Category Archives: Sprue Review

Sprue Stories: The Oscars 2014 Edition (86th Academy Awards nominees gone gluten-free, with viewing party menu ideas)

Roll out the red carpet, because it’s time for a new Academy Award! The Oscars are this weekend, and I’ve been anticipating them with all the fervor you’d expect from someone who has only seen three of the nine Best Picture nominees (plus the animated shorts) and would be hard pressed to name one out of every twenty gown- or tux-clad stars walking that carpet on Sunday . . . but loves any opportunity to make a ton of themed snacks.

Oscars red carpet and stairs

Lovely, though my celiac-induced eyesight problems seem to be acting up again. (Yeah, it’s really a thing, though probably not for me.)
Photo © Rachel | Flickr

By the way, I’m a bit disappointed with the blogosphere this year. I didn’t expect much—only enough gluten-free, vegetarian, not-too-hard recipes inspired by the Oscars 2014 nominees to fill out my menu without me having to come up with anything brilliant on my own—but alas, everyone must be busy, I don’t know, watching movies. (I did find a punny list on Chowhound, and a not-very-special-diet-friendly set of menus on Epicurious.)

I don’t have a full menu plan for you either, but I do have what I’m sure you’ve been anticipating as eagerly as those incredibly overengineered and overpriced envelopes: the first annual Academy Award for Best Gluten-Free Picture.

The award, of course, recognizes the film best suited to being stuffed full of celiac in-jokes in a parody on my blog. It’s an honor few filmmakers will receive in the course of their career, primarily because I don’t watch enough movies.

The nominees, coincidentally, are identical to the Best Picture nominees. Cue the elaborate montage sequence, and let’s take a look. [Note: Light spoilers throughout.]


American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, so far as I can tell from trailers, are the exact same movie. The lead characters in each would likely find their glitzy lifestyles somewhat curtailed by a celiac diagnosis. In other news, Jennifer Lawrence—nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work in American Hustle—probably doesn’t have celiac disease, because her upper-intestine endoscopy came back clear, but she does get an award for being the celebrity most forthcoming about her bowel issues (with Tyra Banks as a close runner-up).


Gravity doesn’t have much to do with food—though as much as we gluten-free people may complain about our food options, they’re surely better than what astronauts get stuck with—but if you want to escape cross-contamination for good, your options are pretty limited to outer space.


Nebraska, I have a feeling, would be much more cheery if the main character had given up alcohol (and gluten) to take care of stomach problems earlier in life. He’d be happy enough to stay in his own state with gluten-free corn aplenty, and most of the movie would probably never have happened. 

[3/1 Edit: I started watching Nebraska last night and realized my skimming of the plot summary put me off track. The father’s not from Nebraka, but rather trying to escape his wheat-growing state of Montana to find refuge in the Cornhusk State. This would make the movie a neater fit for GF Best Picture, except that I disliked it so much I didn’t watch more than twenty minutes.]


Dallas Buyers Club focuses on AIDS, and although heavy, is certainly also “darkly humorous,” which is how I’m convincing myself it’s okay to include it in my roundup. In a GF rendition, Matthew McConaughey’s character would be told he had at least 14,600 days left to live, but 0 gluten left to eat. Facing the food options available to the gluten-free community in the eighties, he just might get involved in a risky scheme to smuggle gluten-free baked goods into the country from more enlightened locales. His desperate celiac fellows would literally eat it up.


Philomena is all about Ireland, and—as I’ve previously discussed—celiac disease is often (wrongly?) associated with the Emerald Isle. AIDS makes an appearance in this movie, too, but I am not about to compare celiac disease to AIDS, even if they are both autoimmune. However, if Phil’s son had turned out to have celiac disease instead, our plucky protagonist would have had a somewhat less exciting human interest story, and the movie a much happier ending.


12 Years a Slave—I haven’t seen this, but I know it’s another sad one. In the one food scene I’ve heard about, the main character Northup eats meat, johnnycake, and blackberries—and since johnnycake is often made entirely of cornmeal, that’s a naturally gluten-free meal. (Epicurious came through with a menu inspired by this scene, though with wheat flour in the johnnycakes. Way to ruin everything.)


Captain Phillips had a pretty tough time during the 2009 hijacking of his ship by Somali pirates. That said, like most things, getting kidnapped by pirates would definitely be even worse with celiac disease. Along with being terrified, wounded, and disoriented, you’d probably have a bad stomachache from the food scraps they gave you.


Her is my favorite for the win. I’ve seen it, for one thing, and for another, it’s obvious that the real reason Theodore and Catherine divorced was food. Theo went gluten-free, Catherine didn’t, and they grew apart. Happens all. The. Time. (All those sad, lonely meals we watch him eat in his living room? My celiac heart totally went out.)

Luckily, computers don’t need to eat, so Theodore was able to skip over the Gluten Free Singles stage of his life and start dating someone who suited him immediately. Yes, yes, I know there’s a scene where Samantha—his “girlfriend”—makes him get a slice of pizza, but come on. She’s an operating system. If anyone knows where to find wheat-free pizza by the slice, it’s her.


And the Oscar goes to . . . you tell me! Which of the Best Picture nominees have you seen, and which was your favorite?

large gold Oscars/Academy Awards statue on truck

This Oscars statue is recovering from a rather bad glutening. Hope he’ll be ready for the festivities.
Photo © Rachel | Flickr

Menuwise, Sprue Jr. and I are leaning towards a black and white theme (as in tuxedos, which make an appearance in several of the nominated films, not to mention in the live audience at the ceremony).

We’ll have chocolate-drizzled popcorn, black bean dip with white chips, white bean dip with black chips, and whatever else the spirit moves us to make—including, possibly, gluten-free black and white cookies a la Lisa Horel’s Nosh on This and my mom. I also really, really want to make these “evil nun” cake pops in honor of Philomena, but sis says they’d be too hard.

Are you hosting or attending a viewing party? What are you making?

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Are Food Allergies the New Eating Disorders? Cosmo tells all.

Yesterday, I bought my first (and quite possibly last) copy of Cosmopolitan ever. The February 2014 issue boasts a flashy pink cover, “85 ways to get your dream hair,” and a 4-step “bikini body plan.” Good stuff.

But what really interested me was this:

I’d heard about the article the night before (thanks to Anna Luke, @Gfreegimme3), and I opened to page 182 ready to hate it. 

I wasn’t totally disappointed.

The piece, by freelance health writer Jessica Girdwain, makes the case that some people use allergies as an excuse to eat less, and so control their weight. It urges readers to determine whether they’re truly allergic or intolerant to a food, or in fact struggling with disordered eating.

[Edit: You can now read the entire story online here, so you don’t have to spend the four bucks. No, I don’t know why it’s categorized under “Party Ideas & Tips.”]

The story bugs me in several ways. It:

  1. Features a truly repulsive visual of a lipsticked, nail-painted hottie sensuously devouring what looks like an entire naked pizza crust. It also prints the phrase “eating disorders” in the title with a backwards S and a couple misaligned letters. Like, get it? It’s disordered. Cute!
  2. Muddies the waters about celiac disease: Girdwain calls celiac “an extreme form of gluten intolerance,” then states that “with an intolerance, you may be able to eat dairy, gluten, sugar, or eggs in limited amounts . . . And you may be able to reintroduce the food into your diet in the future.”
        Girdwain and her editors might know that people with celiac can’t eat even small amounts of gluten ever again, but Cosmo’s 78 million readers worldwide may not. The way this article is worded, they still won’t.
        Note: The world’s leading experts on celiac disease now agree that the umbrella term gluten intolerance “carries inherent weaknesses and contradictions” and should be ditched in favor of gluten-related disorders. So let’s start. (I’ll abbreviate it to GRDs for the rest of this post.)
  3. Completely ignores the existence of male eating disorders. Then again, it is a women’s magazine. In its pages, men are merely gods who demand satisfaction by the ritual sacrifice of female dignity.
  4. Appears opposite an ad for Hydroxycut: Really, Cosmo? You’re going to lecture us to avoid restrictive diets, then sell us a weight loss supplement? That’s . . . well, that’s exactly what I’d expect.

Still, the article gets some things right. Girdwain recognizes that food allergies and intolerances are real and are serious. Her primary example is a woman who gets her doctor’s approval to go gluten-free, then spirals into orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with eating only “healthy” foods).

It’s a realistic story, but the argument it illustrates is guaranteed to get eyerolls from the food allergy and gluten-free community. Many of us struggle to have our needs taken seriously, precisely because we’re perceived as fad dieters or disordered eaters.

There is a connection, though.

Looking into it, I found there are many links between eating disorders and food allergies, intolerances, and GRDs. For example:

  • Celiac disease can be misdiagnosed as an eating disorder.
  • Made-up or perceived allergies can mask or exacerbate an eating disorder.
  • A person with celiac disease can develop an eating disorder.
  • A person with an eating disorder can develop food intolerances.

About 1% of the population has celiac disease, and up to 1 in 13 kids has one or more food allergy. Similarly, data from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) suggests that about 8% of Americans have an eating disorder. With so many people affected by these conditions, there’s bound to be some crossover.

But there’s more than just coincidental crossover.

Run a Google Scholar search on, say, “celiac disease and anorexia,” and you’ll find that the two often go hand in hand. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center even includes the disorder on its list of celiac disease symptoms.

The association may be because:

  • Sticking to “food rules” or diets can lead to obsessing over food, restricting intake, and/or binge eating.
  • Associating food with suffering can encourage eating less.
  • Social and familial issues related to health issues can spur an eating disorder.

If you think about it, a gluten-free (or dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, and so on) diet is disordered eating. It’s highly restrictive; it encourages religious avoidance of minute quantities of certain foods; it brings fear and anxiety to the dinner table; it drives a wedge between you and those with whom you dine. Sure, for us, it’s the healthiest option, but that doesn’t make it entirely healthy.

Someone already “on the spectrum” of restricting and binging could easily slip, once allergies and GRDs (real or fictional) get involved. And (according to the ANAD) 7 to 9% of people who go on any kind of diet eventually develop a partial or full-blown eating disorder. Small wonder, then, that embarking on an ultra-restrictive diet for health reasons might point people down that path.

Getting personal . . .

In my experience, disordered eating and celiac disease are intimately linked. Though I don’t have an eating disorder (and don’t want to co-opt the term), I’ve got my own share of food issues. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease myself, one of my first and nastiest thoughts was, “Yes! A new, valid excuse to refuse food when it’s offered to me. Maybe I’ll lose weight!”

Sure, I didn’t actually need to lose weight, I knew that more people who go gluten-free gain weight than lose it, and I had more important things to think about—like my health, and what to do about my kitchen. But still, I thought it.

I wrote about this more when the topic came up at Gluten Dude almost a year ago (the firebombs thing was a joke), and I’m sure I’ll write about it again. For now, I’ll conclude, with some surprise, that . . .

I agree. With Cosmo. Do you?

Some women (and men) do rely on excuses to avoid food, consciously or unconsciously; and the actual rise in food allergies and GRDs lends the “fakers” more credence. And people with legitimate reasons to avoid foods sometimes take it too far.

Cosmopolitan February 2014 issue

Oh, Cosmo.

To be honest, I find it refreshing that a magazine like Cosmo would include an article warning against restricting foods to lose weight. Of course, the very next spread is an “I Dream of Bikini” workout, and the women pictured in the issue are the very Photoshopped, personally trained waifs we’re all killing ourselves to imitate. But what’s a little hypocrisy among friends?

The article, with all its flaws, spotlights a real issue, albeit an uncomfortable one. I’m interested to see how others in the community respond, and I’d especially love to hear YOUR thoughts.

Have you read the article? What did you think? Do you have thoughts or personal experience you’re comfortable sharing about the GRD/allergy and eating disorder connection, or the blurry lines between them?

Sources (I accessed the full texts through my alumni network, so you may just have to trust me):Anorexia Nervosa and Celiac Disease: Two Case Reports,” “Eating disorders and celiac disease: a case report,” “Coeliac disease and eating disorders – forgotten comorbidities?

Other reading on this topic: “Eating Disorder or Celiac Disease?…Or Both?” on About.com, Carrots and (Candy) Stick‘s response to the Cosmo articleLiving Without‘s 2012 article, “Celiac Disease and Eating Disorders”

Thanks for reading! If you stuck through to the end, double thanks! When me and my dream hair and bikini bod are lounging on the beach this summer, I’ll think of you.

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Gluten-free food: Two chefs get it. Let’s get through to the rest.

“What’s your favorite gluten-free restaurant?” A group of NYC bloggers answered this question during introductions at dinner on Tuesday night. When my turn came (too soon! Wasn’t ready!), I said, abashed, “I don’t eat out much anymore, so I don’t have one yet.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, 93% of people (and, I bet, even more in New York) enjoy eating out, but I’m generally no longer among them. The service is always too brusque, the food too suspect, the assurance too absent. Instead of relaxing, I worry through the entire experience, from ordering (oh God, I’m taking so long) to paying (does the waiter really deserve 20% after dropping crumbs into my meal? But what kind of person doesn’t tip?). Admittedly, my so-so experiences may be partly a function of my restaurant selection and neurotic personality. But it’s also true that a lot of places just don’t get it.

Recently, though, I visited two that did. Check out my reviews, then let’s discuss how to make experiences like these happen more often for us all.

Mehtaphor

When I attended the launch of the GREAT Kitchens Chef’s Table luncheon tour at MehtaphorChef Jehangir Mehta (who also owns Graffiti) served us elegant, inventive tasting courses inspired by Asian (especially Indian) and French cuisine. Standouts, for me, were the grilled tofu topped with a chickpea flour-breaded onion ring and cilantro chutney, and dessert—a rum raisin ice cream sundae topped with sweet pappadum-inspired crisps. The food made me think differently about some of my favorite (and least favorite—see: cilantro) foods, which is exactly what a restaurant should do.

More importantly, the chef and his waitstaff were pleasant, articulate, reliable, and accommodating. Mehta seemed passionate about the idea of serving everybody who entered, and he did it well. He said his dream was to one day own a restaurant serving just one person at a time, which I found pretty cool.

MORE chickpea flour!!!

MORE chickpea flour! It’s everywhere.

Tommy Lasagna

Chef Tommy Mosera is new to the gluten-free business, but it doesn’t show. At Tuesday’s blogger dinner at Tommy Lasagna, our server Zach and the chef himself were so personable, informed, and forthcoming that I almost want to say the service was the standout—except that that’d be unfair to the housemade focaccia and mozzarella, farmers market lasagna, flourless chocolate cake, and light-as-air cheesecake.

Chef Mosera explained he phased in gluten-free items a few at a time to get his staff used to taking precautions—and, my, the precautions! The pasta is made in-house, but in its own equipment, in the morning before any gluten molecules might be in the air to drift into our lasagna like so many acid snowflakes. Mosera also names the gluten-free menu items differently from gluten-containing items (not just “GF such and such”) to avoid confusion at the point of order—an inspired idea. His work seems to have paid off, since afterwards we all felt great (if a tad overstuffed). The restaurant is launching its full gluten-free menu this weekend.

Whatever the omnivores were having sounded good, too, but give me two slabs of fresh mozzarella and I am o-k-a-y.

Whatever the omnivores were having for their first course sounded good, too, but give me a few slabs of fresh mozzarella and I am o-k-a-y.

My compliments to the chefs!

Both chefs also contended admirably with other restrictions thrown their way, including my vegetarianism and a smattering of allergies. If you’re in the New York area and eat gluten-free (or don’t), Mehtaphor and Tommy Lasagna are both well worth a visit.

What inspired these chefs to give us an experience so out of the ordinary? Chef Mosera created his gluten-free menu after his business partner’s wife (the person who suggested he open a restaurant) became gluten sensitive. Chef Mehta feels that serving people food they can eat is why he opened a restaurant in the first place.

So now I wonder: How can we get other chefs to follow their example?

I tried to answer that question this week on My Life With Food Allergies. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to stop by and let me know if you agree.

And, in the spirit of trying new things, check out these blogs by the folks with whom I had the distinct pleasure of sharing these meals. Some of these bloggers, I already followed and was excited to meet in person; some I’d met before and was thrilled to see again; and some were new to me; but all of them are smart, fun folks whose blogs you ought to read (if you don’t already!).

Barbara of About.com IBS, Mike of Gluten-Free Mike, Anya of Another Gluten-Free Blog, Judith of Fooditka and We Heart Astoria, Carolyn of Gluten-Free Bird and the Brooklyn Gluten-Free Meetup Group, Candice of London to NYC, Katie of Gluten-Free Blondie and the hilarious When I Went Gluten-Free, Kristen of Pasta’s Kitchen, and Erin (who organized the Tommy Lasagna dinner) of Gluten-Free Fun, Gluten-Free Globe Trotterand the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup Group.

Have you discovered any new favorite blogs or restaurants recently?

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300 Sandwiches: The Gluten-Free Edition

Here’s a story for you. It’s the best kind: a love story.

[Note: This post won’t make any sense unless you’re already familiar with this article about the blog 300 Sandwiches—so check it out if you’re not.]

Once upon a time, I managed to secure a gluten-free boyfriend. This boyfriend—let’s call him D—missed sandwiches more than anything. To D, a sandwich was like a kiss or a hug (whatever that means).

One day, after months of cajoling, I made him a sandwich. D bolted it down and exclaimed, “Babesicle, this is delicious! You’re 300 gluten-free sandwiches away from an engagement ring!”

I paused.

How likely was I to find another man who fulfilled all of my criteria? D was gluten-free, male, and even vegetarian. Wouldn’t it be prudent to hold onto him? Three hundred sandwiches…that’s not so much to pay for lifelong companionship.

I accepted the challenge.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #1

The Beginner’s Luck

I tied on my apron and started off strong, with fried tofu and home-pickled cucumbers on “rye” bread. D smacked his lips. I smiled. 299 sandwiches more and this domestic bliss could be mine forever.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #2

The Sophomore Slump

On half of an Everybody Eats baguette, this Vietnamese tofu bánh mì was a thing of beauty.

“But,” said D, polishing off the last morsel, “I’m getting a bit sick of tofu.”

Hearing this, I was disappointed, but also relieved. Pressing, freezing, thawing, re-pressing, marinating, searing, baking, and basting tofu to get that meaty taste and texture was thrilling and all, but doing it every day could get tiring. And I wouldn’t want to lose steam so early in the race.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #3

The Just-Okaynini

Low on inspiration, after a late day at work, I kept it simple: grilled cheese on Rudi’s multigrain. I threw in some spinach and a handful of potato chips in an attempt to add interest, but I knew the result was flat.

“It’s…okay,” D concurred.

I vowed to prioritize my work and social life less in the future.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #4

The Breakfast in Bed

Having calculated how long it would take me to meet my 300-sandwich goal and feeling my biological clock ticking, I decided to kick it into overdrive. If there’s one thing a man loves more than a sandwich for dinner, it’s a sandwich for dinner and a sandwich for brunch.

Although a single gluten-free bagel costs roughly the same amount as a whole pack of regular, and doesn’t even taste like a bagel without the barley malt, I took a stab at a breakfast sammie anyway.

“Not bad,” D said appreciatively. “Try an English muffin next time.”

Gluten-Free Sandwich #5

The Structurally Unsoundwich

This elaborate roasted-veggie sandwich looked great on the plate, but as gluten-free sandwiches are wont to do, it fell apart under the weight of its toppings.

“What kind of sandwich is this?” he grumbled.

“We don’t have to count this one,” I replied. After all, it wasn’t D’s fault celiac disease causes grumpiness.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #6 (or #5a)

The One You Eat with a Fork

Not to be defeated by a floppy piece of bread, I tried a compromise: the open-faced ‘wich. Someday, I reasoned, when we had a country house where we’d entertain guests, I’d be glad to have a few open-faced sandwich recipes in my back pocket (or should I say pocketbook—no lady wears clothing with pockets).

Gluten-Free Sandwich #7

The Poor Man’swich

I did some more calculations and realized how expensive it would be to make 300 sandwiches on store-bought gluten-free bread. And it would be nearly as costly to buy the seven different flours plus xanthan gum needed to bake bread myself—to say nothing of my somewhat valuable time. Going for home-economical, I made a tempeh lettuce wrap instead. Though I served it triumphantly, D was not convinced this counted, either.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #8

The Sandwich That Wasn’t

First thing after rolling out of bed at 1 pm, my faithful D made his usual polite request: “Make me a sandwich.”

But while getting out the cutting board and knife, I realized something: I was tired of sandwiches.

Reaching for the mustard, I realized something else: I don’t even like sandwiches.

And when my brand-new loaf of Udi’s turned out to contain an air hole nearly equal to the volume of the loaf, I realized one more thing: It was the twenty-first century. I didn’t have to make that sandwich.

I turned to D. “Would you marry me even if I didn’t make you 300 sandwiches?”

“What?” he returned, puzzled. “Are you talking? Shouldn’t you be slicing something?”

And that’s when I came to my final realization: no man is worth 300 sandwiches, gluten-free or otherwise, if you’re making them because he demands it. A relationship in which either party feels compelled to jump through hoops to win the other’s affections is as empty as the inside of a quality-non-assured loaf of bread. And life’s too short to spend it making someone else’s sandwiches.

“You know what, D?” I said—and by now I hope you know what that stands for—”Make your own damn sandwich.”

After all, I had more important things to do…like look for a new boyfriend.


The 300 Sandwiches blogger now claims that the whole thing was a joke—though her blog itself makes no such claim. What do you think? Is it funny? Sad? Infuriating? Should we be past caring about stuff like this? And which sandwich idea sounds best to you?

I must admit, she’s posted some stellar-looking sandwiches that I’d love to make GF, including these blondie ice cream sandwiches, featured in—from a feminist perspective—one of her most cringe-worthy posts, and—from a hungry perspective—one of my favorites.

Note, Oct. 4, 2013: A reader helpfully noted that none of the photos are of truly gluten-free sandwiches. I have strict policies for photo sourcing and mostly use Flickr’s Creative Commons to find shareable photos. As with anywhere, I found few GF options there. If you’re a food blogger who wants to grant me rights to post a photo of your fabulous GF bánh mì here, get at me.

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