Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blog Entry 150

"I have a blog."
"What's a blog?"

Does an explosion of recipes, pictures, stories, challenges, dining out adventures, and all things gluten and dairy free but still delicious on the internet count as a good answer?

I've been blogging for just over a year now. I started writing when I went gluten free and had no idea what the hell I was doing. (Note: I still don't always know what the hell I'm doing. I'm just a girl with a camera and a computer with internet connection.) Already dairy free, adding another and stronger food intolerance was a blow to me. How was I going to eat? Was there anything left to eat? But I had the trade off of having constant gluten reactions in recent memory. If I had not reached my lowest point health-wise, it would have been more of a struggle for me to rethink how I eat. I know what even the smallest trace of gluten does to me and I do everything I can to avoid it: obsessively washing my hands before eating, maintaining a gluten free kitchen, playing it safe while eating out, asking questions of people preparing my food or calling manufacturers, reading about the gluten free lifestyle and news constantly, scanning the grocery store aisles to see if a gluten free label popped up on anything new.

So why blog?

This is entry #150. I went into the blog with the intention of taking some pictures, writing some recipes, and keeping track of what I'm eating with the target audience being my mom and only writing about ten entries. She saw how much food was cut from diet when I eliminated dairy and I did not want her to panic or worry about me. I'll show my mom that there are some things I can still eat and that will be that. Heck, I can even put my creative writing major to a practical use.

I've had over 5,000 hits in the past year - some from countries I have never heard of, much less countries that my mom (intended target audience) has visited. Somehow I became a source for if smarties contain gluten or lactose (they don't) and for Royal Carribean cruise dining (awesome experience!). Hundreds of people saw my embarrassingly bad attempt at using a bell pepper as a sausage bun. My voice is out there in the gluten free world and beyond. There are hits from people just looking for recipes and lo and behold, they found the allergen friendly version! (I wonder if they made it gluten free...) One of the most surreal moments was when I found my blog images on google. That's when I knew I needed to step up my game and make sure that the presentation was also lovely. Being on the local news (local being Chicago - I still think this is surreal) telling my story about being non Celiac gluten intolerant (ncgi) elevated me to the next level only months into my gluten free journey.

So why the title "Living Lactose and Gluten Free in Chicago" and "windycitycooking"? I'm a Chicago girl - born in the city, raised in the burbs who returned to the city. When I chose my blog address, it was on a whim and I liked the ring to it. I wasn't sure if I was going to always be lactose free (maybe I would grow out of it?), so purposefully avoided mentioning dairy in the address. At the moment, I have no intentions on trying to make dairy part of my diet again. I have small plans for trying small amounts of dairy so I can have something made with butter and know my cross-contamination concerns. Fortunately, I am able to tolerate goat and sheep cheeses so I'm technically not lactose free. And "Living Cow's Milk and Gluten Free in Chicago" just doesn't sound the same... I am grateful to be living in Chicago where I have access to resources and an abundance of grocery stores. Restricted diets aren't easy, but living in the city has made it much easier.

The key phrase is in my tag line is LIVING. While on gluten, all of my energy was being taken away and I felt horrible. I would miss work, spend days in bed, and just want to curl up in a ball and stay there. I passed on every social engagement and literally just worked, saw doctors, and slept for months. I describe being gluten free as the lights coming back on for me. Something flipped a switch and the world changed. Energized, healthy and excited to live (and capable of staying awake past 7pm!), I was ready to take on the world. But first I needed to conquer my diet.

Now that I have gotten a better handle on the cooking and dining out aspect of being gfdf, I'm excited to get back into the kitchen and play with flours and start baking more. My culinary confidence has grown and my repertoire has increased a hundredfold in the past year. I'm still excited to develop recipes, take pictures of my food, and write about it. Without my blog, I do not think I would have walked into a restaurant again. While dairy free, I was terrified to eat out (people put butter in everything). I needed a mindset adjustment and this blog helped make sure that I was not deprived on this diet.

Thank you for reading my blog! Whether you are a first time reader or long time follower or my little sister (hi, Val!)! I'm excited that you are here and I hope that I can help inspire you to lead a full and healthy life - whether or not you are gluten and dairy free.

If you use Twitter, be sure to follow me! Windycitycookin

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday Concert in the Park

When I first moved to Chicago during the summers while in college, I heard of this magical place called Ravinia Festival where people spend the day sitting in the park with their picnic tables and tablecloths, drinking wine, and listening to live music. I went to the free concerts in Millennium Park a few times and my friends would point out who there also goes to Ravinia (matching sets of lawn furniture and vases of flowers on top of the table cloth on the low wooden table is a
giveaway). I've always wanted to see Rufus Wainwright perform. When a friend posted about going on Facebook, I jumped at the chance. We would invite a few other people and make a day of it - delicious food included!

Michael got the ball rolling - he was going to make a roasted sweet potato salad. One of his roommates is gluten free so we knew what was off limits and how to safely cook. Thomas picked up some Asian treats (off limits to me) and mango spears (devoured by me). I wanted to do a pasta salad with summer vegetables, but a trip to the Asian grocery store moved me away from an American classic dish towards a rice noodle Asian dish. When stirfrying the noodles with the vegetables, I had an overwhelming sense of dread - rice noodles stick together. With a little ingenuity, I portioned out the noodles into zip lock containers so everyone had their own. I could say I went this route to prevent extra dishes and serving utensils (we were carrying everything on the Metra) and so the food would fit in my small cooler. Not because I momentarily forgot that gf dishes don't always behave like their wheat counterparts. Never!

One of the best parts about the day? It was amazing to be with friends and have great conversation and meet new people, eat a picnic feast during an unusually cool August day, listen to soothing live music, drink blueberry wine and people watch (grapes are a BIG hit at Ravinia). But this was my favorite:
Just relaxing.
Existing and taking it all in.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Two of my friends recently bought me an ice cream maker and I have been experimenting with different recipes since none of the included recipes in the booklet that came with the machine used non-dairy milks. There are some fruit sorbet recipes without any dairy, but that's all in due time. First things first. I need to make a solid chocolate ice cream recipe to satisfy my cravings.

Coconut milk tends to be creamier than rice or soy milk, so it naturally lends itself towards making delicious frozen desserts. I used Aroy-D coconut milk (regular) and the rest of the ingredients were normal brand name items. Helpful hint: coconut milk is typically 25% to 50% cheaper at an Asian market than a big box supermarket. If you are planning on making lots of coconut milk ice cream and are on a budget, it is worth the trip to your nearest store!

Michelle's Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream
2 19oz cans of coconut milk
3/4 c cocoa powder
1 T vanilla
2/3 c sugar
1/2 c packed brown sugar

Mix all ingredients together with a small handheld mixer until smooth. Put in a 2 quart ice cream maker. Turn on and let mix for 20-25 minutes until desired consistency is reached. Serve. Makes approximately 6-8 servings.
How easy is that? This recipe is gfdf (gluten free dairy free), gfcf (gluten free casein free), and free of the top eight allergens without being free of flavor!!

And here's my suggestion for maximizing this treat: buy small plastic containers that are freezer safe. Portion out the ice cream ahead of time so you can free up space in the freezer AND have a variety of flavors on hand AND prevent the need to take the entire carton of ice cream out to thaw a little bit before you can handle it! (Or am I the only one that needs to let dairy free ice cream sit out on the counter for 10 minutes before I can even pretend to scoop the ice cream into a bowl?) I made the above recipe and portioned out 4 servings and then threw a handful of chopped raspberries in the mixer and let it go for another few minutes. After I portioned the remainder of the coconut milk ice cream out, I placed a whole raspberry on top so I could easily see which flavor I grabbed. Feel free to get creative! Use this recipe as a base and throw in some additional flavors! And comment with what you added!

Sorry folks without ice cream makers - I only tried this recipe with the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker. The only time I made ice cream without my new toy, it involved rock salt, rolling ice cream and rock salt in cans on the floor, and watching Angel at a friend's house after school. It was fifty times more complicated than the new fangled machines (which cost less than $70 on Amazon)!

Cheeseburger in Paradise

"Well, where CAN you eat?" my sister asked. She was in charge of choosing a restaurant for a family dinner and had to juggle my gluten and dairy intolerances, my dad's spicy food intolerance, my stepmom's vegetarianism, and her love for a good meal. I told her there are pretty much two ways to go: small hole in the wall restaurant where the chef can easily create a dish for me or a chain restaurant where corporate headquarters likely started outlining the allergens in the foods. She chose the later and started naming off restaurants nearby while I was google searching the name "+ gluten". Cheeseburger in Paradise came up. Not too bad, I could always get a bunless burger or a salad. Whatever. And then I went to their website...

How are they not exploding in the gf blogsphere and twitterverse as being a super friendly restaurant for those who are gluten free??? Cheeseburger in Paradise partnered with the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) to create their gluten free menu. I was excited to eat there and my sister was thrilled that there was a place nearby where we could all eat (and my dad was perhaps the most overjoyed because he is a huge hamburger fan).

At the restaurant, I told the hostess that I was gluten intolerant. I got my very own menu - that looked like everyone else's! It had a smaller selection and did not list any prices, but the look and feel of it was the same. (Other restaurants have quickly made one page print outs of what is gluten free - I appreciated the professionalism and respect for me as a consumer for getting something that is high quality.) As we looked over our menus, the manager came by to see who was gluten intolerant and went over some cross contamination concerns and the gf training the staff went through. The fries still seemed too good to be true, so I asked and they said that in order to have their fries be gf, they now make ALL their french fries in a dedicated
fryer - nothing but fries go in there! Win! Also, every three months their menu is updated so what I saw was only the beginning of them reaching out to their gluten intolerant customers.

I ordered a Bacon Cheddar Burger (hold the cheese.) For a dollar extra, I could get my burger on a bun (yes, please!). The manager said that they used French Meadow buns and went back to the kitchen to confirm that they were also dairy free. When my food arrived, it was introduced as a gluten and dairy free burger (additional win!). The bun was pretty good - even if it didn't hold up through the entire meal and I had to flip my burger upside to eat some more and then ultimately, just use a fork and a knife. Everything was delicious - it felt great to bite into a juicy burger and also have some thin french fries. My sister commented that this was the most normal thing she has seen me eat (we don't eat together very often) since going gf. She couldn't come up with anything I ate that was particularly weird, but sometimes my meals looks like they are missing something. At Cheeseburger in Paradise, I had a normal restaurant experience. If you photographed a gfdf burger and a traditional allergen filled burger, only the cheese would alert you to something being different. The manager and staff went the extra mile to make sure that I was comfortable and my food was safe for me.

Worth going back? Oh, yes! There are two Illinois locations - Algonquin and Downer's Grove.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chinese Dinner Party

To celebrate my new home (where I can comfortably entertain) and my birthday (I keep getting older!), I had my siblings and two of my cousins over for a small dinner party that was big on the food. When my mom hosts parties, she's easily entertaining for 20+ people. I'm just starting to get in the swing of hostessing, but kept getting stuck on my mom's style of feeding LOTS of family and sending people home with leftovers. So when I had 5 guests, I still had a huge appetizer spread, a side, two main dishes, and a dessert for a Sunday evening party.

Appetizer Menu
Pork meatballs (with water chestnuts inside!)
Vegetable rolls in rice paper (which my siblings both said felt like a jellyfish even though neither of them have ever touched one, but they liked the rolls nonetheless)
Carrot sticks
Fruit - watermelon, raspberries, strawberries
Small bowl of sugar
Chunky peanut butter
Chips and salsa (bought)
Chex mix

White rice
Asparagus with freshly toasted sesame seeds
Ham fried rice (my siblings and I LOVE fried rice - I switched it up with adding ham rather than chicken this time)
Steak and bell peppers stir-fry (San-J sauces are the best!)

Vegan gf chocolate cupcakes

I will admit that I went a little overboard on the appetizers, but everything worked out perfectly and there was enough food leftovers for two lunches for me and plenty of appetizers to make sure I was snacking throughout the week! When I was planning the menu, I chose a lot of things I could prep in advance. The fried rice and stir-fry were both "cook in five minutes" items, so I chopped and refrigerated my veggies in advance. I wrote down lists of what veggies went in what pan so I could start cooking without trying to remember what went where. Right before we were ready to eat, I heated up one wok and started adding food and then put my sister in charge of stirring it while I began the next. We plated everything on my fancy dishes and in some of the bowls she bought me for Christmas and we were set! I was a little disappointed that I still somehow remain the only one in the family who can use chopsticks despite our love for Chinese food. Being a courteous hostess, I set forks on the table so no one felt bad. But one of these days, I'm going to have to get chopsticks into my family's hands!
It was great to have my family in my new place. I think this was even the first time I properly cooked a meal from start to finish for my siblings. Normally when I'm home at my mom's, I'll contribute to one or two dishes, max. But here the whole meal was my responsibility. I enjoyed creating the menu and wondering what people will like, as well as show off some of my culinary chops (no, really, toasting sesame seeds just is turning a pan on, letting it warm up, and stirring around the seeds until they are toasted.) It was fun, it was rewarding, and I can't wait to do it again!

Sparkling Juice
For a bit of class without the booze, try serving juice in a whole new way!

Three limes
Two lemons
Juice - your favorite flavor will work
Sprite or 7-Up

Wash and thinly slice the limes and lemons. Place in freezer for several hours.

Right before serving, pour the juice with a "splash" of Sprite (about 1/2 - 1 cup for 6 servings) in a fancy pitcher. Add the frozen lime and lemon slices and ice. Stir. Serve in wine goblets. Whoever said wine goblets were reserved just for wine?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gluten Free Labeling Law

An open letter to the FDA:

I urge you to make clear, standardized gluten free labeling a priority. The proposed labeling guidelines are excellent, but time is of the essence for gluten free consumers!

Almost immediately after an appendectomy, I started having abdominal pain that no doctor could figure out that soon grew to a laundry list of problems. In the six months leading up to my gluten intolerant diagnosis, my medical bills (before insurance) soared over $20,000.00. My only treatment to prevent excessive bowel movements, extreme abdominal pain, nausea, brain fog, migraines, grogginess, lack of energy, difficulty breathing, chest pains, raised lumps on my abdomen, and more is to maintain a strict gluten free diet.

Every month, more manufacturers are providing gluten free labels on their products so I am thankful to have started the diet a year ago. There is currently no standardization on gluten free labeling, which means that despite a colorful "gluten free" label taking up prime space on the front of a package, the entire ingredient list must be read for offending allergens. Products are labeled gluten free that are made on the same equipment as wheat. Others only declare that “no gluten ingredients are used” but does not provide any indication of efforts set forth to prevent cross-contamination, let alone using wheat flour to prevent items from sticking together. There should be a uniform symbol, such as the Kosher symbol, that easily demonstrates that a product tests below 20 ppm for gluten, wheat, barely, rye, and oats and efforts are made to prevent cross contamination.

The widely accepted definition of gluten free means free of wheat, barely, rye, and sometimes oats. Since regulation is not yet in place, any manufacturer can label a product as gluten free. Tasty Bite recently labeled their Barley Medley as gluten free, even though barley is listed as one of the first two ingredients (behind water). Their mistake was thankfully easily caught by informed consumers, but what of “natural flavoring” that can currently easily hide malt flavoring without any allergen declaration?

Gluten free labeling needs to extend beyond the supermarket shelves and into the pharmacy. Before I take any medicine, I need to call the company and ask if gluten is used as a binding agent otherwise what is supposed to cure me can cause considerable damage to my health.These phone calls, which often can only be placed during the manufacturer’s business hours which are impractical for the average 9-5 worker, can easily take twenty minutes or more and I have even had to wait three days to get confirmation on a product’s gluten status.

With the gluten free diet, my health has dramatically improved and I feel better than ever. Every reaction I have to gluten now has me wondering if I simply need to take the rest of the day off from work or if I need to head to the emergency room. Standardizing and regulating which products are labeled gluten free is essential for the health of so many individuals, whether they have Celiac disease, non-Celiac gluten intolerance, wheat allergies, or have found their health improves on this diet.

Thank you,

Michelle R

For more information on how to register your comments, visit Gluten for Punishment's blog entry. You can also visit the official FDA site on the gluten free labeling. Be sure to leave your comment before the deadline of October 2, 2011! (My comment was a little on the long side, so the FDA got a shortened version of the above.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

All-American Party Food

It's party (food) time!

This past weekend was my birthday so I had a few friends over one day and some family over the next (maximizing the "clean house" look). I was busy in the kitchen trying to show-off my skills and ability to hostess. Before, I lived in a studio apartment that had a two-butt kitchen. I could easily fit plenty more people in the new kitchen - and that's where everyone gravitates during a party anyways!

My one friend asked if everything I made was gluten free. I looked at the spread - carrots, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, peanut butter dip, hummus, rice crackers, chex mix and cupcakes and jokingly told him, "The carrots were really hard to get gluten free." A trip to Edgewater Produce drastically drove down the cost of the fruit (so much so that I ended up buying much more food than I needed) and the rest was relatively inexpensive.

On to two of my All-American Party Food recipes!

Michelle's Hummus
1 15ozcan chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 c tahini (found near peanut butter in grocery stores)
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 T oil
2 T water
3 T fresh squeezed lemon (the juice of about 1 lemon)
1/4 t cumin

Combine all ingredients in a Cuisinart or a blender until smooth (or preferred consistency). Serve with fresh veggies, chips, or gf crackers. This recipe only takes minutes to make.

Italian Chex Mix (modified)
I used this recipe from the Chex cereal website as my jumping off point. (Check it out - there's loads of variations and they even utilize gf and microwave symbols!) I used both Rice and Corn Chex cereal and deviated from the recipe by using Season Salt instead of Italian seasoning (that makes it "all-American" - right?), salted cashews rather than soy nuts, skipped the cheese and made my own popcorn. Almost all microwave popcorn contains butter, so I've been buying "naked popcorn". Just the kernels in a plastic bag from the farmer's market. I add a small amount to a brown paper bag, fold the bag and use my microwave's popcorn setting for delicious and healthy popcorn. I followed the directions as written and then tossed in some Glutino pretzel twists. I'm a little shocked it took me over a year of being gf before I made Chex mix. For my first 9 months or so, I only ate Chex cereal. But now, I'm crabby because I ate the last of the mix today (I had one and a half sandwich bags worth as a snack) so don't have more readily available. But since this is such a fast an easy recipe, I should quit my complaining and make more already! This is a great recipe to have on hand - whether for on-the-go healthy snacking or at a party! My sister kept grabbing handfuls of it when she was over!

What are your favorite party foods to serve that are gluten and dairy free? Do you have any ingredients that ALWAYS go into your Chex mix? What about other additions to a basic hummus recipe?