Tag Archives: friends

Check it twice: A list of gifts NOT to buy for the gluten-free folks you love this Christmas

It’s December! Snow is falling, friends are calling, and ’tis the season for every blogging boy and girl to post their personal Christmas wish lists, disguised as suggestions of what totally unrelated people might want to buy for some other person who happens to be extremely similar to them.

Look around, and you’ll see gift suggestions for fitness freaks (compiled by fitness freaks), tech geeks (compiled by tech geeks), book lovers (compiled by book lovers), home cooks (compiled by home cooks), and the one who has everything (compiled by people who wish they had everything).

And, of course, you’ll see them for the gluten-free, by the gluten-free. Here are just a few sites with intriguing lists of these-are-not-hints for gluten-free kids like me:

I thought about doing a wish list myself, but what good is wrapping paper if you already know what’s on the inside? I’d rather be surprised.

Still, I don’t want to leave my loved ones or yours without any guidance at all. So, to supplement all those other lists itemizing stuff I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to buy for me, I’ve made a list of what NOT to buy for that special celiac someone, at least if you mean to avoid an awkward, awkward Christmas. (Never fear; if you already bought one, there’s still time to make an exchange.)

1. Anything that contains gluten. No, not even as a joke.

angry cat in Santa hat

Santa Cat would find that very naughty.
Photo © John | Flickr

2. While you’re at it, you might want to avoid any kind of food at all. To do it right, you’d have to really get gluten-free, do your research, and commit to heart all of the quirky criteria your personal celiac no doubt has (no oats, no dairy, certified by the NFCA is good but certified by GIG is not, low-FODMAP, feeling worried about arsenic in rice, no GMOs, xanthan gum is the devil, etc., etc.). Otherwise, that gift box will probably be going to the recipient’s coworkers in 2014. And then no one will be happy.

3. Restaurant gift cards—unless you know the person has eaten there recently and felt 100 percent safe and satisfied (or that a LOT of other gluten-free people have). Since even those of us in metro areas have approximately two restaurants like that in our lives, this one’s a toughie.

The lamest possible gift...whether gluten-free or not. Photo © 401(K) 2012 | Flickr

The lamest gift of all…gluten-free or not.
Photo © 401(K) 2012 | Flickr

4. Wheat Belly, by William Davis. Yes, your GF pal has heard of it. But he/she almost certainly considers it a load of reindeer manure.

Wheat Belly cover

5. Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter. Ditto.

Grain Brain cover

6. Bread Butt, by…okay, no one has written this yet. But when they inevitably do, let Amazon keep it.

7. Sketchy supplements, like GlutenEase or Glutenzyme. Though enzymes are being developed (!) that may be able to help in cases of accidental minute exposure to gluten (similar to Lactaid), they’re not there yet, and what’s on the market now doesn’t work. If you want to stuff that stocking with a placebo, sugar pills would be cheaper—and tastier too.

placebo effect

Or, you could just suggest they think about their health some more. That’ll make for some friendly dinner conversation.
Photo © Carmen Rodriguez | Flickr

8. I know I already said “no food,” but there’s one thing I’d like to call out to you especially—and it is with great sadness that I do. Lindor truffles, as I learned recently, contain barley malt, and no Lindt chocolate is guaranteed gluten-free. If you give these, you just might get tears.

angry Santa girl with candy cane

Better watch out, if you don’t want to come face to face with this in a dark corner under the mistletoe.
Photo © Nicola Albertini | Flickr

Want to help prevent a blue, blue Christmas for celiac folks like you and me? Then share: what else would you, as a gluten-free person, not want to find under the tree? (And, if you want to make it easy, share a thing or two that would make you merry.)

Want the elves to package up more posts like this for you? Follow me via Twitter, Facebook, or email, and you can have Christmas two or three days a week, every week.

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How I accidentally terrified my peanut-allergic friend

trader-joes-sunflower-seed-butter…and you can, too—not that you should—in three easy steps:

Step 1. Buy sunbutter.
Step 2. Make buckeyes.
Step 3. Serve.

See, I like peanut butter. I like peanut butter a lot. Give me Thai peanut sauce, Reese’s cups, Nutter Butters, any flavor of Peanut Butter & Co.—if it’s peanuts, I’ll eat it.

I have a friend, whom I’ll call B., who is allergic to peanuts. When I discovered that sunflower seed butter (or sunbutter) has a taste and texture like peanut butter’s, I was surprised to learn B. had never tried it. No peanut butter and no peanut butter substitute? How did he live?

Sprue Jr.—that’s Althea, who thought she should have a special name on my blog, and should be more careful what she wishes for—loves peanut butter, too. We always have a jar in the fridge, and we sometimes even make our own. (Lightly salted Planter’s peanuts make the best peanut butter ever, and if you add in pumpkin puree and pie spices, it’s all over.)

So, at a party we threw, we decided to show B. what he was missing. We made all the food not only vegetarian and gluten-free, but also peanut-free, tree nut–free, and soy-free (because a soy-intolerant friend of ours was also attending). We wanted to ensure everyone could try everything, without feeling nervous. It’s just nicer that way.

Now, buying groceries with gluten in mind is annoying enough, but this was harder still. I’ve never been more grateful for my smartphone. I scrutinized package labels and manufacturers’ websites until I thought my eyeballs would fall out and roll away down the aisle. It seemed every brand of chocolate that wasn’t processed alongside wheat was processed alongside nuts—or, failing that, contained soy.

Once I had found acceptable ingredients and resecured my eyes in their sockets, Sprue Jr. and I had a wonderful time rolling slightly-too-warm sunbutter balls around in not-really-tempered chocolate. By the way, the forks method only works for the first dip.

Clockwise from top, we've got white-chocolate- and dark-chocolate-covered no-bake cake truffles, dark-chocolate buckeyes, more truffles, marshmallow-swirl brownie bites, and milk-chocolate buckeyes. And you probably recognize the berries.

Clockwise from the top, we’ve got white-chocolate- and dark-chocolate-covered no-bake cake truffles (made with KAF vanilla cake mix), dark-chocolate buckeyes, more truffles, marshmallow-swirl brownie bites (made with Bob’s brownie mix and marshmallow fluff), and milk-chocolate buckeyes. You probably recognize the berries.

Despite the not-fit-for-the-Cooking-Channel preparation, the buckeyes, once set overnight in the freezer, tasted perfect. When I carried the desserts platter around at the party (to collect the oohs and aahs and you-MADE-this?s), I thought B. would be thrilled.

Instead, he took the candy with trepidation and said, “It smells like peanut butter.”

Silly me, I nodded enthusiastically. Sprue Jr., who was standing by, did too. We know!, I suppose we were both thinking. Isn’t it great?

“Are you sure there’s no peanuts in this?” B. said, and it finally dawned on me he was nervous. We assured him it was safe—not processed alongside nuts or anything—and he took a bite.

“It feels like death coating my tongue,” he said.

Crestfallen, we began a chorus of apologies and oh-nos.

“No, it’s good,” B. continued, “but it tastes just like what I imagine peanut butter would taste like.” Later that evening, he exclaimed—more than once—that he couldn’t believe he wasn’t dead.

He later elaborated, in email,

At the time it felt really strange…I had this visceral sense that I was eating poison. Whenever I smell peanut butter there’s this burning in my nose—not because of an allergic reaction, I don’t think, but my body just knows it’s poison, and it mixes my immune system with a fear reaction and the adrenaline starts pumping and I just know something is terribly wrong. And sunbutter smelled exactly the same way to me, or at least my body had the same response, so it was hard to force myself to just eat it…

Of course, I didn’t intend to scare B., or make him feel like he was being poisoned. All I wanted was to share something I enjoy with him, the best way I could. But he hasn’t had sunbutter again since the party, and though he said that the aftertaste was clearly sunflower seeds, not peanuts, and that he’s not opposed to trying it again, he clearly didn’t respond with the “here’s what I’ve been missing all my life” sense of joy I’d been expecting.

The experience showed me how different it is to have celiac disease, diagnosed in my twenties, than to have anaphylactic food allergies from birth. There are specific things I have happy memories of eating, and therefore want to recreate now. For someone who has never had anything but scary or painful memories associated with a food, there’s understandably less reason to find a substitute. And, although I can certainly relate to being nervous that something I’m eating might turn out to contain gluten, accidental peanut exposure poses a more immediate risk for B.

The lesson here is this: If you, like me, love peanuts, and have a friend who can’t eat them, by all means make and serve these delicious buckeye knockoffs (taking, of course, the same cross-contamination measures you’d want someone to take for you).

But remember: one man’s favorite is another man’s poison. Your friend may not run right out to buy a year’s supply. If not, well, more sunbutter for you. And the only thing scary about that is how quickly you’ll go through it.

Do you like to eat “free from” substitutes for old favorite foods? Is there anything you draw the line at trying? And are you a peanut butter or sunbutter fan, too?

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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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Not-Quite-Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have the best parents in the world. I hope I don’t lose any readers by saying this—I’m sure your parents are cool, too—but mine are simply the best, and that’s that. Throughout my life, they have given me so much more than my celiac genes (sorry, I had to). They are generous, supportive, smart, caring, awesome people who taught me to laugh often. They’re also both great cooks and bake approximately a trillion batches of cookies between them for the holidays. They are most likely reading this blog post, so I will try to stop embarrassing them and move on to offending them.

Like I said, my parents have already given me a lot. And they continue to. Last week, I arrived at work to find a package I wasn’t expecting. It contained a note from Mom and Dad, a Bob’s Red Mill gift card, and two baking mixes. Oooh.

Bobs-Red-Mill-Gluten-Free-Cookie-Mix-Chocolate-Chip-039978004673Just the way for me to dip a toe into the perilous waters of gluten-free baking! I thought to myself. As I believe I’ve mentioned, I work for a publisher of gluten-free cookbooks. And I read a lot of blogs. This means I know that great gluten-free baking is a) possible, and b) really, really hard. At least, compared to “normal” baking. It involves multiple flours, the use of strange gums (or the gumption to go gumless), whole henhouses’ worth of eggs, and, above all, you really must buy a [standmixer/blender/sifter/oven thermometer/kitchen scale/other tool] depending on whose cookbook you’re reading. It’s scary!

Facing my fears, I tried out the chocolate chip cookie mix this weekend. I even bought a handmixer first! I shared the cookies with a few friends and kindly informed them that they would be required to provide a quote for my blog.

Friend #1: I didn’t want one before, and now I want one even less.
[Note: He did not in fact try a cookie. He also claimed it would be illegal for me to make up a false quote and attribute it to him, and he was unimpressed when I told him I had already done it to Abraham Lincoln. He’s a lawyer, so I won’t take any chances.]

Friend #2: I think they need more fat.
Me: More…fat?
Friend #2: You know, because they’re already gluten-free…

Friend #3: Well, I think they’re great. [Beat.] But I’m pretty drunk.

Friend #4: They’re sort of like gingerbread. No, that’s not it. Oatmeal-raisin, but without the raisins? They taste like…
Me, helpfully: Fava beans?
Friend #4: [Swallows.] Hmm. At least they’re probably really healthy, right?
Me, sadly: No.

Despite threatening my friends that I would, I didn’t take any photos. I do wish I had at least gotten one of myself trying to shape the dough (more like batter, really) into balls and instead winding up smearing fingerfuls onto the baking sheet into haphazard shapes that puffed, spread, and glommed onto each other unnervingly as they baked. In retrospect, it may have been a mistake to use that “light” Smart Balance butter alternative. I also maybe shouldn’t have freaked out and dumped half a jar of cinnamon into the dough after tasting it. And I probably should have packed a real dinner for myself that night to avoid this: “You’re all getting pizza? Oh, that’s okay. I’ll just…eat half of these cookies.” Such circumstances would make it tough to enjoy anything, and would give just about anyone a tummyache. Many lessons learned, my friends.

51KSJZC7FWL._SX300_The nice thing about this experience is that, from this point in my gluten-free baking trajectory, there’s pretty much nowhere for me to go but up. So, thank you, Mom and Dad. I’m looking forward to trying the brownie mix next; I hear that chocolate does wonders for, well, just about anything.

What was your first GF baking experience like? Do you have a favorite mix or recipe? Any that really are just like Mom’s?

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