Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not just what you eat

I'm someone with a fairly strong point of view when it comes to being gluten-free. As a celiac, I take very seriously the corresponding health concerns that accompany this auto-immune disease, like having an increased risk for colon cancer. Given that I have been vitamin D-deficient, for example, I'm acutely aware that for me, being healthy as a celiac isn't simply a matter of avoiding gluten in my food. I have to be diligent no only about my diet, but also about what I put on my body.

Not everyone shares my concern in this regard. I know plenty of celiacs who are gluten-free only in terms of the products they consume; they don't worry about topical exposure.

Here's the thing, though: Skin is an organ, the body's largest, in fact, and it does absorb what's put on it. I believe that if you're celiac, it's something to bear in mind.

I can't tell you how long it's taken me to find body-care products I can use -- products that don't contain gluten, nor other problematic-for-me, but often-considered-healthy ingredients like avocado, soy, almond and so on. In the coming weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorite finds.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Kicking Off Celiac Awareness Month

Wednesday, May 1, marked the official start of National Celiac Awareness Month. To celebrate it, my husband and I went to dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Da Luciano's, which offers an incredibly robust gluten-free menu in addition to its regular offerings.

Da Luciano's gluten-free menu. There's a lot to
choose from!

The owners hail from Italy, so you know the food they produce is authentic. Moreover, several of their children have celiac disease, so when you eat there, you can trust that your special dietary needs are understood and will be met.  (No need to explain about cross-contamination concerns here, for example, much less what gluten is.) 

Yes, this lovely bread, served fresh and hot,
is gluten-free.

It's a great place. The restaurant is comfortable -- nice, but not fussy. The first time we went, we were struck by its community atmosphere. Prints, pictures and paintings of various things Italian -- people and places -- adorn the walls. Frequenting the restaurant you'll see a range: couples like us, close-knit foursomes, and young families; often, you see huge multi-generational parties ranging from babies to grandparents all enjoying a meal together.

It's one of the few restaurants where I can enjoy multiple courses.
The soups generally include often-off-limits options like
minestrone and pasta fagioli. This time, I chose lentil.

As far as it's gluten-free entrees go, the list is extensive: lasagne, ravioli, various other pasta dishes -- gnocchi even is available if you order it ahead of time -- as well as pizza and several meat-based dishes.

I love the meat ravioli; it's my favorite. I almost always order it.
Generously portioned, this entree guarantees you will not walk
away hungry.

Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta and Catering is a family-owned-and-run trattoria in River Grove, Ill. The restaurant is located at 8343 Grand Ave., just east of Thatcher Ave. If you plan to go on the weekend, be sure to make reservations in advance, as it fills up fast and you won't get a table. (My husband and I made that mistake the first time we tried to go.) Weeknights, excluding Friday, of course, tend to be less busy, and you have a better chance with a walk-in. However, if you're going to make the effort to go, it's worth calling ahead. It's one of our favorite places. You definitely should try it.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Allergen-free at 2013 Natural Products Expo
West -- Part 2


Here we continue the discussion began in Part 1 of all the new products seen recently at 2013 Natural Products Expo West. The first segment covered dairy alternatives, gluten-free pizza options and sauces. Here B looks at mixes and much more:

Turning our attention to the breakfast aisles, Path of Life featured a pair of Breakfast Bowls: apple cranberry quinoa with Greek yogurt and banana berry quinoa with Greek yogurt (both obviously with a dairy component). They also mentioned at least four other flavors are expected to join the line soon: apple cinnamon quinoa, apple cinnamon quinoa and steel-cut oatmeal, apple cranberry quinoa and steel-cut oatmeal, and banana berry quinoa and steel-cut oatmeal -- all with Greek yogurt.

Path of Life also featured several side dishes in steamable bags: lemon, spinach and artichoke quinoa; Mediterranean quinoa with Feta cheese; southwest quinoa with lime, cilantro and mango; and quinoa with brown rice. (The Mediterranean variety does have that dairy component, as well.)

However, also joining the breakfast brigade was a pair of launches from Glutenfreeda -- strawberries and brown sugar with flax, and cranberry cinnamon with flax. The company assures the line of instant oatmeal with made from certified gluten-free oats, but as we've cautioned previously in these pages, be extremely careful when incorporating oats into your diet.

Gluten-free baking mixes were in no short supply this year, either. Sevierly Good Gluten Free featured a host of options, all promising to be free of nuts, soy, dairy, beans and corn. Options include a cinnamon roll mix, brownie mix, biscuit and pancake mix, muffin mix, cookie mix, pizza crust mix, chocolate cake mix, vanilla cake mix, and two bread mixes: traditional and multi-grain (which adds sorghum and quinoa).

Arnel's Originals baking mixes include an organic buckwheat bread, all-purpose flour/pie crust, cake mixes and fresh breads. The company assures its products are free of gluten, dairy, corn and soy.

Minas Purely Divine, a division of No Gluten Inc., also showcased an all-purpose baking mix, a bread mix and a chocolate baking mix. Recipes promise the ability to create everything from apple strudel muffins to waffles and pancakes, to bagels and chocolate mint-stuffed cookies.

A range of gluten-free baking mixes from Domata included a similar variety: pizza crust, recipe ready flour and seasoned flour, all produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Bear in mind that these do feature corn starch on their ingredient panels, however.

The Pure Pantry's options include mixes for pancakes and baking, sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal spice cookies and dark chocolate cake, all free of gluten, dairy, soy, nuts and eggs. The same corn warning as with Domata's products applies.

If you're looking for a bread but not necessarily a baking experience, this year's Natural Products Expo also featured an ample assortment of gluten-free breads. Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery showcased gluten-free Chia Chia and Omega Flax breads, each with no eggs or dairy. They do, however, potentially have sesame seeds.

Against the Grain featured an assortment of gluten-free breads, some of which were also free of dairy. The soy- and rice-free range of gluten-free bread products include baguettes, rolls and bagels, while the gf and dairy-free options include Vermont country rolls and cinnamon raisin bagels. The company has also added a gluten-free pizza crust (made with three cheeses baked right into the dough, so ... dairy) and a pair of 12-inch prepared pizzas: three-cheese and nut-free pesto varieties.

We mentioned Glutenfreeda earlier, but the company also added a gluten-free pocket sandwich (think Hot Pocket). Options include bacon and eggs with cheddar; roast beef with caramelized onions and provolone; hickory smoked ham and cheddar; and southwest chicken chipotle. Expected allergen warnings apply, eggs and dairy chief among them.

Canyon Bakehouse Breads featured seven-grain, whole-grain white, cinnamon raisin and caraway varieties of gluten-free breads, three gluten-free buns (hamburger with a sesame topping; multi-grain; and hot dog), Canyon Cranberry Crunch muffins and Rosemary & Thyme Focaccia. The line does include eggs but appears fairly allergen-free otherwise.

Rice flour-based breads were in no short supply, as you can imagine, and Kojo Seifun also boasted its rice flours were ideal for gluten-free recipes for breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, scones and more.

Entering into snack territory, Purely Elizabeth featured ancient grain granolas sweetened with coconut sugar, all gluten-free and vegan. Blueberry hemp, pumpkin fig and cranberry pecan were among the options, while the company's baking mixes include options for pancakes, chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cherry chocolate chip cookies. (The latter did mention organic gluten-free oats, so our traditional cautions apply.) Purely Elizabeth also features four varieties of gluten-free oatmeals (again, the oats warning lights have been turned on) in such varieties as organic six-grain, original, cranberry pumpkin seed and apple cinnamon pecan.

Mrs. May's Naturals launched Trio, dairy- and wheat-free snacks promising nuts, seeds and fruits. The three nuts in each variety were cashews, almonds and pistachios, while each variety also featured the seed combination of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. It is in the fruits where the differences rest: dates and raisins are, likewise, present throughout, with the difference-maker being blueberries, cranberries, strawberries or a tropical fruit combination of pineapple, mango and papaya.

Now Trail Bars also introduced a range of bars: cranberry, peanut and almond; coconut and almond, peanut and almond, and raspberry, peanut and almond. All were free of dairy and gluten.

Intelligent Protein Snacks were not only free of gluten but promised 7 grams of protein per serving, but setting the chips apart was the addition of egg whites in their ingredients. The range includes barbeque, sea salt & black pepper, cinnamon sugar and aged white cheddar varieties, the latter being the only item in the line with a dairy component.

Simple Squares took the notion of a clean label a step further by promising only five simple ingredients in its organic snack bars. Varieties include Cinna-Clove, Coconut, Coffee, Ginger, Rosemary and Sage, all promising to be free of wheat, gluten, dairy, corn and soy. They do, however, include almonds.

In snacks for a younger, gluten-free crowd, Little Duck Organics has introduced a range of fruit in a pouch: apple and banana, strawberry and mango, blueberry and apple, and pineapple and mango. The Tiny Fruits range promises to be gluten-free.

For a sweeter snack, Sun Cups bear a strong resemblance to the candy bars that blended peanut butter and chocolate. However, Sun Cups promise no nuts or gluten and, instead, feature sunflower butter. Options in the range include dark chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate mint and milk chocolate caramel, all promising no gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, corn or soy.

For those looking for a savory gluten-free snack, Snikiddy featured Baked Fries in such varieties as sea salt, barbeque, cheddar, bold buffalo, hot & spicy, seasoned and ketchup options. The first two also promised to be dairy-free, and the entire range promises to be nut-free.

PopCorners added a trio of flavors to the increasingly crowded popped chip market. Memphis BBQ, twisted salt and sweet cinnamon all promised to be free of gluten and genetically modified organisms. The primary ingredient in each was sorghum.

Beanitos have altered its packaging to draw attention to the products' fiber and protein content, as well as lack of gluten. The company also featured a restaurant-style white bean with sea salt variety that we had yet to see on store shelves.

The options join a popped snack market that includes a new variety from PopChips, one with a celebrity origin. Katy's Kettle Corn was designed with help from Katy Perry and, like the rest of the PopChip line is free of gluten, though not necessarily dairy.

From Kameda USA comes Kameda Crisps, a baked, gluten-free salty snack. The line includes original, original with peanuts, wasabi and wasabi with peanuts. In addition to the obvious nut issues, there must also go a warning about mustard and soy in these.

Enjoy Life Natural Brands is another that should receive full disclosure; it's a household favorite for its chocolate chips and other products. The company has added soft baked bars in an assortment of flavors: cherry cobbler, chocolate sunbutter, cinnamon bun and s'mores. As with all Enjoy Life products, they promise to be free of wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish.

Glutino may well deserve one of those disclosure statements before long, as a sample of its toaster pastries has met with, let's just say, distinct aplomb, but more on that will likely be coming in a review soon. The gluten-free toaster pastries, at present, will be found in two varieties: strawberry and apple cinnamon. They do contain eggs and corn starch, but are the only gluten-free toaster pastry on the market at present and also promise to be a good source of fiber. The company also featured a gluten-free take on pretzel chips at the Expo.

Udi's Gluten Free may have made its name in gluten-free breads and buns, but the company is setting its sights on the snack market with the launch of three granola bars (ancient grain probiotic, chocolate chip antioxidant and cranberry almond omega -- all of which contain almonds), a pair of granola clusters (active blueberry antioxidant cashew and active cherry walnut omega) and three ancient grain crisps (simply sea salt, aged cheddar and jalapeno cheddar).

Finally, while we don't see a lot of beverages with a gluten-free claim (most are inherently free of gluten), an introduction from Healthverve Food Manufacturing does note it is gluten-free, but perhaps even more interesting is its rather unusual positioning. The original Turmeric and the Turmeric with Cinnamon varieties both promise to improve blood circulation and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

We normally don't venture outside the food and beverage aisles at Natural Products Expo West, but The Seaweed Bath Co. features a range of natural seaweed powder baths that are free of gluten, parabens, dyes and sulfates, with such scents as citrus, lavender and eucalyptus and peppermint, the same scent options (along with unscented) as the company's body cream, body wash and shampoo. The company's seaweed butters are likewise free of allergens and the like and are suited for the feet, body and hands.

If you can believe it, this is not even remotely a complete list of the products featured at this year's Natural Products Expo West, but check back in coming days for reviews of some of the products we found coming out of this year's show. While we can't necessarily make any claims about the taste of the products mentioned above, one thing is clear: There are going to be plenty more gluten- and allergen-free options coming to store shelves very soon.

See you in the aisles ...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Allergen-free at 2013 Natural Products Expo
West -- Part 1


B., our intrepid traveler, recently braved the crowds in Anaheim, Calif., to bring you the following insights from the world of gluten- and allergen-free products:

Well, if it's March, it must be time for coverage here of Natural Products Expo West . We've just returned from the annual convention and product showcase for the natural and organics sector, and this year's edition was the largest we've ever seen and featured literally thousands of products, with a large portion of them firmly in the allergen-free arena.

In fact, allergen-free products were once again one of the bigger trends coming out of this show. While I'm walking the floor and visiting company booths at this show, I always carry three bags to presort samples into one of three categories: gluten-free (and therefore suitable for L's mom), free of gluten and various other allergens (including casein, soy, corn, etc. for L herself) and then a bag for press releases from all other companies. The "all other" bag is always the largest, but this year was the first time that L's bag was heavier than her mom's at the end of this three-day expo. Sure, this is anecdotal and far, far from scientific, but it does offer just come idea of how far along awareness of allergens, as a whole, has come in recent years -- to the point that one company has even reformulated its product line to remove xanthan gum. The reasoning? One member of the company's R&D department was having migraines, and after some research, they realized that the xanthan gum they had been using had been sourced from corn. They completely revamped their line.

That's just one of the interesting stories coming out of this show, and it demonstrates how these particular companies can, will and do pay strict attention to their product lines and can effectively alter their business strategy and utilize a different ingredient (or flavor or color or what have you) based on their own experiences. It may well be one of the processed food and beverage industry's last true vestiges of that "natural from-scratch" promise that so many larger corporations have attempted to co-opt in recent years.

Okay, let me jump down off of this soapbox and get on with the real news from the show. Following are some of the new products that have either just arrived or that will soon be on store shelves. Sadly, this is not an exhaustive list of every product introduced this year. To be honest, such a list would be nigh impossible to compile, not to mention for you to read. However, these are some of the highlights, along with the occasional commentary where and when I might have something to say. Now, on with the show ...

Alternative cheeses continue to grow in the marketplace, with established brands extending their lines further at this year's Natural Products Expo. Go Veggie! from Galaxy Nutritional Foods is a line of dairy-similar options for those looking to give up or severely reduce dairy, cholesterol, casein or gluten consumption. The allergen-friendly lines include slices (American, Pepper Jack, Cheddar and Mozzarella), blocks (cheddar and mozzarella) and shreds (mozzarella and Mexican) -- all free of dairy, casein, gluten, soy. All eight of the top allergens, in fact.

The brand also has a Go Veggie rice-based line with no lactose, soy, trans fat or gluten. It includes slices (in the same flavors as the slices above, but adding Swiss to the options), shreds and blocks (both in Mozzarella and cheddar).

Note that the latter line does have some dairy present, and the company does produce a trio of dairy-free cream cheeses (plain, chive and garlic, and strawberry) and a dairy-free grated topping (think Parmesan, but labeling rules prevent utilizing that particular term). While dairy is not to be found, check the label carefully for other allergens, as these four do not bear the company's "allergen friendly" icon.

Teese Vegan Cheese also introduced a range of products free of wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, palm and gluten. The 100-percent vegan product from Chicago Vegan Foods includes a mozzarella, cheddar and creamy cheddar variety, as well as a nacho sauce. The kosher products are found in casings similar to refrigerated meats, but they melt and stretch when heated. They also are produced in a dedicated facility free of dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. The ingredient legend does mention coconut oil and/or sunflower oil, as well as a pea protein and what the company terms is "natural white color."

Our friends at Andrew & Everett (Full disclosure: the cheese of choice in our home, as it adds no casein and is gluten-free) have added a 100-percent Real Grated Parmesan Cheese, bearing the gluten-free label and the company's traditional promise of no fillers, antibiotics, preservatives and a note that the cheese is made with vegetable rennet.

Nutty Cow has introduced what it has chosen to call "Nut Cheese." The products are free of dairy, gluten and cholesterol, instead made with raw cashews, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. Flavors in the line include ricotta style, garlic herb spread and maple pecan spread.

Turtle Mountain is catering to the coffee crowd with its Barista Style Coconut Milk Creamer under its So Delicious brand. Free of gluten, dairy, soy and high-fructose corn syrup, the creamers will be found in two flavors, original and French Vanilla.

Sticking with dairy-like treats, NadaMoo has joined the crowded field offering a coconut milk-based frozen treat (think ice cream) in a wide assortment of flavors: sweet cherry lime, chocolate almond chip, mint chip, chocolate, maple pecan, creamy coconut, vanilla and java crunch. Obviously, all contain coconut and the obvious nuts in particular varieties (almonds, pecans), but they also promise no cholesterol.

The dairy-free ice cream options also expanded with a line from DF Mavens. The 100-percent vegan line is free of gluten and also offers soy, coconut and sugar-free options. The coconut line includes Madagascar vanilla bean and Del Lago chocolate (the two flavor options also found in the sugar-free varieties), as well as key lime creme and Alphonso mango varieties, while the four options in the soy-based line include New Orleans salted praline, peanut butter fudge mash, shot of java and Sicilian hazelnut truffle. As we constantly advise, read the product labels carefully, as it's not entirely clear if the soy-based line is free of gluten or just dairy.

Coconut could be found in a number of products, including a canola and coconut oil blend "for everyday use" from Spectrum. The company noted the blend is ideal as a replacement for butter or any other cooking oil.

With butter of a different sort in mind, Barney & Co. featured a range of almond butters, in such varieties as Sprouted Almonds + Chia, Honey + Flax, Cocoa + Coconut and Vanilla Bean + Espresso. The line is free of peanuts and gluten.

Daiya added to its line of dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free cheeses with a range of slices in Swiss, provolone and cheddar styles. However, Daiya's bigger news had to be an expansion into the frozen pizza segment. Promising the first-ever dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free pizza, the line includes Cheese Lover's, Fire-roasted Vegetable, Margherita and Mushroom & Roasted Garlic.

Daiya was far from alone in the gluten-free frozen pizza introductions this year, however. Smart Flour Foods introduced a range of gluten-, egg- and soy-free pizzas made with ancient grains (sorghum, amaranth and teff) and, interestingly, promising "No Rice Flour." Options include Uncured Pepperoni, Garden Margherita, Classic Cheese and simple pizza crusts. The crusts are the only items in the line without a dairy component, however.

Bold Organics also featured a gluten-free, dairy-free range of frozen pizzas, but this company had the benefit of award-winning chef Eric Brenner behind its recipes. He noted that the line has been formulated without eggs or nuts as well, and includes four options: vegan cheese, veggie lovers, meat lovers and deluxe.

Chef Anthony Russo's Premium Products introduced a gluten-free pizza in six different varieties: New York style cheese; chicken rustica; Greek; margherita; mulberry; and pepperoni. All do feature dairy.

Gluten Free Bistro took a portion-controlled approach to its frozen pizza launch. Bistro Bites boxes feature four gluten-free mini pizzas in one of two varieties: pepperoni or margherita. They promise to be "free of most allergens," but I must warn you that dairy is not among them. The line contains both coconut and milk, in fact.

Venturing further into entree territory, Tolerant Foods is launching a range of pasta dishes promising to be gluten-free and high in iron.

Viviana Foods, likewise, featured a range of pastas, all from its dedicated gluten-, dairy-, soy- and nut-free facility. Options in the 10-item line include spinach basil garlic linguini, plain linguini, lemon garlic orzo, plain orzo, sweet potato orzo, wild mushroom linguini, garlic toasted onion fettuccine, plain fettucine, sweet potato fettuccine and tomato basil fettuccine, all made with rice flour and eggs.

RP's Pasta Co. is also in the gluten-free pasta business, and features fettuccine, linguini, fusilli and lasagna options, all made with brown rice flour, starch and egg as the three primary ingredients. No other allergens appear on the label, and samples of the line drew raves among Expo attendees.

Speaking with Namaste Foods, I was assured that its range of macaroni products are free of gluten, soy and dairy, so we will have to give those a taste test around here soon, but at the Expo this year, Namaste was introducing seasoned coating mixes: barbecue, homestyle, hot 'n spicy, and Italian herb, all free of the top eight allergens (plus, Namaste notes that it is free of potato and casein as well).

Starfish Inc. is promising to "give fish sticks a good name" with its new line of gluten-free, oven-ready fish sticks. The company also featured its line of gluten-free panko breaded shrimp, noting that all of its gluten-free seafoods are tested down to 5 parts gluten per million (well below the 20 parts per million that the FDA is expected to make the requirement for gluten-free).

Such a level (5ppm) is also standard for all of Ian's Natural Foods as well, assured Chuck Marble, CEO of Ian's parent company Elevation Brands. The company is well known for its fish sticks and chicken nuggets but is expanding to include a French bread pizza (and some other options coming in the next few months, he noted). The company is also repositioning itself to a degree, with a new look designed to reinforce the brand's position as a source of allergen-friendly foods "For Life."

Harry's Fresh Foods may not be entirely gluten-free, but it did add a pair of gf soups to its offerings: southwestern-style chicken and corn chowder, and carrot and ginger bisque (also vegetarian). Do be sure to check its labels.

Boulder Soup Works, however, promised an entire range of gluten-free soups: soy ginger with shiitake, red lentil dahl, garden minestrone, carrot ginger with coconut, potato leek, white bean with tomato, roasted tomato basil, green pea with dill, green chili corn chowder, and butternut squash with sage, the latter two being brand-new to the line. The soups are not free of dairy, however, as a number of them promise a "splash of cream."

Mia's Kitchen added several varieties of gluten-free sauces. Bistro marinara promises to be "an ideal base for a sausage ragu," while the garlic & onion and mushroom varieties promise chunky vegetables big enough to spear with a fork.

Another sauce with an interesting allergen-free positioning came courtesy of Victoria Fine Foods, under its Victoria Vegan brand. The gluten- and dairy-free vegan alfredo sauce does contain tree nuts, but the label appears otherwise free of allergens.

Boasting "gluten free worth begging for," the developers at Second Helping have crafted a number of dishes free of gluten, dairy/casein, soy and nuts. Mama's Meatballs, according to the company, are authentic Italian-style beef meatballs, while Corn Puppies are similar to corn dogs, just in a gluten-free batter and with a "healthy twist."


Stay turned for Part 2, where coverage of 2013 Natural Products Expo West will include discussion of new gluten-free breakfast items, baking mixes, snacks and more.





Saturday, March 2, 2013

Farewell, Coffee? It's Been So Nice Knowing You


I'm contemplating giving up coffee.

There, I've said it. If you knew me, you would know just how big a statement it actually is. My friends and family will honestly wonder if a doppelganger has taken over and supplanted me. Coffee is a huge part of my life and one of my last remaining vices. My husband calls me a living Starbucks app, because no matter where we are, I always manage to find one. What can I say? A well-made americano calls to me like a beacon.

Yet it's true. I'm facing the prospect of life without coffee.

There are several reasons. One is that in my research of angioedema, I've discovered that vasodilators contribute to and exacerbate the condition. Vasodilators are substances that expand the internal diameter of blood vessels and thereby increase blood flow, and caffeine is a vasodilator. Second, it's come to my attention that coffee, regular or decaf, contains a protein to which celiacs react much like they do to gluten. Oh, the impact of that kernel of information hits like a body blow.

Bad news for me on both accounts, and I could go on.

Suffice it to say, I'm weaning. I'm down to about two cups of full-strength brew a day. A girlfriend who has eliminated all caffeine from her diet, save that in chocolate, says she never felt better. Her testimony gives me hope. It's to that notion I cling when I say I'm going to try to switch to tea gradually, and see how I do -- because if I focus on the probability of severe detox headaches, it won't happen. I still don't know that I'll be able to do it, quite frankly, but I'll try. Feeling better is the motivation, and if eliminating my coffee consumption accomplishes that, well, then, it'll be worth it ... I think.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oh, the Foods I Remember


As someone who has followed a gluten-free diet for nearly a decade now, consuming no gluten whatsoever has become my normal. I am accustomed to what I can and can't have, and for the most part, I don't feel excluded. Knowing the drastic result were I to indulge a momentary inclination to taste something, I am no longer even tempted. I would no more eat something whole wheat than I would eat rat poison. Seriously.

Having said that, however, there are those rare days when I do feel a little daunted. Tired of my lack of options in restaurants or grocery stores, and somewhat frustrated by trying constantly to create fresh, new recipes that satisfy both me and my able-to-eat anything husband, I will, on occasion, indulge in a pity party.

For me, what that means is to think about all the wonderful foods I love and can no longer have.

I absolutely love the cream of asparagus soup, wiener schnitzel, spätzle and gluhwein I had in Germany, as well as schnapps and Sachertorte in Austria.

I've had proper afternoon tea in London, complete with scones, clotted cream and preserves. I've also downed pints of heady Guinness in pubs whose names I've forgotten. I've sampled the fish and chips sprinkled with malt vinegar in Oxford at the pub J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to frequent.

I've had authentic pizza  in Naples, tortellini in Bologna and penne arrabiata at my favorite osteria in Rome's Trastevere. Incidentally, I believe you can get the best gelato in Rome at Giolitti, arguably the best in Italy, a three-scoop cone, all different flavors, smothered with thick whipped cream.

I've lived on Nutella, crackers  and Fanta for weeks at a time.

I ate more than my fair share of ham in Madrid. I hesitatingly tasted borscht, better than I expected, and caviar, much saltier than expected, in the countryside just outside of Moscow. I stuffed myself on potato pancakes topped with sour cream in Poland, along with a simply perfect chicken cordon bleu. I glutted myself with an absolutely luscious fondue in Switzerland. It seems I inhaled croissants and fruit tarts all over France.

I've indulged in beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, chasing a supper of andouille sausage gumbo and pralines, all after a couple huge Hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's.

I enjoyed Peter Luger's charred steak, complete with its  now-off-limits sauce, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

I miss the quiche and chicken pot pie I used to get at Marshall Field's in Chicago. I miss its Frango mints, and the turtles from Fannie May. While I don't miss the lines or its rude servers, I do miss the cheese popcorn from Garrett Popcorn Shops.

I had the perfect cheeseburger at Redamak's in  New Buffalo, Mich., and I've eaten a gourmet PB&J at Zingerman's deli in Ann Arbor, Mich. A toasted sesame bagel with veggie cream cheese at Studebagels and cannoli from MacRi's Italian Bakery were two of my favorite things to eat in South Bend, Ind.

I can't tell you just how much I miss couscous, tabbouleh and hummus, served with a freshly toasted pita. Same goes for the aged cheddar and Amish butter my family gets from central Wisconsin.

I can't count just how much corn on the cob smothered in butter and salt; burn-your-fingers-hot funnel cakes coated in powdered sugar; caramel apples covered in nuts, all common fare of summer festivals in the Midwest; that I consumed earlier in my life.

I miss Whataburger chocolate shakes and Oreo Blizzards from Dairy Queen.

I miss my maternal grandmother's fudge, my paternal grandmother's leftse -- a Norwegian flatbread -- generously smeared with butter, and my dad's Coney Island hot dogs.

I'm grateful I tasted Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes while I could. I'm glad I had Portillo's to know I really wasn't missing anything; the same goes for deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. I can say I've had good  oysters, lobster, shrimp and crab, and I will miss nary a one.

I do regret not eating fettuccine alfredo in Rome, where the dish originated.

How I wish I had tried crème brulee sooner; for so long I mistook it for something like flan, which makes me gag. Finally, while we were on an outing to the Art Institute, which has an excellent cafe for lunch, a girlfriend convinced me to try it for dessert. To my surprise, I could have put my face in the dish and licked it clean. Unfortunately, I went dairy-free shortly thereafter, but I'm glad I at least know the difference between the two confections.

I have literally eaten my way across the United States and much of Europe.

When I recall trips I've taken, often what sticks out in my mind, in addition to the spectacular sights, are meals. The thing about all these meals is that not only do I recall what I ate and how it tasted, I often remember quite vividly the weather at the time, the atmosphere of the locale, where I was in my life and most importantly, whom I was with.

For example, for many years, my mom and I often went to Marshall Field's for lunch. As I child, I would always choose chicken pot pie for my entrée; when I got older, I selected quiche and chilled white wine instead. To this day, I cannot think of either meal without thinking of my mom and our lovely lunches together.

Nutella was a dietary staple for my friends and me as we backpacked through Europe on the holiday breaks from our abroad program. When I think of that rich hazelnut spread, it conjures memories of traveling by train and the adventure of staying in hostels of varying quality. I can't separate the memory of its taste from that of freedom and excitement.

An Oreo Blizzard reminds me of my senior year in college and my girlfriends' and my weekly D.Q. runs after our must-see TV shows ended for the night. An Oreo blizzard was my standard order; I'd vary it up with mint flavoring sometimes. And I never think about that frozen treat without cherishing those times with dear friends, remembering what life was like for all of us then, before we shouldered the responsibilities of adulthood.

In Paris, my brother, his girlfriend (and although we didn't know it then, future wife) and I, all in our early 20s, briefly separated from the rest of our family party to enjoy a bit of repast in Montmartre where we had what felt like the quintessential Parisian experience. I happily chose the cheese plate for dessert. My sister-in-law and I both fondly recall the charming courtyard where we enjoyed our lunch that sunny afternoon.

I was in graduate school when I took my first trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. One of my girlfriends had grown up there, and she organized a whirlwind trip for the four couples that made up our inner circle to celebrate Mardi Gras the way the locals do. It was fantastic. Aside from the circuit of parades and parties, of course, there was the requisite experience of Bourbon Street, followed by a 2 a.m. recovery stop at Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets. I recall the strong taste of the cafe au lait matching the sweetness of the pastry, and remember sitting in a corner of the cafe, tired, happy albeit a little overwhelmed, appreciating the company of my friends.

At the Orangery in London, I took tea with two strangers on a gorgeous day in early June. I was in my mid-20s, nursing a savagely broken heart, traveling alone on a trip that would end up being one of the best of my life, and I was determined to have a proper cream tea while in the U.K. On a guided walk of rooftop gardens, the docent had mentioned that the Orangery was a lovely place for afternoon tea, so off I went. Lines were long, however, and for whatever reason, larger parties were seated long before singles. After a bit of a wait, I proposed a joint tea with the mother-daughter duo standing just behind me in the queue who had also taken the same tour. They were game, and we had a lively conversation over tea and scones.

I could go on.

When I begin to feel sorry for myself regarding my current diet, I ultimately remind myself that I have been very fortunate. I have been able to sample a wide range of foods, and of those I can no longer partake, I'm grateful I did at least have the opportunity to try them. I savor those moments, and realize I have been blessed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Show Time


Hi again, everyone, it's b again. While you may be accustomed to a visit from me around the time of the annual Natural Products Expo West (that'll be coming up in March, and to shamelessly paraphrase MacArthur, I shall return after that one), I've just returned from another food expo that had a number of interesting allergen-friendly products. While this is not at all an exhaustive list of the products at this year's Winter Fancy Foods Show (overall, it featured some 80,000 foods and beverages), we did find some interesting new items in the allergen-free market which should be hitting store shelves soon, if not already there. So, sit back and enjoy; this was an amazing show, and I can only hope to do it justice.

I should probably offer a bit of warning: the Fancy Foods Show, while a fabulous event, is not necessarily devoted to allergen awareness or natural foods. As such, most of the bigger players in those arenas either weren't here or are likely saving their big launches for Natural Products Expo West in a few weeks time. Such is likely the case for Enjoy Life Foods, who were at Fancy Foods but had little in the way of brand-new offerings to discuss.

Flax 4 Life displayed a range of muffins, buns, brownie bites and granola. They promise a nine-month freezer life and feature such muffin flavors as Cranberry & Orange, Apple Cinnamon and Hawaiian, to name only a few.

And we come to the product that has been debated in our household, if only for the name. HapiFoods Group has opted to name its new organic, gluten- and lactose-free cereal Holy Crap. Claiming to be "the world's most amazing breakfast cereal," it is a good source of fiber (four grams per two-tablespoon serving) and has 2.5 grams of omega-3s and 2 grams of omega-6. I have to admit, I couldn't bring myself to try this one, not until it adopts a new name. Just can't do it.

Kitchen Table Bakers has a wide variety of crisps made entirely of cheese and this year introduces Parmesan Crisps. All of the company's crisps are free of wheat, gluten, sugar and trans fats and also promise no genetically modified organisms. The 10 varieties include Aged Parmesa, Sesame, Italian Herb, Jalapeno, Basil Pesto, Flax Seed, Rosemary, Mini Crisps Aged Parmesan, and Everything (with onions, poppy seeds, garlic and sesame seeds).

Marion's Smart Delights added a pair of baking mixes, Cookie & Muffin Mix and Lemon Bar, though company representatives not other mixes are in development, including streusel/cobbler, bread and a pie crust. Developed in collaboration with dietitians and nutritionists, the line is kosher and certified allergen-free, and it is packaged in dedicated safe facilities. (The company notes it is allergen-free, but a check of the ingredients does show corn starch, as well as whole grain millet flour, in both of the products.)

Premium Gold Flax Products & Processing may not be a company name that rolls off the tongue, but it did feature an array of products for the gluten-free consumer, including a Flax & Whole Grain All-Purpose Flour that promised to be a 1:1 replacement for regular flours and featured omega-3, 6 and 9, as well as a 12-month shelf life, with no need for refrigeration.

Pure Market Express also launched a new dessert aimed at the gluten- and dairy-free crowd. Its sugar-free, single-serve, organic desserts feature such pies as Apple Crisp, Boston Cream, Chocolate Truffle, Key Lime, Mudslide, Turtle and Lemon Tart. Most of these do contain tree nuts, be warned.

Ready for a drink? Ubons promised its Bloody Mary Mix is free of fat, gluten and MSG, while blending traditional bloody Mary flavors with bits of garlic and onion flakes, celery seed, cayenne and its signature sauce.

Veggie Mama introduced frozen Garden Pops. The all-natural treats are made with real vegetables and fruit, sweetened with agave nectar and are free of both gluten and dairy. With 40-80 calories each, the flavors include Carrot Berry, Citrus Cucumber and Sweet Potato Pie.

Viviana added all-natural and vegetarian fettuccine, linguine and orzo, all free of gluten and all produced in a dedicated, FDA-inspected gluten-, dairy-, soy- and nut-free facility. As for other allergens, the entire 10-item line contains eggs, but otherwise, it appears allergen-friendly. Still, always check the labels.

Wow Baking Company featured all-natural wheat- and gluten-free cookies and cookie dough, as well as a pair of cake mixes (chocolate and yellow). The bagged cookies had an assortment of varieties: Chocolate Chip, Ginger Molasses, Snickerdoodle, Peanut Butter and Lemon Burst, while the individually wrapped cookies included those options plus Oregon Oatmeal. The company's cookie dough is limited to Chocolate Chip, Ginger Molasses, Sugar Cookie and Peanut Butter, however. Those allergic to corn will have to be wary, as it pops up in everything from the company, and there is also soy in the Chocolate Chip varieties. As for the oats in the Oregon Oatmeal, the ingredient label notes they are "gluten free oats," so buyer beware.

This is just a small sampling of what will be new on gluten-free shelves in the next few months, and don't forget that I'll be back next month with a review of Natural Products Expo West, undoubtedly with an assortment of new gluten- and allergen-free products to discuss.