My kids love Olive Garden for the unlimited salad and breadsticks, and because of the big gooey, cheesy pasta dishes on the menu. I like Olive Garden because my kids love Olive Garden. I do appreciate the dedicted gluten-free menu too, but I have to say that the gluten-free vegetarian pasta dishes are, well, boring. As a gal who wants to make good choices for health, I want to make sure that when I choose to eat a bunch of refined carbs that they are worthy of the calories. OG's GF pasta with marinara sauce is not a homerun. More like a base on balls.
So last night when we descended with extended out-of-town family at the local OG, I decided to go off menu. They had a collection of fresh vegetables as sides on some of their meaty GF options, so I asked our server to ask the kitchen to just come up with a pleasing combination of steamed veggies. That, coupled with a salad (no croutons, dressing on the side) and I figured I'd be fine.
I was right! Even though they didn't give me broccoli, I still enjoyed my summer squash and red pepper medley. Our server brought me extra tomatoes for the salad at my request, just to liven things up a bit. It still wasn't a thrilling dinner, but I probably ate only 150 calories of boring rather than 700. And I got to polish my healthy diet halo to boot. And my family was happy.
I'd call that a big homerun.
Join me! Check out the press release below for a fun gathering this Friday.
“Gluten-Free for Life” Discussion at the PHS Pop Up Garden
Friday, July 27
Noon – 2:00 pm
The PHS Pop Up Garden made a splash in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood when it opened on June 22, and the excitement continues all summer long with programming and activities for visitors of all ages.
This Friday, July 27, from noon – 2 pm, the garden will host “Gluten-Free for Life,” a casual discussion led by PHS’s Claire Baker. Stop by at any time, feel free to bring a lunch, and learn fun, clever recipes that are not only gluten-free, but delicious. “Gluten-free for Life” is a continuation of the garden’s “Foodie Fridays” programming, which currently offers lunchtime presentations about food, nutrition, and healthy communities—in addition to a bi-weekly farmers market.
The focus of the PHS Pop Up Garden, 1905 Walnut St., is the PHS City Harvest program, which grows fresh produce through a network of community gardens and helps feeds more than 1,000 families in need each week during the growing season.
The message of the garden is, “Bring everyone to the table.” As such, everyone is invited to get involved in the issue of food security, connect with one another, and bring their ideas, recipes, and urban gardening tips to the table.
I recently bought a three-pack of romaine lettuce from Ocean Mist Farms. They clearly label their lettuce as gluten free, lactose free, vegan, and heart healthy. I'm still trying to decide if this is a good thing or just really insulting. It's sort of like proclaiming that air has oxygen or that water has hydrating properties. I checked out Ocean Mist's website at www.oceanmist.com
. They don't mention gluten-free properties of vegetables at all on their site, so I'm thinking that an over-zealous marketing person slapped all the pro-health properties on the label. In fact, they seem very sincere about providing quality produce, especially artichokes, which I admit I've eaten occasionally (mostly at restaurants) and never prepared myself.
I don't want to act like a big know-it-all. Maybe some people ARE unaware that all vegetables are gluten, lactose and animal product free. Maybe it's a public service to point it out. Maybe there is someone out there who is so unfamiliar with the property of vegetables that they don't know that they are inherently vegan. (Of course, there ARE carniverous plants. My brother, upon learning of my vegetarianism nearly 20 years ago, asked if as a vegetarian I would I eat a venus flytrap. But I digress.)
On the other hand, I am a bit offended. Just as I am happy for Miley Cyrus that she found better health eating gluten free as a lifestyle choice, I am annoyed with her for gumming up the message that there are those of us with celiac and gulten intolerance that HAVE to eat gluten-free. Does displaying the health properties of lettuce on the package actually prompt people to buy more?
Can you imagine this conversation at the store?"Look Honey! Lettuce is GOOD for you! Let's get six heads."
"Why no, Dear. I had no idea it had all of the properties of a green leafy vegetable! Let's get nine heads!"
Wait til they find out that spinach has all those properties AND is fat free...
(Sign up for the mailing list and get my "QuickStart Guide to going Gluten-free." I never share or sell my list.)
My last gluten-free pizza for awhile, eaten with my wonderful family on the last night of our vacation.
I became a Joel Fuhrman Eat to Live
follower and proponent before I got my celiac diagnosis. ETL is quite consistent with the gluten-free diet, so no big deal, right?
Wrong. Once I learned I couldn't have regular pizza anymore, I decided I wanted to find the best gluten-free fresh, frozen and crust mixes out there. And of course there is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgent slice of pizza.
Having just returned from a car trip vacation to South Carolina (12 hours there, 12 back) in which I relied on PB&J on Udi's rolls and bagels, rice chex with milk, and way too many tortilla chips ( plus one gluten-free pizza), I'm not feeling my best and have decided to resume my ETL ways with an "all in" 6 week kickstart. Essentially this means I'll be eating mostly high nutrient vegetables, fruit and legumes, a few nuts and a little healthy oils, and not much in the way of processed foods or grains.
I like ETL because I can eat all the green and high nutrient veggies, fruit and beans I want -- no portion control necessary. (I have to admit this sounds a little fishy to me, but hey, it worked before!) Given all of the wonderful fresh produce this time of year, it should be a snap. And since I'll be doing the strict ETL only until the end of August, I know it's not forever and will think of myself as virtuous rather than deprived. Plus I know I'll feel and look better.
Given the volume of zucchini coming out of our garden, I better find some interesting ETL ways of eating it!(Sign up for the mailing list and get my "QuickStart Guide to going Gluten-free." I never share or sell my list.)
Meal #1 of my 6- week ETL intensive: organic zucchini and tomato from the garden, with mustard.
My partner and kids and I are just back from a wonderful family reunion vacation to Edisto Beach, SC. Edisto is about an hour outside of Charleston. It's a charming little town that managed to stave off the temptation to build boardwalks and arcades and diving horses and stuff. It's a very low-key place, all about the beach, seafood, fishing and and wildlife. There are only a handful of restaurants in town to begin with, and though I didn't eat at them, there are actually two that report being able to accommodate a gluten-free diet. (Check 'em out here through UrbanSpoon
We had rented a 7-bedroom house to accommodate 18 Bakers or relatives of Bakers, and as a group of 18, two of whom avoid gluten and four who are vegetarian, we ended up preparing 80% of our meals at the house. For me, I think I ate out in Edisto only once at a place called Whaley's. I had salad. It wasn't the best -- our in-house dining was much better. We had stopped at Trader Joes in Charleston for some staples and gluten-free fare before heading to Edisto, then stopped at a local farmers market just up the road before we arrived. We also made numerous stops at Edisto's only grocery store, the Piggly Wiggly. We had plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand, and way too many gluten-free chips. Our first night was build-your-own-soft-taco night, and the next day my sisters-in-law made two versions of what we came to call "gumbalaya," one with shrimp and one vegetarian, with careful examination of the spices that went in. We had gumbalaya for days -- a soup of okra, potatoes, corn and other veggies, and which we enhanced by the 2nd or 3rd round with tomatoes, and in my case, greens. As always, preparing meals ourselves not only ensured a safer dining experience, but it is way more affordable, and we were able to spend our food savings on things like kayak rentals and boat trips to our own private island for a day. The trip was a fabulous success because it was all about family and playing on the beach and seeing new and different things, and not a lot of angsting about food.
I do want to note a nice lunch we had with an old friend of mine in Charleston before we headed to the beach. Sesame Burgers and Beer
in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood had gluten-free bread and options listed right on their regular menu, which is so refreshing! I had the black bean burger, pictured above. It did pay to quiz them about their homemade condiments. Their house mustard has beer as one of its ingredients, so fortunately they had French's mustard on hand as well.
I suppose the moral to the story is that if you can construct your vacation such that you don't have to rely on eating out for most of your meals, you will certainly have more confidence in the gluten-free status of what you are putting in your mouth. I know it kills part of the joy of vacation -- after all, if you are cooking it SOMEONE'S going to have to do the dishes -- but I think the trade-off is worth it. And my family was really terrific about splitting the chores fairly. I would totally recommend Edisto Beach as a vacation destination as long as you pick accommodations that allow and enable you to prepare your own meals. Then get out on the beach, take a boogie board, marvel at the flying formation of the once-endangered brown pelicans and keep your eyes out for dolphins!
[Sign up here to get Claire's Quickstart Guide to Living Happy, Healthy and Gluten-Free and receive occasional news and updates. I never sell or share the list!]This post originally ran as a guest blog at www.myhappypath.com. A big thanks to Shanie for sharing it!
“You have got to be kidding me.” Those were the first words out of my mouth when the hematologist told me he thought I might have celiac disease. It was my first visit to see him to get a handle on my long-term severe anemia. It had NEVER occurred to me that a GI problem was at the root of it. And while I had heard of celiac disease, I had compartmentalized it in my brain as a weird, maybe psychosomatic thing. I knew that it required drastic food restrictions, but beyond that, I didn’t know much.
As I proceeded through months of testing to determine if it were really so, I learned a lot about celiac. That it’s an autoimmune disorder that attacks the lining of the small intestine, triggered by gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley, and maybe oats. That there is gluten EVERYWHERE: Breads, baked goods, pasta, cereal, veggie burgers, soy sauce, soups, sauces, and most packaged foods. That the only way to address celiac disease, which can’t be cured, is to go on a gluten-free diet FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. If I didn’t adopt a gluten-free diet, I would be exposing myself to a host of other unpleasant short-term conditions and a plethora of long-term health implications that would ultimately shorten my life. I was a little freaked out. Okay, I was a LOT freaked out.
Once the celiac diagnosis was confirmed by way of an endoscopy and biopsy of my small intestine, I began the gluten-free diet. I had been a vegetarian for many years, a vegan for a shorter amount of time, and had given up alcohol and chocolate for good too. I was a pro at giving up stuff. But all of that was my choice, based on my principles or my sense of what was right for me and my emotional, physical and psychic wellbeing, not a medical requirement. And gluten seemed to be EVERYWHERE.
I felt sorry for myself. Never again could I safely eat in a restaurant (or so I thought). I’d have to give up all of my favorite foods in the world with no reasonable replacement (or so I thought). No more pizza, no more Chinese food, no more vegetarian steak sandwiches, no more cookies. Never again a “real” birthday cake. Poor me!
But then a crazy thing happened. I grudgingly started the gluten-free diet and suddenly the gastrointestinal issues (gas and bloating – apparently not everyone enjoys them every day) went away. I had no idea that my “normal” was other people’s “feeling lousy.” My afternoon brain fog lifted – I thought I was just suffering from age-related memory issues. I never got another canker sore! Okay, maybe this gluten-free stuff was going to be okay.
Shopping and eating out were still a problem though. I did not approach it with relish. (And no, not all relishes are gluten-free, har har.) I had been a student of using techniques to raise my happiness set point (keeping a gratitude journal, looking for the gift of any situation, approaching a challenge as an adventure rather than an obstacle), and realized I was looking at the perfect opportunity to practice my happy skills. Here’s how I reframed my thinking:
Before: I can’t eat anything!
After: Good thing I LOVE vegetables, lentils, beans, rice, and quinoa since they are naturally gluten-free.
Before: I’ll NEVER be able to go to my favorite restaurants again.
After: I get to explore a whole new world of restaurants that I might never have tried otherwise.
Before: My family is going to think I’m a huge pain in the neck.
After: I’ve returned to cooking, which I enjoy.
Before: Other people are going to think I’m a huge pain in the neck.
After: I can figure out a way to take care of my health and model appropriate self-advocacy and self-assertiveness for others.
Before: None of my friends will want to eat out with me or have me over.
After: I can figure out ways to make it easy for them, AND I can find or create a new circle of friends who get it.
You get the idea. I have come up with a whole bunch of new favorite recipes and figured out which of my old favorites were already or could be adapted to be gluten-free. I’ve devised strategies for finding gluten-free friendly restaurants. I’ve honed my vocabulary to describe my dietary needs to make sure I don’t get glutened while eating out or at a friend’s house. I formed a gluten-free meet-up group to find others who are in the same boat. I can be a coach and advocate for others who are learning to live gluten-free.
And how wonderful is it that I have a disorder that can be completely controlled by diet alone? No lifetime regimen of pharmaceuticals! And so cool that I can rely on healthful fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds and novel (to me) grains to help maintain a healthy weight! Celiac is actually a blessing! Why was I ever so distraught? I have taken on the quest for the perfect gluten-free pizza (in restaurants, mixes, and frozen), my family can display their love and support for me by learning to read labels and looking out for me at restaurants and making me gluten-free cake for my birthday, and I can make a difference in the lives of others.
Frankly, at this point, I wouldn’t change a thing. What started out as a life sentence was really the beginning of a whole new and exciting chapter in my life, a new adventure in my journey to happy and healthy.