7.16.2014

Product Review - Larabar Pie Flavours

Larabar ingredients are simple, pure and delicious
I haven't been an energy bar person to date. In fact, when they first came out years ago I took a hard look, and it wasn't easy to find something that I could be sure was gluten free. Times have changed. 

To be honest, even when I started seeing energy bars enter the market, I was not that drawn. So many seemed to have a great deal of ingredients, and I preferred to carry my little ziplock bag with nuts, seeds and raisins around. In part because of the simplicity, but in part because of the price. 

My stepdaughter, who is going through a very particular phase with food has been on a bit of a Larabar kick these last few months. You've never met a healthier 19 year-old. 

When I was contacted and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Larabar products - I said yes please. A week before the samples arrived, I bought my first bar. I was already sold before I opened the box of samples they sent this week (pictured).  

I've been on the special carbohydrate diet for 68 days at this point, so on top of needing to be gluten-free, there was little out there that would count as a "treat" in my books, that was also allowed on this scd diet. Dates had become my new favourite food. Low and behold, that is the base for the Larabar. A super healthy, and "legal" treat in every regard. 

I confess that one of the things I pine for most in the gluten world has to be pecan pie. While I haven't indulged in many, many years... one of my last memories of "cheating" on my gf diet was a low moment of scooping the innards out of a pecan pie. I was weak. It was a dumb idea. Today, I had the Pecan Pie Larabar - and I do not embellish when I say - they've nailed it. You will not believe that they managed to replicate pecan pie with only three natural ingredients - and none of them is sugar. 

The Apple Pie Larabar was also delicious (you need to like cinnamon - and I do, because the flavour is strong). The Cherry Pie is bursting with the fresh tart taste of cherries. You have no doubt that the real fruit is what you are tasting. Simple, delicious and nutritious. 

I liked all three of the samples I was sent to try, but Pecan Pie - for my tastebuds, is the winner. Three ingredients never tasted so good. I could eat one every day without guilt for about the same price as a chocolate bar. Add that there isn't the insulin high and low, there is plenty of fibre and protein - gf, vegan and kosher. Excellent road trip fare. 

For the gluten-free diet, these are a real winner. If you have an even MORE restrictive diet... you will be shocked to know that you now have an amazing, healthy and dessert-like treat to enjoy. I might be able to handle this SCD diet a few more weeks now. Thanks Larabar!

Check out the Larabar site HERE for more, including how to order online. 

6.29.2014

New Children's Book about Food Intolerance - Coming Soon: Woolfred Cannot Eat Dandelions


Woolfred Cannot Eat Dandelions; A Tale of Being True to Your Tummy is published by Magination Press - an imprint of the American Psychological Association. The official release date is September 15, 2014. 

While not gluten specific, this is a tale that any kid with ANY kind of dietary limitations might relate to. It's based on my own experience growing up and figuring out how to deal. It doesn't matter that today, there are more options than there were in the 70's, or that food intolerance is more common. This is about approach, feelings and being human (even if told through the eyes of sheep!). 

I'll post more on Woolfred when officially released this fall. You'll find a link to the APA publishing site HERE, Amazon.com HERE and Amazon.ca HERE where it is available for pre-order. 



6.21.2014

Serious Salads - Light Summer Meals for Hot Summer Nights


Summer is finally in full swing... after what seemed like the longest, hardest winter in memory. The farmer's markets are expanding from the meagre spring offerings to stalls filled with a wide selection of fruits and veggies, and our salads are improving with each week. 

We eat a lot of fresh veggies at our house... and started moving into fresh over cooked early in the season. After a winter of cooked greens, we started eating our kale raw. We started looking for ways to add crunch and zest to our plates.



A few tricks for keeping hot summer meals easy on week nights is to prep food on the weekend - often fresh from the market. First, I wash all of the greens and keep them covered in a bowl in the fridge. This means picking up a handful and placing it directly on a plate when I need it. I don't bother dressing greens anymore - instead I place a number of (often pre made & pre dressed) heartier salads on top of the undressed base of greens. 

I've tired of sloppy big green leaves and find myself preferring everything chopped small and fine. This makes for denser, crunchier salads. An added bonus is that these types of salads age, store and travel well too. Two important tools have been the mandolin slicer (for super fine slices of fennel or cabbage) and the grater - for carrots and beets.

Some salads store very well for a few days - bean salads (provided not too wet), slaws, and salads made from heartier veggies like fennel. I make a few salads at once, and rotate them over the next couple of days - and take them for lunch too. These dense salads make fantastic simple sides or dinner in and of themselves, particularly when one or more includes a form of protein like beans, nuts or cheese. Here is a sampling of some of our summer standards. I've included the classic caprese which requires little more than slicing a tomato. 



Carrot Beet Salad
Grate peeled organic beets and carrots
Add olive oil, apple cider vinegar and celery seed (optional).

Celeric Slaw (no image) 
Wash and peel celeriac root. Using a mandolin slicer make long thin strips of this crunchy white vegetable. Toss with finely chopped fresh parsley, a small amount of mayonnaise, dijon mustard and freshly ground black pepper. Celeric is available all year and makes an excellent winter side too!


Red Cabbage Slaw
Using a mandolin cut red cabbage on the finest slicer and then use the teeth to make thin crunchy strips of carrot. Toss with olive oil, apple cider vinegar and celery seed. You can use a knife and grater to make a less delicate looking, but just as tasty version of this salad. 



Black Bean & Radish
Rinse black beans until the water runs clear and place in a bowl. Add radishes chopped into little cubes about the same size as the beans and lots of chopped cilantro. Sprinkle a light dusting of cayenne pepper, a dollop of good olive oil and squeeze in the juice of a fresh lime.



Caprese Salad
Finely slice fresh tomatoes and assemble on a platter. Slice bocconcini (fresh baby mozzarella) and place on top. Add chopped fresh basil and dress with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Finish with a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper. 



Simple Arugula with Walnuts and Olives
Fresh baby arugula (or larger leaves chopped) with fresh walnuts (toasted or raw) and salt cured olives. Sprinkle good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a light sprinkle of salt. 




Pesto & Corn Potato Salad
mix fresh pesto (read labels on store bought pesto!),corn cut from roasted cobs, chopped fresh basil leaves, salt & pepper
and the tiniest fresh baby potatoes (boiled and cooled). 

For a post on a number of variations on potato salad click HERE.

If you're wondering what the heck this post has to do with "gluten-free"... well, absolutely nothing. In fact - there are so many good foods out there that have nothing to do with gluten... perhaps that is the point :). 

Winter is a season of pasta, and starchier comfort foods, but I've always found summer easier because fresh and lighter foods are more appealing when it's hot. 


May your summer be full of foods so fresh and delicious, that you think about abundance more than lack. Add a glass of chilled vino bianco and celebrate virtuous and easy summer meals!






6.15.2014

Grain-free Muffins - Almond & Coconut Flour



I'm on day 38 of the specific carbohydrate diet. Ok - for 3 days I fell off the wagon (my birthday - and the two days following, because Lee baked delicious chocolate cupcakes and left 4 at my house!). I moved through them quickly in order to get back on the wagon :)

I'm not sure how much longer I'll stay on this diet, and I'm not recommending that others try it (unless the gluten-free diet isn't helping you manage all of your symptoms). It hasn't done much for mine, but I will say that my energy is much better, my mind feels clearer and I'm sleeping like a log. That, for now, is keeping me off the grains. The first 30 days, I stuck to the diet verbatim - but now I'm letting a few items like beans slip into my diet (I mean come on!!). 

Today, I baked using the SCD rule book for the first time. As usual, I made up my own ad hoc recipe (after cruising the net to get a sense or ratios using new flours). I came up with a super simple combo that led to delicious muffins that are high in protein and highly satisfying.

In a food processor with the paddle I put the wet ingredients in, pulsed and then the dry: 

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
4 eggs
1 small banana
1 cup ground almonds (with skins on)
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup soaked and drained currents
1/8 cup dates chopped fine



Pour into muffin liners. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes. This recipe made 8 muffins. 


Sending thanks to my Mum - who sent me home with these two new "flours" to try from her pantry. You can use almond flour (this was whole almonds ground with skins on). When you bake with almonds the whole house is lovely and fragrant.

Coconut flour requires plenty of liquid (eggs, fruit or other) as it absorbs like a sponge. These turned out wonderfully - but I'll likely keep experimenting to keep it fresh. 

I'm kind of stuck on my chickpea flour (forbidden on the SCD diet)...and also a great high protein/fibre alternative. You can read more about my super easy and forgiving muffin making technique HERE. I've also written about muffins with ricotta cheese, which can be found HERE

If there's a drawback to almond flour - it's the price. That said, a muffin is no longer a muffin but an extremely satiating food item that provides hours of energy. Almond flour doesn't have a long shelf life so - buy as needed and keep it in the fridge. Some might consider another drawback the fat content - but I'm a big fan of healthy oils and believe that they do the body good. 

When I start introducing grains back into my diet, almond and coconut flour will certainly add some new flavour, texture and variety to my repertoire! 

5.25.2014

Specific Carbohydrate Diet - makes the gluten-free diet look like a cake walk!


I'm on my third week. No gluten-free pasta, bread, cookies, muffins... you know, the good stuff! Not a potato, not a grain of rice, not even my simple buckwheat porridge. The first 5 days I was ornery. With two weeks under my belt, I'm starting to get the hang of it. 

You might ask why someone who is already on a deleterious diet might consider taking things a step further. I ask the same question. This has been prescribed to me by my naturopath, because, despite being strictly gluten-free, I'm not without ongoing health issues due to other autoimmune conditions. 

The specific carbohydrate diet (or SCD) was designed by Elaine Gottschall who wrote the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle; Intestinal Health Through Diet. Essentially, the diet omits any sugars that are not monosaccharides, or single sugars such as those found in fruit, honey and certain vegetables. There are zero grains (including rice, potatoes, corn, quinoa... our gluten-free go-to carbs). There is no maple syrup (a recent addiction). There is no milk or yogurt. This also meant pulling off my milky-tea habit. 

I'm in no way recommending this diet - it's a temporary move on my part to see if it can help alleviate some symptoms and give me my energy back. If you operate well on a gf diet - I'd go no further. If you'd like to read up on the SCD diet, I've linked to the official website HERE

I'm writing about this experience because it has really helped me, once again to see that I get into a rut, and that there are some easy places to cut back on my sugar intake (like those enormous chocolate bars I'm magnetically drawn to in the grocery store). It's also always good to be reminded that there are others living on a more restrictive diet through necessity - and that gf (especially now) is pretty simple to adhere to. 

Todays menu will give you a sense of what this diet looks like in action: 


Breakfast - a smoothie made of spinach, a banana, frozen cherries and pumpkin seeds. I was having this for breakfast a lot last summer, but lost interest in the winter when warm carb-filled offerings were more appealing. 

Lunch - tuna with green onion, parsley, olive oil and chopped avocado wrapped in radicchio leaves (image above). These were strangely satisfying and will stay on the roster long after I move off this diet. Lettuce wraps are an excellent solution when you can't get gf bread. Simply mix up tuna or egg salad and wrap into little spring rolls. Radicchio is lovely and bitter which adds a different dimension than typical greens.... plus, they look so pretty!!


Dinner - tomato and meat sauce with onion, spinach and parsley on top of spaghetti squash. While I prefer pasta, this was certainly satiating. Simply cut the squash in half, scoop out seeds and place face down on a tray in the oven for 35 mins at 375 degrees. 

Remove from oven and scrape out the spaghetti like strands onto your plate and top with sauce (or just butter and parmesan cheese). 




Snacks - organic apple sauce (almost everything I'm eating these days is organic), medjool dates, toasted almonds, apple slices with cheddar cheese (which is strangely allowed) - as is WINE! 

When the doctor told me that wine, cheese, nuts and olives were allowed on the diet, I figured it wasn't as torturous as some others I've been on. Regardless of how this all turns out in the end, it's been an excellent reminder to think beyond the bun, pizza, pasta, muffins... and grains in general. I always eat pretty healthy - but tend to cram a decent amount of unhealthy sugary carbs in between the healthy stuff. 

If nothing else, this experience will help me understand if there are foods beyond gluten that cause my system distress. 

Of course - I'm chomping at the bit for gluten-free cookies. Luckily, I know I'll be able to find them pretty much everywhere these days when it's time to start slowly re-introducing foods into my diet. 



5.10.2014

Top 10 Tips for Cooking Perfect Gluten-Free Pasta


image of rotini pasta salad provided by Catelli 
I recently blogged about Catelli’s gluten free pasta and they invited me participate in a special launch event for their new gluten free macaroni. I was unable to attend but you can see my post on their product and the thumbs up I've given them HERE.

There couldn't be a more appropriate topic to write about  after my recent trip to Roma.... (If you missed that post – you'll find a great Roman gluten-free round up HERE). 

GF pasta can be tricky stuff when you first get started... but with these tips you'll be ready to serve pasta to the fussiest of Italian palettes! 

Top 10 Pasta Cooking Tips

* Pasta should be cooked according to the directions on the pasta box. For some recipes that require the pasta to be cooked in sauce following boiling, however, an al dente consistency is preferred. For such recipes, cut one to two minutes off the cooking time on the package.

* When cooking pasta, use a large pot. You will need one quart of water to approximately 100 grams of pasta.  Using a large pot will give the pasta room to boil and not stick together.

* Over-seasoning the water with salt – bringing it almost to the taste of the sea – will substantially enhance the flavour profile of the dish. As a rule of thumb, use 10 grams of salt for one litre of water and 100 grams of pasta.

* Never add oil to the water when cooking pasta.  It does not keep it from sticking together.  In fact, the oil creates a coating that prevents the sauce from adhering to the pasta. This is undesirable because you want the pasta to soak up the sauce.

* Always stir the pasta for about 45 seconds after adding it to boiling water.  Then, stir occasionally as the cooking process continues, especially during the first three minutes, as that’s when the pasta can stick together.

* To test if the pasta is ready, bite into a noodle. If the external noodle is soft and yellow in colour (indicating doneness) and the core is a chalky white colour (indicating that it is a little underdone), the pasta is ready to be removed from the water.

* Never rinse pasta after cooking, as it’s important to retain the starch to enable the sauce to coat.

* For some recipes that require the pasta to be cooked in sauce following boiling (see first bullet point), add the pasta to the sauce in a separate pot. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for the final minutes of cooking, allowing the starch to fully release from the pasta into the sauce, adding full flavour to the pasta and making the eating experience more enjoyable.

* When making a pasta dish, think about the harmony of taste, texture and balance between noodle and sauce. Thin pasta strips, for example, work best with a classic tomato, seafood or pesto sauce. Thicker pasta cuts, such as fettuccine, are wonderful for a cheese or cream-based sauce. Filled pasta is ideal with a light tomato broth or cream sauce.


* Use herbs generously for added flavour. When using parsley – the most used herb in the Italian kitchen – don’t chop it, but rather, slice it with a sharp knife.  If you see a green stain when you cut herbs, that means your knife is not sharp and you are losing flavour.  For basil, another popular pasta-enhancing herb, tear the leaves rather than chop them to avoid bruising the herb. Always add herbs to the pasta at the last minute to retain their vibrant colour and natural flavour.

These tips are brought to us by Chef John Higgins, Director of the leading George Brown Chef School in Toronto. He is also a judge on the Food Network’s Chopped Canada and was formerly personal chef for the Queen Mother. He helped launch Catelli's latest product with a cooking demonstration. You can click on the link above to learn more about Catelli and their growing range of fine gluten-free products. 




4.26.2014

Gluten Free Rome - Roma Senza Glutine!

I've just returned from a delightful 15 day visit with my dearest friend Alessandra in beautiful Roma. 

I have spent a great deal of time in Rome, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I've packed up and moved there for a year at a time twice in my life (so far). As a celiac, most people would not consider this the ideal environment. I'd agree that this was true 20 years ago when I spent my first year there. Back then the words celiac and gluten (even when said in Italian) only confused people. Every interaction ended in one of two ways - complete disbelief and pity, or complete disbelief and dismissal. 

When I returned 10 years later, things had already changed a great deal. As a european citizen (and at the time taxpayer) I was entitled to healthcare. As a celiac I was essentially "disabled" in a culture where everything is made with flour. This translated into a 120 euro prescription for gluten free food available in the pharmacy. I dare you to try and keep up with that quantity of cookies, gnocchi and cake. I came home a year later with an extra 15lbs around my midsection.

On this most recent visit I was in awe of the quantity of restaurants around the city that were promoting their gluten-free options. Rather than make a list of places that will constantly change (and will vary in their understanding of contamination)... I thought I'd illustrate just how common the offering has become. 







I've eaten at Il TulipanoNero, in Trastevere, where I've had many, many amazing pizzas over the years. Click on their name for a link for them goes to Trip Advisor with loads of mixed reviews. I've always come away very happy. 











They were one of the first restaurants in Rome to offer gluten free and have been endorsed by the Italian Celiac AssociationYou will sometimes see this sign posted to indicate that the association has trained the restaurant and approves of their processes. This approval is renewed every year.  


As with anywhere, I don't strictly rely on places that promote their gluten-free status. I ate at Luca's in the neighbourhood of San Giovanni. Luca, the chef made special versions of dishes that were served to others where possible. He came out to explain which desserts were safe (I was too full - but he insisted I have a little plate of the filling he used in one of the pastries). 

Italians are passionate about food, and in my experience, are very accommodating. I also dined at il desiderio preso per la coda, near Piazza Navona, where the server was very attentive and had risotto made for me that did not use the pasta water (common practice) or include "dado" (their word for commercial broth). As a rule, I prefer to eat where the Romans eat and avoid places full of other tourists. Italians eat LATE, so an empty restaurant at 8pm is not an indication of popularity.

Valentino does not have a sign - the exterior remains from its heritage as an osteria or Italian pub
At Valentino, in the Monti neighbourhood I ate like a queen - they make meat, cheese and vegetable dishes (no pizza, pasta on the dinner menu). The owner was very clear on which dishes included pane gratata (bread crumbs - also commonly added to vegetable dishes here). I've eaten at Valentino three times, the food and authentic Italian atmosphere - makes it my favourite Italian restaurant. If you click on any of the names of these places, I've linked to their websites.

Fellow blogger, Erin at glutenfreeglobetrotter recommends La Soffitta Ristorante Renovatio, near the Vatican.
 

Another reader and blogger named Anna from gluten free jet setter commented that Taverna Barberini made her gluten-free pasta that she still dreams about. I noted on their site that they also hold gluten-free events there. 

Voglia di Pizza has also gotten some online attention and cross promotes with a hotel that promises a good gluten free experience.

Mama! Eat - is located in Trastevere and also has two locations in Napoli. Check out their menu online. I'll try them next time as they are around the corner from my favourite Piazza - Santa Maria in Trastevere.


I typically stay with Alessandra when I'm in the city - so don't eat every meal out. We shop and eat most meals at home. EVERY grocery store I've been in has at least some gluten-free pasta, cookies and or crackers.You will not starve in Roma. 



The gluten-free goodness is never ending. How about the classic Tiramisu - made gluten-free at Pompi. They have several locations around central Rome. Mamma mia - if only Alessandra hadn't been lactose intolerant... I ate a portion that was more than enough for two - all by myself in less than 5 minutes. 

Gelato - for the most part safe in and of itself, but like any ice-cream place, one must be careful of contamination. Scoops that go in a cookie/biscotti flavour get used with all of the flavours. Use your best judgement, and always share that you are gluten-free. This is a language that is well understood now - especially in Italian. Do everyone a favour and be clear to avoid unnecessary intake. 


At Fatamorgana Gelato, one needs not worry at all. When I asked to see the gluten-free cones they promoted, the server looked at me quizzically. They are all gluten-free, he said, and proceeded to show me the recipe for the most amazing thin crispy cone I've ever had. They have 6 locations in the centre of Rome. Everything is gluten free. Almond cardamon, chocolate orange, and lactose free flavours like pineapple ginger... sigh. 


My celiac childhood has left me with a considerable weakness for cookies. There is an incredible selection within the grocery stores, and many larger grocery chains even carry their own line of gluten-free goods. You will never be bored. I often trekked around the city with little bags of almonds, individually wrapped packages of cookies (to have with my cappuccino), or crackers and wrapped cheeses on days when I wandered alone and just needed something to hold me over. Unlike my travels in northern Europe, I rarely needed these little emergency rations. 

I've lived with celiac disease for a very long time, and have only ever approached food through a lens of caution. I will admit that my Italian, while not perfect, is pretty functional, and this helps a lot - but is not necessary to get a safe meal that will I suspect will greatly exceed your expectations. 

A couple of key words to know:

Gluten Free: 
Senza glutine (pronounced sen-zah gloo - tee - nay).

I am/have celiac disease: 
Sono celiaca (pronounced so-no chee - lee - ah - kah )

Check out this useful travel site HERE to download cards in every language that you can carry with you. 

Visit the Italian Celiac Association site HERE. At the time I'm posting their regionalized restaurant list was under construction.

Mangiare Senza Glutine is an Italian language site, but includes an APP you can download to search wherever you are in Italy for gluten free anything. It was recommended to me by another Roman friend Priscilla, who works as a tour guide. 

If you are not into eating out for every meal (like me), an ideal arrangement is to rent a small studio apartment with a kitchen. Everything tastes better here - even when you make it yourself. So many products like sauces, pesto - even chocolate are marked as gluten-free... so it's not difficult to keep yourself satiated here. Keep the food simple, avoid highly processed items with long ingredient lists - and ask for help. The various names for gluten on the restaurant cards will be helpful when shopping too, as you can use them to ask others to validate ingredients if you need to. 

All I've covered here is food... which is divine, but only a part of the experience, and by no means comprehensive. What I wanted to provide here was a sense of the possibilities. My hope is to calm any anxieties about travel to a country known for its gluten. Even without the fine fare... Rome is non-stop eye candy. 

Remember to click on the many links I've shared for more information on the places I came across ... and then pack your camera, sunglasses and most comfortable shoes. You'll certainly find your own special gluten free finds when you get there. 

Buon Viaggio!!


Eataly carries three stories full of the most beautiful Italian food products. At Piramide station on the metro. 

ps: for more on travel - check out the links on the right side of this blog... and don't forget to check the amazing sites of the gf travel bloggers I've linked to above!