that I help people. I hope that I am always genuine and speak from the heart. The words will be enough.

Good Grub Subs…Gluten Free Sub Sandwiches

 

That’s right, you heard me. That’s not a type-o. Gluten Free Sub Sandwiches!! What are the first things you mourn after finding out you have to go gluten free? For most people it’s pizza and beer and SUBS! No more Subway, no more Firehouse. There is just nothing like a good juicy Italian sub full of ham, salami, pepperoni, Provolone cheese and Italian dressing. And when I was diagnosed and trying to come to grips with everything, I went back for that delicious Firehouse Italian sub “one last time” for about 6 months!

So when I started to hear rumors of a local sub shop serving gluten free subs I knew it must be too good to be true. When I googled “gluten free subs Atlanta”, Good Grub Subs popped up. And, to my extreme delight, I found out that they aren’t even 8 miles from my house! I had no excuse not to hop in the car and give them a try. I loaded up the hubby and the kid and we took off for lunch.

Right when you walk in you can tell that the ordering experience here is a little different than you are used to. To the first timer it may look overwhelming. But the staff is very helpful and will come around the counter to help you if you’ve never been in before. Along the wall as you come in is the sandwich board and underneath are a bunch of laminated menus filed under different headings…soups & wraps, veggie subs &wraps, specialty subs & wraps, salads, kids and of course gluten free. You choose your menu, take one of the dry erase markers and check the items you would like including any sandwich toppings. It might seem labor intensive but I think it makes the whole process much easier. You can order at your own pace and not worry about shouting out what you want while hovering over the counter.

The absolute best thing about this place is the level of care that they put into preventing any cross contamination for Celiacs. The owner’s father has Celiac so they are very educated on the dangers of cross contact. If you or someone in your party orders from the gluten free menu they will prepare that sandwich first. They change their gloves and prepare everything on an entirely separate counter with completely separate ingredients. So, note, they are not just changing their gloves and dipping into the same meats and cheeses. They have completely separate meats and cheeses that are only for the gluten free sandwiches! They use all Boar’s head meats and cheeses. The bread they use is a secret but I know the owner would tell you if you come in and ask. I do know the vendor they use and the bread is some of the best I’ve had. It’s completely gluten free and 100% safe. They do currently toast the sandwiches in the same oven with gluten filled bread. However, they use a fresh piece of tin foil with every gluten free order so your sandwich never touches the rack. They will be investing in a separate oven soon. Once your sandwich is complete, wrapped up and handed to you they will begin the rest of the orders. This process does take a little longer than just running into Subway and leaving 3 minutes later. But it is worth every bit of the time it takes.

Good Grub might be a little out of the way for most people outside of Forsyth County. But, I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed in making the drive. I literally cried the first time I ate there. I was so excited to not only be eating a sub sandwich, but one that tasted REAL! It tasted just like that Firehouse sub I loved and missed so much. Only better.

It is now one of our favorite places to eat. We have recently switched my 8 year old son over to the gluten free diet. For a child, this is especially hard. But we can go to Good Grub and he doesn’t even notice the difference in the bread. He loves the way the menu system is set up because it makes him feel grown up and he can place his own custom order. The owner Alan and his staff are always friendly and remember us whenever we come in. They talk to us like old friends and I watch as they talk and laugh with all of their customers. This is a great family owned business that I truly believe in. We need more people like Alan that are taking the right, safe steps to offering gluten free meals to the public. They would love to expand and open a new more centralized location one day. But it’s going to take loyal customers to support their business and show them that the gluten free community is active and can move mountains.

Good Grub is located at 5905 Atlanta Hwy, Ste 104 Alpharetta, Ga. 30004. All but 2 of their sandwiches are available gluten free. They also have the occasional gluten free milkshake and some of their salads are also gluten free. If you are ordering a salad you will need to specify that you need it to be gluten free. That way they will pull your meats and veggies from the dedicated gluten free counter. They also have a couple of brands of gluten free potato chips and currently have a huge assortment of Lucy’s gluten free cookies in individual sized bags. Please treat yourself and take a little trip to Alpharetta this weekend. Tell them I sent you ;)

Dear Friends & Family,

 

If you are one of the lucky ones and your friends and family get it and support you 100%, then I am jealous!  You are blessed. From what I’ve personally experienced and what I’ve read of others experiences, it’s not always so easy. It boggles my mind that one little word can be so hard for people to understand. Gluten. “What is gluten?” Isn’t that the dreaded question you wait for when you tell someone you have Celiac disease and can’t eat gluten? If only there was one simple answer that we could give. But because Celiac disease is so complicated and far reaching giving a simple answer is sometimes mis-informative.

Most people think.. “Oh, you can’t have wheat. No bread or pizza for you.”  UGH! That statement is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. If only it were that easy! But it’s not. So then you have to sit and explain for them all of the ingredients and ingredient derivatives that you have to look for and worry about.  Not to mention trying to convey cross contamination to them. It’s often too much for people to understand.

There are different camps on this dilemma as with anything. Some people will just say tell them you can’t eat gluten, smile and move on. Others, like me, really think it’s our duty to educate people. If they think something is gluten free just because they don’t see wheat as an ingredient, then we are all in danger of being fed something that is poisonous to us.

I have devised a letter to help you out. Hopefully this will give you a way to explain things to your own friends and family.

I do also want to clarify that for the most part I try to be a positive person. All of these things that I am sharing recently are an important part of the healing process. It’s important to point out the realities that most of us face. If you are feeling down, angry or hopeless it is totally normal and you are not alone. You never have to be alone. Once we get through the hard parts, then we can figure out how to deal with the obstacles and get to the other side. You just can’t  jump the fence before you are ready.

My open letter…

“Dear Friends and Family,

If you are reading this, then please know you are someone very important in my life. That is why I am sharing something that is very hard, sad and challenging for me. I need your help. I also need you to be open to the information I’m going to share. It may be confusing and foreign to you. It was to me when I first found out. But, with your help, I hope to have a bright and wonderful future full of love, happy memories and great meals.

I have Celiac Disease.

What IS that?

By medical definition Celiac disease is a chronic digestive disorder in which damage to the lining of the small intestine leads to the malabsorption of minerals and nutrients.

  • The destruction of the inner lining of the small intestine in Celiac disease is caused by an immunological (allergic) reaction to gluten.
  • Gluten is a family of proteins present in wheat, barley, malt, rye, and sometimes oats.

What is gluten in?

Almost EVERYTHING!! Unfortunately it’s not as simple as looking at a label and not seeing the word gluten. Gluten is not just one little ingredient. It is MANY!  Anything that is processed has a chance of containing gluten because it is so overused in this day and age. Gluten can hide in terms such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured vegetable protein, malt, vinegar (certain kinds can contain gluten), dextrin, modified food starch, Bulgar, kamut, semolina, farina, smoke flavoring, natural flavors (try to find a processed food that doesn’t contain this one!) And this is only an eighth of the list!  Sadly, sometimes even if a product says “gluten free”, it’s really not. At least for a Celiac. There is currently no law for gluten free labeling. So, irresponsible companies are allowed to label foods as such with no repercussions. Oy vey

How do you know if something is gluten free?

I do a LOT of research. As in, almost every day of my life I am looking something up to make sure it is safe for me or my family to eat. There are many safe companies out there but it takes a lot of work on my part. I send e-mails and make phone calls all the time to verify ingredients and the manufacturing processes of companies. It’s not always as easy as putting the right question into a google search. I have my smartphone with me at all times so I can look up every item that I am about to put in my shopping cart.

Why do you have to check manufacturing processes?

Because, even if a product has no gluten containing ingredients in it, that product could have been made on the same equipment with other products that DO contain gluten. That “gluten free” product is now contaminated. I cannot eat it. If one speck of the gluten manufactured in the other product makes it into my mouth it will make me sick.

Sick.. how?

Well, I am one of the many Celiac sufferers that does not have an immediate severe reaction to gluten. Not one that you can see anyway. This is almost more harmful than a Celiac that has an immediate response. Why? Because it takes me a little longer to know that I have been “glutened” and I don’t always know what it was that got me. Many Celiac sufferers have immediate and extreme intestinal symptoms, migraines, vomiting, and dizziness. The list goes on and on. For me, a day or so after I have been “glutened”  I will feel like I am slipping into a coma. My body becomes slow and unresponsive. I get so extremely tired that I can barely function. I have extreme anxiety that I cannot place and I am in a horrible mood. I cry at the drop of a hat and if you are within 10 feet of me you will probably feel my wrath. My anxiety is on high and my anger is uncontrollable. It can take me several days to recover. Recently when I’ve been “glutened” I’ve started to have more severe reactions than before. I’ve started slurring words to the point that a couple of times I thought I was having a stroke. Not fun! Many people will suffer horrible pain for weeks. And though I may feel better after a few days, the damage is still occurring inside my body for a very long time. Just because you cannot see my pain on the outside does not mean that my body is not being slowly destroyed on the inside.

So gluten just makes you feel bad right? Then can’t you cheat once in a while, enjoy having meals with us and eat the things we make for you? That’s really the polite thing to do.

Well, I guess that would seem polite, right? And if I put a little arsenic in your coffee every day it wouldn’t really kill you right away. You might feel a little yucky but hey, if that’s how I make my coffee you really should drink it so as not to hurt my feelings. Sounds ridiculous and callous right? Well, that’s how it sounds to me when you ask if I can just eat a little gluten right now. Gluten is like arsenic to me. A slow poison that will eventually kill me if I continue to eat it. Even a little bit. A crumb will do enough damage that it will take months to heal.

Why it’s NOT ok for me to have just a little, just this once….

The symptoms of Celiac disease can range from mild weakness, bone pain, and aphthous stomatitis to chronic diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and progressive weight loss. If a person with the disorder continues to eat gluten, studies have shown that he or she will increase their chances of gastrointestinal cancer by a factor of 40 to 100 times that of the normal population. Further, gastrointestinal carcinoma or lymphoma  develops in up to 15 percent of patients with untreated or refractory Celiac disease. It is therefore imperative that the disease is quickly and properly treated. The big “C” is just not something I wanna mess with.

As you can see, this is serious stuff. This is not a fad diet I am on to help me lose weight (because obviously that’s not happening). It’s not “cool” to be gluten free even if that’s what you see in the media. Just because a celebrity does it, it does not make my disease any less deadly or real.

Are people going to think I’m crazy? Do waiters roll their eyes at me when I have to ask a million questions at restaurants? Will I have to go without eating when there is no safe food available? Will I have to bring my own food to your parties and dinners? Will there be places that I cannot eat anymore? Will I have to decline invitations sometimes?

Yes

Does that mean I don’t want to be asked to events anymore? Does it mean everything will center around me and what I have to eat? Does it mean that I can never eat out again? Will the food at my house taste weird?

No

Just because I have to be careful of everything I eat doesn’t mean that I want to stop living. I still want to be involved in all of the same social events as before. And it doesn’t mean that I expect you to cater to me. In fact, it is much safer and easier for me to bring my own food. As amazing as it is that you might want to cook for me, it is a scary thing. And what I have to do to stay safe may offend you. I have to inspect every ingredient you use to see if there is any hidden gluten. I have to check on the butter, cheese, mustard, mayo, dressing, spices, even nuts can be dusted in wheat flour! Anything made in a manufacturing plant CAN contain gluten. I also have to worry about the meat bought at certain grocery stores because they have a disclaimer that says some of the meat may be contaminated with gluten within the butcher area. I would have to know what type of pan you cooked it in because surfaces like cast iron harbor hidden gluten like crazy. I have to worry about your cutting boards, scratched up cookware and even your knives. Cross contamination is a constant worry.

I know it seems like I am being over the top. But believe me when I tell you, I’m not. I would not choose to have to go through this if it weren’t 100% MEDICALLY necessary.

Please don’t take this as my way of saying that I never want you to try. Because, if I have friends and family that are willing to make me a safe gluten free meal I will count myself as truly blessed. Please understand that it will break my heart if I can’t eat what you’ve made because it might have an uncertain ingredient in it. It will break my heart, but I still can’t eat it.  I can’t do it just so that I don’t hurt your feelings. If I do that, then I am only hurting myself…in ways that the medical field cannot even 100% understand yet.

Thank you for making the effort to understand. I am happy to answer any and all of your questions. In fact, your questions show me that you do in deed care and want to know what is going on with me. I apologize now if anything I ever say or do offends you. I do not mean to. It is scary what I have to deal with sometimes. And I have to keep myself safe. I want to be around for a long, long time so that I can also support you in anything that you need from me. Now, let’s eat! “

No matter where you are in your journey, you are going to have to deal these issues over and over again. There is simply not enough education or understanding out there. Feel free to use this letter if you need it. I hope it helps!

 

scallops provencal (“ish”)

I LOVE scallops. As in, I want to bury my face in the plate and motorboat them. I love how a good scallop can literally melt in your mouth. When made well they are so delicate and flavorful. It’s like cutting into butter. Just looking at these pictures brings back the taste of this dish and I wanna go make more!

One thing that I have found with high end restaurants that are gluten free friendly is that they always have a scallop offering. And 9 times out of 10 that is what I order. I totally judge a restaurant based on how good their scallops are. There was one such restaurant that I wanted to love so badly. They brought me out a plate of 10 (!!) scallops as my main course and I almost passed out. Usually you get 4 and are always wanting just one more. But 10! I was in heaven. Until I had the first bite. They were overcooked and soaked in the saltiest butter sauce that made me want to gag. Those beautiful scallops were mutilated by overpowering flavors.

When it comes to scallops I believe that simple is always better. They have such a great flavor all on their own. Any sauce that accompanies them needs to be light, delicate and clean. Then you can truly savor the natural flavors of the meat. A great scallop can be just as satisfying as a good steak. That is this humble seafood lover’s opinion anyway.

One of my favorite restaurants serves a scallops provencal with a simple mushroom and tomato sauce. It is so simple to make that I was able to duplicate it within the first couple of tries. The key is to start with the best ingredients, most importantly the scallop. You must buy the expensive scallops. There IS a difference! It is not going to be the cheapest dish to make but it will satisfy any foodie craving. You know. The one you get while watching Top Chef or The Biggest Loser. It’s always at 10:00 at night that I want to rummage in my fridge for goat cheese and foi gras.

Scallops come in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices. You may be tempted to save a little money and buy the cheaper bay scallops, but I promise you will regret it. For one, they just aren’t large enough for pan searing. And secondly I think they taste way too fishy and spoiled. I purchased the scallops for this dish at my local Whole Foods and they were a whopping $24.99 a pound. I thought since I was only purchasing 4 that I’d be ok, but my total was still over $12. I won’t lie. They were worth every penny and were a well deserved treat to myself. I only bought 4 because nobody else in my family eats them. I decided to make a nice lunch that day. I definitely recommend buying them and making them right away. This is not a food that you can just keep on ice for a couple of days. If you’ve never purchased scallops before, here is a great article explaining the differences in sea, bay and diver scallops…how to buy fresh scallops

When researching provencal sauces I found so many varieties and it was honestly hard to pinpoint what a true provencal sauce really is. There seem to be two camps. One calls it a tomato based sauce. And another says it is a sauce based around herbes de Provence (a blend of marjoram, savory, fennel, basil, thyme and sage). That is why I have called this my “ish” sauce. I am sure someone will come along and harangue me for misuse of the definition. They would also probably harangue me for use of the word harangue. Haters. My version is a fresh tomato based sauce. The great thing is that you can tweak it to your own tastes adding or subtracting a number of ingredients. As with any dish, make it your own.

I would like to add that lately I have been doing a TON of research into the Paleo lifestyle. I am not going to use the word diet because as a Celiac that word leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. I’m not on a diet. I live a certain lifestyle in order to merely survive. I have come across Paleo in search of what I hope will be an answer to many issues that I am still having even while being gluten free. Constant bloating is at the top of my list and just not feeling 100%. I have read so many success stories of fellow sufferers whose lives have been transformed by this new way of eating. I will delve more into it in a separate post. I’m only mentioning it now because I had Paleo in mind when making this meal. It fits (I hope!) all of the guidelines and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything at all. In fact I feel like I’m being self-indulgent whenever I make this. It will be baby steps for me but with steps like this I think I can do it!

Here is the recipe…PLEASE tell me what you think and be nice enough to leave a comment. Good or bad, this is what it’s all about. I’m still learning after all.

scallops provencal (ish)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

One

This recipe can be changed in so many ways. You can sear the scallops and top with any number of sauces. And if you are not Paleo friendly or gluten free, use any type of flour or fat to your liking. Leave out the wine if you are on a Whole30. You won't miss it at all.

Ingredients

  • This recipe is for a single serving. You may double or triple based on servings needed
  • 4 large sea scallops
  • 4 large button mushrooms, sliced with stems removed
  • 1 large roma tomato, diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs. ghee (or butter)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup almond flour (or your favorite GF flour)
  • dash of kosher sea salt
  • dash of pepper
  • lemon wedge

Instructions

  • Start by rinsing and thoroughly patting dry your scallops. Most scallops are treated with a liquid solution to keep them white. If you purchase them "dry-packed" (preferred) there is no need to rinse them. I would still pat them dry for the best results. You need your scallops to be very dry in order to give them a good sear.
  • Next, prepare your dredging dish. Sprinkle the almond flour, sea salt and pepper on a plate. Make sure the ingredients are evenly mixed and then set aside.
  • Heat a small pan on the stove and start to melt your ghee. Add in the shallots and cook for a couple of minutes. Next add your tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic. Once everything has started to cook down, I slowly add in a little bit of wine at a time. This part of the dish is very subjective. You may use all of the wine or very little. Mix a little in, simmer and then taste. You will know if it is just right or if it can use a little more. You may also add some salt and pepper to taste. Remember we want this sauce to be simple and clean and not overpower the scallops.
  • Once your sauce is almost ready, turn it down to warm and begin working on your scallops. Your scallops will literally take under 5 minutes and need to be served immediately. So you do not want to be waiting on your sauce to finish.
  • Melt some coconut oil (or your preferred oil or butter) in a pan and make sure it gets very hot. If the pan is not hot enough the scallops will not sear properly. While you are heating the pan, take the scallops and lightly dredge both sides in the flour mixture. You want just enough to coat the tops and bottoms. Throw a little flour in your pan and watch for the sizzle. When the pan is hot enough, place the scallops in, spacing them a little bit apart. If they are too close together they will bring down the temperature of the pan and they will steam instead of sear. The time for cooking will depend on the heat of your pan and it may be different for everybody. Typically it will only take a minute and a half to two minutes per side. Watch closely and do not touch the scallops until they are ready to be turned over. They are very easy to overcook. When the scallops are done they should be springy to the touch and have a nice caramel coating. They will also be slightly translucent (see image).
  • When you turn your scallops over remove your sauce from the heat to let it cool slightly. When the scallops are ready, plate them, pour the sauce over the top and add a squeeze of the lemon. Voila! A restaurant quality lunch for half the price and without the crowds!
http://trulymadlyfreely.com/scallops-provencal-ish/

nonchalant

Nonchalant (nnsh-länt) adj. Seeming to be coolly unconcerned or indifferent

This has always been one of my favorite words. Ever since I first read it in a Sweet Valley High book when I was 11.  It just sounded so elegant and french. I’ve been dropping it into conversation ever since.
It perfectly describes how I’ve been acting over the past 3 years. At the time it didn’t feel like I was being nonchalant. But looking back, my lack of 100% compliance and diligence with the “diet” was equal to being indifferent. The treatment for this disease is all or nothing and it makes nonchalant a dirty word.
As I have said many times already and will continue to say til my last breath, it’s a journey. Everyone’s journey is different and nobody else can tell you the path to take. We can only show you the road we have travelled and the twists and turns that made us stumble. Maybe then you can adjust your own path to be a little easier to traverse.
I can’t be nonchalant about my health and what I put into my mouth anymore. I can’t go to a restaurant with a gluten free menu and assume that all is safe as I have done in the past. I can’t just buy every product with a gluten free label and believe that I will not face an internal attack. It is my responsibility to verify and triple check anything that I consume. It’s my job to call that restaurant and speak to a manager to verify how they avoid cross-contamination in their kitchen. I have to alert my waiter to the fact that I need to eat gluten free. I must e-mail every company whose uncertified gluten free products I buy and investigate what type of manufacturing practices they follow. We must be just as vigilant about the possibility of cross-contamination as we are about the gluten free ingredients.
And we must have a voice. I have always been a shy person. Pre-diagnosis (and when I was cheating) I had severe social anxiety issues. I could not even face going to my son’s school orientations without having a panic attack and trying to figure out how to get out of it. It was crippling. I know it was due to gluten because the difference in me is remarkable. So, it was very hard for me to learn to ask questions and speak up.
There is so much ignorance out there about Celiac disease and what gluten free really means. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to eat out somewhere with a gluten free menu where the server had never even heard of gluten free. In fact, yesterday I was at a place where I asked the line cook about the gluten free choices and he said he didn’t know what I was talking about. All the while I am staring at the HUGE gluten free sign hanging right behind him. It made me so angry. And I had to realize that it wasn’t his fault. It was the fault of the owners and managers for not properly training their staff. It was the fault of a cooperation making such a bold statement and not having the social responsibility to back it up.
So, it’s our responsibility to educate everyone. If you are afraid to speak up and ask questions then you are keeping this disease locked away in a secret closet and nobody will ever see its ugliness. People need to see it. They need to know how dangerous gluten is to a Celiac. They need to understand that it goes beyond ingredients and they need education about safe food handling. If doctors can’t even diagnosis us then we certainly can’t expect a waiter to know anything about our disease. Teach them. Speak up and speak kindly and with patience. Show others that we are a passionate and caring community. Leave a big tip so that they will remember that going the extra step will benefit them as well.
It’s Celiac Awareness month. Make others aware! Tell your story. Contact at least one company and ask them about their manufacturing process. Put a bug in someone’s ear. Call a local restaurant and ask the manager about a gluten free menu and if they don’t have one tell them why they should. Be an activist. Don’t be nonchalant. It kills.

the good, the bad and the really, really ugly

Let’s get real for a minute. This post is not going to be pretty and I’m going to show my ugly side for a moment. Because we all have one and I’ve made a promise to myself to be as genuine as I can be. So, here goes…
Celiac disease sucks!! I HATE IT! It is nasty and sneaky and ugly. It takes away your freedom. It takes away your spontaneity. It can scare away your friends. It can separate you from your family. It isolates you. It makes you crazy.  At least everyone will think you are.
I’m not here to tell you that dealing with Celiac disease will be a walk in the park. I’m here to be honest with you. And I hope that I will make you realize that you are in fact not alone. There is at least one other person in the world that feels what you feel. Someone else knows how hard it is. Another person is also struggling. Maybe I’m a little bit further along in my struggle and you can learn from my mistakes. That is my sincere hope.
There are days when I want to crawl up into the fetal position and cry myself to sleep. Before diagnosis, I was the ultimate food adventurer. In fact it’s one of the only areas in my life where I am adventurous. I am scared of heights, flying, going too fast, public speaking, escalators, spiders…you get the picture. But what I’m not afraid of is food. I love food. I love trying new flavors. I am not afraid to try something I might not like. I’m excited to say that I tried it.
Celiac has taken that amazing fearless part of me and made her afraid. Celiac has made me its bitch. It has made me want to cower in a corner. I can no longer dip my fork into the plate of my dining companion. I cannot take the bite that is offered to me. I cannot grab the bread bowl and share in the moment.
I hate this disease. I hate that people think this is some kind of “fad” diet. As if I would do this willingly! I hate that most of my family has no clue what I am going through. And they don’t want to take the time to find out. I hate that they keep offering me bread and cake and pie and saying that just one time won’t hurt me!! I hate when I go to a restaurant with a “gluten free” menu  the server has no idea what gluten free is!
I hate you Celiac!! I f&%#ing HATE you!!! I want to punch your face in the face! I hate that I can’t eat what I want when I want! I hate that I can’t have Pizza Hut pizza with my little boy when he has a sleepover. I hate that I have to wait hours to eat when I’m starving because I didn’t have time to pack a lunch and there are no safe options nearby. I hate that I can’t eat at every new cool foodie spot that opens because they don’t care about being gluten free. I hate that when I order grilled nuggets at Chic-Fil-A and I forget to check the bag until I get home they always give me the breaded nuggets. It makes me have a complete nervous breakdown. I hate that I can’t eat at arts festivals because funnel cakes and gyros don’t fly with my belly. I hate that I can’t eat my Granny’s dumplings, my PawPaw’s cornbread and my mom’s fried chicken. I HATE YOU CELIAC!! DO YOU HEAR ME?!! I HATE YOU!!
Whew… well that feels a little better.
Yes, it could be worse. I could have an immediately life threatening disease or disability. I am so blessed that I don’t. But Celiac can be life threatening if it’s untreated. Or often, once we are finally diagnosed most of us are suffering from several other autoimmune disorders. Even with that, I am still very blessed. And believe me, I do my best to thank God every day for everything that I do have. I have so much. But Celiac still sucks. I still have the right to take a moment and tell you how bad it sucks. To tell you how much I hate it. Because, if I didn’t I would be robbing myself of the opportunity to purge these feelings. Then they would fester. I would feel alone and I would never succeed. I’ve spent the last 3 years failing and it’s time to start over. It’s time to build a new life.
What’s the point of all of this rambling? To tell you that you are not alone. To tell you that it is ok to say bad things, to feel sorry for yourself, to take a moment and be depressed. Take the time you need. Curl up into a ball and sulk. Snap at everyone that tries to make you feel better. Stomp your feet and pitch a fit. You deserve it. You were given a crappy hand. Take the time, feel the pain, wallow in your own self pity. And then… open the windows and let the light in. Embrace how this can change you in an amazing way. Make new gluten free friends. Discover how true friends will stand beside you and support you in what might be your darkest hour. Find your voice. Look forward to a longer life with a healthier you.
As much as I hate Celiac I have to be thankful for what it has given me. I am finding my voice. A voice that was quiet and afraid to speak for most of my life. I truly believe I have this disease for a reason. My whole life I have wanted to make a difference somehow. And this is the one way I know that I can. I know what I’m talking about because I am living it each and every day. I always say that if I can reach one other person then I am doing what I’m meant to do.
I would love for you to leave comments and share your own feelings on the subject. What’s the worst part of diagnosis for you?

Gluten Free Cupcakes – Gluten Free Cutie

I came across an incredible find this past week. We were driving through downtown Historic Roswell and as we were sitting at a red light, I just happened to look over to my left and what do I see in big bold letters? GLUTEN FREE CUTIE. It was a cupcake shop and I love cupcakes!! Luckily, there was no one behind me because I whipped the car back as fast as I could and into a parking space. I was so excited because I actually had my camera with me for a change (I’m horrible about that!) and knew I could do an impromptu review. The sign said they closed at 5:00 and it was already 4:30 so I was rushing. I went to the front counter and asked if the gentleman there was the owner. He said yes and introduced himself as James. I told him that I was a photographer and have a gluten free blog and asked if it was ok if I took some quick pics. He said sure, so I ran back out to get the family and my camera. I’m sure James thought I was a crazy person because I was babbling and nervous. I have enormous social anxiety issues so it was a huge deal for me to ask to take pics and write about their shop.

Since I was rushed (FYI, the owners did not rush me at all, I was just trying to be considerate of the time) these pics do not do everything justice. This is one of the cutest shops I’ve been in. It definitely fits its location. It has tons of southern charm and you feel like you are walking into a cross between your Granny’s front porch and an old ice cream parlor. James told me his wife Natalie used to be in design before opening the shop and you can definitely tell that she knows what she is doing. Every detail is charming and inviting, down to the porch swing, mason jar chandelier and the old screen door that is the entrance to the kitchen. You can actually watch the ladies making the cupcakes (his wife Natalie was in the kitchen baking away for the next day) and it’s like watching your mom bake when you were a kid. I was hoping they’d come out and ask if I wanted to lick the spoon.

They also have a candy section along one wall and it has so much great stuff for kids and grown-ups alike. They have jelly beans, licorice, lollipops, homemade caramels and more. The caramels are made with coconut milk so they are dairy free as well. I bought one but unfortunately my 8 year old got to it first. I didn’t realize until we had already left or I would have gotten another. I REALLY wanted that caramel!

I will be totally honest and tell you that I’m not into frilly cupcakes. I am very simple and like vanilla birthday cake type cupcakes and red velvet. I don’t need crazy flavor combos and elaborate toppings. But I wanted to jump in with both feet and order something that I might not normally try. It was closing time so they only had 4 flavors left. The boys jumped immediately on “The Camp Out” which is chocolate cake, chocolate ganache center, toasted marshmallow topping with a chocolate dipped mini graham cracker. It’s basically a smores in a cupcake. Those boys LOVE smores! I hate marshmallows so I didn’t have a taste. But I know it must have been good because when the baby “accidentally” pushed my hubby’s plate onto the floor, he employed the 5 second rule and still devoured the whole thing. I tried the “Mint Chocolate Chip” which is chocolate cake, mint chocolate ganache center with faux mint buttercream frosting. Sounds fancy right? Well, it was and it tasted amazing! Maybe there is something to this new world of creative cupcakery. Mine tasted just like an Andes mint. The topping and inside were so creamy and the cake just fell apart in your hands. But not in that really bad gluten free baked good kind of way. It wasn’t dry and crumbly. It was so moist that it literally melted in your hands. This is definitely one to be eaten with a fork. It was sooooo good!!

As we were eating James sat down at the table with us and we listened to the story of why they opened Gluten Free Cutie. As a baby, their daughter Savanna had many symptoms of autism. James said that he has a family member with an autistic child so they had some idea that she might be on the spectrum. They did a lot of research and went to a local doctor that works closely with autistic children and treatments. After allergy testing they found she is allergic to gluten, dairy and artificial dyes. When they changed her diet to eliminate the things that were poisoning her body she was a changed child. She started sleeping through the night and her behavior was calmer and she was more communicative. It’s amazing what a miracle going gluten free can be for so many people and children.

I love that they have opened this bakery to give other kids with Celiac, Autism and food allergies a place to get a special treat. We are in the process of trying to have my son officially diagnosed with Celiac and it’s a very long and frustrating road. I am so excited that I have a place to take him that allows him to feel normal. There is nothing in this shop that I will have to say no to. He can have anything he wants!! My 6 month old, who we will probably start out on a gluten free diet, also has a milk allergy. She can eat here too! The bakery is 100% gluten, peanut, soy, egg and artificial dye free. And most of their options are dairy free and vegan as well. Since I am not a great baker, I can actually pre-order cupcakes if I ever want to take something special to a school activity. If you don’t have a child with a food allergy you can only imagine how heartbreaking it is when they cannot eat birthday cake at a party, or have the same snack that their friends are sharing. Thank you Natalie and James for providing this for the gluten free community. And for actually making products that are delicious, gluten free or not!

Gluten Free Cutie offers over 15 different cupcake flavors, cake pops, whoopie pies, candy, biscuits, pudding and more. The menu changes daily so be sure to check their site www.glutenfreecutie.com before your visit to see what’s available and to read more about Natalie, James and Savannah. I would also recommend to go earlier in the day if possible because I am sure certain flavors sell out quickly. I can’t wait to go back and try their “Not So Red Velvet” and to get my hands on one of those caramels.

GF cooking

Here’s my philosophy on cooking gluten free. Do NOT be confined by those two words. There are tons of great gluten free specific sites and recipes out there. But don’t stop there. Learn cooking techniques, buy really cool fun kitchen gadgets, read cuisine specific cookbooks, cooking magazines and research ALL kinds of foodie blogs and websites. Almost any recipe can be converted to meet your needs. But first you have to learn to cook. You have to know what foods taste great together. Going gluten free will be much easier if you know what you are doing in the kitchen ;)

gluten free creamy chicken tortilla soup

Well, it’s time to post my first recipe and I’m scared to death! This is a big leap for me. My first passion is photography but since I do it for a living it is accompanied by the stress of trying to provide for my family. Disclaimer: I’m not a food photographer. I photograph people so forgive my learning curve as I experiment. Cooking is my way of being creative without any pressure. I’m not a chef. I’m a home cook with a real life. These recipes are ones I hope that anybody can make. I would really love any and all feedback. I’m learning and growing and I’m open to ideas. I’ve got my big girl panties on and I’m ready.

I am a huge fan of Mexican flavors and I also love soup, so this recipe is the best of both worlds. We have it at least once every couple of weeks during the fall and winter months. And still occasionally in warmer weather. One of the best things about it is the simplicity and how adaptable it is. You can make so many changes to this soup depending on your palette and what is available in your pantry.

creamy chicken tortilla soup

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium chicken breasts
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cumin (divided into 1/2 tsp. and 1 whole tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 4 smallish tomatillos
  • 1 can rotelle tomatoes
  • 1 cup milk (room temperature)
  • 4 oz. cheddar cheese (or your favorite cheese)
  • 16 oz. GF chicken broth
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 tbs. GF flour
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Start by boiling the chicken breasts in a large pot until done. Remove from water, pat dry and shred chicken breasts into tiny pieces. If you've never shredded a chicken breast before it's relatively easy and a great technique for tons of recipes. Take 2 forks and pull them in opposite directions through the chicken. Be prepared for a great forearm workout! This is one I usually let my hubby help with ;)
  • Set the chicken aside. Finely chop the onion and cube the tomatillos. I like to cut my tomatillos into rather small pieces so that they are not as noticeable to my picky 8 year old. Heat some oil or butter in a pan and saute the onions with a pinch of salt (I like to use kosher sea salt) for a couple of minutes by themselves and then add the minced garlic, tomatillos, and the first 1/2 tsp. of cumin. Cook low and slow for a few minutes until the tomatillos are tender and the flavors have mingled. Add the cooked chicken and saute for another couple of minutes . Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a separate pot start the roux for the soup. Melt 2tbs butter, then slowly whisk in the flour. Make sure to stir so that all of the flour is thoroughly blended. Since we want this to be a lighter colored soup you do not need to cook the roux for too long. A few minutes will do.
  • Slowly pour in the room temperature milk and continue to stir to prevent clumping. I like to add my cheese in next to give it time to melt and add flavor to the soup base. Continually stir so that the cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Add chicken broth, the remaining spices, chicken mixture and canned tomatoes (do not drain). Turn heat to low and let simmer for approx. 20-30 min. Stir occasionally. This time will allow the flavors to build and produce a tastier dish. Add salt and pepper to taste once the soup has simmered for a while.
  • Top with your favorite garnish and serve. I like to add tortilla chips to mine. Otherwise it wouldn't really be tortilla soup!

Substitutions

Dairy Free- sub coconut milk for regular milk and omit cheddar. Less Spicy-sub regular canned tomatoes for the Rotelle (drain). Less Chunky-use 1 medium chicken breast and give the soup a quick puree in the food processor.

http://trulymadlyfreely.com/creamy-chicken-tortilla-soup/

Here is a tutorial on making a roux. Making a roux with gluten free flour is a little different because GF flour tends to be more dense. I experimented and found that 2 tbs. butter to 2 tbs. rice flour worked well.

If you’ve never worked with tomatillos before, don’t let them intimidate you. Also known as the Mexican tomato they are a fruit and part of the nightshade family. Tomatillos (pronounced toh-mah-TEE-yoh) are somewhat tart when raw but have an amazing flavor after they are cooked. And cumin and tomatillos are a marriage made in heaven. I can’t even describe the flavor, but it’s oh so good!  This is a great article on how to choose a tomatillo . You will need to remove the husks before cooking and rinse the tomatillos because the husks leave a sticky residue.

Once you’ve made this soup and feel confident, experiment! I have added leftover mashed potatoes to the chicken saute before and it gave the soup an even creamier texture and great flavor. Once, when I made it just a little too spicy, I searched my fridge for some kind of cream to tone it down. The only thing I could find was goat cheese. We love goat cheese so I decided to give it a try and added about 2 tbs. worth. It worked. My hubby said it was his favorite version I’ve made so far. You could also add black beans, corn, or avocado. Let your imagination do the cooking! I’d love to hear what you tried.

 

 

mmm…breakfast – gluten free frozen pancakes

I’m typically not a big breakfast eater. Back in the day I loved me some pop-tarts or cereal bars. Anything that was fast and tasty as I always seem to be in a hurry. Most days I don’t even do breakfast at all. A cup of coffee suits me just fine. My son and hubby however LOVE breakfast. They could eat it for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Bacon is my son’s favorite and pancakes are a close second.

We used to buy frozen pancakes for mornings when we needed something quick and easy for him to eat. And I’ve been on the search for a gluten free version for the past 3 years. To my knowledge one did not exist. You can find gluten free frozen waffles everywhere, but not pancakes. And I’m sorry, waffles just are not the same. It’s not the International House of Waffles after all.

So the other day when I was perusing the frozen food section at Natural Foods Warehouse and saw these I could not contain my excitement. I’m pretty sure I jumped up and down and made weird, scary noises. Luckily it’s never overly crowded there. I was able to have a private moment with my incredible find.

I just did a little research on Julian’s gluten free pancakes and apparently they come in Buttermilk (the ones I purchased), Wild Blueberry and Belgian Chocolate. We will have to give those a try next. I love that these pancakes can be from box to table in under a minute. As a busy mom with 2 kids and a business, I don’t always have time to play Martha Stewart and make a big breakfast. Hell, who am I kidding? I never have the time except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays. But these are fast and easy.

And the verdict from the picky 8 year old? “They taste pretty much like regular pancakes. Pretty much, but not exactly” I personally think they taste better than other gluten filled frozen pancakes I’ve had. They are frozen so they aren’t going to taste just like a plate of IHOP pancakes. They are light and fluffy as any good pancake should be. And I know for a fact they’d be better than my own homemade pancakes. Those are never light, and never fluffy. Pancakes fall into the “baking” category and a baker I’m not. Chef extraordinaire, yes. Baker, hells no.

We will definitely have these again. They’ll be a treat because they are a bit pricey as everything GF is. But to make my 8 year old happy and not have to break out eggs and a box of flour is a win win for me!