Tag Archives: New York City

What’s the best time of year to be gluten-free? You tell me!

Many folk singers, including the late great Pete Seeger, have told us that “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Much of the song is paraphrased from Ecclesiastes in the Bible, which goes to show how old the sentiment is. However, though there may indeed be a time to be born, a time to die, a time to dance, a time to mourn, a time to reap, a time to sow, and so forth, for many of us, it’s never time to eat gluten.

Still, as winter waned, spring started and stopped, and my second gluten-free year got well underway, I began pondering whether there’s a best time to be gluten-free. Spring flicked by too fast, the weather settled in to what is unmistakably New York in summer (complete with everyone’s favorite smell of trash in the streets and non-air-conditioned 1 trains), and I made my plans for yet another move* (my fourth in three years, not counting sublets)—and I kept wondering.

I’ve tried to answer this important question by listing a few pros and cons for each season, and I hope you’ll chime in, too.

Spring

  • PRO: The first hints of warmth get everyone out of the house and luxuriating in the sun, happy to do activities besides sit inside and snack.
  • CON: Often enough people really just want to sit outside and snack.
  • PRO: May is Celiac Awareness Month, infusing the entire season with a sense of our own visibility and significance.
  • CON: That sense might be a teeny bit inflated.
  • CON?: St. Patrick’s Day is not so good in its focus on beer, and Irish soda bread needs a makeover, but at least potatoes are gluten-free.
  • PRO?: We’ve already talked about Easter and Passover (both obviously super gluten-free); and Lent, immediately preceding Easter, is fine for those who observe it because gluten-free folks are adept at giving stuff up.
  • PRO: My birthday is in May! That’s relevant because a slightly disproportionate number of us have birthdays in the spring and summer. Birthdays are a good reason to make everyone eat gluten-free cake with you.
  • PRO: Fresh produce is naturally gluten-free! Go to a farmers market!
  • CON: Farmers markets all have baked goods that you can’t eat, too. But hey, you’re being healthy.

Summer

  • PRO: Lots of ice cream brands are gluten-free, and there are new dairy-free, etcetera-free options popping up all the time.
  • CON: There’s no con related to ice cream (as long as you aren’t asking your waistline).
  • PRO: It’s too hot to eat anything besides ice cream anyway, right?
  • CON: Wrong.
  • PRO: There aren’t a lot of holidays to worry about (that I can think of).
  • CON: The holidays that do occur are celebrated via cookout, which can be okay, sure, but often leave this celiac vegetarian eating chips and salsa.
  • CON: You have to move*! In the summer heat! From one fourth-floor walkup to another! Why, oh why did you buy so many kitchen appliances and bulk boxes of Bob’s Red Mill pantry staples?
  • PRO: The above con miiiight only apply to me.

Fall

  • PRO: It’s the perfect time of year to visit the approximately infinite number of gluten-free bakeries that are appearing right and left (at least in the New York metro area).
  • CON?: This doesn’t actually affect me anymore (boohoo), but I imagine that for gluten-free students and their parents, back-to-school time—with its return to school cafeterias, class parties, and 504 plans—is more a con than a pro.
  • PRO: Pumpkin is the gluten-free and vegetarian gods’ gift to the world, and you can put it in everything without being judged in October.
  • CON?: Serious holiday season is starting again. That said, Halloween doesn’t have to be so bad, considering that most candy is straight sugar and fat, no gluten required. And Thanksgiving…well, I’m sure you’ll be so busy being thankful for all the good stuff you’ll hardly even notice your chronic illness.

Winter

  • PRO: Everyone goes straight from home to work/school back home. It’s too cold to socialize, so who cares what you can or can’t eat?
  • CON: Even gluten-free people get lonely.
  • PRO: Hot chocolate doesn’t need gluten to be good.
  • CON: Some sneaky manufacturers put it in anyway.
  • PRO: Snow is gluten-free. (Probably.)
  • CON?: Did I say fall was serious holiday season? Scratch that, winter is. But you can still have a great holiday season and be gluten-free as long as you take proper precautions and avoid spilling any of your tear drops on the “real” sugar cookies.
  • PRO: Soup! Every! Day! I miss it already.

Whether you’ve been eating a special diet for decades or days, when do YOU think it’s easiest, most satisfying, least painful, and/or particularly delicious?

*Yes, you heard right: I’m leaving one gluten-free apartment for another, and Sprue Jr and I are parting ways: she to the Bronx, and I to the Upper East Side. It’s ostensibly to make both of our commutes better, but calling her Sprue Jr all the time might have contributed. By the way, I’m looking for a GF subletter in one of my two bedrooms for July and August, so if you know someone looking, send ’em my way. It’s a walkup, yes, but it’s a great spot near the park (good for those summer picnics) and has two bathrooms.

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April Fools! 6 Gluten-Free Pranks to Play Today

I’ll be back soon with more absences of answers to ever-present questions about celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders, but I thought I’d take a break for April Fools Day.

This day last year, I convinced a few people that Dunkin Donuts would be going all gluten-free by 2015 (sorry!). Between then and now, the chain announced that, although it wouldn’t be dropping wheat from its pastries entirely, as I’d “predicted,” it would introduce wheat-free goods to every store nationwide in 2013.

The gluten-free community got pretty excited about that. But sadly, the joke was on us: Dunkin Donuts reversed the decision months later, with little explanation, before I even got to try one of those shrink-wrapped muffins. A lot of people were disappointed, and truth be told, I felt a bit responsible, as though I’d jinxed it. So this year, none o’ that.

However, superstition aside, there’s no reason not to get what laughs we can out of our chronic disease. If you haven’t yet decided what jokes to make today, here are a few you could try:

“Guess what! I don’t have celiac disease after all.”

Just as it’s good to have an all-purpose GF flour blend (if such a thing really exists), a good all-purpose trick comes in handy, too. Play this prank on just about anyone. Take it to the next level by whipping out a sandwich (which should of course be made with a reasonably uncrumbly gluten-free bread, unless you’re a truly dedicated prankster) and taking a big bite.

Girl eating sandwich

This “gluten” sure is good!
Photo © Jessie Jacobson | Flickr

“Soooo . . . celiac disease is contagious.”

Said with a bit of a wince and an “oopsie” expression, this is handy for that annoying coworker who’s always sticking his gluteny hands into your gluten-free snacks. To kick it up a notch, come up to him later, stare intently at his elbow, and when he asks what you’re doing, say, “Oh, I thought I saw some dermatitis herpetiformis. It’s probably nothing, though.”

“Bad news. They just found out potatoes contain gluten.”

This joke has limited utility. Most people with celiac won’t believe it; most non-celiac people already do.

Mr. Potato Head and family

Personified potatoes: Creepy? Yes. Glutenous? No.
Photo © Jeremy Page | Flickr

“I’m going back to school to become a [dietitian/gastroenterologist/celiac disease researcher].”

This is another good one to use at work, though probably not on your boss. If your parents are still paying off loans from your undergraduate English degree, maybe you’d like to try it on them, too. To really go for it, forge a letter of acceptance to display to the skeptics.

“Turns out, gluten is bad for everyone.”

Several savvy authors have made a killing off of this classic, so why not get in on the fun? Arm yourself with statistics and direct your chosen fool to the library to learn more. If it’s in a book, it must be true.

girl eating bread and yelling

Breeeaaddddd. It’s coming for you!
Photo © Eltjo Poort

“Hey, did you hear about that new gluten-free and vegetarian restaurant opening in Washington Heights next month?”

That’s not funny.

gluten-free restaurants in New York - Gluten-Free Fun map

See this map of gluten-free-friendly NYC establishments created by Erin of Gluten-Free Fun (interactive version here)? Cool, right? See how many are north of Central Park? …yep. But hey, it’s home.

Happy April Fools Day! Hope the jokes are on everyone else and not on you.

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Is Snow Gluten-Free?

If all the snowflakes were candy bars and milk shakes,
I hope they’d be gluten-free!

It’s snowing here in New York, and the city is beautiful when it snows. At least, when it starts to snow. Once it begins to accumulate and all those pedestrians and bicyclists and drivers go tramping and swishing and churning through it, it turns to gray mush pretty fast. I’m sure the superintendents responsible for shoveling out the apartment steps and sidewalks aren’t huge fans, either.

Gorgeous! Photo © emilydickinsonridesabmx (which is a great username) | Flickr

Gorgeous!
Photo © emilydickinsonridesabmx (which is a great username) | Flickr

Still, right now, while the flakes are falling white and pristine, melting on impact with my face and sticking to what’s left of my hair (just kidding, it’s doing okay), it’s beautiful. And, as an eternal kid and a goofball, at times like this I can’t help but stick out my tongue for a taste.

Today, as I was doing so, I got to thinking. People ask if envelopes, and charcoal, and bodily fluids, and lemon and lime wedges are gluten-free (yes, yes, yes, and I don’t know, but I hope so, because sometimes I accept one because you can’t drink a gin and tonic or a gimlet without a squeeze of lime, and I’ve not yet started bringing my own wedges to the bar).

But, is snow gluten-free?

We all know that those downy flakes aren’t necessarily so pristine as we might hope. Certainly, once snow has hit the ground here in the city, yellow or not, I’d be wary about scooping up a handful to eat. It’s bound to be full of grime and who-knows-what-else. Gluten? Well, I’ve queasily side-stepped enough discarded chicken wings, half-eaten brownies, and whole loaves of white bread being torn to bits by pigeons to be at least a little worried. Whether or not the sidewalk snow would test under 20 ppm gluten, it’s 1 million ppm disgusting.

But what about the falling snow? Snow is primarily composed of what is, essentially, distilled water (evaporated by heat, and thereby naturally purified). As most of us know, distilled liquids do not contain gluten, unless it has been added in after distillation. So evaporated water, even if it came from a river by a flour mill, is gluten-free. (All those water bottles marked gluten-free are, well, obviously gluten-free, unless they’ve had natural flavorings added to them [which is as gross as New York street snow].)

Still, snow, even fresh from the atmosphere, can contain lots of icky stuff, such as the bacteria Pseudomonas syringae (nasty, but ubiquitous enough to be considered harmless), mercury, acid (it’s not just for rain), and other pollutants, including particulate matter (dust). And in fact, snow has to contain particulate matter: according to the UCSB Science Line, “tiny dust particles are . . . the ‘seeds’ on which the water starts to crystallize (freeze).”

At that, I started to wonder. Let’s consider that dirty polluting flour mill again. Couldn’t the dust around which my snowflakes formed their pretty selves have been flour dust, once? Eek!

But don’t freak out yet. Though I’ve not conducted any studies, I’m pretty sure we’re safe. Though flour dust is found in high concentrations in factories themselves, I’ve not found any stats on flour pollution in the air in general. And even if one or two of the dust particles in the few snowflakes you catch on your tongue came from a Wonder Bread facility, there wouldn’t be a high enough concentration of gluten there to make you sick. Other stuff? Yeah, maybe.

Most scientists agree that, although for a variety of reasons eating snow in large quantities isn’t the greatest of ideas, a little bit (unlike gluten) won’t harm a kid—or you. So if you’d just like to stand outside with your mouth open wide and sing “Ah! Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” for a little while, I say go for it. You’re only really at risk for looking like a crazy person . . . and here in New York, you’ll fit right in.

If only we all looked so cute eating snow. Photo © satakieli | Flickr

If only we all looked so cute eating snow.
Photo © satakieli | Flickr

Do you eat snow (or allow your kids to)? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever considered the gluten content of?

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The ABCeliac of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, and Are Secretly All About Celiac Disease

Since the moment I heard it existed, I’ve meant to visit the New York Public Library’s exhibit “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” Finally, on Sunday, Sprue Jr. and I found ourselves nearby while seeing our friend Jimena off on the bus back to DC, so in we went.

photo (31)On our way, we stopped in to the Winter Village at Bryant Park to look at knickknacks and watch the first of the season’s skaters wobble ’round the rink. We couldn’t resist stopping at a stand prominently displaying the phrases “gluten free” and “we bake it fresh daily”—music to our freezing-over celiac ears—and selling pão de queijo, a Brazilian cheese and yucca bread. (Another one of those “even better than the rolls you went in search of” naturally gluten-free foods.)

We tasted eight different delicious buns (they’re small!), among which my favorites were the pesto & goat cheese, chocolate chip, and pizza. If you’re nearby, I recommend you check it out, although I goofed on asking my normal questions about cross-contamination (taking it on faith, since the pão was the only thing being sold), so I suggest you do better due diligence than I did. For what it’s worth, I felt fine.

Now, to the exhibit. The library is beautiful; if you’ll be in New York around the holidays, you could get a wonderful afternoon out of the Winter Village plus the library, which is free to the public and as good as any museum (less crowded, too). We passed through another exhibit on games and plan to return soon for one on AIDS activism. There are murals and old books everywhere, and I didn’t spot a single typo in the descriptive placards (unlike at some otherwise awesome museums…cough MSI Chicago cough).

Because it was Sunday, the library closed at 5, when we were only halfway through the exhibit because we’d both been distracted by sitting down with some of our favorite books. I was struck, as usual, by all the hidden gluten-free plot lines waiting to be unearthed.

Take Madeline, for example.

Cheerful little Madeline is the smallest, bravest, and all-around coolest kid among all the girls who reside in that old house in Paris that was covered with vines. But one night, after a long day of adventures trotting about the city in two straight lines…

madelineLook at that cause and effect! First Madeline eats bread, then she wakes up, crying, in terrible pain. Of course, the devoted Miss Clavel rushes her to the hospital, where a well-meaning doctor promptly removes little Madeline’s little appendix. Afterwards, Madeline seems good as new, but I can’t help but wonder if they got it right. (You know doctors.)

photo (33)

Celiac disease is, after all, often mistaken for appendicitis (with this study showing that appendix-removal surgeries are superhigh in undiagnosed celiac patients compared to healthy controls—the very low “P” value, my scientist sister explained, indicates the result is significant). Madeline’s small stature is also suspect. And I looked closely at her hospital food and didn’t notice a bit of bread on her tray. Maybe that’s why she perked up.

Of course, whether Madeline felt better because she lost her appendix or because she went gluten-free, the story would end the same: all the other girls want to be her. That little trendsetter.

Then there’s In the Night Kitchen.

This book, by Maurice Sendak, explores the adventure of one little boy through a wild dreamscape in which gigantic chefs try to use him as milk in their “morning cake.” The illustrations are surreal and somewhat disturbing, verging on nightmarish—made even more so by my new perspective on the idea of being plopped into a huge bowl of batter. That’s one glutening I’m not sure I’d want to wake up from.

Click for a closer look at poor little Mickey sinking into the cake, but kindly ignore my “I’m still freezing even though I’m indoors” attire. New York got cold.

Click for a closer look at poor little Mickey sinking into the cake, but kindly ignore my “I’m still freezing even though I’m indoors” attire. New York got cold.

Bakers, please note: I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me—I’m Molly. So take your enormous bags of flour and stay out of my dreams.

I also sat in a Phantom Tollbooth–style car, watched Alice grow till her head hit the ceiling, and paged through CorduroyThe Stinky Cheese Man, and other tales that still matter to me as much as they ever have. I won’t turn all of them into celiac stories, but I’ll leave you with one more:

That’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, of course.

photo (34)

With his crayon, Harold shows us what we should be doing every single day: creating around ourselves the world we’d like to see.

Do you, for example, want to see a more gluten-free world? What about a peaceful world, a happy world, a just world? Regardless, take a page out of Harold’s book, and get out there and make it. If just one children’s book inspires just one child or adult to change just one part of their world, I’d say that children’s books matter indeed.

What’s your favorite children’s book? Did you have any fun gluten-free adventures this past weekend? And when’s the last time you pulled out a crayon and started drawing?

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