Posts filed under ‘Beckee’

A Life Saving Diagnosis: 20 Years Gluten-Free and Counting

Whenever this time of year rolls around, I get this feeling. It’s the feeling that I’m forgetting something like a birthday, anniversary, or special occasion. It just so happens that this year the feeling is especially strong and I remember what’s coming.  June 13.

On the 13th, I will be celebrating 20 years of gluten-freedom and the day that was literally life changing.  Not only did my diagnosis with celiac disease save my life, but it changed it as well.

After giving birth to my healthy baby boy, Cole, my body fell apart and I displayed the classical celiac symptoms – weight loss, fatigue, vomiting, depression, and weakness. I wasn’t even able to climb stairs or turn a faucet.

Mommy and Cole at 2 weeks old

Sick Mommy Holding Baby Cole at 2 Weeks Old

Eventually, I was hospitalized, had a small bowel biopsy, and a positive diagnosis. With Dave holding my hand and Cole in my arms, Dr. Dalke described celiac as a “rare” disease affecting 1 in 2,500 people.  Dave whispered, “I knew you were special but not that special.” Turns out, I’m not really that special with 1 in 133 people living with celiac disease. But I was lucky and the gluten-free diet renewed my health, energy, and disposition.

Mommy and Cole at 6 months old

Healthy Mommy and Cole 6 months after diagnosis

Usually on special anniversaries, gifts are in order.  On my special anniversary, I’d like to share a few of many exceptional gifts I’ve received over the years as a result of my diagnosis.

GIFT 1 – Love of Cooking

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is learning to cook well. You’ll never go hungry and you’ll always have friends.

Learning to cook from scratch was a challenge, but I loved the process.  Before gluten-free products were everywhere and labels read “GF,” I learned to season with fresh herbs, spices and pure ingredients to make sauces and dressing from scratch. I learned which herbs and spices produce which flavors and enhance certain foods. My spice cupboard is more like a pantry!

GIFT 2 – Share the Love.

Hosting dinner parties and sharing meals with friends and family gives me a chance to show that gluten-free doesn’t have to be horrible, difficult, or medicinal. Clean, fresh, pure and easy are my approaches to cooking. Hostess tips include set a beautiful table, involve guests, and have plenty of wine.

Chinese New Year Table

Annual Chinese New Year party menu – homemade egg rolls, blood orange salad, stir fry veggies, steamed rice, Asian bbq pork, sweet rice cake, and Gewurztraminer wine.

GIFT 3 – Friendship – 2 GF BFs

My two gal pals, Jill and Mary, also have celiac disease. These great women have my back in crisis, tragedy, sickness, and gluten episodes. They share my frustration over gluten-free labeling, restaurant mishaps, and family dynamics. We celebrate the GREAT gluten-free life over amazing dinners, annual holiday cookie baking, and family milestones. I cherish them.

Me and My Gluten-Free Friends

Me, Mary, Janna, Jill on Janna’s wedding day. The food…totally gluten-free

– Beckee

June 4, 2012 at 9:00 am 3 comments

Gluten-Free on the Road: GREAT Kitchens in Michigan and Minnesota

Every day, new restaurants are going online and completing NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens training and educating their staff about serving gluten-free to people who depend on verified ingredients, gluten-free protocol, and a celiac savvy waitstaff. They’re learning why it’s important to greet special diet guests with confidence and know how to answer questions to build trust. Owners and managers across the country are hearing about GREAT Kitchens at their local restaurant association and American Chef Federation meetings, through U.S. Foods distributors, and of course, the celiac community.  Thanks for your help!

GREAT training is better than “good enough,” and I’ve had the pleasure to see firsthand the result of GREAT training while traveling for business and pleasure. I can’t tell you how excited I get when I know I’m going to a city where GREAT Kitchens exist, and I can be a secret diner to check out the effects of GREAT training.  There are hints of GREATness that stand out in GREAT Kitchens. Check out some of my travel spots and their outstanding service:

W.O.W. – East Lansing, MI

I ended up in East Lansing, MI, in October 2010, to speak at a local health food store for their Celiac Awareness campaign. On my way back to Detroit, where I would be speaking the next day, I stopped in to meet Steve Pollard at Guido’s pizza parlor in Okemos, MI, just outside of East Lansing. Steve was one of our first GREAT Kitchens, and his staff is well-trained in gluten-free protocol.

Gluten-Free Pizza at Guido's in Michigan

Gluten-free and amazing!

The pizza? Well, it is simply amazing. Soft, tender crust handmade crust with perfectly placed toppings made me teary to think that Steve was serving these sweet pies daily to the lucky East Lansing folks.  Now almost 18 months later, Steve’s moved his gluten-free operation next door. W.O. W. ( With Out Wheat) deli and bakery has fantastic gluten-free breads, sandwiches, rolls, pizzas and dessert.  GREAT progress!

Beckee and Steve Pollard of Guido's Pizza

Beckee and Steve from Guido's/W.O.W.

Hint of GREATness #1 – Taste has not been compromised by gluten-free status.

Pizza Luce – Minneapolis, MN

Staying in Minneapolis for a wedding weekend in September gave me the opportunity to taste a bit of the Mini-Apple’s famous pizza spot, Pizza Luce. Pizza Luce has 5 locations in Minnesota that are all GREAT trained. At the downtown location, the servers were gluten-free informed and the gluten-free options on their menu extensive.

Gluten-Free Pizza at Pizza Luce

One of Pizza Luce's yummy gluten-free pies

Confession…I ate there twice and could have placed an order for the road. What is it about eating in a restaurant that you know has GREAT status, and all will be well with the tummy? It’s seems you have to try everything that’s offered and more. As the director of GREAT, I know what’s supposed to happen when a dining establishment takes training seriously.

Hint of GREATness #2 – The waitstaff welcomes you with a gluten-free menu, say they’ve been trained, and can answer ingredient questions with ease.

More spots and hints in my future blogs!

-Beckee

See the full list of GREAT Kitchens in the U.S. at www.CeliacCentral.org/kitchens

April 20, 2012 at 10:03 am Leave a comment

Gluten-Free Dining: We Don’t Really Want to Be “Special”

Last Monday, I decided to step away from my desk for a much needed day off. A mental vacation, a road trip to do a bit of shopping, and lunch with my best gal pal would be the perfect way to spend the day off! After stocking up on herbs and spices at Penzeys and checking out the furniture store sales, I met Kyle at her favorite restaurant.

Kyle and Beckee

Kyle and me

History Note: Kyle and I have been best friends since freshman year in college. People mistake us for sisters because we kind of look alike and think alike. We stood next to each other when we married our mates, and we birthed our babies exactly one week apart. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, Kyle immediately learned about my diet, figured out how to feed me and threw a dinner party. Over the years, we’ve taken a few ‘girl trips’ where the days consisted of coffee on the patio, shopping, researching fabulous gluten-free dining spots, and ordering everything gluten-free so we could share plates. She is truly a GFBF (gluten-free best friend).

Lunch at the Biltmore

One of our previous "girl trips" - Lunch at the Biltmore

Kyle has been trying to coax me into dining at her favorite restaurant for years. It’s not that I hadn’t eaten there; in fact, I had dined there many times 20 years ago…BC (before celiac). I had not stepped foot inside since because they didn’t offer gluten-free options until recently, and I had been leery of dining there before important business trips or meetings for fear of possible cross-contamination. I just couldn’t take a chance.

So I decide, what the heck, it was close by and they have dynamite salads. How can they screw up a salad, right? Plus, it’s a Monday and surely they won’t be that busy. Plus, Kyle knows the owner/chef and staff well, and I was curious about their gluten-free menu.

I arrive to a packed room. Kyle waves to me from the bar where we plan to sit. After hugs and catching up, we ask for menus. Kyle asks for the gluten-free menu before I do…she’s so excited. We wait.

Eventually, the bartender comes back and spouts off the daily specials. We ask for the gluten-free menu again. He turns away, digs under a pile of menus, and puts it in front of me. Laminated and single-sided, it lists about ten choices. Salads and entrees were listed with instructions about what to leave off the dish. No prices, no restaurant logo, no description of the dish, no GREAT Kitchens seal either, but I knew that wasn’t going to be there – they haven’t gone through our gluten-free training.

I had a bad feeling. It was a busy lunch, I could see the kitchen staff hustling, and I had a gluten-free menu that didn’t really give me much guidance or confidence in the outcome.

Kyle looks at my menu and offers hers with colorful descriptions and prices to help me choose a few options to investigate. She waves over the owner, asks me to dig out a business card, and makes an introduction. (Kyle is extremely proud of me. She’s the one who gave me confidence and support to start a gluten-free consulting business 5 years ago, which lead to my dream job with NFCA.) With a smile, she hands him the card and says, “This is my dear friend who works for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. She is the director of a program called GREAT Kitchens.” The owner took a look at my card and replied, “So, am I under investigation?”

Was he kidding? He didn’t look like he was kidding. Did he need to be investigated? We laugh it off, and I ask for some help choosing lunch. The tortilla strips on the salad are fried in the same oil as breaded foods, but the menu doesn’t mention it. The grill does not have bread products cooked on it – good news. The salad dressing ingredients…I can tell by his face he isn’t really interested in sharing the recipe. I order the grilled salmon salad with vinegar and oil on the side. I notice the owner pop his head into the kitchen to possibly alert the staff.

Our salads arrive in front of us. They are fine. We eat. We pay the bill. We leave. Hugs and back on the road.

Driving home, I just felt terrible. I had an hour to stew over what had just happened. I wanted to cry because I just felt awful. My food was fine. No cross-contamination, the salmon was perfectly cooked, the greens were fresh. But I still felt horrible, empty inside. I had just been to a well-known restaurant that many people would give a four star rating for exceptional service, food quality and ambience. Not so much for me…maybe a half a star for their gluten-free guests.

The next morning Kyle called and said, “Have you ever been treated so poorly in all your life? I can’t believe how rudely we were treated. And that menu, how could you call it a gluten-free menu with nothing to help you make good choices? I’ve been getting madder by the minute thinking about it.”

Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first time dealing with restaurants that offer gluten-free options/menus to keep up with the trends but don’t really understand the customer. This past year, restaurants offering gluten-free options rose 61% according to foodservice consulting firm Technomic. Gluten-free guests have made progress in getting the attention of the restaurant industry by requesting options. But we have a long way to go to make sure they understand that special diet customers don’t really want to be special. They want to know that their food is safe and that their needs are understood. They just want to enjoy their lunch with a friend.

– Beckee

Learn more about NFCA’s gluten-free restaurant training program: GREAT Kitchens

February 28, 2012 at 10:49 am 7 comments

Teaching Student Chefs the Importance of Gluten-Free Training

Twice a year, I have the fortunate honor to be invited to a ‘Gluten-Free Baking Lab’ held at the Lincoln Southeast Community College Food Service/Hospitality program in Lincoln, NE. The students bake items from CIA instructor Chef Richard Coppedge’s cookbook, Gluten-Free Baking, and learn about the needs of those on a gluten-free diet.  The process starts by thoroughly cleaning the kitchen, equipment, and utensils; blending the flours (Chef Coppedge provides five different blends); pairing up; and selecting recipes from the cookbook. The baking begins. Then I arrive for the tasting and a Q & A with the students.

Gluten-free buffet

Check out the spread!

You might think it is pretty bold of me to assume that what’s being served on the plates is really safe and totally gluten-free. Well, you’d be right – if I didn’t know the lead instructor, Certified Executive Chef Brandon Harpster, is GREAT trained. In fact, six of the instructors on the foodservice staff at LSCC completed GREAT Kitchens training back in 2008.  So, I feel pretty confident in the guidance and instruction received by these young chefs.

As I arrive for the tasting, the proud students parade into the classroom with their masterpieces. I snap their pictures, and they gently place them on the table. I get a bit choked up every time I attend these labs. When I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago, I could never have imagined culinary students being exposed to gluten-free baking and embracing the challenge and opportunity. I really believe that 5-10 years from now, all culinary students will have a standard class on allergen-free baking and cooking. It will be commonplace. This generation has grown up with allergies or celiac disease; they have friends or family members who have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or allergies. Yes, there really is hope and promise in the foodservice industry. We are seeing big strides every day. It was thrilling to hear the students talk about working in restaurants that have gluten-free options, such as a successful local pizza chain and others in well-respected establishments with skilled chefs who “get gluten-free.”

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

The sampling included Strawberry Bread, Chocolate (Red) Velvet Cake minus the red food coloring, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Brownies, Cinnabon-ish Cinnamon Rolls, Angel Food Cake, Peanut Butter Cookies, and Zucchini Pumpkin Bread. While they munched, I shared a brief description of my NFCA position, celiac disease history, and current marketplace trends. I really wanted to make sure we had time for questions because I was curious about aspiring culinary students want to know. They had some GREAT questions. Here are a few with my responses.

Student Question: Besides the obvious sources of gluten, what else do chefs need to be concerned about when preparing gluten-free meals?

Beckee’s Answer: Gluten can be hidden in unlikely places. I once learned the hard way that flour can be added to refried beans to thicken them. Gluten can be hidden in sauces, marinades, flavorings and many processed foods. Reading labels is very important, but so is knowing that gluten can be found in soup bases, soy sauce, stabilizers and thickeners.

If you work in a scratch kitchen and know your ingredients and sources, that’s only part of the answer to knowing safe gluten-free preparation. The most important skill to learn is how to prepare gluten-free foods safely because cross contamination is a huge concern to your customers. Picking up a bread knife and cutting a baked potato can turn a perfectly gluten-free option into something that can harm someone on a medically restricted gluten-free diet.  Your customers must feel confident in your expertise to serve safe options. Educating yourselves by taking GREAT Kitchens training will provide that trust and give you another tool in your culinary skills when you start hunting for jobs.

Gluten-Free Zucchini Pumpkin Bread

Gluten-Free Zucchini Pumpkin Bread - Delicious!

Student Question: What is the potential for increased sales for restaurants that “go gluten-free”?

Beckee’s Answer: One in 133 people has celiac disease, and 1 in 18 has gluten intolerance. They are the members of the party that will be making the reservations. Most diners don’t dine alone; they bring friends and family with them. If they order dishes to share, they’ll make them gluten-free. They’re loyal to those restaurants that can safely serve gluten-free and will look for the GREAT seal of approval like the GREAT Kitchens decal, logo, or a reference on their menu telling guests that training is in place. People needing gluten-free options will only increase over the next 5 years due to more awareness and diagnoses.  Advertising gluten-free options can be a differentiator in the restaurant business.

Gluten-Free Strawberry Cake

What's a celebration without some gluten-free cake?

Student Question: If you have a reaction or get sick, do you call the restaurant and let them know?

Beckee’s Answer: Excellent question. Honestly, in the past, I wasn’t consistent about doing so. I’d just take it off my list of dining options and tell my gluten-free pals to beware. However, when I started working with chefs and training restaurants, I asked if they wanted to know. Unanimously, the answer was “Yes.” How can you fix the problem if you’re not aware of it? Now, I always contact the establishment, and I encourage others to do so. I can remember talking with a general manager for a restaurant who had a gluten-free menu but no staff training. He told me they “just didn’t get many people asking for gluten-free.” Hmmm, wonder why?

The last thought that I left the class with was this: When you go out to eat or dine, what are you thinking about after you’ve order your meal? Are you thinking about your gorgeous date? The hilarious joke someone told at the table? Maybe you’re anticipating the fabulous food that will be served soon. Sometimes, people with celiac disease are solely focused on what’s happening in the kitchen. Will they make a fresh salad instead of just picking off the croutons? Will the cooks clean the grill before charring the steak? Does the restaurant really have a dedicated fryer? Through GREAT gluten-free education, all the guests at the table can enjoy the ambience, company, and great food you set before them.

Bon Appetite!

– Beckee

Learn more about gluten-free training through GREAT Kitchens at www.CeliacLearning.com/kitchens.

December 5, 2011 at 11:36 am 4 comments

No Reservations

I live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain’s adventures on “No Reservations.”  I can’t say I want to BE the man, especially not his liver or lungs. Instead, I’d like to be one of his pals who get to share the laughs, late nights, and pure love of food…just once.  (I doubt if he’d ever consider dining with a fuss bucket like me, with all my dietary no-no’s. But a girl can have her fantasy, right?)

Tony does have the life. Wouldn’t it be delicious to swagger around the world with a film crew, communing with the locals who take you to the places to dine on the best regional cuisine, and get paid for it? To relish the beauty, flavors and soul of the food and land, with comrades who dig it as much as you do? To spend hours in fellowship with those who chew, chug, and moan with the same appreciation for every morsel and sip?

Just once, I want no reservations.

To experience the submission that Tony considers one of the true pleasures of dining – whether it’s sucking marrow from a bone in a primitive hut, or dabbing caviar with tiny spoons by candlelight – would make me complete.  I want to totally submit to a dining experience. I want it for all of us who must eat gluten-free. Some say it’ll never happen.  With celiac disease and all the planning and preparation that go with dining out, it’s difficult to put your faith, trust, and stomach in the hands of a chef, kitchen staff, and wait person…completely. With no reservations.

Gluten-free appetizer

The dishes at Appetite for Awareness prove that gluten-free can be safe AND delicious!

For the celiac community, “no reservations” often has the opposite connotation. As in, “No reservation. No table. No food.” Once, after a long day of speaking engagements, I headed to a hotel property near the Detroit airport searching for hot food and a cozy bed.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I was famished.  After calling the finest “made from scratch” restaurant in the complex, I was told by the manager that they could not accommodate a gluten-free diet.  I thought they must just need an explanation regarding my special diet needs. Nope, they refused to serve me.

Luckily, another chef at a nearby eatery (whose dining room was closed) prepared a simple but lovely piece of fish, potato, and fresh green salad perfectly and safely.  Two restaurants from the same hotel chain with different attitudes and different reactions to a guest’s request.

So why do chefs and restaurateurs have reservations about serving gluten-free options?  Some think it takes too much time, or it’s too difficult. Others don’t know how to prepare food safely, so they opt out. Some think it’s a trend or fad that will go away. We also can’t forget those who think they don’t need special training for gluten-free options. “All you have to do is take out the wheat.” How scary is that?!

And then, there is the one chef (let’s hope only one) who thinks the gluten-free diet is BS, so he serves wheat-laden pasta to those requesting gluten-free pasta. It’s so wrong on so many levels, it’s almost hard to comprehend.

What some chefs don’t get is the knife that just sliced the bread can’t be used to cut the baked potato. What some cooks don’t realize is the ladle used to spread sauce on the traditional pizza crust can’t be used to spread sauce on a gluten-free pizza crust. What some waiters don’t understand is that people who request a gluten-free option most likely would rather not have to bother them for such a need. Our request isn’t a choice; it’s a medical condition.

What the above-mentioned chef doesn’t realize is this: Those with celiac disease who eat gluten in a restaurant probably won’t react to it until later, when they’re stuck in the bathroom all night.  (I’m sure vacations have been ruined by this chef’s intentional glutening.)

I really love my job. As director of NFCA’s Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives, I’m privileged to offer affordable, gluten-free training to those in the foodservice industry and improve quality of life for those with celiac disease at the same time. NFCA’s comprehensive training program is called GREAT (Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training), and we offer it to Kitchens, Schools/Camps, and Dietitians. GREAT restaurants provide safe gluten-free options, train their staff, and make a commitment to follow safe protocols. As a result, they reap the benefits of having loyal customers who bring tables of 4, 6, and 8+ with them time and time again.

National Restaurant Association Show 2010

Teaching chefs what's what at last year's National Restaurant Association Show.

We need your help spreading the word about NFCA’s GREAT program (www.CeliacLearning.com). I know sometimes it’s difficult to speak up and demand safe gluten-free choices, especially because we are grateful for those who put forth an effort to serve us. But providing a GREAT solution helps all gluten-free diners. People are getting sick, their health is at risk, and NFCA wants to end that.

Don’t just fantasize about eating at a famous or local hot spot. Promote GREAT training for a GREAT dining experience, so you can enjoy your food and conversation…with no reservations.

-Beckee

April 1, 2011 at 11:14 am 5 comments

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

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