Archive for December, 2010

Gluten-Free First Timer: Baking from Scratch

When Silvana Nardone invited the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to participate in her Gluten-Free Holiday Cookie Countdown, I did a happy dance. What better way to celebrate the season than a virtual cookie swap with gluten-free’s biggest names? I perused our stock of recipes for gluten-free sweet treats and settled on Buckwheat and Raisin Cookies. They were unique (Cream of Buckwheat in a cookie? Not too common) and, best of all, a kitchen-tested recipe from our friend, Nancy Baker.

Ready to bake!

The only problem? No photo, which meant I needed to bake. Now, curry or dips, I can do. Xanthan gum? Not my forte. As someone relatively new to the celiac scene, my gluten-free baking typically consists of boxed mixes. Xanthan gum still hovered in that “Experienced Bakers Only” category. Still, I can’t deny my love for a cooking challenge, so off to the store I went.

Mixing the dough

Fast forward to Dec. 19, also know as “the day I’m supposed to bake gluten-free.” My roommates don’t bake often, so I figured a Sunday morning would be a safe time to de-glutenize the area and break out the buckwheat.  I strolled into the kitchen to find two sticks of butter on the counter. “Kate, are you making something today?” I shouted up the stairs. “Yeah, I’m baking chocolate chip cookies and some sugar cookies for everyone.” The traditional, gluten-containing kind. Crisis.

I immediately went to Plan B: Baking at my boyfriend’s house, a place void of flour and baking mixes. Still, he and his roommates enjoy their hoagies and pizza, so I thoroughly cleaned the counters, bowls, utensils and cookie sheets to ensure a gluten-free environment.

I may have checked on the cookies a little too often.

And the baking? Well, the recipe actually is easy. Sure, gluten-free flours and cornstarch dusted everything in sight, and I left the oven light on for hours so I could check each batch every 2 minutes. But, despite one near mishap (a friend dared to enter the kitchen clutching a deli sandwich), the cookies turned out round, toasted and quite photogenic.

After a few snapshots and a taste test by my boyfriend’s roommates (tough critics, as you can imagine), the cookies were safely stashed in Ziploc bags to await enjoyment at the office.

The cookies! Pretty, right?

NFCA’s gluten-free experts gave the cookies a thumbs up and, more importantly, no one felt ill after eating them. Cross-contamination successfully avoided!

After this culinary victory, I’m convinced that baking gluten-free from scratch really isn’t as hard as it seems. In fact, I dare say that xanthan gum and I are now friends. Hey, it sounds cheesy, but if I can do it, you can too.

What tips do you have for gluten-free baking from scratch?

-Cheryl

December 30, 2010 at 11:51 am Leave a comment

Celiac Self-Diagnosis: Harmful to Your Health?

Most days I would argue that gluten-free has (almost) become a household phrase. Between celiac disease and autism, foodies and the health conscious, and of course the gluten intolerant, gluten-free has really taken off.

The awareness has made it easier to maintain the diet, and isn’t that what we’ve wanted all along? In short, yes. We can eat out at many restaurants without hesitation, enjoy baseball games while still having the option to sip a beer, and snack on chocolate-covered pretzels without a tummyache or the need to run to the nearest bathroom. I know that I am not alone when I say that I am indebted to the awareness that has made all of this possible.

But along with awareness have come a few “side effects”…

Curiosity. We all know someone who has gone gluten-free because of an article they read on the diet’s “healthiness.”

Myths. Gluten-free aids weight loss? Gee, I haven’t heard that one.  

Self-diagnosis. It seems like more and more people are going gluten-free because the diet improves a symptom they’ve been experiencing for years. Or what about your friend who finally found relief from IBS by adopting a gluten-free diet?

It’s wonderful that celiac disease can be treated with a trip to the grocery store instead of the pharmacy, but the dietary treatment (as opposed to a pharmaceutical one) also makes it easier to take treatment into our own hands…without getting proper advice first.

Research indicates that the autoimmune disorder has increased fourfold since 1950, and doctors know that undiagnosed celiacs are at an increased risk of death. Yet the diagnostic rate remains at a meager 10%. So, I have to wonder: How many of the undiagnosed are already living gluten-free? And of those, how many are doing it the right way, i.e. avoiding cross-contamination, monitoring for nutritional deficiencies?

Sure, I have a slight bias working for NFCA, but this topic also hits close to home. Ten months before my diagnosis, a GI doctor told me to “Go gluten-free. See how you feel.” I left the appointment ready to try anything that would get my life back on track.

I eliminated gluten for a month before I realized that my symptoms were alleviated but not totally gone. What was the point of tirelessly Googling foods that were potentially suspect and avoiding my favorite dishes if I was still sick in bed once a week? I returned home for Christmas break ready to enjoy my family’s holiday cookies. 

Fast forward to my diagnosis: I quickly realized that I previously was not maintaining a 100% gluten-free diet, thanks to my morning oatmeal and my lack of concern for cross-contamination in the kitchen. Relying on the Internet without medical expertise hindered the ability to fully improve my health. If I had continued without a formal diagnosis, my poor disease management would have, too.

I’m glad that people are finding relief through the gluten-free diet, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to get tested before starting such a dietary challenge.

Yes, I know, many doctors are totally unaware of celiac disease and may not think to test you. But consider this: If you request the test and get a positive diagnosis, that doctor may just want to vest more time in learning about celiac disease, which could speed future diagnoses. If you self-diagnose, doctors will never know what they missed. And we might never get to the 3 million (diagnosed) mark.

Imagine where gluten-free awareness could be then.

What are your thoughts on self-diagnosis? If you self-diagnosed, what resources did you turn to, and have you told your doctor?

-Kristin

December 27, 2010 at 10:07 am 5 comments

Back to School (Gluten-Free Snacktime Included)

It may be December. It may be years since I carried a knapsack. But last week, I went back to school. And it was fun!

On Dec. 8, memberCeliac Workshop Displays of the Methacton School District in suburban Philadelphia held a Celiac Disease Workshop for parents of grade school children. The goal was to raise awareness of celiac disease and to answer questions parents have about the gluten-free diet.  Naturally, I offered to help out and share some materials from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA).

Two very energetic and enthusiastic women with a passion for telling the world about celiac disease organized this evening event. Marykay Lojewski and Caren Meyer both have children at Worcester Elementary School.Celiac Workshop Hosts

Marykay has celiac disease and kicked off the evening by telling her very poignant story as she lived for years getting sicker and sicker as she sought a cure for everything from constant nausea to violent stomach pains to anemia. (Sound familiar?) Marykay even shared her Personal Story on NFCA’s website.

Caren is a holistic health coach with extensive knowledge of the gluten-free diet. Caren answered all sorts of questions relating to healthy living and going gluten-free.

Celiac Workshop MaterialsMarykay, Caren and I covered the basics of celiac disease, the most common symptoms, what people on a gluten-free diet can eat and what is taboo, and let everyone know about NFCA’s activities and programs so they can find more information and support. Between the three of us, there were tons of handouts that workshop attendees took home.

Most interesting was the response from the folks participating in the workshop. Several of them have been wondering about their own symptoms, from migraines to neuropathy to “brain fog.” This workshop gave them a chance to share their concerns and to get tips on how to move forward.

The workshop wasn’t all talk and no play. Marykay and Caren made sure everyone attending learned that gluten-free food can be delicious and healthy. Thanks to Jacquelyne Rennie, owner of JayBee’s Café of Skippack, PACeliac Workshop Attendees , we enjoyed fabulous gluten-free treats.

An added treat came from Marykay’s chef sister-in-law: Quinoa Salad!  Fortunately, I was able to get the recipe, and I’m sharing it with you fine folks. (See below.)

Marykay and Caren plan to hold another workshop in 2011. In the meantime, we all can make that New Year’s resolution to eat in a more healthy and nutritious way, including those who are gluten-free!

Quinoa Salad

from Chef Helen Lojewski
Gulph Mills Golf Club

Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
1 small cucumber sliced and cut in quarters
1 -1 ½ cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
½ small red onion chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Apple Cider Vinegar to taste (about 2 T)

Directions:
Cook quinoa (see below).
When quinoa has cooled, gently mix in remaining ingredients.
Serve at room temperature.

How to cook basic quinoa:
Bring 2 cups water and 1 cup quinoa to a boil.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
(Note: Some quinoa requires soaking before cooking. See individual recipes.)

-Nancy

December 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm Leave a comment

Simply the Bast

What is it like to be President and Founder of NFCA?  I must say that it’s a total blast. I’m a learner and a healer at heart, so I relish the opportunity to  come into work and take on chronic disease issues every day.

When I started NFCA, I was told I could never raise awareness of celiac disease because there was no pharmaceutical support from drug companies.  Well, my first thought was, Watch me. I wanted to ensure that gluten-free food was everywhere; I felt compelled to stop needless suffering; and I’m proud of the work NFCA is doing in both of those areas.

Alice Bast's shoes

Love these shoes!

Now, do I only think about celiac disease?  No… I have lots of outside interests. I love sports and exercise, especially hiking.  I enjoy being in nature, and I love to have fun!

But celiac disease always is in the back of my mind. Take this weekend for instance. I’ll start with Sunday night and work backwards…

Look to the right. Those shoes? They’re mine. I love to make a statement, and these turned out to be quite a conversation starter at my buddy Dick Moberg’s birthday party last Sunday. People kept coming up to comment on my shoes. But did the conversation end there? Nope.  Needless to say, I somehow managed to hand out every “Do I Have Celiac?” brochure that I had in my purse.

Army Navy Game

Go Navy!

Sometimes, that’s the best way to spread the word: a casual conversation and–Bam!–someone knows someone who might have celiac disease and, yes, they’d like to snag a brochure.

On Saturday, I attended the Army/Navy football game in Philadelphia. (I know, I know. It’s been a sport-astic week for NFCA.) My dad attended the US Naval Academy, Class of 1949, so we attend the Army/Navy game each year. Unfortunately, he died of cancer (another reason why I’m so vested in disease prevention), but we like to carry on the family tradition.

Gluten-Free Fish

Whole branzino

This year, we won!  Yippie! My favorite part, though, may have been the goat. No, not a real goat. The mascot.

After the game on Saturday, I had a fabulous dinner that was – you guessed it – gluten-free and healthy!

I ordered a whole branzino that was served tableside. So delicious. So nutritious. I challenge anyone to eat a meal like this and still say gluten-free doesn’t taste good.

Prepared gluten-free fish

Yum!

I’m a staunch believer in the fact that our environment, especially our food supply, is tightly connected to our overall health and well-being.  Our society puts heavy emphasis on medications and prescriptions, but I believe treatment can also come on a plate.

And if that plate is speckled with sauce and capers, well, bring it on.

So, to summarize… My name is Bast, I have a blast, and I like bass!

-Alice

Learn more:

December 17, 2010 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

A Merry CliffMas in Philadelphia

While our work as a national organization is spent communicating with the general public, healthcare professionals and food industry experts across all 50 states, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) has always had a special focus on the Philadelphia region given our headquarters location.

Anyone who is remotely familiar with major league sports knows that Philadelphia fans are special. We’re passionate, dedicated and fiercely loyal. (In fact, Whitney openly admits that one of her top daily Google searches is Cliff Lee, despite the trade to the Seattle Mariners in 2009. And Kristin? Her computer’s background is frequently home to a certain Phillies second base player).

Cliff Lee Daily News Cover

Whitney's Desk on Cliffmas Day!

So you can imagine our feelings when late Monday night the news broke that the Philadelphia Phillies made an offer to pitcher Cliff Lee. Our anxiety and excitement over the potential of Cliff Lee returning to Philadelphia was at an all time high. Rather than hitting the sack in preparation for a hard day’s work, we continued to email, text and phone one another into the wee hours of the morning. The possibility of the All-Star lefty returning to our hometown was just too much to bear. At the time, we compared it to waiting up for Santa in anticipation of our Christmas gifts.

Little did we know that in fact this night would become Christmas Eve for the Philadelphia region. Just after midnight it was announced that the Phillies had signed Lee for a five year deal. And for those fans that managed to get to bed on time, missing out on any Cliff Lee news, Christmas truly arrived 11 days early.

Now we REALLY can’t wait till July 8th – when NFCA hosts Celiac Awareness Night with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Hopefully we will get to see Cliff Lee in action, mark your calendars and get ready to join us!

Merry Cliffmas.

-Whitney & Kristin

December 15, 2010 at 12:27 pm 1 comment

Touchdown Sunday

Every Sunday (and Monday and Thursday nights for that matter) you’ll most likely find me permanently attached to my couch watching football. I am borderline psychotic about the NFL: watching it, reading about it, playing fantasy football online – the whole shebang!

My love of football is so insane that, as a single young female, I often fascinate and frighten most eligible young men I meet. I think it’s probably my tendency to scream loudly at the television……

Ravens v. Steelers Game

Ravens vs. Steelers Live - Sure Beats The Couch!

My appetite for the sport comes from my mom and dad who, despite having three daughters, still felt the need to impart their own intense passion for the game onto me – I’m like the son they never had!

I’ve even had an opportunity to actually WORK in the industry, spending time on the sidelines of many incredible games (and Super Bowls!) with CBS Sports and the NFL Network.

So when my oldest and dearest friend Lauren received free tickets to Sunday’s Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers game I was elated to say the least!

Ravens Game

Tailgating in 20 Degrees

Here are a few shots of my Sunday adventure. Needless to say, it was COLD! But for stadium seats to watch one of the biggest and best rivalries in the NFL, donning 3 pairs of pants was a small sacrifice.

Tailgating in a heated hospitality tent also helped ;)

And while enjoying my weekend of rabid fandom, NFCA wasn’t far from my mind. I was sure to check the gluten-free offerings at M & T Bank Stadium before leaving for Baltimore. Although I don’t need to eat gluten-free, I am always checking GF menus online out of sheer habit.  I was thrilled to discover Raven’s Stadium does in fact serve a handful of celiac friendly items such as Redbridge beer and pretzels.

Now next time we go, Lauren and I can bring Kristin (a fellow NFL fan) along too!

-Whitney

December 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

If I Had a Million Dollars…

I’d heave-ho to my favorite non-profits. Maybe even invest in a few of those oversized checks because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to hand over one of those to their organization of choice?

Of course, that’s not an option for most people.  The economy’s taken a few punches, and we’ve all suffered the blows. Throw holiday shopping in the mix and it’s no wonder households (mine included) are trolling websites for discounts and snapping up Groupon deals.  (Winning our “Holiday Dips & Dishes” $500 grand prize would help, too.)

But despite the urge to tap out and save up, we can’t help but want to give, especially around the holidays. My roommate fills out the $1, $3 or $5 donation cards at the grocery store, while I opt for tossing change in the Salvation Army buckets.

It’s little, but it adds up. And that’s what our new “Take Action Tuesday” Facebook campaign is all about. Each Tuesday, we’ll post an idea for something you can do, right then, that will make a difference in celiac awareness. It’s not a matter of pulling out your credit card (though we welcome donations of any amount); it’s more about doing something that advances the cause. Baby steps. Big strides. You get the idea.

How to “Take Action” this week? Create a “Holiday Wish” for NFCA’s Cause on Facebook. It works the same way as a “Birthday Wish” on Facebook, just with some seasonal flair. To “Start your Holiday Wish,” visit this link: http://wishes.causes.com/

Make sure to pick “National Foundation for Celiac Awareness” as your cause, and within 2 minutes, you’ll have an easy way to raise funds for NFCA. Plus, it’s another way to spread awareness. Did your 5th grade classmate know about celiac disease? Nope. But now she does.

See how many “Take Action Tuesdays” you can complete, and post a comment saying “Done!” when you do. We may even make you an Awareness All-Star.

December 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Turkeys

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Turkey

Gertie, my turkey

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and friends and express gratitude for all we have AND to eat the best food ever. I don’t care what others say… Thanksgiving is all about the food, and it’s my absolute favorite meal to prepare.

This year, I had the privilege to set 15 places at two tables and work some gluten-free magic in my own domain. Being in control of the menu and ingredients can be an advantage if you worry about ingredients, preparation and cross contamination in the kitchen. Just make sure you have plenty of extra hands to assist so you can enjoy the day without exhaustion! Of course, the magic occurs when all are able to give thanks for the food on the table and not even know that every bit is gluten-free.

Beckee and Dave

Fierce competitors

My husband Dave and I have a love for each other and cooking competitions (Bobby Flay, Iron Chef, Top Chef) so this year we agreed on a “Turkey Throwdown.” I dug out my favorite Martha Stewart Turkey 101 recipe for Gertie, the 12lber that included a rub down of butter, stuffing of onion, apples and herbs, and a continued basting of butter and wine.

Gluten-Free Turkey on the Grill

Fred, Dave's turkey

Can it get any better than that? Dave thought so.  The grill master used a combo-recipe for Fred (his 12 lber) that included brining, basting and indirect heat, with a touch of apple wood thrown in for smoke- all on his big ol’ grill.  Both cooked birds were perfect specimens – brown, juicy and tender.

Family reviews and votes were mixed. Each bird had such a distinctly different taste…there was no comparison. Actually I think the family was just playing nice because of the holiday. In my opinion, Dave was the winner …this year.

-Beckee

December 3, 2010 at 2:18 pm 2 comments

An Uphill Battle

Kristin's Grandma

Grandma

It’s that time of year again. Time for my grandmother, 89 years adorable, to call me so that she can review the ingredients of her favorite holiday recipes. I’ve been diagnosed for three and a half years but somehow the questions and comments such as, “It has a teaspoon of flour in it. Can you have it?” and “What do you mean you had bread? I thought you couldn’t eat bread. What’s it made out of?,” still arise. Like I said, she’s 89 years adorable so I can’t help but smile.

This year the questions and comments were no different. But the food around the table was. For the first time in three years my family’s entire Thanksgiving meal was gluten-free, complete with the Gluten-Free Goddess’ corn-bread stuffing and my aunt’s homemade pear and cranberry almond flour crisp. I left the table with my belly full and my heart happy.

While cleaning up, I casually mentioned that I should make this year’s Christmas lasagna using rice noodles. My aunt slowly stopped toweling off the dish she was holding and my grandmother, with her hands on her hips, asked, “Well, what’s that gonna taste like?”

Looks like I haven’t won this year’s battle just yet.

-Kristin

My gluten-free Christmas lasagna!

Update: The gluten-free lasagna I mentioned above? My family actually let me make it for Christmas dinner. And it was a hit! In fact, they liked my lasagna better than the regular version.

Who said gluten-free didn’t taste good?

-Kristin

December 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Everybody Knows Somebody!

I am convinced that everybody knows somebody with celiac disease.

When I tell people where I work and what I do, more often than not the response I get is, “Celiac? Oh yeah, my sister in law/cousin/boss’s son/mailman/insert someone here has that.”

It never ceases to amaze me.gluten-free pizza

On that note, here is a lovely photo of a gluten-free pizza made by my culinary savvy roommate, whose grandfather happens to have…you guessed it…celiac disease!

Using some Chebe pizza dough mix she picked up while attending our Appetite for Awareness event, she was able to make this delicious looking creation for her entire family as they came together to celebrate the holiday weekend.

It warms my heart to know that my job enabled me to help make this thanksgiving a special and delicious experience for her relatives, the gluten-free and non gluten-free eaters alike!

I now plan on scouring the office for extra pizza dough samples.

If I bring a few more home – maybe she’ll make a pizza for ME!

-Whitney

December 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm Leave a comment

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