Mmm… GF Hot Dogs

May 20, 2009 by

Alison at Sure Foods Living posted a list of gluten free and dairy free hot dogs.  I am reposting as a thanks for compiling the list.  I appreciate the work!

And now I’m hungry.


Lone Star Steakhouse (and intolerance confusion)

May 12, 2009 by

Today we’re headed out to Michigan for the second of three weddings we are attending in May. This will be my second traveling adventure as a celiac.  This is great, because although the wedding is for a friend of The Husband, I grew up in Michigan and will have the opportunity to see family and a bunch of old friends.

I’m meeting up with my kid brother for dinner tomorrow night, and we decided on Lone Star Steakhouse.  It was between that and Chili’s, but after reading about Gluten Free Gluttony’s bad experience at Chili’s, I opted for the former.  Lone Star seems to have it going on in terms of celiac awareness.  They even have a gluten free page and menu.  But looking closer at the menu, it’s not really a gluten free menu.  They just tell you to order from their regular menu, but to ask to make everything plain plain plain.  They even tell you to order the baked potato with no butter, sour cream or bacon.

Which brings me to a question, because this reminds me of a situation I had when eating out at Pizzeria Uno’s the other day:  Do people often confuse dairy intolerance for gluten intolerance?

For example, after getting my gluten free pizza at Uno’s, I asked if I could have some Parmesan cheese for the top of it, asking the waiter if it was “safe”, e.g., making sure the cheese didn’t have any wheat starch added to prevent the grated cheese from caking.  He came back to the table with the manager, and both said, “well, it has pasteurized milk, so it’s probably best not to try it”.  Now I see Lone Star telling celiacs not to put butter and sour cream on their baked potatoes.  Does this happen often, or am I making a bad generalization based off of two experiences?  I know that celiacs tend to also have lactose intolerances, but not all of us do.  And seriously, if I can’t have fries, you better believe I’m gonna stack that potato with as many fatty things as humanly possible.

More tales from the road coming soon!

Trader Joe Treats

May 11, 2009 by

I realize that I am very lucky to be celiac and live in a city that has multiple Trader Joe’s.  Not only do they provide a PDF list of gluten free items that their store carries, they have enough gluten free products that warrant them to make such a list!

I also realize that I am very lucky to have friends and a husband who are supporting me on this new dietary adventure.  Right after coming home from my endoscopy, my friend Michael presented me with a Trader Joe’s goodie bag filled with things from the afore-mentioned list.  And since I hadn’t really eaten solid foods for about 48 hours, I indeed feast on all sort of things like surfboard tortilla chips, salsa, and marshmallow krispy bars.

My faves so far are the rice chips and the Pecan Pralines.  Those nuts are gooooood.  So good that I ate a bunch after brunch yesterday and I think they sent me into some sort of sugar overload, because I was dizzy for about an hour afterwards.  I’m going to have to practice some self discipline with those.

The Husband has also been very supportive.  Not only is he learning how to homebrew gluten free beer, he is thoroughly checking labels (and sometimes double checking after me) and bringing me new foods to try.  Like last night!  We had had a stressful day (stressful week at that) and I sent him to TJ’s to buy some wine for some risotto I was making.  He came back not only with wine, but some other new treats for me because we had had a bad day and he wanted to make me feel special.  Well, I did.

He brought me TJ’s Rice and Adzuki Bean Chips and some Candied Walnuts.  The chips have an interesting texture and flavor.  Good color, too–they are rice flour white with striations of dark brownish bean flour throughout.  Very light, and most importantly for me, salty.  They are perhaps too light; they are small (about 1″x1″) and airy, and I don’t know if they would stand up to hearty salsas or a taco dip.  They do, however, have a nice adzuki bean aftertaste so that you might just like to eat them on their own.

The candied walnuts were also good.  Not as decadently sweet as the pecan pralines, but perhaps this means I won’t binge on them as frequently.

I hope you have an equally good snacking day!

Interesting Factoids about Celiac

May 9, 2009 by

I have an RSS feed on the forums page.  This week, I read an interesting recent post on Celiac facts that came from a recent lecture at an in Indiana celiac group.  Someone took notes at the lecture and posted them for everyone.  The whole post is worth reading, but I’m reposting some of the factoids that I found most interesting:

  • 1 out of 133 in general population have Celiac (from what I’ve been reading, the number of celiac cases has increased because of newer, better, more specific tests).
  • The connection of gluten to Celiac was identified only 61 years ago, and came as a result of WWII.  Grains like wheat were in short supply then, and people found that celiac children’s health improved during this low-wheat dietary period!
  • Gluten is the only protein the human body can not break down with enzymes. The protein is toxic for a celiac.
  • Since Celiac is the only autoimmune disease for which the trigger is known and the disease progression can be reversed, it is being used as a model by which to study autoimmune disease.  Currently many scientists are switching from studying autoimmune diseases such as Type I diabetes or MS to Celiac research (also on the board was an article suggesting that narcolepsy is also an autoimmune disease, which I think is just wild!)
  • The most current research finds that the ideal time to introduce gluten to an infant, in order to decrease the likelihood of developing Celiac, is at 12 months.

GF beer: visit to the homebrew store

May 8, 2009 by

Now begins my quest to brew delicious gluten-free beer for TGW. I live around Boston, MA, around which I will be searching for adequate ingredients. See the “Gluten-free brewing” section of this post, specifically the paragraph about malt extract brewing, to get an idea of what I need.

My first real stop was to the Modern Homebrew Emporium in North Cambridge (near Davis Square), and I obtained two definitely useful pieces of information.

The first was which yeasts were gluten-free. (It turns out that in the yeast-growing labs that supply us, some processes use gluten-containing grain.) Some of the dry yeast packets are flat-out gluten-free. Among the two liquid yeast vial makers, White Labs makes very-low-gluten products. They told me 12ppm in each vial, which dilutes to around 2ppm in the beer; is this a tolerable gluten level? On the other hand, most Wyeast products are gluteny; they told me the vials probably contain 119ppm. However, after emailing with them, I noticed that their catalog does list some products specifically as gluten-free, so they might be of some use after all.

The other was on what grains they carry. The great news is that they have tapioca malt extract. Since at this point my capabilities are limited to extract brewing, and not mashing, this means I can even begin gluten-free brewing in the first place. Although they themselves do not carry any other gluten-free sugar sources, once I have the tapioca extract I can begin looking for these other grains anywhere, such as at a grocery store or a website. And so it is that my quest continues searching thusly for secondary grain sources…

(By the way, the people at the homebrew store seem rather convinced of the idea that oats are gluten-free. They are so convinced that they will soon be carrying malted oats, and furthermore installing an oats-only grain mill, with the idea that separating the oats from the barley/etc. will keep the results uncontaminated. From what I’ve read, the gluten-freeness of oats is quite debated, and until TGW and I have had time to talk to more professionals about it we’re staying away. But if you’re looking for simply a barley alternative, and being careful about gluten isn’t your issue, you might want to check out their new offering.)

And now for something completely different, but still on the topic of beer: TGW found this link today, describing a couple of gluten-free commercial beers. Apparently, they are based off the West African traditional beers called Shakparo and Mbege, which are primarily made from millet and sorghum. (The latter also includes some banana. I often forget that bananas are much starchier than your average fruit.) I would love to get my hands on these, as well as the original African concoctions, or at least hear reports from anyone else who has tried them! Generally, I welcome more suggestions types of beer from non-European cultures, because it’s good to have some age-tested experience on my side, now that I’m out of my barley-based comfort zone.

On second thought, tasting these will only be so useful to me so long as I am confined to extract brewing. Perhaps tapioca-based styles will be useful, but non-tapioca-based styles will not help too much if I can’t make a mash to draw upon them faithfully. Am I wrong on this point?

GF beer: general background

May 8, 2009 by

When the news arrived that TGW had celiac, I had been finalizing plans to brew another batch of beer. So I scrapped that idea and instead I will to learn to make GF beer. TGW encouraged me to share my experience with her readership, so here goes.

In order to make my posts on my process as enlightening as possible, I’ll start with a preliminary post for the lay folk, giving an overview of beer components (gluten and not). In subsequent posts I’ll start describing my actual experiences, assuming familiarity with the brewing process (e.g., as described below).

The main question I hope to answer in this post is: What is beer? Included is a detailed but down-to-earth description of the beer-making process. Then, I’ll give a brief overview of how the process must change when brewing gluten-free.

What is beer?

The short answer: Beer is fermented malt beverage, and in European tradition barley is usually the dominant malted grain component.

The long answer: There are exceptions to any rule about beer, just like in any human process, but what follows is a description of how most beer is made, starting from square one.

  1. The raw input is grain, generally barley. In industrial settings, corn and rice are also used. The grain is malted, which means moistened, kept warm, and allowed to germinate slightly. Then it is dried or roasted to kill of the living plant. (The main effect is that the baby plant produces enzymes with the power to break the starch reserves in the seed down into usable food.)
  2. A tea is made from the malt, called the mash. By steeping the grains in water at specific temperatures, the enzymes are activated and the sugars are cut down from big chunks (polymers) into various little ones (monomers and dimers). (The main effect is that some of these little sugars, though not all of them, are now in a form that the yeast find edible.)
  3. By the way, many homebrewers do not execute the preceding steps themselves. Instead they simply buy malt extract (in liquid or powder form) from their local homebrew supply store. This simply consists of a professionally made mash, concentrated (and perhaps dried) and conveniently packaged. Using extract, one simply needs a large pot (and a fermenter; see below) to make beer. Otherwise, one usually buys the malt rather than making it, but the mashing process requires a good amount more equipment and hence storage space. On the upside, by mashing yourself you gain considerably more control over your product.
  4. The finished tea is boiled for around an hour. The result is called the wort (pronounced “wert”). One effect of the boil is to destroy the enzymes so that they do no more work than we want. Perhaps more importantly, boiling sterilizes the wort. During the boil, a dried flower called hops is typically added, contributing both bitterness and aroma. (The adding of hops is more complicated than this: different varieties of hops are added at different time increments of the boil. Those added earlier contribute bitterness but not aroma, and those added at the end of the boil contribute aroma but not bitterness.)
  5. The wort is cooled, and brewer’s yeast is added. Since every single little goddamned thing needs its own specialized term, to make outsiders look foolish when they try to talk about it but don’t know the lingo, the process of emptying a packet of yeast into the liquid is called pitching the yeast. It is extremely important that the liquid is kept sterile, because the wort is great for growing bacteria in, and if they get a foothold in the ecosystem first they’ll kill your yeast and destroy your batch. Also, if your wort is too hot it’ll kill the yeast, and if it’s too cold the yeast might not get to work very eagerly.
  6. The yeast-laden wort is placed in a sealed fermentation vessel (a fermenter), with some sort of an air trap or valve to let gas escape, and fermentation ensues. The yeast enter a veritable orgy, eating sugars, multiplying, and excreting alcohol, CO2 and flavorful chemicals. When the food runs out, they get sleepy, sink to the bottom of the vessel (or sometimes rise to the top), and enter increasing stages of dormancy leading to death. At this point the beer might be considered finished, or it might not be: the brewer may choose to transfer the beer to a secondary fermenter, which is just a clean new fermentation vessel, all the while carefully separating the liquid from any sediment or gunk. (This allows any remaining yeast to squeeze out any remaining edible sugars without the presence of dead yeast cells, hop flower crums, or chemical gunk from the grain.) And/or, the brewer could store the beer at cool temperatures (conditioning) or at cold ones (lagering) for a period to mellow out the flavors. The fermentation process can take anywhere from 4 to 14 days, and storage lasts anywhere from an extra week to years.
  7. The beer, as it now rightfully should be called, is carbonated and bottled. Remember that during fermentation the CO2 was allowed to escape, so the beer at this point is actually flat. In an industrial setting (as well as in a sophisticated home setting), gas is redissolved into it before bottling and/or kegging. Most homebrewers simply add a wee bit more pure corn sugar and then quickly bottle the beer; the sugar is all efficiently edible by the yeast, and is turned straight into CO2 in the bottle, thus carbonating it. This process can take one to four weeks. Some beers age well in the bottle, gaining a smooth mellowness and/or more complex flavors (the latter through the yeast finding more and more creative ways to eat random chemicals left in your beer before they give up and die) over the course of one to ten years.

In the most extremely refined industrial settings, large amounts of corn, rice, or other sources of carbohydrates replace barley. (Anything that is not like barley that is used in beer is called an adjunct.) When used in relatively small quantities, these can be quite harmless to the quality of your beer. But when used too liberally, they can be responsible for a good amount of the “ass” flavor that can be found in, say Miller High Life Light.

Gluten-free brewing

The major problem the gluten-free brewer has to deal with, assuming the European model above, is how to replace the barley. One cannot simply use readily-available corn and rice, because these typically produce ass beer. Rather, one will necessarily be forced to do some hunting for their sugar and flavor base. The possible solutions depend largely on whether the brewer mashes on their own, or uses malt extract.

  • If the brewer performs a mash, then the solution is as follows: you just need to find a source for one gluten-free grain that can supply enzymes (as not all can). If this is the case, then you can make a beer predominantly from any gluten-free grain. Basically, perform a two-step mash, with the first step working only on the enzyme-rich grain to get the enzymes awake and active, and the adding your primary grain in the second step so that the enzymes go to town on it. Now you have your wort.
  • If the brewer uses extract, then they are up a creek unless they can find some gluten-free extract. Unfortunately, even if you do find some, the extract will dominate the character of your beer. You will have to design your flavors to accommodate it, even if this displeases you. In any case, the way you try to modify the flavor is to find some gluten-free grain and steep it in water with the extract. If this other grain has a distinctive enough flavor, it will try to tango with your extract. How much freedom this gives you, I don’t know yet.

In either case, since there seems to be no hub for experience brewing with gluten-free grains, there must be a lot of trial-and-error, and there will be some frustration due to the rather inhomogeneous availability of the different gluten-free options.

What grains would the gluten-free brewer use, if not corn or rice? So far, I’ve heard of brewers using sorghum, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, and tapioca in the mash, and I’ve also heard of tapioca liquid malt extract. (I’ve heard of someone making an all-oat beer, then a variant with some quinoa added to improve the flavor, but oats are of course hotly debated as a gluten-free grain, so I’ll avoid any more mention of them.) As I start brewing, which of these I end up using will depend on which are available to me.

GF Recipe: Blackened Shrimp with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Andouille Cream

May 7, 2009 by

Along with the results of my biopsy confirming celiac, blood tests showed that my Vitamin A levels were borderline low. Possible pesky malabsorption? To boost my Vitamin A, the doctor suggested I eat orange things like sweet potatoes.  Hence the recipe I’m about to share with you.

As most celiacs probably know, and as I’m finding out, grocery shopping has become a big pain in the ass, something I shall blog about sometime in the near future. Nonetheless, I found this yummy (gluten free!) recipe, which pleased both my need for Vitamin A and my husband, who is a New Orleans native.  Enjoy!

Blackened Shrimp with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Andouille Cream (via Big Oven’s iPhone app):

Mashed Sweet Potatoes:

Andouille Cream:



For the sweet potatoes:

In a one-gallon saucepot, add the potatoes and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender. When cooked, strain potatoes. In a large bowl, while potatoes are still hot, add honey, butter, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Mash together and reserve on stovetop with low heat.

For the andouille cream:

In a large saute pan with the olive oil, sweat the garlic and shallots. Add the celery and saute for one minute. Add the white wine, sausage, and thyme. Reduce for about one minute to half. Add heavy cream and reduce mixture by half again. Stir in Cajun seasoning and butter, saute for one minute. Stir in parsley and season. Be sure to remove thyme sprig before serving. Reserve on stovetop with low heat.

For the shrimp:

Dredge shrimp in blackening spice. Season each side of the shrimp with salt and ground black pepper. In a hot saute pan with olive oil, pan sear shrimp. Be sure not to burn the blackening spice, or it will turn very bitter in taste.

For the presentation:

Spoon the potatoes in the center of a serving plate. Then stand three shrimp on the potatoes, with the tails in on top. Lastly, spoon a portion of the andouille cream on top of the shrimp and potatoes.

Hello Gluten Free World

May 7, 2009 by


I was diagnosed with celiac disease 3 weeks ago and am joining the online celiac community in order to fight (in super hero style) gluten intolerance for celiacs in Boston and beyond.  Greetings!

Crime fighting sidekicks are welcome.