Tag Archives: feeling awkward

Forget gluten-free Girl Scout cookies. Gluten-free summer camp is where it’s at.

It’s Girl Scout cookie season, and everyone I follow on Twitter is buzzing about the newest addition: the chocolate chip shortbread cookie. Why all the excitement over such an uncharacteristically boringly named cookie? Well, usually at this time, we GF folks only get to salivate and whine (I did both last year). This year, we get a cookie of our own. That’s right, it’s gluten-free!

Now, you wouldn’t know it from everyone I follow on Twitter, but Girl Scouts do activities all year, not just sell cookies. I can’t recall ever doing anything particularly impressive in pursuit of a badge as a Brownie, but many Girl Scouts do pretty cool stuff, from creating science clubs for girls to building houses for bats.

Courtesy of Sabrina DeVos, Girl Scout

Photo courtesy of Sabrina DeVos

Another very cool thing that one Girl Scout—sixteen-year-old Sabrina DeVos—is doing is putting together a new gluten-free summer camp in Ithaca, New York.

Celiac Strong Camp is Sabrina’s Girl Scouts Gold Award project and will be held annually, starting this year from August 1st through 3rd, 2014. Celiac Strong Camp is currently open to registration for both campers (boys and girls, age 8 to 15) and volunteers.

I learned about the camp through Carrie Balthasar of Basic Batters, and when I reached out to Sabrina, she kindly agreed to do an interview.

Read on to learn more about this brand-new camp, dream of summer, and feel jealous that you didn’t do anything close to this cool as an eleventh grader.

I never went to summer camp. What’s so great about it?

Summer camp is where you can be free, make friends, and have sleepovers every night. I absolutely love summer camp and recommend it to anyone. 

Why do gluten-free kids need a camp of their own?

When I go to summer camps that don’t have gluten free food for everyone it is kind of awkward. I feel like people think I’m getting special treatment because I’m eating something different. And at our camp, there will be no risk of cross contamination, many opportunities to try new food, and everyone will be eating the same thing. It won’t make kids feel different and will let them be worry free.

Tell me about your own summer camp experience. (Do you go to a specifically gluten-free camp, and if so, which one?)

I go to Camp Celiac all the way in RI, an eight-hour drive, and have been going since I was eight years old. I have made lifelong friendships and always look forward to the food, and having something in common with everyone that goes there (celiac). These people understand me and what I’ve gone through.

Can you briefly explain what a Girl Scouts “Gold Award” is, for those of us who didn’t make it past Brownies? 

There are levels of awards that girl scouts strive to achieve. First is the Bronze award, then Silver, and then Gold. This is the final step in girl scouts, and it is an honor to achieve it, and will always be. There are many steps to do it. You have to have an interview over the phone with council so they can approve it before you begin, and in order for it to be approved it has to be something unique that helps your community. It also has to be recurring; therefore Celiac Strong will be annual! And then they have to approve it again at the end to make sure everything went the way it was supposed to.

You’ve been gluten-free for almost as long as you’ve been a Girl Scout. Which is the more important part of your identity?

They’re both very big parts of my life, but I think celiac is more important, not that Girl Scouts isn’t important to me, it very much is. I just think it’s kind of my duty to tell everyone what celiac is and inform everyone as much as I can about it because not a lot of people know about it, at least they didn’t use to. A lot more people are educated now. But I always talk about it at school and have no problem answering people’s questions.

What sort of activities can kids expect to do at camp? Will there be gluten-free S’Mores?

It wouldn’t be camp without S’Mores. I’m planning on having a cooking demonstration happen at the camp, there will be swimming, camp fires, fishing, maybe archery, and I’m still planning out the rest. But expect fun times!

Boy Scouts toasting marshmallows

Wrong kind of Scouts, but aren’t they adorable?
Photo © vastateparkstaff | Flickr

What kind of food will the camp serve, and who will make it? Will you be able to accommodate vegetarian/vegan kids? (That’s a subject close to my own heart!)

Well, first and foremost, the food will be gluten free. We also are going to accommodate lactose intolerance. We’re still working on the menu. The menu will be approved by a nutritionist. My mom and her “team” are going to be making the food, and ask anyone who knows my mom, she is a great gluten free cook. Sadly this year we won’t be accommodating vegetarian/vegan kids.

Will you be accepting campers who don’t usually eat gluten-free?

I’m accepting kids who have the diet first. The camp is for them, if we have a lot of open spots and people registered who aren’t gluten free, then yes, but they will be eating gluten free with the rest of us.☺

You’re currently accepting volunteers. What will they be responsible for, and how many are you hiring? Can you describe your ideal volunteer?

I need volunteers for different things. I mostly need some to be counselors to watch the kids. I also need a volunteer to be a certified lifeguard, and a certified nurse (I already have one, but two would be fine too). The volunteers won’t need to pay to go to the camp, will need to have a background check, go through training, and will not be paid. I only need about 10 for counselors.

How can people or companies interested in acting as sponsors get in touch with you? 

They can email me at sabrina40154@yahoo.com. There is a spot on my website too for sponsors if they wish to contact me there. I’m looking for food donations and demonstrations/program activities.

Cayuga Lake, canoe

A probably-more-tranquil-than-any-camp-would-ever-be view of Cayuga Lake (which the camp is near). Boy, wouldn’t summer be nice right about now?
Photo © Katrina Koger | Flickr

Have you run into any tricky logistics so far in organizing the camp? What’s your advice to other young women (and men) interested in organizing something like this in their community?

It’s difficult to get the word out, we don’t have many kids registered right now and I really need to figure out a way for people to find out about the camp. Also, getting food donations is a bit tricky, but I’m sure it will be OK as it gets closer to August. My advice is to not put off reaching out to people and organizing things, you have no time to procrastinate.

Are you excited about the new gluten-free Girl Scout cookie? (Had to ask.) What’s your favorite kind of gluten-free cookie?

I’m very excited about the new cookie. Since we don’t have them where I live yet, I am having my friend from camp who is a Girl Scout mail me some. She says they are very good. My favorite cookie, that is a verrryyy hard question. I’d have to say Lucy’s chocolate chip cookies. They are really good.

Favorite campfire song?

I know so many campfire songs, it’s a little ridiculous. My favorite is probably the Pizza Man song.

What’s next for you?

I plan to graduate high school next year then off to college for music.


So, how cool is that? Kudos to Sabrina for organizing what I’m sure will be a great success. If I had kids, I’d definitely sign them up.

In the meantime, I’m seriously considering volunteering. After all, I missed out on camp as a kid. I’d never even heard of the Pizza Man song! (I just looked it up on YouTube and I’m glad I did. Hope it’s about gluten-free pizza, though.)

Tell me about your camp experiences, favorite camp songs and activities, and S’Mores-inspired GF recipes in the comments. If you have questions for Sabrina about Celiac Strong Camp, go ahead and contact her at her website—and spread the word to anyone you think might want to join. By the way, I didn’t mean it about forgetting the cookies—I know I can’t.

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Have yourself a non-awkward little gluten-free Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas

Holidays are beautiful. They’re a chance for people to come together, set aside their everyday concerns, celebrate the passage of time, stuff themselves silly, and play a lot of board games (at least, that’s what I like to do at the holidays). They’re full of traditions, generosity, outpourings of love, and other great stuff.

But they can also be awkward. Even if you love and get along with the folks with whom you celebrate—as I do—there’s plenty of room for a little holiday tension. Stuff like:

  • Your date to the office party ditches you to hang out with your coworkers.
  • The dinner conversation turns to your future offspring’s religion.
  • The traditional pudding the vegetarians just ate turns out to contain suet.
  • Your entire extended family finds out you’ll be prepping for a colonoscopy the following week.

No, I’m not speaking from personal experience.

Pretty cool! Till you learn what's in it. Photo © Steve Johnson | Flickr

Pretty cool! Till you learn what’s in it.
Photo © Steve Johnson | Flickr

Food restrictions make holidays more awkward. It’s hard to confidently strike the balance between ensuring enough of your needs are met that you don’t pass out in the buffet line (and maybe even have fun), and not making those needs the focal point of everyone’s attention for the whole party. The perfect balancing point differs depending on who you are, who you’re spending your holiday with, and how you celebrate it. I can’t tell you where yours is, and, more’s the pity, you can’t tell me where mine is. We all just have to struggle our way through it, fingers crossed and awkwardness accepted.

But to tell the truth, I don’t feel too nervous about my first-ever gluten-free Thanksgiving and Christmas (and first-and-only-ever Thanksgivukkah*—GF or not, I don’t think any of us will live to see the next one).

That’s because, for one thing, it’s not my first family get-together since celiac disease (this was), or my first holiday season with “dietary issues.” For a couple, I’ve been vegetarian; for one miserable Thanksgiving, I considered myself “severely fructose intolerant” (to the point of eating almost nothing but meat, potatoes, rice, and spinach); and last December, well before my celiac tests, I found myself asking, “Can we sub in buckwheat groats for a low-FODMAP option?”

It’s also because I have an understanding family, and because I’ve started discussing the holidays with them already. Now, I know I said that I can’t show you your perfect balance point, but if I could offer you one piece of advice, it’s this: start looking for it early.

NFCA gluten-free holiday tip of the day

The NFCA is posting a daily tip, like this one from ME, throughout the holiday season. They can all be found here.
Image © National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

This is advice I need to learn to take, myself. I’m prone to putting off conversations that I anticipate will be awkward. It’s a bad habit, because inevitably, the putting-off makes the conversation more awkward when it finally happens. If you’ve ever waited until the last possible second to break up with someone, or fess up to a mistake you made, or ask for a day off, I’m sure you know what I mean.

Even if you’ve done this a million times and are totally comfortable both with your food restrictions and with the folks who will be carving your turkey, it’s still worth checking in with them now. Think about it: If you wait to discuss bringing a special dish until your host has already drawn up the oven schedule for the side dishes, they’re not going to feel very grateful. And Christmas Eve is not the time to heave a sigh and wish that someone had adapted that family sugar cookie recipe. Even if you’re not a planner, now is definitely the time.

Have the awkward conversations now, so you can enjoy yourself later. And if things still get awkward, remember that, after all, holidays aren’t really about the food. They’re about the board games.

Christmas Scrabble game

Bingo.
Photo © Mart | Flickr

Have you started preparing for the holidays? Are you hosting or guesting? And if you’ve been through this wonderful, awkward season of joy with food restrictions before, will you be doing anything differently this year?

*My family is as gentile as they come, but we’ve always celebrated Hanukkah. Why not? Mom likes lighting candles, Dad likes making latkes, and we all like playing dreidel. When it comes to holidays, I say gimel.

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Going (to) Against the Grain…Help!

Tonight, I’m going to a restaurant. For most people my age in New York, that’s a regular occurrence, but as most of you know, for me, it’s not.

The spot sounds great. It’s described on Yelp variously as a “magical hideaway clubhouse” and “the absolute best place to throw a small, intimate party without much hassle.”

However, despite its tease of a name—Against the Grain—its specialties run more toward grain-based dishes (like soft pretzels and “chorizo in a poncho”) than against them. And when I say grain, I don’t mean sorghum.

Yelpers also suggest, “If your tastes run to beer and you want to have it and only it chalkboarded on the walls, enter here,” and, “If you aren’t a beer drinker, well, hello!, don’t come here.

Clearly, this isn’t my kind of place.

But, as you’ve likely gathered, I didn’t choose it. The restaurant is where a friend is having her birthday party. Her tastes do run to beer, and the soft pretzels do sound awfully tempting, and it is her birthday, so I don’t at all fault her for choosing it. In fact, she graciously called the restaurant on my behalf to inquire about gluten-free options and let me know, basically, there weren’t any. (At least, nothing guaranteed safe.)

stack of non-gluten-free soft pretzels with salt

What I’ll eat tonight is unclear, but it won’t be this.
Photo © Tommi Arina | Flickr

The question then became, what do I do? Although I’ve read all the advice in the world, it seems, I’ve yet to experience this situation. Most of my friends throw parties at bars, where it’s far less awkward not to eat anything, or at home, where dinner is rarely on the menu. And my sister’s graduation weekend featured a catering staff that at least made an effort to accommodate me and a birthday/graduation party for which my parents made everything gluten-free.

I’ve spent the week meaning to call the restaurant in a quiet time and ask whether they mind if I bring something with me, but in typical procrastinating fashion I’ve put it off. There’s still time to do it, but even if they say it’s fine, I’m afraid I’d feel awkward when it came time to plop my tupperware down amidst the small plates. But would it be more awkward to be the only one not eating?

I can’t decide, and as I muse over (and blog about) it, my window for packing anything before I leave for the day is closing. I wish it didn’t require this much thought, but such is celiac life.

What would you do in my situation? Let me know in the poll below, and if you have more advice, or stories about your own dining-out travails, go ahead and put it in the comments.

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope your plans for this evening include good gluten-free food, or at least—like mine—good gluten-full friends.

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