Friday, May 31, 2013

Celiac Awareness Month is Over. Now What?

Thirty-one days of raising awareness of Celiac Disease and non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (that's a mouthful) has come to an end.  This year the month was more eventful than I remember it being in previous years, though not entirely for the right reasons. 

Disney came under fire for an episode of a popular kids' show that turned the bullying of a gluten free child into a joke, Chelsea Handler had something to say about gluten free people, and the Today Show aired a segment discussing how being gluten free is a turn-off. 

The list goes on. 

While most of the people I know in the gluten free community, myself included, reacted with a range of emotions ranging from anger, to disappointment, frustration or sadness, these incidents just reinforced the importance of a month dedicated to awareness and education. 

The gluten free fad has expanded choice for those looking for gluten free products, but it has also made it more difficult to be taken seriously when it is a matter of health and not choice.  It's not the end of the world if someone cutting gluten from their diet for non-health reasons gets cross-contaminated, but it is for someone suffering from Celiac disease or non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.  My son suffers from rashes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, change in energy, mood swings and difficulty concentrating.  It's hard to know how long symptoms will last for.  Might be a day, might be a week or more. 

The more society sees people who eat gluten free as "picky eaters," whiners, annoying, or just plain difficult, the more likely it is that someone in charge of my son's food will neglect to take his food restrictions seriously and make him sick.  There are endless stories of restaurants offering gluten free items on the menu but not taking any precautions against cross-contamination, of family members or friends pressuring someone to eat something with gluten because their illness is "all in their head," of prominent celebrity chefs publishing "gluten free" recipes that feature ingredients containing gluten. 

So although May has come to an end, the struggle to spread the word about Celiac Disease and non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity continues.  There was a time when mentioning a peanut allergy was met with a blank stare; now most people are familiar with the seriousness of it.  Things change.  Celiac is difficult for many to grasp because the symptoms can be so varied, and often the physiological reaction to gluten occurs hours after it has been consumed, and people suffer in private.  Sometimes the damage isn't visible to the naked eye at all.  It's hard to make people take seriously an illness where the symptoms are often silent and they are unable to actually "see" the damage.  It's also difficult to make people understand a disease that there's no medication for, no doctor supervised treatment outside of a change in diet. 

It's not a lost cause.  It just means we have to keep working.  If my child had a disease that required someone at his daycare or in his school to help him with his medication, or if he had a life threatening allergy, I would be providing those institutions with as much information as possible about his condition and how to keep him healthy.  I approach this the same way.  It's important that his food restrictions be understood and that he can feel safe in his environment.  It's imperative that those who care for him when I'm not there understand the consequences for him when he is contaminated with gluten. 

Advocacy isn't always about making a lot of noise.  It's not always about petitions or blog posts or campaigns.  It can be about focusing on your circle of influence.  Start with those in your immediate circle.  Answer questions, provide suggestions, be patient when faced with the types of questions whose answers seem obvious to you but clearly aren't to the person asking.  Don't apologize for being gluten free, but don't assume that everyone will be willing to bend over backwards to accommodate your needs.  Thank people who do.  Don't eat something that will make you sick to keep the peace, and don't waste your time engaging with people who would pressure you to do that in the first place.

If you want to do more, great.  Write that blog post, pen a letter, make a donation or attend an awareness event.  Speak up when something comes to your attention.  It was an online petition started by one woman who got that Disney episode pulled.  We have a long way to go, but I have faith. 

The gluten free community is full of some fierce people.  I'm often awed and inspired by the dedication of those I engage with online and in "real" life.  There was an incredible push for awareness this month, and I have no doubt it will continue into June and beyond.  I'm proud to be a part of this community, and inspired by the work everyone does every day to make life easier for those who are gluten free.  Keep up the good work!


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gluten Free Costa Rica: Hotel Playa Bejuco

Playa Bejuco is a stretch of beach about halfway between Jaco Beach and Manuel Antonio National Park along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  We recently spent two weeks in a rental home close to the beach, and on our last night there decided to go to dinner at the nearby Hotel Playa Bejuco

This area of beach is a designated blue flag beach, which means it has the highest ecological rating.  The beach is clean and almost deserted most of the time, and has great surfing waves but also enough shallow water for wading into the ocean if surfing's not your thing.  It's a bit off the beaten path, but if crowded beaches and overpriced accommodations aren't your thing, this place might just be for you. 

Eating out anywhere is always a bit of a gamble because we need to make sure the food preparation is safe for my gluten free son.  We asked to see the menu before committing to the restaurant, and it was extensive enough that we were certain to find something for our son.  We asked a few questions of the waitress when we arrived and were happy to find that she was able to answer all our questions to our satisfaction.  She confirmed that the French fries were fried in a separate fryer from anything breaded, and knew the ingredients of the dishes we asked about. 

The menu was pretty extensive, and the prices were reasonable.  We ordered two appetizers and three main courses and the bill came to approx. $40 US.  Pretty reasonable, especially for the quality of the food.  The meals were delicious. 

Our meals:

Chicken & Vegetable Soup  

Caprese Salad 

Chicken & Rice with Salad & Fries 

Chicken in Mushroom Sauce with Grilled Vegetables & Fries

Fried Coconut Fish with Vegetables

We couldn't have been happier with the service and the food.  The waitress was friendly and although we were there in the low season, the quality of the food was still good.  There was a group of surfers staying too, and they were enjoying the pool and talking about their surfing experiences.  The atmosphere is elegant but relaxed, and the hotel is an eco hotel in tune with nature.

There are two floors to the restaurant, one with a view to the pool and the second floor overlooking the beach.  We didn't stay at the hotel, so I can't speak to the accommodations, but the outside of the hotel was well maintained.  The pool was one of the nicest I've seen, and there is a small children's pool as well.  The whole building exuded charm, and it's a quick walk to the beach from the hotel.  Building directly beach front is not allowed in Costa Rica, but it's less than a one minute walk from the hotel to the beach.  I snapped a few photos of the hotel grounds:

Pool view from the ground floor of the restaurant

The Bar

Second floor hall with rooms to the left

If you're looking for a place to have a special meal, but don't want the crowded, overpriced restaurants of the more touristy areas, this restaurant is easy to get to, is full of charm and has great service and food. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

I know my Wordless Wednesdays have been filled with Costa Rica pics for the past few weeks, so I'll try to make this the last one.  I can't help it, it's such a beautiful country!

Farmer's Market in Jacó Beach
Monkeys relaxing in Manuel Antonio National Park

Beach at Manuel Antonio


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Product Review: XO Baking Co. Vanilla Cake Mix

For my husband's birthday in March my son wanted to bake him a birthday cake.  Usually we just pick up or make some gluten free cupcakes, but this year he was excited about baking a cake, so we went out to check out gluten free cake mixes.  I've used a few different mixes in the past with varying results, but I always like to try new things.  While browsing Bulk Barn for something unrelated, I came across XO Baking Co.'s mixes. 

I had never heard of this company before.  My local grocery store doesn't carry their products.  The packaging called my attention, and there were a few different products to choose from.  My son decided that Daddy would want a vanilla cake, so we picked up the mix and went home to bake a cake. 

Not one to be content with just trying out a product, I always like to do my research.  There's a lot to like about this company.  The founder, Lindsey Deitch, has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, so safe gluten free food is a priority for her.  She's also a certified health and nutrition coach, and her baking mixes are all natural, produced in a dedicated gluten free facility and certified gluten free (Source). 

I was surprised when looking at the cake mix to find that one mix actually makes a double layer cake.  Most mixes make a one layer, 8 inch cake, but this one doubles that for roughly the same price as other mixes.  The mix is also dairy free.  The cake baked nice and fluffy, and the taste was easily one of the best cakes I've tasted from a mix, gluten free or not.  I was really impressed with how moist and soft the cake was.  I frosted it with a plain gluten free frosting, but the company offers a frosting mix as well.  It wasn't available where I shopped.  We topped it with some shredded coconut that my son insisted we turn blue because Daddy would like it that way. 

The result:  A delicious, double layer cake that was gone in one sitting.  I used 9 inch baking pans, so the cake would have been even taller if I had used 8 inch ones.  The slices held together, and there was nothing dry and crumbly about the final product. 

I would highly recommend this mix. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gluten Free Weekly Menu Plan

Monday: Chicken Parmesan with Mini Potatoes & Salad

Tuesday: Gluten Free Spaghetti Carbonara

Wednesday: Pork & Veggie Stir Fry over Rice

Thursday: Minestrone Soup

Friday: Fish Cakes with Oil & Vinegar Coleslaw

Friday, May 24, 2013

Gluten Free Buzz (3)

Good morning everyone!  Today is my last day in paradise (Costa Rica) and though I'm sadly packing for our return trip home tomorrow, I'm excited to get home and write up all the exciting posts I've got rattling around in my brain! 

Since we're coming up towards the end of Celiac Awareness Month, let's take a look at some of the latest news stories around Celiac and Gluten Intolerance. 

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has produced a nifty little infographic on the failing grade American Universities are receiving on the subject of gluten free.

Everyone can do their part:  This 4 year old girl raised $4000 for Celiac research, as reported in the Westfield Patch

Wegman's is celebrating Celiac Awareness month with demos, meal ideas, recipes and more.

This school offers gluten free school dinners, as reported in the Aryshire Post.

My son with his Bunner's muffin!

Bunner's Bakery shared a recipe for gluten free pumpkin muffins with Toronto Life.  I tried some Bunner's products last month at the Gluten Free Garage, and they were delicious.  I will be making these! reports that pea protein is best for improving gluten free bread.  Who knew?

Have an interesting story you would like to see included in Gluten Free Buzz?  Send me an email at CeliacBaby (at) Hotmail (dot) com.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Recipe: Pineapple Granita (Gluten, Dairy, & Sugar Free)

My son loves ice cream and gelato, but now that he's dairy free again, it's harder to find cool summer treats that aren't full of sugar or chemicals.  It's hot here in Costa Rica, and fruit is cheap, so after visiting a farmer's market and buying  ton of fruit, I decided to make some granita.  Granita is a typical Italian dessert of flavoured shaved ice.  It's super easy to make, and doesn't require any special equipment.  This recipe is granita at the most basic, but there are so many simple ways to dress it up as a fancy dessert. 

We made pineapple granita because pineapples are everywhere in Costa Rica, so we bought 2 of them for about $2.  We used one for smoothies, but the other was perfect for granita.

**This recipe doesn't call for sugar because I used ripe pineapple that was very sweet.  To choose a ripe pineapple, pull on one of the middle leaves on top.  If it comes out easily, the pineapple is ready to eat.  Check the bottom to ensure there is no mould.  Taste the pineapple before freezing.  Add a bit of sugar or honey to mix if a sweeter taste is desired.

Pineapple Granita


1 non-stick metal baking pan (cake pan or something similar with sides)
1 blender
Fork (I know, high end stuff)


1 pineapple, cleaned, cored, & chopped in pieces
1 cup water


1- Combine pineapple chunks with water in blender and mix until smooth.  Pour mixture into baking pan. 

2- Freeze mixture, stirring every 30 minutes or so with a fork because the water tends to separate.  Continue until completely frozen solid.  To serve, take the side of a fork and scrape the icy shards off the top and into a serving bowl.  Serve immediately. 

Depending on how cold your fridge's freezer is, freezing times vary.  It keeps well in the freezer covered with plastic wrap to avoid freezer burn.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekly Gluten Free Menu Plan

Monday: 15 Minute Tuna & Tomato Pasta (Recipe) 

Tuesday:  Green Pea & Mushroom Risotto 

Wednesday: Fish Tacos 

Thursday:  Gluten & Dairy Free Spinach Soup (Recipe) 

Friday: Stuffed Eggplants (Recipe) 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Recipe: Easy Fried Plantains

One of my favourite foods to eat is the plantain banana.  They can be prepared so many different ways and always add some great colour and flavour to a meal.  What used to be considered an exotic fruit is now easily found at most local supermarkets.  If you've never eaten plantains before, it can be a bit confusing to choose the right banana for the dish you want to make.  For this dish, you want really ripe plantains that are soft to the touch, but not mushy.  The skin should be yellow in colour with some black already on the outside.  You want them to be soft to cook, but not mushy so that they fall apart. 

Sliced and ready to cook

This side dish is sweet and great for kids.  It can be served as is, or served with sour cream (or crema) to balance the flavours.  It could also be served as a dessert with some honey or rum, or with a scoop of ice cream.

(Serves 4)

4 plantains, peeled and sliced diagonally
Oil to coat the bottom of a frying pan (Canola or another tasteless oil works best)


1- Coat the bottom of a frying pan with oil and heat at medium high.  Oil is hot when a drop of water sizzles when dropped in the pan.

2- Arrange plantain slices in a single layer in the frying pan.  You may have to cook more than one batch.  Fry, flipping once or twice, until bananas are soft and begin to caramelize.  How long you cook them for is personal preference.  I like mine almost burnt, but it's more common to see them cooked to a deep golden yellow. 

Serve while still warm.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Gluten Free In Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

I plan on writing a nice big round-up of our trip to Costa Rica when we get home, but for today, just a quick recommendation for anyone looking to eat out gluten free in Jaco Beach.  Yesterday we found ourselves hot, thirsty, and tired after a morning of sightseeing along the coast, and decided to stop in Jaco Beach for lunch before heading back home.  Jaco has a ton of eateries, though not all are open before noon, and not all are traditional Costa Rican eateries.  I have nothing against eating at expat places, but when I'm in a foreign country I like to frequent local spots as much as possible.  When looking for gluten free options, it's actually easier at the local food places than the ones catering to North Americans. 

The North American restaurants mainly had signs for pizza, hot dogs & hamburgers, sandwiches & wraps.  Since those items are off limits for our gluten free kid, looking local made more sense.  Costa Rican food typically consists of rice, beans, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables.  We found a local spot that was full of locals, and that had a sign advertising breakfast from 2000 colones, or about $4 US. 

El Chante Tipico is a small eatery with tables carved from huge tree trunks.  The owners speak some English.  Rather than choosing from a menu, there is a small serving area where you ask for what you want from a buffet of food.  Normally I advise against buffets, but not this time.  Here's why:  1) The employee serves the food, and there are separate utensils for each dish.  Less cross-contamination is likely to occur.  2) Nothing (nothing that was available the day I was there) contained gluten.  The only thing that could have contained it was the fried fish, but it was coated in corn flour.  The thing is, wheat flour is very rarely used in day to day cooking.  It's common in the sweet breads sold at bakeries, but most cooking is done without it.   Still, I always recommend asking, as recipes change.

The price of the lunch buffet ranged from 2500 colones ($5) to 3000 colones ($6) depending on whether you added fish to your plate.  Three lunches plus three bottles of water came to the equivalent of $16 US.  Aside from beans and rice there were a variety of vegetables, fried plantains, meat, fish, and salads to choose from.  The plates were overflowing with typical food that tasted great and was safe for our son to eat. 

My plate: rice & beans, fish, plantains, vegetables & salad

My husband's plate; Rice & beans, extra beans, plantains, 2 different types of vegetables & meat

My son's plate: rice & beans, boiled potato, mixed vegetables

The location is convenient, right on the main street next to the beach, right across the street from the park on Avenida Pastor Diaz.  The restaurant is a small eatery but it is bright and airy and the bathrooms are clean.  I don't know how the menu changes at night, but the lunch deal was cheap, plentiful, and delicious.  Sadly, we were the only tourists there.  The place was full of locals, but most English speakers were across the small side street at a place advertising jumbo hot dogs with not a Costa Rican in sight and prices easily 3 times what we paid.  I know because we scoped out the menu.   

When in a new place, we try to eat where the locals are eating, especially if that coincides with great gluten free options.  We felt welcome at this small eatery, and everyone was friendly.  Even if you speak little to know Spanish, you can always point to what you want.  Worth a visit!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

7 Tips for Traveling Gluten Free

My husband and I love to travel.  We haven't traveled as much as we'd like over the past few years because we were busy having our two boys, but we still managed to take some trips.  Our oldest son, who is four, went gluten free at around 18 months old, so most of the traveling he's done in his life has been of the gluten free variety. 

Who wants to miss out on this?

I'd love to say that nothing has changed when it comes to traveling since then, but I'd be lying.  Everything has changed.  The only thing that hasn't changed is our love of visiting new places.  We would never deny our son the chance to see the world because of his food restrictions, but we do have to limit those spur of the moment "let's just stop in at this place" and eat whatever's on offer.  There's a lot more planning involved, and sometimes a lot less spontaneity.  Here are some of the tips we live by while traveling with our gluten free son.

1- Bring Snacks:  Depending on how far you're going and how you're traveling, this could mean bringing a few small things, or packing a proper meal.  When we take road trips, like the time we went to Washington and Delaware, we only had to pack snacks because grocery stores and eateries with gluten free menus weren't too hard to find along the route.  Flying is an entirely different matter.  Few airlines offer gluten free options, and our son's double whammy of also being dairy free makes matters more difficult.  We bring a proper meal for flights, including enough snacks for the airport and travel to our final destination.  It saves money, but most importantly, ensures that our son doesn't eat something that will make him sick before the trip has even started.  Cereal bars, crackers, dried fruit, even fresh fruits and veggies that are packaged correctly are good options.

Who needs plane food?

2- Choose Your Accommodations Carefully:  We have yet to go to an all inclusive since our son's diagnosis.  I have heard of certain resorts that do gluten free well, but I've yet to check one out.  There are also companies that specialize in gluten free travel, but most of the time the trips are geared towards adults.  We prefer to stay in hotels with kitchenettes.  That doesn't mean we cook every meal, but it does allow for us to keep the basics on hand for when little else is available, or for snacks and quick meals.  Another option is the one we opted for in Costa Rica:  Rent a house.  Renting is often cheaper than staying at a hotel, and you have more room plus all the amenities and a proper kitchen.  You're in charge of what food gets in, and the likelihood of cross-contamination happening decreases significantly. 

The yard at our rental house in Costa Rica

3- Explain Gluten Free in the Native Language:  You don't have to speak the language of the country you're visiting to get the message across.  There are computer apps and dining cards that can do it for you.  Celiac Travel has free printable ones in several languages that you can take with you to hotels or restaurants to explain what gluten free means.  This doesn't always mean that they will work, but particularly in larger establishments where there is a trained chef, they can be a big help.  Learn the words and a few phrases from memory so you can at least list the basics in a pinch.  Sometimes people are eager to help but don't always get it right. On our flight to Costa Rica, our son was given a special meal with rice, chicken and green beans, all gluten free.  However, the flight attendant still included the dinner roll and cookie in the container.  It's up to you to be vigilant. 

4- Learn What the Ingredients are in Typical Dishes:  Every country has a few dishes they specialize in, and those are often the ones served to tourists.  Do some research ahead of time and figure out which ones are naturally gluten free, or could easily be modified to become gluten free.  Not only does this give you some peace of mind when eating out, it also increases your chances of actually getting a gluten free meal if little or no changes need to be made on the part of the establishment preparing the meal.  This way you can still enjoy the local cuisine, will have an easier time navigating menus, and can order with more confidence.

Fish Stew with Plantain Chips in El Salvador

5- Beware the buffet:  All-inclusive resorts or large hotels with big breakfast buffets are prime locations for cross-contamination.  People mix up serving spoons, things are battered and fried in the same oil used to cook items that would otherwise be gluten free, and often there is no one around to question about what is safe to eat.  We successfully navigated the huge breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Presidente in El Salvador by following 2 tips.  1) Arrive early.  We were always the first at breakfast, so we knew the spoons had not been double dipped.  2) Eat simply.  My son had fruit and eggs most mornings.  Bacon sometimes.  At the time he wasn't dairy free, so he also had yogurt.   Juice.  Nothing complicated, nothing that may have come in contact with baked goods.  3) Let the staff know your restrictions and follow their recommendations.    Talk to the hotel manager, but more importantly, talk to the servers and other kitchen staff.  They're the ones handling your food, so don't underestimate their value as allies.  The serving staff told us when an item may have come into contact with something unsafe for our son.  The omelette guy had a special pan he didn't use on anyone else until he had made my son's eggs.  Be friendly and polite, and people will often be happy to help.  Don't forget to thank whoever helps and get their names.  Tell their manager.  Write a blog post.  Write a letter to the president of the hotel.  Leave a tip.  Direct business their way. 

6- Buy Your Own Food and Eat More Whole Foods:  When traveling, we always hit up a supermarket or food stand and buy some local stuff.  It may not be easy to find your favourite brand of gluten free cereal or pasta, but that doesn't mean you can't eat well.  There is so much gluten free food to choose from.  Fruit, vegetables, chicken, beef, pork, fish, lamb, beans, rice, corn, yogurt, cheese, quinoa.  The list goes on.  You may not be able to find prepackaged GF goods, but most of those aren't good for you anyway.  If you need to buy something that won't go bad, look for plain rice cakes, plantain chips, plain popcorn.  Plan ahead and include a food budget.

Strawberries, Cucumber & Papaya as a go-to snack

7- Do some Research:  Depending on how far off the beaten path you plan to travel, it's often possible to scope out some options before you go.  Bigger restaurants often have their menus online.  In Washington D.C. we ate at a café in the Native American Museum that had a ton of gluten free options, all labeled.  Pick out your restaurants beforehand, or stop in before you're hungry to see what's on the menu.  Spontaneity is great, but sometimes it's more important to stay safe.  Research local gluten free or Celiac support groups.  Most countries have one, even if it's just a Facebook page.  Get in touch with them for recommendations and tips. 

Lunch on top of a volcano.  All Gluten Free.

Travel is a great way to see the world, make new friends, and experience new things.  Being gluten free shouldn't stop you from enjoying new experiences.  A little bit of preparation and a lot of vigilance can help make any trip food safe. 

Happy Travels!



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Today is the day to celebrate Mom.  This year I'm out of the country for Mother's Day, but I still want my mom to know that I love her!  How are you celebrating Mother's Day?  Thinking of cooking mom a great meal?  Here are some meal ideas to help you out!

Breakfast in bed?  How about some Homemade Pancakes? Add a smoothie to the mix, and mom will be in heaven.

Eggs are a classic breakfast meal.  Get started with 5 Egg Breakfast ideas, including a gluten free quiche.

Serving lunch or dinner?  Creamy gluten free pasta with sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms might fit the bill. 

Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives adds a Mediterranean flair to dinner.  Serve with some garlic green beans.

Need more inspiration?  Check out the RECIPES tab for more great recipes to make your Mother's Day special!

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, my sis, and all the Mothers in my life!