9.30.2008

observations on humanity

okay.  so this post is going to be distinctively not gluten-related at all.  in fact, it has a lot to do with feeding dogs wheat pasta off a fork.  sound interesting?  oh you have no idea.

i call one of my dogs my "special" son.  the other is my gifted boy.  Mr. Smarty FurPants knows about 150 commands and nothing makes him happier than training, working, earning and learning.  since i find myself now too strapped for funds to dole out the mad cash necessary to continue his agility training, i have searched for a new activity for us to focus on.  

i think i've got myself a swell little therapy dog over here.

sure, there's lots of training to be done and a very difficult obedience test to pass (no, not for me, for the DOG!).  but we'll do it.  you can bet your buttons we'll do it.  and after my experience this past weekend i couldn't fathom NOT doing it.  oh my dear readers you have no idea until you see it and feel it and know it in person.  you just have no idea.

**

on saturday i attended my first "without dog" observation, which is one of the human requirements that must be met before i am able to work as a therapy dog handler.  i woke early on that day and was gone until afternoon.  when i returned on the sunny Saturday, the first thing i did was snap on my dog's leash and take him for a walk.  i guess it was part determination to help him ace that exam, and part of me needed that sunshine and air.  we had to be out and moving and seeing and breathing and why?  because we could.


**

i met two ladies, each with 100 lbs of dog at their side at the entrance to the hospital.  we made our introductions and together we swooshed through the hospital lobby into a hallway lit yellow and bright.  we peered into doorways and offered a visit from the patient pups.  some said Yes and others No, and together as a group we weaved and bobbed between the rooms.

a woman, sitting upright in a metal chair next to her bed said Yes to the dogs and in we went.  in a shaky, weakened hand the woman balanced a bowl full of feastables and bit-by-bit she fed the dogs from a fork, like one would a child.  the woman concentrated hard to coordinate the tasting, and she never dropped a single niblet.  never even came close.  she did it for the dog and she was talking and happy all the while.  a few more days and she'd be home.

in another room, a man laid in his bed with a nurse at his side.  on his face was an expression of shock and amazement.  dogs in the hospital?  big dogs?  he was in his 50s and never in his life had he touched a canine.  and now he was feeding one neatly with a utensil as it perched its massive hindquarters on his bed.  i never thought a smile could get so big or eyes so wide.  when snack time was through the man clasped his hands together and declared this to the highlight of his stay.  he was counting the seconds until he could tell his wife all about this.  i am certain that once he finds his health we'll see him proudly walking his first dog around town.

into another hospital room... it was quiet.  a woman lay low in her bed, thin and weak with dark eyes.  unmoving.  tubes of all sorts were attached to liquids held high and they darted into the sheets and disappeared.  the room was warm and sweets sat on a table uneaten.  and then there were the dogs.  and with their entry came life to a frail body and light behind her face.  she struggled to speak and begged the dogs be brought closer and closer.  a chair was set next to the bed and the massive canines took turns sitting nicely and accepting treats and pets.  it was happy.

until the woman began to cry.

they were sobs from a body unable to find the energy for tears.  there was a sadness so deep from a young person facing something she didn't seem quite ready for.  paper-thin hands were held tight and tears gently pat away.  soft words were whispered but how can a human really understand?  one that is well and walking... how do they find the words to comfort another?  it was then that the rottweiler hoisted his triple-digit body onto the bed.  he was careful with his feet, balancing gingerly on the bed's edge and resting his mammoth head so gently on her fragile chest.  tears melted into kisses and arms wrapped snugly around the dog's neck.  they laid like that for some time - the dog still and comforting.

breathing in 

and 

breathing out.  

the big pup had patience for days.  he would lie there with her and melt into her embrace.  food was no longer interesting.  life was on pause.  this was his place and he was her medicine.  the woman's body relaxed and she drifted lightly to sleep.


in time the dog dismounted and parting words were said, along with promises that next week they'll be back and next week she will have a furry neck to hold and a fuzzy forehead to kiss.  and next week she can drift to dream feeling life and warmth lying next to her, unafraid of her, giving her more than words ever could.  and we all hoped and prayed for next week.

**

an hour visit to a hospital may not be much out of a schedule.  an hour visit from a week's-worth of hours may not be a whole lot to ask.  but somewhere in that hour humans are changed deeply.  i was changed deeply.  and suddenly an hour just doesn't seem like enough when it means a lifetime to someone bound to their bed.  one hour and suddenly the world looks different and it wouldn't be possible without the therapy dog.

so take 60 minutes and spend it with your dog today.  walk, talk, play and pet.  take it all in, every last little bit of it.  there will be a day when you can no longer do this.

today is not the day

i am a bad bloggie

to say that i have been delinquent with this blog is an understatement.  sorry folks.  will a great big OOOPS! suffice?  no?  okay, then.  i understand.  

so i left my last post only 9 days before the big 10 mile race that the boy and i had been working our bums off for.  we ran it.  we survived.  i had my rear kicked by my fiance who completed his race in 1:31 - a 9:07 race time.  i carried said bruised rear over the finish line at 1:37 - a 9:45 pace.  ack!  we are very competitive with each other, but how am i supposed to keep up and PASS a 6-foot tall leg monster running a cool 40 seconds faster than me?  life is so not fair!

after that race we continued training for The Chicago Distance Classic half marathon.  being the total dorkus that i am i wound up getting tendinitis in my left knee, which pretty much dragged my training to a dreadful stand-still 8 weeks before this bad boy was set to take place.  Captain LongLegs over here actually made it to the big day, and busted out the 13+ miles in an hour and 56 minutes.  Not too shabby, huh?  I took his psycho puppy down to the finish line with me that afternoon, and while that critter tried to consume every half-chewed bagel that had been tossed to the ground I completely missed the runner as he took his valiant strides across the finish line.  After wandering with the gluten-hyped dog for an hour until I finally found him at home in the shower.  

so that's it in racing news for now.  some day i'll plan for another but for now i find myself just planning for another 7 months of winter here in chi-town.  eep!  not fair!  do morning runs on ice and now count as an extreme sport?

in other probably non-interesting news, the job hunt is still a job hunt and i remain a contract worker (work i am eternally grateful for) and i am waiting out this economy.  ha!  at this rate i'll be here forever!  little by little i am joined by my undergraduate classmates who are emerging from their graduate school cocoons to find that there are no jobs to be had for them either.  i mean, c'mon Workplace.  we're a hard-working, smart bunch!  what gives?  well, they're all welcome into my contract worker life raft in an attempt to stay afloat in the mean time.  

i hope they like gluten free food!

5.13.2008

a sans-gluten feast

last night schedules changed, the stars aligned, the moon was full (was it?) and i was able to attend the allergy-friendly dinner series at bistro 110.  the fare was a gluterini's delight, and my fiance (who has learned to enjoy the occasional GF meal) actually made his way home from work early just so he could tag along.


i was initially taken off-guard at the sight of all of those gluterinis congregated together, waiting for the event to begin and the dining area to be opened.  also in attendance were vast numbers of the gluterini support squad, otherwise known as wheat-eating friends and family.  there was an air of excitement in the room.  while in line people were bending at the waist to peak at the menu which was set on an easel by the entryway.  they were antsy, chatting amongst themselves and greeting late arrivals as they pressed their way through the revolving door.  me... well i came hungry and something smelled good.

the second thing that surprised me were the 1,000-watt smiles of the living without team that made you blink a few times as you made your way into the dining room.  then a surprise came when we saw the set-up -- sit any place you like, at a round table set for 10.  dan and i snagged a spot by the kitchen in hopes that we could catch a glimpse over the shiny metal and into chef tougne's allergen-sensitive master plan.  the room filled quickly.  wine was poured and jen, our server, made a joke and introduced herself.  

it was sudden when the amuse buche appeared, yolk-yellow and sunny in tall shot glasses all lined across a serving tray.  the trays whirled about the room and somehow one landed right in front of me.  it was a carrot soup, supposedly, but i would have never known it.  it tasted of squashes and cream, buttery and melting and only to be taken one sparing sip at a time so you could feel it run smooth over your tongue.  i think the room became quiet for a few moments as the guests took in their first drops of the liquid.  it was warm in your mouth but not hot to the touch.  ooh.  this dinner was gonna be good.

at this point people began to talk.  not to the person they came with but to each other at the round table.  glasses of wine were half empty and stories were told of gluten-sensitivity discoveries and families, genetics and recipes.  a woman and her daughter were at my table, and the elder swore she was an octogenarian but i'm sure it wasn't true.  her flawless skin and deep black eyeliner.  her zebra-striped wrap and attitude and experience.  she was a brilliant chef her daughter declared, all gluten-free.  she had discovered her sensitivity after a battle with colon cancer, from which she emerged victorious and savagely against the grain.  she believes all ailments are gluten-related, her daughter said.  i guess the aging process is wheat-related as well because this grandma had found the fountain of youth. 

the appetizers appeared and flittered about the room.  it was a crustless quiche lorraine sitting upon ever so thinly sliced and deeply purple beets -- a half-dome of the most delicate egg with just enough bacon to give it the flavor without losing the yolk.  sitting so neatly on top were a couple green sprouts (i wish i knew what kind) and the whole thing looked like a wee elf's home if that particular elf was blessed with an eye for color and texture.  nice decorating skills.  his home was tasty and plates were cleaned and cleared.

the rest of the wine glass was emptied, and a round of refills made its way about the table.  a woman to my right was in attendance for her son who suffers from more allergies than i could scribble in my notebook, but of them i recall gluten, dairy, food coloring and soy.  and to really drive it home the poor 2-year old loves cheese and can't even have the non-dairy soy-cheese variety.  oh man.  cheese is a staple in my home.  well, this mother had driven 2 hours with her support crew (a friend and fellow mom) and together they analyzed the meal and mentally prepared menus for the family of 4 which had gone gluten-free as a group.  that's a challenge, a financial burden, and something you only do if you can muster the dedication and drive to make it all happen.  she makes it happen every day.  that's one lucky little boy.

shock and awe when dinner made its grand entrance.  muscles and clams in the shell, shrimp, lobster, vegetables and tagliatelle, sizzling in a muscle au jous with a touch of butter.  i don't like lobster.  i don't like muscles and i don't like clams.  muscle au jous didn't appeal but the smell was so enticing.  of course i had to take a bite.  

yum.

while i did not eat the shelled guys (dan did and loved each and every one of them) i did consume all of the shrimp and lobster, and i must say that this is the first time ever in my life that i have eaten and truly enjoyed lobster.  the pasta was cooked so wonderfully and the fish was just so delicious.  the vegetables were crunchy and while i am always pouring salt on my meals i did not find myself reaching for the shaker once.  there were echoes around the room of people announcing their surprise that this meal did not taste a smidgen like a gluten-free dinner... and that's pretty darn hard to do when it comes to pasta.  people ate up because they didn't know when the next time would be that they could eat so good.  it was so good.

desert was a flourless chocolate cake with raspberries, raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.  this did not taste like the ice cream that can be bought, and if it is i need to know who makes it and get some immediately.  the cake to my amazement was not dense.  it was not sickeningly sweet.  it was not like eating a stick of butter.  so many GF goodies are.  and so many of them sandpaper your mouth and this just fluffed and melted and tarted with the raspberries.  it was a fabulous ending to the meal and i wish now that i could have eaten the whole serving but i just couldn't.  dinner had been too tasty.

i didn't mention the bread!  now THAT was a surprise!  i have no idea what the mix of flours or the crazy secret ingredient was, but it was like... well... it was like bread!  it had little air bubbles and it gave when i broke off a piece and refused to fall to pieces when i bit down.  there were no crumbs (that's unheard of so i had to emphasize that) and it had cooked through and there was a golden crust on top.  a woman at my table asked for butter but the server said that the butter sits next to the gluten-full bread cutting station, and so to be safe they kept that off the table.  the server didn't have to go ask about the butter.  she knew this information already.  that was very much appreciated.

so the meal was fabulous, but that was no surprise.  not really.  i had heard wonderful things about this chef, and we all knew that when an allergy-friendly dinner series was planned that bistro 110 would pull out all the stops.  so, it was utterly delicious and i was thrilled, but i was not surprised.

what caught me off-guard, really and truly, was the community.  it was the set-up for the event.  it was getting all these people at tables and having them share their stories and send their support across the linens and table settings to the person that needed it most.  it was about coming together and actually seeing these people, and knowing that every single one of them had to go through a myriad of health problems and misdiagnoses before they discovered their disease in themselves or a loved-one.  it was about product reviews and recipes from an 80-year old gourmet chef in zebra print.  and it was about all those people that had come in support of those that are figuring this whole gluten-free thing out.  chef tougne, you are talented indeed at what you do, but the sheer brilliance in the evening was making us all take a good look at one another and feel, and taste, what we have in common.  it was delicious.

***

5.08.2008

scrunchaliciousness in a box

holy crunchies.


do you see that?  huh?  do ya?  yeah, i know it's a little blurry.  but that encircled right there is the new "gluten free banner" that general mills is using on its products.  

and yes, it's on a box of rice chex.  good ol' grab it in the grocery store rice chex.  chex mix rice chex.  simply nutritious rice chex.  (?)  rebel against the malt ingredient rice chex!

i will be the first to admit that i enjoy the occasional check (is that singular?).  it's shape is oh-so forgiving when placed in milk... for about 2 minutes.  it's crunchy.  it's square and it has the visual appeal of fancy pantsy lattice work.  it's like a snappy crunch pillow on my tongue.  and now this product of my youth has come back into focus.  another breakfast option, folks.  another breakfast option.

rebel against your usual morning meal!  

perhaps corn chex is next?  something about corn chex just had a little bit more... bite.  toastiness.  stand-up-to-milkiness.  i'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth here, but perhaps the malt in the corn chex could also be swapped out for molasses?  you know... i'm just hinting here.  just hinting.  (corn chex!)

here's GM's press release, and brandweek's take on the whole thing.

okay.  the product update is done.  i'm sure i've lost all you readers as you sprint out the door and head towards your local grocery on foot, too impatient to find your car keys and wait for that darn ignition to catch.  eat that cereal for dinner.  do it.  you rebel you.

4.27.2008

cooking up a shrimp storm

after taking stock of my pantry and my freezer, i decided to make another attempt at this recipe, making the few alterations i had suggested the last time i attempted to cook this.

I started out with my favorite kind of GF pasta shells -- the kind made with brown rice and rice bran.  I had read that stabilized rice bran has all sorts of health benefits and is packed with antioxidants and all that good stuff.  I'm not sure if the bran included in this pasta falls into that super-food realm, but the little extra fiber can't hurt, right?  plus it tastes good and the texture is pretty decent.
instead of just using shrimp as the recipe calls for, i went for a seafood mix that i had picked up at my all-time fav shopping spot - trader joe's.  this mix includes shrimp, scallops, and calamari (oh i am such a fan of the calamari rings!).  
in another attempt at mixing up the recipe, i cooked some thinly sliced onion in a pan with some olive oil and garlic, until the onion slivers became clear and caramel-colored.  i had to overdo them a little because my fiance will pick them out one by one if they don't blend in well enough, and since onions are healthy i want him to eat some!
i then followed the recipe as stated, removing the julienne potatoes and adding extra zucchini instead.  when it came to sautĂ©ing all the ingredients together, i added the onions and cooked everything until it was hot and sizzling.  two bowls were filled, topped with some crumbled goat cheese and we had a home-cooked dinner!
it was okay.  the changes i made didn't turn out to be improvements as much as i had hoped.  i also cut out a lot of the salt that the recipe calls for and i was sorry for doing that.  i tend to like things a little on the salty side.  i was too light on the onion, and i'm not quite sure that the seafood mix added to the flavors at all.  that fish mix would make an awfully good risotto though...  maybe next time.

oh, and i thought i'd mention that this time i learned my lesson and did not attempt to julienne zucchini with a cheese grater.  ha!  instead i used one of the new pairing knives i purchased when i was feeling brave and thought i could handle sharp utensils for a change.  i have since managed to cut myself on each of the 4 new knives on many separate occasions, but this night i managed to make it through unscathed.  ha!  

i am the master chef!  i can cook sub-par meals!  ha!

i made this dinner on friday night, and it was full of my favorite night-before-the-long-run food -- brown rice pasta.  on saturday dan and i set out for our 8-mile weekly long run.  if it weren't for the gale-force winds the run would have been fine.  but for the duration of the run i continued to find myself jogging along at an angle, just to stay upright when the psychotic breeze caught my shirt.  then the wind would suddenly run away, releasing its grip on me, sending me careening off the trail and making me appear as if i was one determined runner with a severe case of vertigo.  

the tsunami winds blew against us on the way out.  our eyes teared and we tipped our baseball caps over our eyes to protect our faces from the wind.  shorts blew about and shirts became wind sails working against us.  even downhill runs were a battle, and we were pushing our bodies sisyphus-style just to make it to the 1/2 way point.  but then we saw that glorious mile-marker on the trail and we were there!  basking in the sun we knew the wind would no longer be our enemy, as it would be at our backs for the run home.  after a quick stretch we turned and started the 4-mile trip back home.  that's when we realized...

the winds had changed.

oh man.  you've got to be kidding me.  we tipped our hats and trudged along again, wondering why chicago weather is so cruel.  first winter comes and lingers, reaching its fingers into every crevice of my window, staying much longer than it ever intended.  picking fights with spring and winning every one of them, beating the gentle season into submission and stomping on its attempts at warming the ground.  when spring finally gets the upper hand, the winds come.  a peak out the window shows sunshine, people roaming about without scowls on their faces and gloves on their hands.  thrilled at the sight, you sprint outdoors to join them, only to be scooped up by the horrible wind and tossed about.  seriously?  it's almost may, kids.  let's get the summer started!

well, that's all for now.  maybe.  we're on our way to the grocery store this afternoon and perhaps i'll grab some ingredients to make some seafood risotto tonight...

4.23.2008

smoothie sailing

alright folks.  race day is edging ever nearer.  my new sneaks are breaking in nicely, and my knees are just short of breaking.  I had to dig out my trusty ol' knee braces, and man do i look smashing in them.  so far the longest run has logged in at 7 miles, with an 8-er waiting for us on saturday.  i have to admit...  the 7 miles felt good.  i get to explore new areas of the lakefront trail that i've never had the pleasure of seeing before, and as the weather gets nicer and nicer it just feels wonderful to get outside.  i'm something of an outdoor junkie, and watching seasons behind glass does not mix well with me.  i'll use any excuse to get out there, even if it's a knee-aching hour-plus run.  (hey, i said i ran it.  i never said i was fast.)


something i've learned during this whole physical experiment is that carbohydrates are my friends.  over the years i've become accustom to a fairly low-carb existence, getting most of my sugars from fruit and such.  i very rarely will eat refined sugars, don't have the patience to cook rice, don't like instant rice, and don't normally shop at a store that sells GF specialty items.  as a result, i would get exhausted quite easily on the longer runs.  my thighs would begin to feel like wooden blocks that were trying so desperately to lift a set of leaden feet.  that wasn't going to do, so i made a change.  i can't be a speed racer plodding around like that!

as simple as the physical act of running may be, the planning that goes into an hour+ run is something of a science.  but only you can solve that equation.  after testing week after week, what i found works best for me is to eat a meal of brown rice pasta the night before the long runs, a protein fruit shake (recipe below) the morning of, and then 1/2 an energy bar right before i leave.  making pizza from my favorite namaste dough mix didn't quite cut it in the energy department when that was consumed the night prior. i thought carbs were created equal, but apparently my body is not an equal-opportunity digester.

perhaps the most exhilarating thing about this whole running experience is how in-tune you become to your body.  you can feel that glass of wine you shouldn't have had the night before.  you know when your calorie intake isn't enough to support that 700 calorie burn on this afternoon's trip about the trail.  you feel your pace suddenly snap together with your breathing and miles go by and by.  sure... 7 miles isn't really a long run in the grand scheme of things, but for me, it's a little victory each time i get myself out there.  and i'm improving.  little by little but it's there and it just feels so good.  my body tells me so.

**my mostest favoritest breakfast smoothie**
put in a blender:
1/2 cup water
2 Tb plain lowfat yogurt (gotta get those probiotics in there!)
1 serving of GF, no-sugar protein powder (i like "natural vanilla" flavor)
1 small scoop GF powdered greens 
1 banana
frozen fruit of choice

blend it up!  add water or more frozen fruit/ice to get it at the consistency you like.  i love mine for breakfast when it's icy cold and super thick.  it's great to wash those GF vitamins down.  enjoy!

4.09.2008

sprints and sprinkles

now onto the events in my life to which i eluded in my last post. let's start with the minor and move to the major.


my fiance and i are training for the soldier field 10 -- a 10-mile race that starts at the stadium and ends with me heaving and crawling across the grand 50-yard finish line, visually blown-up larger than life on the jumbo tron. exciting! my nerves are tweaked by this, however, because the revelation of running this race only hit about 7 weeks before race day, and so there is no room for slacking or injuries of any sort. and anyone that knows me and my meager hobby running, knows that i have a veritable gravitational pull for strains, sprains and splints of all sorts. i am a stellar and olympic-worthy bow-legged, orthotic- and stability shoe-wearing, inhaler sucking, snapping-hip syndrome individual who just choked terribly on her coffee as she attempted to write this. slick. just call me super fly as i sprint past 'ya...

my dogs are reveling in and are revolted by the latest antics brought on by this event.
--reveling because they get to accompany us on our shorter runs, and being athletes themselves they live for a few miles of good hard lunging followed by an icy dip in lake michigan. they're just little guys and so we max out their jaunts about town at 4 miles, and that means they can't tag along for our longer training runs which at this point have only reached 5 miles (6 this sunday!).
--they are revolted by this turn of events because the last time their "mom and dad" crept out early in the morning for a race, it was the winter-time "rudolph ramble" and we wound up coming home with these hilarious foam deer antlers which were handed out during the event. needless to say they wound up donning donner's headgear for many-a photographs and were none too pleased with me at the end.
i know. i torture them so. and now onto what tortures me...

wedding planning itself i do not find to be painful as of yet. i'm sure as time goes on, i will change my tune. at the moment, however, what i find to be rather painful is reaching my arm into my mailbox that is just a little too high for me to properly see into, and yanking down on top of my head pile after pile of wedding vendor advertisements, all worded as if they've been my friend for years with a twinge of momma-knows-best and we're-what's-best for you. i actually keep a planning binder with a section dedicated to the most obnoxious solicitations, and those are the folks that i will absolutely NOT consider even if it means having to hum my own songs at the reception. i especially hate the ones where it appears as if someone had a few too many happy hour beverages and lazily chucked a series of business cards into an envelope, then covered it with scratchy handwriting that is barely legible and smudged with fingerprints of, oh, i don't know... is that mayonnaise? take note, fellas.

anyway, my main point of pre-stress comes in the form of food and dessert. i haven't quite gone full-force into tackling this one yet, but it's a-comin'. obviously, i am a gluterini. my sister is also a gluterini and a sans-corn-erini. she's also the maid of honor. my fiance's sisters will be bridesmaids (pending formal asking by me and acceptance by them) and one of them has severe nut/peanut allergies and cannot come near anything that has grown on a tree. following, my cousin who will most likely be in attendance is nut/peanut allergic. take that caterers!! it's a one-two punch!! all prayers go towards one decent vendor being able to tackle all of this, and addressing it in such a way that i feel confident in them and their expertise.

but then comes the cake...

the wedding will take place in newport, rhode island. and i need to find a GF baker that is capable of making something that is both delish and decent to look at. i've been on some websites for specialty bakers in RI and MA and have to admit that their wedding cake photos are appalling at best, forcing me into a state of utter shock at the fact that they would post images of these disastrous, crooked monstrosities in the "portfolio" section of their website. out of desperation i joined a celiac yahoo! group in new england, and received a recommendation for celia cakes in MA. unfortunately, they do not have many images on their site, but from the feedback received on the group site people have been extremely pleased with their cakes. now... fingers crossed that they live up to these expectations, and will delivery to RI without doubling the cost of flour, water and frosting.

any advice or recommendations for the RI area? i beg of you... please let me know!

the wedding will be in the fall of 2009, so there's plenty of time for planning still. that's an extremely busy time of year for that location, so we need to get the major vendors booked soon, but after that we can sit back for a month or so. thus far the location is locked down, ready to go, and utterly fabulous in every way, shape and elegant form. the date is set and ready to go. two major items checked off my ever-expanding, allergy-friendly list.

and so the race begins in more ways than one. and i will keep you updated all the while. in the mean time, i will keep chugging along...

4.06.2008

where have i been?

holy moly. i've been gone a long long time. sorry guys. but i have a good reason for this... sort of. i'm in the midst of job turmoil (thanks economy!) and wedding planning, all rolled into sunless days and tax due dates. fun fun! well, the sun has finally emerged from hibernation in chicago and thanks goodness for that.


i feel human again!

due to my absence i have much to say. let's start with some restaurant reviews. although i've been MIA lately, i've been paying a few GF restos a visit to test their wares and use myself as a gluternini guinea pig. here goes:


went here for dinner with the fiance and wound up with a waitress that seemed like she hit the woodstock party scene with a little too much gusto. the restaurant does not have a GF menu and so having a rather astute server would be of utmost importance in my opinion, and this chica just made me a tad nervous. i asked what was available GF and she said that i should pick something that looked good and she would talk to a chef and see if it was possible.

hmm... shrimp fra diavolo, please. and away she went.

seconds later a chef appeared dressed in his white and you all know how i feel about making a scene with chefs and loud talking and special treatment and all that stuff that is just so embarrassing. he scooted right next to me and crouched down at the table, staying out of the way of the bustling scene and also avoiding making one. fabulous. he went over options with me saying that they have GF pasta in stock, however, the spicy tomato sauce that puts the devil in diavolo is made with flour. but, if it's okay with me, he'll mix up a batch of something close but not quite. sure.

it was so good.

i haven't eaten pasta at a restaurant since my pre-gluterini days. this was certainly a special treat. i also haven't eaten anything fra diavolo due to the pastalessness, and i have no idea how close or far the sauce i ate is to the original, but it was so spicy and good there are no complaints. the portion was good and i wound up enjoying the rest as a late night snack and breakfast the next morning. i did not get sick. it indeed was truly gluten-free. the waitress was a space cadet but that chef was awesome and to him i give an "a-0k."


you've read many-a posts about bistro 110 lately, because they are hosting an allergy series here in chicago. well, when i saw that they were also hosting an easter brunch, i made reservations and off we went.

first off, the place is charming. really cute and it reminded me of my favorite brunch place in my old stomping grounds of austin, texas called chez zee. while not as quirky as chez zee, bistro 110 was not lacking in charm and the atmosphere was great. there was a live music performance for the occasion and the place was just filled to the brim with people dressed in spring attire... all turning their noses up at the snow patches still lurking in corners and icy breeze. we all thought "spring" even if mother nature wasn't ready to give into us just yet.

i thought that the "french quarter frittata" sounded just great ("baked in a cast iron dish in our wood-burning oven with roasted red and green peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, thyme and rosemary") but wanted to make sure that none of the fluff came from flour. the server we had was well-versed in gluterini and double-checked for me. nope. it was safe. so i enjoyed that with a nice little mimosa. it was delish.

i enjoyed the fact that the server seemed educated and comfortable with dealing with food allergies. i've read all about the chef and know that he's a cuisine-y expert in the matter. so of all the places i've been in chicago thus far i'd have to say that this one takes top rank in terms of GF comfort level. i trust them. that's hard to come by.

so those are my two new resto posts for now. plans are in the works to expand the reviews so stay tuned as time goes on. and i'll try to post more often. in fact, i already have my next post: planning a GF/nut-free/peanut-free wedding in rhode island while training for a 10-mile race in may.

weeeeeeeeeeeee!

3.16.2008

another chocolate chunk day

yesterday was a day for dilemmas. we've had a span of "warm days" (er... high 40s?), and yesterday marked the first day in a few that actually dropped back into the 20s. do i walk these dogs like i promised? do they understand me when i make these long-winded promises? they were curled in tight balls on the sofa, twitching and snoring in direct aim of the apartment heater. so no. i spared them their winter jackets and left them to their dreams. after all, i did take them running to the beach the day before, when it was "warm" and they splashed in the ice water of lake michigan. a frigid breeze is enough to leave them shivering, but water that was frozen solid just 2 days before is no match for their macho 20-pound selves. they were still exhausted, so i left them to hunt squirrels in their sleep.

so now what to do? do i venture out to get coffee? nah. not when i have coffee and fresh milk at home. do i watch the st. paddy's day parade on tv? ugh. my attention span is not developed enough to watch people in green wave and "woo!" at a camera for more than 40 seconds. what to do, what to do.

make cookies. that's what to do.

i stretched my arm into the way behind of my teeny little pantry cupboard, and came out with a metalic bag of chocolate chunk cookie mix by the cravings place. this would be a first. i've never before bought anything by this company, but seeing that their mix was simple enough to transform into baked goodies... they couldn't be all bad, right?

right.

i realize that i have no point of reference in this photo --
i made the cookies quite tiny, and so in person that chip is of enormous proportions.


the mix made many more cookies than i was expecting (pamela's is my main point of comparison). the cookies were also quite a bit more fluffy and cake-like once baked, unlike the pamela's variety which tends to be much more dense, flat and buttery. i am not the biggest fan of chocolate (gasp!), and so the gigondo size of the chunks in this new mix were a little much for me, but most likely a hit with the majority.

i usually leave room for hyperbole when it comes to product names and descriptions, and this was the first time i have encountered packaging that did not do the product justice. i could have waxed one of these chocolate "chunks" and gone surfing. they were so big that a few cookies wound up with none just because the chips would become loose from the pre-cookie tablespoon of dough and find their way into the occasional chip-laden cookie -- resulting in a mass of oozing chocolate held together with the absolute minimum of cookie material as determined by baking physics.

they were good. (it's got to be pretty tough to make a bad chocolate chip cookie, no?) i have to admit that my personal scale is tipped just a touch more in pamela's favor, but these are pretty dang tasty if you're looking for a cakier, crazy-chocolaty cookie. plus, they're egg, dairy, nut, and bean free as well, so if you're baking for the allergy club they're a pretty safe bet.

enjoy!

3.11.2008

bon appetite update

thanks to the wonderful searchability of our dear internet, a representative of bistro 110 found this blog and sent me an email about updates made to the allergen-free dinner series. get your calendars ready... because you don't have to wait until the 9th month to fork up some fabulous gluterini deliciousness. the restaurant has pushed the GF series up to may, so prepare to dine with the sunshine in the wonderful summer month. (i am personally counting down the days -seconds- until this dang cold front breaks and we can escape it for an entire season!! perhaps a seasonal celebration is due at the bistro?) well, here's the new plan with meal highlights:

nut-free: march 24
-sole fillet "almandine," faux peanut butter mousse parfait
gluten-free: may 12
-doughless quiche lorraine, tagliatelle with ragout of mussel, clam, shrimp and tarragon
dairy-free: september 29
-cream-free "cream of lentil" soup, roasted chicken breast with corn flan
shellfish-free: november 17
-shellfish-free seafood soup, "uncannily lobster-esque" monkfish ragout

here are some new bistro 110 links and some redos:
website
info on chef dominique tougne
recipe for brie-stuffed artichoke (this one just sounded so good, i couldn't resist)

enjoy!

3.04.2008

2 gluten-free thumbs up to bistro 110

a post by monica eng from the chicago tribune's the stew dining blog was all about food allergies on february 13th, when she wrote about bistro 110. the little french location right near michigan avenue is hosting a series of 4 dinners, each planned to address a different food allergy.

chef tougne is the father of 2 kids with food allergies, and i'm certain they eat some delicious allergen-free french dishes on a regular basis! i'm always so amazed and so grateful when a talented chef is willing to take the time to learn all about food allergies and intolerances, and develop recipes that meet the needs of others... despite the fact that it may not immediately appeal to the general public. it's nice to feel like someone's looking out for you sometimes!

so thanks, chef tougne. a big THANKS. september can't come quickly enough!

information:

bistro 110
110 e pearson st.
chicago
312.266.3110

mon-thurs: 11:30am - 10pm
fri-sat: 11:30am - 11pm
sun: 10:30am - 4pm (new orleans jazz brunch) 4-10pm dinner

dinner schedules:

nut-free -- march 24 (menu: nut-free sole fillet almandine followed by a faux peanut butter mousse parfait)
gluten-free -- september 29
dairy-free -- june 16
shellfish-free -- november 17

3.03.2008

so sorry...

...it's been so long. my magical wireless internet connection decided to take a brief trip to hawaii or someone else's apartment and gave up on attending to my computer. luckily, my trusty ol' mac and the invisible cable have once again commenced holding hands and telling stories.


i know that a bunch of my posts lately have been about medical news. this post will not be any different. but it's interesting stuff, i promise you.

it seems that a team of scientists have found 7 more gene regions that are linked to celiac disease. these are added to the 2 already on record, making an even stronger case that this issue is passed down genetically. here's how those little genetic guys break down:

3 of these regions indicate risk for development of the disease;
6 gene regions are located in areas "critical in the control of immune response;" and
4 of these areas are also known to indicate a predisposition for type 1 diabetes.

obviously there are a few gene regions that have been found guilty of more than one offense, and the role they play with regard to our health is an extremely complicated one. i have no idea how these scientists come to these conclusions, but either way this could be an interesting way to discover if your are, in fact, celiac positive, or find if your colicky infant is crying over a gluten-pained tummy.

perhaps the most common medical means of discovering gluten intolerance (beyond the elimination diet) is through an endoscopy and intestinal biopsy. for those of us that have actually been through these procedures we know that it's not a particularly pleasant way to spend a saturday afternoon. but there's a new way of making this discovery, and it doesn't involve that yuck numbing spray in the back of your throat.

well, if you have issue swallowing pills, perhaps that numbing spray is for you.

they have a little camera capsule, that's the size of a large vitamin (yikes!). once gulped it will record the entirety of your stomach and small intestine, and reveal how severe the gluten damage is the whole way through. according to a study by the mayo clinic, the vast majority of untreated, celiac positive patients have scarring in the first half of this organ, and only for an extreme few can gluten's footprints be seen in the second half.

the clinic discovered through these trials that the degree of intestinal damage in no way correlates with the severity of the patient's symptoms. this means that you can practically be on death's doorstep each time you look at a gluten-infested food, but your innards will not show any battle scars. i don't know about you, but my instinct would tell me the opposite. obviously, a retest showed after 6 months of treatment (aka: a gluten free diet) that the damage had begun to heal.

there are plans to use this capsule-type endoscopy for future diagnosis of the disease. the capsule itself is comprised of a color video camera, light, battery and transmitter -- hopefully with an easy-to-choke-down coating. the images recorded by this device are transmitted to a series of sensors attached to the body, and then these messages are recorded in a device that is worn around the waist. my favorite part of this article is how it breezes over the fact that "the recording device is removed..." ah, so nonchalant. you have to love science to sign on for that one. well, regardless of how the little bugger is retrieved, its contents are eventually uploaded into a computer so that they may be studied.

let's just hope those capsules are not reusable.

2.23.2008

i dig it


lovin' the look and the images on the packaging and site.  they're so brownie-like.  dark.  baked and little gooey.  you can feel the cake-iness in your eyes when you look at the slightly off drawings.  it's warm.  rich.  i'm into it.

this place makes brownies that are gluten free, sugar free, protein-full and without any refined flours.  they're made to promote stable blood sugar levels and satiate that chocolate appetite with all of the protein.  there are 4 flavors:  an intense dark chocolate made with real cocoa, orange chocolate, mint chocolate (a personal fav), and good ol' fashioned fudge walnut.  i'd say there's something for everyone there... unless they don't like brownies.  what?  no way.  there's something for everyone there.

i don't know if they're available in stores, but you can place an order for them on the website.  i'll keep an eye out at places like whole foods though, just in case.  if anyone's found one/tasted one/snuck up behind one let us know!

2.22.2008

pills fix everything!!

alvine pharmaceuticals, a company that has made the move to treat celiac with a pill (ah, how 21st century), has just received 2 patents for a new drug therapy for the disease. from what i can gather from the press release, the drug that's currently in testing is composed of a protease and endopeptidase, whose jobs it is to break down gluten and render it powerless. in other words, it digests the protein and makes it into something that your immune system isn't going to react to. in my mind, this is similar to a lactaid pill, which provides your body with digestive enzymes which break down those irritating milk sugars that can bother individuals that don't produce sufficient amounts of the enzyme on their own. while a lactose intolerance isn't an immune intolerance or allergy issue outright (it can be caused by such a problem at its root, but it is not --in and of itself-- an immune-related response), this concept of supplementing enzymes to break down an offending substance is similar to what i believe is the function of the gluten-digesting pill.


since this pill is designed to be used to break down the gluten before your body ingests it, i think it's safe to assume that it is not meant as a treatment for acute symptoms. this can only mean that when you absolutely must scarf down that slice of whole wheat bread, you take the pill along with it. huh? i suppose it could be useful if you're going out to dinner with your boss and don't want to make a scene, and so you lean over at the table and pretend to rummage through your purse, while secretly popping a pill and grinning as you take a swig of ice water. then you wouldn't have to worry about potentially getting ill from that work lunch and being found curled and incoherent under your desk later in the day. ok. i'll give it credit as a back-up, emergency plan, but how many of us really NEED to snack on wheaty stuff with such a burning desire that we're willing to pop pills? since a gluten intolerance can be treated through avoidance with amazing success (duh), you can be pretty sure that insurance companies aren't going to cover the stuff. plus, it'll be interesting to see if there are any side effects, or if it will really work for those with extremely severe intolerances.

don't sign me up for the test run. i'll just keep chugging along the way i've been, thank you. don't pass the bread.

2.17.2008

how we are hungry

reading this article feels like walking into that glass patio door that you were certain was open but was, in fact, closed.  here we are, writing about gluten free living, gluten free food, and how we have life-long, incurable diagnoses of intolerances, allergies and celiac disease.  here we are, never wanting for options and never truly needing to look far for the products we require to make our lives a little more "normal."  if you're reading this you're on a computer, and so GF products are no more than a click and a mail box away from you right at this moment.  

why are we so drawn to blogging?  why is it that there is such a strong grouping of GF bloggers out there?  i'd be willing to say on record that there is a thread which connects all of us gluterinis that is stronger than the bizarre immune reflex that brings us together.  we all crave community.

the foods we lose in our lives are far outweighed by the people we gain and the sense of community we feel.  there is something special about this project and there is always someone to turn to when GF life throws you a curve ball.  there are people in our lives that understand and will sit there next to you long into the evening hours because you've accidentally eaten some gluten and can't untwist your aching self and so tonight's plans have to be cancelled last-minute.  again.  and it's okay.  

we are so lucky.

we can continue our lives because we have options and we have this support.  without either of these the things that which makes us different can become unbearable, and we have to realize how important it is that these differences be changed in our minds into something that makes us strong and special.  and this brings me back to the article about a 3-year old girl living in yorktown, new york who suffers from a strange type of allergy that allows her to eat nothing.  

nothing.

little hannah has a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, which causes her white blood cells to gather in her esophagus, which over time hardens this oh-so necessary pipe.  if life continued in this manner she faces an eventual inability to swallow, potential cracking of her hardened esophagus, and a life spent nourishing her body with a feeding tube.  she is 3 and there is very little in life that she can chew and taste, and she subsists on a formula that doesn't cause this irritation but tastes so terrible she must drink it from a bottle to bypass her taste-buds.  she's allergic to the flavoring.  and what makes things more difficult?  her insurance won't pay for the one thing she needs to be kept alive.  

we are so lucky.

i hope there is a community for this child.  i hope she finds the support that she will need when kids get a bit older and whole lot nastier and suddenly being the one that's special turns to different in her mind and life just gets hard.  kids can be demons if given the chance, and may she never know this with regard to her means of nourishment.  may she find her niche.  her group of supporters.  the ones that love her even when she can't join them in eating a meal.  may they not even notice that separation anymore, as i'm sure your loved ones barely notice what sets you apart when you gather at the table.  may she write a blog.  start a group.  gather her thoughts and help someone else who suddenly finds her child is one of the estimated 1-in-10,0000 that suffers the same.  may she be the one that makes the difference.  changes insurance.  changes her life.  and may she be the one to see all of these things and sit back and say~

i am so lucky.

2.15.2008

sauciness

i checked my email last night and what to my surprise...


there was a neat little message waiting for me from kari out, the company that makes those handy dandy little soy sauce packets that i've been drooling over.  they let me know that the product is available for consumer purchases, and i now have 3 websites that sell the sauce by the packet.  the prices vary significantly at each place, ranging from $0.67 per packet (what?  are they joking?) to $0.11 per sauce bomb.  since i don't want to pay to ship this stuff ever again, i'm going to order a whole bunch of the little guys in multiples of 12, since on the allergy grocer site you get 10% off for making their lives easier and saving them from having to break apart a 12-pack "case" of the stuff.  you can get about 100 on that site for less than 20-bucks, and that should last a while!  boy oh boy do these things sound fabulous as compared to those tipsy drippy bottles i usually haul along to my fav sushi spots!

retailer sites:

glutenfree.com: $0.59 per packet.  crazy!  but if you like their other GF products, what you save on shipping it all together might make up for the extra quarters spent.  maybe?

minimus.biz: $0.11 a piece.  a deal!  but they really aren't a GF retailer, so if you're just in for the sauce then it's a great place to get it.

allergy grocer:  my personal fav.  you can search for products based on a list of ingredients -- check the ones you want eliminated and they'll only show you the products that meat your criteria.  TONS of GF stuff available, and loads of goodies for those with even more limited diets.  the soy sauce packets go for $0.19 each, but there's a 10% discount (per packet) if you keep the 12-packs together.  

excuse me, it's time to place my order.

2.14.2008

gluterinis in the blue water

**UPDATE! UPDATE!**
3.17.08

got a post from a very concerned chef...
the thai lobster soup and the french fries previously listed below are NOT GLUTEN FREE!
the first contains fish sauce (always avoid this one, gluterinis) and the second shares frying oil with the onion rings.

a very sincere THANKS for these corrections! we need people like you looking out for us from the inside, and it means the world! and in my opinion, despite the fact that the PR person made an error, knowing that there's a chef at the restaurant who really truly knows what they're doing when it comes to preparing GF food (and then goes out of their way to correct this blog!) makes the restaurant that much more appealing. now if there was only a way to ensure that we ate there on a night when you're working...

****

i've been emailing what i call the superlative restaurants -- those that have earned the title of "most popular" and "favorite" on resources like the zagat guide. not all (in fact, most) do not include GF options on their websites, and since it appears that you crazy chicagoians love them so much, i've decided that i need to do some digging of my own. first to reply was...


blue water grill. just got a response from them this morning. i had a feeling that they had some GF options up their sleeve... i had eaten there twice before, and just by using the common sense approach i managed to emerge unscathed. here's the list that i received from a very nice restaurant PR associate:


appetizers

fresh main lobster maki roll with wasabi tobiko, grapefruit and guava gelee

toro scallion maki roll

ahi tuna carpaccio with pickled mushrooms, shaved parm and fried artichoke

steamed mediterranean muscles with green curry, coconut and cilantro


entrees

roasted diver scallops with celery apple puree, crisp serrano ham and sherry gastrique

panchetta wrapped tuna with white beans, tomato confit, arugula and warm lemon vinaigrette

australian black angus strip steak with NO parm fries, grilled asparagus and béarnaise sauce


there is also a note saying that all entrees can be prepared simply grilled with a choice of gluten-free sides. i don't know if all of their sides are gluten free, and i didn't get a list, so that's something to ask about.

i would recommend that you make your server away of your needs, despite the fact that you are now armed with this handy list. because certain menu items just so happen to not contain gluten, it doesn't mean that it's a gluten-aware kitchen, and cross contamination is always something to look out for. that being said, it always feels good to know that there's another definite option out there! especially when it's as delicious as blue water grill.

i am waiting on a few responses from other popular restaurants in the area, but if you have a place that you've always wanted to try or a favorite haunt and you're sick of ordering that one thing you know is safe -- write up a post. let me know. i'll send my feelers out and see what i can get back for you. like i always say: the more information we have the better off we all are, and we gluterinis have got to watch out for each other! couldn't do it without you guys~

520 north dearborn st
(at grand ave)
chicago
312.777.1400

lunch
monday - friday 11:30am - 3pm

brunch
sunday 11:30am - 3pm

sunset (happy hour, maybe?)
monday - friday 3pm - 5pm
saturday 4pm - 5pm
sunday 3pm - 4pm

dinner
monday & tuesday 5pm - 10pm
wednesday & thursday 5pm - 11pm
friday & saturday 5pm - 12pm
sunday 4pm - 10pm

(outdoor cafe classes at 11pm on friday and saturday)

2.13.2008

another handy bit from living without


click the image to download the guide (pdf)

events events!

whole foods market north evanston (1640 chicago ave) is hosting a gluten-free education series which is aimed to "help you lead a healthy, happy and delicious gluten-free lifestyle."  the remaining 2 classes take place on february 28th, topic: gluten-free at home, and march 27th topic: gluten -free dining out.   both run from 7 - 8:30pm.  classes are a steal at $15 each, and my past experiences trying to sign up for whole foods cooking classes tell me that you should register right away if you're interested!  for registration info click here.



the CSAGC is having their 7th annual celiac walk in oak brook.  it's scheduled to take place on may 17, 2008.  you'll need registration and waiver forms, as well as a pledge sheet which can all be found here.  i'm assuming the donations will go towards the group's celiac education programs, their work with health professionals, public awareness efforts, and social events -- at least that's what it says on the pledge form!  check in is 9am, and the walk begins at 10.  the registration fee is $20 per person, $50 per family, and the late reg fees are $5 more.  there will be a raffle and gluten-free food served.  for more info, click the link above or call 847.225.4156.


i sure need this!  it's a 2-day conference and expo, with demonstrations by fabulous GF-wise chefs, a vendor showcase so you can see and preview some GF products that are available, including liquors and beer, and "gourmet gluten free breakfasts and lunches for attendees."
yay!
it's taking place at the doubletree hotel in oakbrook, which is where the 3 doubletree GF-friendly restaurants are located (atrium cafe, anthony's, and foxes -- see sidebar).  the event dates are friday, september 12 thru saturday september 13, 2008.  if you register by may 15, the full 2-day conference will be $349, and 1 day (either friday or saturday) is $179.  registration after that date ups your price by $30 for the full course and $20 for the single.  click here for the event website.

new news

hi all.


i haven't been posting as regularly as i'd like, and the reason for that is because i've been ankle-deep in research.  yes...  so i'll admit that a chicago-only database really isn't entirely too helpful and there's a whole state out there that extends beyond the loop and adjoining areas.  

my eyes have been opened.  i've extended my listings to include all of illinois.

my reviews will probably remain fairly localized to the greater chicago area, however i always welcome reader reviews, personal experience, and/or any opinions you may have on a restaurant, bakery or shop.  the more info we have, the better off we'll all be in the long run, so let's share and share alike.  awww.  how nice are we?

as the next fews days progress, i'll be adding more and more links to my sidebar with GF and gluterini-friendly places.  here's hoping my quest for one-stop info shopping will come just a little closer to reality.  now i'm off to the sidebar for some major linkage-updating.

2.10.2008

a little this & a little that

i'm hoping that fellow chicagians are aware of what the university of chicago's got going on.  they have one serious celiac disease center, where they not only offer help for those with the disease, but they have annual seminars to educate doctors about the issue and how to properly diagnose and treat celiac in patients.  another annual event is their free blood screening for individuals that are at risk for the disease.  this is a pretty big deal, because most people have health insurance that will not pay for this testing and/or doctors that don't deem it necessary.  i know that i had issues with these at the start, and in the end i needed to have blood testing, an endoscopy and intestinal sampling done to analyze those sneaky little microvilli.  there is no date set for 2008's blood tests, but the 2007 one was in october -- plan to wait a few months for it.  the registration for the last test was in august, so make sure to check back on the site if you or someone you know might be interested.


as this institution survives on donations, they hold an annual benefit and silent auction.  i have to admit that i smiled when i read on the website that every single event that they've hosted has sold out.  i don't know why but that was a pleasant surprise.  the next GF benefit will be taking place on wednesday, april 16, from 6pm until 10pm.  there will be lots of delicious GF foods from chicago's most talented chefs.  click on the save the date if you're interested.

also on the website you'll find information about celiac advocacy, including articles on new FDA labeling laws and ways to educate legislation and insurance companies to hopefully make our lives a little easier (and maybe a little more financially friendly?).  the resource section has lists of celiac orgs, ways to find a celiac-educated doctor in chicago (woohoo!  i think they're mostly u chicago docs), and even a means to getting some GF communion wafers for those church-goin' folks.  

let's see... what else... of course they offer basic info on the disease.  facts on diagnosis.  treatment.  symptoms.  they have information explaining the difference between an allergy and intolerance, which i think is great because the majority just doesn't understand that no, i'm not allergic to wheat, but i still can't eat it.  it can be tough to explain if someone really wants to understand what's going on!  

finally, they have what looks to be a seasonal newsletter, and if my internet connection was better (it gets wretchedly weak on weekends for some strange reason) i'd download the PDF and check that out.  you can also sign up to have it automatically emailed to you.  something to consider.

i think this is pretty awesome, and definitely worth your browsing time whether you're living in chicagoland or not.  it never hurts to be an educated gluterini!


the university of chicago celiac disease center
celiac disease hotline (monday - friday): 773.702.7593

2.09.2008

nothing's finer than some fishies


sushi is one of those things that i can eat for every meal, day in, day out, and never get sick of it.  i just love those raw fishies.  i also love how going out for sushi is just so easy, and common sense seems to go a long way towards enjoying a fabulous meal and making it through the whole thing without chowing down on some gluten.  through my numerous hunts for the best tasting sushi at a price that i can afford, i have discovered what i believe to be a general truth about the food -- the super high-end places aren't the best.  maybe i'm just a sushi purist and i don't like those crazy deep friend, cream cheese filled, and otherwise fancy-pants-ified rolls that are common at more formal joints.  I like to taste my fresh salmon for what it is, and it's pretty damn tasty.


there have been a few things i've learned in my many years enjoying the raw stuff.  here's a brief run down:

1.  never order take out.  you get whatever is left over, and you're not able to complain about it.
2.  sushi + refrigerator + 12 hours = dog food
3.  octopus ain't never gonna be eaten by me.  i'd rather chew on a belt.
4.  same goes for sea urchin.  i'm not going to tell you what that's like chewing on.

okay okay okay.  enough with the jokester act.  i do have some useful information that you can use the next time you find yourself perched at the sushi bar, wondering what deliciousness needs to find its way to your plate.  first off, and i'm sure this is redundant, don't reach for the soy sauce.  i usually bring my own, in that big, awkward bottle, and like someone sneaking home-brought snacks in a movie theater i'll guiltily shove my heavy purse to the far side of the booth.  i'll look about with shifty eyes, in hopes that the sushi chefs don't see me fill that little dish with some dark liquid pouring from my bag.  my goodness that makes dinner entertaining! 

for those of you that refuse to go without the 'sauce, i found this AWESOME product just this afternoon, and i'm trying to figure out how to order it for home delivery.  kari out, a company that supplies restaurants with condiments and such, makes little tiny, ketchup-sized packets of low sodium, GLUTEN FREE SOY SAUCE.  oh hell yeah.  i am NOT kidding.  a product like this deserves a description containing words in all caps.  i so want a box of these babies in my pantry, each of them at the ready and oh-so conveniently sized and non-leaking for my small purses!  come to momma!  i am sending the company an email on non-corporate orders, and will let you know what they say about it.

let's get back on topic.  soy sauce is a no.  check.  

miso can also be a no-no, but not always.  white miso is sometimes made with only rice and soy, however you can always cross red miso off of your list.  ask your server what's in their miso recipe if you're just dying for some.  same goes for that seaweed salad.  recipes differ, and some places are GF when making that green deliciousness.  some are not.  

speaking of green deliciousness, wasabi is only okay if it's pure wasabi.  some places use wasabi that's been cut with other ingredients, and this often includes some gluten product to maintain its consistency.

crab stick is made with pure wheat gluten.  yeah.  doesn't get any better than that.  if you eat anything with "crunch" or tempura you might as well stick a spoon in a bag of whole wheat flour and start feasting.  eel, or "unagi," is cooked in a wheat-based sauce and then drizzled with it, and pretty much anything with a sauce or a drizzle is probably a good idea to avoid.  

spicy rolls are iffy, and you are best off to ask how they are prepared as the spicy aspect of it might be a naughty gluteny sauce just waiting to turn your innards into knots.  most salad dressings and such are also suspect.

sake can sometimes be made with barley.  although it is distilled, some super sensitive folks will react to that.  i suggest that you either find a brand you're familiar with on the menu, or go for one of the more premium offerings, as the barley-containing sakes are the lower end varieties.  otherwise, sake is rice wine is should be a-okay.

perhaps this is why i love the simple sushi approach, and i stay away from the crazy combo rolls.  when sushi is just so fresh it is just so so delicious, and i'd rather not have those sauces and extras anyway.  who wants "crunch" when that bit of bright pink buttery salmon melts in your mouth?  the rice is seasoned just-so and the seaweed hugs it all together and keeps all of those gorgeous colors in place?  sushi feels healthy in my body after a meal, and it's not just a treat for my taste buds but it's also a feast for my eyes.

man, i just love those fishies.



* * *
my fav wallet-friendly sushi place:

 
888 s michigan avenue
chicago 60605
312.922.1127

50 e grand avenue
chicago 60611
312.670.6750

monday - friday: 11:30am - 2:30pm, 5 - 11pm
saturday: 5pm - 11pm
sunday: 5pm - 9pm


2.07.2008

eat for cheap-ish

this post is going to be rather short.  i plan for it to act more like reminder or a heads-up, if you will.  if it doesn't make much sense, please let this one go by.  i was hit full-force by a viral sledgehammer and high doses of cold meds render my brain useless.  


here's the bit:
feb 22-29

make your reservations now!  i mean right now.  i could barely get into a place and wound up with a 6pm time slot for that saturday night.

lunch is $21.95;  dinner is $31.95
both include a 3-course meal, without the price of beverages or gratuity

this is an awesome opportunity to check out that crazy expensive restaurant you've always wanted to go to, without having to wrangle all of the green to make it possible.  the participating restaurants are unknowns in terms of their acceptance towards gluterinis, so please make sure they are able to accommodate you before making a reservation, and/or check their online menus.  if you find something particularly friendly and tasty, please pass the word along to GF Chicago!

click the link above to see a list of restaurants and make a reservation online.
now it's back to the sofa and the fetal position, with a dog wedged neatly next to my belly.

2.05.2008

taggerific. sort of.

i had no idea that you could tag someone over the internet.  sure, facebook.com provides options to slap, trip, hug and throw a sheep at someone, but tag?  no no.  and yet, i find myself after having been got.


like everything in life, there are rules.  and like most rules, i plan to bend these a little.  
the rule of 7:  
1.  i must link the tagger to my blog and list the rules;
2. i must share 7 weird bits about myself (i am a strange person.  this should not be hard.)
3. 7 new bloggerites must be tagged and must be made aware with a comment in their blog.

thanks to simply... gluten free i am sporting a red hand print from an unexpected tagging.  and now i must oblige and continue.

why i am strange, as if you needed convincing:

1.  i am wholly, completely, and utterly terrified of drains.  they are horrible and disgusting little things and if i never have to be near one again it would be too soon.  who the hell thought a disposal was a good idea?  putting knives in a drain??  what is wrong with you?!  i almost fall to the ground if a spoon gets swallowed up by your wretched, gaping, toothy hole.  i can't watch scenes in movies or tv shows where they are soaking in a tub, because that is probably my biggest fear in life -- being forced to take a bath.  you're sharing soaking water with that drain!!!  i have goose-bumps writing about it.  shudder.  showering with that blasted thing is bad enough.  

2.  while i am not an army brat, i have lived in 15 different homes, in 3 countries and 5 US states.  

3.  i was born in hong kong.

4  i tasted my dog's milkbone treat when i was little.  it wasn't bad.

5.  i wore braces, head gear, bifocal glasses, and kept an inhaler on hand throughout my childhood.  i was so skinny that stockings would bunch around my knees.  now i have food allergies.  i'm probably the coolest person you've ever met.

6.  i am an artist, junior art director and part-time blogger.

7.  i had to repeat kindergarten because i would get so completely lost in my own imagination that i failed.  they tried to explain to me why but i wasn't listening.

now that i've got my 7 oddities down, i'm supposed to tag 7 others.  here's where i have an issue -- i am new to blogging and don't really have many blogging friends to tag.  so there will be less than 7 and i will be the weakest link.  sorry guys.





el fin.

pass the chemically modified food, please?

i did a google news search this morning for "gluten" just to see what's new in the world of celiac and xanthan gum.  to my (not) surprise, about 90% of the gluten-related news articles posted in the past 24 hours were from canada, the UK, germany... almost none were from the US.  i've always known we were behind the times -- especially since not one single doctor in this great country of ours could figure out what the heck was wrong with me, and it took a stroke and luck and a move to england before i met people that knew what was up.  and weren't even phased by it.  so very unlike america at the time, and that time was only about 10 years ago.  let's get on the ball, people...


anyway, i came across an article that got me thinking.  it is from food production daily europe, where they discuss "breaking news on food processing and packaging."  hmm.  this should be interesting.  the article talks about the use of soybean and pea proteins to make GF foods that have a texture that is more like good ol' wheaty breads.  overall, the article just sounds so technical.  like we're playing scientists with our foods and seeing what happens if we mix this and that and then add this chemical here and heat it all up.  i know GF foods are becoming popular, since more and more people are being diagnosed and also as part of a health fad for those who don't even require the substitutions.  i guess it was only a matter of time before people really got serious about manufacturing the stuff.  finding ways to not just take some rice flour and some potato flour and bake, but to somehow chemically alter it.  

okay, so i know that pea and soy proteins aren't exactly chemicals, but i can't help but be concerned that we are not far off, especially as GF products are moving towards being mass-produced by major corporations.  i don't know if it's just me, but i don't necessarily mind the way GF stuff tastes.  like all foods, GF or not, some products are good and some aren't so great.  and no, GF cookies from the package may never taste exactly like the wheatfull versions, but it just doesn't bother me.  it's not like they taste bad.  they're good.  so why mess with it?  and i like the fact that small, organic, health-conscious, bigger-picture kinds of places are making the foods.  that makes me feel good too.  

but what about the other side?

mass production makes more products available in more places at prices that are more affordable for all.  but i can't imagine the "fad" bit of this GF market explosion to last for that long.  people are avoiding gluten by choice in hopes that it will help them lose weight and feel better.  while they might feel better, i'm guessing that it will not take long before they discover GF pastas, breads and cookies and suddenly weight loss goals are gone.  and so the buzz producers will be on to the next thing spawned from latest and greatest guaranteed to work diet book.  

but then where does that leave us?  the true-blue sans-gluterinis?

concern comes from these behemoths crushing those fabulous, small-production companies that actually do use all natural, all organic, non-altered ingredients.  in the monsters' wakes we might be left with less choice than we had before, and since the big guys often decrease sales #s for the little ones, the latter winds up having to raise prices on their products just keep their doors open and lights on.  

but what about awareness?

if the mondo companies do take off and begin mass-producing GF product that is low in cost and widely distributed, this could have a wonderfully educating effect on those that have never stepped foot into a specialty grocery shop.  suddenly GF isn't strange.  it's everywhere.  it's there next to the low-fat, light, sugar-free products.  can you imagine gradations of wheat-free?  perched on a shelf in that "health food" aisle will be low-wheat, reduced gluten, and no gluten added items.  my mind is zooming right now.  but the point i'm trying to make is:  giving GF life a sudden heir of normalcy might encourage more restaurants, airlines, hospitals, grocery stores to become even more accommodating than ever.  it might be nice not feeling like the others, and instead not feeling any separation at all.  feeling normal.

but i know that i do not want to be putting into my body anything that has been altered to an extreme.  and i don't find all GF pizza crusts and buns to be unpalatable.  no, they don't taste like pillsbury crescent rolls, but i don't care.  i like them for what they are and i'm okay with it.  it works for me, and personally, i'd rather remain the odd gluterini in the bunch and sacrifice the know-how of the masses when it comes to living and cooking GF, if it means that i get to keep the somewhat sacredness of the organic, whole + GF link that seems to have such a strong grip on the current range of products.  however, and then again, i know at the same time that i am extremely fortunate to be able to afford those products when i am craving them, and there are many others that just aren't in that position.  and this leaves me torn.  

opinions?

2.03.2008

that mexican revenge

last night dan and i went out to dinner.  our celebration of his new-found freedom continued from that afternoon, and about a week before he told me that he really wanted some mexican food because it had been a while.  fine.  so i did my research and found a place with a GF menu and that's where we went.


oh if i had only known.

we went to adobo grill in old town.  we arrived for our 8pm reservation and had to crash through knitted masses of people populating the bar to find the hosts' desk, which was oddly located in the middle of the ground floor level and not by the door.  fine.  we were taken to our seats right away on the top floor (it appeared to me that the place was 3 levels) and we were seated at a little table by the far wall.  fine.  we like the quiet corner.

our waiter swung by and offered some guacamole and i asked for the GF jicama chips that were listed on the GF menu and a woman pulled the guac cart over and began to make it fresh table-side.  we ordered it spicy and it was so fresh that she was slicing open whole avocados and mashing them as she went.  better than fine.  she placed that on our table in a large lava-like bowl and our waiter swooped over and left our chips.  only mine weren't chips.  they were slices of actual raw jicama.  fine.  i was actually glad for it because our guac was so spicy, and they were somewhat cooling.  the guac was good.

i ordered the vegetable enchiladas which arrived as 4 little corn-tortilla wrapped cylindars filled with butternut squash and topped with mole verde and a drizzling of cotija cheese.  these were sitting aside a small lake of soupy black beans, which had a rather distinct meaty taste.  while the restaurant in no way listed this as a vegetarian item, i had mistakenly assumed that it was one.  so fine.  my bad.

the enchiladas were okay.  definitely not a crazy-craving, must-have-again sort of dish.  and they were also not gluten free.  unless i'm coming down with something else, and i don't believe that's the case, then adobo grill really screwed up on this one.  not too long after we ate and caught a cab home, i began to get that fist-in-the-diaphragm feeling.  then my stomach began to feel so full of air i'm sure i looked like i was 5 months expecting.  then there were the sharp, pointed, little pains.  and then a night without sleep.  

i am not fine.

that is why, after a late night up, i'm up again at 7am on a sunday.  i'm feeling a bit better, and since whatever this is seems to be passing, i'm convinced that i haven't suddenly succumbed to some virus, but rather to a mistake made by the place i ate dinner last night.  i know those symptoms all-too well to be fooled at this point.  and all i have to say is that they better not have ruined my super bowl plans for this evening.

i am not happy.  i am not listing their info below.  if you dare to go, everything you need can be found on their website.  i'm returning to the fetal position in my bed now.  

2.02.2008

chocolate chunk celebration

oh joy of joys.  i have my boyfriend back. 


for the past few months, he has been the most hard-working, self-disciplined person i've ever seen, and if i had other hyphenated descriptions that i could think of right now i'd add those in as well.  he decided not too long ago that he wanted to go back to school and pursue life on the legal side of things.  so today, on this great big saturday in february, he took his LSATs.  and then, 6 hours later, he came home.

i could feel the weight in the room had been lifted.  he's standing taller.  things are lighter.  there is less to do now and more to look forward to.

this required some celebrating and a promise kept, so i tossed some dough i had ready and waiting into the oven.  


i baked him a fresh warm batch of pamela's incredible chocolate chunk cookies.  i am a master of baking the just add this and this mix to perfection.  these are some of our favorites.  mmm.


you would never know in a million years that these are GF, so bring them to a party.  make them for your friends.  bake your significant other a treat to celebrate, or for no reason at all.  i promise you that they will love them as much as you do.