I live in a gluten-free food desert. While my home state of Mississippi in the deep-fried south is well known for its cuisine, none of it is gluten free. Just google it. You will see that there is not a single dedicated gluten-free restaurant in the whole state. Not one. It usually doesn't bother me, but it is depressing sometimes. I cook 99 percent of my family's meals at home to avoid cross contamination and ignorance (many people living in the state that leads in obesity, diabetes and hypertension believe that gluten is a nutrient that one cannot live without). I don't mind cooking, but sometimes it would be nice if I could just pick up something to eat on the way home from work or go out to eat once in a while--especially later this month.
I'm scheduled to have minor surgery in a couple of weeks and my amazing friends and coworkers have been so kind to offer to bring dinner or send gift cards for my husband to pick up dinner on his way home from work. While I greatly appreciate the kind gestures, I politely declined and let them know I was planning to cooking in advance to accommodate dietary restrictions in our home. There isn't a single restaurant in our area that I feel is safe, and my well-meaning friends don't have gluten-free kitchens.
We can't eat out and our friends can't bring dinner, but we still have to eat. What's a busy working mom to do? Meal prep! I always do meal prep on Sundays to make weeknights easier, but this Sunday and next, I will be doubling, tripling and quadrupling recipes to freeze to make preparing dinner for the rest of the month so easy that even my kids will be able to do it. Luckily, they are old enough to help by reheating chili, soups, casseroles, and even cooking pasta.
Laundry is a different issue.
Maybe my friends who offered to help will be willing to assist with laundry while I recover.
What are your favorite kid friendly gluten-free meals to make ahead and freeze?
Nathan's note: I did not do that to the towel.
I keep having a reoccurring dream that I am eating at Weezie's GF Kitchen, a dedicated gluten-free restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, FL. My family visited this amazing restaurant last summer for breakfast while we were in south Florida and enjoyed it so much that we came back again when we were passing through the next week. We had pre-ordered a take-away lasagna dinner for four so we would have a safe, gluten-free option for our overnight stay. It was the best lasagna I've ever eaten!
There are no dedicated gluten-free restaurants in the great state of Mississippi where I live, so my family rarely dines out. Being able to go to a dedicated gluten-free restaurant was a real treat and it was a great feeling for me to be able to tell my son, Nathan, that he could order anything he wanted. Of course, he chose chocolate chip pancakes! Weezie's definitely made a huge impression on my family and I often daydream about the delicious meals that I have enjoyed there. But now I'm actually having real dreams about Weezie's.
Last night I woke almost every hour with a foot cramp, and every time I bolted out of bed and hobbled around the room trying to make my foot feel better, I told my husband about my vivid dreams of Weezie's GF Kitchen. Every time, I ordered something different--lasagna, chicken, soup, or cinnamon rolls. In one dream, Weezie's Owner Louise Dutton knew we were passing through and she had a bag of frozen chili for me to bring home to Nathan. I don't even know if Weezie's serves chili! If they do, I'm certain it is delicious! The dreams were so weird, but they got me thinking about how much I love this amazing restaurant and how I have to find a way to go back. My family is now planning a summer trip to Fort Lauderdale.
CLICK HERE to watch the short GFree Genius video of my family's visit to Weezie's GF Kitchen that includes a brief interview with Weezie herself!
Do you have a gluten free restaurant that you dream about? Tell me more...
Between helping with insane amounts of homework and shuttling two tweens to all of the activities of their overcommitted schedules, who has time to cook a nice dinner? Definitely not me. I also have a full-time job, so time is precious--especially between the hours between 5-10pm. Back in the old days (before Nathan and I had to eat gluten free) we would order a pizza or stop by a fast food establishment and grab a greasy burger between events or on the way home. Not anymore. Our little Mississippi town has ZERO celiac-safe dining options, so dining at home is our only option. Meal Prep Sunday is what I have found that works best for our gluten-free family.
Almost every week, I wake up a couple of hours before the kids and start preparing meals for the upcoming busy weeknights, but having a plan is the first step. On Saturday mornings, I look at the calendar to see which events, projects and testing are listed, then set the menu from there. I also consider what's on sale at the grocery store when making the menu. I try to save time AND money whenever I can.
Create a menu and shopping list
Planning ahead with a menu and shopping list (or checking to see what's already in the freezer and pantry) are the first essential steps to the success of Meal Prep Sunday. There's nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of cooking five meals and have brownies in the oven when you realize you don't have an onion in the house and the kids are asleep so you can't run to the grocery store. I prefer to have everything I need before I get started cooking. I also seek input on the menu from my husband and kids. Everyone gets to suggest menu items which takes the stress of "what's for dinner?" out of my way.
Make both ready-to-eat meals and faster-to-cook meals on Sundays
I prepare complete meals ready to heat and eat, but I also plan for other meals by prepping ingredients to save time on nights when we have menu items that are better prepared on the day they'll be eaten. For example, soup or chili reheats well and takes just a few minutes to get from stove to table, while reheated gluten-free pasta isn't our favorite. I would make the pasta sauce on Sunday to save time, then I would only have to reheat the sauce while cooking the pasta on the night we eat it. Washing, chopping and pre-measuring fruits and vegetables and pre-seasoning meat on Meal Prep Sunday saves a lot of time on busy weeknights.
Make more than one meal with the same main ingredients
I try to plan menu items with the same ingredients that can be used for more than one meal. For example, this week I'm making chili, tacos, chicken and rice soup and BBQ chicken sandwiches. I browned enough ground beef at one time to make both chili and tacos. I was able to buy one big package of chicken breast (with bone and skin) to make both chicken recipes. I boiled chicken which also gave me broth for tonight's soup, and I pre-seasoned the other chicken which is now ready to put in the slow cooker in the morning before work. The only prep work I'll have tomorrow is plugging in the slow cooker, then shredding the chicken with a fork when I get home. I'll put some fries in my Kalorik air fryer, toast the gluten-free Kinnickinick buns, and dinner is served!
If you have a great recipe that freezes well, double or triple the recipe, then freeze the leftovers for future meals. We often use frozen chili, soup and sauces when we travel, or on busy weeks when we don't have a chance to meal prep.
Lunch Box Life Savers
Prepping lunch for the week also is a huge time saver! Prewashing grapes, celery, carrots, etc. and putting them in individual baggies makes lunch packing faster and healthier. For the kids' lunches, we keep a plastic over-the-door-shoe organizer in the pantry to store the daily lunchbox contents. I'll buy gluten-free granola bars, chips, fruit snacks, cookies and drinks and put them in the individual packs in the organizer for the entire week to make daily lunch packing faster. The kids know to just grab the contents from the "Monday" pocket on Sunday night to get the lunchbox ready. Depending on what we had for dinner the night before, we will either reheat and put leftovers in a hot food container or make a sandwich on gluten-free bread for the main dish. My husband and I prefer leftovers or salads for lunch and are more likely to eat fruit and veggies if they are ready to eat.
Well, I can't help you with snacks. I often make gluten-free brownies or cupcakes on Meal Prep Sunday, but sadly, all of the brownie and goodies are consumed Monday. Eleven-year-old boys can eat a lot!
Meal Prep Sunday takes some planning and effort, but once I got the hang of it, I can't imagine not spending a couple of hours on one day to get meals ready for an entire week. It really frees up my evenings so I can help with homework and participate in other activities.
Need some fresh menu ideas? The Gluten Intolerance Group offers a 4-week meal plan complete with shopping lists and recipes. (click here for link). Also follow me on Facebook and Instagram at gfreegenius to see what's on my dinner table!
What's on your Meal Prep Sunday menu? Share your ideas!
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.
Have you ever wished there was a way to see if your gluten-free meal is truly gluten free? Now you can with Nima!
Click on the GFree Genius "Nima Portable Gluten Sensor Unboxing" video above to learn more about this product that I cannot wait to test! Nathan will be using this device to test for gluten cross contact in his 5th grade science fair project! We can't wait to share the results with you soon!
For more information on how to get your own Nima Portable Gluten Sensor, click here.
Disclaimer: I did not receive compensation for this post. Nima sent this unit to us to borrow for testing and to use for a school project. I do have to send it back. As soon as this product is available for purchase, I would consider purchasing my own device.
Thanksgiving. It all goes back to the Pilgrims and Indians. We could really learn a lot from those guys. While they had a rough start, they learned from each other and came together to enjoy the autumn harvest feast--the first Thanksgiving. If they could do it, surely celiacs and non-celiacs can do the same to give thanks for all we have.
I remember the first Thanksgiving after being told I couldn't eat gluten. I knew Thanksgiving wasn't going to be the same, but I had no idea how my family would react--especially the few who think gluten-free is a made up fad. The dressing (I'm from Mississippi and we eat dressing, not stuffing.), casseroles, bread, and my favorite pies...none gluten free. I heard all kinds of comments in the weeks leading up to my favorite holiday of the year. Family members said everything from, "I'm not changing my recipe for one person," to " She's not ruining my Thanksgiving." One very selfish family member even looked me in the eye and said, "Give me the pie with the most gluten." It hurt. A lot. That year I ate only the dish I took and a slice of turkey that I thought was safe but really wasn't and it made me terribly ill. I was sick for the remainder of the weekend. Yep. That turkey had been injected or rubbed with something that was not gluten free.
So, the next year I cooked the entire meal myself--turkey breast, dressing, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, mac & cheese, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, and a brownie dessert that is a favorite of anyone who has ever tried it. I invited everyone over and nobody came. Nobody wanted to eat a meal that was void of a tiny protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It hurt. A lot. I promise, the food tasted exactly the same, except for the pie crust--it was awful, but everything else was perfect! I carefully reviewed each family-favorite recipe and read every ingredient label. I didn't actually have to change much. I had to make sure the cornmeal, spices and chicken broth were gluten free, substitute corn starch to make gravy, and clean surfaces and utensils to make sure gluten wasn't present. That year, as I sat at my table with my husband and two children and enjoyed the best meal I had ever prepared, we decided to start our own traditions and be thankful for everything God had provided for us. Was I sad? Of course, but I did what I had to do to enjoy a safe holiday meal.
Last year, I once again prepared a 100 percent gluten-free Thanksgiving meal and my immediate family enjoyed every bite. My son's doctor put him on the gluten-free diet that year, so I was not only accommodating my dietary restrictions, but also his. It was nice to have someone else in my corner, even if was a 10-year-old boy. We spent the day watching the parade on TV, looking through the Black Friday ads in the newspaper, and just spending time together. Then we took a gluten-free dessert to a family member's home that evening and enjoyed spending time with extended family without the risk of my son and I becoming ill. That's exactly what we're planning on doing this year, too!
If you're hosting Thanksgiving and are expecting a gluten-free guest, they would very much like to enjoy the meal you've worked so hard to prepare, but they're scared. Just one tiny crumb of a gluten-containing ingredient will ruin their weekend. Making a completely safe dinner isn't hard if you do a little research. Just as Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees and catch fish for malnourished settlers, I would like to help you plan a feast that everyone, celiac or not, will safely enjoy. There's no need to make two separate meals.
Tips for preparing a gluten-free Thanksgiving:
1. Create a menu.
Make a list of all dishes you'd like to serve at your Thanksgiving feast. Then, review each recipe and look for ways to make it gluten free. For example, any recipe with wheat flour could be adjusted by substituting gluten-free flour. The entire meal can be made gluten free and nobody will be able to tell the difference. Unless you're making biscuits. I haven't found a gluten free biscuit I like yet.
2. Shop for ingredients.
Read labels to make sure every ingredient is gluten free. Fresh produce is naturally gluten free, but items like chicken broth and spices are not always safe. I use Swanson's Broth or Pacific Broth in the box. It is clearly labeled gluten free and it isn't overpriced. Even turkeys can have gluten. Seriously. Butterball is labeling their turkeys as gluten free this year--even the gravy packet. I appreciate that, as some turkeys have gluten-containing additives. Spices can also be tricky, but you could always call the manufacturer just to make sure. "Cream of" soups are in a lot of Thanksgiving recipes. Pacific makes gluten-free cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups that are easy to substitute (these are packaged in boxes and can be found on the soup aisle of most major grocery stores), but note that the sodium content is usually lower in the gluten-free soups. To keep things easy, I wouldn't even try to make gluten free bread or pie crusts. There are rolls and pie crusts in the freezer section at Kroger, Sprouts and Whole Foods that are easy to prepare and actually taste very good. These are two items that sell out quickly during the week of Thanksgiving, so if you think you're going to need these, buy them now and put them in the freezer. Aldi sells gluten-free fried onion topping for green bean casserole that gets great reviews if that is a dish you don't want to skip. I hate green bean casserole and it wouldn't hurt my feelings if you didn't make it. I would be happy with a bowl of green beans or other green vegetable seasoned with salt and pepper. I like toasted marshmallows on top of my sweet potato casserole. Be sure to check the ingredients on those as well. Kraft is fine, but many store brands are not. Just check the labels. Remember that all grocery stores are not created equally. I have good luck at Kroger and Whole Foods. Walmart has most ingredients, but probably won't have frozen rolls or pie crusts. You may possibly have to shop at more than one store to find everything.
3. Check your kitchen for sneaky sources of gluten.
If your kitchen isn't already 100 percent gluten-free, there are a few places that gluten hides and can make someone with celiac disease very sick. If you let your guest know that you have addressed these few concerns, they will be thankful. Colanders. There are hundreds of tiny holes which makes it impossible to clean trace amounts of gluten if it has ever been used to strain pasta or other gluten-filled foods. I recommend buying a new one at the dollar store to make sure this doesn't cause a problem. Other items that can harbor gluten are wooden spoons and cutting boards and stone bakeware. These are porous and may not be safe. One more item that freaks me out is potholders. I've seen many people touch the edges of food with the potholder as they are removing the pan from the oven, then use the same potholder to remove my gluten free dish. It makes me squirm. I was also surprised at how many crumbs were in my silverware drawer when I read that was a sneaky hiding spot for gluten. With kids in the house, we always have crumbs somewhere!
4. Don't be shy. Ask your gluten-free guest to bring something.
They really don't mind and would love to help! You could ask them to bring their favorite dessert or bread. Gluten-free rolls are pretty expensive and many are just not good. Your guest probably already knows where to find them and which ones are good. I like Rudi's and BFree rolls, or ones from a local gluten-free bakery.
Here's what's on the GFree Genius Thanksgiving Menu:
Turkey Breast (We're only feeding four people, so I don't need a whole turkey. Plus, it is super easy to prepare.)
Chicken & Cornbread Dressing (make sure cornmeal and chicken broth are gluten free)
Sweet Potato Casserole (make sure topping is gluten free)
Mashed potatoes (some people use chicken broth--make sure it is gluten free)
Mac & Cheese (lots of rice pasta out there to make this kid-friendly favorite)
Corn on the Cob
Rolls (purchase in the freezer section. My kids like Rudi's and BFree rolls)
Pumpkin Pie (purchase pie crust in freezer section-if using canned pumpkin, be sure to use pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix)
Chocolate Pie (purchase pie crust in freezer section)
On the day before Thanksgiving, I boil chicken for dressing and bake cornbread. I also cook sweet potatoes and put together the sweet potato casserole and refrigerate (without baking). I make all desserts. On Thanksgiving morning, I mix up the dressing, then stick it in the oven with the sweet potato casserole while I finish everything else and I have a wonderful meal ready by noon. We always have a lot left over, so I reheat and serve it again for dinner.
Thank you for trying to accommodate your gluten-free guest. Please let me know if you have specific questions or need help finding a recipe for a particular dish.
Are you expecting a gluten-free guest at Thanksgiving this year? Are you a gluten-free guest going to a non-gf feast? What are your concerns? Please share in the comments.
Gluten-free travel is never easy. I got really lucky on a recent trip to Kentucky with not one, but TWO dedicated gluten-free restaurants along the way to my destination. That's not normally the case, especially living and traveling in the South.
While I was able to eat three meals at those two amazing restaurants (Wheatless in Bowling Green and Annie May's Sweet Cafe in Louisville), I had to do some serious planning for the other five meals. My husband and I are producing a YouTube video series/soon-to-be documentary called Southern IronMom which features a 40-year-old mom from our hometown who competed in Louisville IronMan. We were on the run for the entire 16-hour event and really had to be prepared so I could eat safely along the 140.6 mile race course. My solution? The GFree Genius Travel Kitchen. No, I don't eat at restaurants that are not dedicated gluten free. I get sick every time I do, so even for a quick overnight road trip, I pack up the travel kitchen and all the food I plan to eat, then pull the vehicle over and cook in a parking lot or a rest area using my Coleman camp stove at meal time. On the day of the race, my car was parked in a garage more than a mile from the finish line, so that's where I set up to cook. The extra effort is worth the trouble, especially since there are two people in our household who can't eat gluten.
Yeah, I could pack cold sandwiches or homemade "Lunchables," but that gets old. I only do that when I'm traveling by air. I prefer to eat hot food for dinner. I'm set in my ways. On race day, I prepared hot breakfast sandwiches using Glutino English muffins for the morning meal, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, then soup for dinner. I heated the soup while I was cooking sandwiches, then put it in a Stanley food container to keep it hot until dinner time. It was easy to prepare, clean up, and enjoy safe gluten-free meals while I worked.
Here's a list of GFree Genius Travel Tips:
1. Precook meals to reheat. I make all sorts of things to take on the road--chili, tacos, burgers--and freeze it in disposable containers or Ziploc bags, and store them in the cooler.
2. Select a hotel with a kitchenette or at least a microwave. Be sure to bring your own pan/microwave-safe bowl/utensils to avoid cross contamination.
3. Pack a camp stove for roadside cooking or an electric burner to heat/cook food inside the hotel room. (Important tip: electric burners have a protective coating on them and will smoke up a room during the first use. Be sure to use it at home a couple of times before taking it on a trip.)
4. Make sure the cooler's plug is closed before you put it in the car. As the ice melts, water will leak from the bottom of your cooler all over the back of your car and will make you angry.
5. While eating dinner, heat a pan of water on the stove to wash/rinse dirty utensils.
6. Pack an insulated food container. I put boiling water into the empty insulated food container to heat the core. After about five minutes, I empty the water and add hot soup or chili. The food container keeps the food hot for 6-8 hours, so I have a hot gluten-free dinner option without having to break out the stove again. Sometimes I cook a batch of soup in the morning before leaving home and put it in a 2-liter insulated food container. Piping hot dinner is ready when I need it! Click here to see previous soup post.
So, here's what I take in my GFree Genius Travel Kitchen:
* Camp stove (and fuel)
* Deep skillet with lid
* Small pot
* Pot holder
* Can opener
* Paper plates/bowls
* Plastic forks/spoons
* Paper towels
* Dish soap
* Storage container to use as a sink
* Insulated food container
* Measuring cup/spoons
* Water (for cooking and cleaning)
* Ziploc bags
* Electric burner
I keep my travel kitchen supplies together at all times, so all I have to do is grab one big tote and put it in the car. I prefer to take my food with me from home, but you could easily stop by a grocery store and buy what you need to cook a meal if you have the right tools with you.
While it isn't always easy, cooking meals on the go is always the safest option for my family when there is not a dedicated gluten-free restaurant nearby. I savor the moments when I can enjoy a meal at a gf restaurant, but with a little pre-planning, cooking on the go removes the possibility of my son and I getting "glutened" and we enjoy trips so much more when nobody is sick.
What are your tricks to gluten-free travel? Please share your ideas in the comments.