convenient gluten free

Convenience is defined as the state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty. Not a word that most people would associate with following a gluten-free diet. 

Times have changed a great deal, and today you can probably find gf pizza available for delivery in your neighbourhood, along with a selection of restaurants that identify menu selections that are safe for you. We're all very happy to see them. However, there aren't many fast food options available when you're in a dash.

In my youth I ate a lot of fries at fast-food places, convinced that they were a good choice for me (oh, did I mention that I also smoked and thought that a chocolate bar was an excellent meal replacement?). Alas, almost all of the big burger places fry things that we shouldn't eat in the same fryer. I'd avoid, or at the very least seriously limit indulging in those fries today. I've gone into more detail on fries HERE. If you're curious about what is available at the large fast food chains - check out THIS site, which has loads of helpful links.

It comes down to being prepared. We can pack gf energy bars, but also a good old apple or a banana.  My long time favourite has been two rice cakes slathered with almond butter with their faces stuck together so that they can travel in a sandwich bag. You can read more on rice cake sustenance HERE.   

When I've got nothing on me, I'll find yogurt in a convenience store (no spoons? Grab one in the coffee shop next door!). Better than a bag of chips for lunch.You'll find more ideas in a past post on the topic HERE.

I've been thinking about how our cultures idea of "convenience" is unbelievably limited and almost entirely attached to making everybody unhealthy. This is hardly a new thought. Ironically, when we're older we may find that we're healthiest people in the retirement complex simply because we've eaten a lot less mass produced commercial foods full of chemicals and fillers.  

Perhaps fact that I don't leave the house for the day without trail mix in my bag is another gluten-free gift, and frankly, it's pretty darned convenient.



rice paper spring rolls - refreshingly gluten free!

We've been eating a lot of cooked veggies these days - and I have been craving something fresh. Normally, I'd make spring rolls for a party or a pot luck as they appeal to lots of people and work with many dietary restrictions. Today I made them just for us, to be carted off for lunches on the road over the next few days. They are light, travel well, don't require warming up and keep for a few days tightly wrapped in the fridge. They are easy, but do require a good deal of assembly. Put on some good tunes, get well organized, and it's actually a pretty enjoyable way to spend an hour.

What you need: rice paper wraps (approx 10" diameter).
Salted hot water in a large bowl for soaking. As for the rest of the ingredients, they can be few or they can be many. 

Used in the wraps pictured are lettuce leaves (Boston is my preference - but anything "soft" vs crunchy will do), grated carrot, thinly sliced red and yellow pepper, green onion and LOTS of fresh cilantro (coriander)

Other ideas/variations I've tried include grilled tofu, salted peanuts, basil leaves and or mint leaves  and many Thai recipes include cooked shrimp or chicken.
Prepare your ingredients and put on a plate so that you can easily access everything like an assembly line. Lay a clean dry tea towel on your counter. 

1) Place enough boiled salted water in a bowl big enough to soak the rice paper disks. Place a disk in the water and wait until it softens (seconds). Pull out and gently lay flat on the tea towel. 
2) Put ingredients in middle, being careful not to over stuff. I put the lettuce on the bottom because I find that it helps support the delicate rice paper and keeps sharper items from poking out. 
3) To roll, simple fold up the bottom quarter of the disk. Then fold in the left side corner towards the centre. Tuck in the ingredients tightly (but gently as the paper may rip). Fold the top quarter down. Finish rolling towards the right side. Place seam side down on a platter. Don't be disheartened if your first couple are a bit wonky. I find that it takes me about two before I get the hang of it and make them tight enough. 

Once you are done, place a clean damp cloth, or wet paper towel over the top to keep them moist (not wet). Wrap in plastic wrap to keep them from drying out. When ready to serve, slice them in half. They can be eaten plain, or served with a dipping sauce. I tend to whip something up based on what's in the fridge... you can also purchase ready made plum sauce in the Asian food aisle of your grocery store that is gluten free. Watch for store bought sauces that contain soy sauce as that is very often NOT gf.

Today I combined some gluten-free tamari sauce with some rice vinegar, grated ginger, a spoon of sugar, sprinkle of salt and a good dose of hot pepper sauce.  Another classic is to combine peanut butter, gluten-free soy sauce, lime and water, melting it on the stove to form a dip. I hate shopping for ingredients just for one little dish. I would experiment with what you have on hand.  Essentially you want something sweet/sour/savoury with a hit of spice. When I'm eating these rolls for lunches I just eat them plain - they are like a garden of goodness and they leave me feeling very virtuous... which is justification for a treat later!


invited to dinner - gluten-free preparations

Ian is someone I worked with briefly a few years ago - and we had just recently connected to learn more about what the other was doing on the work front. 

I share this to position the situation aptly. We are not friends. We like what we know about each other, but that isn't a lot. We have a good vibe, and I guess that was enough for Ian's generous invitation to dinner at his home. 

This invitation came by way of email. This means I had a minute to breathe before responding. How would Ian and his new wife (who had never met us) feel about being put to the test in the gluten department? Only one way to find out. 

I wrote back that we would be delighted to join them, but "understood that they may not be up to the gluten-free challenge". I wanted to give them an easy out. Some people don't even like to cook, let alone contend with someone's dietary restrictions. 

Ian graciously responded "gluten-free? No problem!"... He was confident that they could pull it off adding that "they would be careful." How nice is that?

We arrived at their beautiful home, and were greeted by Ian, his gorgeous wife Neri and their uber friendly dog Mozart. Nothing breaks the ice between a group of strangers like an exuberant dog who believes that everyone has come to visit him.

Each dish was gluten-free, and was announced as such in the name of putting me at ease right away. There were gluten-free crackers. A warm baguette on the table... so good that it drew suspicion, leading Ian to show me the bag. Next there was borscht, scallops on a beautifully arranged salad, baked trout topped with peaches and thyme, quinoa salad with plums and fresh green beans. I could hardly move - when a chocolate cake was presented. Gluten free. 

As Ian was plating the cake, Neri returned to the table with a little container of cookies. "Not gluten-free" she says, "These are for me." It turns out that the shop had one gluten-free cake and it was chocolate. Neri, who contends with her own food intolerance, can not eat chocolate. Here I am in her home, eating a cake that she can not eat - so that I can. A strange reversal of roles.

I'm sharing this dining experience, because I think it really touches on the type of celiac situation that can bring some high anxiety - for both the guest - AND the host. I'd say that in this case it all went swimmingly. We learned a lot more about each other, everyone tried new things, we ate very well and are forming a friendship that is based not only on common interests, but more importantly, empathy and trust. I send my thanks to our new friends for this amazing gluten-free gift.


frozen gluten-free cookie and brownie dough

When I shared my recent post with Sweets from the Earth - they offered to supply me with some of their new frozen cookie dough to try. How could I resist? Even more importantly, how could I resist eating all of the cookies in one go? Solution: invite my friend Angela over for a gluten-free bake-a-thon.

Truth be told, these were extremely easy to make - so it wasn't assistance I was looking for in the baking department. I wanted a buddy to eat cookies with... and someone who could provide additional feedback on the goodies - and who would take half of the highly caloric treats home with her.

The chocolate chip cookies were delicious. I am glad that I baked them in two batches, however, because as their packaging says; every oven is different. My first batch worked out well - but took longer than the suggested 8-10 minutes. Sadly, I turned up the oven from 350 to 375 and the second batch just melted into lacy puddles. The winners are photographed above. While the lacy puddles were not super photogenic - don't worry... they did not go to waste :)

Next, we tried the brownies. I did not have mini muffin trays, or the recommended 6" square pan. My pan was 8" making the brownies rather shallow and difficult to remove from the dish. I would recommend using parchment paper so that they could be easily lifted out and then cut. Format aside - these were also a winner. Both Bill and Angela's husband Bennett gave them 2 thumbs up. Both the cookies and the brownies would certainly satisfy a craving for sweets.

What I like most about this dough is the convenience. You can keep them on hand for when you need them and whip up cookies in no time, with no mess. You can also bake as much or as little as you need at a time. You can find a recent post about this companies products HERE. My favourite still has to be the cashew cookies...dangerously good! Check out their site for more info.