26 May 2010

Wednesday Brunch and Gluten-Free Favorites Thus Far...

It's been over a week since I last posted. I've been distracted and haven't quite yet gotten ahold of the time it takes to maintain this new endeavor. So today's post is not a recipe from The Flying Apron Bakery in Seattle as promised (Whole Foods on River Street was out of stock in xanthan gum and I was simply too frustrated to track it down at another store), but I promise that is coming soon!

The past few weeks as I have converted to a diet without gluten, I have been craving breakfast pastries and treats of my past life. I had access to an abundant supply of croissants, fruit turnovers, bagels and more at my last job, which was such a perk. I bought Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pancake Mix last weekend and decided despite the high temperatures today was the perfect day for brunch - on a Wednesday afternoon? Why not? This is what being unemployed is all about, right?

I followed the instructions on the package (just add milk, vegetable oil and an egg) but of course put my own spin on it by adding two tablespoons of flax seed meal, a handful of blueberries and some chocolate chips. I also quickly whipped up some homemade whipped cream (seen melted on the hot pancake in photo), fried up some bacon and poured on the delicious Vermont maple syrup. The results were superb! A very moist pancake with lots of flavor - I think the flax seed meal really added to the depth of flavors and I will continue to add it to all my baked goods going forward. (Please don't mind my bad iPhone picture - I could not find my digital camera)

I haven't been eating much lately so I haven't been running like I should be in preparation for the Falmouth Road Race in August (note: expect my fundraising kick-off mid-June but in the meantime, donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/The Jimmy fund on my webpage). What I have mostly been living on have been some of my favorite gluten-free discoveries thus far...

General Mills Corn Chex and Rice Chex Breakfast Cereal
- I was so happy to find out that both Corn Chex and Rice Chex are gluten-free! I like to mix them, top with fresh berries or banana and add milk. It's a really great breakfast or snack that is very reminiscent of Crispix (my favorite breakfast cereal). Also great because gluten-free granolas, oatmeals and cereals are outrageously expensive, but you can find Chex anywhere for a reasonable price. I will definitely also experiment with some Chex mix recipes for upcoming social events (kinda hokey but so yummy!).

Go Raw Pumpkin "Super Chips" and Spirulina "Super Chips" - I bought these tiny treats on a whim at Whole Foods a few weeks ago and became an addict. Although they do not appear to be very appetizing, the taste is phenomenal. I love grabbing a handful for a healthy snack. These products are organic, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, cholesterol free, hand-made and raw by a family business in California. The packaging says "please feed this to your children and love them above all else" which really cracks me up.

Larabars - I have always been a huge consumer of nutrition bars - Clif Bars, Luna Bars, Power Bars, ProBars, ThinkThin Bars, Balance Bars, I love them all! I tried Larabars in the past but was not a huge fan. My gluten intolerance diagnosis left my regular rotation of nutrition bars with only ThinkThin bars, so I decided it was time to give Lara and her bars another chance. I am now completely obsessed with these amazing gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, soy-free fruit and nut bars. Cinnamon Roll is my favorite flavor (dates, walnuts, almonds, raisons, cashews, cinnamon) but they are all delicious. Flavors range from Apple Pie to Banana Bread to Tropical Fruit Tart. My only concern is that dates have a lot of sugar in them and it's not good to eat them all the time. But it's not really candy and there is no sugar added so I will keep munching away.

Schar Gluten-Free Pasta - Being half Italian and a runner, I am a BIG pasta eater. I've tried several brands of gluten-free pasta over the past few weeks and have declared a winner of my personal favorite: Schar. The Multigrain Penne Rigate is my absolute favorite - a perfect blend of corn flour, rice flour and buckwheat flour that cooks quickly (about 7 minutes) and tastes nearly identical to traditional pastas made with semolina flour. There is no gluten, wheat or lactose so it's pretty safe for anyone to enjoy. Schar is the #1 gluten-free pasta in Europe, so it's no surprise it's my favorite. Only downside is it's $3.99 per box (which is less than 1 lbs) and so far I have only found it at Shaw's/Star Market.

Food Should Taste Good Tortilla Chips - I was a fan of all-natural, locally owned (Needham, MA) Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips before my gluten-free lifestyle took hold. Even though lots of tortilla chips do not have wheat in their ingredients, I am wary to try them in case of cross-contamination etc. But Food Should Taste Good Chips are certified gluten-free and absolutely wonderful. They come in a wide array of delicious flavors - Sweet Potato, The Works and Cheddar are my favorites - including Chocolate! They are large, hexagonal chips that as the packaging states "it's a cracker too!". They can be found at Whole Foods Market and most supermarkets for about $2.99 per bag. Check out their website for for a coupon too!

I've also still been eating lots of fruits, veggies, nuts, yogurt and cheese. As I add more gluten-free products to my pantry, I will keep writing reviews.

I was very much looking forward to picking up a gluten-free cupcake or other pastry at the new Cherry Bomb Bakery in Brighton Center (in the old Battery space, owned by chef from EVOO) after church on Sunday. I was devastated when they did not have any gluten-free offerings that day, and only one vegan offering. Since their website states "we will have a large part of our menu accessible to the vegan population and many gluten free options" I was pretty disappointed by this. Granted they just opened and their Yelp reviews are mixed; I am sure there are other gluten-free and vegan cupcake lovers in my neighborhood anxious to try it out.

Watch for my next post soon featuring homemade gluten-free bread! Mmmm I can't wait...

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Remember and honor those have died serving our great country to protect our freedoms. God Bless America.

17 May 2010

Gluten-Free Boston in the News

Watch for my first recipe post and also a restaurant review later this week, but I wanted to share two web articles published today regarding gluten-free dining in Boston. It appears I have started this blog at the right time! You can rest assured I will be writing about many of these establishments in the coming weeks.

"Where To Eat If You're Gluten-Free"
, Grub Street Boston Mentions Globe article as well as other gluten-free places in the Hub

"Not Intolerant to Special Diets", Boston Globe Feature article with interviews of several restaurant chefs with gluten-free options

Bon appetit!

13 May 2010

What CAN Gluten-Free Gina Eat?

Discovering I need to follow a strict gluten-free diet to avoid intestinal distress has obviously been a major change in my life. Especially for a passionate foodie like me, who will eat just about anything, making such drastic adjustments is going to require patience, understanding and willpower.

Like many of you, until recently, I was only vaguely familiar with celiac disease and gluten-free diets. The lifestyle has received a lot of media attention recently - some claim it can aid in autism, others argue humans are not built to digest gluten at all.

Gluten, which means "glue" in Latin, is a protein found primarily in wheat, rye and barely. In Western culture especially, this makes most bread, pastries, pasta and other delicious staples off limits to those who cannot eat gluten. Unfortunately gluten and its tricky counterparts are often found in inconspicuous places, like soup, cheese and meat. Although it may sound like a fate worse than death to some (like the aspiring pastry chef writing this blog), gluten is NOT in lots of other foods with similar applications. These include rice, potatoes, corn, amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, soybeans and more. Oats are also gluten-free, but must be certified gluten-free, as most oats on the market are processed with forms of wheat.

And lucky for me, I am discovering my gluten intolerance at a time when gluten-free foods are abundant in most grocery stores. But the best way to receive adequate nutrition in a diet sans gluten is not simply to go out and buy expensive gluten-free processed replacements. Stick with basic whole foods like meat, seafood, poultry, fruits, vegetables, rice and dairy and prepare them yourself. Not surprisingly, gluten-free substitutes are just that - substitutes for the 'real thing' that just don't live up to expectations.

Last night I enjoyed a wonderful dinner of garlic roasted chicken, fresh sweet corn on the cob and zucchini, mushroom and shallot risotto and I truly didn't feel like I was missing anything. Complete with a chocolate ice cream bar for dessert, I was beyond satisfied (if only the Bruins had won!).

In typical Gina fashion, I have already made several trips to the library, added dozens of blogs to my Google Reader, scoured the aisles of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and brainstormed satiating culinary combinations. Watch for my next entry very soon, which will feature a gluten-free recipe from a charming bakery I visited in Seattle last winter.

12 May 2010

Footloose and Gluten-Free

I always wanted to start a food blog, but didn't feel that I had anything unique to add to the ever-expanding culinary blogosphere. Friends have recently been encouraging me to freelance write and a light went off - "here is my chance to start a blog!"

A lifelong foodie who also battled eating disorders for over ten years, my relationship with food and my body has always been far from perfect. But my love of all things food-related is well-known amongst friends and family – need the perfect restaurant for a first date or a new watering hole for after-work drinks? Ask Gina. Wondering why your cookies aren’t very chewy or a suggestion for a delicious weeknight dinner recipe? Ask Gina.

My life revolves around food. I was even accepted to culinary school to become a pastry chef, a lifelong dream delayed by "the real world", but put my dream on hold to accept a sales and marketing position at a baking and pastry supplier. I made dozens of industry connections and truly loved my demanding, fast-paced role for a few months, but could not figure out why I was always feeling so sick to my stomach and so run down. Even my “best friends” running and yoga no longer helped relieve my discomfort and stress. My employer eventually decided to let me go after eight months; I was devastated yet relieved.

Meanwhile I finally decided it was time to see a doctor regarding my unbearable stomach pain and other uncomfortable symptoms. I was immediately diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and told to maintain my current diet until I could consult a specialist. But days of waiting for an appointment with a gastroenterlogist turned into weeks. I spent hours scouring the internet, checked out library books and reached out to friends with similar issues.

Celiac disease was mentioned on virtually every Google search I performed, but at first I avoided further research. I want to be a pastry chef and I am obsessed with cakes, cookies and other glutenous confections - there was simply no way my illness was related to gluten! Plus my bloodwork came back negative for both celiac disease and lactose intolerance (two food sensitivities with similar symptoms). But eventually I decided to look further into the possibility of celiac disease and not surprisingly, it was like reading about myself. I discovered there is a whole other non-celiac world of gluten intolerance (more about this in future posts).

Still in pain and desperate for answers, I decided to attempt a restrictive diet without gluten – “the great experiment.” Within a few very up-and-down days, I felt like a new woman. Suddenly everything made sense. My once dream job had done far more harm than good to my abused body. 9am brownie tastings, 3pm snacks of financiers (French almond cakes) and bringing samples of my favorite lemon-raspberry cake home for dessert had actually wreaked havoc on my hurting immune system. Thank goodness I hadn’t already spent thousands of dollars on culinary school only to find I can never consume gluten again without physically suffering!

And so my recent layoff became a blessing. Now unemployed with lots of free time on my hands (although looking for a job is admittedly a full-time job), I am embracing my new diet wholeheartedly. Obviously I will still be seeing my primary care physician and a dietician to maintain my condition. And although it will not be easy, I am excited to once again be challenged in the kitchen. I want to share my new diet and lifestyle with friends, family, fellow Bostonians and anyone else who may benefit from my culinary adventures. Expect future posts to include recipes, product reviews, restaurant write-ups and more… Ciao!