rice cake

When I was growing up in the 70's, rice cakes were the terrain of leftover hippies. I was the only kid who brought them to class as others snacked on Wagon Wheels and Twinkies. Today the rice cake has finally achieved status as food for the masses. You may have grown to resent them. I did for many years, but I suggest you take a second look at these Styrofoam discs, as they're a lot more than just emergency rations. 

First, let's take a look at the positive personality traits of our friend the rice cake:
  • they're their own plate
  • they're cheap
  • they keep well, providing you seal the bag tight
  • they don't require refrigeration
  • they don't grow mold
  • they have no flavour to compete with their toppings
  • they're lightweight
  • they protect your breakables when used for packing
  • Always where you left them (no one steals rice cakes)

The first consideration when working with what are essentially edible plates is to consider whether or not you want to assemble them well in advance, or put them together just before eating them. If, for example, you were carrying them in your bag to take with you on a day of errands, I'd avoid anything wet, as they go mushy within an hour of topping. With this in mind, I've split up some topping options based on convenience:

Rice cake toppings to enjoy right away:
  • tomato & pesto (you'll see a lot of that around here)
  • avocado with salt & pepper
  • baba ghannouj
  • hummus
  • sliced or mashed banana
  • melted cheese (nuked or broiled carefully!)
Rice cake toppings to enjoy within a couple of hours:
  • cream cheese (add herbs or spices for variety)
  • jams, jellies, marmalade (great with the cream cheese)
  • chocolate hazelnut spread (yes, this is junk;)
  • peanut butter and bananas
The go all day rice cake:
  • peanut butter
  • nut butters - cashew, sunflower, almond....
I stack the ones in the last two lists. The stickiness holds them together and up to four will fit into one sandwich bag. Voila - you have lightweight snack to throw in your bag that weighs nothing (and is more durable than a banana).


gluten-free gratitude

some shameless self promotion... cards are from claudine's calling -click on the link in the sidebar to see more!
An attitude of gratitude...

The waiter comes back with more questions from the kitchen? 

You get invited to dinner and the host takes good care of you?

A friend sends you a link to an article about a new gluten-free bakery in your city?

Your office mate brings an intentionally gluten-free item to the potluck? 

  • A verbal thank you with a great big smile.
  • A great tip.
  • A hug. 
  • A thank you note in the mail.
  • A reciprocal gesture.


gluten-free grocery shopping

At the risk of stereotyping... I think it's fair to say that most women like to shop. I'm one of them. Unlike most women, however, I don't like to shop for shoes...but I LOVE the grocery store.

Aisles and aisles of things to choose from, lots of interesting packaging to explore, lots of inspiration for new meal ideas. You probably think I'm full of it. Shopping for most things makes me feel guilty. Not food. Need it to survive.... can't be avoided.

Most of us have a favorite grocery store... it has the best butcher, the freshest vegetables, the easiest parking.... 

What if you could ensure that the same supermarket is also carrying the best line of gluten-free bread? Best assortment of crackers? Gluten-free sausages in the meat department?

It can be done. 

Start by connecting with the store manager. Ask at the customer service desk on your next visit. If they aren't in, leave a note or get their email address.

If they are already carrying a couple of items - THANK them for carrying these products and let them know that this is WHY you are shopping in their particular store. If you have to drive to two other places to get your gluten-free needs met... share this too. Let them know you'd prefer to give them all of your business.

In a highly competitive market, stores need to differentiate, and typically store managers of large chains have an option of what to stock so as to meet the tastes of the neighborhood where they operate. If they know that this is a draw, they will be open to giving more real estate on the shelves to gluten-free products.

I spoke to a store manager about two years ago who told me he had tried carrying gluten-free bread, but it didn't sell. I suggested that perhaps no one knew he had it after he admitted that they had been stocking it next to the frozen vegetables.This same store now has bread AND pretty much all of the other GF staples. This is not a big store... but they need to compete with some swankier ones in the neighborhood.

If you want gluten-free selection close to home - I suggest you get in touch with the people who can help make that happen. Never hurts to shoot an email to customer service at head office too.

The image above is for the tiny co-op near our place in rural Nova Scotia... admittedly, I haven't tried this tactic there...much of the current stock is pretty dusty. I recognize that not everyone lives in a metropolis - but if you live in a town large enough to have a couple of competing places to shop - that should provide enough incentive for shop owners and managers to please you (and the rest of the people like us that live in your town). 

Another gift - you probably never would have pulled a stunt like this before the diet eh? Add the word "advocate" to your resume.


gluten-free fad... a rant.

Today the celebrities are clambering for gluten-free. Perhaps they are desperate for a new publicity angle. It seems to be the latest craze since Madonna "discovered" Kabbalah.

Some might think that the new "trendy" gluten-free diet is good news for celiacs. Me? I'm not convinced. 

When I tell the waitstaff that I need to make sure that my burger patty is gluten-free I want to be taken very seriously. I can only hope that they aren't rolling their eyes and mocking me in the kitchen.

I feel compelled to tell them that I have celiac disease (emphasis on the "d-word") to ensure that they know I'm not living on something akin to the Atkins Diet. I don't like having to add a lot of drama around being a celiac. I've always had a little paranoia in restaurants, but I've never felt like I've had to defend myself as much as I do these days.

Don't get me wrong... I am a big believer in the gluten-free diet and think it's great that more people are embracing it as a healthy life choice.  

The market is soaring... in part fueled by the growing number of celiacs being diagnosed and in part by the natural medicine movement. Naturopaths will often have patients eliminate wheat and dairy as a first step to ruling out whether they are responsible for a host of symptoms.

All of this gluten-free attention is fueling more options on menus and on grocery store shelves. This is good news for those of us that otherwise wouldn't find a freezer full of options in the local grocery store. 

More people looking for food without gluten could lead to manufacturers seriously thinking twice before using it as unnecessary filler. 

I get it. 

However, when I saw the billboard advertising dog food as "free from glutens" I thought CRAP. Nobody is going to take this as seriously as I need them to. I am not trying to lose weight - or run my next marathon faster. I eat this way to stay alive. 

On the other hand, I guess it is kind of neat to have all of these celebrities wanting to live like I do :)


gluten free summer fresh food

Caprese Salad:
Tomatoes, Bocconcini, Basil, Olive Oil, Balsamic, S&P
Arugula Salad:
Arugula, Walnuts, Salt cured olives, Olive Oil, Lemon, S&P
What do these foods all have in common? They are fresh,
local and in season. What's more... each dish is comprised of no more than 5 ingredients and takes mere minutes to assemble.

That is how we try to approach food at home. 

Spring through fall we aim to get to the local farmer's market on Saturday morning. We stroll around and pick out what appeals. Purchases here are the basis for the meals the week ahead. Bill will pick up fresh fish or organic meat for the grill to "accompany" our fresh goodies. We try to see the veggies first. 

Potato, Corn & Pesto Salad
Our friend Pina dropped by and joined Bill & I for a typical fast & easy Monday night dinner.

What I'd like to drive home here - is that while I love food and appreciate "good" food... I don't really like to spend my day cooking. I want to spend at least as much time enjoying the food as I do making it.

 When I lived in Italy, it struck me that most dishes were comprised of very few ingredients. If food was fresh and in season... the flavour spoke for itself. 

My approach is to pick three main ingredients: a protein, and two vegetables (one is sometimes more carb like potatoes or corn). We don't eat meat every night - we toss together a quick warm pasta dish (drain the rice pasta and stir in some pesto and a couple of fresh ingredients). Beans are also a great source of protein and fiber.
Ideally anything cooked happens all in one place and one way. By this I mean that meat or fish is grilled on the barbeque in summer alongside the corn, zucchini, eggplant, peppers... whatever we have. In winter the meat or fish goes in one  dish along with the veg. Pasta  often gets assembled in one pot. Done. Did I mention that I also hate washing dishes?

People buy pre-packaged foods in a box or can for a variety of reasons. Usually because they either don't like or know how to cook... or they don't believe they have time or energy. 

It takes 6-12 minutes to nuke something in a plastic tray that won't be good for you and has almost no nutritional value. Lucky for you... very few of these types of  meals are gluten-free :) 

Just because your body wasn't made to eat gluten, does not mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen to eat well. Good ingredients are key to good dishes. Buy the best  quality olive oil you can find. Everything you make will taste better. 
This is not a cooking blog. There are plenty of great resources for those who enjoy spending hours in the kitchen. I'll be posting more of what I call "5 under 10" recipes on this blog. By this I mean no more than 5 ingredients, and no more than 10 minutes to make. I look forward to sharing what we will be putting on our table!


gluten-free road trip

Bill & Utta
We flew down to Tulsa last summer to pick up this adorable orange 1973 Volkswagen camper van... and slowly chugged back up north to Toronto. Last month we said goodbye to our beautiful girl (we'd named her Utta). It was sad to say goodbye, but as sweet as Utta was, she just wasn't built for the long hauls.
Before saying our final goodbyes, we replaced her with a 95VW camper we've named Bernie. I whipped up some cute curtains to "soften" his edges (and give us some privacy). Then, we packed Bernie with supplies and departed on a 16 day road trip from Toronto to Montreal, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and home.  8 of the 16 days were spent living in the van.

This is the kind of adventure that really tests ones gluten-free life skills.

On a trip of this nature, where you don't know where you'll be sleeping the next night, or what kind of amenities lay ahead... it's a good plan to have some "go to" items on hand. There are loads of ways to do this... but I'm going to use this one trip as a simple real life example of how we did it this time. 

Here are the "dry goods" that I packed in advance:
  • Glutino Breakfast Bars
  • Glutino Snack Bars
  • Japanese Rice Crackers 
  • Brown Rice Cakes 
  • Mary's Organic Seed Crackers
  • Rice vermicilli noodles (only need a soak in boiling water)
  • Canned chickpeas (rinsed & used in salads)
  • Small pull tab tins of tuna in olive oil
  • Almond butter (healthier than peanut butter)
  • Almonds & pistachios
  • Trail mix
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs/Salt/Pepper
  • Regular & Herbal Tea
  • Espresso Coffee
 When we got on the road we hit grocery stores. We had to watch what we could bring over boarder crossings... but throughout the trip we loaded our excellent Yeti cooler with ice and the following items: 
  • snack fruit (apples, bananas, grapes, pears... things that are easy to eat in a moving car!)
  • variety of berries
  • yogurt (individual serving)
  • tomatoes (cherry/plum/beefsteak... all in season)
  • baby carrots
  • boxes of salad (pre-washed and ready to eat!)
  • good cheeses (feta, sharp cheddar, blue, brie)
  • humous (good source of easy protein)
  • olives
  • eggs (we could boil them soft or hard)
  • wine :) 
  • lots and lots of water 
We might have eaten other foods if it wasn't so hot out - most of these were refreshing foods that made great "stop and snack" meals (ie: cheese, crackers, apple slices, grapes). In some places where we camped out there was no running water - just what we had in the jug we brought. Travel wipes kept me sane. Did I mention that I am not in the least bit outdoorsy?

In the morning we'd make espresso and tea on the stove in our little van and then take the lid off of an individual yogurt cup and sprinkle berries on top. If I was really hungry I'd add one of the breakfast bars I'd packed... but I tried to save those for emergencies. You will note that there was no gluten-free bread packed. I have rules about the bread which I'll get into on a future post - as well as more to say about rice cakes!
Convenience is key. Take the lid off a box of salad, chop some tomatoes, olives, tuna and/or feta into it...pour on olive oil, close the lid, shake... serve with crackers and humous... and ta-da! You have a complete meal. You can even eat directly from the box with a fork. Adding a glass of wine  elevates any meal. 

Replace the salad box with a can of rinsed chickpeas or other beans for variety and a heavier feed. It's amazing the combos you can come up with in a bowl with just the ingredients listed above.

The goal was to avoid road food (yucky and rarely gluten-free) and eat as much fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. When we stayed in bigger cities (Portland, Boston, NYC) we treated ourselves to some lovely meals out and filled up on meat and fish. I am working on a list of amazing places to eat on the road... which I'll share it in a future post.


40 year gluten-free anniversary

mmmmm...... cake!
This year marks my 40th year on a gluten-free diet. To put the "gift" part in perspective for you I was severely ill for a year and a half, malnourished with broken bones and considered to have cystic fibrosis. When my diagnosis was finally delivered to my parents, it was as "very good news". 

But that, is not the real reason I see this as a "gift". The real gift comes from what life delivers alongside through the kindness of others.

Friends have kept rice bread in the freezer for me.

They tell me without having to be asked that all of the ingredients were checked before they serve me anything. If they aren’t sure they call me before dinner – or hand me something for ingredient approval before incorporating it into a meal.

I have had coworkers surprise me at the office with gluten-free birthday cakes. See that gorgeous cake to the right? My friend Lee made that for my 40th. The one in image above was made by Saskia for my 35th. Cake is a big deal. My mother still bakes me a special cake for most occasions.

Loved ones have showered me with gluten-free affection. They have chatted with the chef on the phone before making reservations…ensuring that I would have a fabulous and stress free experience.

When living in Italy, families that knew me started keeping gluten-free pasta on hand so that I could stay for dinner at any time.

One very dear Italian friend liked the challenge of making the perfect gluten-free pizza crust, and would surprise me with handmade gluten-free ravioli. He would spend hours experimenting – saying that the joy on my face was totally worth the effort.

One friend  always splurges and buys me the most decadent gluten-free treat she can find when she invites me over for tea. She takes it as a personal challenge to find me something new.

I'm constantly receiving emailed articles and being updated on gf products found in stores. On more than one occasion I have found treats on my desk or in my mailbox.

People are given another unique opportunity to show you how much they care about you. They know that your diet is not always easy. They know that their efforts will be more appreciated by you than by anyone else. Why would they go to the bother of baking a cake for someone who can get one anywhere? 

This, my gluten-free friends is what I mean by gluten-free gift. When I tell people about how lucky I am, they've asked "How did you get to have such good friends?"

Today, I can truly say that I'm a lucky girl in more ways than one... for those of you who don't feel the same - take heart, I didn't always feel this way either. More to come...