Friday, May 29, 2015

Creamy Gluten and Dairy Free Mac and Cheese

It's cheesy. It's creamy. And, for most people (my sister, cough cough), Mac and cheese is certainly dreamy. Even before my celiac diagnosis, however, I wasn't a huge pasta junkie. So, for nearly two years, Mac and cheese left my plate and my mind. Until a cold windy night a few weeks ago when the idea of a dairy and gluten free Mac and cheese transformed into a craving. And then a reality

Pretty and delicious!
Like a modern Frankenstein, I researched several recipes, picking apart aspects and combining them until I created the ultimate cheesy treat. The creamy sauce melts on the ingredients (and your taste buds). The recipe is easily adaptable (being Paleo, vegan and low fodmap friendly!) and quick to prepare ahead and whip up after a busy day of work or college classes. And, unlike Mom's traditional Mac, mine is packed with multiple servings of vegetables to create a healthy splurge! 

To begin your trip to Mac and Cheese heaven, gather up the ingredients below (with unnecessary components marked as optional).

Servings: 1-2 (depending on desired size)

For the "Pasta":

1/2 cup of pre-cooked gluten free pasta (OPTIONAL: for Paleo, replace pasta with more zoodles) 
1-2 cups of vegetables sliced lengthwise into thin strips (I typically use lots of zoodles/zucchini strips, squash, green beans, snow peas, and carrots) 
Handful or two of kale/spinach/greens of choice
Cooking oil OR Vegetable/chicken stock
Precooked meat/fish/protein of choice (optional)
Pesto (favorite recipe - my homemade nut-free version is here) 
Pumpkin seeds (optional, may be replaced by other seeds/nuts) 

For the Cheese (Adapted from this recipe): 
Few handfuls of daiya mozzarella cheese shreds 
1/4 cup of dairy free milk (I use rice)
1 tbsp of flour (I use a homemade mix of buckwheat, millet, rice and tapioca but any earthy tasting one should work fine)
Spices of choice (I like thyme, oregano, mustard and turmeric) 

To begin, first preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (or the maximum temperature your baking dish(es) can withstand, if lower). Then, prepare your pasta of choice following the boxes' instructions, as well as your protein, if desired or not already cooked. 

My favorite rice pasta!
While those are cooking (or as your first step), cut your preferred vegetables into thin strips. I prefer a 3:1 vegetable to pasta ratio, but you can adjust your veggie amounts according to how much pasta you like or how many servings you want to make. Once all of the vegetables are sliced, throw them in a medium sized pot to saute. Sometimes I use oil to cook them, but recently I've used double the amount of chicken stock instead. Not only does the lower the oil, but it also punches up the flavor. Either way, add your liquid and cook your vegetables on high heat for a few minutes. Then lower the heat to medium/low and add your greens, putting on the pot lid so the ingredients can steam/saute. When the vegetables become tender, turn off the heat and set the pot aside

Slice and steam!
While the vegetables are cooking, you can prepare your cheese sauce. You are welcome to substitute daiya for your favorite dairy free cheese, or the sauce for your own recipe altogether, but this is the one that's won over my taste buds. Start by adding your milk, spices and flour to the pot, keeping the heat on high until the mix boils.

Then, toss in a handful of daiya cheese shreds and lower the heat to medium. Be sure to stir continuously as you add the cheese in order to properly incorporate all the ingredients. The daiya shreds may resist melting into a smooth sauce initially, but keep mixing and add more shreds until you obtain a thick, creamy sauce. 

casey the college celiac
A close up of the finished cheesy goodness!
At this time, add your optional pasta and your cheese to your vegetables. I recommend adding the cheese sauce gradually, mixing everything together and test tasting versus dumping the entire sauce in. I often end up with extra sauce, which keeps in the fridge well for a few days and can be reheated on the stove top (perfect for making another quick individual serving of veggie macaroni later that week!). 

Once you've reached your desired degree of cheesiness and distributed all the ingredients evenly, pour the mix into as many baking dishes as needed. I like to toss a few extra pasta noodles, spinach leaves, a sprinkling of flour, and daiya cheese shreds on top to form a kind of crust in the oven. I'm sure the Mac and cheese would taste delicious right off the stove top, but I personally like the combination of creamy middle and crunchy topping

casey the college celiac
Pop your cheesy treats into the oven, and bake until the cheese starts bubbling and a crust forms (usually 15-30 minutes). While it cooks, I like to clean up the dishes (housewife in the making?) and prepare a lemon side salad to accompany. It's as simple as throwing mixed greens on a plate and, once the main course is ready, tossing them in a few squeezes of fresh lemon and drizzles of apple cider vinegar. Even more vegetable goodness! 

To finish off the baked mac and cheese, though, I'll top it with a dab of pesto, a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and, if I have it handle, a leftover fillet of fish (salmon is especially delicious)! Then, all you have to do is grab a fork and dig in

casey the college celiac
Some finished products!
Mac and cheese and I were never best (culinary) buds, but this recipe has turned our relationship all around! Now, whenever leftover pasta sits in the fridge or I'm craving a cheesy dinner, my taste buds demand this creamy sacrifice. There are worse addictions, I'd say!

Are you a Mac and cheese person? Do you like mixing creamy and crunchy? Comment below! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Great-ful Celiac

A lot of questions accompany a celiac disease diagnosis. What can I eat? How do you pronounce "gluten?" And, commonly, why me?

I'll admit I'm guilty of all three - plus tons of other unmentioned questions, of course. Last week, however, I was in charge of picking up my sister from her high school. And, as I waited in the parking lot for the school bell to ring, something changed

Parking Lot Ponderings?
It began with a school bus. At first glance, it checks all of the normal boxes. Yellow. Four wheels. The name of our school district printed on the side. But, it's also about 1/4 smaller than your typical student limousine. It's the special education bus. 

One of the most rewarding parts of my senior year of high school was acting as a teacher's assistant for the special Ed class. Since I helped during their period of free time, my job basically entailed lots of Uno playing, reading, talking and escorting to the bus at the end of school. These kids honestly became some of my favorite people - they never forgot to ask how I was doing, and one in particular told me I was beautiful every day. 

At the Best Pals Ball!
Sometimes I still run into them when I'm home from college. In the local grocery store. The library. By now, some have graduated into the work force while others are still navigating high school. I can't say that leaving for college made me forget them, but those happy memories were bumped to the back of my mind by new ones. Until last week. 

Now, I'm not trying to walk into the comparison trap. The arguments over who has it worst. The you-can't-eat-wheat but I-go-into-anaphylactic-shock-from-any-of-the-top-eight-allergens. But, when I saw the newest group of special ed students, I did count my blessings

Just a few of my blessings...
I can't eat anything that even touches gluten, but I can walk of my own free will. I can decide to sit down and devour over 300 pages of a murder mystery and be able to do it in one day. I can't eat the chocolate chip cookies bright to class, but I can go to class and be challenged, stretched and strengthened. I'm not saying I have it "better" than any of those kids, but we have different challenges brought on by a simple error in genetics. And I'm thankful for the ones I don't have to fight against. 

Like with most autoimmune diseases, celiac disease can make it easy to play the complaining victim. I certainly fall into this role at times, such as the start of last week when I started feeling fatigued, having an upset stomach, and struggling to sleep soundly. All symptoms of gluten. So the endless questions began. Could that Japanese restaurant I've eaten safely at before glutened me? Or am I just run down? The typical gluten-or-fatigue riddle

All the questions!
The fact is, not feeling 100% - because of gluten or other factors - is never fun. The fact is, celiac is not fun at times. But, this Celiac Awareness Month, I'm trying to ask myself a new question: What can I be thankful for? Because - fate, God, genetics, the gluten demons, whatever you want to blame - chose me to join the celiac family. Now it's my turn to choose how I am going to act in response

And, honestly, I want the same attitude of my friends in special ed: happy from even the smallest of accomplishments. Determined to succeed no matter the odds. Not oblivious to their challenges, but accepting that they are a part of their life. Most importantly? Always willing to smile at a stranger and turn them into a friend. 

We called him the "Ladies Man!"
When a celiac disease diagnosis kicks gluten out, it invites dozens of questions in. Some silly, like, "How will I cope without Papa John in my life?" Others, such as the existential anger at whoever turned on that gene, more serious. But, my biggest question to ask going forward is what I'm grateful for. And, celiac disease and all, I have to say that my life is pretty "full" of "greatness." 

What questions accompany(ied) your celiac disease? What are you grateful for? Comment below! 

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Celiac and California Pizza Kitchen

A celiac walks into a pizza sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but that was actually the beginning of a wonderful summer Saturday with friends. After a few weeks of playing the lazy hermit at home, I couldn't wait to rejoin the college crew for a day of relaxing, exploring a (near empty) campus, and, of course, food.

Our eatery of choice!
Now, pizza places and celiac disease rarely mix. Even when a restaurant offers a "gluten free" pizza, cross contamination from flour in the air, shared ingredients, and a shared pizza oven often nixes the safety for celiac customers. But with a gift card burning a hole in my boyfriend's wallet and online research that revealed California Pizza Kitchen recently introduced four pizzas approved by the Gluten Intolerance Group, we decided to dig into some pies.

California Pizza Kitchen is a higher end pizza restaurant, offering a variety of unique pizzas, salads, entrees and appetizers. While pricier than my usual restaurant go-to's (cough cough Chipotle and Chick Fil A), I couldn't wait to try my first, safe gluten free pizza (not cooked by me!) in nearly a year. CPK offers several other gluten free choices on their menu (such as salads) and someone can order any pizza on a gluten free crust for a two dollars extra charge, but only four pizzas are safe from cross contamination.

The real deal!
The Original BBQ Chicken, Pepperoni, Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage, and Margherita pizzas are all designed to be prepared by managers, using ingredients that are separated and marked "gluten free." I also love the fact that CPK only uses rice flour to prepare the pizzas, in order to minimize the chance of gluten flour landing on gluten free pizzas.

We arrived at the California Pizza Kitchen (located in San Diego's Fashion Valley Mall) around one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. Considering that it was Memorial Day Weekend, I was happily surprised to be immediately seated. After walking in, I asked for a gluten free menu for our table and told our waiter of my celiac disease and need for a gluten free pizza. CPK passed those initial celiac tests with all of the workers easily adapting to my requests. And, since it offer dozens of unique pizzas (plus complementary bread), CPK easily won over my friends as well.

Just a few of the gluten goodies...
After scanning my options, I ended up choosing a pepperoni pie and adding mushrooms from the Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage Pizza. I certainly appreciate the lengths CPK takes to prevent cross contamination of pizza ingredients, but I do wish that I could have added more vegetables to my pizza (I peeked at the boy's menu and drooled over the California Club with avocado and the California Veggie with a rainbow of crunchy toppings!). Nonetheless, the pizza I did order, along with my friends' choices of a gluten-filled White Pizza and Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage, emerged quickly and still bubbling from the oven. I also appreciated that the manager brought out our entire order, one of CPK's gluten free pizza precautions.

All the pizzas were medium-sized and, in my mind, perfect to split between two people. My friends devoured two pies between the three of them within seconds, while I slowly savored my own. The pepperoni slices were well distributed, as were the mushrooms, though I did blot some of the (typical restaurant) oil off with my napkin. And, since I don't usually eat dairy, the melted layer of mozzarella underneath the toppings tasted heavenly. I asked for light on the cheese, and the thin but even coating perfectly complimented the spicy pepperoni and juicy mushrooms. I also enjoyed the fresh oregano sprinkled on top.

My gluten free pizza!
Surprisingly enough, however, the real star of the show was the gluten free crust! I'd read ahead that it was made mainly out of potatoes, and was free of not only gluten, but also eggs and soy. Whatever the exact ingredients, it blew memories of other gluten free crusts out of my mind! Crispy around the edges, fluffy in the middle, and strong enough to be cradled and devoured like a gluten-filled pizza. Also, the crust was 100% free of the funky aftertaste often found with gluten free pies. Instead, the toppings and crust worked together to form a pizza party in my mouth that reminded me of the old, gluten-gorging days.

Since I had the pizza all to myself, I was the only one at our table who needed a to-go box, which turned out just as delightful as the pizza itself! On the top of the box, California Pizza Kitchen printed instructions on how to optimally reheat a pizza. I decided to try out their advice for myself the following night. After slicing and broiling some veggies for a few minutes in the oven, I popped my leftover slices into the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese started to bubble. Then, out popped some leftover pizza perfection! While it certainly tasted delicious at the restaurant, adding my own preferred toppings gave it that extra punch. Pizza good on Day 1 and 2? A gift card well spent!

The finished (upgraded) product!
Trying to order a safe gluten free pizza as a celiac is often a joke - both on you and the chef! California Pizza Kitchen's new line of Gluten Intolerant Group certified pizzas, however, offers a safe and delicious way to enjoy a slice of pie with friends. While not at the same heavenly level as the local pizza place in Colorado Springs, I'd definitely go back to CPK for a fun night with the college crew! If only all punch lines had this happy of an ending!

Have you ever tried California Pizza Kitchen before? What's your favorite pizza topping? Comment below!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tropical Summer Granola

Some summer traditions are obvious. Swimming in the backyard pool with my sister. Devouring a homemade acai bowl for breakfast in the sun. Visiting family (and nearly dying of the heat) in Texas. Others, however, only emerge with time. Like this tropical granola, packed with summer flavors like orange, coconut, and tumeric. That first bite? The perfect way to kick off three months vacation from college.

Orange you glad for summer flavors?
I'm not usually great with culinary variety. I find a meal, a recipe, or a product that I like, and you better bet I'll be happily munching on that for the next 2.5 years or so. Luckily, my subscription (thank you Grandma Linda!) to Love with Food (my review here!) delivers a new box of gluten free goodies to my doorstep every month. And, this last month, it was a squeeze package of Fruigees' 24 Carrot Orange Organic Fruit Snack, which I of course immediately thought would be the perfect base for some citrus granola action. I mean, what could be better than than flavorful fruit and hidden veggies?

One of the best things about granola, though? If you haven't jumped onto the Love with Food or Fruigees train, you can still send your taste buds on a tropical granola vacation. This granola boasts at least one vegetable, several fruits, healthy fats, proteins, and antioxidant powerhouses like cacao powder and tumeric - which means this granola is a great choice for breakfast, snacking or a before-bed treat! To get your plane ticket, just gather the ingredients listed below (optional substitutions indicated).

Inspiration? Check. Ingredients? Check. Netflix? Double Check.
Granola Produced: 2 full, 1 half-full baking trays

Dry ingredients:

1.5 cups of buckwheat groats
1.5 cups of cereal (I find that puffed rice gives great body and lowers the calories per serving
3/4 cup of sunflower seeds
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup of shredded coconut
1/2 cup of buckwheat flakes
1/2 cup of rice flakes (both or either can be substituted for gluten free oats, if tolerated)
1/4 cup of chia seeds
1/4 cup of (dairy free) chocolate chips
1/3 cup of cacao nibs (or more chocolate chips)
2 TBSP of cinnamon
2 TBSP of cacao powder
1/2 tsp of turmeric
3 chopped dates (or other dried fruit)

Wet ingredients:

1/4 cup of coconut oil (olive oil or other favorite cooking oil would also work)
1 TBSP of water
3/4 a ripe banana
1 medium orange (for juice and zest)
1 Fruigees 24 Carrot Orange Pack (or 3.5 oz of pureed orange/carrot/banana)
1/2 a small grated squash
1 TBSP of vanilla extract

To begin your tropical granola, first preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the really easy part - dumping all of your ingredients in a bowl and mixing! I like to add my dry ingredients first and stir to blend. One of the newest tricks I've learned to ultimate granola clusters? Gather about 1/4-1/2 of all of your dry ingredients, add them to a food processor or high speed blender (either in one batch or several, depending upon its size) with about 1 TBSP (just enough to dampen) of water and pulse the machine a few times.

I did a couple mini batches in my Nutribullet!
This tip from The Roasted Root chops up some of the larger ingredients while clumping them together, creating some of the best (egg white free) clusters I've ever cooked! But if you don't want to mess with this step (and had I not been killing time on a quiet summer night, I might have), don't worry! Just move onto the next step: adding the wet ingredients.

For the fruit components, you can bake an unripe banana in an oven (also at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the peel turns black), pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds if ripe but not mushy, or add 3/4 of a spotty banana straight to the granola. As for the orange, if you have a fruit package (or even a baby food), you can squeeze it straight into the bowl. If not, you can either exclude, replace with more banana (but receive a less orange flavor), or add more orange puree. For the rest of the recipe's orange zest and puree, grate the skin of one clean orange into the mix. Then, throw the rest of the orange into a blender (or alternately squeeze out the juice) and add the puree to the granola mix. To finish off your arm workout, then grate the second summer ingredient: yellow squash, which acts as a binder to help "chew-ify" the granola while adding some mild veggies!

Making "grate" things!
Melt and add your coconut oil, and then stir until everything is equally incorporated. At this point, I suggest test tasting your granola (in the rare event you haven't already been sneaking bites!). Because it uses more orange puree than banana and no refined sugar, this granola isn't as sweet as the store-brands. If it isn't strong enough for your sweet tooth, I suggest adding stevia, coconut sugar, or honey/agave to your liking. Also, be aware that while the orange flavor may not extremely noticeable pre-baked, but time the oven gives it a punch (fruit pun, as usual, intended)!

Once your granola workout is complete, place it in a thin layer onto your baking sheets (mine took up two full trays and half of the third). If you want a crumbly, loose granola, leave it loose in the trays. If, like me, you prefer a chewy and crunchy clumps, pack the raw granola tightly. Then, pop your babies in the oven and wait for your kitchen to start smelling, according to my sister, like a mix of vanilla and orange. There are worse culinary perfumes, am I right?

Good things come in three's, right?
Cook your granola for 40 minutes total, turning at the halfway mark. Feel free to take out your trays earlier or later, but 40 minutes seems to be the mark where crunchy and chewy meet. Since I ended up baking this treat at night (hello summer sleep schedule!), I let mine cool until the next morning before breaking up and storing the granola. For the best clusters, though, try to resist devouring until the trays have cooled for a few hours.

Then, all you have left to do is dig in! On top of banana ice cream (or real ice cream!), in a yogurt parfait, or just by the handful! I especially love it with my bag of granola in one hand and a jar of sunflower butter in the other - in my mind, it is a night-snack match made in heaven!

Just a few yummy ideas!
For me, summer always involves family, friends, and fun in the sun. This year, though, I'm bringing my (months) of free time into the kitchen and into the world of homemade granola! I may not be flying to an exotic paradise this summer, but at least this granola is sending my taste buds into tropical heaven!

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link love!*

What's your favorite unique granola ingredient? How do you break out of a food rut? Comment below!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

WIAW: Why I Eat

I'm not normally a huge participant in What I Ate Wednesday...however, after finally winning back most of my appetite after being sick for two weeks, you could say I have a new appreciation for food. And for hunger.

As I ate my first day of full three meals and snacks, though, another question (besides "How am I already hungry?") entered my mind: Why do I eat?

Pizza with a side of pondering?
First, I eat because I'm hungry. Some days during summer, my stomach doesn't fully wake up and demand food until 10:30 or 11. So I eat later. (Brunch, anyone?) 

This particular morning, though, I woke up starving and nothing but a huge sundae (thanks to my banana ice cream obsession) would do. I don't count calories, but I do know that my smoothie bowls never leave me hungry - though that won't stop me from taking another bite of granola and sunbutter as I put my smoothie toppings away! 

Breakfast: Black Forest Nanaicecream (cherry time!)

This hunger - stomach pangs that demand a food sacrifice - and the biological processes that cause it is only one reason why I open the fridge. I also eat because I need fuel

I wish I was one of those people who could "eat intuitively." They don't follow the clock, eat when hungry and not when bored, and comfortably fill their stomachs instead of eating to clean the plate. But, I can't. First because, as a college student during the school year, classes require me to eat or pack food before a certain time. My stomach may not think it's lunch time, but my schedule does! 

Lunch: a sweet potato and zucchini cake with
all the veggies and pesto!
Second, as a person who loses weight easily and exercises regularly, I can't always follow my hunger cues. Some days, I'm not truly hungry until dinner - but I still eat some nutrient-dense food to kick start my metabolism and power me through my customary afternoon workout

I learned the hard way last year that sometimes a body can't be trusted to provide hunger cues. I hate eating when I'm not hungry, but sometimes it's necessary. My favorite non-hungry meals often involve broiled veggies, coconut yogurt and granola, or handfuls of mixed greens with leftover protein from the fridge (meatloaf, salmon, chicken, you name it!). And, oddly enough, I've found that fueling my body will often fuel my appetite as well - a win/win in my mind! 

Some "not hungry" meal essentials

And, sometimes, I just eat because I want to eat, dang it! On this particular day, I woke up craving a taco salad for dinner - complete with homemade guac, freshly squeezed lemon and a crispy potapas tortilla with daiya cheese on the side. So, even though it's not one of my typical dishes, that's what I (happily) devoured. 

Much of today's dietary advice vilifies emotional eating. Pull up a health magazine online or the latest issue of Cosmopolitan from the grocery checkout, and they will undoubtedly contain at least one article on how to lower one's appetite, squash cravings, and stop snacking. 

Dinner: Chicken Taco Salad with all the trimmings!
Sure, I can understand the value of such tips to a point. If you eat a pint of ice cream every night and feel badly because of it every morning, that's probably a dietary habit to adjust. At the same time, though, food should also be enjoyed for both its nutritional content and its taste. Moreover, I'm always thankful to be able to fulfill a craving - whether in the form of a "healthified" taco salad filled with veggies or an all-out treat of birthday cake - while others around the world scrounge for any food at all. 

I like to think that, as messed up as my body is at times, it still has its reasons. So, when I ended up whipping up my first batch cookies in months and chomping on more than a few (with cashew butter, banana slices, and yogurt on the side), I figure my body didn't get all the fuel it needed that day. 

Cookie craziness!
Or maybe it was my soul that didn't. Because, sometimes, I eat because it tastes too good to not have a second bite. Because it's summer time and I have free time (and recipes) to kill. Because I know I'll savor the memory of jamming to Maroon 5 in my PJ's with cookie dough sticking to my fingers more than regret whatever extra calories I enjoyed that night. 

If What I Ate Wednesday posts have taught me anything, it's that every person's diet is different. Some bloggers may look at my Instagram and think I eat too little, while others may say too much. Even one individual's diet doesn't perpetually stay the same. Some days I eat cookies; other times, it's all about the fruit, veggies and avocado. 

A rainbow of choices!
What stays constant between all of us, however, is the whyHopefully, we eat for hunger. For fuel. For cravings and for memories

People say that life is too short for bad food. I say? Amen. Is dinner ready yet?

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link love!*

Why do you commonly find yourself eating? Do you ever have to eat when you're not hungry? Comment below!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Six Reasons to Befriend a Celiac

There are a lot of different friends in a person's life. The work friends, school friends, and friends with matching scars from shared tree-climbing adventures. This Celiac Disease Awareness Month, though, I'm shining light on another friend: the celiac. And just like my post on the benefits of dating a celiac, this post (seriously and comically) shows why a gluten free foodie should be the next contact added to your phone.

1. First off, the most obvious: we celiacs always have food. Always. And if we like you a lot, we may even share some of it. When I embarked on the adventure of packing up my dorm room and dragging it all back home, I filled at least half of my bags and boxes up with food. Baking supplies like cake mix and cacao powder. Prepacked snacks from chips to pretzels. And, of course, all the fresh and frozen contents from mini fridge and freezer.

A typical celiac storage bin...
The fact is, no matter where I am, I have snacks in my pocket and (if a long trip is planned), one or more meals in my purse. When most convenience store foods will lead to a painful (near) death experience, it makes sense that a celiac will never be far from edible supplies. And, as a friend of a bonafide celiac, that means you could be one happy celiac removed from a tasty (gluten free) snack. And if the zombie apocalypse hits? You would know exactly what friend's house to run to.

2. Though I don't have any studies to back my claim, I've recently discovered that the gluten free community is extraordinarily skilled at finding (or creating) the funniest Internet memes. When a piece of toast can chain you to the toilet for days, humor is a necessity in life - and, as a friend of a celiac, you could benefit from the same constant laughter.

Just a few funnies...
Shirtless celebrities you thing? A picture of Ryan Gosling defending my gluten free honor is saved on my phone. As for pop culture references, the Celtic Celiac has you covered with her "Groot-en free" Instagram post. By now, my friends are used to opening up their texts and seeing yet another meme sent by their celiac schoolmate. The only downside? You could end up interrupting class with spontaneous laughter - a true story that my friend, Brooke, can personally attest to.

From memes to embarrassing stories about getting glutened on your first date, a celiac is the ultimate comedic companion. And, studies do support that laughter can help a person live longer. So, in effect, being friends with a celiac could add a few more (humor-filled) years to your life.

Maybe my silly faces have a point after all!
3. Another benefit of a celiac pal? You'll never have to share your food. That leftover Chinese food in the fridge? We won't touch it. And your nightly treat of oreos? They're all yours. When I was first diagnosed, I remember struggling to keep myself from stealing fries from my dad's gluten-filled plate. Fact is, most people are raised with the "sharing is caring" attitude, even when it comes to food. But, when you befriend a celiac, you can have your (gluten) cake and eat it too.

And while the gluten free food we buy may not be, our companionship is cheap. My favorite place for a date night with the boy? Chipotle. And when my friends want to check out that new fancy (and not GF friendly) restaurant downtown? I pack and bring my own food - delicious, safe, and at no cost to my friends splitting the bill. Sometimes, I'll even accompany my friends to the donut store - offering advice and turning down any grateful "dough" in return.

The typical celiac eats...
4. Now, not to brag, but after two years of rockin' the gluten free life, I've learned pretty well to "read before raid," or to read the label on a food product before raiding the contents. Not only that, I've added a whole subsection of vocabulary to my mental dictionary. Talk about an increase in literacy skills - tools that I pass along to my friends whenever the chance rises.

After nine months of gluten free girlfriend boot camp, my boyfriend has learned how to read between all the least when it comes to food ingredients. And some of the celiac community's favorite lingo - like "glutened" and "glutard" - keep popping up in my friends' conversations. My boyfriend even invented "degluten," a fancy word to explain the need to brush his teeth before kissing me.

In my mental dictionary, this picture is next to "glutened"
Now, I can't promise that being aware of the ingredients in your favorite bag of chips will save a life or that "glutened" will join the vocabulary section of the SAT. But, you could shock that newly diagnosed celiac with your knowledge - maybe even enough to learn the benefits of dating one?

5. Besides celiac words, you'll also learn more food terminology, tastes and facts than ever before. Quinoa? Yeah, it actually isn't supposed to rhyme with the Hawaiian girl scout cookie, the Samoa. And buckwheat? Call it a poser, but this gluten free doesn't possess a grain of wheat.

Some better than others!
As for tastes...well, my family and friends have definitely fallen victim to a few forced taste-tests or two. Some successful (a gluten free copycat of the traditional chocolate chip cookie) and some not so much (my first attempt at homemade chicken so hot). But, either way, as the friend of a celiac, your taste buds will hitch-hike into all kinds of new culinary worlds.

6. Finally, you should befriend a celiac because, honestly, we're a pretty awesome group. We are toddlers to grandparents; newbies to old hands at gluten free; we span across countries, languages and lifestyles. And, as warriors battling a lifelong autoimmune disease, we have experienced challenges and risen above them.

Check out Gluten Dude's graphic about the faces of celiac!
There are a lot of different types of friends available for the making, from co-workers to other students suffering through Calculus at 7:30 am. And, one of out of 133 of these possibilities will be a celiac

Befriending a celiac may come with its quirks, but peculiarities are, in my mind, what the best friendships are built on. So, if only for the new vocabulary, the food experimentation or the laughs, befriend a celiac this Celiac Awareness Month. Or any other month of the year for that matter.

Just a few possibilities...
'Cause you never know what can happen when a GF (gluten free-er) turns into your newest BFF (best friend forever). I'm guessing lots of memory making. 

What's one advantage you see from befriending a celiac? Can you relate to any of these listed "benefits?" Comment below! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Oats and Gluten: Cousins for the Celiac?

I pride myself in, two years after my diagnosis, being able to feel myself relatively safely. Read the packaging details, use my own pans, and turn down any free food. Those ninja skills I've got down.

Once in a while, though, a gal gets bored with her "safe" foods and wants to experiment a bit. (Plus, the gluten free granola on the Whole Food shelves were just begging for some taste bud attention). Which led me to trying gluten free oats for the first in nearly a year in the form of Purely Elizabeth's Original Ancient Grain granola

Me and my new true love!
My first bite of Purely Elizabeth's oat-filled granola made me fall head over taste buds. In fact, I would've eaten the whole bag if I could have. Just the right balance of chewy and crunchy...sweet enough from coconut sugar to be dessert but nutritious enough to top my breakfast bowls (gotta love it being gluten free, vegan and free of added sugars!). Basically, my taste buds were in love. My body, however, was less of a fan. Bloating, extreme fatigue, acid reflux, nausea...even though it was certified gluten free, pretty much all of my gluten boxes were ticked. And oats were to blame.

Honestly, I was also ticked to a small extent. It's bad enough avoiding gluten for the good of myself (and those around me). But oats, too? While I love my oatless oatmeal (made out of buckwheat and rice flakes), it seems like a majority of popular gluten free recipes are riding the oat flour train. Insert frownie face here. 

No oats, but all the goodness!
Fact is, I'm unhappy with the experimentation results - but I don't regret the experiment itself. I refuse to live in fear of food, as I did for nearly a year after my diagnosis. I refuse to let "what if's," Internet horror stories or celiac gossip stop me from exploring the culinary world. 

One of the most important facts I want people to take away from Celiac Awareness Month is that every celiac is different. We are humans, after all! Some people can eat gluten free certified oats and have a happy tummy. Others, like myself, react similarly to the protein found in oats as the protein found in gluten. Just like a food being "gluten free" doesn't mean it's celiac-friendly, just because something is celiac safe doesn't mean it is well tolerated or desired by a specific celiac.

Oats included! (Source)
I'd like to think that, after two years joining the celiac family, I've gotten my diet mostly figured out. Out go the gluten (and, sadly, dairy), in come the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and a few gluten free processed items. Nonetheless, there's always room for growth - in one's diet and knowledge. In my case, oats aren't landing in my breakfast bowl anytime soon. But I'm not stopping my quest for a gluten free diet with more variety, edible excitement, and finger lickin' potential!

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link party!*

Can you eat gluten free oats? What's your favorite breakfast food? Comment below!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ode to the Moms of Celiacs

When they give birth, most moms know (or like to think they do!) what to expect. Sleepless nights. Lots of dirty diapers. And a new little human to watch grow into a big human with big dreams and responsibilities. Certain mothers like my own, however, experience another challenge: being the superhero mom to a child with celiac disease.

Especially accurate when celiac disease is involved! (Source)
My mom and I have always been close. I'm a third-generation "mini-me" of her side of the family, and we've been finishing each other's sentences since I began talking. In a late ode to this last Mother's Day, however, I'd like to point out how hard being a mom to a celiac can be. And how grateful I am for the super mom that has raised, loved and strengthened both the gluten-eatin' and gluten free me.

The typical mom watches her children flourish, kisses skinned knees and equips them with the tools to succeed in the big world. My mom has certainly done that, but she's also watched me (literally) whither away from celiac disease complications. She listened to me cry on the phone nearly every night during my freshman year of college, not only because of homesickness, but also because of the nutritional war dominating my underweight body.

Moms don't receive instruction manuals after giving birth that says what to do when children end up in the hospital. But, somehow, my mom knew exactly the right words to say, the right way to hold my hand, and the right (gluten free) treats to pack in her overnight bag. As a baby, I was always hungry - and I never had a problem gaining weight. As a teenager, I had the opposite issue, but at both times, Mom never left my side. And when she could finally hug me without feeling only bones, she hugged me that much tighter.

The typical mom nourishes her children, not only with food, but with words of support and love. Though my mom has never claimed to be a chef, my sister and I never went hungry - especially when the dinner menu included chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. Ironically enough, after I first began having stomach problems, I "found" the gluten free cure myself by accident. I lived off of mom's plain chicken and rice bake, realizing it was the only meal that made me feel "normal" without any clue of why. Then, two years ago this May, I picked up the phone and learned Mom's cooking was literally killing me. And we both made a change.

All the family and all the gluten free treats!
She looked up "gluten" on the Internet with me and checked out all of the gluten free cookbooks from the library. We embarked on our first grocery store run - such a long, label-reading adventure had never before, and luckily has never since, been made - and joined my mourning of bread. Thanks to all of my family's hard work, my house is now 99% gluten free. And, more than even supporting, my Mom also joined me in my fight to live gluten free in a world of bread.

As a newly-discovered gluten intolerant, she understands feeling isolated and awkward at social events. She laughs at the gluten free memes I text her during the day and comforts me if I get glutened. She's not a celiac, but she is a fellow wheat-free warrior. And love is her most effective weapon.

This meme is a personal favorite!

The typical mom includes far more than just the biological mother - the aunts, the grandmothers, the great-grandmothers and beyond. That I can relate to. My Grandma Linda is far from a greens enthusiast, but she always reacts with more curiosity than disgust towards my green-packed dishes. My Aunt Tami loves to send me new (drool-worthy) gluten free recipes on Pinterest and my Grandma Susu cheered on my weight-gain with the same enthusiasm given to a Texas college football game. And, though my sister may be younger, she never fails to "mother" me with lots of bear hugs.

The fact is, we women come in packs. That means that if anyone (or any disease) threatens our pack mate, we'll be there for support, love, and, if necessary, some forceful defense maneuvers. Beyond the emotional support, these "mothers" have never failed to ensure that I am well fed, am included in social eating activities, and know that my dietary restrictions are not a burden.

All the girls!
My mom is more than typical. Just like my diet, she is a persistent, extraordinary, shaping force in who I am today. Her hugs have taught me to be gentle with and love the body I'm in. Her encouraging words have shown me how to talk to myself and others, no matter the circumstance. Her strength has empowered me thrive despite celiac disease challenges. And I can only hope that, many Mother's Days from now, my child can write a similar ode about me.

Because, celiac or no celiac, nineteen years old or younger, my mom has been a constant role model, cheerleader and ultimate hugger. Happy (late) Mother's Day to the best mom (and other mothering figures) out there! 

No better sidekick in crime!

And a late Happy Mother's Day especially to the unsung superheroes mothering a celiac!

How is your mom "atypical?" Does your mom/family make celiac easier? Comment below!

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Ship in the Night

"Like two ships passing in the night" is one of those old phrases that has stuck in my vocabulary long after others have been lost at sea. I remember my using it to explain my roommate and I (our clas schedules tended to keep most our bonding time saying "hi" and "bye" as we left or entered our dorm room), and she thought I said "sheik" and was very confused.

For whatever reason - maybe it was the cough drops I'd been downing to fight my head cold or the finals week sleep deprivation - those words kept repeating in my mind on my last nightly walk around campus before leaving for summer vacation. It wasn't just the far off lights of sailboats cruising in the sea next to my college. It wasn't even how the cold, silent night seemed like one fit for a "sheik."

Action shot!
More than anything else, I blame the finals week reflections that bounced through my brain with every step

By the time this post goes live, I'll have officially survived my second year of college. It's been a year full of adventures with friends, food experiments, and struggles to balance the 100 amazing obligations filling my (gluten free) plate. And, as excited as I am to be driving off to three months of sleep, blogging and family time, I'm also in shock that sophomore year is already over. 

Seems like touring my dorm was just yesterday!

Like a ship in the night, I strolled past the dirt path that takes me to my plot in the campus garden. Though one of my grandmas might as well have a green hand, I've never been strong in the growing department. (Insert shortie joke here). In fact, my first semester, the only "crop" I managed to grow was a bush of nightshade as tall as me. Go figure - apparently poison is more my jam! 

But, after tearing out those roots, I did harvest a few baby strawberries. A head of lettuce. A huge zuchinni leftover from a previous gardner. And lots of memories (and a few skin rashes) from hours in the dirt. I never realized how difficult gardening can be - and, though I will (with bias) proclaim that my strawberries were the sweetest I've ever tasted, I definitely have a new appreciation for that bucket of produce on sale for 4.99. 

Like a ship in the night, I passed the track where, as a freshman, I sacrificed the health of my IT band (and my overall body) for another stress-relieving endorphin rush. I'm slowly working my way back into my running shoes - and, in a few weeks time, I'll even be kicking butt at a Mud Run with my dad and sis. 

Sometimes, I wish I could run like the girl I was a year ago - pre-injury, knocking out 3-4 miles a few times a week. But then I remember all the warning signs I ignored from my body. And I keep walking by. 

Then and now!
Like a ship in the night, I pass both my freshman dorm and my future home: one of highly coveted on-campus apartments. From a freshman dorm filled with halls holding dozens of girls to a cozy (ok, small) house with its own kitchen and four of my favorite girls as roommates. 

My own kitchen won't solve every problem. Sure, unlike this year, I won't have to cook my pizza at 9 am to ensure the oven is free. I won't have to deal with people who seem to leave more food littered in the kitchen than in their stomachs. But, life still will be busy and cooking will still take time. Yet, I still can't wait to turn our key for the first time. 

From Hendricks to Finch to Flex!
Like a ship in the night, I walk through the near-empty courtyards that I constantly zig-zag through on my way class. The courtyards enjoyed while relaxing with friends, stressing over tests, and taking a mental health break in the sun. It's been a whole school year, but, in reflection, it truly feels like sophomore year has floated by me. 

Last night, I got together with friends for the last time to celebrate Brooke's big 2-0. We surpised her with dinner at Chipotle (a big Casey stamp of approval!), an ice cream cake, and a free trip to the theatre (AKA watched House in the Woods on Nick's TV). I never imagined I'd grow so comfortable with a group of people in a year's time - but my texting history (all of the weird pictures!) proves it. Most of us will definitely be returning next year - others might sale by to another port. I can't help but wish I could press "pause" while we enjoy summer and return to the same relationships, inside jokes and that story about getting lost in the ghetto after a donut run. 

Kidnapped to Chipotle, cake, and a movie!
By, maybe as my subconscious was reminding me on my walk, life is always on the move. There were some weeks this semester that I thought would never end - and now sophomore year is sailing on by. 

All I can say is, "Thanks for the good trip." Because, choppy waters and all, it was just that. And I know the next journey will only get better

Does time ever seem to slip you by? Do you have a favorite/most used saying? Comment below! 

*Also found at runningwithspoon's link love!*