Reset

Happy New Year everyone (a little delayed)! In this New Year, I’ve decided to hit the reset button in more ways than one.  First of all, I’ve taken what has been a much too long break from the blog.  It wasn’t intentional, but during the break I visited Italy, Kentucky, and New York, ran my very first marathon and was able to get a lot of inspiration for the blog.  If you’re a regular reader, you’ll notice the blog got a much-needed face lift as well!

The second reset button is on my eating habits.  Stress at work and busy schedules has caused us to eat quick meals that aren’t exactly the healthiest.  Think those gluten-free goodies like rice pasta, frozen pizzas (which have really come a long way), and corn dogs.  Yes, I’ve been eating like a child lately.  It’s taken a toll on my body, energy and motivation.  After seeing some of my celiac running crew take on the Whole30 challenge, my husband and I decided it was time for us to try the same.  We’re just starting day two, and the hangover hasn’t quite hit yet.

Not sure what the Whole30 is?  Think of it as a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.  It’s a 30 day program in which sugar, grains, dairy and legumes are completely eliminated from your diet.  It’s not every day that you find a program that allows you to eat meat, seafood, eggs, tons of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of good fats from fruits, oils, nuts and seeds.  One of the main premises is to eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re totally natural and unprocessed.

So what’s been the hardest thing so far? Not being able to put our hazelnut creamer in our coffee!  I drink usually 2-3 cups of coffee every morning, and that little bit of creamer makes it taste just perfect.  We experimented with coconut milk on day 1, but it just wasn’t right.  Today we tried a teaspoon of pureed coconut (coconut manna by Nutiva) topped with cinnamon, and that was much more bearable.  I’m hoping to get myself to a point where I only need the cinnamon by the time this is over.  We really enjoyed the first day of Whole30 meals, I posted the Chicken & Zucchini Poppers recipe we used for dinner in case anyone wants it!

Here’s a look at how we started day 1…

Breakfast: Sautéed ground turkey and potato hash, with 2 eggs over easy.

Breakfast: Sautéed ground turkey and potato hash, with 2 eggs over easy.

Lunch: Salad with romaine lettuce, kale, tomato, celery, avocado, and ground turkey with a fried egg (seasoned with adobo, chili, salt and pepper). Dressing – avocado oil and vinegar.

Lunch: Salad with romaine lettuce, kale, tomato, celery, avocado, and ground turkey with a fried egg (seasoned with adobo, chili, salt and pepper). Dressing – avocado oil and vinegar.

Dinner: Chicken and zucchini poppers with guacamole and sautéed sweet potatoes.

Dinner: Chicken and zucchini poppers with guacamole and sautéed sweet potatoes.

Our ever-growing produce corner!!

Our ever-growing produce corner!!

Back from my hiatus

I may have been off the grid for a while, but I promise it was with good reason!  My husband and I just got home last weekend after two weeks traveling through Italy 🙂  I told you all a while ago about how nervous I was getting prepared for the trip, and how they’d be able to handle celiac disease.  Not only was I impressed with what I found online before our trip, but let me tell you, Italy did not disappoint.  I have plenty of restaurant reviews, tips, and experiences to share with you all…but for starters I thought I’d walk you all through our itinerary, and how we felt our time was best spent.

While I was in college, I had the privilege to study abroad in a little town called Paderno del Grappa.  We were nestled in the Dolomite mountains, and though we didn’t have a train station in our town, we were close enough that we were able to take some great weekend trips through Italy while we were there.  My main focus of this trip was to make sure my husband got to see everything he wanted to (this was his first trip to Italy), that we were able to meet up with his distant relatives near Rome, and to take advantage of going back to see anything and everything I may have missed out on years ago!  We knew we wanted to spend two weeks over there, so once we found our flights it was time to hammer out where we’d be staying.  Here’s the official breakdown we came up with:

  • Rome: 5 nights
  • Florence: 3 nights
  • Cinque Terre: 2 nights
  • Milan: 1 night
  • Venice: 3 nights

Initially we were so overwhelmed with everything else in our lives that we though about reaching out to a travel agent.  The more I thought about it, the sillier I felt asking someone else to figure out our accommodations…I KNOW Italy!  Having studied abroad, I knew where we’d want to stay, how we’d get from town to town, and that hotels are definitely NOT the best option out there.  We spent an entire Sunday looking through our options and tracking down the best Bed & Breakfasts, or in some cases, smaller hotels.  Here are some of the resources I leveraged to find exactly what I was looking for, and why I used them:

  • www.hostelworld.com – This site was one of my best resources studying abroad.  If you’re thinking you’re too old for hostels, don’t worry!  You can use the search tools to select exactly what you’re looking for.  For us, that was narrowed down to either hotels or a B&B with an ensuite room (meaning a private bathroom).  Depending on what else you need, there are other facilities that you can ensure the host can offer such as luggage storage, air conditioning, breakfast, internet access, etc.
  • www.venere.com – For those smaller properties that might not be listed on other sites, Venere was a great resource.  This helped us track down other B&B options that might not have been listed on Hostel World.  Definitely be aware though, once you find the place you want to stay, check to see if they have their own website or contact information.  You’ll usually get the best rates directly from the B&B or hotel, and not through a middle-man website.
  • www.tripadvisor.com – This was our final line of defense in making sure we made the best choices.  Once you think you’ve narrowed it down, check on TripAdvisor to see what people are actually saying about the place.  Read the most current reviews, as things can frequently change, and you want to be sure that anything you’re reading is as accurate as possible.

We’ll be working on getting a review posted for each of the places we stayed, and once we do I’ll be sure to post a link to it here!  For now, I hope you enjoy a few quick pictures from the trip….don’t worry, there will be plenty more 🙂

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The Roman Forum, wandering around the city after flying in, but before we could check into our room!

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome.

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Getting a tour of Frosinone, a small town outside of Rome, from relatives of my husband’s family.

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Overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and Arno River in Florence.

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The front facade of the Duomo in Florence.

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Miles and miles of vineyards in the Chianti region, stunning view from San Gimignano.

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Looking out into the street from Sforza Castle in Milan. They’re really gearing up for the 2015 World’s Fair, the buildings on either side of the picture are from entrance tents to the fair.

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Enjoying the streets of Burano after a day watching all of the talented glass makers in Murano.

 

 

Worth It? Or Not!

So this post isn’t exactly celiac related, but since this IS a celiac travel blog, I thought I’d indulge. I’ve learned through experience and plenty of mistakes what’s worth my time and money during a trip, and what it’s best to avoid. I’ve compiled my all-time favorites of what’s worth it, and what’s not to share with all of you. Here’s to making the best memories out of your next big vacation!!

Worth It:

  1. The extra cost to fly direct. There is nothing worse than getting stuck en route to your vacation and losing out on a day of sightseeing or more. It may seem like a big difference when you’re pricing out tickets, but in the end wouldn’t you rather get that vacation started as soon as possible? Obviously sometimes layovers are unavoidable, but if you can help it, fly direct! If you’re really looking to save a buck, book that cost-saving connection on your flight home.
  2. Good luggage. If you’re only traveling once a year, or rarely book air travel, this one doesn’t really apply to you. I’ve taken planes, trains and automobiles in 20 countries across 6 continents and I’ve watched three sets of luggage fall apart on me thanks to the “care” of baggage handlers. Of course, as luck would have it, it never happens as I’m traveling back home. If you’re frequently flying please invest in good luggage!! You won’t regret it.
  3. Loyalty pays. Usually you can get your choice of flights within a reasonable range, and saving $20 bucks by using that random airline might seem like a steal. But here’s the thing, I’ve been loyal to the same airline for about 5 years now…I have status, my seats get upgraded for free, I never pay for luggage (for me or my hubby!), and I jump to the priority security screening lines. The overhead costs and time it saves me on each trip is totally worth that $20 extra for the ticket.
  4. In-flight entertainment. As a kid, the time I had to wait before a big event (birthday parties, play dates, grandparents arrival, etc.) was measured in how many episodes of Mickey Mouse Club I could watch before it was finally time. That concept isn’t lost on adults, if you’re sitting in your seat with nothing to do the flight will last forever. I know there are people out there that would rather curl up with a book, but I can’t concentrate that long when my arrival is 6, 5, 4 hours away. The $5 airlines sometimes charge for access to movies, on-demand television or movies is totally worth the distraction to make your arrival seem faster.
  5. Planning out a draft itinerary in advance. I’m not saying you need to block out every last minute of your trip, but if you know what you want to see and accomplish on your trip, you’re a lot more likely to get it done. Think about the major sites you want to visit, how you plan to get there, and about how long it will take to see if you can fit it all in. If you have to forgo something later so you can take advantage of another opportunity at least you’ll know where your priorities are.
  6. Taking advantage of local guides. No one knows the city better than its inhabitants. I’ll never forget the trip to Berlin where I was introduced to “walking tours”. The concept was great, local 20-somethings gave you a tour of the city (at 4 hours it was no slouch tour) and you paid what you felt was appropriate at the end. Our tour guide was not a Berlin native, but had become so enraptured by the city that he decided to stay and be a tour guide. His passion for the city was passed on to each and every one of us, and we learned so much more than if we’d been on our own.
  7. Documenting your travels. One of the easiest ways to do this is through post cards. Pick up a few with pictures of your favorite sites, writing down your memories of the trip. You can save these as mementos of your travels, or send them to yourself for a nice surprise when you get home. Either way, there will be a day when you want to reflect on your trip, and what better way to do that than through reading your own words.

NOT Worth It:

  1. High-end hotels. So you saved up for months to finally hit up that coveted location. You want to see the sights, experience the culture, and overall have a blast. Are you really going to do all of that from your hotel room? Do you honestly need a 24 hour concierge and room service? Sure, I get paying for safety, and there *are* exceptions for special occasions (see my honeymoon post about Bora Bora), but on most vacations your best investment is on a room with your absolute must haves (private bath, double bed, linens provided) in a great location!
  2. Chain restaurants. My absolute biggest pet peeve!!! I did not travel 2,000 miles to try McDonald’s, Burger King, Hard Rock Cafe, or anything else I can get back home. Yes, my younger self was guilty of this all the time, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. The more publicized and highly rated a restaurant is, the more commercialized and higher you’ll pay for your food. Get out of your comfort zone and find a local hole in the wall!
  3. Skipping over places that don’t speak your language. I get a lot of people that disagree with me on this one, but hear me out. You’ll get a much better experience wandering through a little shop or restaurant where the owners can’t speak your native tongue than searching out a “big box” that can. Part of immersing yourself in a foreign culture is gaining understanding, that doesn’t always have to be verbal!! I have the fondest memories struggling through conversations trying to buy a pair of shoes in Italy, ordering dinner from a local restaurant in Ukraine, and bartering without ever saying a word. Trust me, the story you’ll come home with is worth the struggle.
  4. Sleeping in. Here’s a simple one for you…just don’t do it! Your bed will be there when you get home, if you get 8 hours of sleep every night while you’re away you will have slept through one third of your vacation. I know, I know, you took a vacation to rest from your normal schedule, but you didn’t pay hundreds or even thousands to lie in bed! Get out there and take advantage of your surroundings. My entire semester abroad in college we stayed out until 3 or 4 and somehow managed to get up early the next morning to go sightseeing. I don’t know how we did it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  5. Over-packing. This is a skill I’ve honed through the years. If you don’t use it every day, chances are slim you’ll need it while you’re away. Clothes can be washed, and aside from medications, you can buy just about anything you forget when you get there. Don’t try to become a human pack mule, you’ll have to lug that extra weight wherever you go. Cut it down to the necessities and leave room so you can bring home extras.
  6. Bringing back souvenirs for your 10 best friends. This is the one you only realize after spending tons of money on cheap tchotchkes that eventually will be thrown out. That shot glass, t-shirt, or whatever you were contemplating will take up valuable space in your luggage and usually isn’t really appreciated by everyone when you’re buying in bulk. However, if something you come across strikingly reminds you of a good friend and you think they’d appreciate it, then absolutely go for it. But steer clear of the souvenir shops filled with mass produced trinkets!

The Ghost of Gluten Future

In honor of throwback Thursday, I have a bit of a reflection to share with you. When I first found out I’d have to live gluten free for the rest of my life, I felt like a sponge trying to soak in every piece of information I could find. Gluten free labels were hard to come by, reading strangers blogs became a comfort, and it took hours of reading every label at three different grocery stores just to restock my shelves for the week. Not yet confident in sharing my experiences, I’d spend evenings scrolling through comments on popular gluten free blogs to feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie.  I remember coming across an article about what would your last meal be if you’d known you’d never eat gluten again. One of the comments spoke to me, “the ghost of gluten future.” I am absolutely haunted by the ghost of gluten future! The thought of future delicacies I’ll never be able to try wears on me in ways you can’t imagine. I’ve shared many of my travels on here, and one of the things I’m most proud of is that I’ll try most any dish at least once. I wasn’t always like that, as I child I had a very strict chicken finger diet! I spent an entire week-long family vacation finding every variation of chicken fingers on every menu. I’ve come a long way since those days, and I love seeing the reactions I get when I share some of the most exotic meals I’ve tried around the world, and in my own backyard. What’s the most exotic thing you’ve ever tried? If you could turn back time, was there something you never gave a shot that you now wish you could?

Returning to Italy

If you’ve read the About Me page, you know I found my passion for traveling while living abroad in Italy.  It’s been about eight years since that semester abroad, and I am well overdue to go back.  My husband’s family is Italian, and it’s been a goal of his to see where they’re from.  Naturally I am 110% behind him on this goal, and could not wait to go back to the spark that ignited my love for world travel.  There’s only one thing that’s been lingering in the back of my head…how on earth will I get by in the land of gluten?!

Immediately I have visions of gnocchi, pizza margherita, tiramisu, everything I can no longer indulge.  Here’s the wonderful thing I found out though as our plans begin to come together, not only do Italians have an understanding of celiac disease, but they’re incredibly sympathetic to our needs.  I found dozens of sites and travel reviews referencing the stipend that Italian citizens receive to purchase gluten free foods once they’ve been diagnosed.  Upon stating “senza glutine” restaurant owners will quickly work with you to offer gluten free meals, understanding the importance of washing their hands and paying attention to avoid cross-contamination.

I can’t speak from experience on this, but I’m excited to return and see just how accepting they are of my needs!  I would love to hear from all of my readers to see what your favorite restaurants, sites, etc. are that you consider a “must do” in Italy.  Please share your experiences with me, I love a good recommendation prior to a big trip!!

Want to know what made me fall in love with Italy the first time?  Here goes…

The old world charm of Cinque Terre

The old world charm of Cinque Terre

 

The view of Firenze (Florence) from the Duomo

The view of Firenze (Florence) from the Duomo

 

City lights in Torino (Turin) during the 2006 Winter Olympics

City lights in Torino (Turin) during the 2006 Winter Olympics

 

Eastern-most edge of Italy in Trieste

Eastern-most edge of Italy in Trieste

 

Last, but certainly not least, the view from our dorm room of Mt. Grappa in Paderno del Grappa!!!

Last, but certainly not least, the view from our dorm room of Mt. Grappa in Paderno del Grappa!!!

Anxiety in Lima

Lima, Peru is a beautiful city that I’ve been so lucky to have visited twice in the last three years.  When I found out I’d be going back last summer, I could not have been more anxious!  Not only was the trip was scheduled smack dab between Ukraine and China, but Lima held some not so great memories from my first visit.  Technology has become a wonderful thing, connecting each of us regardless of location.  Thanks to Skype, I was able to connect with my mom and sister (in the DC metro area) to call and wish my grandmother (in Florida) a happy birthday while I was gone.  I was staying a few blocks from Miraflores, and was so excited to show off my hotel room to everyone back home…it practically took up an entire city block!  Later that same week on a video chat with my boyfriend (now husband), I reached a near breaking point with what I would eventually find out was celiac disease.  We’d been catching up about my day when mid conversation I ran to the bathroom and began vomiting.  I’d only had one beer with dinner, which had been at a highly recommended sushi restaurant.  I hadn’t been drinking any local water, and could not for the life of me figure out what was wrong.  This wasn’t the first time I’d done this either, only a few weeks prior I’d had the same thing happen while I was in Charleston, South Carolina.

Fast forward two years later, I now know why the beer and sushi made me sick that night.  But how sick had I been?  Were there other meals that upset me that week?  I was excited to experience Lima again, but would I run into the same problems armed with the truth about celiac disease?  My second trip started out a bit rocky.  I’d been getting phone calls and emails from United all morning telling me my flight to Newark had been delayed.  Before even arriving at the airport, I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t make my connection to Lima.  As I checked in at the counter, a sigh of relief came when they informed me I’d already been re-booked, and would be connecting through Houston.  My coworkers were not so lucky, I’d been given one of the last seats on the Houston flight, and United had no other options for them.  Eventually they were switched to another airline, and we were all set for our trip.

One of the great things about having to travel for work, is that you don’t always have time to go out to eat.  I know that sounds counterintuitive and normally I’d be annoyed by this, but it actually put my anxiety at ease.  Our hotel staff were great, I’d mastered the phrase “sin glooten” and they were especially careful with each room service dinner I was served.  Each morning started out on the right foot as well, our hotel offered omelets made to order (my favorite!), and freshly squeezed juice from local fruits.  When we finally got our workload under control, I took my team out to what I think is the most incredible site in Lima.  We had dinner at the restaurant overlooking the Huaca Pucllana, it is actually built on the grounds of the Incan ruins, which are illuminated after the sun has set.

Overlooking the Huaca Pucllana during dinner!

Overlooking the Huaca Pucllana during dinner!

I have to admit, I truly love trying new things when I’m outside my comfort zone.  If you’ve read my blog before, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it a time or two 🙂  Peru is one of those places where there are so many fun new things to try!!  I was a little afraid of going for the full fledged guinea pig that street vendors sell.  If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, google image search “Peru guinea pig” and I think you’ll understand.  BUT, when it’s cooked and served like any other meat, I’m all in!  I’d tried the appetizer sampler platter before at the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana and wanted to share with my coworkers some of the unique foods Peru has to offer.

Appetizer sampler at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant - the guinea pig is in the upper right corner!

Appetizer sampler at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant – the guinea pig is in the upper right corner!

Dinner at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant

Dinner at the Huaca Pucllana Restaurant

Please forgive me for not remembering everything I ordered…unfortunately this trip pre-dates my blog, and I’ve now started to keep better track of everything I’m trying!! Trust me though, if you ever find yourself in Lima, Peru this restaurant is a can’t-miss opportunity.  The ambiance, menu, and wait staff make the experience one to remember.  If you love food as much as I do, I’m hoping you’ll appreciate the next two pictures of some of my other favorite meals while I was there.  As I said before, everyone in the hotel staff (we stayed at Golf los Incas) was incredibly helpful with my gluten free requests.  One of the first nights we were in town, my team and I enjoyed dinner at the hotel restaurant, where I could not get enough of this great dish!!

Steak and potatoes at the Golf los Incas Hotel

Steak and potatoes at the Golf los Incas Hotel

Any trip to Peru would not be complete without their signature dish….CEVICHE!!!  On my first trip to Lima, I tried ceviche for the first time and seriously could not get enough of the stuff!  For those new to the dish, ceviche can be any assortment of raw fish, cooked in the acid from local lemon and other citrus juices.  Talk to any Peruvian and they’ll tell you that you can’t recreate the dish anywhere else, because the local citrus is what makes the dish.

Enjoying ceviche in Miraflores

Enjoying ceviche in Miraflores

The last two pictures I want to share with you all today are from two of my favorite spots in the city.  The first is on the water in Miraflores, where you can watch people para sailing over the coast line.  Although I didn’t get the opportunity to actually try this myself, it was great to watch as everyone else flew over the hazy coast line.  The last picture is quite simply a beautiful contrast of new and old on the Miraflores water front.  This quaint home is situated between two high rise apartment buildings, and boasts the most enchanting home garden and front door!

Watching people glide in over the coast

Watching people glide in over the coast

Beautiful juxtaposition of old and new :)

Beautiful juxtaposition of old and new 🙂

 

Planning Ahead

As I sit down to write this post, I’m slightly exhausted from the marathon last two hours.  We’re planning to visit family out of town, and it’s much easier on everyone else, and safer for me if I plan ahead.  I got a great idea a while back from a friend that had figured out how to have nice meals each night on her own without having to cook after a long day at work.  She’d picked up those aluminum foil containers, cooked dinners until they were nearly done, packaged them individually, and froze them for later!  With this thought in mind, I was determined to make a variety of dinners for our trip.

Meal #1: Chicken Parmesan with Corn & Rice Spaghetti

I was feeling ambitious for the first meal, you can tell by the number of pictures that as I got further into the process, I was taking less photos and typically running all over the kitchen!  For this meal, I started by dipping each chicken breast into an egg.  I then covered the chicken in Italian bread crumbs.

boneless skinless chicken breasts, egg, Italian bread crumbs

boneless skinless chicken breasts, egg, Italian bread crumbs

I then pan fried the chicken for about 2-3 minutes per side, just long enough to brown the edges.

Browning the chicken breast

Browning the chicken breast

The chicken was transferred to a glass baking dish, where I covered it with marinara sauce (I used Ragu sweet basil).

Sauce covered chicken breasts, ready to go into the oven

Sauce covered chicken breasts, ready to go into the oven

With the oven set to 375ºF, I baked the chicken for about 25 minutes.

Fresh out of the oven!

Fresh out of the oven!

While the chicken was cooking, I boiled my gluten free pasta.  After it was cooked and the water had been drained, I separated the pasta into to individual foil containers.  I took the leftover sauce from the container, and poured it over the pasta.  I think the finished product turned out pretty great!

Two Chicken Parmesan dinners, ready to be frozen for our trip :)

Two Chicken Parmesan dinners, ready to be frozen for our trip 🙂

When it comes time to reheat these, I’ll put these back in the oven for 3 – 5 minutes.  Since this is a first for me, I may have to play around with the reheat temperature/time, but I’ll let you all know how it turns out!!

Meal #2: Balsamic Chicken, Roasted Red Potatoes, and French Cut Green Beans

Here’s where my multitasking started to kick in.  Before I started the Chicken Parmesan, I put two of the chicken breasts in a ziploc bag, covered in balsamic vinaigrette.  While the first dish was cooking, I cut red potatoes into quarters.  Heating a large frying pan with about 3 tablespoons of coconut oil, I added the quartered potatoes.  I never cook these the same way any two times, so for this time, I seasoned them with ground pepper, sea salt, garlic powder, and blackening seasonings.  There’s no magic amount of time to cook these, I just keep the heat at a steady medium temperature, and continue stirring them occasionally until I can cut through a potato with my spatula.

Red potatoes in the frying pan with seasonings

Red potatoes in the frying pan with seasonings

Once the oven was free from the first round of chicken, I put these balsamic vinaigrette covered chicken breasts into the oven.  Again, I cooked them at 375ºF.  Because I hadn’t browned the chicken first, I left these in the oven for about 20 minutes per side.

Balsamic vinaigrette chicken breasts

Balsamic vinaigrette chicken breasts

To round out the meal, I split a can of french cut green beans between the two foil containers.  The finished product for this looks pretty great too 🙂

Finished meal: Balsamic Chicken, Roasted Red Potatoes, and French Cut Green Beans

Finished meal: Balsamic Chicken, Roasted Red Potatoes, and French Cut Green Beans

Again, since I’m new at traveling with meals like this, it’s going to be a bit of a guessing game when I reheat these.  But thankfully, since the chicken is mostly cooked, it shouldn’t take too long to be ready!

Meal #3: Stir-fry Chicken and Rice

Here’s where the craziness of three meals in two hours started to hit me.  I’d been trying to keep up with the dishes, and with what seemed like constantly beeping kitchen timers! For my last meal, I went super easy.  I cubed the last two chicken breasts, and chopped up a crown of broccoli.  I put the chicken and broccoli in a fry pan with Mirin (sweetened sake) sauce, gluten free teriyaki sauce, and ground ginger.

Stir-fry chicken with broccoli

Stir-fry chicken with broccoli

Meanwhile, I cooked a cup of white rice in the rice cooker.  Splitting the rice between the last two foil containers, I topped it with my stir-fry concoction!

Stir-fry Chicken, Broccoli and Rice

Stir-fry Chicken, Broccoli and Rice

All six containers are now safely in the freezer, and ready to go 🙂

Gluten Free Guide for Hosts

I frequently get questions about what to buy, what I can eat, etc. when we’re traveling or visiting someone else’s home.  In an effort to make things easier on anyone looking for this type information, I thought I’d put together a post to help out the non-celiacs that want to play host!

The Basics and What Contains Gluten?

If you’re hosting someone with celiac disease, or a non-celiac gluten intolerance you need to be aware of what gluten is, and all the shady places that gluten hides.  Gluten is wheat, rye, barley, oats or foods made from them such as flour, bread, pasta, pancakes, flour tortillas, pastries, breaded or battered foods, croutons and oatmeal.  It’s not just in breads and pastas but also in things like beer, alcohols, some fat-free sour creams, blue cheese, salad dressings, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, root beer, vitamins and medicines — it loves to hide. It can be in peanuts, in boxed rice mixes, EVERYWHERE.

Cross-Contamination

A gluten free lifestyle isn’t always easy for your guest to follow, and one of the hardest things for outsiders to understand is that even a portion the size of half a crouton is enough to make most celiacs sick. It’s difficult for celiacs to eat anywhere outside their home and feel completely comfortable.  Even the most careful hosts can have difficulties making food that is 100% safe.  Something as simple as handling bread before switching to another dish could completely contaminate the dish for your celiac guest.  Here are a few things to be on the lookout for in your kitchen:

  • All surfaces coming in contact with food need to not only be clean, they also should not be porous.  Stick to stainless steel cooking utensils, as plastic, wood, and non-stick surfaces can absorb gluten over years of cooking and render a carefully prepared gluten free dish unsafe.
  • Never put gluten free food directly on a cooking surface you’ve been using for many years (i.e., oven racks, toasters).  On a similar topic, if you’re frying food it is not safe to fry anything gluten free in the same oil you’ve used for something containing gluten.  For example, french fries cooked in oil used for battered chicken would cross-contaminate the fries, even if they are just plain strips of potato.
  • Cooking utensils should not be transferred between dishes, the second a utensil touches gluten, it makes anything else it touches no longer gluten free.

Safe Bets

  • Fresh meats, poultry, and fish.  They can be seasoned with plain spices or marinated in gluten free sauces/dressings
  • Steamed or roasted vegetables, again, seasoned with spices.
  • Rice — NOT the prepackaged side dishes, you’ll have to get plain white or brown rice and season it yourself.
  • Homemade mashed potatoes — again, the prepackaged stuff is NOT safe to eat, it almost always has gluten.
  • Scrambled eggs.
  • Fresh fruits.
  • Homemade salads with fresh veggies

**if you couldn’t tell by now, just about everything is fresh. I probably go to the grocery store twice a week to get everything**

Sneaky Gluten Hiding Places

  • Processed foods such as cheeses, meats, bouillon, and packaged broths.  It’s important to always check the ingredients in these things, it might shock you what’s been added in!
  • If you see any of the following on a product label, it is likely NOT safe: malt, food coloring, natural or artificial flavorings, modified food starch, ANYTHING followed by flour.  When in doubt, either check with the company, your guest, or find another product.
  • Anything labeled as a seasoning needs to be verified that it’s safe, while spices are raw and safe for celiacs, seasonings can sometimes contain gluten, especially McCormick seasoning packs — most of them are full of gluten!
  • Be extra careful anytime you use condiments (i.e., jelly, peanut butter, butter — spray or squeeze butter is the best because it won’t be contaminated), anytime a utensil is dipped in a tub or jar condiment, touches gluten, and is placed back in the container it is no longer safe for a celiac to consume.  Your best bet is to use squeeze products, and eliminating the risk of cross contamination.
  • If it’s been processed in a plant or on equipment shared with gluten, it most likely is not safe.  This one however depends on the person, for example, I can’t eat anything from a shared facility without having a reaction, but others can.  Check with your guest to see how sensitive they are, and what else you need to look out for.

Above All Else

If you remember nothing else from this post, please remember this one thing: Don’t EVER think you are bothering your guest by asking them about ingredients or cooking/preparation plans.  If you doubt anything or have any questions, I speak for all of us when I say we’d rather have you ask than find out later when we’re doubled over in pain and suffering.

I took the pledge!

In honor of Day 5 for Celiac Awareness Month, I’ve taken the pledge!!  The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) invites you to take the pledge, promising to take a proactive approach to managing your health in just three easy ways.

Join the NFCA and Take the Pledge

Personally, I’ve use my blog as a great resource to educate, empower, and advocate for celiac disease awareness.  Not only is it a great pledge to make to yourself, but the NFCA also makes resources available to anyone taking the pledge.

My Celiac Running Crew

Learning to live with celiac disease can be both challenging and frustrating, especially if you don’t have a great support group.  I totally lucked out, and hit the support group jackpot!  My sister introduced me to two of her friends that both have celiac disease, Liz and Amanda.  Though I had only met them a few times, I reconnected with Liz (her blog here) at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night walk.  I hadn’t been running seriously in years, but really wanted to get back into now that I felt my celiac disease was under control.  To refocus my running, Liz talked me into training with Team in Training (TNT), which supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  Although we didn’t always make it to the team runs, we put together a great group of girls that get together on the weekends for training and fun runs!  The best part is, four of us are living with celiac disease!  These runs have become something I truly look forward to on a weekly basis.  We gripe about the latest frustration or glutening (glutening explained here), talk about local restaurants that can safely prepare gluten free foods, and gush about new recipes we’ve found.  There is nothing better than a fifteen mile training run spent catching up with other celiacs that “get it,” and yes, I said fifteen miles (Liz’s blog about our run)!!

Thanks to the support of these girls, I am happy to say I finished my fourth half marathon last weekend.  I ran the Nike Women’s Half in DC with my TNT team, Out for Blood (check out my race recap here).  This was the first race I’d run in over two years, and truly shows how far I’ve come since my diagnosis.  I had such a blast that I’m joining TNT again for the Marine Corps Marathon this coming fall, which will be my first ever full marathon, and has been a goal of mine for a long time now!

So what’s the tie to celiac disease with this post? I’m glad you asked… celiac disease patients with ongoing intestinal damage have a higher risk for lymphoma than those with healed intestines.  Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that begins in the lymph system, and can eventually spread to other parts of the body.  The following is an excerpt from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“This study included more than 7,600 people with celiac disease who had follow-up intestinal biopsies six months to five years after their diagnosis, and were then followed for roughly nine years.

At the time of their follow-up biopsy, 57 percent of the patients had healed intestines while 43 percent had ongoing intestinal damage, according to the study, which was published in the Aug. 6 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Overall, the patients with celiac disease had an annual lymphoma risk of about 68 of 100,000 people, which is nearly three times higher than the general population’s risk rate of about 24 of 100,000.

Meanwhile, the annual risk for patients with ongoing intestinal damage was about 102 of 100,000 people, compared with 31.5 of 100,000 for those with healed intestines.”

That’s definitely a startling piece of information, and just one of the many risks that come along with having celiac disease.  In its 25 years, TNT has trained more than 570,000 participants for endurance sports, and investing more than $875 million in blood cancer research.  Help me declare that cancer ends with me!  Support my next run with TNT for the Marine Corps Marathon by donating to my fundraising page, linked in the TNT graphic below.

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