Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Traveling G-Free

This post is a bit of a misnomer, since I don't actually have anything smart to say about traveling gluten free. The topic, however, has been on my mind recently. I haven't ever really traveled much outside of academic conferences. Unfortunately for me, I have never had the opportunity to travel the world on someone else's dollar while I shamelessly promote myself. Okay, I am not good at shameless self-promotion. Mostly I stand around quietly and awkwardly because I don't tend to have smart or entertaining things to say. 

Well, now I have plans to bring the quiet and awkward across a border. This means I have to figure out how the hell I am going to navigate in a foreign land. A book I picked up early in my glutard experience has handy translations for gluten and gluten containing grains in a few different languages, but if foreigners are anything like Americans, those words alone won't mean much to them. Even in sentences and questions, those words sometimes don't mean much to folks. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain and re-explain what I meant to restaurant staff because they just didn't get it. Lucky for me, my international trip comes with training wheels, since I am just going to Montreal. This feels like a safe way to explore my ability to communicate, since even the Frenchiest of French Canadians probably know enough English for me to get by. 

I keep reminding myself of my tried-and-true tips for eating outside of my home, since they seem likely to apply elsewhere, too. 
(1) Don't be afraid to ask questions.
(2) Restaurant managers are your new best friends. These colonels of the restaurant ranks oversee everyone else and can pass along info and crack skulls if needed.
(3) Don't be afraid to walk away. If you get a bad vibe from a place or the staff doesn't seem to get it, leave. It is better to be safe than sick. 
(4) Bring snacks. Because you never know when you have to walk away or when people will be unable to accommodate you. Even when I travel to major metropolitan areas, I make sure to bring enough protein bars and nosh to potentially sustain me for 1-2 days. A bad experience outside Washington, D.C. left me in the middle of a developing area without any safe food except overpriced, bunless hotel hamburgers, bananas, and gin. Not a good combination for a budding professional at an academic conference.  

How about the rest of you, oh fine people on the 'net -- any tips to share for navigating a gluten (or other food) allergy in another language and culture? Feedback is appreciated. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Smartphones = Awesome

I'm not very tech-savvy, nor did I particularly care about smartphones, but now that I have one, let me tell you about how much easier they make it to be a glutard!

One of the tricks I learned early in the g-free transition was to bring my phone with me shopping. It sucks to be sick, standing in the aisle at CVS, flabbergasted as to whether the cold medicines are gluten-free. It sucks more to have to go home to get your phone to call the numbers on the boxes to ask. But it sucks even more to get home, cold medicine in hand, snot dripping from your face, head pounding, and discover upon calling the company that the cold medicine actually contains gluten. SUCKFEST. I've been there and done that, and let me warn you that some pills contain gluten and some don't. Just like some fake cheese products contain gluten and some don't (lookin' at you salsa con quesos). OH AND DON'T GET ME STARTED ABOUT COMPANIES THAT CHANGE THEIR FORMULA WITH EACH BATCH. Having a smartphone makes this process way less shitty because you can google the product in question while you're standing in the aisle. If google can't answer your question, then you can call the company to find out what exactly their modified food starch or other mystery ingredient was made of. You can do the same thing with restaurants -- having the ability to do a quick search online or look up a phone number while you're making impromptu plans with friends gives you more power to ensure you'll be able to eat something satisfying for dinner. There are also apps out there for glutards, but I haven't bothered with any of them yet. 

So there you have it: The one and only time I will suggest that people throw money at their cell phone providers. In this instance, dealing with those greedy sadists is outweighed by the improvement in quality of life. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Three Years Down, Many More to Go!

June 2011 marks my three year anniversary of being gluten free. In some ways, it seems like just yesterday that I was walking through the grocery store with my list of unsafe ingredients. In other ways, this lifestyle has become such second nature that it feels like I have been gluten free forever.

I remember that pride that I felt the first time I made gluten free cookies from scratch. I had heard from many sources that gluten free baking should be approached like chemistry lab -- very precise measurements are needed or else things can blow up in your face. When I mastered the first batch, I felt so accomplished that I only felt the need to display that particular domestic skill one other time over the past three years :P

I remember feeling so much healthier -- not just because I was no longer eating something that was making me sick, but also because I was making healthier food choices in general. Swapping in fruit for cookies may have been a little difficult at first, but I started feeling (and seeing) the benefits of integrating more produce into my diet. However, those benefits quickly disappear if you develop a potato chip addiction...

I also remember how miserable I felt the first time I got gluten-poisoned at a restaurant. It was within the first three months of developing my allergy. I had just started feeling confident enough in my ability to navigate food that I decided to go out for dinner with friends. Then I got very sick and had to leave the meal early. I felt physically and emotionally sick. How could I let this happen to myself? How could the restaurant be so cavalier about my food allergy? Would I ever be able to eat at a restaurant again? It was that experience that really underscored how important it is to communicate not only with the wait staff, but also managers, since wait staff and kitchen staff don't always share information. That experience also taught me important lessons about planning and trust -- plan/call ahead, but if things still don't seem right, it is better to walk away than risk your health.

I remember learning to embrace the challenge of eating. The first times I tried to explain what gluten is, what it was in, and the dangers of cross-contamination were not very pretty, but now I can confidently answer most questions people throw at me. I stopped being intimidated and missing the ease of my previous life. I learned to adapt and think on my toes. I was able to feed myself tasty, healthy food on a grad student budget. When the going was tough, I not only adapted, but thrived!

The past three years have had some ups and downs, but overall, I have learned to embrace my gluten allergy. While it is a pain in the ass sometimes, it is a pain in the ass that has helped me to become more patient, flexible, and compassionate. I plan menus more carefully to ensure that everyone will have multiple options when I throw parties. I am more willing to try new foods and explore new substitutions for old ingredients. Most importantly, I have learned to more fully appreciate how special it is to share meals with others. Every time a friend or family member goes out of their way to make sure there is something I can eat at a gathering, I feel loved and respected in a way that I wouldn't have known without my gluten allergy.

Here's to many more years to come!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'm changing the English language (but maybe not for the better)

First, someone lifted my blog name. I don't blame them, Glutenless Goddess is clever and catchy (but a little cumbersome), as I have pointed out before. As proof* that I invited the word 'Glutenless', spellcheck indicates that 'Glutenless' is not actually a real word. So clearly, you heard it from me first. In case you're wondering, the proper way to convey the spirit behind 'Glutenless' is 'Gluten Free.'

Now, it appears as though 'Glutard' has caught on. Imagine my surprise when, while waiting for the bus one morning, I grab a free newspaper and see "Glutards Unite" on the front page. I opened up to the page referenced, and sure enough, there was an article about beer for gluten intolerant folks. Here's a link to the online version of that article (I realize that this version lacks the front page hook). Now, I know 'Glutard' isn't a real word (so does spellcheck). But since I first found out I was glutarded three years ago, I've been referring to myself as a 'Glutard.' Therefore, I clearly invented that word, too. The proof** is in the glutenless pudding. And yet I never trademarked it, and so here I am, not collecting my royalties. 

So in that spirit, I want to let the whole world know that I also invented the term 'Lactard' to refer to someone who is lactose intolerant. I invented the name for Inside Out Ravioli and Poor-itos. I invented the word 'Beanis' to refer to those little nub ends on green beans. I invented a bunch of other words, too. You can start sending me checks anytime now. 

*As a scientist, I feel really dirty and uncomfortable about using the word 'proof.' You can't really prove anything, you just just find evidence to support something. As a lazy writer, though, I am keeping the word up there anyway. The scientist in me is going to continue to feel violated. 
**Still uncomfortable around the word 'proof.' 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Quinoa, Wondergrain

When I started my blog, I was worried that I wouldn't have anything to say. I sometimes talk a lot, but rarely do I actually have anything to say (see below). To help me determine if I would indeed have enough content to warrant a blog, I made a brief starter list of things I could post about. Today's post is drawn from the bag of starter ideas. The note I wrote to myself about today's topic was "Profess love to quinoa," so that is what I will do.

In case you are unaware, quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is probably the most bitchin' grain out there. 

(1) Quinoa is high in protein and fiber, making it more filling that wheat or rice. A quarter cup of quinoa has 3 grams of fiber (that's 12%, folks!) and 5 grams of protein. It is also the only grain that is a complete protein. It has all the amino acids you need, so you don't need to worry about mixing and matching foods to ensure you're getting all of the building blocks you need (lookin' at you, rice and beans). 

(2) Quinoa is easy to prepare, cooking in about the time it takes to cook white rice (about 10-15 minutes). Add water. Simmer. Eat. Wash dishes. Done. 

(3) Quinoa is delicious. The flavor is slightly nutty, which provides a nice change of pace from the blandness of rice. Although it has a distinct flavor, the flavor is not so overpowering as to make quinoa not pair well with other foods. I have used quinoa instead of noodles for a spaghetti-kludge dinner when I didn't have any pasta in the house. (<-- WTF is that? Quinoa with pasta sauce, sundried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese) I have also used quinoa as a rice substitute for stir fries. There are even recipes for great quinoa-based stuffings and hot and cold salads. Sometimes when I am lazy, I just cook quinoa and eat it with olive oil, salt, black pepper, and parmesan cheese. If you want to enhance the flavor, cook it in veggie/chicken/beef broth instead of water. 

(4) Quinoa has a fun texture, similar to that of couscous. Some people don't like it, but I think the itty bitty grain-balls are great. Uncooked quinoa looks like pellets. Cooked quinoa puffs up and gets soft, but still has its tiny little germ/bran circle around the puffy pellets.... mmm, roughage. A forkful of quinoa feels fun in the mouth -- far more fun than rice -- and you also have a hint of residual crunchiness from the germ/bran/whatever.* 

(5) According to the company that sells their quinoa in the teal box (or Ancient Harvest, as they call themselves), quinoa is an ancient Incan grain. That sounds far more bad-ass as part of dinner conversation than "this is a staple grain in the American diet." You can maybe even make up a story about your trip through the Andes, where you first encountered quinoa while eating with an isolated tribe that is normally pretty hostile but was so enamored with you that they decided to let you in on the secret that is their mother grain. 

If your local grocery store doesn't carry quinoa and you don't have easy access to a Trader Joe's or a Whole Foods (sending out a big HELLOOOO to my rural readers!), you can find it on amazon.com. Quinoa itself is gluten free, but you might want to check labels to ensure that it hasn't been cross-contaminated with wheat, barley, rye, or oats. Ancient Harvest processes theirs in a gluten-free facility. 

*I realize that I talk a lot of shit about rice in this post, which is unfair. Rice is a great grain. It is very versatile, inexpensive, and I actually really like rice, especially the brown kind. ...You know what they say: once you go brown, you never go back.