Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gluten free jeggings

The article, Gluten-free trend could fall 'like a house of cards' on Food Navigator-USA has cause some angry comments and feisty reactions and more unhappy comments

I can understand why people are upset. Felling like people are being dismissive or flippant about something that is very personal is not easy. But lets face it, the article was about food trends, not an attack on those who must live gluten free.

The food industry is like the fashion industry; they want you to buy new foods & clothing in new packages and colors every season. So gluten-free packaged foods were the hip, "it" trend, the jegging of the moment. Part of it was a diet fad (Elizabeth Hasselbeck touting eating gluten-free as a weight loss option), part of it was increased awareness about Celiac Disease and those who abstain from eating gluten and casein, and some of it was the industry's need for a new "it" product(s) like pomegranate juice was hot a few years ago. Here is the thing, trends change. There are people out there who need to wear supportive hosiery for circulation and perhaps the jean+legging=trendy fashion baby of the moment will be a minor miracle for them finding more clothing options. But its not going to last forever and any fashion writer who does a piece on the decline of the jegging isn't going to get a barrage of varicose veined persons seeing the writing as a personal attack. Its about the clothing, not the person.
Food is personal and having to live gluten-free is not easy. It is hard, expensive, painful (when we get it wrong) and frustrating to get it right.

Here is the best part about a trend, it is something that people catch on to.
If you think about it, in the past year, the number of packaged and prepared gluten free options has really mushroomed. Two years ago, I had to explain to an E.R. doctor what Celiac Disease is and all of the symptoms, yesterday I went into a walk in clinic for an ear infection and the doctor asked me how I have been managing, eating and was pro-actively concerned about any medications that could make me sick! (Not a scientific study, but more people are aware that its not a "childhood illness that kids grow out of.")

Look at the awareness about carbohydrate content that Atkins did for diabetics!
The Atkins diet was a trend, but it helped raise awareness and labeling about simple and complex carbohydrates - things diabetics need to be aware of and calculate for at every meal, not just sugar.
Awareness matters.

So even after the trend of packaged gluten-free foods fade, there are still more gluten-free options at restaurants. There is increased awareness in hospitals - where finally there are gluten-free food options for patients. This food trend has done more to increase awareness than any other campaign, fundraiser or study I have seen. But it is not a controlled message, it is a fashionable trend and its not going to last forever. Some items will stay. The skirt suit was a hot fashion trend that went out of style, but the Chanel version is a classic. (Jennies Macaroons are my gluten-free Chanel jacket.)

P.S. - I have been unpleasantly sick as of late, but I have a flurry of back-dated blog posts with pictures that are on the way. Just you wait!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Peering into the future

Arcadia Biosciences LLC, of Davis, Calif with Washington State University researcher Diter Von Wettstein, are working to develop a variety of gluten-free wheat.

Scientists in Canada are headed into the 4th clinical trial of Larazotide Acetate, a pill that prevents intestinal damage when persons with Celiac Disease ingest gluten.

I smell pizza and beer in this future.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Putting a twist on Bob's Red Mills Pizza Crust

A really great friend gave me a few of Bob's Red Mills products for my birthday. The cold, rainy weather seemed just the reason to make some pizza. I followed the directions to the T, and the pizza turned out ok, the crust needed salt and had no puff to it. I had a baseball sized blob if it remaining, so I threw it in the fridge. The next day it struck me that perhaps garlic bread could work! I pulled out the dough, shaped it into an 8"x8" pan and let it warm up and proof.
I mixed some olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic and a few pinches of rosemary and sea salt together. I heated them up in the microwave until the garlic began to become translucent (ok, not really see through, but not completely opaque.)
The bread took a long time to proof. Several hours. But once it doubled in size, I topped it with the garlic and olive oil mixture - garlic has anit-fungal properties and kills yeast and retards growth, so I waited till the last minute. I baked it at 450F for about 10 minutes and tadahhhhhh!

It tasted a lot better than the pizza did. The dough was a little crispy on the edges and tasted more like pretzel dough than bread or pizza. (The fact that I over salted it didn't hurt this at all.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why you won't see me out for the next two restaurant weeks

Its Restaurant Week time in Boston. This year its been extended to two weeks: March 14-19 & March 21-26. (Everyone in the industry, or who has previously worked in food service is shuttering now at this point.)
More stress, more work, more problems and bad tipping.

Restaurant Week is designed to get new clientele into an establishment. They do this by offering a cheaper prixe fixe (pre-fixed or set) menu. You are not going to get a chef's signature dish. You are not going to get even a smaller version of said classic. You are going to get a dish made with cheaper ingredients because the price point is significantly less.
Personally, I don't want to go to a restaurant who is running a new/cheaper menu for the first time - ever. Most food writers wait several months before writing up a new restaurant for a reason. It takes a while to work the kinks out: to train all of the kitchen staff on a new dish, figure out timing, plating and to make sure that what was conceptualized before service and be prepared during a dinner rush, in a 100F+ kitchen.

Most restaurants also run their regular menu during Resturant Week.
Why does this matter?
It in effect is doubling the work of servers and cooks. Servers need to spend more time at each table explaining the different menus. Servers then need to re-explain why the foie gras dish that made this restaurant so special is not on the Restaurant Week menu, and no, it cannot be substituted for the chicken main dish. Kitchen staff also need to juggle the timing of a prixe fixe menu and the regular menu - a doable feat, but not easy when half the table orders a la carte and the other off the prixe fixe.

So now you  have a table that has taken at least 2x as long to order. You have extra time added to the entering of the order into the computer. More time is necessary for the expediter to call out the order and figure out the different firing times. What happens now? Diners start thinking that this restaurant's service is "slow."

In Massachusetts minimum wage is $8.00 an hour; for servers, waiters and waitresses its $2.63
Most diners partake in Restaurant Week because its a perceived bargain. This often translates into poor tipping. Long waits translate into poor tipping. Poor tipping makes for unhappy servers who are already doing double work. Not tipping at least 15%, 20 is not generous, its standard, means that servers have to pick up more shifts and work additional jobs just to break even.

Are there restaurants that do an amazing job during Restaurant Week despite all of these factors? Yes.
Does this mean I am going to participate? HELL NO

The nail in my Restaurant Week coffin
With my need to abstain from all proteins glutenous, there is no way you could get me to go out to eat.
Making substitutions on prixe fixe menus is often not allowed, that said, many places are good at accommodating diners with dietary restrictions under normal circumstances. I am not going to attempt to order a gluten-free meal in the middle of chaotic Restaurant Week for the same reason that I don't go to a new restaurant I haven't checked out on a busy Friday or Saturday night: I just don't know if I can trust them.

Its not that I think anyone is malicious, its just that I have to be able to trust the server, the expediter, the cooks and the chef. I need to effectively explain myself to the server in a way that s/he can relay that into the computer system or directly to the expediter. That person has to be able to clearly and quickly relay this to the cooks. No matter where you go, kitchens are rarely comprised of persons just speaking English. So I am putting my trust and my health into the hands of at least 4 people. 4 people who are juggling multiple jobs, multiple menus and with many other tables and diners to look after.
Can it be done? Yes.
I am willing to get served a "meh" meal with a possible side of digestive upset for 2 weeks? No.

Anyone want to go to the movies instead?

St. Patrick's Day recipe round up

This will be the first time in two years that I haven't made corned beef and cabbage from scratch. The corning processes takes a few weeks and I have been behind on finding a decent brisket. Corned beef is actually an Irish-American substitute for bacon and cabbage, the traditional Irish boiled dinner. So I am thinking that maybe I am going to try to find some slab bacon and give the dish of the homeland a try. I am feeling pretty good about last year's soda bread recipe, though I might try to shoot for a drier, more scone-like texture this year. In the mean time, here are a few recipes to tinker with yourself:

Corned Beef & Cabbage
Irish Soda Bread
Corned Beef (literally corning or pickling of the beef) recipe

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New iPhone app & a really good meal

I received this press release yesterday about a new iPhone app:
“My Grocery Master” App Features:
  • Database of over 100,000 products for Kosher, gluten-free and lactose-free diets
  • Over 360 name brands
  • Future updates to include searches for Vegan, Organic and diabetic suitable diets
  • Search by category, brand of product name
  • Frequent, FREE updates with new products and brands
  • Includes most Top 100 grocery store chains in the country and the leading online grocery stores
  • One-touch link to the “My Grocery Master” website providing recipes and more information
  • No connectivity required unless you utilize the one-touch website links
  • Save searches for easy future access (such as”Beach House”, “Grandma’s Condo”, etc.
  • Driving directions to store included
  • A low annual $4.99 fee
 “My Grocery Master” is available at the Apple’s App Store in the iPhone and iPod Touch.
 For more information please visit:

I don't have an iPhone, so I have no idea how jazzy this thing is. That said, it sort of gets my goat that people need to pay for information that should be available for free, clearly labeled and accessible from more than one place. One should not have to be able to afford (or choose to) own an iPhone to be able to find food that is safe. My Grocery Master is clearly fulfilling a need/demand and its great that they are, I just still think this information should be ON THE PACKAGING.

In other news, I had another meal at Highland Kitchen, noshing off their Gluten-Free Menu (ask for it from your server, they keep them in the back) and I was really impressed. Two weeks ago I had fantastic blackened catfish, last night I chowed down on the scallop appetizer special with pancetta, shaved fennel, blood oranges over a white bean puree. I wanted a hint more of acid, but it was a generous and delicious appetizer. The fried confit chicken wings with celery root slaw were perfect. Sweet, spicy, crunchy and a little tangy - some of the best wings I have had in a long time. (I was indoctrinated with Wings of Amherst and my love lead me to my first published piece of food writing in the Globe, I like wings, a lot.) The celery root slaw was sort of a distraction. It wasn't crunchy - understandably celery root is not known for its crispness - and it just didn't do anything for me. Honestly, I didn't much care. The wings were that good.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Communities, real and imagined

Laura Vozzella of the Baltimore Sun ruffled some feathers with her article, "In Defense of Gluten".
She then published the quip: Gluten-free community attacked (again)! Pointing to John McIntyre's questioning the validity of the term community, which twisted some underwear as well.

1. I think Laura Vozzella was attempting to come off as cheeky in her first article. I am willing to give her that.
2. John McIntyre wasn't "attacking" a specific group (perceived or otherwise) he was bringing up the idea/definition of "community."
3. This leads me to believe Laura Vozzella was being intentionally flip in her blog post.

I get it. Being provocative gets people's attention and if you feel your buttons are being pushed, the fastest response is to push back. That said, some really interesting ideas have come up. Is there such a thing as a gluten-intolerant community?

Though we don't do everything together, my neighbors are part of my physical community.
People have different tasks at work, but are part of a work environment and community.
People reading news papers, posting on message boards, taking part in online forums and listservs are part of real and imagined communities
If you are engaged in a religious group or club you can be part of a physical gathering of people and be part of a larger organization with more people you may identify with, even though you have never met them.

If we think of a community as a group of persons with shared experiences, then yes, not eating gluten can be an imagined or real community.

If I don't "know" you random person reading this who has also endured vomiting, bleeding, pain, headaches, GI issues galore, medical tests, diagnosis, months of still being sick, and the joys of feeling better and success of FINALLY making a loaf of bread that didn't taste like cardboard, then we still have different but similar shared experiences.

Why does this matter?
Not being able to do or partaking in social events, not being able to eat with others is isolating. There are those who have felt ostracized by their peers, those by their religion (Catholics who cannot be accommodated with a gluten-free host, often struggle with their priest and faith over communion), and the very unlucky who deal with people who actively attack them for an autoimmune disease that they have no control over.

Having a community, real or imagined, is important. It make me feel less weird and odd, I am not the ONLY freak-a-zoid out there who experiences heart palpitations when there are crumbs all over a table I just sat down at and now they are all over my hands. I have a sense of helping others by filing complaints (1, 2, and my UTZ its-not-gluten-free-email-blast of '07) so that others don't get sick like I did. I feel that I am part of a community and part of my duty is to not only look out for myself, but for others like me because there isn't anyone doing it for us.

Blogging, posting to gluten free message boards, searching and commenting on recipes, attending support groups and even spending extra time hunting for ingredients, are just some ways people are involved in this community and how its always changing. You don't have to self-identify as part of this community, and quite frankly if there was a pill, shot or even an intestinal parasite that would get me out of this club, I would do it in less than a heartbeat. But for now, I am ok with pot-shots at gluten-free products, which are 2-5x the price of gluten-filled ones and for semantic discussions of language.

For the record, I have no ill feelings towards anyone or anything. I don't hate gluten, I am just not in love with my T-cells which for some reason in 2007 decided to wage war on the protein. Lets all get angry at T-cells! Take that you microscopic thing that I have no ability to currently change!

Brandeis's gluten-free options

Apparently there is a theme in school newspapers this week. The Brandeis Hoot's article "Trying to eat gluten-free on a college campus" highlights one students struggle with eating gluten free on campus.

Smith College's gluten free options

The fact that Smith College's dining services is addressing the needs of their students who cannot eat gluten is pretty amazing. The recent article in The Sophian, Gluten-free dining does not meet all student needs, points out that more needs to be done. Beyond taste and choice, it would be interesting to see how nutrition is addressed for students on the meal plan with food restrictions.