Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Against All Odds

The Xterra race season has been one largely free of illness and injury. Sure, there have been ups and downs along the way, with occasional setbacks and challenges. But for the most part, I've been blessed with good health that has kept me racing strong straight through the end of the season. For the last few weeks leading up to nationals, though, it feels as though I've been negotiating a gauntlet of setbacks that threatened to derail my performance (or possibly, even my presence) at the championships.

First, there was life in general. No race season happens in a vacuum. Racing takes place in the context of life, and life means, friends, work. For me, it has been an especially busy period of major deadlines for magazine articles coupled with business travel to research stories for other upcoming story deadlines. As a result, I barely managed to squeeze in training. Just five days or so - 3 trail runs, 1 mountain bike ride, 1 day in the lap pool at our local community rec center (the reservoir, where I like to do my open water swim training, recently closed the swim beach for the season...grr). It wasn't much training, barely enough to sustain fitness, and so I knew I'd be depending on the foundation I'd built over the course of the season.

One of my business trips was a four day jaunt to SW New Mexico, where I spent my time touring different parts of the Gila River watershed for a story for Defenders Magazine. On Day Three, I completed a 17 mile trek through the Gila Wilderness. It was a route that required nearly 60 river crossings, mostly on the Middle Fork of the Gila River. The scenery was spectacular, but all those river crossings meant bad things for my feet - each time I waded into the river, the cool, mountain waters were soothing and refreshing on the feet, but they also flushed sand and gravel into my trail running sneakers. Then I'd hike on dry land for a stretch, with the sand and gravel grinding away, until the next crossing, where my feet would be temporarily cooled and soothed, but my sneakers would also be renewed with more sand and gravel. By the time I finished the trek, I had open, bloody wounds on both feet. With less than two weeks to go before Xterra nationals, I needed them to heal up. They wouldn't prevent me from competing - the wounds resulted in nuisance pain more than anything else, but I'd prefer not to have to deal with it. Second Skin and Neosporin combined to work miracles, and thankfully the wounds healed enough to be a non-issue by race day.

Then came the training injury. It happened last Tuesday, just four days before the race. I was out for a 10k trail run...literally my last planned day of training before resting for a few days to be fresh for the race. I was turning from one trail onto another, beginning a steep, rocky descent with a full head of steam. I quickly glanced at my watch to check my pace, and in that split second that I took my eyes off the trail, I failed to see a rock jutting up out of the middle of the trail. I clipped the rock with my right foot. My upper body lurched forward. My legs tried to keep up and catch my balance, but it was no use. I was going down, headed for a face plant into a pile of rocks. I did the only thing I could think of in the heat of the moment...I tucked my head and went into a semi-controlled dive/roll off the side of the trail. I hit the ground hard, and after taking a moment to figure out that I hadn't broken anything, I stood up. My left hand was bleeding, my left knee was bleeding, my right lower leg was bleeding, and my right arm was numb from my elbow down. I was still two miles from the house, and so I had no choice but to resume my run. It took a full mile for the feeling to return to my right arm (I had apparently dinged a nerve pretty well). A shower at home took care of the blood and the cuts and bruises. But the biggest problem was my right calf - I didn't notice it when it happened, but back at the house, my calf and the back of my right knee hurt badly, enough for me to limp around the house. Great, just great, I thought.

I thought things couldn't get any worse, and then they did. That same night I started running a fever, which quickly progressed to what seemed like full blown flu symptoms: painful swollen glands, aching joints, muscle fatigue, chills, sore throat, headache. The fever persisted, and by Thursday afternoon, my health was taking a nose dive. My fever started climbing about a degree an hour. At 5pm it measured 103.4 and still climbing. Just 36 hours before the race, I sat in an urgent care facility in Boulder needing answers. We were due to leave for Utah in the morning. The strep and flu cultures both came back negative, and the doc diagnosed me with an acute viral infection. He gave me a sheet of paper with four medicines listed - one for sore throat, one for sinus pressure, and two to control the fever. "And rest," he said.

I looked at the doc. "I understand what you're saying, but my most important race of the year is on Saturday. Can I compete?"

"I wouldn't," he replied.

"I didn't ask whether you would or not. I asked if I can."

"You're going to be weak. I wouldn't expect you to do well. And you might make yourself sicker."

"I'm not worried about that. I'm prepared to just finish the race, even if I'm not at 100%."

"Well then yes, you can race. You can make a morning of decision and see how you feel."

That's all I needed to hear. Friday morning we loaded Marin into the car seat and charted a course for Ogden, Utah. I wanted to be there for the race...I needed to be there for the race, even if I just ended up being a spectator. I had worked too hard for too long to withdraw at the last moment. And I knew that once we arrived in Utah, my inner drive would take over. I'd either be in an Ogden hospital, or on the starting line.

We arrived in Ogden Friday afternoon and headed to Amphitheater Park in Historic Downtown for racer check-in. I picked up my bib and got body marked - #133. Then we headed to Union Station for the Night of Champions dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the caterers offered a gluten-free option - GF pasta with zucchini ratatouille. We sat at the end of a long table of racers and their families, and had just started eating dinner when one final crisis reared its ugly head. Marin started choking.

Her lightning fast hands had swiped a large piece of zucchini off my plate - neither Kelli nor I saw it happen. She coughed it back up, and pulling it from her mouth, I noticed that she also had a large shiny plastic star in her mouth...kind of a piece of confetti that was sprinkled on all the tables. Then Marin started vomitting, repeatedly, and crying bloody murder. We couldn't calm her down, and the intensity of the crying sounded like she was in pain. Kelli and I left our dinners on the table and walked the four blocks back to the hotel, preparing to take Marin to the emergency room. We were worried she might still have something lodged in her another star. Our intuition proved prophetic. Marin vomitted one last time - right onto the white linen sheets of the hotel bed - and out came another plastic star. She quieted right down, as if the problem was suddenly resolved, took a short nap, and woke a short time later all smiles and ready to play.

Drama right down to the last hours before the race. I was physically exhausted from the viral infection, emotionally exhausted from the scare with Marin, and hungry from our abandoned dinner. I took a double dose of ibuprofen, gobbled down a little bit of chocolate, and tried to fall asleep...still running nearly a 102 fever, even with the medicine. It was a fitful night, and I vascillated between shivering and sweating through my clothes and the covers. Then the alarm went off at 5:15am on Saturday morning, and it was time to get ready to race... (coming in tomorrow's post)

- Pete

Thursday, September 24, 2009

48 hours to Ogden

Well, it's Thursday afternoon, and in two days - on Saturday morning - more than 300 athletes will take to Pineview Reservoir outside of Ogden, Utah for the 2009 edition of the Xterra U.S. National Championship. It's been a long road, and now I'm on the eve of the event. Kelli, Marin and I are scheduled to hit the road early tomorrow morning for the 7.5 hour drive from Boulder to Ogden. I would have liked to have gone out earlier in the week to pre-ride the mountain bike course, but "life" called here at home, including a series of pressing magazine article deadlines. (I have, however, studied the race route carefully on the topo map, so hopefully that will help!)

Today, Xterra sent out a newsletter announcing its "competitors of note" for nationals (basically, racers with unique or inspiration stories to tell). I'm honored to be included in that list as a gluten-free athlete with Celiac trying to raise awareness and inspire others. They've lumped me in with some pretty prestigious company, including fellow Boulder athlete Michael Stone (I'm profiling Michael for an upcoming issue of Boulder Magazine, so stay tuned for that story!) Also, last night I did an interview with the Ogden Standard-Examiner, and hopefully that will yield a story that can further help to raise awareness...about GF issues, Celiac, and the NFCA.

It promises to be an exciting weekend! I'm going to forgo tomorrow's Friday Foto, and hopefully you'll excuse the omission. Until Monday...

- Pete

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Recipe: Southwestern Vinaigrette

This past Saturday, Kelli, Marin and I drove up to Breckenridge in Colorado's Summit County to attend Oktoberfest. The main drag was closed off to traffic, and large crowds of people seemed to be having a pretty fun time. We unfortunately left disappointed. It wasn't particularly surprising to find that they didn't have a gluten-free beer option. What was surprising, though, was how difficult it was to find an alternate beverage to drink. It took us more than an hour of walking to stumble upon a stand that sold root beer and lemonade. Forget the whole gluten-free thing... what if you were a designated driver, or don't or didn't feel like drinking beer/alcohol? But I digress...

We ate lunck at the 'Fest, and it too left us desiring something more. Kelli had an undercooked, greasy bratwurst, while I had an overly dry, smoked turkey leg. (Breckenridge is normally a home run for us, and in the end we agreed we should have walked from the Oktoberfest to a nearby Mexican restaurant with a great GF menu...) We arrived back home in Boulder late that afternoon craving something fresh and tasty to cleanse our palettes... Which inspired Kelli to concoct this Southwestern Vinaigrette, which doubled as both a salad dressing and as a marinade for grilled chicken that we topped the salad off with.

Here's how to make it:

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
a pinch of ground red pepper

Whisk it all together, and voila! An easy, tasty Southwestern vinaigrette. If you use some for grilled chicken, as we did, first set aside enough to use as dressing for the salad. Then marinate the chicken in the remainder, basting/brushing/drizzling with the marinade while grilling. For the salad, we went with red leaf lettuce, as well as sliced red peppers and sweet onions. (Kelli also topped hers off with some cheese and candied walnuts.) To give it more of a Southwest feel, try sliced avocado and quesadilla cheese.

- Pete

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gluten-Free Beer, Defined... Sort of

Over the course of the past month, the GF world has been atwitter (I checked my dictionary and this is a real word that far predates Twitter) with the news that, in the U.S., there's now some regulatory oversight of gluten-free beer, its labeling, and its contents. Just type "fda gluten free beer" into Google or your favorite search engine and you'll see what I mean. Perhaps the most widely circulated and cited article is one that appeared in USA Today.

However, I've come across a surprising (and disturbing) amount of misinformation on the topic, and so I wanted to set the record straight, lest you be led astray by writers and bloggers who haven't done their research (or just plain got it wrong).

Here's what you need to know, in a nutshell: Beer is normally regulated under the authority of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). However, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act officially defines beer as a "malted beverage," and a malted beverage - in turn - is officially defined as containing barley. But, since gluten-free beers don't contain barley, then as far as the U.S. federal government is concerned, they're not actually beers. Which makes them...foods or drinks. And that brings them under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That shift was agreed to last year, but only formally took place earlier this summer. On the heels of that transition of gluten-free beer regulatory power, the FDA - in Aug 2009 - released its Guidance for Industry document on the labeling of GF beer.

There are no surprises here. Beer will now be labeled just as any other food would be - it will be required to have a nutrition panel, list of ingredients, declaration of major food allergens, etc. In other words, it will have to conform to all food labeling standards, and brewers have until 2012 to comply.

But here's where articles like the one in USA Today err... They claim that: a) "...these beverages can now officially be labeled gluten-free once they've been tested and confirmed by FDA" (FALSE), b) "Up until now, [Celiacs] couldn't be certain that a beer that claimed to be gluten-free really was. Under FDA regulations, there's a standard for it." (FALSE), and c) that the officially adopted standard is 20ppm (also FALSE).

I'll address each falsity listed in the previous paragraph:

a) gluten-free beers will not be "tested and confirmed" by the FDA. It is the responsibility of any food producer (and now, gluten-free brewer) to perform or contract its own testing, and to ensure that it meets the FDA's labeling requirements. Gluten-free beers can be labeled as such under the FDA because at present, the FDA doesn't regulate the term. All gluten-free claims on any foods you buy are placed their voluntarily by the company that makes the product, and those companies are applying their own definition of the term in using it.

b) there is no FDA standard for gluten-free beers. All the FDA announcement does is make it clear that gluten-free beers are now under their regulatory authority, and that means that they have certain labeling requirements that weren't imposed when GF beer was under the purview of the TTB.

c) there is no officially adopted 20ppm standard for GF beer. The FDA's proposed ruling for defining "gluten-free" does include a standard of 20ppm, but that standard has yet to be adopted. Originally scheduled to complete in Aug 2008, the FDA is behind in concluding the approval process, with no target date for when the standard will become official.

So... treat gluten-free beer the way you would any gluten-free food you buy. 1) Scrutinize the label and read for ingredients that may contain gluten, and watch for allergen declarations such as "contains: wheat." Ensure that the beverage you're buying is in fact free of ingredients that would contain gluten. 2) Ask yourself whether or not the GF beer might be cross-contaminated. For example, Redbridge brews in a dedicated GF facility. On the other hand, small local microbreweries almost certainly don't have this luxury, so if you're especially sensitive, exercise caution. (I've personally never had problems with cross-contamination with any GF beers I've tried...)

Ahh, the joys of negotiating the sometimes confusing world of government regulation (compounded by some shoddy reporting...). I think I need a drink...

- Pete

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Foto: Smores

Labor Day Weekend this year was a much needed respite from a very busy end of summer. In addition to all the race recaps I've been posting, I was in Kansas on assignment (which yielded a previous Friday Foto of sorghum in the fields). Then came the holiday weekend, and then more madness... last weekend, I filled on a team that ran the Colorado Relay race. The relay involves ten-person teams running a combined 30 legs (hence, three legs per person) over the course of 175 miles. Kelli's boss was one of the ringleaders of a team, but they had an injured runner drop out, and so I filled in. Then, I spent the first four days of this week in southwestern New Mexico again on assignment. And so, finally here I am on a Friday night, at last catching my breath, and at last squeaking out just one NGNP blog post for the week.

In the spirit of catching my breath, I wanted to rewind the clock to Labor Day Weekend. We snuck away to the Medicine Bow Mountains north of Cameron Pass in Colorado, where we took Marin on her first bonafide camping trip. And of course, no camping trip is complete without the ultimate camping treat: the smore. You know the drill - graham cracker, fire-roasted marshmallow, chocolate, goodness. We didn't have GF graham crackers on hand, but we (Kelli) did plan ahead and bake a batch of blondie cookies, which we used instead. I got the fire roaring, and later in the evening, when we had a nice bed of hot, glowing coals, we set to work building our smores.

Kelli was the first to give it a try. It was mighty tasty, but the double blondie cookie overwhelmed the flavor balance of the smore. Her plan of attack for the future: modify the recipe to make a thin, lacy cookie so that the top and bottom blondie wouldn't monopolize the smore.

Based on her feedback, I opted to make mind an open-faced smore. Half the blondie, and hopefully twice the goodness. I was quite pleased, and so I think both of our approaches would work.

How did you spend your Labor Day? Any fun stories or food experiences to share? Do tell!
- Pete

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Foto: Brown Sugar Pork Chops

Though Labor Day is now behind us, summer grilling season is far from over. (After all, summer does officially run until September 21, and we're year-round grillers the end of summer doesn't mean we shut down the barbeque...) This recipe for grilled pork chops builds off of our tried and true grilling flavors combo: salt, pepper and garlic powder. We keep it super simple by adding only brown sugar to the mix, rubbing the pork down on both sides, and grilling until done. The sugar carmelizes just a bit, and the finished pork has a great blend of salty and sweet. We finished off our plates with steamed fresh local corn and salad (not pictured), but the possibilities are near endless.

For the actual brown sugar rub, we used about 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper per pork chop. Note that this is just a baseline. If you like a sweeter pork chop, use more brown sugar. The ratios are easily adjusted according to your preference.

- Pete

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Road to Nationals

Over the course of the last many months, you've read my Race Recap posts, sharing my experiences competing as a gluten-free endurance athlete with Celiac Disease in the Xterra off-road triathlon series. It has been a long road, one punctuated by disappointing lows and wonderful highs, and one marked by setbacks and challenges as well as tiny personal victories and greater successes. Now, there's one final chapter to be written in the continuing saga of this season of racing, one final Race Recap to be shared...

Yesterday I received word that I have a spot in the 2009 Xterra U.S. National Championships. At the end of this month, I'm headed to Ogden, Utah to compete against the best off-road triathletes in the country. To say that I'm elated to have achieved a long-awaited and hard-fought goal would be a gross understatement.

Reaching this joyous and profoundly satisfying milestone has been the culmination of many contributing factors: the unfailing support of family and friends (most of all, Kelli); the countless hours (and days and weeks and months) spent training; the accumulated wisdom that comes from the experience of spending a full season racing; the motivation and the perseverance to rebound from disappointing finishes, temporary setbacks, and a handful of significant obstacles; and forging ahead in spite of what seemed like at times insurmountable odds against reaching this day.

But it also necessarily includes a day more than 2.5 years ago, when a doctor looked me in the eye and told me that gluten was making me sick. It's scarcely imaginable that I could be where I am today, headed to compete in a national championship, without my diagnosis. The rapidly worsening symptoms I experienced pre-diagnosis (most of all, a catastrophic gluten-induced diarrhea that often left me malnourished, dehydrated, and fatigued) would have prevented this day from ever coming. Instead, the switch to a gluten-free diet changed my health, and the trajectory of my life, in significant and positive ways - some anticipated, others not.

And so here I am, less than three weeks away from the biggest race of my life. And in a roundabout and somewhat ironic way, I partly have gluten to thank for it. Stay tuned...hopefully you're as curious as I am to see how this story will end...

- Pete

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Foto: Chicken Tikka Masala

We make no secret of our love of Indian food. Sometimes, it's what we're craving, and nothing else will suffice. We've previously posted a recipe for chicken curry. Today's Friday Foto takes things a step further with a classic dish and one of our all-time favorites: chicken tikka masala.

I always get a little chuckle when thinking about this dish. My family, in part due to their thick Long Island accent, and in part perhaps due to the subliminal influence of our Sicilian heritage, always pronounces this dish "chicken tikka marsala." I always dutifully point out that you can have chicken marsala, and chicken tikka masala, but that as of yet I've never heard of chicken tikka marsala. The accent also results in another Italianization of an Indian ingredient...the basmati rice, which becomes basahmati rice. Don't get me wrong...I'm not picking on my family. It's an endearing slip of the tongue that makes me smile, even as I write these words.

Now as for the recipe... this is one that Kelli and I have been working on. We've gone through several iterations. We're close (very close, I think) to perfecting it, but for now we're calling it a work in progress. But what better time to share it with you and possibly receive some feedback? Admittedly, chicken tikka masala is a dish with a wild degree of variation. According to Wikipedia (not necessarily a rock solid source of info on the topic), a study once found 48 different versions of chicken tikka masala, and the only common denominator was the chicken. For our part, we're very specifically trying to replicate one particular type of chicken tikka masala, and therein lies the challenge. If we were simply to trying to build a recipe from the ground up, we'd call it done. But we're trying to do that AND achieve a very specific flavor profile. And so the iterations continue...

Here's what you need to know to make our version of Chicken Tikka Masala, version 4.0:

3/4 cup plain yogurt
juice from half a lime
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed

1. To make a yogurt marinade, combine all ingredients except for the chicken in a medium bowl and whisk to mix well. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for one hour to let the chicken marinate.
2. Preheat a grill to high heat. Meanwhile, thread the chicken onto skewers (for us, 3 chicken breasts fit comfortably on 4 bamboo skewers). Grill, turning halfway through, just until the chicken is done. Discard any remaining yogurt marinade. Remove the chicken from the skewers and set aside.

1 tbsp butter
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala
1 1/4 cups canned tomatoes (about 3/4 of a 14.5-oz can of diced, no salt added)
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. To make the masala sauce, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the garlic until fragrant. Add all the spices through and including the garam masala and stir.
2. Using a handheld immersion blender, puree the tomato in a separate small bowl. Then add the tomato and cream to the skillet. Stir to mix well, and simmer uncovered for ten minutes. Add the chicken and simmer for an additional ten minutes. Immediately before serving, stir in the fresh chopped cilantro.

The grilled chicken with the yogurt marinade is phenomenal. It's delicious to eat just by itself. And the masala sauce is very flavorful, and comes in around medium heat in terms of spiciness. This can be dialed up or down according to personal preference. In the photos, we've served it over Jasmine rice, because it's what we had in the house. But normally, we'd recommend serving the chicken tikka masala over Basmati rice. Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

- Pete

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Race Recap: Xterra Schiff Scout, NY

Twenty four hours before race start, the remnants of what was once Hurricane Danny lashed at Long Island, NY, creating wet, muddy conditions for the third race in a row. But the rain and clouds kept the warm temps at bay, which was a good thing as far as I was concerned.

I had traveled back to my native NY for the final Xterra point series race of the regular season. This race was roughly half the distance of most Xterra races - "only" a half mile swim, 11 mile mountain bike, and 3.1 mile trail run (compared to twice that) - which made it more of a sprint event. It was a bit of a surreal experience for me...wandering through the transition area before the race, surrounded by Xterra competitors, but immersed in a thick NY accent (as in, Lawn Guyland). Those are two compartments of my life that have never come together before!

This was an important race for the last race of the season, it was a final chance to earn much needed points towards qualifying for the 2009 Xterra US National Championships, my ultimate goal over the course of this long season of racing. The night before the race I put fuel in my tank the best way I could think of: with a trip to a nearby Chipotle for a hefty burrito bowl. Race morning consisted of my usual pre-race routine - two yogurts, some GF cereal (fittingly enough, my mom had Nature's Path Organic on hand, which I recently reviewed on this blog!), and my ever-reliable packets of GU.

The swim took place in Deep Pond, a 40-foot deep glacial kettle hole and evidence of Long Island's origins at the end of the last ice age. Literally minutes before the race, the nosepiece on my goggles snapped, leaving me with two separate eye pieces. I nearly panicked. Worried I'd miss the race start, I ran from the water back up to transition to grab my spare goggles, and was back in time for the race start (which had thankfully been delayed to get some kinks worked out of the timing system).

After two laps in Deep Pond, I set out onto the mountain bike, riding a full suspension Kona Dawgma that I rented from a mountain bike shop on the island. The mellow bike course had some great twisty turny singletrack, and was a real joy to ride, but the heavy full suspension bike was definitely overkill in hindsight. Never the less, as I came into transition there weren't many bikes, which meant most racers were still out on the bike course while I was transitioning to the run. Things were looking good.

The run started out easy enough, but soon hit a section of ravines. Steep descents into and steep ascents out of the ravines challenged me to keep my pace. They weren't especially tall (or deep, depending on how you look at it), but they were enough to make you work for it. I ran across the finish line in about one hour and thirty seven minutes, just fifteen minutes behind the overall race winner. Overall, I placed 25 out of 138 finishers.

What mattered, more than my overall finish, however, was how I fared against my fellow age groupers (which is how competitors earn points toward a slot in the national championships). The Long Island race was last weekend, and earlier this week Xterra posted updated US standings. The top 9 men in my division earn a guaranteed slot at the national championships. After a season of competion, I'm ranked...10th. Talk about being close, but not close enough! It was momentarily heartbreaking to see the updated rankings.

But all is not lost - I'm basically sitting in a wild card slot, and I'm waiting to hopefully hear from Xterra that they'll have a slot for me in the national championships, which take place in Utah at the end of this month. So for now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed, and dutifully checking my email for the hoped-for message.

Whether I get that slot or not (don't get me wrong...I'm REALLY hoping I do!), I hope I've inspired a few folks and shown that having Celiac Disease or being gluten-free isn't a hindrance. You can be more than just can excel (however you choose to define the term). There are no limits - make food work for your body, not against it; set your mind to something; and go do something great (and gluten-free)!

- Pete

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Save the Date - Oct 3-4, Denver, CO

While I'm on the topic of upcoming events (see yesterday's post about Celiac Awareness Day at PNC Park) I wanted to encourage you to save the date: October 3-4, 2009. Location: Denver, Colorado. The event: the Fourth Annual Gluten-free Culinary Summit, hosted by GF Culinary Productions. This year's summit, due to growing popularity, is split into two - an East version (in two weeks at the Culinary Institute of America in New York) and a West version (on October 3-4 Johnson & Wales University in Colorado).

Both events will be wide-ranging weekends that bring in accomplished chefs, cookbook authors, and other presenters who will share their expertise on a variety of gluten-free topics. Kelli and I will be two of the featured presenters at the West edition, so if you're planning on attending, please come by, find us, and say hello! The events look action-packed (okay, maybe gluten-free packed), ranging from GF baking competitions to sessions on breads, desserts, appetizers and lots more.

This will be our first time at the event, so we'll let you know how it goes and post a recap when it's all said and done in just over a month. Hope to see you there!

- Pete

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Take Me Out to the (Gluten-Free) Ball Game

It seems only fitting that on the heels of writing a post about "teachable moments," I receive an email about an upcoming event promoting Celiac Disease awareness. I think of these as life's funny moments of incredible synchronicity, or the too-convenient coincidence. At any rate, the event in question is happening at the end of the month on Sunday, September 27 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, home of the Pirates MLB baseball team. They're playing the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the opening pitch being thrown at 1:35pm Eastern Time.

The event is being called Celiac Awareness Day at PNC Park, and it's one part awareness-building and one part fundraising. Fans can buy discounted tickets ($20 for outfield, $12 for grandstand) with either $5 or $2 of your ticket price being donated to support the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, the Gluten Intolerance Group, and the Celiac Sprue Association. It's great to see the word getting out, and to see some great organizations benefiting from the exposure. There's just one problem...the Pittsburgh Pirates don't seem to have gotten the memo.

The MLB site for the Pirates lists the Dodgers game on the schedule, but the only events and promotions listed for the game are Kids Day and Fan Appreciation Day. There's nary a mention of Celiac or gluten to be found. Bah humbug. And PNC Park doesn't exactly appear to be the most GF-friendly place to eat - NFCA recommends using caution when consuming the food (if you choose to risk it). That's too bad. It's kind of like celebrating Kosher Jewish Awareness Day, and serving pork to recognize the occasion.

Thankfully, major sports stadiums are genuinely starting to take note. Earlier this year, Coors Field in Denver (home of the Colorado Rockies MLB team) became the first MLB stadium in the country to start serving gluten-free food from a dedicated booth. The change came from Aramark, the exclusive food and beverage provider for the park. The menu features hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, brownies, chips, cookies, soda, water (duh) and Redbridge beer. This is huge - they're basically offering a soup-to-nuts ballpark food experience, all gluten-free. Big kudos to Aramark, Coors Field and the Rockies. The booth (located behind section 147, for all you baseball fans) has garnered much attention, from local network TV affiliates in Denver and the Denver Post, to food bloggers in California and even the HuffingtonPost.

Admittedly, it's been a good long while since I've been to Coors Field for a Rockies game. But it's nice to know that when I return, I've got options. And hopefully, with awareness events like the one upcoming at PNC Park, this is a trend that will continue...starting with PNC Park itself.

- Pete