Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Gluten Free Food: The Double Standard

As a young girl, I was never shy around food. My parents used to joke that, unlike other families with girls, they had no worries about me or my sister eating enough. I ate a lot, enjoying the surprised look on my waitress's face when she picked up my empty plate. I ate what I felt like. And that was that.

casey the college celiac
Through the years...
Then came celiac disease. A fear of food for a short period of time; a struggle to adapt to my new gluten free diet for a long time. The most recent dietary dilemma hitting me, though? The double standard that plagues anyone who eats a gluten free diet for a medical reason like celiac disease or gluten intolerance. More specifically, the conflicting stereotypes of gluten free as "healthy" and "gross."

Everyone with access to a newspaper, computer or a "hip" friend has seen the influx in gluten free fad diets. Gluten is the devil! Gluten free is healthier. Avoiding gluten will make that extra weight just fall off. (Even the gluten free cookies and cakes, obviously!) During my freshman year of college (which intersected with my struggle to gain weight and heal from celiac damage), many of my new dorm mates would say was, "Wow! I was I had celiac disease so I was skinny like you!" or "At least you have a disease that forces you to eat healthy!"

casey the college celiac
Freshman year!
And though I never said it in quite these words, I often thought, "Screw that. Wanna trade?"

The fact is, my diet has transformed for the better since my diagnosis. Gone is the girl who struggled making a baked potato - instead, I often make three meals and several snacks a day. More veggies and fruits, less processed food, and better qualities of meat. That's what the gluten free diet looks like for me. But, I could just as easily gorge on gluten free brownies, chocolate mug cakes, french fries from a contamination-safe fryer and pizza. It's all free of gluten (the "bad" stuff), right?

casey the college celiac
Gluten free = delicious, but not necessarily healthy!

So when people say I'm a healthy eater because of celiac disease, I want to tell them that's just a misunderstood stereotype. I'm gluten free because of celiac disease. I'm a healthy eater by choice. Just like everyone else.

On the flip side of gluten free food is the "gross" stereotype. The societal mindset that makes me embarrassed to bring gluten free desserts to a school event or, when I do bring them, apologize with a mild shrug. This double standard emerges mainly out of ignorance - people fear (or, in this case, at least stick their tongue out at) what they don't know. And I sure didn't have a clue how a gluten free chicken pot pie really tasted until a year after my diagnosis.

casey the college celiac
The typical "gluten free" faces!
When new people - friends, family, classmates or even strangers - see my food, two reactions usually occur. Sometimes they say, "Wow, that looks really good!" And while I love the praise, I can't help but hear the unspoken ending, "for something gluten free." Other times, it's more blatant with something like, "No offense, but your food doesn't look very good." I usually laugh it off, but that doesn't mean offense isn't slightly taken.

The truth is, I don't need a reminder of how much I'm "missing out" on that soft, crunchy loaf of French bread. I don't need a reminder of how "weird" my new normal food may be. What people do need a reminder of? Not to judge a book - or a gluten free burger - by its cover...err, bun. When I first began to eat my veggie-packed smoothie bowls, my dad often asked, "How is your...concoction today?"

casey the college celiac
The Nutribullet has a new beloved!
Nearly a year later, now he's the one eating - and loving - a smoothie concoction at least once a day.

Gluten free foods, most often, don't taste like their gluten-filled alternatives. If they did, I'd be concerned actually. But they're the only options for my plate. And if my Instagram is good for anything, it's to prove that gluten free isn't a synonym for gross. My gluten-loving family and boyfriend can attest to that.

The little girl who ate everything in sight and the celiac teenager whipping up gluten free grub have experienced a lot of changes - not only in diet, but also in perspective towards food. For the first time, I can relate to feeling self conscious about my plate. To having my diet generalized to a "healthy" fad to worrying whether what I'm eating is normal enough.

casey the college celiac
Fueling up for a fun life!
My diet is not here to be judged, over-analyzed or broken down into society's stereotypes. Neither am I.  So I'm going to follow my younger self's advice: eat whatever (celiac-safe) food I like. And enjoy shocking others - not with how much I eat, but how much drool my gluten free food can incite!

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's Link Party!*

Do you ever feel judged because of your gluten free food? What other gluten free stereotypes do you notice? Comment below!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Coconut Milk: Tips and Tricks

Since my diagnosis, I've gone a long way from the teenager who could barely cook a baked potato. Having limited sources of safe food at college served as one killer motivator to learn how to cook, that's for sure!

Cooks - especially those with celiac disease - are only as good as their kitchen ingredients, however. Which I why (at my mom's suggestion) I'm going to highlight a few of my favorite edible ninja tools in the next few weeks. 

My first favorite cooking ingredient!
And with temperatures rising for summer, what ingredient is a better start than canned coconut milk

Once dairy and I stopped getting along, I tried a rainbow of dairy free milks. Almond. Rice. Flax. Coconut (in the carton). But while I still use Rice for certain baking recipes, the creaminess (and limited ingredients) of canned coconut milk won over my taste buds in the end. 

Tons of dairy free options, as this post explains!
While other dairy free alternatives do offer enriched vitamins or preservatives, coconut milk from the can usually just contains coconut, water and possibly guar gum. I started using coconut milk to easily gain weight thanks to its high calorie and fat content. Now that I've reached a mostly stable weight, I usually buy Sprouts' Lite Coconut Milk instead. Either way, the canned milk is a good source of healthy fats and iron. 

My favorite ways to use it? First of all, it makes for the perfect smoothie bowl or banana ice cream base! I was shocked at how much creamier (and addictive, you've been warned!) my breakfast became by adding only a few tablespoons of coconut milk. To make the addition even easier to smoothies, try pouring and freezing coconut milk into an ice cube tray. Cube o' creaminess in a few hours! 

Super creamy thanks to some coconut milk magic!
Coconut milk also transforms chia seed pudding from a protein packed breakfast to a worthy dessert. My favorite dessert at True Foods Kitchen is their coconut banana chia seed pudding. By using coconut milk as the liquid base, my at-home attempts turned out just as scrumptious

For those walking on more of the savory side, here's a recipe I stumbled upon that turns the typically dairy-packed white pizza into one of this celiac's favorite pizza sauces. By boiling coconut milk (optionally adding a little rice milk too) and lots of spices (oregano, thyme, turmeric and a bit of cayenne), a thick, cheesy-like sauce emerges. Toss it on a gluten free pizza crust (I love the recipe here!), add your favorite toppings and, one oven stay later, a creamy white pizza is born! 

Coconut milk "cheese sauce" hiding under the toppings!
Finding safe, tasty foods as a newly diagnosed celiac can feel like a trip down the rabbit hole. So many options, yet so few familiar choices. That's why, whether canned coconut milk is your individual jam or not, I wanted to share one of the most versatile and tasty tools from my kitchen. 

Cause to me, using canned coconut milk is anything but coo-coo

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's Link Party!*

What is your favorite dairy/non dairy milk to use? What are some of your secret weapons in the kitchen? Comment below! 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Canyon Bakehouse Bagels and Brownies!

Since my celiac diagnosis, there have been many big changes. No gluten, obviously. But also no bagels, mini cinnamon ones of which dominated my freshman year of high school. And brownies, to taste like the gluten-filled ones from my childhood, usually take an oven and a bit of time.

Until Canyon Bakehouse released its new gluten free bagels and brownies, just in time for summer. Available as both Plain Bagels and Everything Bagels, the bagels are all made of whole grains and free of additives, soy, dairy, nuts or GMOs. The brownies boast a similarly clean ingredient list.

The goodies have arrived!
For my review, I received a sample package of Everything Bagels and Brownies. Which, unfortunately arrived the day after I left for my Texas vacation. Never fear, though! My parents stuck them in the freezer until I returned and moved them to the kitchen counter to defrost. Within 24 hours I had a fresh batch of soft baked goods ready for tasting! In my mind, this makes the bagels and brownies the perfect treats to keep in the freezer and defrost when the mood strikes - if you aren't always in the mood anyway!

When I first saw the bagels, I was surprised by two factors. First, the size: they're huge and can definitely hold their own against gluten rivals! Second, the smell. The shipping box smelled like Eau de Bagel after its trip to California! A small warning: for those who aren't a big fan of onion and garlic (like me, sadly!), these Everything Bagels do pack an olfactory punch.

Told you the bagels are big!

Whatever their size and smell, I am a big fan of the bagels' texture. Springy and soft in the middle, seeded (with poppy, sunflower and sesame seeds) and crunchy on the exterior. My sister (a proud gluten-eater) agreed to help me taste test, and thought it tasted just like a "regular" bagel, though perhaps a bit more dense. I think I'd enjoy the Plain Bagels more, but for those craving a unique and powerfully seasoned bagel, this flavor offers "everything" they need!

My favorite product, I'll admit, is the brownies! Both in shape, size and texture, they remind me of the gluten-filled brownie bites that I would often eat as a child. (And I know a certain Grandma of mine, though she eats gluten, would adore these!) The brownies are a decent size - ideal for a treat that will fill the tummy but not the jeans! - and combine crunchy, chewy, and crumbly textures into one delicious bite.

Can you tell I was a bit excited?
I also love how the chocolate flavor tastes distinct, but not overwhelming. I tried my brownies alone as dessert, but also dressed them up with coconut yogurt, granola, sunflower butter and berries for a late night snack. Either way, the brownies impressed me for a pre-made dessert and, if I ever had to buy brownies for an allergy-friendly school function, this would be my first choice. 'Cause what's better than a dessert that kids and teens and adults, gluten and gluten-free eaters, enjoy alike?

I've already loved Canyon Bakehouse for its bread, which my Mom eats for lunch everyday and I splurge on in a Thanksgiving green bean casserole. With their bagels and brownies, Canyon Bakehouse has done it again. Soft and dense texture. Enough spiced and chocolate flavor to mimic gluten-filled cousins. I doubt I'd eat these products on a daily basis - but for a splurge, a pre-celiac craving or even a meal that looks just like my boyfriends' on a picnic date, I know what bagels and brownies I'd go for.

Polka dots, bagels and big brownie mugs!
Thanks Canyon Bakehouse for bringing a couple old favorite treats back in reach for this celiac!

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link love!*

*I received these products without charge to review, but my opinions are all my own!*

Would you be a Plain or Everything Bagel fan? What's your favorite pre-made gluten free dessert you've tried so far? Comment below!

Monday, July 20, 2015

National Girlfriends' Day: Health Tips

Every day is a holiday we don't know about. This is true on a literal - I mean, who knew that July 24th is National Drive Thru Day - and a metaphorical level. This August 1st, however, I know exactly what I'll be celebrating: the CDC's National Girlfriends' Day, which emphasizes the power of friendship on health.

A snapshot from the CDC!
Now, "health" is a highly personalized and slippery subject. And that's why the support of a girlfriend can be so important. And why I choose to break down "health" into six ways I challenge and am challenged to live better every day.

Help one another through hard times. Perhaps even more challenging than physical is mental health. Sometimes it's just a bad day ending in frustrated tears, other times it can be bigger problems like the death of a loved one or a medical diagnosis. My freshman year of college, both fell right onto my lap as I battled complications from celiac disease at the same time as my grandfather suddenly passed away. At the time, I wasn't even healthy enough to fly to Texas for his funeral service.

All the throwbacks...
And that's where my girlfriends came in. My mom kept up my spirits though long phone calls and a little tough love. The girls at my dorm hugged me like they knew me for years, not weeks, and even spent an evening down at the cliffs to pray for my grandfather. And my best gal pals - Kendall especially - filled my life with (gluten free) food and local adventures and constant motivation. Everyone faces different challenges, but sassy sidekicks can improve most struggles.

Eat what makes you and your body happy. As I've learned to eat healthier by exploring the world of naturally gluten free foods (avocados, sweet potatoes, and salmon I'm looking at you!), I've enjoyed sharing my recipes even more. Whether that means on my blog, with my parents, or with friends in college, I like showing that healthy eating doesn't have to mean boring.

A few of my favorites!
But, as the battle over the universal benefits of a gluten free diet has shown, humans aren't designed to follow the same menu. This means that me, the celiac, rocks a completely different diet than my sister, gluten-r-us. And that's OK. My newest understanding of health means that everyone can be healthy while living off of different foods. So while I'm thrilled that my mom is trying out smoothies for the first time (a new, consistent love of mine), I don't force my meals on her or anyone else. A true girlfriend inspires healthier eating choices (plus a few treats!), but doesn't push that veggie mac and cheese down her friends' throats!

Attend your doctors' visits. I'll admit, I've attended more doctors' appointments at 19 years old than should be fair. A hospitalization for celiac complications, check ups on my weight, scans for bone density and celiac antibody blood tests. And, not surprisingly, hospitals are not one of my favorite places. But, my friends and family keep me accountable. The same way I hope I can for all of my girlfriends.

'Cause when it comes to ignoring the appropriate doctors' visits for your age group, ignorance really isn't bliss.. As this Roadmap to Health from Oscar Health insurance company* shows, acting as empowered women taking control over their health is the way to go!

To see a close up, click here!
Listen and learn from others. Some people hate hearing stories from their parents or grandparents, but I was never one of those people. And I hope more people are on my side, especially when it comes to learning about a family's health history and tips. From my grandma, I know the dangers of sun cancer. From my mom, the triumphs and trials of living with fibromyalgia.

And from me, I hope others will learn about celiac disease. What are the symptoms, how to get tested, how to survive once diagnosed, and how to thrive with it as a college student. Opposite to common thought, girlfriends gossip about more than boys, clothes, and food (the latter of which is always a favorite topic of mine). And that chitchat - this blog post and Oscar Insurance's check up outline - could even save or lengthen a life.

All ears?
Tackle the gym together. Some of my favorite memories from freshman year are hitting the weight room with my gals and kicking butt at group workouts. I never mind going to the gym alone, but I do work twice as hard when I see a friend rockin' her new Nikes next to me. Plus, the laughs must count as an extra ab workout, right?

When I want to catch up with friends, my first suggestion usually involves going for a walk. Whether its a long hike down a lake trail or a simple jaunt around my college campus, it exercises the jaw and the legs. And you never know. Moving from the typical "let's have lunch" routine could spark a new motivation to hit the gym. Either way, friends + movement = smiles (and maybe a few selfies!) nearly any way its done.

Walks, hikes, and trampolines!
Have fun! Stress can be just as unhealthy as an unbalanced diet or lack of exercise, so having girlfriends who aren't afraid of a little relaxation never hurts. One of the most important factors of being healthy is realizing that you man (or "woman") the controls. As I've written before, sometimes it seems like the body doesn't want to listen. Sometimes I've wondered if health is really within my control when a decently healthy life couldn't prevent celiac disease from breaking my body for a year post-diagnosis.

But, this National Girlfriends' Day and every week after, I'm celebrating my own empowerment. Celebrating how the encouragement of a friend can impact a life. How, by watching my eats and exercise and yearly check ups, I can keep smiling for years to come. And how its up to us - both as individuals and friends - to ensure those girls' nights stay on the calendar.

Laughs all around!
Cause spending Fridays happy and laughing with friends? Now that's what makes staying healthy worth it.

*Oscar Health currently offers insurance plans in New York and New Jersey and soon in Texas and California

What does "healthy" mean to you? How do your friends help you be healthy? Comment below!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Berry Coconut Granola

Everyone has their own relaxation routines. For some, it's laughing to their favorite comedy on TV after work. Others exemplify the too true fact that "stressed" spelled backwards reads "dessert." For this girl, exercise and baking are my two favorite respites.

Combine a fridge full of ripe blueberries, a granola addict in need of a new flavor for her weekly fix, and summer hours with time in the kitchen to kill, and I had everyone in the family drooling over the oven's new berriful fragrance.

Blueberries win the spotlight in this one!
With inflammation-fighting turmeric, healthy fats (and delicious flavor) from coconut oil, flour and flakes, hidden veggies from my favorite shredded zucchini, and antioxidant-packed blueberries, this granola not only tastes good, but does good for you.

And, being gluten free, paleo, vegan, and low fodmap, it is also the perfect recipe for nearly any kind of eater. Meaning there's no reason to not raid the nearest fridge and pantry, grab some cooking supplies and get your granola on!

(Can you guess the celiac-safe nut and seed source I love?)


1 1/2 cups of buckwheat groats
1 1/2 cups of favorite puffed cereal (I used a mix of puffed rice and puffed amaranth)
2 1/4 cups of mixed seeds or nuts (I used pumpkin and sunflower seeds and cashews)
1/2 cup of chia seeds
1/3 cup of cacao nibs
1/4 cup of coconut flakes
1/4 cup of banana chips (or other dried fruit)
2 TBSP cacao powder
2 TBSP cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 TBSP coconut flour


1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar (or water)
3 TBSP of coconut oil (or alternate baking oil)
1 small zucchini, shredded
2 ripe mashed bananas
2/3 cup blueberries (either fresh and mashed/pureed, or frozen, defrosted and mashed)

Begin by preheating your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the granola baking is as easy as measuring, mixing and making your mouth water! First pour pour all of your dry ingredients into a bowl. Then move onto the wet components. For best results, mash (or defrost and then mash) your bananas and blueberries in a separate bowl before adding them to the rest of the mix. If you like your granola smooth rather than having chunks of fruit, you can also puree the bananas and berries in a blender.

Netflix, of course, amps up the relaxation factor!
Next, work off some of the granola you will (inevitably) devour by grating a zucchini directly over your mixing bowl. You could probably replace the zucchini with sweet potato or an extra banana, but I love the addition of veggies (which you can't even taste!) and chewy texture. Once the zucchini is shredded, add in the liquids. The unbaked granola should already be rather wet from the fruits and veggies, so you can adjust the amount of liquid to your desired texture.

Finally, transfer the unbaked goodie into several baking sheets (I used three lined with parchment paper), either pressing it down firmly with a spatula for denser clumps or leaving it loose for a smaller clusters. Toss your pans into the oven and wait for your edible perfume to start filling the kitchen. I baked my pans for 40 minutes, turning halfway through, but feel free to cook until the granola gains your desired crunch factor. For the best clumps, let the granola cool for at least two hours before breaking apart the sheets and storing.

The ultimate clusters!
As for how to eat your finished product? Choices really are limitless! I love it on top of my famous smoothie bowls for breakfast and sprinkled (okay, more like dumped!) over my coconut yogurt for a late night snack. You can even eat it back the handful while running errands or use it as breakfast cereal.

Any way, any time, is always "berry" delicious.

Just a few of my favorite ways...
I'm no professional at relaxing. Just ask my parents, boyfriend or college roommates and that will be clear. When I do need a little extra help to put my feet up - and rocket my taste buds - baking is always a good choice. Especially when the relaxation process means I have delicious snacks, breakfast toppers, and desserts fresh out the oven a couple hours after!

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's Link Party! and Vegetarian Mama's GF Friday!*

What's your favorite late night snack? How do you like to relax? Comment below!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How to Choose a Restaurant Tasty for Everyone

A celiac walks into a restaurant...and, depending on the name, it can be the start of a very good or very bad joke. Food always dominates the social scene, but as one grows older, the tie becomes even more apparent. After all, as teenagers in college, what else are we supposed to do when hunger strikes at midnight?

Besides go get donuts...
Now that I'm preparing to embark on my junior year in college, however, I'd like to say I've learned more than information from my text books. I'm finally mastering how to choose a restaurant that is gluten free friendly, but still tasty for every member of the party. Let the (advice) party begin!

1. First, consider cost and location parameters. Even though the gluten free fad diet has increased the likelihood of GF options, the ones that do exist can still leave a hole in the typical wallet. (Outback with your delicious BBQ chicken and Thunder Down Under, I'm looking at you). So, I always make sure I consider who I'll be dining with. And, since the answer usually involves fellow students, that means I focus more on cheaper chains like Chipotle or Chick Fil A. And if the boy happens to have a gift card to California Pizza Kitchen? You bet I'll try some of their celiac-safe pepperoni pie!

A few favorites...
Besides an overly expensive meal, nothing can plummet team morale like an unexpectedly long car drive. Though this celiac will usually travel, when embarking on a double date or day trip with friends, twenty to thirty minutes away from our school is a good cap. And having a delicious meal to look forward to (and recover from) always helps!

2. Next, ask about taste preferences. Unless you're dating a guy like mine who professes to love nearly every food group, most friends will have their own cravings to fulfill. So, when I start planning a lunch or dinner, I like to find several restaurants we can choose from. Malls are usually a great place for this strategy since they can offer a wide variety of GF friendly eats in a limited space.

Food + friends = forever fun
When in doubt, pick restaurants with a big menu that fits your friends' usual taste buds. For my college friends, that means places with burgers, pizza, or burritos. If I find someplace with all three? Let's just say it'd probably become a new favorite.

3. To make your search even easier, use apps to narrow down your options and read reviews. I'm addicted to Find Me Gluten Free for my IPhone and, when visiting new locations, I often fire it up out of pure curiosity. Yelp can also be helpful when searching for nearby gluten free friendly eats.

My two secret weapons!
Whatever app used, reading reviews is a smart move before dining. Not only can this help eliminate places that are gluten free but not celiac friendly, but it can also reveal locations of chain restaurants to avoid. As I've mentioned before, I love my local Outback for its educated and careful staff, but have struggled at other locations. Reviews shouldn't be depended on 100%, but they certainly can't hurt!

4. If not 100% sure of gluten free options after researching the restaurant, visit their online site and/or call ahead. When I was first diagnosed, I hated calling a restaurant before visiting. Celiac disease is hard enough to explain in person, not to mention over the phone

Phone or possibly groan in pain, basically...
Now, though, the phone is always my friend. Nothing is worse than walking into a restaurant expecting everyone to know about the gluten free menu posted online and being met with blank stares. And nothing makes me more excited to go eat than the worker who happened to pick up the phone knowing about celiac disease, proper cooking precautions and offered GF dishes! 

5. Finally, eat and enjoy! 

Going out to eat as a celiac with friends or family usually has its challenges. Extra time spent summarizing celiac to servers, waiting for the "special" meal, and examining the finished product. But, the more I've gotten used to my new normal, the more fun has returned to dining out. 

Lots of eats and lots of smiles!
Because, while the food is obviously important, the company is even more so. And by following a few simple tips to choose an optimal restaurant, a celiac can focus less on the first and more on the latter. 

How do you choose restaurants that leave everyone happy? Any favorites? Comment below! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Re-mind-ers (of Progress)

At first glance, "reminders" and "progress" may seem like linguistic opposites. One means "perceiving" something "again." The other means "moving towards a higher goal." But as I'm typing, trying to ignore the ache haunting my neck for the last week, I can't help but connect the two.

It's hard to believe it's been two years since I was diagnosed with celiac disease. And nearly nine years since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. And over a year since I was hospitalized for celiac complications like malnutrition and extremely low weight. 

casey the college celiac
Side by side comparison...
Now, I wouldn't apply for the job of Super Woman, but it is amazing how far I've come since those additions to my medical chart. I've learned how to cook safe (and purty darn delicious) meals - even well enough to convince family friends that I'm a professional chef. I've survived (and thrived during) my first Mud Run 5k. And I'll be sprinting into my Junior year of college next month. 

But, today, all I can feel is the heavy weight of reminders lying on my aching shoulders. Sometimes, like hinted at in my last post, I forget I have celiac disease. I forget I have fibromyalgia because my gluten free diet has improved my pain so much. I forget I'm not normal

casey the college celiac
Well, as normal as Casey usually is...
Until spending two wonderful weeks in unfamiliar beds, holding strange poses in airplanes, and not following my usual exercise routine has resulted in a muscle strain and migraine that has been keeping me up at night and glued to a heat pack during the day. 

And reminds me that, unlike the majority of the human population, my muscles are often tightened to the point of pain. 

That trying something new - spin class, wink wink - may result in more than just aching legs. 

That, no matter how good I feel at the time, my body is home to two autoimmune diseases that can pop up their heads after months of sleep. 

casey the college celiac
Rockin' the heat pack and beaver PJ's!
And, honestly, it sucks sometimes. I hate hurting. I hate realizing that no matter how hard I train my body and how fit I become, I have limits that the average person may not. 

At the same time, though, it also reminds me of the progress I've made. 

It reminds me that I used to hurt like this every day. When I was 11 and fell hard on my wrist, I didn't go to the ER until the next day. An X-ray of several fractured and dislocated bones later, doctors were shocked that I wasn't screaming in pain. I shrugged, saying it was no worse than I felt on bad days

casey the college celiac
It reminds me that I used to be unable to exercise without fighting extreme soreness the next day, causing every soccer game to be treated with an Epsom salt soak. 

It reminds me how being diagnosed with celiac disease and embarking on a gluten free diet was a blessing in disguise - a blessing that transformed how my stomach and the rest of my body felt. 

Linguistically, "reminders" and "progress" are opposites, one stuck in the past while the other barrels towards the future. The secret of their complementary connection, though, rests in the simple suffix "-ers," used to transform a verb to a noun. 

casey the college celiac
Any evening reminder, actually!
Because, the fact is, the act of being reminded hurts. In my case, physically and mentally. But the reminders of progress don't. They stand, unchanging, as signs of the milestones we've limped past. They are the (linguistic and mental) things that serve to prove how far we've come. How much we've learned. 

And how thankful to be of that progress every day - whether we feel it at the moment or not. 

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link love!*

What reminders have you encountered with medical issues or other struggles? Do you stay thankful even on bad days? Comment below! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ruggles Green Review, Part 2

When this foodie goes on a vacation, I'll admit that researching, drooling over, and planning days out at local restaurants is a highlight of my trip. In Colorado Springs, I run to Coquette's Bakery and Bistro. When I'm in Point Loma for school, I love spending hours at True Food Kitchen. And when I'm cruising around Suglarland Texas, nothing hits the spot (or crosses all my celiac boxes) like Ruggles Green.

Their welcome sign!
For those who don't remember my brief review last summer, Ruggles Green is a casual Texas restaurant chain known for its dedication to green eating, organic ingredients, and a plethora of gluten free/vegetarian options. The best part? They aren't just gluten free on the fad diet level. In fact, every worker I talked was not only familiar with the gluten free options (which are clearly marked on the menu), but also knew about cross contamination, celiac disease, and proper cooking precautions.

Like the last time I enjoyed a meal at Ruggles Green, I walked in craving a burger. A girl can only live off of loaded salads (the easiest meal to prepare away from home) for so long! Though I had several options to choose from, I ended up ordering the Turkey Burger on Ruggles' own gluten free bun with a side of sweet potato fries. The fries are marked gluten free on the menu, but you can imagine my excitement when I learned they were actually gluten free (i.e. not cooked in a shared fryer) and therefore celiac friendly.

Then, now, and a wall full of condiments!
Despite the growing lunch crowd, our food arrived in a short 15 to 20 minutes. One of my favorite parts about Ruggles Green? The "gluten free" cards that mark every GF meal when it is delivered. Although this doesn't protect against any contamination in the kitchen, I hate when workers don't announce that my food is gluten free when delivering my order. Little card = big safety of mind!

And the taste? Absolutely delicious! My burger was HUGE, and cooked through while still being juicy. A couple layers of crunchy lettuce + melted mozzarella daiya cheese (a dairy free score!) + tomato slices + organic mustard and ketchup (varieties of which each customer chooses from the wall of condiments) = an edible heaven in my hand. All held together by a bun that, besides boasting a soft, flaky texture, didn't fall apart like many gluten free breads.

Time for my close up!
My side of sweet potato fries disappeared nearly as quick as the burger! They are consistently voted the best sweet potato fries in Houston and, after my first bite, I could see why. Crispy without being hard. A good balance of salty and sweet. And satisfying without leaving an imprint of grease on the empty plate. I ate half of my meal for a late lunch, then devoured my leftovers for dinner the next day. Both delicious and both ending in very happy bellies.

A few days before we left Houston, though, I needed one more Ruggles Green fix. This time we chose the to-go option, usually a no-go for celiacs. Despite ordering on the phone to the wrong location (my bad!), I still walked out with a 12 inch gluten free veggie pizza after only twenty minutes of waiting.

Pizza for two one?
Cooked on a thin crust (which I believe is Smart Flour's but could be mistaken), mine was covered in pesto, roasted veggies (I ordered without the onions and garlic to make it fodmap friendly), arugula, and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. To keep it dairy free, I also requested no cheese and simply added some of my own daiya cheese at home.

Though the pizza tasted a little too greasy, the flavors made up for it! The roasted tomatoes and mushrooms burst in my mouth, while the chunky zucchini slices complimented the tangy sauce. I would name the burger as my favorite meal, but this pizza definitely cured my pie craving and made for delicious leftovers. 

Hannah's favorite!
Surprisingly enough, one of Ruggles' gluten free meals also won the heart (or is it stomach?) of my gluten-eating sister. She ordered the Quinoa Linguini with Turkey Meatballs both visits and couldn't believe it was gluten free. I stole a bite (The best part about eating at a place with a variety of GF options? Taste testing others' plates like a "normal" eater!) and it turned me into a pasta lover! 

The quinoa linguini tasted soft, but not over cooked. And for those wondering about any quinoa aftertaste, the (deliciously) dominant flavors were definitely the fresh tomato sauce and Italian seasonings. The turkey meatballs were smaller than the traditional restaurant spaghetti, but made up for it in flavor and tenderness. Finished off with grated Parmesan cheese on top, my sister slurped up her serving in no time and I couldn't blame her! 

Special food for special me!
As a celiac, finding safe and delicious food while traveling can be more tedious than the traveling itself. For all those with food allergies in Texas, though, Ruggles Green is definitely a scrumptious stop. This celiac gives it a solid 10/10 with only one complaint: no California locations! 

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link party!*

Have you ever eaten at Ruggles Green? What's the best gluten free burger or pizza you've eaten? Comment below!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Two Sides of Celiac Freedom

Last week, Americans celebrated the freedom of their country. Cue the Fourth of July fireworks, family gatherings, and, of course, food. Even while the rest of my schedule altered for the festivities, though, my food followed the usual adaptations. As a diagnosed celiac for two years now, I'd like to say living without gluten is as part of my daily routine as it is in my DNA. I have celiac disease. Gluten can literally kill me. And that's that.

Throwback to post hospital swag!
Recently, though, I've noticed what I'd like to call the two sides of celiac freedom. And, honestly, I'll blame any philosophizing on the restaurant dining that has dominated my Houston vacation. Usually, I'm a once-every-two-weeks type of outside eater. It's safer. It's cheaper. And I don't have to be a walking celiac infomercial before my meal.

One of the benefits of two years celiac experience? The information I tell my waitress, the requests I make of the chef, and the scrutiny I place over my meal transforms into a memorized script. Sometimes I forget that I ever walked into a restaurant without researching gluten free options ahead of time. And ordering fries without asking about fryer cross contamination? It feels like a memory filed away with my short-lived McDonald days.

Replace with "celiac disease" and that's my jam!
It wasn't until my mom explained my dining needs to the waitress during our last visit to Outback, however, that I realized how ingrained my celiac safety measures has become. As I heard her talking about cross contamination, gluten and bread crumbs, for a second, I forgot she was talking about me. I forgot that, to the average American, these questions are anything but ordinary. That the life, the diet, and the worries that constantly fly through my head are in fact as unique as my blood test results.

I embrace my celiac disease as part of my identity. But sometimes, like having brown hair or boasting a 4.0 GPA, it fades into the whole that is Casey. For all those newly diagnosed with celiac disease, I can say this: it (living with celiac disease) does get easier. As celiacs learn to feed themselves safely, they also learn freedom from a disease sitting constantly on their minds.

A few parts of Casey
And yet, as I've been eating out and cooking meals in unfamiliar kitchens, my disease has also jumped into the foreground of my identity. Unlike in my kitchen back home where counters are constantly wiped clean of crumbs, little gluten bombs lurk on counter tops. That means always cutting my fruits or vegetables on clean plates of paper towels. That means washing every bowl or utensil with soap and water before adding my food. Basically, my gluten alarm is buzzing twenty four hours a day.

Living in houses that are more gluten than gluten free has its benefits. It's a reminder to be grateful for my family's (gluten) sacrifices and dedication to cleaning. It's a reminder that I'm not invincible or normal or able to eat like everyone else - but that I can handle the challenge. And, in a strange way, it's empowering. Because it's made me realize that taking such strict precautions leads to another side of celiac freedom. Instead of being free from celiac, I am embracing freedom for it.

All gluten free?
The freedom of being able to shop, cook, and feed myself safely. The freedom to, after I've taken the proper precautions with my waiter and chef, indulge in a delicious gluten free meal outside my own kitchen. And the freedom to accept the disease that, while cumbersome at times, is a part of what makes me uniquely, imperfectly, completely me.

As I watched the fireworks explode over my head a few nights ago, I could barely believe the variety. Different colors. Different shapes. Different techniques that made us ooh and awww from the truck bed. But each one celebrated the same holiday: American freedom. In a similar way, celiac disease can be celebrated in life through two different ways. By becoming ingrained in routine to such an extent it becomes nearly invisible or by being embraced as an impactful part of life and identity. Or a mixture of both.

Out with a bam!
What I realized this last weekend? Either one is a sign of celiac freedom - living life with celiac in mind, but not in the driver's seat. And I can't wait to see what adventure I end up traveling through next.

Do you ever "forget" about your celiac disease? How did you celebrate the Fourth of July? Comment below!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Gluten free at Outback, Part 2

As a celiac, accumulating a list of "safe" restaurants is a natural part of life. And while I've issues with different locations, the San Diego Outback Steakhouse always delivers a delicious, celiac-friendly feast. My dad's birthday dinner included.

All of my previous visits, I stuck to fish dishes (the mahi mahi is a personal favorite) with seasonal veggies. For whatever reason - maybe my dad's big 4-9 milestone, summer restlessness or the big pile of salmon in our fridge - I decided to try something new. My only requirements? BBQ sauce and a baked potato on the side. 

Menu to heaven?
As usual, my mom and I asked for gluten free menus before being seated. When we cracked them open at our booth, I was surprised to notice a few changes. The biggest? That burgers, obviously served bunless, had disappeared! Although I'm nowhere near the beef lover I once was, it was an interesting surpriseI struggled to choose between the chicken salad and grilled BBQ chicken with seasonal vegetables (both ordered with an added baked potato), but, in the end, my taste buds landed on the latter. 

And when my plate (um, make that platter!) arrived, I could barely wait to take my first bite! The serving of chicken out-sized one of my (admittedly smallish) hands, and was ironically enough shaped like a heart. It tasted extremely juicy, especially for being grilled, and could be cut (or pulled apart) easily. It paired wonderfully with the BBQ sauce: sweet, a little tangy, and completely addicting. (I may have even poured what was left of it in my to-go box. Messy, yes. Worth it? Without a doubt!) 

My feast of choice!
The sides also held their own, however, in terms of flavor. The steamed mixed vegetables (which turned out to be carrots, yellow squash and broccoli) were tender without tasting too watery or falling apart. And my extra side of a baked potato? Crispy on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside. Add a couple swipes of butter and I was in heaven! 

The most special moment of our dinner, however, came when we were preparing to ask for the check. I'd mentioned it was my dad's birthday to our waitress out of habit. Imagine our surprise when she walked out with a small chocolate cake covered in vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce and served with four spoons. 

Blowing out the candle
"We don't usually do the Thunder Down Under for birthdays," she said, "but it's our only gluten free dessert and we wanted everyone to be able to enjoy." 

Although I try not to let it, celiac disease often feels like a burden - not only for me, but for those around me as well. So, even though we had a gluten free chocolate cake waiting at home, I savored being able to eat a surprise restaurant dessert like everyone else

And guys...this dessert should come with a warning label considering it blasted my taste buds to heaven! Although not dairy free, the Thunder from Down Under is a flourless chocolate brownie with walnuts scattered in the batter. I avoided the toppings since big doses of dairy and I don't get along very well, but the cake didn't need it. Moist? Rich? Smooth with a walnut crunch in nearly every bite? Check, check and check. 

Our insane dessert!
It was also huge, big enough to comfortably stuff my dad, mom, sister and I. Even the gluten eaters loved it - in fact, my sister nearly licked the bowl clean (at least until we reminded her that restaurant etiquette frowned on such behavior). 

As we waddled out of Outback, leftovers in hand, we couldn't stop saying it was one of the best meals there we've ever had. Proof that, like with most of a celiac's eating experiences, the staff serving you makes a huge difference. In the end, we basically paid for our dessert in the tip - but we walked out with much wider smiles than if we'd outright ordered the dessert. 

A "happy" birthday for everyone!
And my leftover chicken and potato? Dressed up with some veggies and days cheese, it tasted just as delicious the next night! 

For a celiac, finding a safe restaurant isn't easy. Finding one that tastes delicious too? Even harder. For this celiac, though,  Outback (particularly the one in Poway, California) fulfills both requirements. And everyone's cravings

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link party!*

What's the best surprise you've had in a restaurant? Do you eat gluten free at Outback? Comment below!