My mother really enjoys eating at restaurants. Keeping strictly kosher limits the options, which can be depressing, especially living in a ‘foodie paradise’ like Chicago, where there are a bazillion eating outlets of every type. Unlike New York, there are VERY limited kosher outlets in Chicago. It was a huge commitment for her to keep kosher and give up one of her pleasures.

It was also one of the family activities that I enjoyed with my mother, so we did the best to make do with the limited options we had left to us. Then I went gluten free…and complicated the dining out to the point of almost impossible.

There is only one kosher restaurant that I fully trust in regards to gluten issues in the entire Chicago area— Malibu Pizza in Skokie, IL. They have a designated oven and prep area for their gluten free options, and the owners have educated themselves about cross contamination issues. There’s been progress with a few others– Tein Li Chow, a Chinese Takeout restaurant in Evanston, IL [inside a Jewel grocery store] now offers rice noodles and gluten free tamari soy sauce for gluten-free options, in addition to using separate woks for cooking. Every place I go I give them a fact sheet about gluten-free dining. But I still feel there’s a long way to go.

Specifically, I’m talking about the sheer lack of education about gluten and cross-contamination. By now, I’m used to asking what’s in the food, how they cook it, and all those pesky issues that seem to irritate most waiters and chefs alike when I go to a restaurant, but it never fails to astonish me that most people have no idea how severe a reaction glutens can cause, or how even the most minute a gluten particle can trigger the reaction. Case in point:

My mother and I went out to a restaurant. She ordered salad and dips, without the accompanying bread, which I appreciated. We were able to order the sandwiches without bread, mentioning that I was gluten sensitive and couldn’t eat anything containing or in contact with glutens —and what a gluten is. I made sure there were no sauces or spices on the grill or the dish that might be a problem and off we went.

I wandered back to get a glass for my mother, and passed the salad display where you can watch them assemble your salad…and watched the servers plop down fresh, warm rolls for another order on the surface in front of the containers and proceed to smear the dips and load the salads on the bread [using the same spatulas and spoons in the containers several times on a single roll.] Every single salad was cross-contaminated! I promptly changed my order: no salads, no sides, please. I can’t eat those, please don’t even garnish my plate. I suspect that I still had some level of cross contamination, anyway, judging by the bloating and bathroom battle I had shortly afterward, but it took away from the whole experience to not be able to fully enjoy my meal.

Not long before I was in a different restaurant with my mother. It was a place she suggested, asking if I could eat from the salad bar. I told her probably not, due to cross-contamination. And after looking it over, cross-contamination was highly likely. What irked me was that there was no effort made to make simple changes that could lessen that possibility— even after it had been suggested to them several times.

I have gone out with family and friends to restaurants and not been able to have anything more than a soft drink. And there are times when I’m happy to just go out with them and not focus on the food. But it can be so frustrating to feel left out, or think that I need to be responsible for educating food providers on what they need to do to sell me a safe meal. Part of the pleasure of dining out is the convenience and relaxation of having someone else prepare your meal; that’s what you pay for. Not so easy if you’re kosher and gluten free, at least until someone opens a GF kosher restaurant .

I know It feels like this blog has been abandoned, but I’m still around. Truth is, I haven’t been able to really give the blog the attention it deserves, but I realized that it’s been over 4 years that I’ve been gluten free, and so much has changed in my personal life between each post. Considering how much time passes between all my posts, that’s not surprising! Even though I don’t have many [or any] readers, I still feel that I should make more time for this blog, and I’ll try to do so in the future.

We moved to a new house last December, and I am lovin’ my new, very spacious kitchen! Pesach cleaning was easy this year, with careful watching of chometz [which we do anyway, given that I’m gluten-free] and everything having a place to be stored. I hope it’s always this easy!

Foodwise, Pesach was also really enjoyable. I cooked from scratch more than I normally would, and having more Yom Tov/Shabbat than Chol Hamo’aid time really kicked up the cooking demands, in particular meat or parve dishes. There was still too much salt –and I need to remember to get sea salt next year, and not use standard salt–and calories galore. I think I can really improve if I keep my focus on vegetables and salads, basic proteins and lower calorie, fruit-based desserts. Passover just seems to be made for chocolate, potato chips and eggs, though; it’s a challenge.

I made instant Death by Chocolate cake [my mother’s request every year; her b-day is 2nd seder.], Pesach stuffing [from potato starch rolls], homemade cranberry sorbet, spinach-cheese mina and egg rolls! The egg rolls were such a hit that my mother asked me to make more after Passover for the whole family. Yum! Recipes and hopefully pics soon.

As for Pesach products, I was thrilled to find hand-rolled GF oat flour Shmurah matza, which was far superior to the machine made, boxed oat matza. It was mega-expensive, though [$24 for 3 matzot?! AGGGGHHH!!! Talk about ‘bread of affliction’!] so I only used those for seder. I don’t eat a lot of matza anyway, although I look forward to being able to say the blessing on bread, the only time of the year I actually can.

One of the best finds this year were the baked goods from Muffins N’ More Bakery [from Brooklyn, NY] While they were not labeled ‘gluten free’ and could have had cross contamination, the ingredients were nisht gebrokts, so I took a chance on them. Oboy, they were delish! Moist and not crumbly, tasty–even my non-GF kids were begging me to get more. I called them after Passover and praised them for their great products, and encouraged them to consider doing a year-round GF run.

There were all sorts of gluten-free items available, from gefilte fish to pizza bagels to gummy candies to chow mein noodles, and they were all good items. If I ever open a kosher GF store I really want to be able to stock such items for year-round use, not just Passover.  I did manage to grab a layer cake for my birthday in January and an opera cake for a party I’m hosting in July; both are in my freezer now, resting. :)

[Wow, I have hibernated completely though Winter and even Autumn on this blog…so sorry, folks; I must try to do better! not getting a new camera to spice up my lonely blog with some Foodie pics didn’t help, but I’m working on that lil’ detail, too. Meanwhile…]

Yes, Purim is right around the corner, and I’m very excited about our plans for mishloach manot, since they will feature VEGGIES!! yep, vegetables are quite literally the centerpiece of the gift platters this year. More on that in a few days.

Our local supermarket has already begun stocking the shelves with the latest Pesach items, and I’ve been browsing to see what wonderful new gluten-free offerings the food companies have thought up for us. This is my stock-up time for those ‘convenience’ items that I don’t use on a regular basis [whether they were available year-round or not.] ; things like blintzes, gummy candies, chips, frozen french fries, potato-crusted fish sticks, soup nuts [mandel], ‘matza ball’ mix [made from potatoes, not matza], and the huge range of Pesach cakes and cookies that I stash in the freezer for times when I don’t want to bake, like oh, my birthday, for example. It’s a huge help, but an even bigger expense, so it’s always tricky, but the shopping is fun. [I found, of all things, gluten free kosher-for-Passover crunchy onion rings – similar to Funny-Uns; something I couldn’t find for years. I’ll report other finding during the upcoming weeks, hopefully.

This is also the time of the year to find things like powdered sugar without corn starch, soup powders without gluten and MSG, and other items that don’t contain a bunch of grains. I’m fortunate that I can eat most non-gluten grains, but I do know people who can’t, and Passover is a blessing for those who are limited in that regard: Pesach is the Potato Bonanza. Being Sephardi, I am allowed to have certain grains and legumes on Pesach, but I am very grateful for the nisht gebrokst crowd for encouraging the market to providing such products to us. [My sister is nisht gebrokst! :) ]

As for the situation I mentioned in the last post, I’m happy to say that things have changed dramatically. My father got onboard with adapting the house for my brother’s needs to be gluten-free, and my mother has followed suit. My bro B is feeling much better, and he’s very happy that his big sis makes him pizza and mac’n’cheese that doesn’t make his tummy ache. Amazing what a little education can do.

Okay, so Summer in Chicago wasn’t an actual event this year, it appears. Not that I’m complaining, because I really dislike having to live through hot, humid weather [of which we did have a few days, gotta admit.]

What I also noticed was that I didn’t manage to get more posts up on my poor neglected blog, and amazingly we are now on the verge of High Holy Days yet again. Which, of course, means more menus and food ideas and such. Whee!

Food and eating has been a challenge for me lately. I realized the other day that over this Summer I had gained a new apathy towards the menu making/food shopping at home[in addition to gaining weight, much to my frustration vis a vis Weight Watchers.] I also had been craving bread and no amount of GF subsitutes seemed to work until I tried out Ener-G’s tapioca rolls.  Warmed up, they kept the craving at bay without too much added calories. Still, this carb-filled baked-goods desire is a little maddening, and not fully gone.

I went completely ballistic yesterday at the parents’ house yesterday. I was already very tired and hadn’t been too ‘together’ with my eating –and certainly not with my water consumption–throughout the day. Being bombarded by my extended family for an impromptu cook-out at my parents’ house down the block from me was probably not the best thing for my nerves. My family hardly ever gets to together, and when it does, it’s a kind of chaos. That being said, I made a quick salad of lettuce, tomato and carrots and headed over.

Hamburgers and hot dogs were on the menu, so I figured I’d eat a couple of  burger patties [no buns, of course; they’re too high in points and not what I wanted], corn on the cob, and some salad and I’d be set. I planned for it, actually. So I was HUNGRY when I got there. Again, not great for social interaction. Everyone was getting ready to sit down to eat. I look over at my youngest brother, B. [the one with Down’s Syndrome, and who was recently dianosed with celiac disease.] and realize he’s waiting to chow down on bread. I tell everyone within hearing distance to hold off on that while I zip back to my house for some emergency Pesach rolls–you remember, those really expensive ones I mentioned a few posts back. I run down the block and get back in record time to discover that my celiac bro is munching away on a hot dog, bun and all. Which my mother gave him. Which no-one even considered not providing him. My middle brother, D. when I handed him the freshly microwaved hamburger bun to give to B., for some mysterious reason, promptly plopped it onto the tablecloth [already festooned with gluten-filled crumbs.] Which was when I lost my appetite and emotional control entirely and walked out in tears.

Well, my mother called and begged me to return, saying over and over again that the family wanted me to be there, that they and most of all she loved me, and wouldn’t I just come back to be there for the surprise birthday celebration for one of my nieces. Oh, sure, no prob, of course, after all, family’s family, right? and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone with my crazy eating limits or my pouty face. Right?

With some reservation, I gathered a deep breath, wiped off my face and walked back. I took along the Ener-G pound cake that I had bought online and a tub of whipped topping. [The topping had spoiled and I had to throw it out; few things are more disgusting than curdled whipped topping, I gotta tell ya!] I arrived in time to set down a slice of my cake in front of B., who was digging into the pasta salad, gluten-filled and freely accessed. And of course, he didn’t like the cake I provided, since everyone else was inhaling the pretty frosted poison that was the birthday cake. I got out of there as soon as I could…without a meal, since they had consumed everything during my little time-out.

When I got home, I made myself two fried eggs on tapioca bread toast and fell asleep before I could have some salad or water.

Epic fail of a food adventure, the whole get-together.

I feel like my family thinks this is all some kind of crazy dieting thing, my whole struggle with eating gluten-free, as if it’s some kind of joke. My mother hasn’t changed anything foodwise in her house since B’s diagnosis, and it’s always, “It’s too difficult, he eats it in school or outside the house anyway, he doesn’t understand,” blah blah blah. I’m worrying about my own increased possibilities of colon cancer, diabetes and other diseases, and thinking about what B. could experience down the line, possibly even after my parents can’t care for him any more, and she can’t be bothered to keep him healthy!

Now that I’ve rehashed that, I feel that some of my cravings have very little to do with food lately. I’ve just been feeling sick again, and I’m worried that other health issues are to blame.  I have several baby nieces and nephews that of course have grown quite a bit since I last saw them and I’m feeling old and left out. [My oldest is graduating high school this year, my middle one is graduating 8th grade and my youngest will be in junior high next year.] I live down the block from my parents and I see them less than my other siblings do. I’m hungry for acceptance. I’m hungry for healthy relationships.

…and food won’t feed that craving. Never has and never will. Trust me, I tried it.

Every once and a while the fact that a vast majority of the American population gives very little thought to their food pops up and smacks me full in the brain. It amazes me to realize that without my food restrictions [ie. kosher, gluten-free, ‘lower points’, and affordable], I literally would not have to touch a stove again, that I could go anywhere in the USA and not fret that there will be a meal somewhere. Adding to that amazement is that more people live that reality than don’t live it.

I had a sort of clash of ideals with food in childhood. Fresh fruits and vegetables were always around; I knew what tofu and alfalfa sprouts were; sugar cereals were on par with candy and just as forbidden. I ate made-from-scratch oatmeal and not-from-a-mix pancakes [with real maple syrup] for breakfast, natural PB & honey sandwiches on whole wheat bread for lunch and loved to snack on raw green beans when I was a kid.  One of my favorite treats was fresh french bread slathered with real butter; I could go through the stick and the loaf  [This was such a rare thing to have that I probably was just trying to grab as much as I could; that was the only white bread I remember in my house as a young kid, other than the once-a-week Shabbos challah.] I remember being excited when strawberries showed up at the grocery store and how that tart-sweet taste exploded in your mouth and just announced summer had arrived. ‘Real food’ is what my mom called it.

At the same time, there was the other stuff, mostly from friends’ houses or [shocking!] from school: chocolate bars, fish sticks, waffles, pudding, soft drinks, macaroni and cheese made from a neon-orange powder packet in a box, Tang, Cool-Aid, plastic packages of bologna, smushy snow-white bread, cookies on plastic trays, marshmallows, ice cream…Freezer food, space-age wonder ‘food’–It was endless and kitchy and I loved the coolness of it, the sheer availablity of it. I remember eating some gooey bakery confection at a friend’s house, something loaded with artificial chemical-laced ‘whipped topping’ and gloppy ‘fruit filling’ and spongy cake-stuff, and asking innocently if I could have a second piece. I had never had anything like it before and wow, the sensations overwhelmed me with a feeling I’ve only heard from drug addicts describing their first high.  I didn’t understand why my friends didn’t just gobble up all that stuff from their cabinets, all that bounty of modern food production. (Much later,  I learned that the eating part of that stuff was wonderful, sensual even…but I didn’t feel satisfied afterward. If anything, I still felt hungry, or sick to my stomach.)

Looking in my pantry and my freezer, I’ve come to the conclusion that I still live [and eat] with a kind of schizophernia. My son’s favorite lunchbox snacks are cheese crackers…and kefir. My middle daughter likes Fluffernutter sandwiches…and begs me to cut up yellow bell peppers  for her ‘because they’re so yummy!’. My oldest will throw together a salad with a quick oil-and-vinegar dressing, make a pot of basmati rice and a vegetable omlet for lunch to feed herself and want to get some soft-serve ice cream. They argue whether their favorite meal is homemade macaroni and cheese with broccoli, or steak and boiled new potatoes & peas, and then bake cookies and cakes from mixes.  It’s a weird dicotomy.

There are some products I’m really happy to have. I like the fact that I can eat Chex cereal again [rice, corn and a bunch of their flavors.] I love being able to grab a can of Eden rice and beans from the shelf for a quick meal. A box of Van’s wheat-free waffles might sit in my freezer for months, but it’s a nice option for breakfast occasionally. Larabars and Stonyfield yogurts and Glutino breads are really convenient. I ordered Dr. Lucy cookies and Mr. Krispers nacho crackers because I wanted the ‘junk food’ fix. I still drink caffeine-free diet Coke once and a while. I use the gluten free mixes from Whole Foods for cookies and brownies when I want a ‘homemade’ baked goods treat. Is that junk food? Probably. So what?

Those aren’t my daily things, those aren’t staples. I still stock my fridge with fresh fruits and veggies, I eat eggs and milk and more rarely cheese and fresh fish and meat. I eat tofu and whole grains. I used to eat a lot of  ‘vegetarian meat alternatives’, but anymore–most of them contain gluten. But y’know, I found a company in Canada who makes soy burgers– Sol Cuisine. They’re kosher, gluten-free and low calorie. And I’m looking forward to getting some of them, provided I can afford them. ;)

I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid buying most ‘junk foods’.  I was part of a survey that asked how much ‘convenience food’ I use on a regular basis, and I had to ask them, “Do you mean, like frozen vegetables? Canned beans?” I very rarely buy things like waffles, frozen pizza, salad dressings or prepackaged cookies. I like to think that my family and I are ‘food savvy’. But the thought occured to me the other day that I wouldn’t know how to grow my own food if I had to, that I still rely on a lot of things from the store to provide me and my family. I realize, too, just how mixed a blessing it is to live with abundance. That’s where my real challenges lie; in learning to moderate, to feed myself enough.

…but you wouldn’t know it looking at Chicago’s weather!

Passover has come and gone, and it was a pretty good holiday for me. Being gluten free has really changed my eating in general, but Pesach is a whole new world. Used to be I didn’t think I could make a Passover without matza meal, but oh how much I have learned!

The meals were great and full of yummy fresh fruit and veggies–my staples! I also experimented with making potato-starch crepes and GF kishka with a great deal of success. Yum!

I wowed my mom with my Instant Gratification chocolate cake [it’s a flourless chocolate cake that whips up in minutes.] Her birthday is second seder, so she requests my cake every year. I also assembled an amazing Strawberry Creme Trifle–I can’t say I ‘made’ it, since it was a GF sponge cake from Shabtai Bakery, cubed and layered with KFP parve whipped topping and sliced strawberries.  “It’s so good; it doesn’t taste like Pesach!” was the verdict. Nice stuff.

It amazes me what premade gluten free passover goodies can be found on the market now. I’m not a huge fan of pre-packaged goods, but I find some things hard to resist. Dr. Praegers’ potato-crusted fish is one; every once and a while I want some breaded fish that I don’t have to make myself and I grab those. Spring Valley chicken strips and nuggets were available on sale here after the holiday and I bought a bag of each for those moments, too. GF blintzes were a nice thing to add. [Not many, alas-we emptied the bank before Passover on groceries, so stocking up afterward wasn’t possible this year.] I nabbed my soup mandel and GF chow mein noodles, so yay, got that for the year, too. I found some amazing rolls–hamburger and hot dogs rolls from Israel–and saved those in the freezer, although they’re high in calories and price. Worth it for me.

The weather is crazy cold here, still. I’d really love to put in a garden this year, but we’ll see. If not, I console myself with the fact that the farmer’s markets will be open soon.

I have a whole list of blogs I try to read at least every weekday. Most of them are about food, of course, but hey, that’s my interest.I’ve noticed that the ones I’m most interested in are the ones that update their posts with regularity. Unfortunately, my blogs usually start out with the best intentions–I want to have lots of posts and then time just seems to slip away from me.

I had two posts planned recently: one about Tu b’Shevat, and one showcasing a gluten free plum cake I had whipped up for Shabbat using a GF mix.  I even demanded my poor take pictures of the food to put up here, much to her protest. Has she uploaded them? No. Have I written the posts? No. And now it’s Adar, and I’m thinking about Purim things…*sigh* I’ll try to catch up.  Also, I think I need my own digital camera.

More soon. Really. I mean it.

Well, Chanuka has come and gone for this year, and I even managed to get some gluten free cooking done. This was my first year eating gluten-free, so I’m still playing around with adapting my recipes to fit all my criteria: kosher, gluten-free, perferably healthy enough to fit in with Weight Watchers eating, and above all SIMPLE.

Ok, so the low fat idea didn’t really fit [we are celebrating using OIL, after all! ;) ] but I was really happy with how the latkas came out. I will be the first to tell you how lazy I am in the ktichen for a lot of things, and yeah, I don’t like to spend a lot of effort to get things done, especially if it takes away from the time I get to enjoy eating and admiring the food itself. So, I ‘cheated’.

I used refrigerated hash browns for the latkas. And pancake mix for the sufganiot. And nobody cared! It was quick, it was easy, and I got to enjoy the lights for once.

Now, I’ve been having donut cravings for months. Frying donuts is not something I’m willing to do any ol’ time, so I figure it’s a once-a-year treat. I found a great recipe using pancake mix, so I grabbed a box of Whole Foods 365 Gluten Free Pancake Mix and went to town. Yummy! Bet I could bake ‘em, too…which would make them even easier…and…yeah, just once a year, folks. I do need to limit that kind of indulgence, even if they were incredibly easy to make.

Easy Gluten-Free Donut Holes [Doughnuts]

1 cup boiling water
1 stick vegan spread
1 box 365 Gluten-Free Pancake Mix
4 eggs
Vegetable oil
jam
, frosting, powdered sugar and/or cinnamon

Combine boiling water and spread until spread melts. Add pancake mix, stirring until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. With an electric mixer, beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Heat 2–3 inches of oil in a large skillet until very hot. Drop the batter into the heated oil by small rounded teaspoonfuls, a few at a time. Fry until golden brown, turning them to brown evenly. Drain on paper towels. Pierce a small hole in each doughnut, and, with a pastry bag fitted with a small tip, fill with jam or frosting. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Or, roll in cinnamon sugar.

My Weight Watcher leader, Jack, knows my foodie tendencies and gave me the challenge of coming up with Core menu ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner. Ha, score! I came up with three, count ‘em, THREE menues that have less than ten points each per serving, and are gluten-free & Core-friendly. I know they worked, too: I lost three pounds over the long weekend. So cool! [I’ll get those menu ideas up soon; I’m trying to put all that stuff behind links so this blog doesn’t turn into a giant menu listing.]

I’ve been musing on what I call my big three food limitations: kosher, gluten free and Weight-Watchers [Core] friendly. In some ways, it’s very helpful in defining my food choices: I don’t eat out much, I limit the baked goods more than ever, I focus more on veggies, fruit, simple basic foods; things that are making me feel better and enjoy my food again. That’s not to say I don’t feel a small pang of envy when I read about some of the gluten-free restaurants and products that others enjoy–which aren’t kosher, so I won’t be enjoying them. Or that I wish that the latest kosher thing on the market was gluten free [yay for new Passover items!]. Or that I get tired of explaining to people that I’m not a ‘passing-fad diet'; I *eat* a certain way, always, for my health.  I do. But the truth is, I’m finally learning that food is just that, food. Nourishment. Something to enjoy as part of my existance. Might sound fairly obvious to some folks; big, long shift in thought process for me.

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