Five Years Gluten Free and Fabulous!

Today is a milestone for me.  Five years since I went gluten free. Five years since I gorged on regular pizza, bagels and pasta like an idiot.  Five years of tummy being mostly pain free. Five years of learning how to cook gluten free. Five years of figuring out gluten free baking. It has been great to be mostly free of gut pain, anxiety, and a host of other issues that have dogged me much of my life. I still eat well. I still love to bake. I feel I have adapted fairly well to this new diet. Lots of cooking though, as the premade stuff is expensive, not that tasty and full of crap I don’t want to put in my body.  I still make a pretty awesome pie I have to say. I have created incredibly yummy gf cookies and muffins. My mom doesn’t really think a lot of the baked goods are gluten free as they are too tasty in her mind! So far so good in the cooking realm.

kitchen sink cookies

blueberry ricotta tart

Writing this blog has been a wonderful experience. It will be five years for that in a week or so. I still enjoy this process of writing and sharing. I plan to keep at it for the foreseeable future.  Honestly, I often look up favorite recipes on my blog and cook off my tablet propped up in the kitchen.  It’s a very handy resource for me.

 

My family has been very supportive of my new diet. They bend over backwards to cook safely for me or to find safe restaurants for dinners out. I so appreciate their efforts and unstinting support.

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My man has been awesome about it. Never complains, always supports me and seems to thrive on the meals I cook for him. He always wants baked goods to take home with him. He ca be somewhat finicky so I know they must be tasty if he wants leftovers! I appreciate his support more than I can express here.

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Most of my friends have been really helpful and supportive. Countless tasty meals and thoughtful snacks. I am lucky to have them in my life.

barra rossa pizza

So I am already thinking of the new things I will cook and bake in this next gf year. Stay posted for some changes to my blog in the coming weeks. It’s gonna be awesome!

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Barra Rossa Restaurant: Great Philly Eatery

We went to Philadelphia this past Saturday to see the Terracotta Warrior exhibit at the Franklin Institute. It was awesome. I loved every moment. Highly recommend it. Afterwards we went out to dinner in the neighborhood of  TJ Hospital a few blocks to the east of Center City. I thought I was picking a new restaurant but it turns out that Stella Rossa changed their name; due to similarity to another restaurant so we were there a while ago, maybe two years ago. As we got to the front door of Barra Rossa we looked at each other and said “We’ve been here before!”

   barra rossa lights

I remember how great their gf  pizza was so I had another pizza; different toppings; smoked mozzarella, red sauce, prosciutto, and a touch of arugula.  It was very tasty although I couldn’t hardly taste the smoke in the cheese until I ate my leftover slices for lunch. Go figure.  I didn’t think to take a pix until I had eaten some pizza; pardon the casual two slices gobbled down shot!barra rossa pizzaMy glass of California Riesling was very smooth and fruity; perfect!  We shared an appetizer of lump crab, portabella mushrooms and basil oil which was utterly delish.  Someone thought I had eaten more than my fair share!  I also had the arugula and pear salad with candied walnuts. The pears were kinda hard and it was a lot of arugula.

I only chose items marked gf on the menu and made the server aware of my gf needs as a celiac.  Yet once again I got mildly glutened.  Upon reflection. I remembered that  I had that same salad last time.  And the same mild feelings of having eating a tiny bit of gluten. I am strongly feeling that it was a matter of the candied walnuts. I know for myself that buying nuts is very problematic as often the cross contamination issue rears it’s ugly head.  Nuts are often processed on the same equipment as wheat and that is a problem.  Restaurants probably feel that they don’t need to worry about gluten in any food ingredient that normally does not contain gluten. If my issue was less serious this wouldn’t be the problem it is.  Some of us with celiac do react to tiny amounts of gluten from this sort of cross contamination while natural ingredients like nuts or dried fruit are processed.  It’s hard to believe until you experience it but this is a reoccurring problem for many celiacs. So, in this case, I have resolved not to eat nuts or dried fruit while eating out. They are just too problematic.

anjoOne more reflection, pears….they are a favorite fruit of mine but an unripened pear has no place in a salad. Slightly under ripe is okay but hard pear is virtually flavorless and the skin can be bitter.  If your pears are not ripe enough or are over ripe, use a crisp apple instead.  Just unfair to sprinkle hard wedges of pear in a salad. No one can enjoy that.  My guy does not care for pears. My best guess is that he has never had a perfectly ripened pear. Overripe they not have an enjoyable flavor.  We got some small pears at Walmart the other week and they seemed to just rot from the inside out. Ugh! Normally I like to get Anjou pears at Valley Farm Markets in a six pack and let them ripen in a bowl at room temperature. A perfect pear is a delicate, sensory treat of texture and juicy flavor. If you don’t like pears; well then, I think you haven’t had a good one yet.  Keep trying!

I do strongly recommend this restaurant. Their gf pizza is the bomb and that crab appetizer was just amazing. If you are in Philly; this is an excellent choice for a meal.  Just avoid the nuts if you are gluten free and be wary of unripe pears!barra rossa bar

Aldi’s Update February 2018

Today I have an Aldi product update to share.  A few totally unrelated items that I recently purchased and want to comment on.  First, their grapefruit seltzer; ridiculously cheap and mixes perfectly with kombucha tea or fruit juice. The label says PurAqua.  Caffeine and sugar free. Just carbonated water and natural flavoring. Great to have a new flavor choice for a mixer.                            grapefruit selzer

Secondly, their SimplyNature house brand organic fair trade light brown sugar. Soft, moist, great flavor and cheap. And it is organic and sustainably grown by small farmer cooperatives according to their label. Can’t get much better than that.  I am busy using my bag of Aldi’s organic sugar in my baking efforts. It does seem to add a better flavor than regular granulated sugar. It is far cheaper in Aldi’s than in the local Giant grocery. brown sugar

For snacking I am enjoying their Casa Mamita Chunky Salsa, mild version.  It tastes very fresh and is yes, chunky.  They have spicier versions; see picture below! Great with Aldi’s Blue Corn Dipper chips. Clancy Dippers are decent but the blue corn dipper is just amazing in flavor and crunch. Cheaper than what I can find at my big box local grocery store too!

I like their own brand organic ground cinnamon. Great flavor and far cheaper than organic cinnamon usually is.  I wish they would get in even more spices and that they would label them as gf. Ah the typical celiac lament!

Finally, their Red Lentil Rotini is back; I loved cooking with it when I found a box quite a few months ago. I look forward to using it again!  Cheap, organic, high in protein, iron and fiber. Win Win!

red lentil

My friend Josh says I need to work for Aldi’s as I write about them so often…. I write about this company often because their food is wonderful. If there is an Aldi’s near you; what are you waiting for? Great food, great prices and lots that is gf for folks like me who have celiac disease. Enjoy!

Aldi’s Update January 2018

When I see something on facebook that seems problematic for my life, rather than complain…I investigate.  I saw this post which said that Aldi’s wasn’t carrying gluten free foods anymore.  Not something I want in the least. So I contacted the company via their website and was happy to receive a prompt email reply.  They are not ending their line of gluten free foods, just ending labeling things that are naturally gluten free.

I wrote again with a follow up email asking why they keep discontinuing popular things like the tiny orange gf cheddar crackers or their chocolate covered gf pretzels. Today I spoke with a representative who had left me a voice message yesterday to give Aldi’s a call. I was a bit excited thinking they were going to give me some good news on gf products I was missing.  Alas, she listened but talked only a bit and gave no reason why they discontinue things so often. Just repeated that such is their policy. I told her that I have resorted to buying chocolate covered gf pretzels else where but that the Aldi brand  tastes superior and is cheaper so why are they making such a contrary decision: to only offer them once or twice a  year. She had no answer for me but said she would convey my suggestions to the powers that be. Not particularly satisfying…but I did get to voice my issue to an actual representative of Aldi’s. Still, not all that comforting as I am longing for those crisp and tasty cheddar crackers… cheddar crackers

 

A Fresh Start for Better Health

Eight weeks ago today I had my right knee replaced, that demon osteoarthritis did some really major damage inside there.  Now I am feeling somewhat recovered but those first few weeks were pretty hairy.  I lost my appetite on top of all that pain and it was difficult to eat enough to keep my blood sugar decent, I have pre-diabetes as well as my celiac disease. Normally I control that with exercise, healthy snacks and less sweets but when your knee keeps you from all exercise for four months…things can get a little screwed up.  So, I found my self craving fresh produce when I was home from the hospital. Heck, I ate a veggie plate there and a fruit and cottage cheese plate so it began even before I got home. Oranges, tangerines, cuties, grapefruit, berries, snap peas, even broccoli tasted amazing and I couldn’t enjoy a meal without at least a couple fruits and veggies.  That and my reduced appetite gave me a ten pound weight loss which I was more than happy with.  More interesting yet is that I still don’t seem to crave the processed sweets half as much as before.  Oh, they be creeping back somewhat  but I am trying not to buy much of that sort of thing beyond crackers to pair with cheese, plain nuts and some organic baked cheese puffs white-cheddar-puffsI am treating myself to.  Thinking about my close proximity to diabetes plus my recovery time cravings – produced serious soul searching and I have made the decision to try to keep with this program of less processed snack foods and less sugar.

We folks with celiac feel we deserve a treat or two and I am no different from anyone else.  But, now I try to treat those cravings with fruit, nuts or maybe a square of dark chocolate.  Aldi’s has great dark chocolates aldi's chocolateand some nuts that are free of cross contamination. As before, I eat a muffin for a snack most days but it is homemade and baked using coconut palm sugar which has a lower hypoglycemic index which bodes well for my sugar levels. Oh, I’m no saint and I can’t resist an occasional treat of some kind but I am trying to not bake the cakes and cookies I used to delight in.  Pies, tarts, galettes and tartlets are still on my recipe plans so there will be tasty items here on my blog in the future but other than angel food cake or a family birthday party, cake be a rare treat from here on out. I can’t promise no cookies, woman does not live by pie alone…gotta have cookies!

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I will see how the next two months go and let you know if I can keep my plan working.  If you are trying to lower your sugar intake you might want to try some of what I am eating…a good place to start are muffins made with coconut palm sugar.  They are yummy, easy and healthy.  Join me on this new journey and enjoy great homemade foods with less sugar! cranberry-blueberry-muffins

Gluten Free Chips to Munch

If you follow my blog you might notice I haven’t posted many baked goods in the past month. As I mentioned the other week, I had my right knee replacement surgery the first week of March. Due to that I haven’t been able to do much cooking and even less baking.  Just not able to stand around or work hard at anything other than my recovery which is going pretty well these days. I use a cane but in my house I often just walk all on my own. I’ve had lots of company, mostly siblings who came to help me out and to visit our mom who I normally spend time with each week.  This worked out great and now I am on my own.  While they were here people bought a number of things new to me and so I have been doing some product reviews.  Here are two more, both triangular chips and both organic.  In the interest of honesty I should say that throughout my recovery I have been actively seeking not to eat these sort of treats; too fattening/salty/addictive.  I didn’t buy them but I sure couldn’t help myself to try more than a few of each chip.

pink himalayan chipsI love tortilla chips and was excited when my brother bought a bag of Pink Himalayan Salt Red Rice & Quinoa Tortilla Chips by Lundberg in Ca. Everyone likes them but me and my beef is the salt. I guess my salt cutting back regimen for the past year or so is having a serious effect as I found these chips to be way too salty for my tastes.  No one else felt that way; they were noshed on with joy by several of my visitors so get a bag and test them out! Non GMO, gluten free and whole grain…purchased at Giant Food Stores.

popcorners chips

The other snack item I want to share with you are Popcorners, Crispy & Crunchy Popped Corn Chips, by BFY Brands in Liberty NY.  Darn it, but I just love them! No preservatives, no trans fats, not fried, doubled pressed for extra crunch.  I got the variety with some cheddar for flavoring. Thin, crisp but not hard and lightly cheesy: I could eat the whole bag in a day but I have restrained myself so far. These also came from Giant and I love that they have 7 ounces, the other ones were 5.5 so I got another ounce and a half plus they were a bit cheaper so double score on these triangular treats.

More and more tasty gluten free snacks are popping up out there in regular grocery stores; but do read the packaging carefully if you have allergies or want to limit sodium or other sorts of intake. Best not to eat the whole bag at one munching! Enjoy.

Best Places to Shop for GF Foods

If you need to eat only gluten free food it is tough to avoid cooking.  There are only so many frozen entrees you can buy. Gf foods are not cheap; they are sometimes twice or even three times the cost of wheat based similar baked goods. So I bake and I cook lots of yummy gf food. Stores where you can purchase gluten free food products have increased their gf selection dramatically over the past ten years. This is partially due to the increase in folks who chose to eat gluten free for dieting reasons or because they think it is “cleaner” to eat gf. Plus the medical world is getting more familiar with celiac disease and the increase in diagnosis is definitely fueling the need for gluten free foods.

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease four years plus ago I had absolutely no idea what that meant.  I was truly horrified to find out it meant cutting out bread, pasta, rolls and pastry. I was in denial for a couple of weeks. But then I buckled down and started switching to a gluten free diet.  This meant I gave away or threw away all my regular cereals, flours and pastas that had gluten in them meaning everything I had! Replacing them with gluten free food became an adventure of epic proportions; sort of like an Easter egg hunt for safe foods.  Some stores mix their gf foods with regular stuff and others give it a separate location.  A couple of grocery stores even do both.  Here are some of my findings over the past 4-5 months.

aldi sign

My favorite grocery store is Aldi’s. I mostly shop at the one in Bethlehem on Easton Avenue although I have been to the Wilson store as well. They have the best gf crackers, tortilla chips and gluten free hot pockets.  I have gotten ravioli there as well as gf pizza, pizza mix, chocolate chip cookie mix, baked cookies, snack bars as well as gf chocolate. All of these items are clearly marked GF. Occasionally, seasonal gf items come out as well as pushes of new gf stock items that may or may not stick around long term. It is worth checking them out every month for what’s new.  Not particularly gf but important to me are their great prices and excellent quality of foods.  My favs in dairy are the store brand string cheese, Greek cheese and goat cheese. Plus the meat department is small but mighty; super great prices and I find the quality to be high considering the price charged.  They do not have a separate gf section although the freezer gf stuff is together and most of their gf crackers and cookies are placed near each other.

wegmansSecond place goes to Wegmans.  All three Weggies have awesome separate gf departments of cereal, pasta, flours, cookies and snacks plus freezer space nearby where frozen bagels, breads and ravioli reside. Best selection in the Valley. Still, I have found some gf flours over in their baking aisle; millet for example.  I strongly urge them to consolidate all gf marked flours together in the gf section. They have some pastas I can’t find at any other store; a wonderful rice shaped corn based pasta as well as things like gf graham cracker crusts and gf hot cereals that I often buy there. Lots of cookies and snacks too!

Third place: Giant: each store has a separate gf section as well as dedicated gf freezer space in the health food freezer section nearby. The stores do put gf cake mixes with the regular cake mixes.  I am thankful they put them at the top of the shelf.  This is best practice as it keeps wheat based product from sifting down if a package breaks. I hate the thought of getting gluten based cake mix on my fingers and accidentally ingesting it. They also place gf Barilla pasta in the regular pasta aisle although the rest of the gf pasta is in the separate gf section.  There is gf bread crumbs on the same shelf as regular bread crumbs and different brands are back in the dedicated gf section. I have found a few gluten free frozen foods in the regular aisle of frozen items although there is a portion of the freezer in the health food aisle which seems dedicated to gf frozen items. It’s a weird sort of inconsistency but I can’t complain that there are no gluten free items in the stores.

The Fresh Market at the Promenade Shoppes of Saucon Valley does not have a gluten free section.  A few gf items are sprinkled around the store but I didn’t find much to buy there except some rather nice looking wide ribbon pasta and a container of citrus green tea.  Not a place I would go back to in my quest for gluten free items.

Valley Farm Market on Stefko Boulevard in Bethlehem has limited gf choices.  They do have a lot of gf dry flour mixes and baking mixes in a section over near the deli.  The only issue is that they store gf foods with bags of gluten based products right next to them.  Those of us with celiac disease much prefer a separate section for gf foods to cut back on package surface contamination from wheat based flours that might spill.  I didn’t find many gf items elsewhere in the store. I love their produce and meats but gf…not so much!

Shoprite in Phillipsburg NJ has a number of gf products but, again, they can be all over the place. I haven’t shopped but a couple of times in the new store off of Freemansburg Avenue heading towards Easton.   I was unable to find much there of a gf nature other than fresh unadulterated turkeys both whole and a turkey breast which the meat department obligingly deboned for my Christmas meal. I searched for a gf section; found no dedicated area.  Will keep looking!

Some unusual locations for purchasing gf foods are odd lot stores or discount places like Marshalls.  Frey’s Better Foods in Hellertown has a fair amount of gf foods, no dedicated section though.  I have gone west to Echo Hill Store out near Fleetwood for bulk purchases of beans and rice, great prices and interesting selection there.

Lots of great choices for gluten free foods here in the Lehigh Valley.  I seldom buy on line as I can find most of what I need locally. So, whether you eat gluten free occasionally, mostly or always, there are options locally for great meal preparation as well as ready made meals.