April 27, 2009

Say Cheez! - A Product Review

I’ve been a fan of Namaste foods since a few years ago when I made Turtle Brownies a la Betsy (aka…gluten free so I could eat them too) for a co-worker’s birthday. I screwed up and accidently used an entire can of evaporated milk instead of 1/3 cup, which made them ooey-gooey and delicious, leaving my roommates chiseling the end pieces out of the pan and licking up the crumbs. Nobody could tell they were gluten free and a love affair with the Namaste brand began.

But this review isn’t about brownies; it’s about good ol’ fashioned comfort food. Macaroni and Cheese to be exact! What’s not to love about mac ‘n cheese?! I remember making the stuff as a kid - pouring in the powered cheese packet and watching the margarine slowly melt. Don’t even get me started on how much I loved Velveeta Shells and Cheese! Even in college, Kraft just invented Easy Mac that I could make in my dorm room microwave. Then…I got celiac. Gone were the days where this warm, cheesy meal filled the void that only calorie laden carbs can fill. Sure, I tried to make my own version, but it was never cheesy enough. I even tried the organic “Mac and Chreese”, which didn’t taste like cheese or make me a fan. And yes, you read that right…it was chreese…from the trees. I had given up and believed I would never again find the perfect gluten free mac ‘n cheese.

Things changed this weekend when I visited the new Free From Market and saw Namaste’s “Say Cheez!” sitting on the shelf. It was a no brainer, I bought a bag and made it as soon as I got home. Could you tell I was excited? It was easy to make and didn’t take that long either. The only thing needed is oil and water (and I guess the obvious – pot and stovetop). I cooked the noodles in boiling water until they were soft. In a separate pot, I warmed a couple tablespoons of oil (I used olive – heart healthy!) and a tablespoon of water. Once the noodles were ready, I drained them (no rinsing involved) and added them to the oil along with the cheese packet. The cheese mix wasn’t completely powder. There were little shelled hemp seeds that gave the meal a unique flavor. Don’t get me wrong, this stuff was delicious! I think I prefer the added flavors of the hemp seed, onion and garlic powders, turmeric, sea salt, etc. to the plain old mac ‘n cheese of my youth. It turned out fab! The texture and consistency was perfect. The brown rice noodles weren’t mushy or grainy like other rice noodles I’ve tried in the past. The cheese sauce was right on the money - not super creamy or intensely cheesy, just the perfect balance of flavor to make this macaroni and cheese a winner! The package serves four, but they are pretty big portions. I’ve already eaten it twice on both Saturday and Sunday, and have the remainder waiting for me to eat up today for lunch. Namaste, indeed!

April 20, 2009

What a weekend to be gluten free!

This past weekend was jam-packed with all things gluten free friendly. Saturday kicked off the first day of the Thrive Allergy and Gluten Free Expo at McCormick Center. Being its first year in existence, they definitely put on a good show. It wasn’t widely advertised so attendance seemed a little low, but at least it wasn’t insanely crowded making for few lines at the exhibitor booths. I caught a presentation on traveling and eating out with allergies, watched a cooking demonstration, and ate my face off on all the free samples everywhere. Some new finds that I loved, Loved, LOVED: Andrea’s Gluten-free (pumpkin bread to die for!), Apple’s Bakery (their cookies are the best gluten free cookies I’ve ever had!), and Applegate Farms hotdogs on The Grainless Baker’s hotdog buns (bring on BBQ season!) All in all, I thought it was a great event. I walked away with two huge bags filled with samples and brochures.

Taking my own advice from a previous post, I decided that a rainy Sunday afternoon was to be best spent eating pizza. I dragged my sister along for a journey out to Naperville to feast upon some organic, gluten free pizza at Pizza Fusion. Um..what?! This place was ridiculous. Hands down, the best gluten free pizza ever (Rose’s Wheat Free Bakery pizza is up there too.) We ordered The Founder’s Pie which was free range chicken, kalamata olives, roasted red onion, tomato sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, provolone and gorgonzola. I know, right? I couldn’t believe how delicious everything was. Even my gluten-eatin’ sister said she couldn’t taste the difference. The pizza was so flavorful and light. Not greasy or heavy like some pizza can be. The crust was baked to perfection, nice and crisp. I know some gluten free crusts can get mushy or soggy. Saving room for dessert, we split the gluten free brownie a la mode. Like the pizza, this too was amazing. I love this place! I only wish they had a location in Chicago, because it is so far away. Hopefully one day my dreams will come true and I will be able to eat Pizza Fusion all the time!

April 18, 2009

News from The Balanced Kitchen....

I received an email a few days ago from The Balanced Kitchen. I heard that they closed their store-front restaurant last month, but the good news is that they will reopen...just in a different location. I've had the pleasure of enjoying one of their WONDERFUL organic, gluten free, vegan brunches in the past so I am happy they will rejoin the gluten-free restaurant ranks soon. While we all sit patiently waiting for their grand reopening, I'll share what the Balanced Kitchen had to say:

The Balanced Kitchen is Moving
During the transition we're closing our current restaurant location

After nearly a year and a half in our current location, the owners of the GFREEV LLC the parent company of The Balanced Kitchen, have decided to relocate the restaurant.

The original idea was to open a second location closer to downtown; however, the current economic downturn has forced the closing of the McCormick Street location in order to open in the new location. The existing restaurant will be closed as of March 25th.

The new location will allow us to further our goals of sustainability as well as expand our operations to include wholesale and retail products. The location will be centrally located to increase traffic and provide better access to public transportation.

We will be announcing the details of the new location shortly after all contracts and agreements have been completed.

During the relocation process, although the restaurant will be closed, we will be expanding our


The Balanced Kitchen Green Catering & Events provides sustainable eating featuring local organic seasonal vegetable based fare for Sustainable Taste

The Balanced Kitchen Green Catering & Events can provide food for 1 to 1000 people, either drop off or full service. From appetizers to desserts and everything in between, let The Balanced Kitchen show you how good sustainable eating can taste.

Contact Josh - 312-296-8910 for details & pricing.


Betty & Eileen Alper and all the staff

April 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary to The Gluten Free Mall!

The Gluten Free Mall celebrates its 10th Anniversary! If anyone has used The Gluten Free Mall to find gluten free products, articles, or books then you know what a great site it is. A special congratulations and thank you goes out to Scott Adams for providing such a wonderful service. Here, here!

Starbucks Bringin' It - Gluten Free Pastry Style!

Starbucks adds a gluten free pastry item to their menu! Valencia Orange Cake makes its debut on May 5th at Starbucks stores. Read the AP news story here!

April 15, 2009

Gluten Free Interview with Elisabeth Hasselbeck in new issue of Rachel Ray Magazine

In the May 2009 issue of “Every Day With Rachel Ray”, the Celeb Fridge spotlight is on Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Not too long ago, the View co-host announced she had celiac disease and was writing a book about gluten free living. Her book, The G Free Diet: A Gluten Free Survival Guide comes out May 4th. Check out her interview with Rachel Ray here!

Upcoming Gluten Free Event in Chicago!

The Thrive Allergy Expo is the only allergy and gluten free expo in North America and it’s going to be in Chicago this weekend! Woo! Saturday and Sunday, April 18-19, McCormick Place will be transformed into a gluten free mecca. Product booths galore, a handful of expert speakers, a cooking stage, and even BORDERS will have an exclusive bookstore set up. This is definitely a “can’t miss” event for anyone suffering from allergies or celiac.

Familiar names like Glutino, Enjoy Life, and Pamela’s will exhibit their products, as well as many others. Carol Shilson, the executive director at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center will be speaking about diagnosing and understanding celiac. Author of The Gluten-free Passport, Kim Koeller, will be giving tips of how to safely eat out and travel with celiac and food allergies. Jules Shepard, author and chef, will be at the cooking stage doing cooking demonstrations and sharing the 7 essentials of a gluten-free kitchen. Loads of other experts on allergies will also be in the forums.

Besides all the free goodies at the exhibitor booths, attendees can win cool stuff like an allergy-free dinner for 6, a gift basket from Eucerin, an iPod, and even a Wii (unfortunately only the kids can enter the Wii giveaway)! Oh, can’t forget RockO, the peanut sniffing dog will be there!

I definitely can’t wait for this expo. If you’re in Chicago this weekend, try and make it out. More info can be found here!

April 14, 2009

Soup's On!

Lunch at the office just got a whole lot easier…and tastier! Although we’re technically in the spring season, soup is always a very convenient lunch option. Trying to find gluten free soups though can be challenging. In steps Pacific Natural Foods. With a bakers dozen of ready to eat gluten free soups, how can you go wrong? Granted, I’ve only tried two of the varieties, but already I’m hooked. I’m a big fan of squash and love making butternut squash soup, but trying to peel that thing is ridiculous! PNF’s butternut squash soup was just as delicious as mine AND came with a screw top lid…hello easy! The smaller boxes have little snap-top lids. No need to bust out the can opener, mess with a pop-top lid, or worry about spilling! I tried the Creamy Tomato soup not long after to satisfy a grilled cheese and tomato soup craving, which was weird because I never liked tomato soup in the past. I definitely love it now! With the little snap lid, I didn’t have to try and figure out how I was going to store it for the next day. Perfection. I can’t wait to check out all the other flavors. In addition to their many creamy soups, they also have Hearty Artisan Soups in a few gluten free flavors. (All creamy soups are gluten free, not all hearty artisan soups are, be sure to read the special diets section for the list.) Organic Spicy Chicken Fajita, Organic Split Pea with Ham and Swiss Cheese, and Organic Savory White Bean with Smoked Bacon just to name a few. A few soups come in low sodium...woo hoo!

I should also mention, that not only is Pacific Natural Food’s soup awesome, but so is their company as a whole. They really are committed to using all natural and organic ingredients and sustainable agriculture. They even developed a program called “Certified to the Source” because they are so passionate about delivering organic products. Their website highlights their involvement in their local Oregon community, participation as food bank donors, and work with wetland projects. They’ve posted eco tips, gardening tips, and recipes too!

They also have a bunch of other gluten free products like soy beverages and iced teas. Check out their website for more. Yum!

April 11, 2009

White Sox Baseball + Gluten Free Beer = One Crazy Summer!

I was THRILLED to read earlier this week that the Southside Hitmen are going gluten free. Well not exactly, BUT in reading about the new improvements, food options, and what to expect for the 2009 season at US Cellular Field, I found out that gluten free beer, granola bars, and candy will now be available! This is great news! A lot of other sports arenas are doing the same, so hopefully all gluten free fans can enjoy the drunken rowdiness right along with their (gluten filled) beer-chugging friends!

Someone at General Mills Loves Me...

As most gluten free folks out there know, Rice Chex has been gluten free for about a year or so now. This was fabulous news, as breakfast options became easier (and tastier!) and I was reunited with one of my favorite childhood treats - Puppy Chow. (Luckily the gluten is my only allergy...peanut me up, baby!) Anywho...prior to this blog idea coming into existence, emails circulated that General Mills was upping the gluten free ante and unleashing the gluten free goodness on not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR more Chex cereals!!! Check it: Corn, Cinnamon, Strawberry, and Honey Nut Chex are joining the leagues with Rice. This is going to be one big yummy breakfast party! Thanks to the Sure Foods Living site for sharing this wonderful news! Read the article here!

I also took a little stroll over to the Chex website and was delighted to see that they have devoted an entire section as gluten free on their site. With some celiac facts and a slew of gluten free recipes for their products, someone over there deserves a pat on the back for recognizing and accomodating the gluten free community. For those who have to jump through hoops to get gluten free products, having good ol' General Mills stacking our local grocery store shelves is a sigh of relief!

April 6, 2009

Starting From the Beginning...

Oh. I guess I should have begun with how I came to know I had Celiac. My symptoms began when I was about 15 years old. I would have terrible stomach pains with lots of bloating and stomach rumbling. I was missing a lot of school because I was either: a) in terrible pain or b) so anxiety stricken that my stomach would be so loud. (Sitting in a quiet classroom and having my stomach rumble was SO embarrassing! And trust me – it was LOUD! You could probably hear it across the hall and two doors down.)

When I was 17, I went to a pediatric gastroenterologist and had several appointments, blood tests, and an endoscopy. He could not find anything wrong with me. I believe he diagnosed me as having an ulcer. Not being able to help me, I continued to suffer.

My “ulcer” and I graduated high school and I went away to college which was an even bigger nightmare. Total stranger roommate, communal bathrooms, and a rhetoric class with twelve people where we SAT IN A CIRCLE! (Seriously?! No back corner to shrink away in?) It was BAD! At this time I was also coming home every other weekend to see a regular gastroenterologist. More tests and a lovely colonoscopy later, I left with an “it’s probably Irritable Bowel Syndrome – watch the broccoli” diagnosis. Watching my broccoli and still miserable, I headed back to school and lived off “light, dry” foods – toast, bagels, saltines, and Sprite. I was sicker than ever. I stopped going to my classes, avoided anything social, and eventually withdrew from the university and moved home.

In the midst of my homecoming, my mom was discussing my situation with a friend of hers. Her son had a boatload of health problems, including Celiac. She told my mom my symptoms sounded like her son’s and I should probably get a blood test to rule it out. Figuring I had nothing left to lose, I had my GP test me and sure enough, I had Celiac. I remember getting the call from my doctor’s office. It was morning and I was eating cinnamon toast. They gave me a quick rundown of the do’s and don’ts over the phone. Avoid bread, anything with flour, cookies, cakes, etc.; don’t lick stamps; and go out and get Bette Hagman’s book, The Gluten Free Gourmet, to help me figure out what to eat.

For the next few weeks, I ate nothing but white rice and bananas. (Bette’s book did not suggest this and looking back, I have no idea why I did this.) About three days into my new life sans bread, my parents asked me how I felt. My exact words were, “I feel like a million bucks!” Apparently a million bucks feels like a quiet stomach without bloating and the reassurance of knowing that I will no longer have to live my life in pain and anxiety. I felt like I got my life back. I felt great!

And here comes the happy ending: I went back to school and became so studious that I even took summer school to catch up on the year I lost due to undiagnosed Celiac disease. I was able to finish on schedule and graduate with honors. Over the years I discovered food beyond rice and bananas. In the past couple years especially, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with gluten free cooking and baking. Having more products available has definitely helped. I love finding new gluten free products and spreading the gluten free love!

I am BEYOND grateful for my mom’s friend that helped to diagnose my celiac disease. I hope my story helps anyone suffering undiagnosed like I did, so they can get their life back and begin feeling like a million bucks.

go GO!

Hello! My name is Betsy and I am a gluten free girl. I was diagnosed with Celiac in January 2000 and have been living the gluten free dream ever since. For the past nine years, I really haven’t made a big production of the issue. I followed my gluten free diet and went on with life. My friends and family knew of my condition, but basically I just avoided all things glutinous. At the time I began my gluten free lifestyle there weren’t very many options for Celiacs. There were a few “real people food” items available, but not like today. I remember my first rice bread: dry, crumbly, and tasting like cardboard. With food like that, why bother? Making my own baked goodies was a nightmare. Buying rice flour, tapioca flour, xantham gum and making a “baking mix” was so inconvenient – plus still tasted nasty. Today is a whole different story. Celiac disease and the benefits of following a gluten free diet (for those that do not have celiac disease) are common. Amazing (and delicious!) products have appeared on store shelves. Books, cookbooks, and gluten free menus at restaurants are all over the place. The gluten free people of the world rejoice!

The idea of starting a gluten free blog/website came awhile ago actually. I met my Celiac sista through a mutual friend and the gluten free gossip spread. Every time we saw each other, we’d get carried away with sharing the latest gluten free finds – new products, restaurants offering gluten free fare, articles we’d read, and more. Then the light bulb went off. Hey! Why not share all this info with everyone?! Hence, our gluten free blog baby was born (so to speak). We started the club, Celiac and the City, in June 2008. While it’s been a little slow starting, we’re reigniting our efforts and hope to bring celiac awareness and all things gluten free alive, keeping anyone reading informed and entertained!

If you're curious as to how I was diagnosed, you can read about that here!