As I reflect on 2016, I think back to that cold day in March when I decided I would start blogging about my gluten-free journey. I was talking to my husband one night and I told him how frustrated I was with obstacles that our son, Nathan, and I faced every single day. The constant issues with school parties, dining out, sleepovers, mean kids, unsupportive friends and family, and even irritation from soap and shampoo we used was frustrating.
He asked me if I had ever thought about writing about what we were experiencing, which I had not. He had been encouraging me to start writing again for many years since I gave up my journalism career to start a family, but I felt like I didn't have anything to write about, or nothing anyone would care about reading. But that night was different. I knew I had something to say and somebody out there needed to hear it. If I was having these challenges, then so are other people.
I've spent countless hours on research and dollars on a lot of awful products that nobody else should have to do. I've been "glutened" by foods I thought were safe. My son has been excluded from, well, just about everything. I thought it may be helpful to others with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or who have children who do, to share our experiences--both good and bad. We've had a lot of both. I never in a million years thought I would start a blog, but it has been a rewarding experience and I'm so glad I did! My goal for GFree Genius is to continue to encourage, inspire and educate others who are facing or will face the same challenges my family has overcome or will experience.
In the beginning
So, what have I shared over the past nine months? A lot! As I began exploring gluten free topics to find my niche, I started my blog by writing a "letter" to my non-gluten free friends and family sharing a few of my frustrations and concerns, followed by my first gluten free recipe post--chicken and rice soup. I was getting all geared up for my first BIG blog post, a review of the Gluten Free and Allergy Friendly Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. The GFAF Expo is something Nathan and I look forward to all year long. We drove six hours from our home outside of Memphis, TN to Atlanta to have the opportunity to see and taste all of the latest and greatest gluten-free products. That event introduced me to many wonderful people and products to help launch my platform and discover my love for product reviews.
My first review was of Tiffany Hinton's cookbook, Mom Certified Celebrates Heritage Gluten Free. It was so much fun to test new recipes and share my family's opinion. I went on to test several products that were sent to me to sample, including Namaste Foods, Mazra Snacks, American Gluten Free subscription box, Kiss Freely lip and body products, and even the Nima sensor, the world's first portable gluten detector (click here to see Nima in action).
Gluten Free Restaurant Reviews
I expanded from reviewing products to restaurants! The first was Gluten Free Things in Arvada, CO. They sent me a box full of gluten free things to sample and I had the opportunity to visit their retail location later in the year and meet the engineer who created the perfect gluten free bread recipes. As my family planned vacations and business trips, we made sure to include visits to safe and delicious gluten free restaurants. Annie May's Sweet Cafe in Louisville, KY, Dempsey Bakery in Little Rock, AR, and Weezie's GF Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale, FL are just a few of my favorites that we visited this past summer and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of these! I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to sit down and interview the amazing people behind these dedicated gluten free establishments to hear their stories.
While helping others with celiac or gluten intolerance through reviews was rewarding, I wanted to do more to raise awareness and help people overcome some of the same obstacles my family faces. During National Preparedness Month I shared my GFree Genius Emergency Kit that I put together for my family in case of emergency, and I showed the GFree Genius Travel Kitchen, my Plan B for dining when there are no safe restaurants while on the road. During Celiac Awareness month, I shared tips from my experiences on how to survive the holidays with gluten-filled family events and a guide to giving the perfect gluten-free gift, and even produced a chocolate chip cookie taste test video! After meeting several other people at my church that can't eat gluten, I was able to make our church leaders aware of the need for gluten free communion wafers--something that was promptly addressed after they learned there was a need.
Sharing my own story of the ups and downs of parenting a gluten free child has introduced me to some amazing people and opportunities as well. After writing Unhappy Camper a post where I expressed my frustration of my then 10-year-old's experience at day camp, I met MI Gluten Free Gal through social media who shared about a gluten free camp in Michigan that would be completely safe for my son. She also recruited me to volunteer in the kitchen which will teach me so much about providing celiac safe meals to large numbers of people--something I hope to bring back to Mississippi to help kids here. I finally had the opportunity to meet MI Gluten Free Gal in person at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Denver, CO, along with countless other rock stars/advocates in the celiac/food allergy world that have poured their knowledge into me.
I made new gluten free friends in the aisles of the grocery store by exchanging product recommendations and I even found a gluten free gem at the farmers market in my own back yard--Grass Fed Gals--a cottage bakery in my Mississippi hometown that makes the best banana bread and pineapple upside down baby butter cakes on the planet. I even met Rosie, a gluten-detection service dog trained by Creating New Tails, which was one of the coolest things I've ever seen!
What's new for 2017
I've learned so much in the past nine months since GFree Genius was born and I cannot wait for the opportunities to share with you in 2017. I look forward to sharing my experiences at gluten free expos, gluten free camp, more product and restaurant reviews, taste tests, recipes, shopping tips, and even the ups and downs of Nathan starting middle school on a gluten free diet! Did I mention giveaways? Yes, I hope to partner with companies for more giveaways in 2017! I met a lot of representatives of some amazing gluten free companies this past year. I look forward building relationships with these great companies and bringing you the latest and greatest products and services, and I will continue to raise awareness for celiac disease/gluten intolerance through GFreeGenius.com and on social media. Please share with a gluten free friend and join me on this amazing journey! Thank you for your support!
What was your favorite GFree Genius post of 2016? Click through the archives to see what we've been working on!
What would you like to see at GFree Genius in 2017? I want to hear from you! Please follow GFreeGenius on Facebook and Instagram.
Happy New Year!
Twas the day before Christmas Eve and I didn't have the first gluten free cookie baked for Santa! Both kids have been sick this week, so I got a late start to our holiday baking this season. I didn't want to start making cookies and candies until everyone was fever-free for at least 24 hours. Today was the day!
This year, I thought it would be fun to test a couple of sugar cookie mixes in addition to a new recipe. Surely Santa would love at least one of the three batches! I bought Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix at Walmart and Pamela's Sugar Cookie Mix at Kroger. I found a recipe for gluten free sugar cookies on momables.com that listed ingredients I already had at home. I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour that I found at Sam's Club. I've only used the flour to make banana bread and it didn't turn out well, but I don't think the flour is to blame.
I quietly made peppermint patties and chocolate covered pretzels while everyone was still sleeping, so that happened without incident. No fighting, crying or messes. Baking is a chore for me and it tends to bring out my OCD tendencies which isn't always a good thing. It also brings back old memories of me fighting with my sister because I wanted everything to be perfect. Why do it if you're not going to do it right? I decided to get started while the kids were still sleeping, but right after the first batch came out of the oven, they awoke and the sugar cookie drama began.
Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix
I only had to add butter, water and egg to Pillsbury mix, combine ingredients, and drop rounded teaspoons of dough onto a baking sheet. Super easy! The dough was easy to handle and held together nicely. The instructions did not say I could roll and cut the dough with cookie cutters, but I had some leftover after filling two baking sheets as instructed, so I cut out a snowman and a bell. Honestly, the cut-out cookies turned out just fine. These cookies did not stick to the pan and after they cooled, I sampled one and it was soft and chewy. I really liked it! Way to go Pillsbury! This mix was a great price ($2.50 at my local Walmart), had great taste and texture, and was easy to prepare. (Ingredients: Sugar, rice flour, tapioca starch, canola oil, potato starch, salt, baking soda, cellulose, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavors)
I guess the sweet aroma of these cookies woke my 12-year-old daughter and she came into the kitchen ready to help. We had our usually fight about pulling her hair back and washing her hands. By the time that was done, I had already mixed up Pamela's Sugar Cookie Mix.
Pamela's Sugar Cookie Mix Roll & Cut
I only had to add butter and egg to Pamela's gluten free sugar cookie mix. To make these cookies dairy free and egg free, the instructions state that butter alternative and egg replacer can be used. We don't have allergies to dairy or eggs, so we used both. This dough was stickier than the Pillsbury dough, but instead of following directions and refrigerating the dough for a few minutes before handling, my daughter was ready to roll out the dough and cut out the cookies. She didn't need or want my help, so I set everything out on the table and walked away. She usually has to make mistakes on her own to learn instead of taking my word for anything. She was on a mission to prove me wrong, so I just let her be. In the meantime, her brother entered the kitchen ready to cut out cookies. I politely told him that he could do the next batch. He was fine with that answer and went back in his room to play a video game. Whew! That was a disaster waiting to happen.
The dough became stickier and sticker and my daughter couldn't get the cut-out dough from the table to the pan without tearing and she wouldn't listen, and told me that they didn't have to be perfect. So, I took the dough and finished cutting out the cookies myself. There was flour all over the kitchen and I was ready to get the cookies into the oven so I could get the third batch complete. I didn't want to bake all day. There's still a lot I need to do since I've been home with sick kids all week.
She went to her room and I finally got the cookies in the oven. Ten minutes later, they were ready and I let them cool. These cookies didn't stick to the pan too badly, but I did have to work to get a couple of them off the pan. The Pamela's cookies were crunchier than the Pillsbury cookies. They had a good flavor, but were very sweet. I purchased this mix at my local Kroger for $4.69. The Pamela's mix contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and uses a wider variety of flours and organic ingredients which explains the higher price. I have always been pleased with Pamela's flours and mixes, and this is no exception, but if I needed to pick up a mix to make a quick batch of sugar cookies, I'd probably go with Pillsbury. I prefer a softer cookie and the lower price. (Ingredients: Evaporated cane sugar, brown rice flour, cassava flour, organic powdered sugar, potato starch, tapioca starch, sorghum flour, white rice flour, sweet rice flour, natural vanilla flavor, sea salt, guar gum, grainless and aluminum-free baking powder)
Homemade Gluten Free Sugar Cookies
Using Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour which claims to replace wheat flour in your favorite recipes for baked goods, I made the last batch from scratch. The recipe at momables.com wasn't any more difficult than the mixes. In addition to the butter and egg that I used in the mixes, I actually had to measure the rest of the ingredients (gluten free flour, sugar, salt, vanilla and milk), but it really wasn't a big deal. I refrigerated the dough for an hour and it handled beautifully when it was time to roll it out and use the cookie cutters. After I cut out the first half, I called my daughter back into the kitchen and explained that this dough was easier because I followed the directions and refrigerated it. She agreed that it was easier and more like the non-gf dough she uses at her grandmother's house. I let her finish the job while I started cleaning up the mess. I baked these cookies for 10 minutes and let them cool before removing from the baking sheet. They did stick to the pan worse than the mixes. I had a few gingerbread men and snowmen with missing parts after they broke while I was removing them from the pan.
The taste and texture was exactly like I had hoped. The cost for this recipe wasn't bad either! I used about $1.60 worth of flour, then the amounts of the other ingredients, which I already had on hand, were just a few cents each. Baking from scratch using Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour was the most cost-effective option. The dough was the easiest to work with and tasted just like the cookies I made for Santa when I was a child! That's the way sugar cookies are supposed to taste!
So, if I was in a pinch and needed to make sugar cookies in a hurry and had the Pillsbury mix on hand, I would definitely use it. I really like how soft these cookies turned out and they were seriously easy to make. Adding just a couple of minutes of prep time to measure ingredients for homemade sugar cookies isn't that bad and I would totally make these again. The Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour produced excellent cookies with great taste and texture. I'm glad I can finally buy this at Sam's Club!
The Sugar Cookie Taste Test
In a blind taste test, the kids selected the homemade sugar cookies as the winner. I gave them one cookie from each batch. Nathan, age 11, said they were all good, but Cookie #3 (Homemade) was his favorite. He liked the texture and sweetness of that one. He said Cookie #2 (Pamela's) was too sweet for his taste and Cookie #1 (Pillsbury) was too buttery. My big kid (aka my husband) actually preferred the Pamela's cookie. He liked that it was sweeter than the others. He agreed that all three cookies were good, but he preferred Pamela's.
Santa will be our ultimate taste tester tomorrow night, so be sure to follow GFree Genius on Instagram to see which cookie the big guy likes the most. Now I have to decide whether to give him regular milk, almond milk, coconut milk or rice milk...on second thought, maybe Santa can just fix his own drink when he gets here.
What kind of gluten free treats will you be making for Santa?
Disclaimer: This IS NOT a sponsored post. I selected and purchased all mixes and ingredients for the three batches of cookies mentioned in this post. I have not received compensation for this post and opinions are my own.
I know many of you are careful to avoid putting gluten in your body, but how careful are you to avoid putting gluten on your body? Yes, many cosmetic brands contain gluten! Most doctors say products containing gluten that are applied on the skin won't cause a reaction (I think they are wrong based on my personal experience with reactions to skincare and cosmetics), but have you ever thought about how much of it you actually swallow? According to lipsource.com, the average woman ingests more than 30 percent of the lipstick she puts on her lips. That can't be good for people with celiac disease.
I was recently introduced to Kiss Freely, a cosmetic company that offers lip, eye, face and body products that are free from the top eight major allergens and beyond! Kiss Freely is also free from sesame, shea butter, peas, coconut, avocado and sunflower seed. I have only used their lip balm so far, but I love it and am so happy to know that I can use it with confidence knowing it is free from gluten and allergens. I noticed that my lips stopped peeling and cracking when I switched to this gluten-free brand.
KISS FREELY STOCKING STUFFER GIVEAWAY
All natural, allergen and gluten-free cosmetics make the perfect stocking stuffers, so Kiss Freely and GFree Genius are working to help those with food allergies & gluten issues have a safer, happier holiday!
Enter this giveaway for two of Kiss Freely's "Best Stocking Stuffers"
Kiss Freely Luxurious Winter Bundle
Best Body Butter Ever, Sugar Scrub, & Pixie Dust Eye Shadow (to brighten up those dreary winter days)
Kiss Freely Peppermint / Lavender Lip Balm Bundle
Lavender, Peppermint, & Peppermint Lime
1. 18 years and older, U.S. only. Not affiliated with Instagram or Facebook.
2. Comment below to tell me which of the above-listed sets you'd love to have in your stocking.
3. Additional entry for tagging ONE friend who is interested in gluten free or allergen free cosmetics on GFree Genius Instagram or Facebook.
4. Additional entry for signing up for the GFree Genius newsletter at www.gfreegenius.com.
5. Winner will be randomly selected on 12/16/16 at 7pm central.
While only one lucky reader will win, everyone can save 20 percent on all orders through 12/31/16 at www.kissfreely.com by using code GFG20 (cannot be combined with other offers and not valid on gift certificates).
It is not too late to order these great stocking stuffers and make someone's holiday a little safer and happier, but please note the last day for Christmas shipping is 12/18.
Have you tried Kiss Freely products? Please comment to share your favorite! Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook and tag a friend in my contest post for a an extra contest entry.
Kiss Freely and good luck!
Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post or producing this video. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. All opinions in this post are my own.
Nima sensor, where have you been all my life?
I first learned about Nima in 2015 at the Gluten Free and Allergy Friendly Expo in Atlanta where I met one of the developers and knew that I had to have this technology in my life. Having two people in my family (my 11-year-old son and myself) who can't eat gluten, I could definitely see where this could help keep us safe.
I've kept up with Nima over the past couple of years, but I finally had the opportunity to meet a Nima representative at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Denver in early November and she took lots of time to answer my many questions about the device. I told her about my son's recent gluten cross-contact episode that was so severe that the school nurse called me to take him to the doctor. I also explained that he is participating in his school's science fair and that he wants to prove gluten cross-contact is a real thing so he can better advocate for himself. She was so interested in hearing about my fifth grader's project and she offered to loan him a Nima sensor to conduct his research! Just a couple of weeks later, a package arrived with the Nima.
Click here to watch the GFree Genius Nima Unboxing Video.
So, I never eat at restaurants that aren't dedicated gluten free--ever. Seriously. But the day the Nima arrived, I read the quick-start guide, put the portable gluten sensor in my small, crossbody purse and went out for my first "regular" meal.
Ultimate Foods, Olive Branch, MS
I verified with the employee that the meal I selected was gluten free, then purchased it and went to my table. She noticed that I was putting a sample into the one-time-use capsule and inquired about it, so I showed off the Nima. This was the first time I had ever used the device, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I inserted the capsule into the sensor, turned it on and pressed start. Then I started getting nervous. The employee was standing over my shoulder watching the machine as it processed the sample. What if the food wasn't really gluten free? What should I say? Will she give me a refund? Will I ever be able to eat out again? A lot of questions and anxiety built up over the three minutes required for Nima results. Then finally, a smiling face appeared. I don't know who was more excited--me or the employee!
LYFE Kitchen, Memphis, TN (Downtown)
I knew we had to send the Nima back since my son's science project is complete, so we decided to take the kids out for a family dinner in a "regular" restaurant. My husband occasionally eats lunch at LYFE Kitchen in Memphis, TN since it is near his office and he knew they had gluten free options, so that's where we decided to go. I studied the menu online before we arrived and asked so many questions to the young lady taking my order. She assured me that my meal would be gluten free and answered my questions without a single eye roll. Meals were delivered to our table one at a time and we started Nima testing. All smiles! Every plate tested gluten free! Words cannot describe how awesome it was to go out for a meal together as a family and not worry about getting glutened. I did have the opportunity to speak to the manager and show off the Nima. She had never heard of this device and was so excited that it confirmed the meals at LYFE Kitchen were gluten free. I told her that we hadn't eaten in a restaurant in many months and we were so happy to have found a safe option. She actually got teary-eyed and thanked me for sharing. She said her staff is trained to deal with gluten and food allergies. They have a separate prep area with tools that are thoroughly sanitized after each use. She said she was so happy that their efforts are truly helping people like me be able to eat safely.
As I sat at a table for four at LYFE Kitchen listening to my kids laugh and chat about their school day while enjoying a meal outside of our home for the first time in a long time, I was very thankful for Nima. A little gluten detector that fits in my little purse was such a blessing. It gave me the choice to dine out without worry. It gave me confidence to order knowing that I wouldn't get sick if it tested gluten free. It gave me back my social life...at least for a weekend. Sadly, I have to send the Nima back tomorrow since it was borrowed.
Did you know Nima has an app? It allows Nima users to log their tests. Anyone can use the app to see which restaurants and which dishes have tested gluten free (or not). For more information on ordering Nima, visit www.nimasensor.com.