February 8, 2016

Corn is Everywhere!

If you have an allergy to, or intolerance for, corn, trying to avoid it can seem like wandering through a maze – there’s corn all around and it’s hard to find a good path through it because corn is everywhere!
corn
I’m experiencing an allergic reaction. I have huge red spots on my face, an itchy rash on my neck and my lips are burning like the worst chapped lips you’ve ever had. Benadryl is making me sleepy. I know that the quickest way to feel better is to avoid the allergen.
allergy
The problem is that I don’t know what triggered my reaction. That means I’m eliminating any possible culprit from my diet and one of those possibilities is corn. In order to eliminate corn, I’m making a list of the things I need to avoid. Some of those are obvious like corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, corn meal, corn chips, corn bread, corn dogs, Corn Flakes, Corn Chex, tortilla chips, corn tortillas, corn flour, popcorn, and cornstarch.

Other things containing corn may not be as obvious. Cheetos, Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Tums, baking powder and confectioner’s sugar fall into that category. Many gluten-free pastas contain corn. Hominy, grits, and polenta are all made from corn. Most of these list corn on the label, but then there’s the ever present food starch. It may contain corn and be listed on a label as food starch, modified food starch, or pre-gelatinized starch. The word corn is never mentioned.

To make things even more confusing, familiar products contain a multitude of ingredients that may or may not contain corn and labeling requirements do not require that corn be listed on the label as an allergen. For instance, natural flavorings, xylitol, xanthan gum, citric acid, distilled white vinegar, maltodextrin, ethyl alcohol, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, and even IV dextrose may contain corn. It’s a fairly steep learning curve when I’m not even sure corn is the culprit.

Luckily, I have lots of practice reading labels and researching ingredients that will come in handy while I try to isolate the allergen that’s bothering me. I don’t plan to eat any processed food or at restaurants until I get this under control. Cooking is an easy way to know what I’m ingesting and with my lists at hand, I can leave out any questionable ingredients. I’m not the only one who follows this approach. To quote UAMS Registered Dietitian, Meghan Dixon, “These skills, cooking skills, are really life-changing. These are the skills that develop lasting lifestyle changes for people,…If you learn how to cook, you’re not outsourcing your health.” (1)

While the itching isn’t fun and I don’t love looking like I just got out of the boxing ring…as a loser…using those skills, I feel confident that I can make progress quickly.

If you have experience with corn allergies, let us know what triggers your symptoms. If you are struggling with a corn allergy or intolerance, you may want to peruse the more comprehensive lists available on these sites:

http://www.cornallergens.com/list/corn-allergen-list.php

http://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/corn-allergy-symptoms

1) Storey, Celia. “Food and Medicine Meet for Dinner.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette [Little Rock] 08 Feb. 2016, Style sec.: n. pag 1. Print.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

February 1, 2016

Super Bowl Snacks – Variations on a Theme

Keep your Super Bowl snacks simple by serving variations on a theme. The 50th Super Bowl is upon us and everyone I know is invited to a Super Bowl party. Of course, every Super Bowl party includes snacks. If you’re hosting, you can make it easy on yourself by limiting the variety of offerings to a few variations on a theme. Your guests will likely welcome the novel approach and you’ll minimize your prep time while still serving a little something special.

My family can’t seem to make it 4 hours on snacks alone, so I’m leaning toward a hearty chili themed party. I’ll start with my grandmother’s chili recipe and then serve it as bowls of chili, Frito® pies, and chili mac with gluten-free pasta. Once the chili is made, I only need some chips, cheese, pasta, and jalapeños to complete the menu. That’s it, make some chili, cook some pasta, and I’m pretty much done. I suppose if I get really ambitious, I may make some guacamole to serve on the side and I’ll probably pick up some Red Mango taro flavored frozen yogurt or a variety of mini Häagen-Dazs flavors.
chili
My sister loves potatoes, so I also considered a potato themed party. My plan was to serve 3 varieties of potato salad: A favorite Cooking2Thrive version (recipe below), plus Blue Cheese & Bacon Potato Salad and Dilled Potato Salad with Feta. Also in the running to make the menu were potato soup and potato skins topped with sour cream, cheese, bacon, and chives. Of course you could include various flavors of potato chips, twice baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, or French fries. And that’s barely scratching the surface of potato possibilities!
potato salad
Potato Salad
Serves 6 – 8

13 baby Yukon gold potatoes
Water to cover
Sprinkle of salt
1/3 cup Bulgarian yogurt
1/3 cup real mayonnaise
2 tbsp spicy hot mustard
3/4 cup sweet pickle relish
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs, hard boiled
1 small onion, peeled and chopped

Peel potatoes and place in large pot. Cover with water and add a sprinkle of salt, then bring to a boil. Boil for 12 – 15 minutes or until just tender. Drain in colander. Place colander back over pan, cover with dish towel, and allow to steam for another 10 – 15 minutes. Place potatoes in refrigerator to cool.

In small bowl, mix yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, and salt to make a dressing. Place mixture in refrigerator.

When all items have cooled for at least 2 hours, cut potatoes into small cubes. Peel the eggs and rough chop. Place potatoes, eggs, and onion in large bowl and pour the dressing mixture over them. Lightly mix and place back in refrigerator until ready to serve.
pigs
There was some conversation about featuring cocktail wieners as our Super Bowl centerpiece – using them for pigs-in-blankets, corn dog bites, and covering them with BBQ sauce and grape jelly in the crock pot.

Another possible theme includes the most common Super Bowl food of all – chicken. You can’t go wrong with wings, tenders, chicken nachos, BBQ chicken, or chicken enchiladas.
chicken
Whether you watch for the football, commercials or halftime show, the Super Bowl will be the biggest show in town this week, so choose a theme, buy some paper plates in your favorite team’s colors, and have a great time watching the game with your guests!

http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/50

http://www.redmangousa.com/

http://www.haagendazs.us/

http://www.southernliving.com/food/holidays-occasions/potato-salad-recipes

January 27, 2016

Cut It Up Into Bite Size Pieces

This week when I made chicken soup for my 95-year-old cousin (isn’t she cute!),
CEI cut the chicken up into bite size pieces. It was really more like chicken stew – thick and full of carrots, celery, potatoes, black eyed peas, and rice. Until I cut up the boneless, skinless chicken thighs I included, it was impossible to take a bite that contained vegetables, broth, AND chicken. In fact, the full size chicken thighs were an obstacle that made it difficult to even get s spoon down to the vegetables and broth. Breaking that obstacle up into small pieces resulted in a uniform consistency and full flavor in each and every bite!

When I started the soup, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what it would look like when I was done. I just knew I didn’t want to have to clean another cutting board right then, so I didn’t bother to cut up the chicken before it was cooked. Once I was ready to eat the first bowl, I felt frustrated by the large pieces of meat I had to deal with. Obviously, that was low level frustration. It was only soup and I knew exactly how to fix the problem in a matter of minutes.
soup
But let’s say it hadn’t been soup. What if I were feeling frustrated by the idea that committing to a gluten-free diet means I’ll never have my favorite rolls again AND I’ll have to read labels or ask questions before ordering food. I won’t be able to drink my favorite beer. I may have to eat before parties or carry food with me. I’ll have to figure out a system for keeping my food separate from the rest of the family’s. I’ll have to explain to my grandmother why I can’t eat her scrumptious strudel. It will be harder to eat fast food for dinner or doughnuts at the office. It just seems like way too much trouble.

Most of the gluten-free community has walked down that road at one time or another. I managed to get my mind around the obstacles, make the commitment, and stick to the diet only to find myself a couple of years later on a business trip, really hungry and standing in the cracker aisle of a grocery store…pouting. Seriously, I was pouting like a small child. I eventually grabbed a banana and some nuts and was fine, but I had that moment of, “Do I really have to do this?” Of course, by the time I was pouting, I also knew how much better I feel when I’m gluten-free so I wasn’t really tempted to cheat.

If you suffer from any of the following symptoms, you could have gluten-intolerance or celiac disease and, after testing, your doctor may recommend a gluten-free diet. If the idea of making such a significant change feels overwhelming to you, perhaps you can take the chicken soup approach – figure out your biggest obstacle and break it down into easily digestible pieces then proceed with a plan. As you have success, it will build upon itself and the process will become easier and the routine more uniform.

Symptoms:
General
Vague abdominal pain
Diarrhea
Weight loss
Malabsorption (Abnormality in digestion or absorption of food nutrients in the GI tract.)
Steatorrhea (Formation of non-solid feces.)
Behavioral changes
Fatigue or malaise
Growth delay

Hematological
Anemia
Hematologic diathesis
Skin/Mucous Membrane
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (Skin manifestation of celiac disease.)
Alopecia (Baldness – both universalis (from the entire skin) and areata (diffuse hair loss))
Aphthous ulcers (canker sores)
Abdominal or generalized swelling
Epistaxis (nose bleeds)
Easy bruisability
Cheilosis (Scaling at the corners of the mouth.)
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (Chronic dry eye.)
Stomatitis (Inflammation of the mucous tissue of the mouth.)
Scaly dermatitis (Inflammation of the skin.)

Musculoskeletal
Non-specific bone pain
Joint pain(8)
Osteopenia (Low bone mineral density. Possible precursor to osteoperosis.)
Tetany (A combination of signs and symptoms due to unusually low calcium levels.)
Hyperreflexia (Overactive neurological reflexes.)
Carpopedal spasm (Spasms of the hands and feet.)
Cramps
Laryngospasm (Spasm of the larynx, the voice box.)

Neurological
Ataxia (coordination problems)
Epilepsy
Myelopathy (Damage to white matter that carries motor signals to and from the brain.)
Peripheral neuropathy (Numbness and pain in hands and feet described as tingling or burning.)
Seizures

Gastrointestinal
Abdominal pain
Anorexia (poor appetite)
Bloating
Constipation
Cramps
Diarrhea
Dyspepsia (Recurrent discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen.)
Flatulence, distention
Foul-smelling or grayish stools that may be fatty or oily
Hepatic disease (liver disease)
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Steatorrhea (Formation of non-solid feces.)
Stomach upset
Malabsorption-Related
Bowel is less able to absorb nutrients, minerals, and the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K.
Abnormal coagulation
Anemia (Lack of healthy red blood cells.)
Bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine
Failure to thrive (Poor weight gain and physical growth failure over an extended period of time in infancy.)
Fatigue
Growth Failure
Hyposplenism (small and under active spleen)
Hyperparathyroidism (Excessive production of parathyroid hormone because of low calcium levels.)
Bone deformities
Broken bones
Swollen joins
Iron deficiency anemia
Malnutrition
Megaloblastic anemia
Muscle Wasting
Osteopenia
Osteoporosis
Pubertal delay
Vitamin K deficiency
Weight loss

Miscellaneous
Depression
IgA deficiency (Means you’re 10 times more likely to develop celiac disease, AND gives a false negative on screening.)
Increased risk of infections
Irritability
Autoimmune disorders:
Sjogren’s syndrome
Thyroid disease
Diabetes mellitus type 1
Autoimmune thyroiditis
Primary biliary cirrhosis
Microscopic colitis
Infertility
Miscarriage

When you consider the time and energy you lose to pain, fatigue, doctor’s visits, and managing symptoms, it will soon become clear that removing those obstacles will result in plenty of time and energy to pursue lifestyle changes. And unlike using pharmaceuticals, removing gluten from your diet has no deleterious side effects or long-term health dangers. You can eat a healthy, balanced diet without the artificially fortified grain-based products that predominate our grocery stores and television ads.

If you feel you just can’t give up fast food, don’t. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to eat all of your favorites, but a quick review of the nutrition facts on convenient fast food restaurants’ websites will give you options that you can rely on when you’re pressed for time or want to join your kids in an occasional outing.

If you travel to rural areas for business, throw a Kind bar in your bag so you feel confident that you won’t get too hungry while searching for a local steak and potato restaurant. I sometimes carry a cooler bag with a couple of peeled & salted boiled eggs and some baby carrots along with a banana. That’s enough for a meal if I run out of restaurant options. And never assume that you won’t be able to find anything in a convenience store. I recently saw Glutino pretzels and gluten-free fruit snacks at the gas station in a small town.
pretzels
While I failed to do this when making soup this week, the process is always easier when you visualize what things will look like in the end, so imagine what it will look like when you no longer feel sick, tired, and grumpy. Holding that vision in your head helps you break overwhelming ideas down into tiny, bite size momentary decisions that aren’t hard to make. And really, that’s all it takes.

I remain gluten-free with lots of very simple decisions every day: ordering grilled chicken rather than fried, no croutons on my salad, no gravy on my potatoes, befriending a waiter who will help me communicate with the kitchen, reading the labels on packaged food, hosting meetings at my house, and saying no when I need to say no. And I don’t think I’ve felt like pouting in the past 9 years!

It’s natural to feel some fear and temporary depression when making significant change. The good news is that these feelings soon dissipate just like the sore muscles you get when you start lifting weights and no matter how you feel right now, improvement will result from the small, gradual, and consistent positive steps you make over time. Perhaps we should call it a Gluten-Free Practice.

January 18, 2016

Two Wrongs Can…Make Delicious Breadcrumbs!

This week’s recipe tests proved that two wrongs can…make delicious breadcrumbs! Periodically, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen creating new gluten-free recipes. I cook, record what I think I’ve done, and then prepare the recipe again to see if I’ve gotten it right. If I have, the recipe is ready to be sent to out for a final test. If I haven’t, I try again. I think biscuits took about 9 tries, but the result is definitely worth it.
bixuits

Anyway, this week I was concentrating on a new yeast roll and sandwich bread. The first batch of rolls went a little long in the oven, so I tweaked the baking time and the second batch was delicious! Confident, I started on the bread.
rolls
I wanted a really wet dough for the sandwich bread. I was happy when I poured it out of the bowl into the baking pan. Unfortunately, I filled the pan too full. It rose beautifully, but once I put it in the oven, began to rise over and drip down and around the pan. The good news is, the stalagmites formed by the dripping dough were incredibly good. The bad news is, the bread would not hold together when sliced thin.
bread
At the end of the day, I had 10 rolls and a loaf of bread that were less than satisfactory. As you know, gluten-free flours don’t come cheap, so I wanted to put the mistakes to good use. I thought about making bread pudding, but decided I wasn’t in the mood for dessert. After exploring other options like croutons, I landed on bread crumbs as the thing I would use the most. I freeze them for later use in tuna croquettes and stuffed mushrooms or to top casseroles. I can also use them in meatballs or meatloaf.
bc
With my bread crumb plan, I let the bread sit for a couple of days, then crumbled it into a flat pan and placed it in a 200º oven for an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. I then let them sit out on top of the stove for the rest of the day. Sometimes, I’ll let the crumbs sit uncovered in a cool oven for an additional day.

Once the crumbs were dry, I placed them in a food chopper and ground them for a few seconds to make them more uniform. They were then ready to be put in an airtight container and stored in the freezer.

My sister is sometimes hesitant to try new things in the kitchen because she wants all her efforts to turn out well. I don’t worry so much about the first result because my mistakes are often fortuitous in one way or another. This week two wrongs made great breadcrumbs. Who knows what next week’s failings may contribute? I’m looking forward to finding out!