Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cookie delight

Today I ate a cookie.

No, not one of those pieces of cardboard that masquerades as a cookie. A REAL cookie. My aunt, who is one of my favorite people, joined us for Easter dinner. This is not a common occurrence. She prefers to stay at home with her family instead of doing a big extended family deal. Well, this year she decided to join us. The day before she called me.

"I'm at the bakery, what do you want?"
Um, the bakery? But I can't eat baked goods.
"No, no. I am at Rose's Bakery in Evanston."

What is Rose's, you ask? Why it is the new wheat-free, gluten free bakery located just north of Chicago. I have never been there, but have heard wonderful things. It turns out that the raves are well earned. She showed up with a LARGE bag full of gluten free treats. I was able to eat a cheddar herb dinner roll with my ham. I indulged in an almond biscotti (with a hint of cayenne) with my cup of chai. Today I ate cookies. A sugar cookie for lunch. A double chocolate chip cookie after school. (I let one of my favorite students taste it and she thought it was amazing. She is a 7th grader with a discerning palate.) This evening I had my first oatmeal cookie in over two years. Oatmeal Chocolate Chip with Craisins and Walnuts. Oh. Holy. God. Amazing!

Check out their website. Soon you will be able to order from them online. If any of you live in the area, they also have a cafe. Check out the menu on their site. I absolutely have to go there soon. Pizza! Sandwiches! Artichoke dip!!!

And people said there are no good places to eat out gluten free!!!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sliding off topic...

I love to read. I devour books faster that I do chocolate. Shocking, I know!!! Well, just yesterday I was perusing a book blog and saw someone combining my two loves: gf food and books. Not just any books...romance. Yes, I admit it, I read trashy romance novels. They are among my guilty pleasures: romance novels, bad sci-fi, and stinky cheese. I wish I could be a talented enough writer that I could consistently merge my two loves, but let's face it, I'm not. I will be considerate and not inflict upon you my poor taste in literature. If you do happen to enjoy some romance in your reading (not just "trash novels" as my mom calls them, but chick lit and urban fantasy, too) feel free to come on over and take a peek at my book blog. It is new. Just a wee little fledgling of a site, but soon it will blossom and grow into a wondrous and all-consuming....ehem. Sorry, too much romance. Anyhow, take a look. Let me know what you think (I designed the header myself!) For those of you like my mom, just shake your head sadly at my apparent lack of literary discernment.

Days of affirmation

So often those of us with restricted diets spend our days feeling as though we are beating our heads against a wall. Co-workers or family members ask us, "What's the big deal if there are croutons on your salad?" Restaurant workers hear gluten-free and translate that as sugar free. We get suffer the eye rolls, the blank stares, and the not-so-quiet grumbling about picky eaters. It can be frustrating and disheartening.

Then there are those days that seem to reaffirm that what we are doing is correct. We are healthier, happier, and (hopefully) educating those we interact with in a positive way. Today has been one of those days. It was almost as if people were put into my path for a reason. It started with my annual trip to that special doctor all women should go to. (Sorry guys!) The nurse who was conducting the pre-exam inquisition asked about medications. I, of course, mention I am on a gluten free diet. Not a medication, I know, but it is information I feel all of my doctors should know about me. The nurse starts telling about this show on the Discovery Channel she saw where the boy had Celiac. Go Discovery Channel!!! After leaving the doctor's office I decided to treat myself to lunch. I am on Spring Break, why not! At the Milk & Honey Cafe I patiently stood in line expecting to receive the blank stare when I asked about their menu. No such thing! I was assured that both the soup (made on site) and the chicken salad were safe for me to eat. Oh man, they were good. Washed down with a glass of fresh made lemonade, I almost felt like it was summer time. Here's the strange one: somehow I struck up a conversation with the woman at the table next to me. The cafe's baked goods were mentioned, and I simply said I could not eat them. "Oh, do you have Celiac?" I think my eyes almost popped out of my head. Her son was just recently tested for Celiac. No way! We talked a bit about it, and I think I was able to set her mind at ease. I was feeling so good after that I decided to stop at the chocolate "boutique" down the block. The gentleman working there (who was quite dishy, by the way) pointed out the truffles that were gf, and mentioned that the rest of the truffles were made with glucose syrup "which I know is derived from wheat." I thought I might cry. He actually knew about the origins of glucose syrup (which I know is controversial as to whether there is in fact any gluten in the stuff....anyone know?) I walked out instead with a cup of Almond Milk. No, no, not the kind you are thinking of. They have a special chocolate drink with that name: hot cocoa made with white chocolate and almond puree. Oh. Holy. God.

The day has continued like this. Grocery shopping during the day is fun because you can call food companies about there products while you are in the store. My local grocers made me deliriously happy by now carrying Thai Kitchen's panang simmer sauce. I called. It's safe!!!

More and more these days people know about Celiac and gluten free eating. The number of individuals being diagnosed is skyrocketing. It seems as if everyone knows someone living gluten free. We are not mainstream yet folks, but there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Not sure how long it will take us to get there, but we will. Oh yes, we will.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Inspiration, part 2

I was browsing through the site ChronicBabe.com and saw a section calling for inspiring stories. I asked myself: who has inspired me to think beyond my chronic illness? It came to me in a flash. I knew exactly who it was. I sat and started typing. Well, I kind of write the way I talk. Excessively. My word count was slightly over double what they were asking for. Oops! But I don't want to cut anything! Well, this is when having your own blog is great. So here is a (very) slight departure from the usual posting. I also challenge you to ask yourself who or what inspires you. Please share either here or in your own blog. (If this is just too long, hop on down to my previous post. Thar be a recipe!)

It is often easy, as an individual with a chronic illness, to find yourself focusing too much on the limitations of your disease. We zero in on the symptoms and all those things we used to love, but can no longer partake in. In October of ‘06 I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an auto-immune disease whose only treatment is through a strict gluten free diet. You grieve. You mourn the loss of all those foods you once loved: croissants, crab rangoon, Wonder Bread, Mac n’ Cheese, and pizza from D’Agostino’s. Gone are the days of easy meals and worry free dining out. You have good days where you feel empowered by your new choices. You research, you take control. And then you crash and throw yourself a little (or big) pity party.

I find that it is typical to overlook the benefits and the positives in the situation. I generally eat healthier meals. I can have more energy. I don’t hurt. I have tried new foods and recipes that had never entered my diet before. You focus on the negatives. Food costs 2-3 times more money. Shopping trips are lengthy due to the insane number of labels you need to read. Why can’t I just eat that frozen pizza??!?!!? Then there are those moments when a single individual puts it all into perspective. Celiac Disease is not the end of the world. It is a challenge. One that I intend to live up to.

You see, I am a teacher. Every week I teach music to nearly 700 students in grades preK through 8. There are moments of discovery and joy. There are moments of frustration and anger. Basically, it is your typical teaching job. In the past three years I have seen nearly a dozen children diagnosed with diabetes. I see them struggle. I see them grieve. I see my situation reflected in their eyes. I know what they are going through.

Ironically, though, it is not these children who have inspired me. Absolutely, I am proud of them. It is a difficult thing to go through. But I have another student, "Joe." Joe transferred into our school last year during 4th quarter. Right away he stuck out: his style was different, he had that swagger my students were missing, he exuded attitude. Not in a bad way, but in a way that was different than his new classmates. If a child transfers in when they are a 7th or 8th grader this often raises a red flag for teachers. Why are they changing schools now? An 8th grader is not required to change schools if they move. Most parents of 7th graders lie to the school system and say they still live at their old address. We know this. It is the unspoken way of things. So when Joe transferred in near the end of his 7th grade year, eyebrows were raised.

Things did not start off well for Joe. Assignments were not completed, grades were abysmal. Teachers started saying words like "lazy," "trouble," "problem." He was getting labeled and you could see his swagger wilting. School started back this past fall, and that is when I finally heard the word I had been waiting for: disability. You see, Joe was 13 years old and could not read. If you stopped to talk to him, you could see the eager boy hiding behind the attitude. He may have transferred in as a 7th grader, but he was attempting to make a new life for himself. He was walking away from gangs, from the only life he knew. He was desperately trying to start over and so many of the adults were not giving him a chance. His heart was in the right place. He used manners that none of his classmates possessed. When you took the time to talk to him, and to really listen, he was an articulate young man. I could see his potential. I could see him trying day after day to make that change for himself. Imagine every single class you are in, struggling to do something as basic as make sense of the words on the page. It was humbling to see how much he wanted that new start.

Since the beginning of this school year, Joe has finally been diagnosed with a learning disability and his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) has been developed. He has worked so hard to turn the words lazy and trouble into diligent and determined. He is starting to win over the staff. It is an uphill battle with some, but I have faith he can do it. I know, because he shows this to me every day. He is now in an after school leadership group that I run. Honestly, it is a group to help develop decision making skills in some of our at risk kids. He was the first to sign up. He is the first to arrive each week. He was the first to truly open up and share. He told us about his brother who is in juvie. He shared about "his boy" that was killed in a drive by. He proudly stated that, while he had five F’s on his report card 1st quarter, he only had two for 2nd quarter. He has come so far. He has made amazing strides in the right direction. He has had a taste of success and is not going to let that get away from him. He is my inspiration. To overcome so much and to keep trying so hard is an amazing feat in any person, but to do this while in the throws of adolescence? Unbelievable.

He told me his goal is to stay alive and graduate. Well, last week he took an entrance exam at the high school he wants to attend. When I asked him how it went I thought he was going to cry and throw himself at me. He had passed. To see this "lazy," "troubled" boy take such pride in his academic achievement reminded me that no matter how challenging my diet may seem, there is a way to make it work. If a child with a learning disability, who cannot read and grew up in a neighborhood filled with gangs and crime can overcome his hurdles, I can find food that does not contain gluten. In comparison my hurdles are little, how about yours?


In an effort to inspire myself to post more often, I have done a bit of a makeover on my blog. New layout. A header from my own photography. New colors. What do you think?

I think it is important to find inspiration where you can. Our sources of inspiration need not be big or dramatic. Often times, the simplest things or moments can impact us the most. It can be the small indulgences that lift our spirits. During this time of year, when the cold and darkness seem to become just too much, where do you find inspiration? What helps you to lift your spirits when it seems the snow will never end?

My inspiration can come from the simple things:
-chocolate (Yum!)
-rubbing my kitty's belly
-good food
-smelling good (perfume, baby!)
-the sun on my face
-a cup of tea

Other times my inspiration comes in a more complex form:
-sitting on the beach, listening to the sounds of the ocean
-seeing the light of discover in the eyes of my students
-good conversation with someone I care for
-other food bloggers (yes, all of you!)
-my mom
-brainstorming with other fine arts teachers
-witnessing the love between two people

One source of inspiration that I have is my family. Not just my mom, dad, and brother. I come from a large (and usually crazy) extended family. Mom is one of seven kids, Dad is one of six. There are about 25-30 of us in my generation. We are all very different. There are small business owners, teachers, contractors, housewives, office workers, secretaries, retail workers, and everything in between. One person in my family who went down her own, unique path was my aunt. For a number of years, she and my uncle owned a restaurant in Colorado. It was situated half way up on one of the ski slopes in Snowmass. Vacationers and weekend skiers alike would take the lift to the top of the mountain. Half way down they could stop at Sam's Knob, a small plateau upon which their restaurant was located. My aunt and uncle offered healthy, tasty fare, perfect for the Colorado lifestyle. After a while, demand for their recipes became such that, after much work, my aunt released a cookbook full of recipes from their menus.

This was many years ago. I had nearly forgotten all about the cookbook. Around Christmas time, when I was doing some gf holiday baking, I came across a copy of the book at my parents' house. I admit it. I stole it. It is now sitting here next to me. Mom will never know. As I looked through the recipes there is an overall simplicity and healthfulness in the selection. Then I see it, the recipe I must make. Since going gluten free I have desperately missed indulging in a morning scone. Flaky, slightly sweet, with a moist inner crumb. Oh yes, this would be the first one I would try. They were wonderful. Being my aunt, she used a light hand with the sugar, so I may use a bit more next time. Otherwise these lightly sweet biscuits are fantastic.

Fruit Scones
from Food With a View by Patti Dudley

2 C gf flour mix (I used Kinnikinnick pastry mix)
1/4 C sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/8 t salt (omit if your gf flour mix contains salt)
6 T cold butter
1 egg
1/2 C heavy cream
2/3 C fruit or nuts (I used pecans and dried blueberries)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour mix, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until crumbly. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and cream together, and add to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined. Stir in the fruit and/or nuts of your choice.

On a lightly greased baking sheet, spoon out the mixture, spreading it into a 9-inch circle. Score into 10 wedges. You may also use an ice cream scooper to scoop individual scones directly onto the baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until browned.

Cut into wedges and serve with sweet butter and jam if desired.

For a truly inspiring moment, put your feet up and eat these with a hot cuppa tea. Cozy relaxation. That is the ultimate inspiration.