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Valentine’s Day XXVII

Yes, people…it’s that time of year again. For couples like Doug and I, who’ve been married for 27 years as of this Friday, it seems to be another occasion to overspend on things we don’t really need, just to express our undying love for each other.

There was a time when we were dating (and he had a separate checking account) that I was thrilled to get the standard $89 floral arrangement in a lovely crystal-like vase that would cost $29 on any other day of the year. Fast forward a few years to a baby, mortgage, and car payment and I decided that I would much rather have a necessity than roses that were going to die in a few days!

We also tried to start a tradition of “date night” on Valentine’s Day- get a sitter, go out to dinner, maybe see a movie.  Sounds great except for one little problem…us and everyone else on the planet had the same idea! After a few years of enduring overcrowded dining rooms, overworked waitstaff, and sitting in the front row of the theater, we gave up on that idea too.

Since our anniversary is February 10, we decided we’d go out on that day and stay in on Valentine’s Day. This has been a total game changer and way more enjoyable…especially after Doug had to go gluten free. I typically serve the same menu- steak, twice baked potatoes, salad, garlic toast (with GF bread) and the red velvet cake variation made with ABUNDTANT LOVE’s cake mix. Add an on-demand movie and you’ve got yourself a genuine married-forever-old-people’s idea of a romantic night in!

In all seriousness, I am so blessed to have such a great guy to share this special day with…we hope yours will be filled with love and happiness!

 

A Gluten Free Super Bowl Sunday

 

Although I typically couldn’t care less about football or it’s biggest day of the year, this game is a little bit different.  We live in the suburbs of Atlanta and even I am getting excited about watching the Falcons this Sunday! The one thing that I do love about the game is creating a gluten free menu that will thrill Doug and our non-GF guests. All the usual suspects will be there; corn tortilla chips & salsa, popcorn, potato chips & dip, and chicken wings. I’ll also have roasted peanuts, M&M’s, and GF pretzels for mindless snacking (football’s a good excuse for that, right?). Of course, I’ll make my traditional football-shaped chocolate cake, using our ABUNDTANT LOVE cake mix, but I’m also adding a new Pinterest find, “Fluffy S’mores Dip” , served with GF graham crackers. The star of this year’s menu features this recent hit:

Meatball Sub Casserole

8 slices gluten free sandwich bread, toasted

8 ounce package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided

1 pound package fully cooked frozen GF meatballs (or make your own!)

28 ounce jar pasta sauce (or make your own!)

Preheat oven to 350 and spray a 9X13 baking dish. Arrange toasted bread slices in a single layer in baking dish and fill in any gaps with smaller pieces of bread. In a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, and seasonings, then spread of bread slices. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella. Gently combine meatballs and sauce and layer that on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes.

In case I get bored, I’ve downloaded a new book and will have it at the ready, but maybe they’ll score some home runs or something and keep it entertaining! Just kidding…I know they’ll do that! 😉

 

 

Could you be having these symptoms?

Another common question we get is, “how did Doug know he had issues with gluten?” For years, we thought his symptoms were just how his body functioned and didn’t think too much about it. Then his sister was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and we became silently suspicious.

His symptoms weren’t nearly as severe as his sister’s were- she lost serious amounts of weight and became plagued with digestive issues- it seemed like everything she ate irritated her system. At that time, Celiac Disease (or gluten intolerance, for that matter) wasn’t something the general public, or their physicians,  were familiar with. As soon as she eliminated gluten from her diet, she began to get healthy again and we were all relieved. The end…or so we thought.

Fast forward to 2007… we began to notice that Doug was displaying more digestive issues like, he couldn’t always sleep on his belly, due to uncomfortable bloating and if he had eaten something with lots of bread, like a sub sandwich, he would sometimes vomit it right back up and then feel fine. Most notable was that he caught EVERY LITTLE BUG that got within 5 feet of him and we ALL know what that’s like! Having a sick husband every other week is no fun (no offense to my male readers out there, but y’all know you’re terrible patients)!

At his sister’s urging, we finally scheduled a physical with our primary care physician (PCP) and requested that his blood work be tested for Celiac, since it is highly hereditary. Within a few days, the results were in and it was very likely that he was a Celiac. To confirm, our PCP recommended an endoscopy and we followed up with a gastroenterologist that performed additional testing and to our dismay, it was positive.

I remember our conversation with the GI doc very vividly…he was explaining the diagnosis to us and that Doug would have to adhere to a strict gluten free diet for the rest of his life. Doug then informed him that he had no intentions of following a GF diet. The doctor looked him in the eye and plainly said “that’s your choice, but I’ll probably see you back in about 10 years with cancer”. That was a sobering moment and Doug changed his tune quickly and agreed that he could deal with a little inconvenience to avoid that fate.

That was almost ten years ago and I’m happy to report that his symptoms are practically nonexistent and he is rarely sick, which is worth every effort to maintain a gluten free lifestyle. We have a 23 year old daughter that will be susceptible to Celiac at any time in her life. Since she has a direct Celiac relative, her chances are about 1 in 10 of testing positive one day. She’s been tested every few years and so far, the results are negative.

About 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac Disease, whether they’re aware of it or not. Many more are gluten intolerant to some degree and some folks just feel better without gluten in their diet. We’ve heard from our customers that eliminating gluten has helped with everything from migraines to infertility to fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Click on the links for more information on Celiac Disease  or gluten intolerance.

 

Can I still dine out while maintaining a GF lifestyle?

I get asked this question often and the answer is…YES…but it may not always be a memorable experience. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but it is a fact.

As the spouse of a celiac, I can’t begin to tell you how many times we’ve happened upon an interesting restaurant, but chose not to stay because their GF menu was either a) non-existent or b) sucked. I’m not sure why, but my husband doesn’t relish the thought of eating a nice, yummy green salad with grilled chicken while watching the rest of his party enjoy a rich, indulgent meal of pasta or something equally as gluten-full and delicious. Men…sometimes I just don’t get them!

So here’s our strategy for dining out: whether eating locally or while traveling, we use the Find Me Gluten Free app and go to their webpage to have a looksy at the GF menu. If it looks promising, we then call them- always call them– to make certain they still have said GF menu and that they haven’t run out of the offerings. We learned this the hard way once in Myrtle Beach…we waited over an HOUR so that Doug could enjoy gluten free pizza, only to hear our server say that they had run out earlier in the evening…fun stuff, folks- I really thought he was going to cry right there at the table!

When dining out locally, make notes of the establishments that truly make an effort and seem to be well educated on GF procedures and put them in the rotation. Yes, the choices may get a bit stale for the non-GF spouse/friend/co-worker, but that’s what girl’s (or boy’s) nights out are for!

Here’s our list of trusted, and mostly national chain, restaurants:

Ted’s Montana Grill– Doug says they have the best GF hamburger buns and they don’t fall apart, plus their fries are GF…this is a big deal to him, as he doesn’t always enjoy mashed potatoes or a baked potato with a burger.

Maggiano’s– The website doesn’t really mention a GF menu, but this chain is VERY accommodating! When making reservations or when seated, mention that you have a gluten allergy and the chef will come out and explain ways that dishes can be modified.  They have a very good GF pasta, appetizers, and salads…this is usually our go-to place for special occasions.

Outback Steakhouse– Outback is the restaurant of choice when Doug travels for work (yep, he isn’t just the pretty face of AL!) because there’s usually one within close range of his hotel and their staff seems to be well versed on the GF menu. Oh, and their famous “Chocolate Thunder from Down Under” dessert extravaganza is gluten free!

Red Robin– They offer GF buns and the all-important GF fries!

P.F. Chang’s– Another great option, as they have an extensive GF menu, along with GF soy sauce.

Rosa Mexicano– Knowledgeable staff and excellent Mexican food!

Egg Harbor Cafe– If you’re lucky enough to live or visit the Wisconsin, Illinois, or Georgia area, this is well worth the long wait time. They have- wait for it- GLUTEN FREE PANCAKES AND CINNAMON ROLLS!! One of our customers enlightened us about this gem and it does not disappoint…on Doug’s birthday and Father’s Day, you can find us standing in a crazy long line for these GF goodies.

Of course, these aren’t the only chains that offer GF menus, just a few of our family’s favorites. Honorable mention to the fast food joints of choice; Chick-Fil-A’s fries are safe and they now offer grilled chicken nuggets. Wendy’s fries are also safe and even though the burger must be ordered sans bun, the chocolate frosty helps to soften the blow.

We also have several locally owned restaurants that have become part of the repertoire- it just requires a few questions beforehand and follow-up when in person. Do you have a dedicated fryer? Are your meats marinated? Do you take precautions with shared equipment? You’ll soon find reliable, conscientious establishments that will be more than happy to cater to your GF needs.

 

Favorite non-GF recipes…mission impossible?

One of the many things I missed after Doug got his diagnosis was that I couldn’t make my tried & true favorite recipes, or could I? I have to admit that initially I was too intimidated to venture out and go modifying ingredients and just stuck to GF cookbooks and such, but then I got bored and said why not, what’s the worst that can happen? Uh, maybe we throw away some failed attempts and vow to never try that variation again, but other than that, I came to see it as a challenge.

It was our second GF Thanksgiving that I had this notion that we could still have stuffing, green bean casserole, and gravy on the turkey. Keep in mind that this was back in 2008 and GF substitutes weren’t as plentiful, so this is how I compensated- I found a GF cornbread mix at our local health food store and used that in the stuffing, I used Progresso’s cream of mushroom soup (it’s gluten free, but not condensed) in the green bean casserole and topped it with “french fried onions” that I made myself, using cornstarch to make them (somewhat) crispy, and also used the cornstarch to make gravy with the turkey drippings. Were they as delicious as the ones we were used to? Heck no…the green bean casserole was downright soupy (imagine that!), the gravy was pasty, but the cornbread stuffing was pretty tasty and that was enough to encourage me to keep at it.

Nowadays, when I’m browsing Pinterest for what seems like a few minutes but in reality is hours of pure bliss (I might be slightly obsessed with pinning…can I get an amen?!) and I come across an interesting recipe that calls for a non-GF item, game is on!

A few things to keep in mind is 1) if it calls for flour, how much? It’s been my experience that 1/4 cup is about the limit for using a product like Cup for Cup GF flour, any greater quantity and you can totally tell the difference 2) is there a store bought version I can use as a substitute? We made a pumpkin cheesecake over the holidays, using Glutino brand chocolate sandwich cookies for the crust and it was divine! I also made a meatball sub casserole for Doug’s beloved OSU Buckeye’s bowl game that called for a french bread crust and I used the Udi’s bread slices and toasted them first and he deemed it a keeper…the only bright spot to that day, as the Bucks got whipped. Most recently, I made chicken pot pie and used Trader Joe’s GF turkey gravy for the sauce and instead of crust, I topped it with ABUNDTANT LOVE’s biscuit mix and it was life changing! 3) know the limits of modifying a recipe to GF- if there’s too many items to substitute or if it calls for too much flour, it might be more cost effective/time saving to just follow Kenny Rogers’ advice and know when to fold ’em.

Now…back to that green bean casserole…has it defeated me? Absolutely not, Trader Joe’s now has a GF condensed cream of mushroom soup and Aldi’s has their own version of GF french fried onions and I have won, so take that gluten!!

My next post is going to be about gluten free dining out, a topic we know all too well!