Tag Archives: family

A hit list and a wish list: who deserves celiac disease?

People I wish had celiac disease:

  • Hitler: Obviously.
  • Stalin: Also obvious.
  • Saddam Hussein: You get the point.
  • J.K. Rowling*: Because she’d write an instantly best-selling inspirational children’s book series about overcoming celiac disease through the magic of love and friendship. And she’d totally want me for a coauthor.
  • Ancient Buddhist monks*: Because then they would not have invented seitan, and I would not have to feel sad I can’t eat it.
  • Cookie monster with fruitUS Farm Bill writers*: Because they would stop subsidizing wheat. (And produce more…corn? Hang on a second.)
  • The Cookie Monster: Because it’d be great for awareness.
  • Lady Gaga*: Because she flirts with G-free already, and any way I can be more like Lady Gaga sounds good to me.

People I’m glad don’t have celiac disease:

  • My mom: Because recipe reformulation or not, I’d hate to see her lose her Twizzlers.
  • My brother: Because I’m not sure what he’d do without pizzapastasandwiches.
  • The rest of my family: Well, assuming it’s true, that is. GET TESTED.
  • Most children: Everyone should have at least 20 years of animal-cracker-gumming, Triscuit-crunching, beer-chugging bliss (sorry, I meant 21 years). If they get it later…well…we all have our cross to bear.*
  • BooksBooks_How_To_Cook_Everything-S&SMark Bittman: Because socca seems even cooler when its chief proponent isn’t forced to eat chickpea flour. And because there’s just not as much of a ring to How to Cook Everything Except Wheat, Rye, Barley, and Anything That Might Have Ever Touched One of Those Things.
  • 132 out of 133 people: Good for them.

People I wish did not have celiac disease:

  • Me: Because it sucks.
  • My sister: Because she misses beer, and I feel responsible.
  • You: Because you’re awesome, and it’s not. I hope you would still read my blog, though.

People I’m glad have celiac disease:

  • No one.

*I don’t really wish celiac disease on anyone besides the evil dudes. And the Cookie Monster, because he’s fictional and it would be hilarious.

Who’s on your lists? I know you’ve got ’em.

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SISTER (CELI)ACT: two sisters, one diagnosis, zero gluten

This is the first of three guest posts by my sister Althea. (At least, she thinks it will only be three posts…) Enjoy!

Faithful followers of Based on a Sprue Story may remember me as the benevolent sister who agreed to forgo all glutenous foodstuffs (as well as anything that may have ever come into contact with a glutenous foodstuff) in her own home, out of respect for Molly’s dietary needs (and neuroses). What a thoughtful, altruistic sister, you likely thought. That’s what I thought, too, when we first made plans to get an apartment together.

There must be an Udi’s version of this by now, right?
Photo © Tamara Evans | Flickr

Just days before boarding the trusty old Lucky Star (may she rest in peace), however, I learned that I also have celiac. But there’s a twist. (No, not one of those donut twists, or the twist in your stomach, dear reader, at the mere thought of one of those donut twists—just a twist in the story.)

The twist is, I did not suffer for years from mysterious symptoms before getting this diagnosis. Sure, I had had some mild GI trouble from time to time over the past year or so, but everyone gets constipated once in a while, right? I was probably just eating too fast. Or drinking too much coffee. Not enough coffee? (Do yourself a favor and click on that last link—but only after you’ve finished reading this post.)

Me chopping parsley (a naturally gluten-free food) in preparation for our housewarming party (details to come).

In fact, I bet I would have ignored the issue entirely if I didn’t have such a good little awareness-raiser for a sister. Said sister urged me to get tested for the sprue (which, as my case illustrates, all  immediate relatives of a celiac should do, regardless of symptoms). I asked my school’s health center to do it, but the nurse practitioner there said it wasn’t worth it; “It’s not like you’re running to the bathroom every time you eat a sandwich,” she said. (Well, no, but that’s not really how it works, so… but, okay.)

In the end, I got the blood test when I was home briefly after graduation, and my antibody levels were off the charts. I haven’t had a biopsy yet, but a recent paper concluded that blood test results are strong enough evidence of celiac that a biopsy isn’t necessary.

So, apparently, I have celiac disease just as much as Molly does, which means I need to eliminate gluten from my diet just as completely as she does. Or do I?

In my next post, I’ll delve into the questions that get asked of someone who only sort of has a disease that confounds people enough as it is. Stay tuned!

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A tale of two cakes

Recently I attended a party. You might imagine from the post’s title that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, etc…but actually, it was a pretty darned good gluten-free time all around, heavy on the wisdom and light on the foolishness.

The party in question was in celebration of my sister’s graduation and, secondarily, my twenty-fourth birthday. At such occasions where just one gluten-free eater is present, said eater might count him or herself lucky to have a quarantined corner of gluten-free snacks, or to be allowed to bring his or her own food. At this occasion, though, the hosts—my parents—went all out creating an entirely gluten-free spread, complete with TWO cakes.

Cutting the Cakes

No, not one gluten-y graduation cake for Althea and a separate gluten-free birthday cake for me, but two gluten-free layer cakes made from King Arthur Flour gluten-free yellow cake mixes (and KAF cake enhancer). Since we didn’t do a taste test of one cake with the enhancer and one without, I don’t know how critical this ingredient was, but I can tell you that both cakes tasted and felt just like they should: like cake.

They were both vanilla, one with buttercream and M&Ms, and one with a cornstarch-based pudding filling and a dark chocolate ganache: a classic Boston Cream Pie gone oh-so-gluten-free. Just what I wanted! (My cake looks like it’s about to tip over in the photo, but I assure you that I cut the entire thing without the top sliding off—a feat that I undertook in grave doubt at my ability to achieve.)

We also tried the King Arthur Flour gluten-free cookie mix. Although we added lots and lots of chocolate chips, the consensus was these weren’t quite as impressive as the cakes. They were best right out of the oven, which is when I tried them, but I’ve been informed that as they cooled they became a bit crumbly and that they had an odd aftertaste. I’ve noticed an aftertaste in many gluten-free desserts I’ve tried and, after struggling to pinpoint its origin, I now blame the tapioca starch, which a gluten-free cookbook author I work with told me can have a metallic taste, depending on its source. Have you noticed a metallic aftertaste in your GF goodies? Do you blame the tapioca?

KAF Cookies

I started with dessert because it’s always the most important thing, but let’s pause for a moment to discuss the second most important thing: avoiding cross-contamination. My parents don’t have a gluten-free kitchen, but they did go to great lengths to make food that was safe for their invalid offspring:

  • They wiped down every surface and took all of the silverware out of the cutlery drawer and washed everything, tray included.
  • They bought new mixing and serving bowls, spoons, spatulas, knives and cutting boards, measuring cups, and more.
  • They used disposable foil cake pans and killed thousands of parchment-paper trees covering everything else (the cakes were served on the usual cake stands, but with a layer of parchment paper, just in case).
  • Everything on the buffet was gluten-free, from the appetizers to the main course to the desserts, and they asked guests not to bring food. This meant I could pick at the buffet like a normal person, rather than worrying about contaminated serving spoons or crumby hands.
  • They explained cross-contamination concerns to many of my family members who weren’t yet aware I had celiac, which was a load off my shoulders. Once in a while, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about gluten.

My mom has been insisting that when I write this post, I be absolutely ruthless in laying bare all of the things they didn’t do right, but to be honest, I don’t have much to complain about. To appease her, though, here is the run-down:

  • Beer was served, but there’s not a high risk of cross-contamination with that, since it tends to go straight from bottle to gullet.
  • A couple of guests did bring food, but nothing that used gluten ingredients (though I still avoided it in case of cross-contamination).
  • We realized we’d forgotten to get new cooling racks when it came time to take out the cookies, but we made do by setting them on parchment paper over the racks (maybe this contributed to the cookies’ crumbliness).
  • Mom suggested I make a plate of food for myself in advance, just in case, so I’d feel extra comfortable, even though everything would be gluten-free. I didn’t, because I wanted to feel normal. But I probably would have felt even more comfortable if I’d taken her advice. Turns out, Mom does know best.
  • Mom feels guilty for having eaten Twizzlers after the party. But as much as I’ve never cared for Twizzlers myself and never shall now, I know what they mean to her and would never want to take them away from her.

All in all, the party planning gets an A from me.

Along with dessert, we had an array of intriguing gluten-free chips and crackers (Boulder Canyon hummus & sesame chips, Eat Your Vegetables sea salt chips, Wild Riceworks crisps, and tortilla chips), dips and cheese, and a beautiful spread of gluten-free salads, including one brown rice and wild rice salad which was, I think, the first wild rice–based salad I’ve ever really liked.

It was a tasty springtime spread full of great fruits & veggies, nuts, beans, and grains, and many of the guests were surprised to learn such a varied menu could be entirely gluten-free. Mom’s qualms aside, it was a fun, delicious, and—dare I say it—educational gluten-free party.

As for which cake was best? M&Ms are fine, but obviously it was my favorite, the Boston Cream.

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Congrats, grad! And a “needs improvement” grade for me.

My little sister graduated this weekend. The same little sister who used to agreeably complete the activity books I made for her, who walked to school with me in elementary school and shared several of my high school teachers, is now a college graduate—cum laude—with a degree in neuroscience! She never would have made it there without my activity books.

The proud siblings!

The proud siblings! Nice of them to provide spotlights.

Seriously, though, my sister is right up there among the smartest people I know, and I’m glad she’ll be using her own brain to learn more about the most complex structure in the universe (even if she does have to dissect a few songbirds to do it…poor songbirds). She’s going to be doing research related to the brain–gut axis, for the next couple of years at least, which I think is awesome. Why study one brain when you can study two?

Not only did little sis graduate with honors, but she also picked up some very nice compliments from some of her teachers who we met over the course of the weekend. “One of my best students ever”; “Personal impact on my own life”—yep, those things were said. Go Althea!

While my sister came out top of her class this weekend, I failed the main test before me, which was to navigate the weekend’s catered meals in a way that left me feeling safe and unstressed. Although I did call in advance to ask what the meals would be like, I called while walking to the subway on my way to work, rather than sitting down somewhere quiet with a list of questions to ask. My reception was spotty, the background noise was probably annoying, and I was in a rush. First mistake.

In response to my question about whether gluten-free (and vegetarian) options would be available, she said they would, but that there was no special ticket for gluten-free meals (unlike for vegetarian). She said I’d just need to speak up at the event and they’d be able to accommodate me. That should have been my cue to ask more about just how they’d accommodate me, but instead I thanked her and hung up. Second mistake.

In fact, it was a buffet (in a tent outside in the drizzly cold weather—thankfully the graduation was indoors, apparently for the first time since ’86, before Althea’s birth or mine). Everything was listed as gluten-free except for the rolls, cornbread, and desserts. Still, I was concerned that people were reaching over the buffet to grab the bread (and possibly spilling crumbs into the cole slaw on the way), and that the utensils being used to serve the entrees were brushing up against the bread on people’s plates and perhaps picking up gluten that way.

When I expressed these concerns—falteringly, apologetically, well on my way to tears—the head chef personally brought me a meal from the back. Everyone was accommodating and polite, even in the mob scene that was the tent full of several hundred starving graduates and their families, but I have absolutely no idea whether the food I wound up eating was really safe.

Because I didn’t ask. In advance or at the tent, where I shook the head chef’s hand. I didn’t ask, “What are the ingredients in the marinade?” or “Were the vegetables prepped on clean cutting boards that have not also been used for bread?” or “Was the cornbread made at the same time and in the same place as other components of the meal?” or “Did everyone change gloves between handling the rolls and touching the potatoes?”

Although this is the kind of question to which I routinely subject my family and friends, when faced with strangers, I didn’t ask. The time to do it was in advance, when I could have decided I felt uncomfortable and packed food instead. But I didn’t. And then when I had a second chance, I still didn’t.

Here's the family in the food tent. Do I look stressed?

Here’s the whole family in the food tent. Do I look stressed?

My sister assured me the staff is good about cross-contamination concerns, but it’s hard to be good about cross-contamination when preparing food for a crowd in the thousands. There were packaged Udi’s cookies and bread at the desserts station, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything else was done correctly.

As much as I’d studied up on the right way to eat out (by which I mean reading many, many fantastic blog posts on the subject), when it came time to put it into practice, I choked—like a college student who pulls an all-nighter to cram, then shows up at the test and blanks, or sleeps through it entirely. Not only do I not feel confident I didn’t accidentally eat gluten, but I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I could have, had I been better prepared.

Next time—which will not be for a long time because I am once again, dear readers, committing myself to eating only what is made in my very own home until I’m better—I’ll go about this the right way. Mindful of how miserable I was when I did it the wrong way, I’ll ask the appropriate questions in advance, and opt for the meal tickets if and only if I feel assured they’ll pull out all the celiac stops. I’ll show up with more than a KIND bar in my pocket in case the situation seems different on the ground and I decide not to chance it. I’ll have a nice time, I’ll be able to focus on the real reason I’m there, and I’ll eat food that I’m sure won’t eat me back.

Next time, like my sister, I’ll ace it.

Check out these posts for more on eating out gluten-free: Amanda’s set of posts advising restaurant pros, Jess’s “When ‘Gluten-Free’ Does Not Mean ‘Free of Gluten,'” and “Top 10 Questions to Ask When Dining Out Gluten-Free” at Thriving With Celiac. 

For a happier sprue story, I’ll tell you all about the graduation party soon. Do you have any graduations to attend this season?

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