Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mastering the Magic of Gluten Free Baking

Cooking. Sorcery. Dark (delicious) magic. Pre-diagnosis, they were all the same to me. After all, I failed equally at each and, whenever I tried, I ended up drowning in smoke

So, when I think of the cooking experimentation that I've already embarked on this summer, I can't help but smile. Immediately after diagnosis, my diet changed in small ways. No gluten, lots of new veggies (who knew cauliflower and avocado could be so addicting?) and, as I've already ranted about multiple times, simple substitutions like banana nice cream

An early favorite!
Now, though, I'm over dipping only my toe in the water. If I don't jump in to gluten free baking with the same survival-based passion that my diagnosis triggered, how will I ever swim with the big gluten free bakers? And so, petrified, I bought my first bread and pizza mixes. And I actually used them! 

For bread, after scanning an aisle full of bags promising the perfect GF loaf, I decided on Pamela's. Then I hurried to the kitchen to get my Pamela on

The actual baking wasn't bad. The instructions were simple to follow, though I substituted my own arm power (biceps and triceps work out anyone?) for my non-existent high speed mixer. What's a broke college kid gonna do? And my bread actually looked promising from the time I popped it in the oven to its transfer on the cooling rack. Mom and I couldn't believe our luck...until we watched it deflate an hour later. 

It's going down...
We laughed, I (inwardly) cried, but two slices later, we deemed the droopy, slightly goopy bread a success! Especially when, a week later, we re-purposed the leftover bread in a kick-butt apple cinnamon bread pudding. My life with celiac has been all about flexibility, creativity and change - cooking with it is no different

My favorite kind of fail!
The most magical experiment happened this week, though, with the birth of my first homemade gluten free pizza crust. Before my diagnosis, the thought of using a pizza dough mix would never enter my mind. It was one of those mysterious acts that only a true chef could achieve. With our favorite pre-made crust (Schars) out of stock, though, this pizza-lover had no choice but to turn on the Bob's Red Mill flour power. 

Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. I mixed the ingredients in the wrong order (sorry yeast!) and spreading the dough balls (sticky despite hours of refrigeration) seemed acrobatic. The saving grace of my Mom and I? Remembering an old tip to cover and stretch the dough through a layer of plastic wrap. Clean fingers and (surprisingly circular) crusts! 

An example of the plastic wrap technique
When we popped our babies in the oven (first naked, then topping-coated), all I hoped for was an edible ending. Boy was I was the finest slice of saucy goodness this tongue has ever touched! 

Our crusts were fluffy pillows with crunchy edges. They held their own with our toppings, and the crusts rose so much, we actually want to use even more layers on our next pies! I ate leftover pizza four days in a row and I was totally fine with that! And, during those four days, I couldn't stop ranting about our culinary success

Mommy and Me Pizzas!
Magic can mean many things, but to me, nothing has been more magical than my time in the kitchen this summer. Celiac disease has kicked gluten out of my diet and - I'm not going to sugarcoat it (pun intended) - sometimes I feel deprived. But no more. 

These baking ventures have enriched my taste buds, but also my life. Now, it's my old fears of cooking inadequacy and failure that have turned into smoke. And there's nothing more magical than that. 

*This post can also be found at RunningwithSpoon's link party and Glutenfreefrugal's Allergy Free Wednesday link party!*

Has celiac changed your attitude towards cooking? What are your favorite gluten free recipes? Comment below! 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Savoring the Gluten Free Summer

Summer is a lot of things. Fun (except for the removal of wisdom teeth). Relaxing. Hot. And, almost always: Way. Too. Short. This summer, though, I'm determined to change that. Or at least try

You see, I generally live like I eat: fork it, chew and swallow. Dinner barely touches the plate before being devoured. Whether by genes or tradition, it runs in the family. Similarly, when life is good, that's great, but I don't often stretch the moment by acknowledging that fact. 

Usually, I live life in the fast lane...
Just as celiac disease marked a shift in my genes a year ago, however, it has also triggered an evolution of my eating. For the first time, I really think about what I eat. (I think the #positiveceliac tweets are getting to me!) I analyze how a food makes my body feel afterwards instead of ignoring a tummy tantrum. 

And, after months of practice, celiac is pressing "slo-mo" on my fork and knife. Last night, I spent 30 minutes analyzing how the springy texture and chocolate flavor of my freshly made mug cake combined to explode in my mouth. And I enjoyed every bite during that half an hour. Maybe Payton, my friend who we like to tease eats slower than a turtle, is on to something! 

My first ever Mug Cake!!
I don't want to just savor my food, though (no matter how easy this is to do since I couldn't eat solid food for a week after I lost 4 wisdom teeth!) I want to savor summer. I want to savor gluten free life and enjoy every moment I can of it. 

So when my first loaf of homemade bread (made using a mix by Pamela) deflated in front of our eyes, I savored the sound of my mom's laughter. And I savored the moment when she tasted it and celebrated eating a "good slice of bread" for the first time since going gluten free with me after my diagnosis

A (deflated) success...
I savored watching mindless TV last night with my whole family around me. And I'm presently savoring the tug and pull of my leg muscles pedaling on the stationary bike as I ride and write (always a multitasker!). 

Life's greatest moments tend to fly by too quickly. Summer ends just when students master sleeping in. A Hot Sandwich disappears in one bite. The list goes on and on. 

This muffin disappeared too fast!
But this summer won't be on it. Celiac disease has taught me to savor food, and now it's time to expand on that lesson. This is my first summer where I have a diagnosis from the start. It is my first summer as a celiac. And, as I think of our upcoming family trips (first a roadtrip to Colorado and then a family escape to Texas to visit the grandparents), my chest tightens. No more random visits to local eats without future research. No more BBQ with the gramps.

While I'm scared, I'm not hopeless, though. Because while I know that there will be bumps along the way, I know that the joy at being with my family, being in control of my health and spreading awareness of celiac disease will follow.

I made it through wisdom teeth surgery…
celiac summer's got nothing on me!

And I will savor every minute of it.

*This post is also found at runningwithspoon's link party! Check it out!*

What will you savor about summer? Has celiac changed your eating habits? Comment below! 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gluten Free Celiac Security

With their high-tech cameras, infrared lighting and loud sirens, security systems accent everything we care about, from our houses to our cars. For a celiac, though, there is another security system: the one we mentally acquire when gluten turns into the ultimate intruder

As I've transformed from a gluten free newbie to a well-educated celiac with one year under her belt, though, my security system has started to lag

This rang far too often!
Because my dad and sister still eat gluten, while my household is 99% GF, there still can be particles on the counter or bread in the fridge. When I was newly diagnosed, I was paranoid about every crumb. Did I wipe the kitchen today? Could I cook both pizzas (gluten and gluten free) at the same time in the oven? What if? What if? That first year, my inner security system pinged "gluten" every chance it got. 

But, now that celiac is a regular member of the family, I realized that I am no longer always on red-alert. Of course, if I see one of the rare gluten-filled treats, I don't take a bite and think, "Oh I haven't gotten sick for a while. I must be cured!" When bagging a chocolate chip cookie for my dad, though, I washed the crumbs off my hands before touching my own lunch with a lazy, "Better safe than sorry!" 

Cookie at large!
I'm not sorry that I've grown more comfortable with navigating the gluten-filled mazes of the world. I'm not sorry that I no longer spend hours worrying over whether the food I just prepared was absolutely, definitely, 100% free of any possible gluten contamination. 

Because, as I learned my first year when I was glutened even while my body checked for gluten at every corner, sometimes crud happens. Sometimes you grab the wrong ingredient or trust the wrong company and your stomach pays for it. 

Eating a Milky Way at Halloween was my mistake...
Nonetheless, my lackadaisical reaction scared me. Scares me because I am my biggest health advocate. If I don't stress the importance of one crumb, how can I expect restaurant owners to do the same to their workers and chefs

For me, this relationship between self-care and the care of others is exactly what Celiac Awareness Month is all about. Not only is May a time for us to educate others, express our dietary needs and celebrate celiac as a part of our identity, but it is also the time for every celiac to become aware of their own places to improve

Are you frustrated with your bland, repetitive gluten free dinners? Test out some new recipes! Do you feel lonely and misunderstood because of celiac complications? Find a support group or connect online! And, in my case, is fulfilling your celiac needs becoming dangerously routine? Then think back. Think back to past advice, past glutenings - anything to bring back the passion to advocate for and protect your health! 

This is my motivation!
Few security systems grow better with age, our homes and cars upgrading to newer, faster versions. In terms of the security of a celiac against gluten, though, this system of caution and cleaning is all we have. So we have to treat it right and remember - especially during Celiac Awareness Month - that we are responsible for our own health and happiness. And only after we have nourished it in ourselves can we pass on celiac advocacy to the next person in the chain.

*This post is also found at runningwithspoon's link party! Yay!*

Do you tend to grow more lax in celiac precautions after a period of no-glutenings? What could you improve? Comment below! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Celiac and Wisdom Teeth: Part 3

So I've talked about the prep. I've talked about the pain. Now it's time to dish about the product: the tips I've learned!

Now, as I already mentioned, wisdom teeth removal isn't easy for any teenager, but throwing celiac into the mix complicates the plan. And by complications, I mean less food options, no antibiotics and narcotics beyond Motrin and Tylenol, and walking around like a glutened zombie for days. Yep, it's been fun.

The mutant chipmunk cheeks!
Five days since my surgery, however, I'm emerging from the wisdom teeth brain fog and smelling the flowers (err…baked goods). This college celiac has officially survived! And here are the top 4 ways that any celiac can survive (and even thrive) minus four wisdom teeth.

1. Plan all the food. Make all the food. Eat all the food! For the typical victim of a wisdom teeth snatching, ice cream fills the void. Pick a couple different flavors and drown in frozen sugar. My gluten and dairy hatin' stomach was having none of that, though - and that's where my banana nice cream came in.

Spinach banana ice cream in a cup!
I've ranted about banana nice cream before, but I've never loved it more than this last week! Every day since my surgery, I've eaten a smoothie from my new Nutribullet blender (i.e. the current love of my life) for at least one of my meals. Yesterday, I ate it for all three. And, yet, it still makes my taste buds dance! My grocery clerk probably thinks I have a pet monkey by how many bananas I bought, but it was definitely worth it.

My fav mix: kale, carrots, apple, protein powder
 frozen blueberries and banana, ice, and sunflower butter!
I recommend buying and prepping a wide range of ingredients (frozen bananas and blueberries, apples, mixed greens, nut butters, and protein powders are my favorites) and experimenting with each smoothie. When you throw goodies like sunflower butter and protein powder, it's hard to go wrong!

Some of my other favorite snacks were applesauce, store-bought fruit purees, mashed salmon with avocado, and Gluten Free Cafe's Chicken Soup. Unfortunately, my quinoa oats were forbidden because of the seed-like size.

Chicken Soup dressed up with steamed veggies and avocado!
One of my experimental creations deserves a special shout-out, though: our apple cinnamon bread pudding, made with apples from our backyard and Pamela's gluten free bread mix. I found the recipe on runningforspoon's website, and absolutely loved it!

We ended up doubling the apples in her recipe and plan on adding more eggs and milk next time too. When we pulled it out of the oven, though, I almost swooned (and not because of the pain meds, this time!). The bread and egg mixture were perfectly fluffy and the apples tasted soft and sweet. Even better, this recipe calls for minimal sugar and butter, so you can dig in without the guilt. The perfect soft and savory combo for a healing mouth.

Our apple cinnamon bread pudding!
2. Next, despite all of your food prep and possible avoidance of medicines, expect nausea and stomach issues. I didn't go on antibiotics or narcotics because my doctor worried it would mess with my digestive system.

Unfortunately, there are some medicines that you can't (or at least, don't want) to skip, like general painkillers and surgical anesthesia. At least for me, these added up to one major week of tummy tantrums. In my last post, I compared recovering to being glutened. I suppose I should have expected the nausea, lack of appetite and intestinal explosions that are a part of it.

My tummy was literally in knots
There really isn't a best way to counteract this. Hurt or feel sick? Take your pick. My advice, though, is to stock up on your favorite post-glutened comforts - whether it's a great anti-nausea pill, a heating pack or specific cup of tea - and be ready for the fight.

3. Moving past the tummy, let's talk about the brain. More specifically, I'm going to dish on how to conquer the boredom that filled my post-op days.

The day of my surgery, I didn't want to do anything but flop on the armchair and vedge to bad reality TV. Still high on anesthesia and major pain meds, winning the world title as the Biggest Couch Potato sounded like a great plan. But, as the days passed and I started healing, restlessness attacked. I'm the kind of a gal who always likes to be doing five things at once. (I'll admit that as I wrote this post, I was watching House on Netflix). That's where TV and books came in.

Best. Combo. Ever!
They seem like no-brainers until when, after surgery, you turn on TV or look for a book and realize you don't have any good ones. For TV,  try to tape your favorite shows ahead of time. As for books, make a pile of favorite reads close to your chosen spot to pass out. This broke college student favors the library, but whatever floats your boat! Just make sure you have some entertainment to keep you busy during your long week of recovery.

4. Finally, the tip that was (and is) hardest for me to master: focus on healing and resting. This is easy to follow when you feel glutened and have as much motivation to move as a squashed beetle. But, as I'm finding out on this fifth day, it's dang hard when the sun is shining and my mouth stopped screaming. I look outside and I want to run! I want to skip! I want to - if anything - get out of this house now that my face doesn't mimic a mutant squirrel's!

Except I can't. According to my instructions, this gal can't lift or do intense exercise for at least three more days. Instead of feeling down because of these limitations, though, I'm going to follow Amber and embrace positivity. I'm not being lazy, I'm letting my body recuperate from intense surgery. This isn't an inconvenience, it's a spa week of rest and relaxation. Most importantly, by doing nothing, I am actually doing everything to help my body recuperate and return stronger than ever.

I won't be back there for a while...
So, no matter what obstacles or frustrations emerge after the wisdom teeth leave, remember that your job as a patient is simple: relax, recuperate and heal. Easiest homework assignment ever, right? 

Of course, I wouldn't say that this has been a fun week for me. Losing four little teeth has never hurt so much! But, I've learned a lot about food (new smoothie flavors galore!), boredom tricks, and myself throughout the process. My biggest hope? That some of the lessons I shared will make another celiac's right of passage a little bit easier!

(This post is also found in the links at runningwithspoons).

Did celiac impact your wisdom teeth removal? Any tips? Comment below!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Celiac and Wisdom Teeth: Part 2

The last time I talked to you all, I had four wisdom teeth and two normally-sized cheeks. Two days since my appointment, both of those traits have changed.

The new me!
My actual appointment flew by. Around 11 on Thursday morning, I walked into the dentist office sporting my "Life is Good" t-shirt, my own form of sarcastic rebellion. An hour later, a nurse wheeled me out to our car, my mouth full of gauze and my brain fuzzy with drugs. No complications, no massive bleeding and no traumatic memories. 

So, I suppose the surgery itself went smoothly - as smoothly as yanking out four teeth from a jaw bone can go. The recovery? It's been bumpy to say the least.

Honestly, I feel glutened. There's the post-surgery brain fog that fragments my memory into glances and blinks. Collapsing on the couch. Scanning my favorite blogs (and luckily not being stupid enough to try to write a coherent reply). Wobbling through the house to find water or use the restroom. 

I'm feeling a little zombified...
Then there's the full-body fatigue. Shaky legs? Check. Heavy feet? Check. Lack of motivation to move any portion of your body more than an inch? Check! In my last post, I said that the only thing worse than having my wisdom teeth removed would be getting glutened at the same time. I guess this spunky body of mine decided to accept the challenge. Go figure.

Beyond glutened-like symptoms, there is the most amusing result of wisdom teeth removal: the swelling. On the first day, it wasn't bad at all. I had a little squarer jaw, puffy at the bottom, and I joked that I looked like a supermodel who makes money off her weird bone structure. Then, it kept inflating…and inflating.

Swelling Day 2...
I've heard stories of people who experience little to no swelling and are munching on potato chips two days later. Me? This mutant chipmunk isn't leaving her home for a while now. 

Despite all of these nasty side effects, though, this wisdom teeth warrior is winning the battle. Even without the standard narcotics, my lovely friends Motrin and Tylenol are kicking pain's butt. Nausea attacks at random, but more meds - and as full a stomach as I can bear - lower the damage. And, although I can't gorge on Ben and Jerry's or instant breakfasts, I'm reviving my taste buds with green smoothies and applesauce. 

More delicious than it looks!
Things have changed since I last talked to you. The imagining and planning for wisdom teeth removal (not to mention the four teeth themselves) are gone, and full-body inflammation has taken it's place. Honestly, these last two days have stunk. I've cried, I've whined and I'm never going to complain about eating gluten free (solid) food ever again! 

Even as I stare in the mirror at my swollen face, force my heavy limbs to the bathroom or choke down my third shake of the day, I try to focus on healing. I try to remember how I beat celiac after it whipped my butt for almost a year. 

Wisdom teeth ain't got nothing on me.

Stay tuned for my last addition to the Celiac and Wisdom Teeth series, where I will dish on lessons learned, celiac tips and more!

How do you stay motivated during health issues? How was your recovery from wisdom tooth surgery? Comment below!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Celiac and Wisdom Teeth: Part 1

Rights-of-passage moments abound for teens. Some are sweet. First kiss, for instance. Others...not so much. Getting my wisdom teeth removed tomorrow morning falls in the second category. 

Now, no normal teen enjoys having a dentist yank 4 deep molars out of their jaw bone (besides the ice cream). As I prep for my trip into dental adulthood, however, celiac disease has, like usual, stolen the wheel. 

This will be me!
First, there's the obvious obstacle: avoiding gluten. A few sheets of paperwork and phone reminders to the office checked this problem off the list rather quickly. Luckily, my surgeon is very educated on the topic of celiac disease and didn't need a crash course on how to keep my tummy and my teeth safe. 

Then came the second, more complicated issue: medications. When I told my surgeon of my diagnosis, he immediately adjusted his normal plan. Rather than automatically prescribing antibiotics and narcotics - both of which are repeat offenders for tummy trouble - I'm going to follow an as-needed approach. In other words, Tylenol and Motrin will be a food group for the next couple of days. 

My cereal for next week!
This leads to the last problem: food. Or, more particular, that I don't lose any weight along with my four wisdom teeth. Celiac already took too much of that, thank you very much! The traditional wisdom teeth diet involves anything soft and rests mainly on ice cream and microwaveable breakfasts. Which aren't real options for this gluten-hatin', dairy-downer tummy of mine! The last thing I'll need is to be glutened on top of losing four teeth! 

So, like usual, I'm crafting my own plan of attack. My secret weapons? Quinoa flakes loaded with chia seeds and nut butters and bowls of banana nice cream. I think the grocery store clerk thinks we have a pet monkey by the number of bananas we bought this morning! 

Lots of this!
For some variety, I also grabbed some portable fruit purees, lots of gluten free chicken noodle soup, and cooked up some delicious ground turkey to devour with fresh avocado

As I count down the hours to my surgery - which starts at 11 tomorrow morning! - I can't help the fear pooling in my stomach. Sure, some of it is normal - It's gonna hurt! Am I going to look like a chipmunk? What if no good TV is on? - but celiac worries also dominate my brain. What if I have a reaction? What if I have to take the medicine and screws with my  gut? What if-?  

And then I take a breath. I remember Celiac Awareness Month and the #positiveceliac movement. Because while celiac does like to tangle life's strings - wisdom teeth removal included - it strengthens them at the same time. 

Savvy Celiac says it right!
I've survived destroyed villi, malnutrition and - the bane of every celiac's existence - I have survived being glutened. And, no matter if celiac makes it a little rougher than the average teen's, wisdom teeth removal can't be more painful than what a celiac experiences daily. We turn down homemade fresh rolls and Dairy Queen - what shows more pain tolerance than that? 

Teenage years are full of triumphs and tears, and celiac disease doesn't ease the load. While I'm scared, I know that tomorrow morning, I have my family, celiac experience and some drugs on my side. Plus (a lot) of banana nice cream

This is only Part 1 of my wisdom teeth journey! Part 2, full of my experience, tips, and favorite recovery foods, will follow! Next time you hear from me, I'll be four teeth less

How did you wisdom teeth removal go? What is your #positiveceliac experience? Comment below! 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bloggin' my Heart Out

Some people wear their heart on their sleeve; instead, I tattoo mine all over the Internet in Times New Roman. Since I started my blog, people have watched me struggle and succeed, cry and celebrate.

One of the most recent reasons for me to celebrate snuck into my life in the form of a tweet from @GFLife247. In it, she tagged me in the "Blog Your Heart Out" Chain Letter. Just like Kaila shared at her blog, I've been meaning to give you all a peek at the girl behind the scenes of Casey the College Celiac. And by a "peek," a mean a look at the more mundane aspects of my life, rather than my latest celiac challenge/success!

Much like the Liebster Award (which I blogged about earlier), Blog Your Heart Out involves answering five questions and then tagging five of your favorite bloggers to share their replies! So, let Operation-get-to-know-Casey begin!

1. Who/what encouraged you to start blogging?

As I mentioned during my Liebster Award post, celiac disease triggered the birth of my blog. Before my celiac diagnosis, I was a writer in every way but online.

When the doctor phoned me that I had this crazy disease called "celiac," though, after months of weight loss, nausea, and acid reflux, I knew that I had to change more than my diet. I had to find a way to emotionally cope with losing a big part of my teenage identity: social eating.

My new version of a pizza party...
Having celiac disease in college hasn't been easy (hospitalization? check! self-esteem issues? check!), but I wouldn't change it. Celiac disease encouraged me to start blogging, but my hopes of spreading celiac awareness (like #positiveceliac) and the support from the bloggers I've befriended keep my fingers typing!

2. How did you choose what to blog about?

As I described above, my blog's focus - coping with celiac disease in college - chose me because I was diagnosed my senior year of high school. On a more specific level, though, my gut (excuse the celiac pun) determines the individual topics of my posts.

I pepper my blog with restaurant and product reviews because, when I was just learning how to pronounce "gluten," that's what I looked for. Increasing a celiac's awareness of their eating options is one key way to make a life without gluten less limiting.

No limits here!
As for my more personal posts, I click "publish" with my heart in my throat. When I was writing my post on self-love, I even sent a draft to my Mom, asking her if I should really plaster my beauty issues all of the Internet. She said yes and I couldn't be more thankful. In my blogging experience, the more personal I've gotten, the more supportive the gluten free community. That's a great blog topic right there!

3. What is something most people don't know about you?

For this question, I'll interpret "most people" as the blogging community. As I hinted at, they actually know a lot about me because of the personal nature of many of my posts. In fact, I bet that some random reader in Japan knows more about the questions jumping around in this crazy head than most of my classmates. Ironically enough, what my blog readers probably don't know is a fact that I usually share during introductions. I'm a Marine brat and have lived in multiple states (and countries).

Mom, Hannah and I in Cuba!
To put it in a time line, I was born in Virgina, then moved to Cuba, Hawaii, Texas, North Carolina, California, Virginia and back to California. I consider myself a hybrid between a girl and a grasshopper. With very good typing skills.

4. What are three words that describe your style/blog?

Honest. I always try to keep my posts 100% genuine, no matter the topic. There's only one Casey in the world, and I'm trying to make my blog just as (weirdly) original!

Eclectic. Although I limit my blog topics to the realm of college and celiac disease, my posts jump from food to social commentary to personal issues. My life is a little crazy, and I think my blog shows it!

Positive. I've certainly written posts ranting about celiac's effect on my body or life, but I always try to end them with a positive note. Celiac disease can be a blessing or a curse - it's all about perspective!

5. What do you love to do when you are not blogging?

What don't I love to do? (Easy: shopping.) No, really I love to read and write, explore new blogs and connect with people online. Outside the world of technology, I love breaking a sweat (that sounds better than "I love sweating"), whether by going on a hike with my sister or running around the neighborhood. Recently, experimenting in the kitchen has also entered my life. I blame my foodie friends! Life is pretty sweet, I would say.

I also love hanging with the fam!
Now, my favorite part: passing on the digital baton! Even after nominating five other blogs during the Liebster Awards, I still have tons of favorites who can't fit in the list. Some of my recent loves, though, are:

Casey's Wholesome Kitchen: I mean, how couldn't I tag a girl with such an awesome name? She fills my blog feed with the most delicious, wholesome recipes and is stocking up my meal card this summer!

Adventures of a Gluten Free Bennie: I consider Allie one of my blogging buds and we love to bond over our shared experiences as celiacs in college. This girl always know how to make me smile.

Running with Spoons: Amanda's blog always captures my attention, either through her delicious (and often gluten free) recipes or her posts about health (her link love is my favorite morning read).

Purely Twins: More than a blog, twins Lori and Michelle run an empire for healthy eating and fitness. Their recipes are always drool-worthy and I love their fitness videos! Two for two (twin pun, intended).

GFree and Happy: Kathy was one of the first figures of the gluten free community to welcome me to the scene in an interview, and I love watching her pod casts each week.

I hope you five have as much fun as I did participating in the chain mail, either by your own post or a comment below!

The fact is, wearing my heart on my blog isn't always easy, but as I and many other bloggers have discovered, it's the best and happiest way to live.

What are your favorite blogs? How would you describe my blog in three words? Comment below!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Celebrating One Year of Celiac and College

One year can mean a lot of things. One year spent with a significant other. One year in a new home. Or, in my case, one year since celiac entered my life and my life changed as I started college.

It's been a long year, school and otherwise. When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea of the journey that awaited me. Of the hospital stay. The loss of physical strength and curves. The struggle with self-love.

I had no idea where life would take me...
In my mind, my celiac diagnosis mimics my first day at college: I entered the campus lost, but dreaming of the friends, accomplishments and adventures waiting around the corner. So I skipped into my first class blindly, oblivious to the stress, papers and all-nighters also etched in my yearly planner. And then they hit me. 

As I sit in my near-empty dorm room, it seems unreal. Am I really shedding my title as a freshman and celiac newbie so soon? At the same time, though, as the screeches of vacuums and masking tape fill the hallways, I can't help but laugh. Because, I did it! Because, starting tomorrow, I can finally scream, "I told you so!" 

I can say it to the doctors who placed hands on my shoulders and wondered out loud if "you shouldn't take a semester off college?"

I can say it to the school nurses who judged the likelihood of my academic success by the number on a scale.

Scales don't weigh determination!
And I can say it to myself, who, at my lowest times, questioned if I was strong enough to be a celiac and a full-time college student. 

To that girl, I can finally say yes. I can say that the ending weeks of this year were worth every night crying to Mom on the phone. I can point out that growth never happens without some growing pains

I entered Point Loma Nazarene University as an unsure and sickly girl. I didn't know how to balance college socials and celiac cooking. As I leave Hendricks Hall for the last time, a strong, experienced young woman is dragging boxes across the threshold. I still have health problems to deal with. I still have insecurities and doubts about my future. 

But, I won't let the struggles of my past or my present cloud the triumphant moments of this past year. If anything, these last twelve months have shown that I'm too stubborn for that. 

So instead of the hospital, I think of the friends - three of the best gal pals I've ever made - celiac disease has brought into my life. 

Kendall and Me watching The Other Woman
Instead of the insecurities I shared with the Internet, I think of how my blog cemented my choice to turn writing into my career

And instead of my painful first semester, I think of how the weeks leading up to these two anniversaries - the weeks when I finally mastered balancing celiac and college - have been the happiest moments of my school career. 

It's true that one year can mean a lot of things. To me, though, it means that it's time to celebrate. In particular, time to celebrate the past, the present, and the many one-years still to come. 

It's time to smell the roses...

What did you do for your one-year diagnosis anniversary? How did you grow after diagnosis/first year in college? Comment below! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest Finds! Part 2

In my last post, I mentioned that life and celiac disease involves a lot of firsts. My most recent - and, according to my stomach, most important - first was my first gluten free expo. Mom and I walked into the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest last Sunday expecting a belly (and bag) full of gluten free goodies. We weren't wrong! 
I already wrote about my top 5 favorite finds for meal replacements/additives. Now, we'll focus on another important food group: the snacks

First, my absolute, top, I-could-live-off-this favorite: DNA Life Bars. I didn't go into this expo searching for a new bar to snack on. I'm already married to Larabars and flirt with Think Thin every once in a while. As soon as I tried the tiny sample of their Chocolate with Roasted Quinoa bar, I was head over heels.

My new favorite protein bar!
My main complaint with other gluten free protein bars is their dryness. Even my beloved Lara Alt Bars (the ones with higher protein) and Think Thin tread the fine line. So I was absolutely flummoxed by the moist, cake-like texture of DNA Life Bars. No joke - I could have sworn I was having dessert! And although these bars still need to be eaten in moderation, with 14 grams of protein and no refined sugar, these stand apart from the cookies and brownies filling my belly. As for their other two flavors - Green Apple Cinnamon and Chocolate Coconut Fudge - I can vouch that they are equally delicious! And I might have snatched a handful more samples of each flavor on our way out...

My favorite flavor - chocolate and roasted quinoa!
As much as I love sweet, I don't mind a salty treat every once in a while. So when I saw representatives from Simply Sprouted Way Better Snack handing out cups with tortilla chip samples, I dragged Mom in that direction! We were lucky enough to sample five different flavors and receive a bag of our favorite! Honestly, I devoured them all with equal enthusiasm (egged on by my hungry stomach's angry growling). Ironically enough, though, the Unbeatable Blues (with its broccoli and daikon radish seeds) won out because of its dense texture, awesome crunch, and uniquely nutty spice blend

Our first find - best chips EVER!
Chia Co's Chia pod also formed a close friendship with our tummies. I'd read about the product online - and I'm a big fan of chia seeds, especially on my rice cakes or in my banana ice cream - but this was my first time trying it. Needless to say, it was the perfect palate cleanser after drowning (wonderfully) in gluten free cupcakes and cookies.

Chia pod! Yum!
I tried the blueberry flavor while my mom picked banana. Although I thought the blueberry was a little mild for my taste, I loved the banana! I also enjoyed their use of coconut milk, which added to the Chia Pods' creaminess and sweet flavor. Although they are a little expensive, I definitely wouldn't mind a few Chia Pods (especially in dark cacao, strawberry, banana or vanilla bean) to cool off with this summer!

Chia seeds + blueberry = yum!
If you're the kind of person who is constantly searching for the next best snack - or gluten free food overall - I even have the snack for you! Or, to be more precise, the snack box. In a program called the Gluten Free Box of the MonthTaste Guru delivers a box full of delicious gluten free goodies every month. They displayed an example of this month's box on the table, and it had me drooling! Nature Valley Nut Crunch bars, Bella GF All-Purpose Baking Mix, and Fiona's Natural Foods Trail Mix? Yum!

Gluten free magic box!!

So that's a wrap, folks! Some of the top goodies that will be filling my meal card for many days this summer! Of course, there were dozens more amazing products that I didn't mention. Booths by Glutino, Rudi's, Udi's, and King Arthur Flour filled the convention center as well, and the countless cookies, brownies, cupcakes and donuts that I sampled rocketed me into my steepest sugar-high in years! So next time a Gluten Free Expo is in the neighborhood - or you see one of the products I've reviewed - check them out!

Even if it's not a first in your life, your stomach (and soul) will thank you!

What are your new favorite food products? Have you ever been to a Gluten Free Expo? Comment below!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest Finds! Part 1

There are a lot of important firsts in life. First step. First bike ride. First bike crash (into your little sister, in my case). You get the idea.

Today, I added another first to my calendar: first time attending a Gluten Free Expo! And, according to my happily expanded belly, this was the tastiest first yet. 

The Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest took over San Diego's Town and Country Convention Center on May 3 and 4. And, although it was an adventure finding parking (are signs not gluten free?), Mom and I couldn't be more excited for our first gluten free buffet, ahem event. So much so that I broke out the weird-card and posed in front of the welcome sign. Just call me the gluten free greeter


When we first walked in, we immediately snagged some sweet Glutino bags to hold all of the snacks we planned on snagging. Then, the feast began! 

The sheer amount of booths was intimidating in the best way possible. After all, the more booths, the more food! And although Mom and I adored all of the vendors who graciously stuffed our bags with gluten free goodies, coupons and merchandise, a few burned onto our hearts (and taste buds) for good. I'll be writing two blog posts because of the abundance of great food. This one will focus on the best finds for meal replacements/additives. Next, will be all the snackage

First, our favorite of the day: Smart Flour Food's gluten free Margherita Pizza. Oh my goodness. I think Mom and I just about had a heart attack when we dug into our first slice. I haven't tasted many pre-made gluten free pizzas, but this frozen-then-baked masterpiece shamed some of the fresh GF pizzas I've ordered at restaurants! They just launched these pizzas in October, so now is the time to request them in your favorite stores! 

Beyond delicious!

They popped it in a mini pizza oven right before we arrived, and our taste buds swooned over the perfect blend of cheese, sauce, herbs and crispy crust. It's the perfect size for one or two meals (depending on your appetite) and I'm definitely buying a few to stick in my dorm fridge for cafeteria backup (or lazy pizza night cravings). 

The mama approved!

Next on our favorite savory products were Glutenfreeda's pocket sandwiches. Even before diagnosis, I wasn't a hot pocket person, so I wasn't expecting much from my ham and cheddar sandwich. Boy was I wrong! 

My favorite flavor!

In my mind, these pocket sandwiches are the new, improved cousin to the hot pocket. The crust is crisp and soft without being soggy. And an equal ratio of ham and cheddar, both extremely fresh and deliciously melted, sealed the deal. Even though she's not usually a fan of onions, my mom loved the roast beef with carmelized onion and provolone sandwich too! These are definitely joining my Smart Flour pizza in my dorm fridge next year!

Mom liked this too!

Next up are the tortillas I've been in love with since I first heard of Potapas. Tortillas made out of potatoes? Sign me up! I'm sensitive to corn and it doesn't agree with Mom either, so we've been on the search for a yummy, gluten free tortilla since my diagnosis last May! When I finally sunk my teeth into the potapa quesadillas they gave out as samples, it didn't disappoint!

Tortillas from potatoes? Awesome!
Gluten free tortillas tend to be dry and lack flavor, but these were soft and squishy. Although they tasted slightly of potatoes (duh!), it wasn't overwhelming. I also love their size - they only have a six inch diameter, which is perfect for a loaded lunch or dinner! I can't wait to use these babies in my own quesadillas and wraps this summer!

Mom's new fave GF bread

My mom and I are also always on the search for a newer, better bread product (until I master the art of baking homemade bread this summer). Mom discovered her soul mate in Kinnikinnick's bread. According to my Mom, her sample square was fluffy and moist. She really loved the texture, which seemed to mimic its gluten-filled cousins.

They had bagaels, breads, donuts, and more to try!
I instead reached for the gluten free mini chocolate-covered donuts. Although it was too sugary for my taste, I loved all the options that Kinnikinnick provided. This was the first booth that we saw after Mom and I walked in and it screamed out the best part of the gluten free expo right away: variety!

The menu they gave us!
Finally, for those of you searching for a gluten free meal replacement beyond the typical fair, check out World Gardens Cafe. It delivers allergen-friendly meals for you to reheat at home. I also love that you can order different sizes (from 4 to 8 oz) depending on your weight loss/gain/maintain plans. World Gardens offers everything from Caribbean-Style Vegetable Chicken to Cajun Pepper Steak to Vegan Mac 'N' Cheese. As a sample, they offered their Vegetable Lasagna (free of gluten, dairy and soy). Call me a vegan! I couldn't even tell that it had been frozen and reheated, and I loved the mix of spinach, veggies and cheese. Unfortunately, our steamin' hot lasagna was so good that we devoured it before I could take a picture!

By the time we left the Expo, my Mom and I each sported quite a haul. Even better than the products in our bags, though, are the relationships we formed with some new favorite food providers. I loved the Fest for all of the gluten free goodies (I mean, food + free = fun!), but I also loved meeting representatives of the companies who are working to make celiac disease less of a dietary death sentence.

Our total haul!
There are a lot of firsts in life and in celiac. I can't thank the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest enough for making my first expo experience a delicious, productive and inspiring adventure! And my re-cap isn't over yet, so be on the lookout for my next post on the best new snacks from the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest!

Have you gone to an allergy event yet? What are your favorite new products? Comment below!