Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Importance of Support Groups

I attended a meeting at one of the five Celiac support groups I'm a member of last night. [One of the joys of living in a populous area is the number of options for anything you want to do - there are six Celiac groups within 15 miles of my house.] Anyhow, the meeting got me thinking about how much I get out of these groups. Now, each group approaches their meetings and agendas in a different way. Some are just discussions, others restaurant outings and others have set structured agendas. The one thing they all have in common is the camaraderie. It is nice, no matter the event or structure of the meeting, to spend an hour or two with people who completely get what I go through in having food restrictions. I would highly recommend (especially for those of you reading because of GF children) to find and join a support group. I know how much I feel like an outsider as a 35 year old man, I can't image how tough it must be on children. Even if you don't match the topic exactly (wheat allergy at a Celiac meeting for example) emotionally you'll get quite a bit out of the experience.

So where to look for groups if you aren't already in one?

  1. Check with your local hospitals. A good number of them offer support groups and if there is enough interest may add more.
  2. Try They list all sorts of local support groups here: The nice thing about meetup is that you can do a zip code search on your issues and they will point you towards the closest groups.
  3. If you are GFCF for autism try towards the bottom they have links to support groups for both children and parents.
  4. There is a list of R.O.C.K. chapters (Raising Our Celiac Kids) at Link to ROCK Chapters
  5. also maintains lists of Celiac disease support groups: Link to Celiac Support Group lists
  6. Ask around at your local health food store.
  7. Google it! (or use any web search site for that matter.)

And remember, if you can't find one you can always start your own. You may just be surprised at how many others in your community have similar problems!

Edited 11/05/08

Celiac Sprue Association - they have a list of local chapters organized by state.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Restaurant Review: Janice's in Hohokus, NJ

A buddy of mine and I had lunch at Janice's in Hohokus, NJ on Friday. I've been to Janice's before and it is one of the only really Gluten Free restaurants in Northern NJ. They offer GF pasta, GF flour (for breading and sauces) and GF bread (which unfortunately isn't Dairy Free). Lunch was great, I had a grilled chicken sandwich (without bread) and GF french fries. I cheat like crazy on French Fries and eat them anywhere they don't add a batter coating (I know, I know, cross contamination). Janice's has a dedicated frier for GF foods so the fries are ok even for those who are symptomatic. I also had a cup of the lentil soup without worry of hidden flour or dairy.

I've been to Janice's before (I took a date there over the summer) and really like the place. The food is good and in addition to having a good number of GF menu items they also offered to make me anything I wanted from the regular menu or (daily specials) both GF and DF. (Unfortunately, the bread is baked in advance . . . ) The entire staff is very allergen aware and you don't get that typical blank waiter stare when you start to list your restrictions. I certainly like being able to order without a long drawn out explanation (especially after coming back from Spain where it was the norm).

They've got a menu on their website ( but don't be deceived, at least for dinner, they had a long list of additional specials. If you find yourself in the NNJ area I would definitely recommend you check Janice's out! (I for one hope to be heading back for dinner there soon.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Celiac Friendly Spain!

Wow! What a trip! I couldn't believe how Celiac friendly Spain was. I arrived Friday morning (10/10/08) and after checking into my hotel I walked a couple of blocks over to Mana, the GF store of the Asociacion de Celiacos de Madrid. There I purchased a loaf of Schar sandwich bread that came in two sealed pouches (so while you are eating one the other doesn't go stale). I figured that would be enough to get me through a week of breakfasts.

Later that day I stopped off in an Irish pub for lunch, as I started to explain my needs to the Irish bartender (in English), and he interrupted to say "oh, you've got Celiacs, ok." It was the first of many times I was shocked that people knew what that was. That evening at dinner, my waiter was Spanish so I braced myself for a struggle to get him to understand. As I started to explain, no dairy, no wheat, he also interrupted "¿Celiaco, no?" I couldn't believe it.

The following day I attended the first of two weddings of distant cousins on Mom's side of the family. I sat with cousins from the village my grandfather was born in, none of whom speak English. While they were helping me work with the waiter on what I could eat, another of our cousins over heard and offered to introduce me to her daughter - who also has Celiacs. She wasn't particularly impressed with Celiac awareness in Spain and was surprised to hear how much worse it is here in the US.

We spent the next two days out touring with no issues (Spaniards don't really cook with dairy or wheat so as long as I avoided the bread on the table I was fine). Finally we arrived in the village my grandfather was from and stayed with one of my mother's cousins. Her two brothers lived next door and across the courtyard respectively. My uncle (who I was traveling with) explained my food concerns to the three of them and combined with having seen my issues at the wedding we were in good shape.

The following morning, I left my loaf of GF bread in the kitchen and headed out sightseeing for the day. Now mind you, one loaf of bread is more than enough for me for a week and the amounts of food my cousins were putting out on the table at dinner could feed me for a two days! When we returned home that evening, I discovered that my cousin had gone out and bought another loaf of GF bread. This time a full loaf (not the half loaves we get here in the US) from a company called Porcelli. She had also bought a bag of GF ziti. Needless to say I ate until I was stuffed at every dinner that week!

Saturday morning I ended up in a supermarket and found a number of other products by Porcelli - baguettes, pitas, croissants and muffins. Since I was leaving Monday morning and mistakenly believing I could get Porcelli here in the US somewhere (I googled and googled but couldn't find them) I didn't buy anything (but would have loved to try the croissants).

Finally, we arrived at the second wedding Saturday night. With the help of one of my cousin's wives (who is a teacher, and teaches part of her class in English) I again discussed my needs with our waiter. He brought out the manager, who assured me that everything would be ok and that he would replace my bread. Since my cousin's wife had walked away at this point (and my Spanish really isn't that great) I wasn't sure I heard him correctly. Sure enough 15 minutes later, he brought out this GF dinner roll. I didn't get a chance to ask if it was dairy free but decided to risk it (we were staying at the hotel, so if I got sick, my room was only two floor away.) It was amazing! Crispy on the outside, soft in the center and delicious! I couldn't believe it! (oh, and best of all, I never did get sick so it must have been dairy free as well!)

So all and all, I was impressed by the level of awareness of Celiacs in Spain. Now, if I could just get them to accept that I can't eat pork . . . .

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Traveling with a food allergy

I’m heading off for Spain tomorrow and it got me thinking about traveling with food allergies. I speak enough Spanish to explain that I can’t have dairy or gluten and since I’m asymptomatic (at least for gluten), I’m not as careful of cross contamination as I should be. Spaniards don’t cook with a lot of dairy so that helps as well. Anyhow, whenever traveling I like to see what resources are available to Celiacs where I’m going (and patronize them). Here in the US, I use these three websites to find GF dining options:

Gluten Free Registry - this site has lists of gluten free restaurants by state. They’ve recently added a searchable map but that map lists all the chain restaurant locations and makes it hard to really find the independents (I can certainly eat at a Charlie Brown’s at home). There is also an option to add reviews to the restaurants (although you should note that those for the chains are grouped together and not specific to any particular location.)

Gluten Free Restaurant Awareness Program - the grand-daddy of them all, this site lists and ranks GF restaurants that have gone through GFRAP training. Best part is a Zip Code search which will display results by distance from a particular zip code!

Celiac Handbook Restaurant List - Another list of restaurants by State. Again, you’ll need to investigate how close these are to where you are going to be.

Going overseas is a little more difficult especially with the language barrier. There are resources out there specifically for Celiac Disease (Triumph dining cards I believe) but those are only useful for gluten. Since I have a number of other issues, I prefer the Food-Info Allergy Dictionary - this site allows you to access a list of common food allergies and phrase inter-translated into 30+ languages (most major world and European languages). What I mean by inter-translated is that it just isn’t English-Spanish but also Spanish-Chinese and Russian-Japanese. Just choose your base language (English is at the top) and then select the other language from a little pull down menu. The result is a pdf file with roughly 200 phrases and allergens listed in both languages. I like to just print out those I’ll need for a trip and highlight my allergies and phrases!

I also did a quick web search for “Gluten Free Spain” and found the AsociaciĆ³n de Celiacos de Madrid . Large portions of their website are in English and the site includes lists of restaurant and stores carrying GF products. Turns out the association has their own GF store in Madrid so I booked a hotel that isn’t too far away and will stop by to get some bread (and cookies maybe) at the start of my trip!

My final advice would be to do a web search on both Celiac Disease and Gluten Free and the name of the place you are going and see what comes up. I found some discussions about traveling in/to Spain on some forums as well as some support groups. And of course, you can always post a comment here and I’ll try to help!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

GF/DF Baked Ziti (Success!)

Since I had half a package of Vegan Gourmet Soy Mozzarella left from making Lasagna last weekend, I decided to make some baked Ziti this weekend. I used Bionaturae penne. My favorite pasta is Ancient Harvest Quinoa but they don't make a ziti or a penne. Bionaturae held up pretty well and tastes good. It is one of the more expensive gf pastas unfortunately. Overall, this recipe is almost identical to the Lasagna recipe but I've split them out for easier searching.

GF/DF Baked Ziti

1 package of gluten free ziti or similar pasta (12oz.)
1 block Vegan Gourmet Mozzarella Cheese (enough shredded to cover top, about 1/3 to 1/2 the block)

Tofu Mixture:
1 package soft tofu (14oz)
1 tbs dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp oregano
1/2 cup sauce (I don’t eat a lot of tomatoes and therefore use much less then most)
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the pasta as directed being careful not to over boil. Remove when still very al dente (they will continue to cook while baking).

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl combine tofu, ½ cup of sauce, parsley, basil, garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Hint: crumble the dry spices in the palm of your hand before adding to increase their flavor. Use a whisk to crumble the tofu until it resembles the ricotta cheese used in real baked ziti. (Do not use shredded mozzarella in the mixture; it will not melt like real mozzarella unless it is broiled on top.)

Preheat the oven to 375.

Combine the drained pasta and tofu mixture an oven safe casserole dish. Bake, covered, at 375 for 20-30 minutes until heated through. Remove from the oven and cover with shredded soy mozzarella. Place under the broiler and broil – watching carefully until shredded cheese begins to bubble. Remove promptly once the cheese is melted as shortly thereafter it will blacken and then burn. (Note – Soy cheese will not melt unless it is broiled in this fashion.) [Warning, if you bake the soy mozzarella on top of the lasagna it may dry out and not melt as much when you broil it, it is better to add after baking.]

Serves four. (or for me: dinner, lunch the next day, dinner again, etc. etc.!)

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