Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Great Gluten-Free Blind Beer Tasting

This past weekend, we hosted the Great Gluten-Free Blind Beer Tasting.  As planned, I administered the tasting, and we had four beer drinkers to participate, including Gluten-Free Steve.  (Unfortunately, we had one last-minute cancellation from a taster who got glutened the night before at a restaurant, as well as one no-show.  On the bright side, that left more beer for the rest of us...)

As with the previous beer tasting, there were some basic rules: 1) As a blind tasting, the tasters knew only that they would be drinking gluten-free beer.  They had no prior knowledge of which beers would be part of the tasting.  2) They may taste the beers in any order they choose.  3) They may return to a beer and re-taste it at any time.

In total, we tasted 8 beers.  One was my Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit home brew.  The remainder were all beers that I considered widely available in Colorado (RedBridge is currently not for sale in the state and wasn't included in this tasting).  With so many beers to taste, and such a variety among them, I divided the tasting into two flights of beer.  I wanted the tasters to be comparing apples with apples.  The first flight included "clear" beer, otherwise known as lagers and light ales.  The second flight included "opaque" beer, which included cloudy, yeasty, Belgian-style ales.  We tasted the first flight of four beers, and tasters were asked to rank them.  We then tasted the second flight, and tasters were asked to rank them as well.  Finally, I asked the tasters to choose a "best in show" beer from across both flights.  (This inevitably introduced room for discussion, since different people have different preferences for different beer styles...)

The eight beers we sampled were:

Flight 1
Lakefront Brewery's New Grist
New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale
Bard's Beer
New Planet's 3R Raspberry Ale (a newly-released summer seasonal just out)

Flight 2
Green's Tripel Blonde
Green's Amber Ale
Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit
Green's Dubbel Dark

As for the results, let me say straight out that we sadly discovered that my home brew had spoiled.  The beer skunked.  It was a rookie mistake on my part.  The beer's relatively low alcohol content, the high levels of oils from the chestnuts, and most importantly, the too-warm temperature at which I stored the beer killed its shelf life.  It smelled and tasted bad.  Not quite terrible, but certainly not as good as it had a month or two ago.  Kelli confirmed as much.  She noted that while my beer once smelled like Blue Moon, and tasted good, it now resembled nothing of the sort.  Sigh.  At least I only have six bottles left, so the loss isn't too great.

Fortunately, that's where the bad news ended.  The rest of the beer tasting went quite well.

Among Flight 1, 3 out of 4 tasters rated New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale their overall favorite.  (The 4th taster ranked Bard's the top pick.)  For me, the funniest part of the tasting came when one taster sipped beer A and declared, "The only gluten-free beer I've had is New Grist.  I like this beer much better than that one."  Ironically, beer A was New Grist!  For the New Planet TLA, several tasters detected a slightly sweet, hint-of-cider quality to the beer, but praised its overall flavor and drinkability.

Among Flight 2, 3 out of 4 tasters ranked Green's Dubbel Dark their overall favorite.  (The 4th taster ranked Green's Amber Ale the top pick.)  Without question, the Green's beers had the best head of foam, by far, among the 8 brews.  However, I was surprised by Dubbel Dark's great showing.  In my own tasting notes, the beer was disappointing.  The beer's very dark color gave me the expectation of the smooth, creamy texture of a stout or porter, with the accompanying chocolate and coffee flavors that come from heavily roasted grains.  That wasn't the case at all.  In fact, that lighter-than-expected flavor appealed to one taster, who wrote: "Good. Expected a heavy taste - not the case."

For the Best in Show, New Planet's TLA again came out on top.  2 out of 4 tasters ranked New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale their Best in Show.  Green's Dubbel Dark earned one Best in Show vote, and Bard's Beer also earned one Best in Show vote (with that taster ranking Green's Dubbel Dark a close second).  Clearly, I think, this shows a split in tasters' beer style preferences more than anything else - do you like light lager-style beers, or dark Belgian-style ales?

And so there you have it.  In a blind beer tasting, when biases are removed and objectivity reigns supreme, New Planet and Green's came out on top.  With the Fourth of July just around the corner, use this information wisely, and stock up on some brews for your barbeque!

- Pete

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nothing But 'Net

Over the course of the past week, the NFCA, Yahoo, the UK-based Press Association, and others have all reported on a Celiac study whose results were shared at the 43rd annual meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, which took place in Istanbul June 9-12.  The study, led by Dr. Nadeem Afzal of Southhampton General Hospital in the United Kingdom, looked at the Internet habits of parents of children with suspected Celiac Disease prior to seeing a doctor or dietician.  It looked at factors such as the prevalence of parents using the Internet for medical information, and measured their knowledge of Celiac Disease, gluten, the gluten-free diet, and more.

The commonly cited results were intriguing.  For example, they found a wide variability in the reliability of Celiac- and gluten-related information found on the Internet.  (No surprise.)  They also found a relatively high rate of self-diagnosis on the basis of symptoms and Internet information.  (Again, no surprise.)  As for knowledge of the gluten-free diet, 45% of parents incorrectly thought that corn contained gluten.  (Seems surprising, but it's not.  I'll explain.)  Meanwhile, 98% of parents correctly identified that wheat contained gluten.  Overall, just 38% of parents correctly identified all gluten-containing foods in the study's questionnaire.  (Alarming, but not surprising.)

For me, each aspect of the study's results could be expected.  It's no surprise that there's a very wide variety of information on the Internet pertaining to CD and gluten.  Some of it - from trusted, credible sources - is highly reliable.  Some of it is what Dr. Afzal termed "quackery."  Much of it lies somewhere in between.  Nowhere may this be more true than in the blogosphere, where us GF bloggers range from people who blog professionally to people who blog once in a blue moon, sharing a recipe here or there as a hobby.  I've said it before here on NGNP - you must be your own best advocate.  When it comes to GF bloggers, ask yourself - What are their credentials?  Have they established themselves as a trusted, reliable source of accurate information?  Is the blogger a doctor?  A nutritionist?  A journalist?  A cookbook author?  A passionate self-educated foodie?  Can they speak to the topic with direct authority?  And if not, do their blog posts cite reliable sources that lend credibility to their info?

As for the high rates of self-diagnosis, this, too, doesn't surprise me for two reasons.  For one, we still live in an age when many doctors and other health care providers are not fully up to speed on Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance, etc.  That's part of the reason why the 2-3 million Americans estimated to have Celiac Disease live for years either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and why the mission of organizations like the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is so important.  In response, we - the gluten-free community - use the Internet to become empowered, knowledgeable patients.  In the absence of doctors who can help us, we help ourselves.  What's more, as I discussed when I did my three-part series on CD and health care reform in the United States, a positive diagnosis with Celiac Disease often exposes a person to the threat of being dropped from their health insurance.  That negative relationship between Celiac Disease and health insurance incentivizes patients to diagnose themselves, in order to keep a formal CD diagnosis off the record.  (Thankfully, in both cases, things are improving - more and more doctors are becoming knowledgeable about CD, and ongoing health care reform is helping to ensure that people with CD can't be dropped on the basis of an existing condition or new diagnosis.)

It may seem surprising that 45% of parents incorrectly thought that corn contained gluten...until you consider this.  The study examined 55 children and their families in England.  And England, it turns out, has a habit of referring to "corn gluten," which refers to the proteins found in corn.  Now you can see where the opportunity for confusion creeps in.  It's akin to mistaking buckwheat for containing gluten, simply because buckwheat has the unfortunate luck of containing the word "wheat" in its name.  Gluten, remember, is a family of proteins.  It's not one single thing.  And it's not all gluten that makes us sick.  It's specifically the glutens found in wheat (glutenin and gliadin), barley (hordein) and rye (secalin).

Finally, just 38% of parents correctly identified all sources of gluten.  We all know what a steep learning curve the gluten-free diet can have in the beginning.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again - at times, it can seem like a Gluten Gauntlet.  Anyone new to the gluten-free diet will take time to become knowledgeable.  Even under the guidance of a doctor.  So let's cut these parents some slack.  They'll get with the program...they just need time, and more information.

Before I conclude this post today, I also wanted to share a few extra tidbits of info from the study that weren't shared in any of the news reports I read.  (If you want to read the detailed abstract of the study, click here and search the PDF for "PO-G-126.")  Firstly, when asked about their number one concern regarding Celiac Disease and the gluten-free diet, parents' top worry was the social implications of the diet, especially children's parties.  I think any of us who are parents to young GF children can relate to that.  Food should be inclusive and social, but in the context of children's parties and gluten (or food allergies more generally), it can be exclusive and isolating.  

Secondly, the top predictor of knowledge about Celiac Disease and the gluten-free diet was knowing someone else who had CD.  So for all of you reading this blog - if you have Celiac Disease, or gluten intolerance, or wheat allergy, or whatever - remember this... You are your family and friend's best source of information.  Look out for yourselves, but also lend a hand and look out for them, too, in the form of awareness and information.

- Pete

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 7


The Flatirons rock formations from the Chautauqua meadows trail - part of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, my primary training ground

Another Monday, another week of training in the bank:

Training Days: 3     (To Date: 27)
Rest Days: 4     (To Date: 22)
Weight: 155.5     (Net Gain/Loss: -4.5)
Running Days: 3     (To Date: 20)
Running Miles Logged: 35.3     (To Date: 168.5)
Average Run: 11.75     (Short = 6.7, Long = 17)
Cross-Training: None

Week 7 was one of continued progress, and some lessons learned.  After starting off the week with an 11.6 mile run, I took a rest day and then planned a 9-10 mile "easy" run with only moderate elevation gain.  Typically, I've been running early in the morning, in order to avoid the heat of day.  However, because of my work schedule, my planned 9-10 mile run took place in the afternoon, when the temperature had climbed to 91 degrees.  My body has never performed well in extreme heat, and that day was no different.  I red-lined almost immediately, feeling like I was going to blow a gasket, and running on the edge of heat exhaustion.  I scaled back my pace, trying to keep my body temperature and my heart rate in check, but it was no use.  And so I pulled the plug, turning for home early and finishing my run after 6.7 miles.  I can only keep my fingers crossed for cool temperatures on race day.  If temps climb too high, I'm going to have to seriously alter my race plan and adjust expectations accordingly.

On the other hand, I ended the week on a great note: with my longest run to date.  It was a 17-mile run that climbed probably 2,000 vertical feet or so, maybe a little more.  When I walked in the door a little more than 3 hours after I started, I was psyched.  My pace had been 11 minute miles.  On more level ground, on roads, and/or over shorter distances, I usually run more like 7 minute miles.  But 11 minute miles under these circumstances was great.  Remember: 10 minute miles will have me contend to win the race.  12 minute miles are my personal target to finish in 10 hours or less.  15 minute miles are the time of last year's slowest finisher.  If I can maintain an 11 minute per mile pace over the course of 50 miles, as opposed to the 17 miles I ran on Saturday morning, I'll be a very happy camper.  (Kelli was quick to keep my optimism in check and offer a dose of reality: "You ran 35 miles this week.  Keep in mind, you're planning to run 50 miles in 10 hours!"  Very true...)

I'm excited, too, because so far, my training has been progressing according to plan.  In May, when I began training, I was simply rebuilding my foundation of fitness after the winter.  (Check.)  During June, my plan was to continue building, having my long run of each week move through the teens.  (Check.)  Now, as I'm on the eve of July, I plan for my long run each week to build through the 20s.  Then, for August, I'll move into the 30s.  By September, it'll be time to maintain the fitness I'll have attained, and then to taper in advance of the race so I'll have fresh legs.

Finally, a huge, sincere "thank you" to Reeb V., Bob and Linda T. (Kelli's parents), Wendy K, and Georgann B. (my mom) for your generous donations to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  With your help, I've now raised a total of $255, which brings me 5% of the way toward my goal of raising $5,010 for celiac awareness.  If you haven't donated yet, please consider helping me support the NFCA!

- Pete

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Foto: Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps is a dish we don't make often, but every time we do, we always seem to end up asking ourselves: "Why did we wait so long to make this again?"  Though our friends, Laurel and Chris, were the immediate inspiration for our recipe (they served lettuce wraps during a real estate showing at their condo...), I'll be the first to admit that the lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang's also served to get our creative kitchen juices flowing.

The result is the recipe found on pages 62-63 of our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking.  Though it's cliche to say it, these wraps are delicious.  The chicken, mushroom and water chestnuts give a variety of textures to the hearty filling.  Tamari wheat-free soy sauce, sherry, sesame oil, garlic and ginger make it super flavorful.  In the cookbook, we call for iceberg lettuce.  More recently, however, we've taken to making this dish with Butter lettuce (also known as Boston lettuce or Bibb lettuce).  The vibrant green leaves are beautiful and the perfect size for hand-held wraps, and their slightly sweet flavor offers nice balance to the saltiness of the filling.

In addition to being gluten-free, this dish is naturally dairy- and egg-free, and you could easily make it vegetarian by omitting the chicken.  In its place, I'd increase the mushrooms by 50-100%, increase the water chestnuts by 50% or so, and double the scallions.

Be forewarned: prepping the filling is labor-intensive.  When I made this dish last night, I spent most of my time chopping ingredients into a fine dice - 8-10 shiitake mushrooms, 2 chicken breasts, 2 scallions, 8 ounces of water chestnuts, 3 garlic cloves, and some ginger.  Once the prep was finished, though, making the actual dish was a cinch.  Plus, the effort was totally worth the result!

- Pete

P.S. Those of you with excellent memories may remember that chicken lettuce wraps were also a Friday Foto in April 2009, more than a year ago.  We think this updated Foto is much more appealing, with some useful added info re: lettuce, the background of the dish, and options for making it vegetarian!

P.P.S. I've also updated the Spaghetti Carbonara recipe from a few weeks ago with a photo.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Please, no substitutions. Mostly.

"Please, no substitutions."  How many times have you seen those words discreetly printed at the bottom of a restaurant's menu?  The main dishes and the sides that come with them are prescribed by the restaurant, and they're loathe to deviate from those set combinations.  (Thankfully, I've found that most restaurants with "no substitutions" policies are quite accommodating when you bring up the topic of food allergies...)

Of course, at home in the kitchen we all make substitutions with recipes all the time.  Maybe you don't have the exact ingredient called for in a recipe, so you use something else in its place.  Maybe you modify a recipe to suit your own preferences, taking out a food you don't like, and adding one that you do.  Maybe you sub a recipe's ingredients in order to make it fit with your personal dietary ethics (as is often the case with vegetarians and vegans), or to improve its nutritional profile.  Maybe you simply want to modify a recipe in order to "make it your own."  Or maybe you take a "standard" recipe, and substitute ingredients in order to make it fit with dietary restrictions (such as gluten, dairy, peanuts, whatever...).  These are all good and valid reasons to make substitutions in a dish.

When making substitutions, however, it's important to have realistic expectations.  Not all substitutions are created equal.  Depending on what type of food you're making, and what ingredient(s) you're substituting, it can be a non-trivial thing.  This is especially true in baking.  Sub-ing ingredients in and out of a baking recipe is not nearly as simple and straightforward as swapping a glass of soy milk for a glass of cow's milk.  Baking is a science, genuinely.  Every ingredient is in a recipe for a reason.  It has certain properties and performs certain functions, and oftentimes, substitutes just don't get it done.  (At least, not easily and not without other major modifications.)

Here's a case in point: Some time after posting my finalized recipe for gluten-free sandwich bread, I received a personal email from a reader to this effect - "I tried your recipe and it didn't work for me.  Oh, and by the way, I substituted soy milk for cow's milk, Earth Balance for real butter, and Ener-G Egg Replacer for the egg whites."  Well, no wonder problems arose!  In truth, this person didn't make my recipe, and my recipe didn't fail.  They made a heavily modified version of the recipe, with significant and crucial substitutions.

Consider the eggs.  I used eggs whites in my bread recipe for a very specific reason.  Egg whites are comprised almost exclusively of protein.  In particular, they contain a brand of proteins known as albumins, which are what enable you to whip egg whites into stiff peaks.  In baking, those same albumin proteins - in concert with xanthan gum - can help to more closely mimic gluten, resulting in the sandwich bread I was so proud of.  Now, consider Ener-G Egg Replacer.  It is made mostly from potato starch and tapioca starch.  Nutritionally, it is almost exclusively carbohydrate.  In other words, although it is called "egg replacer," when it comes to baking and the role of eggs in sandwich bread, Ener-G Egg Replacer does nothing of the sort.  It is all carbs.  Egg whites are all protein.  The egg replacer contains none of the desirable albumin proteins.

I'm not saying you shouldn't bake without eggs, or shouldn't use "replacement" products as you see fit, or shouldn't substitute in recipes.  Quite the contrary.  But when you do, first take a step back and ask yourself some important questions: Why is an ingredient in the recipe?  What role does it play?  When it comes to gluten, we tend to be more familiar with the answer - gluten is what makes dough "doughy."  It makes dough elastic and stretchy, and enables it to retain gas bubbles when dough rises and bakes.

When it comes to dairy, egg and other substitutions, the waters may get a little murkier.  Even if the answer isn't obvious, it's helpful to think about these sorts of things, and to adjust expectations accordingly.  And remember: if a recipe doesn't work out quite according to plan after you've made some substitutions, don't be discouraged.  There's almost certainly a solution out there, even if you haven't found it or figured it out just yet.

- Pete

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 6

Repetition.  In some ways, it's the cornerstone of training.  Day after day, we follow a routine.  We go out, as we did the day or week before, and do the same thing (or something pretty similar) in order to achieve a goal.  By that measure, Week 6 felt very much like Week 3.  In both cases, I had a good week of training, capped by a long weekend during which I backed off from training and indulged in the gastronomic side of life.  But before I go into details, the numbers:

Training Days: 2     (To Date: 24)
Rest Days: 5     (To Date: 18)
Weight: 156     (Net Gain/Loss: -4)
Running Days: 2     (To Date: 17)
Running Miles Logged: 22.3     (To Date: 133.2)
Average Run: 11.1     (Short = 11.1, Long = 11.2)
Cross-Training: None

As you may have already noticed, I trained for only two days last week.  This was by intention.  I've been training hard for 6 consecutive weeks, and the last 2 weeks especially have been defined by long mileage (typically, 10-15 miles per run) and heavy elevation gain (3,000-4,000 vertical feet).  It was time to take an extended rest, let my legs rebound, and come back to Week 7 feeling fresh and rejuvenated.  It's easy to give in to a tendency to train too much; to do one extra run, and then another, and another.  But if you do that for too long, you're body can't sustain the output.  You basically end up breaking down your body more than it recovers from each training session.  Instead of growing stronger, a kind of chronic fatigue sets in in your muscles.  I know, because I've done this before.  Not this time.

A wedding in New Jersey, coupled with celebrating Father's Day on Sunday with family from NJ and NY, gave me the perfect reason to take 4 consecutive days off from training, hence last week's low numbers.  And of course, a wedding and Father's Day meant one thing...eating.  I indulged in lobster, filet mignon (twice), wine, GF beer, and a long list of other foods and snacks I won't admit to here.  Suffice it to say that my progress in the body weight department slipped backwards just a bit.  I went into the weekend weighing 153, seven pounds under my starting weight, and two pounds under the previous week.  I came out of the weekend weighing 156, 3 pounds heavier.  It was like a re-run of Memorial Day Weekend.  But that was okay.  We have to allow ourselves such indulgences from time to time.  And I'm still on track to hit all my goals en route to the Virgil Crest Ultra race.

As I wrote about last week, I'm using the race as a fundraiser for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  Please help me support this great organization.  So far, I've raised $55, which gets me a little over 1% of the way toward my goal of raising $5,010 ($100 per mile).  A huge thank you goes out to Susan T, DeAnna O, and Erin E for your generous donations!  Won't you please join them?

Finally, there's news on the race front.  The race organizers of the Virgil Crest Ultra just unveiled a revised race course that differs from years past.  The route now includes more technical singletrack trails, and notably, an additional 1,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, making the grand total for the race a staggering 10,000 vertical feet of climbing.  9,000 was bad enough, but five digits of climbing seems truly insane.  In the words of the race organizers, the hills will be "relentless."  Wonderful.  Also, because the course is different, last year's times aren't quite as useful for the purpose of benchmarking and predicting this year's performance.  We'll see how it goes!

- Pete

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Foto: Red Velvet Cake

At the hotel where Kelli works, each person in the Sales, Catering, and Reservations departments is assigned a birthday buddy. They're a fellow coworker, and you're responsible for providing their requested cake on the appointed day. This year, Kelli's birthday buddy asked for Red Velvet Cake, and Kelli was happy to oblige. Though her coworker doesn't have dietary restrictions, Kelli developed a gluten-free version so everyone could enjoy it. The photo above is from a test cake. For the actual day, Kelli made red velvet cupcakes, but the recipe is the same.

As its name implies, red velvet cake is almost always some shade of red...from bright red to dark red to red-brown. The color has nothing to do with the flavor of the cake. It comes from either food coloring or beet root. The flavor actually trends toward the chocolate side of things, thanks to the use of cocoa. The cake is usually layered, paired with a cream cheese or butter cream frosting.

Here's how to make our gluten-free version:

For the Cake
1/2 cup salted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp red food coloring
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar

For the Frosting
5 tbsp Artisan GF Flour Blend
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup salted butter (16 tbsp or 2 sticks)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Grease 2 9-inch round baking pans, dust with cocoa powder, and dump out any excess. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cream together well the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer. Add the eggs and beat well.
3. Mix together the cocoa and food coloring to make a paste and add it to the creamed mixture.
4. In a bowl, mix together the vanilla and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, mix together the salt, xanthan gum and flour. Then, alternating the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture, add gradually to the mixer until well combined.
5. Mix together the baking soda and vinegar, and fold into the cake batter. Do not beat or stir. Transfer the batter into the two prepared cake pans.
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the middle comes out almost clean.
7. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
8. To make the frosting, cook the flour with the milk over low heat until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool thoroughly. (Tip: As the milk and flour mixture cools, cover it with plastic wrap - in direct contact with the milk - to prevent a skin from forming.)
9. Meanwhile, with an electric or stand mixer cream together the sugar, butter and vanilla on high until very light and fluffy, about 15 minutes.
10. Add the cooled milk-flour mixture to the mixing bowl and beat until you get a smooth, spreadable consistency. Ice your cake.

Enjoy!

- Pete

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Help me support NFCA

As you surely know from my weekly Physical Challenge updates, in late September I'm competing in the Virgil Crest Ultra race.  But what you may not know is that I've turned the event into a fundraiser for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  The race is Herculean in its proportions, and it will take a monumental effort to sufficiently train between now and then in order to finish (and hopefully do fairly well in the rankings).  While it'll make for one heck of a personal journey for me, and ideally, an entertaining saga for you to follow here on NGNP, I also want to make it about more than just me.  Which is where the NFCA fundraiser comes in.

I've created a fundraising page at First Giving.  Please have a look and read my plea.  Then, consider supporting me by making a donation to the NFCA.  As you'll see, my goal is to raise $5,010.  That equates to $100 per mile.  If each of NGNP's monthly readers donated just $5 dollars, we'd easily surpass my fundraising goal.  Perhaps you can make a flat donation, in any amount, large or small, in support of the cause.  If you're skeptical and don't think I'll be able to finish the race, why not support me per mile?  (Estimate the number of miles you think I'll complete - say, 40 - decide how much you want to sponsor per mile - say, $1 - and that would make for a $40 donation.)  Fellow GF bloggers, Facebookers and Tweeters, please consider sharing this fundraiser with your readers.  And NGNP readers in the Finger Lakes region of NY, why not consider coming by the actual race?  I'd love to have your support in that way, too!

I know that we all have many causes in our lives that are worthy of our time and our dollars.  I hope you consider making the NFCA one of those causes.  Celiac Disease - and gluten more generally - affects all of us here at NGNP, whether you deal with it first-hand, or have a family member or friend or coworker who does.  And you don't have to have CD to benefit from the NFCA's work.  Their mission to raise awareness about gluten-free issues has a positive impact on anyone following a GF diet, whether for CD, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy, or another reason.

Thank you in advance for your support.  I deeply appreciate it, and hope to smash my fundraising goal!

- Pete

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 5

Week 5 kicked off my second month of intensive training in preparation for Xterra and the Virgil Crest Ultra.  As ever, here are the stats:

Training Days: 3     (To Date: 22)
Rest Days: 4     (To Date: 13)
Body Weight: 155     (Net Gain/Loss: -5)
Running Days: 2     (To Date: 15)
Running Miles Logged: 27.9     (To Date: 110.9)
Average Run: 13.9     (Short = 13.6, Long = 14.3)
Cross-Training: Mountain biking

This past week marked a big shift in my training.  I definitively crossed over into double digit mile runs, logging 13 and 14 mile trail runs with pretty heft amounts of elevation gain.  It's really satisfying to have crossed that threshold, and to feel myself making real progress.  Though 14-plus miles and 4,000-plus vertical feet of elevation gain is still a long way from 50 miles and 9,000 feet, for the first time I could really look ahead to the Virgil Crest Ultra race and feel confident that I'll be able to finish.  As long as I stay on track and continue making the kind of progress that I have, tackling the distance and elevation gain will be very doable.  Then, it will become a matter of pushing harder and faster, and seeing what kind of pace I'll be able to maintain over that distance.

Here's how the pacing would break down in the race:

Maintaining a 10-minute-per-mile pace (6 mph) would have me finish in 8 hours and 20 minutes.  Based on last year's times, I would win the race and set a new course record.  (Ha!)

Maintaining an 12-minute-per-mile pace (5 mph) would have me finish in 10 hours, my professed target and a time which would have me contend for a top 5 finish.

Maintaining a 15-minute-per-mile pace (4 mph) would have me finish in about 12.5 hours, the time of last year's slowest finisher.  (The cutoff time for the race is 13 hours.)

With my shift to this significantly higher mileage, I'm also giving my body additional rest days each week.  Whereas before I was training 5-6 days per week, and resting 1-2 days per week, now I'm training 3-4 days per week, and giving my body an equal 3-4 days per week to recover from the grueling workouts.  As I get stronger at this longer distance, I'll be able to work in additional training days, but for now I want to remain injury free, save my knees, and allow my muscles ample time to recover.

The other thing I'm now doing as part of my workouts is focusing on eating almost immediately before and during my runs.  The Virgil Crest Ultra is a long enough race that I'll have to eat over the course of the race, keeping calories going in to fuel my body.  I'll start out by eating a carb-heavy meal within 30 minutes of my planned run, and then head out with a relatively full stomach and either a bottle belt or a Camelbak bladder for hydration, plus some GU and other snacks I consume periodically while on the run.  In this way, my GI system can get used to digesting food while my body is under stress.  For example, on Saturday I started my day with some GF Belgian waffles from scratch with pure maple syrup; then headed out for my long run with about 2 liters of water and 2 GU.

Today is a rest day, but tomorrow you'll find me out on the trails once again.

- Pete

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Foto: Stromboli


Gluten-free stromboli, after its first bake in the oven

Continuing my Italian craving theme from earlier this week, today's Friday Foto is of stromboli.  It seems like for months I've been telling Kelli, "I want to make a gluten-free stromboli."  Well, after months of putting off the task, I finally pulled the trigger and did it.  And boy was I happy I did.

There are lots of ways to describe a stromboli.  Some people call it a turnover.  Some say it's a sandwich.  Some liken it to a rolled pizza.  And some compare it to a calzone (minus the pocket).  One thing is for sure: Romano's in Essington, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia) claims to have created the world's first stromboli in 1950.

For me, a stromboli is an incredible melding of flavors.  You get spicy from the use of hot Italian sausage.  Salty from the cured deli meats (ham and pepperoni).  Sweet from the caramelized peppers and onions (and perhaps a side of marinara sauce for dipping).  And savory from the pizza bread dough and the cheese.

As you might expect, there are lots of ways to make a stromboli.  Here's how I make mine:


Twice-baked stromboli after a round in the toaster oven

Plain Pizza Dough

3/4 cup warm water
1 tbsp honey
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups Artisan Gluten-Free Flour blend (plus extra)

1. In a medium bowl, combine the warm water, honey and yeast.
2. When the yeast is foaming and active (about 5 minutes), add the remaining ingredients and mix well to form a dough.
3. Add additional flour, 1 tbsp or so at a time, until the dough is no longer tacky to the touch.
4. Add a small bit of olive oil to the mixing bowl, roll the dough to coat, set aside and let rise.

The Stromboli

1/2 lb hot Italian sausage (either without casings, or with casings removed and crumbled)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/4-1/2 lb deli-sliced ham
1/8-1/4 lb deli-sliced pepperoni
1/3-1/2 lb shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a large skillet, cook the sausage until cooked-through and browned.  With a slotted spoon, remove the sausage and set aside on paper towels.
3. In the rendered sausage fat in the skillet, sauté the peppers and onions until the peppers are soft and the onions are translucent.
4. Add the garlic, basil and oregano, and cook for one minute more.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
5. Lay out plastic wrap on your work surface (two side-by-side sheets, slightly overlapping at the edge), place the pizza dough in the center, and cover with two more sheets of plastic wrap.  Roll out the dough until you've formed a large rectangle.  Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap.
6. Keeping the dough on the bottom sheets of plastic wrap, transfer to a large greased baking sheet (leave the plastic wrap under the dough...it will come in handy soon, and don't worry, it'll be removed before you pop the stromboli in the oven!).
7. Spread the cooked sausage in a thin layer on the dough, leaving a small margin of naked dough around the edges.
8. Repeat with the seasoned peppers and onions.
9. The ham is next.  I folded each slice of deli ham in half, and then placed it flat on the fillings.  I repeated with slices of folded ham, butting up their edges, until the entire surface was covered with a single layer of doubled ham.
10. Repeat with the pepperoni, but don't fold them in half.  Simply create a single layer of pepp.
11. Spread the shredded mozzarella.
12. Now comes the finesse part of the process.  Arrange your stromboli (which should be on your baking sheet) so that the long side of the rectangle is at your belly on your work surface.  Starting with the edge closest to you, use the plastic wrap to aid you in beginning to roll the stromboli away from you.  Peel away the plastic wrap as you roll (so that it doesn't get rolled into the stromboli!).
12. Once you've completely rolled the stromboli (and discarded the plastic wrap), arrange it in the center of the baking sheet with the seam side down.  Pinch or crimp the ends, if desired.
13. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Enjoy!

A few notes:

For the ham, I used Boar's Head Black Forest ham, as well as BH pepperoni.  When finished baking, cut the stromboli into cross-section slices to serve.  Some warm marinara sauce on the side for dipping goes great with this dish.  Finally, I found that baking the sliced stromboli a second time in the toaster oven (primarily to reheat it, but also to cook it a little more) made it taste even better!

- Pete

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara


Summer-like weather has finally arrived in Colorado, seemingly for good.  It's fitting enough, given that Memorial Day Weekend is behind us, and the official start of summer on June 21 is less than two weeks away.  Usually, this summery weather would have me grilling dinner almost every night.  What's funny, though, is that I've instead had intense cravings for Italian and Italian-American food.  Meatballs.  Pizza.  Stromboli.  Chicken Parm.  And last, but certainly not least, Spaghetti Carbonara.  Don't ask me why, because I can't explain it.

What I can explain is Carbonara.  For the uninitiated, it's an Italian dish (with many American and international variations) based on four major components: pasta, cheese, cured fatty pork, and black pepper.  Usually, the pasta is spaghetti, though fettuccine or linguine may also be used.  The cheese if often Pecorino Romano or Parmesan.  The cured fatty pork is frequently pancetta or prosciutto, though in the U.S., bacon is also a common option.  The black pepper speaks for itself.

Our version is fairly true to types found in Italy, though we use only half as much cheese as might be considered "normal" and we use bacon for the pork.  It's an easy and quick dish often prepared table-side in restaurants.  (In fact, at my aunt's favorite Long Island Italian restaurant, they toss the pasta in a giant hollowed-out wheel of Pecorino Romano cheese!)  The dish has a little sweet from onion and a little smokiness from bacon.  Generally, it tastes rich (thanks to eggs and cheese), and as such pairs well with salad, which serves to lighten the overall disposition of the meal.

Here's the recipe:  (makes 6-8 servings)

1 lb gluten-free pasta
1/2 lb bacon, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus a little extra for garnish)
Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Bring the pasta to a boil, cook until al dente and strain.  Meanwhile...
2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cheese.  Set aside.
3. In a large skillet, sauté the bacon until done.  Set the bacon aside, but reserve about 3 tbsp of the drippings in the pan.
4. Sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant and translucent.
5. Add the wine and cooked bacon, and cook for about 2 minutes.
6. Add the cooked pasta and toss to mix in the bacon, onion and garlic.
7. Add the eggs and cheese.  Immediately remove from the heat and vigorously toss for several minutes.  (The heat from the pasta and residual heat from the pan melt the cheese and cook the raw eggs.)
8. Add plenty of fresh cracked black pepper and serve.

Enjoy!

When we made this dish recently, we used Tinkada GF brown rice spaghetti, though you could substitute your favorite store-bought GF pasta or make your own from scratch at home.

- Pete

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 4

Dave G. in the upper reaches of the Hopeful Couloir on 13,933' Mount Hope, Colorado

Week 4 is officially in the bank.  That's one consecutive month of training...more weeks than I've managed to string together since the end of 2009, when I started my series of bouts with viral relapses.  Woohoo!  Here's the breakdown:

Training Days: 4     (To Date: 19)
Rest Days: 3     (To Date: 9)
Body Weight: 155     (Net Gain/Loss: -5)
Running Days: 3     (To Date: 13)
Running Miles Logged: 19.9     (To Date: 83)
Average Run: 6.6     (Short = 4.5, Long = 9.2)
Cross-Training: Mountaineering

Happily, I'm continuing to see progress.  I've lost most of the weight I gained over Memorial Day Weekend.  My legs are feeling stronger.  My per mile pace is decreasing, even as my mileage is increasing.

As far as trail running goes, I concluded my week with a 6-plus mile run up to the saddle between Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak.  What really defines the run is the relentless elevation gain.  From trailhead to saddle, the route climbs some 2,500 vertical feet or so.  Nearly 2,000 of those feet are climbed in just 1.1 miles, as the trail ascends Shadow Canyon.  When I reached that point, my thighs were burning, and I just couldn't maintain the leg speed turnover to keep myself jogging uphill.  Instead, I power-hiked the steepest sections.  Just then, a guy - easily 15 years older than me - came bounding up the trail, seemingly unfazed.  I stepped to the side to allow him to pass, and watched as he disappeared among the trees and boulders above me.  Toward the end of last year's race season, I was that guy.  Clearly, I still have some work to do...

As a cap to the week, my buddy, Dave, and I did a mountaineering route up Mount Hope in the Collegiate Peaks, a sub-range of Colorado's Sawatch Mountains.  Our route began at around 9,900 feet in Sheep Gulch, surmounted 12,600' Hope Pass, and then ascended the Hopeful Couloir, the mountain's premier mountaineering route.  The couloir deposited us a few hundred yards shy of Hope's 13,933' summit, which we visited before beginning our descent of the East Ridge.  (Hope's elevation makes it one of the 100 highest peaks in the state.)  In all, the route climbed a total of 4,500 vertical feet - half as much as I'll climb over the course of the Virgil Ultra race in September.  It was great to be out for a long day of climbing in the mountains, kicking steps in steep snow, and plunging my ice axe in as I climbed higher and higher.  Climbing the Hopeful Couloir on Mount Hope has been on my mountaineering to-do list for literally years.  Now, I can check it off that list.

But the Mount Hope ascent was significant for another reason.  You see, the last time I climbed in the Collegiate Peaks was April 2007, when Kelli and I planned a winter conditions attempt of Mount Yale, one of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks.  Three months earlier, I had been diagnosed, and like for so many people, those first weeks and months involved a steep learning curve as I became better and better acquainted with the nuances of the gluten-free diet.  I don't recall specifically whether there was still some hidden source of gluten in my diet of which I wasn't yet aware, or whether I had been exposed to gluten cross-contamination.  But I do remember this: en route to the trailhead, I had to stop at gas stations three times for what I had come to call my "sudden catastrophic diarrhea."  As a result, I was in pain, weak with fatigue, and dehydrated.  

The wiser, prudent thing would have been to abandon our plans for the day.  And in fact, a little voice somewhere deep in the back of my mind implored me to do it.  But the mountaineer in me wanted to climb that peak more.  So, I bought some over-priced anti-diarrheal medicine from the 3rd gas station, and Kelli and I set out from the trailhead up Avalanche Gulch.  Predictably, though, our climb didn't go according to plan.  Somewhere around 12,500 on Yale's East Ridge, I sat down on a rock and knew that was as high as I could go that day.  I'd been defeated, not by the mountain, but by gluten.

Fast forward three years to this past Saturday on Mount Hope.  My diet, my body, and my mind were all working harmoniously together.  I climbed strong, and I felt great.  As Dave and I lounged on the summit for 15 minutes or so eating a snack before beginning our descent, I couldn't help but feel a kind of vindication.  I had returned to the Collegiate Peaks, the "scene of the crime," and this time, I was the victor.

Yesterday and today I'm giving my legs some much-needed rest days, and tomorrow, the trail running resumes with double-digit mile runs.  I can't wait!

- Pete

P.S. Congrats to our Nut Thins giveaway winners!  We've randomly selected four people from among the entrants: Miller P, Lori-Ann K, Claribel S, and Jennifer R.  Each of you will receive two boxes of Nut Thins.  Miller and Lori-Ann, please email me your mailing addresses!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Foto: Sandwich Bread

After many attempts to create a gluten-free sandwich bread, including some encouraging results and one disastrous bread bomb, we've finally hit the mark with version 6.0, which we've deemed ready for public consumption!
 

It browns beautifully, and holds it shape very well.

Best of all, the texture is great - good crumb, nice and moist, without being either too gummy (from too much xanthan gum) or too eggy (from too much egg white).

It also cuts into slices really well.  Even very thin slices hold together easily, without crumbling or falling apart.  I'll admit, this might be one of the most satisfying gluten-free baking recipes I've personally developed (partly because the journey to this point was so long and arduous, and partly because I'm so pleased with the result). 

Here's the recipe:

1 3/4 cups milk (2%)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salted butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 1/4 tsp yeast

1. In a medium saucepan, scald the milk with the sugar, butter and salt.  Whisk occasionally.  (The sugar and salt should dissolve, and the butter should melt.)  Remove from heat and allow to cool just until it's warm, not hot.  (You don't want to scramble the eggs in step 2, or kill the yeast in step 3.)
2. Add the egg whites and whisk to combine.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum and yeast.  Add to the saucepan, and stir until well-mixed.
4. Transfer the bread batter/dough into a greased loaf pan, cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Bake for 40 minutes.  (When done baking, allow to cool for about 10 minutes in the loaf pan before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.)

Enjoy!

Also, a couple of notes:

For this recipe, I used Fleischmann's gluten-free Active Dry Yeast.  Depending on the type of yeast you're using, you may need to proof your yeast first before adding it to the recipe.  (Even the Fleischmann's website says the Active Dry Yeast works best when dissolved in water first, though I didn't find it necessary with this recipe...)

For those of you who live and bake at or near sea level, you may experiment with using slightly less flour (no more than a 1/4 cup less, max).  Even so, I'd recommend trying to the full amount first, and downward adjusting your flour amount if necessary the next time around.

- Pete

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Blind Beer Tasting, Take 1

Danny O. contemplating the five beers

A few weeks ago, on a warm summer-like night, I assembled a group of friends - glutenous beer drinkers, all of them - for a blind beer tasting.  (Note: Please don't confuse this beer tasting with the upcoming gluten-free blind beer tasting!)  My motives were two-fold: on the one hand, the tasting was part of research for a new book I'm working on, and on the other hand, I selfishly wanted to see how my home brewed Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit stacked up against competition in a blind tasting.  The results were partly predictable, partly surprising, and overall intriguing.  But before I get to the results, the methodology:

The Beer Drinkers

All four of my beer tasters were self-described "enthusiastic beer drinkers," but not necessarily beer experts.  Importantly, they were all gluten eaters, and hence, conventional beer drinkers.

The Beers

I pulled together a sampling of five beers for the tasting.  Three were conventional beers, and two were gluten-free beers, including my home brew.  They were:

Blue Moon's Belgian White Grand Cru
New Belgium's Mothership Wit
Avery's White Rascal
Green's Discovery (GF)
Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit (GF)

With the exception of Green's, which was the closest GF beer I could find, they were all beers brewed in the Belgian Wit style; yeasty and cloudy; with orange peel and coriander.

The Rules

The beer tasters received the following information: They would be tasting a sampling of five different beers, all brewed in the same style.  However, they did not know what the style would be.  Similarly, they knew they would be tasting a combination of conventional and gluten-free beers, but they didn't know how many conventional and how many GF beers were included in the sampling.  The beers were poured into clear plastic cups labeled A through E (the GF beers were B and D).

The rules were simple: 1) They may taste the beers in any order they like. 2) They may return to a beer and re-taste it at any time, and as many times as they like.

Each taster was provided with a sheet for recording tasting notes.  For each beer, they were also asked to make a decision: What it a gluten-free beer? Yes or no.  Lastly, they were asked to rank the five beers in order of preference, from most favorite (1) to least favorite (5).

The Results

Most tasters opted to cycle through the beers from lightest to darkest.  When all the beer was consumed, and their pencils were put down, we discussed and tabulated the results.  But first, I asked which beer they thought was the home brew.  Only one person correctly guessed my Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit.  One taster thought the home brew was Green's, and two thought it was Blue Moon's Grand Cru.

In general, most tasters correctly picked out the gluten-free beers from the conventional beers, and on the scale of most favorite to least favorite, conventional beers usually beat out the gluten-free beers for taste.  There were some surprises, though.

3 out of the 4 tasters thought Blue Moon was a gluten-free beer.  (It's actually brewed with a combination of barley and wheat.)  One person thought Green's was a conventional beer, and another thought the same of my Zonder Gluten.

As for how my ZG rated against the others for taste... While one taster rated it a 2 (making it her second favorite of the five), the other three tasters were in solid agreement.  They gave it a five.  It was their least favorite, by far.  Sigh.

The Conclusion

Although I'm tempted to draw grand, sweeping conclusions and put a nice little bow on the package that was the blind beer tasting, I'm not going to.  I'll simply leave you with those results, for you to ponder and from which to draw your own conclusions.  But I will say this: I'm very excited for the upcoming all-gluten-free blind beer tasting.  I can only guess that it will be quite illuminating.

- Pete

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Physical Challenge: Week 3

Our gluten-free family on a hike in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area

Week 3 really spanned the gamut.  For the first part of the week, I was still shedding the cold I had been fighting during the second half of week 2.  Toward the end of the week, I squeezed in some great training runs.  And the end of the week culminated in Memorial Day Weekend, when we went camping in the North Fruita Desert (on Colorado's Western Slope, not far from the Utah border) and went hiking in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.

As usual, here's the by-the-numbers recap:

Training Days: 6     (To Date: 15)
Rest Days: 1     (To Date: 6)
Weight: 157.5     (Net Gain/Loss: -2.5)
Running Days: 3     (To Date: 10)
Running Miles Logged: 17.9     (To Date: 63.1)
Average Run: 6.0     (Short = 4.7, Long = 6.8)
Cross-training: Hiking, Mountain Biking

The numbers this week don't tell the whole story, though.

For example, the low running mileage doesn't do justice to the great hill workouts I did.  All of my training runs were on trails, and all had some pretty hefty elevation gain.  It was great to make my quads and gluts work extra hard, and not just crank out lots of flat miles just for the sake of the numbers.  I have to remember that there are two major aspects to the Virgil Crest Ultra - one the one hand, there's the 50-plus miles of running, but on the other hand, there's the 9,000 vertical feet of elevation gain.  It's important to respect them both, and last week I focused more on the elevation gain side of things.

The other part of the story that the numbers don't tell is that of my body weight.  Not that I'm obsessing.  But if you're following closely, I weighed in at 155.5 at the end of Week 2.  Which means I've gained 2 pounds over the course of Week 3.  What's more, on Friday I weighed 154.5.  I had actually lost another pound, but over the course of the three days of Memorial Day Weekend, I packed on an average of one pound per day!  That's no small accomplishment.  The reason why was simple enough - I went on a gluten-free bender, and joyfully partook of the myriad food delights that come along with camping and holiday weekends in the summer.

GF pancakes cooked over an open fire in the desert 

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on gluten-free bread.  Root beer.  GF beer.  Hot dogs.  Cubed potatoes cooked with butter in pockets of aluminum foil.  Watermelon.  Apples.  Oranges.  GF pancakes.  Bacon.  Chocolate.  Chips and salsa.  Most of the hot food we cooked over an open fire.

And it wasn't just what I ate, but the volume in which I consumed it.  Case in point: 11 hot dogs over the course of the weekend.  Sure, they didn't have buns.  But 11 dogs is 11 dogs.  No?

So, the weekend was a blip on my dietary radar.  I'm back on track today, and I'm sure those two pounds will fall right off and I'll continue my progress.  And let me tell you...each bite of food was totally worth it.  The weekend was delightful, partly for the food, partly for the company, partly for the scenery, and partly because I completely unplugged - no computer, no cell phone, no watch.

The highlight of the weekend from a casual cross-training perspective was our hike to Rattlesnake Arches.  It's home to the second highest concentration of natural rock arches in the country (behind only Arches National Park in Utah).  After driving the Jeep off-road on a rugged track that brought us to the remote trailhead, it was a 6-mile roundtrip hike through the canyons of the McInnis Canyons NCA to reach the payoff: the Rattlesnake Arches.  They were truly stunning.

Now, after that restful weekend, it's time to step up my training - higher mileage weeks with more elevation gain.  And it started today, when I had to drop off my Jeep at the mechanic to have some routine maintenance work done on it, and I decided to run home, just for good measure.

So, how did you celebrate Memorial Day this past weekend, and what was the gluten-free highlight for you?

- Pete