Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Training Update #5 forecast for the race location, today through race day

This is my last training update before the big ultramarathon! It's been exactly one week since the last training update, and so much has happened, I scarcely know where to begin. It's been one helluva roller coaster. (This is a long post, but I promise it makes for entertaining reading.)

I've decided that the theme for today's training update is "when it rains..." As you'll see, that's both a literal and a figurative statement. I'll start with the literal, the weather, since that's the easy part. 

The weather over by the race venue has not been good. They've had some pretty decent rain there in the past few days. Also, as you can see from the image above - a screen grab of the forecast for today through race day (Saturday), there's a very good chance of more rain, including the day before and the day of the race. 

If I could sit by a warm fireplace sipping hot mulled cider, that'd be one thing. But in the context of the race, a few associative words come to mind: wet, cold, muddy, and perhaps above all else, epic. This year's race is going to be epic. Adverse race conditions mean that all bets are off. (As I'm about to explain, all bets are off for another important reason, too. Read on.)

Image courtesy Stock.xchng / linder6580
My health over the course of the last week has been...not good. Bad even. In last week's training update I talked about what a good summer it had been, how I remained healthy and free of injury. I'm not a superstitious man, but I'm thinking I may have jinxed myself. Because no sooner did I post that update, than my health went in the toilet. It's easiest to convey the saga by way of a two-part explanation: my symptoms, and my futile search for a diagnosis.

Early last week on a routine trail run, I got a very minor scratch on my lower right leg from brushing against a thorny vine on a partly overgrown trail. It was maybe half a centimeter long. That's it. I get little nicks and cuts on my legs all the time, and didn't think anything of it. I washed the leg, and that was that.

By Wednesday, when I posted the last training update, that little cut had become mildly infected, with a quarter-sized red area around it. Something I took notice of, but still nothing to worry about. Then Thursday came along, and this thing blew up. It rapidly grew in size and changed appearance. It became raised, warm to the touch, swollen, uncomfortable. (I won't go into any more detail than that, in case you've just eaten... Let's just say it wasn't (and still isn't) pretty...)

With my stay in the hospital this past spring for staph in the back of my mind, I didn't want to mess around. And so Thursday was the first of many trips to the doctor. More on that in a bit.

Thursday night I developed systemic symptoms - fever and chills, joint pain, extreme fatigue, raging headache, nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, general ill feeling. Friday through Saturday those symptoms stayed with me, or worsened, or waxed and waned.

When I woke Saturday morning, Kelli nearly jumped out of bed. Sometime overnight, both of my eyes developed pretty severe 360-degree hemorrhages. (See the photo below...) My right eye in particular continued to bleed until mid-day Sunday, so that the globe got a bit swollen and uncomfortable, causing some mild tearing and some blurriness on the edges of my vision.

Saturday was probably the worst day overall. I barely could get out of bed. After a brief 30-minute attempt to eat lunch at the dining room table around 12:30p, I went to sleep around 1:00p - and other than waking once a few hours later to throw up my small lunch - I slept until 8:30p or so. I got up for about an hour, and then went back to bed for the night.

By late on Sunday, many of the systemic symptoms had resolved or began to resolve, which now has left me with a small bit of lingering tiredness, the infection/rash on my leg, and eyes that make me look like the devil/vampire.

Such has been my health roller coaster over the last week or so. The search for a diagnosis has proven frustratingly elusive.

I'm here to take your soul.
Worried that the infection on my leg was a recurrence of staph, last Thursday I went to my primary doc. She agreed that it looked like staph, and treated it as such, prescribing an oral antibiotic. She also ordered a panel of blood tests, and said to come back if I had any major change in symptoms.

That night I developed my long list of systemic symptoms, and so sure enough, on Friday I went back to my primary doc. My white blood cell count looked good, but funny thing, initial tests came back positive for Lyme disease. Yikes! So she put me on a second oral antibiotic to treat that, and once again said, if things get worse, see her tomorrow (Saturday).

Well, as you know I woke looking like an extra from the Twilight movie series, and so I called her office. The receptionist answered the phone.

"My eyes are bleeding," I told her.

"Do you mean they're bloodshot?"

"No. I mean both of my eyes are covered in blood."

Silence while she checked with the doctor.

"We think you should go straight to the hospital. Since it involves your eyes, we don't want to mess around."

Which is how I spent the first part of my Saturday morning (before spending the rest of the day in bed) in the ER of the hospital. They didn't have any answer for my eyes, or for my systemic symptoms, but diagnosed my leg as poison oak contact dermatitis and sent me home with a topical cream.

Meanwhile, the infection/rash on my leg doesn't seem to respond to the oral antibiotics or to any topical treatments. In fact, it continues to spread and get worse. So on Monday I visit a dermatologist, who diagnoses it was a severe spider bite, with accompanying systemic reaction. He prescribes a new stronger topical cream. He said he would normally have also prescribed a certain oral antibiotic, but that it could increase intraocular pressure, and with how my eyes already looked, well...

That same day I also went to see an opthalmologist, to make sure something serious wasn't wrong with my eyes. (For the most part, they're fine.) He gave me prescription eye drops (combo steroid and anti-inflammatory).

Oh, and by Monday, the full blood test results were in, and this time Lyme was negative.

To round out my bases, yesterday (Tuesday) I saw an infectious disease specialist. His assessment: the problem with my leg was an extreme allergic reaction to the vine that caused the initial scratch, and the systemic symptoms were my reaction to a drug allergy to one of the antibiotics my primary doc prescribed when she thought I had staph.

So to recap: since just this past Thursday, I've seen my primary doctor, an ER doctor, a dermatologist, an opthalmologist, and an infectious disease specialist. Those five doctors have variously diagnosed me with: a staph infection (not it), Lyme disease (also not it), contact dermatitis from poison oak (doesn't explain my systemic symptoms, and which, by the way, doesn't grow in New York!), a bad spider bite with systemic reaction (it's not a spider bite, trust me), and a contact dermatitis allergic reaction and bad drug side effects/allergy (possible, though I'm still skeptical).

At the end of all this, I have no definitive resolution. I just know that I'm getting better.

So what has all this meant for the last week of training? As you might have guessed, there hasn't been any training. I didn't do my last long run. I didn't do my last short runs. In fact, I wasn't even sure I'd be doing this race in a few days. As of Saturday night, it was looking like a 97% probability that I'd have to withdraw. I was already thinking of other ultra races later in October and November that I could run to "make up" for having to miss this one.

But my health has rebounded enough that I'm going to give it a try. I went for one modest short 4.5-mile "test run" yesterday to see how I was feeling after all this. I didn't feel great or terrible, good or bad. I just felt okay, which is fine by me all things considered.

I'll admit. At times I've felt demoralized and disappointed by all this. I want to perform at my best. I want to peak for this race. That won't happen. And this isn't the first time a major race has been sabotaged by illness. This spring I missed the North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge (another 50-mile ultra) because I was hospitalized with staph and then tick-borne ehrlichiosis. Back in 2009, I came down with a nasty case of H1N1 flu two days before the Xterra off-road triathlon US national championship.

I've tried to put a positive spin on the situation, and have come up with at least two ways getting sick will actually help me in this race:

1. Abandoning training and spending all that time in bed prevented me from over-training in this last week, forcing me to start an early "taper."

2. My devil eyes will be great for intimidating the competition.

2x Supporter

GF Bistro

It wasn't been all doom and gloom, however. On a much brighter note, you all are awesome! While I've been resting in bed, trying as hard as I can to recover in time for the race, you've been busy supporting the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness! As of this morning, we've reached 59% of my goal. Together we've raised more than $2,930. Thank you all for your support! Let's break right through the $3,000 mark and keep on going.

If you've thought about making a donation, but haven't yet, please go do it now. Visit my fundraising page. Every dollar helps. Seriously. And the clock is ticking. The fundraising doesn't officially stop on Saturday... the fundraising page stays open for another month or so after that. But Saturday is a finish line of sorts, and I'd love to get as close to the goal as possible by then. Do it for yourself. Do it for someone you know who is gluten-free. Do it for the NFCA. Do it for my red eyes. =)

Finally, on a logistical note... for those of you who want to track my race progress live, you'll be able to do so. The race starts at 6:00am on Saturday. Starting Friday, you can go to the race website and follow links to "live runner tracking." Find my name under the 50-mile race format. Or, if you prefer to have text messages sent to your phone each time I pass through an aid station, you can sign up for that now. Go to this page, choose the 50-mile race format tab, find my name (Peter Bronski), and click the cell phone icon next to it.

Wish me luck. After the week I've had, I'm going to need it!

- Pete

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Product Review: TrueBars

When Bakery on Main - makers of gluten-free granola and gluten-free granola bars (which we reviewed here) - offered to send us gratis samples of their new TrueBars, I'll admit I was a bit skeptical. Based on initial appearances, they bore resemblance to Bora Bora bars and Wild Alice bars, and we only felt so so about those brands. As we soon discovered, though, appearances can be deceiving.

TrueBars seem to represent something of a departure for Bakery on Main. The company name and logo are seriously downsized. Instead, "TrueBar" is dominant on the packaging, which is slick and colorful and modern, and has little in common with BoM's other products. It's as if they're trying to establish a separate brand or a sub-brand. Fortunately for BoM, these bars can certainly stand on their own.

The tag line is that these are bars "with nothing to hide," a nod to the use of straightforward, wholesome ingredients. For example, the ingredients list on one bar reads: coconut, cashews, brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, rice crisp, agave nectar, chia seeds, brown rice flour, inulin, soybean lecithin, sea salt, and canola oil. Other flavors may have different nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or a touch of chocolate. Some people may take issue with the evaporated cane juice, soy lecithin, canola oil, or even the agave nectar, but on the whole, these bars are filled with good stuff. And you can pretty much see all the ingredients in the bar as you eat it.

Nutritionally, the bars range from 150-190 calories per bar. Fat ranges from 6 to 12g per bar. Sugar ranges from 12 to 15g per bar. Each bar has a few grams of protein. Ingredients such as chia seeds give them omega 3 fatty acids. Other ingredients make them pretty high in fiber. Many of the ingredients are lower on the glycemic index scale. And their balance of carbs, protein and fat make them pretty hunger-satisfying.

For texture, bars to me sit along a spectrum, from too soft and chewy, to good chewy, to good crunchy, to break-your-tooth too crunchy. The TrueBars hit the Goldilocks sweet spot of snack bar texture - neither too chewy nor too crunchy. They have a pleasant firm chewiness, with enough substance to let you know you're biting into something with texture.

As for flavor, we found a lot to love. We sampled six: Fruit and Nut, Raspberry Chocolate Almond, Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry, Walnut Cappucino, Apricot Almond Chai, and Coconut Cashew. On the average, the nuts in any given bar had a pretty subtle flavor. For example, I barely detected the hazelnuts in the Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry, which was a shame, because I love hazelnuts. Otherwise, here's how the flavors broke down:

Fruit and Nut
A good bar. Kind of the Plain Jane of the group. Tasty, but unmemorable.

Raspberry Chocolate Almond and Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry
I group these together because they were similar in terms of overall "formula" - nut, plus tart dried fruit, plus mini chocolate chips. As I mentioned earlier, in both cases the nuts (hazelnuts and almonds) were pretty subtle, though visibly present. The mini chocolate chips never overpowered the bar, but provided a pleasant sweet chocolate flavor, balanced well by the tart raspberries and cherries. If you like fruit in your nut bars, these are the way to go.

Walnut Cappucino and Apricot Almond Chai
These two flavors were excellent. Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves gave the chair bar warm, complex layers of flavor. The walnut cappucino bar similarly impressed us. Kelli declared it her favorite snack bar flavor ever. That's saying something!

Coconut Cashew
Another superb flavor. This was my favorite, by a very long shot. I would buy these by the case. In fact, I just might do that in advance of my ultramarathon on September 24. They're like a slightly chewy, slightly crunchy coconut macaroon in snack bar form...with lots of chia seeds. So good.

And so there you have it. By our measure, TrueBars are a huge step in the right direction for Bakery on Main. Overall, they have great ingredients, great texture, and great flavor. After sampling many fruit-nut-seed style bars over the years, we've finally come across one that knocks it out of the ballpark.

- Pete

Images courtesy Bakery on Main

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Training Update #4

An unnamed waterfall on Shaupeneak Ridge,
one of my regular weekday trail running training locales
This past weekend I headed over to the Shawangunk Mountains for my longest training run to date. It was 17.5 (maybe 18) miles with some good elevation gain, though not quite as much as the race is going to dish out. As I worked my way up toward a summit known as Skytop, I was huffing and puffing up a steeper section of trail when I saw ahead of me a large porcupine smack in the middle of my path.

As I grew closer, that little guy didn't much seem to care. He looked at me, casually turned so that his sharp spines faced me, and slowly ambled to the side of the trail, where he stayed. He didn't scatter into the woods. He didn't frantically run for cover. He simply provided enough space for me to pass, and then continued about his day. In other words, that porcupine had confidence. With just a week and a half to go until the big race, I could use as much confidence as I can get.

Confidence, at least in this context, seems to come about through a combination of knowledge, experience, and self-assurance. I've done the race before. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I know the course (normally good for confidence). But on the other hand, I know the course (if you know that the course is brutal, this is maybe not so good for confidence... sometimes ignorance is bliss). I know what worked and what didn't work for my gluten-free race nutrition. I know that this year I'll bring trekking poles for the insanely steep Greek Peak section of the race.

But there are also unknowns, which aren't great for confidence. Will my revised training regime pay off? Or should I have stuck to a training plan similar to last year? What kind of condition will the course be in following the unbelievable rains and flooding New York has had? (As of the race director's most recent email to registered competitors, the steep ascents and descents are described as "muddy slip and slides." Yikes. This year's race could be epic.)

I do have two big positives in my corner, though. For one, I've been healthy on a well-rounded gluten-free diet. My body is back to performing at high-octane levels. For another, I have the support of the gluten-free community in my corner.

Speaking of which, I'm happy to announce the Bard's Tale Beer Company as the latest Sustaining Sponsor. Bard's is one of the long-standing pillars of the gluten-free beer world, and as far as I know, the only brewery to use genuinely malted sorghum grain (as opposed to sorghum syrup) to brew their beer. That's a quality that doesn't go unnoticed amongst die-hard beer drinkers. (Just one reason why, in our Great Gluten-Free Blind Beer Tasting, Bard's earned votes for both top pick in its flight of beers as well as for overall best in show from our panel of tasters.) Bard's is also - through Midwest Homebrewing Supplies - the first gluten-free beer company to offer a homebrew kit for you to brew your own Bard's Tale clone beer. Stay tuned for future blog posts about the nuances of Bard's malted sorghum, as well as our experiences brewing a Bard's clone at home. Should be fun! (And tasty!)

And don't forget about our other Sustaining Sponsors: Rudi's Gluten-Free Bakery and The Gluten-Free Bistro.

2x Supporter

GF Bistro
Finally, as always with these training updates, I want to leave you with a fundraising update. We've now raised almost $2,400, bringing me to 47% of my goal of raising $5,000 for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. With a week and a half to go until the race, we're in the homestretch. Please visit the fundraising page and help us inch closer and closer to our goal. Every dollar helps! Thanks again for your support.

Two more short training runs (5-10 miles each) and one more long training run (~20 miles) to go. Then it's game time. Starting to get excited!

- Pete

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

National Celiac Disease Awareness Day 2011

Today is National Celiac Disease Awareness Day. There's lots I could write about celiac disease - what it is, how prevalent it is, how rates of the disease are rising, how it impacts health. But I'm not going to. I've said it all before, in pieces here and there, on the blog. And I'm sure other bloggers and gluten-free/celiac organizations will cover that ground more than adequately.

Instead, I'd like to use the day to plug a bunch of upcoming events:

First and foremost, did you hear that - thanks to the efforts of many organizations, companies, bloggers, and others in the GF community - the FDA has finally taken notice and reopened the comment period for gluten-free labeling? It's not a GF standard for the US. Yet. But it's a step in the right direction, and is long-awaited progress after the process had stalled for several years. Visit the FDA website and submit your comment today!

Secondly, for those of you in the New York City area, Kelli and I are going to be at G-Free NYC on the Upper West Side on Sunday, September 18, from 1-3pm. They're calling it a "meet, greet, and eat." We'll be bringing samples of mini cupcakes. (We're thinking mocha, and since fall is fast approaching, pumpkin spice with cinnamon vanilla frosting.) Come on by and say hello!

Thirdly, as you've heard from me incessantly in recent weeks, on Saturday, September 24, I'm racing in the Virgil Crest 50-mile ultramarathon to raise money for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. So far we've raised more than $2,340 (47% of my goal). With the race less than two weeks away, we're in the final push (both training and fundraising). Check out the fundraising page, and make a donation today!

Finally, one week later, on Saturday, October 1, I'll be at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo in Dallas. I'm co-teaching a 4-hour class called "Bread & Beyond." Mary Capone and Brittany Angell will be joining me. We're each tackling one or more gluten-free breads. I'll be walking folks through the finer points of crafting a genuine boiled-then-baked Long Island bagel. After the class, I'll be on hand at the Expo to sign cookbooks, chat, answer questions, etc. Get your tickets today!

- Pete

Friday, September 9, 2011

Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Training Update #3

How I'm going to feel immediately following the race
As she has for so many parts of the country lately, Mother Nature hasn't given us a break. First it was Irene. Most recently, it's been the remnants of Lee. More prolonged, steady, heavy rain. More flooding.

I'm not normally one to bring up the condition of the trails and the weather. I typically take it as it comes, sun, rain, snow, whatever. But many local trails are borderline unrunnable. Some area roads are under water and/or washed out. This definitely qualifies as training under adverse conditions.

Needless to say, in the week-plus since my last training update, I haven't gotten in nearly the mileage I had planned. Instead of 10- to 15-mile runs, I've managed 5- to 10-mile runs. Plus, many of those miles have been on paved and gravel roads, instead of trails. At this point, I'll take what I can get.

As of this writing, I'm just shy of 300 training miles since I started tracking after my hospitalizations this past spring. With just two weeks to go until the race, under best-case circumstances, I'll manage another 50 miles or so of trail running. This will bring my pre-race training mileage to 350. Compare that number to last year's pre-race training mileage, which was 550. That's a 200-mile difference. Holy cow.

On the positive side, this is right on track. When I originally announced the 2nd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge, I had 190 miles under my belt, and estimated I'd log another 150, for a total of 340. And here I am, pretty much on the mark. (I was quite pleased to discover this when I looked back!) I also noted that I'd take a different approach to training this summer, focusing on a bit shorter mileage during my runs, but with increased intensity. That too has panned out. (My longest training run this summer will be 20 miles or so, compared to 32 miles last summer.)

Even so, the big question is how I'll feel on race day. Overall, it's been a good summer. Since the hospital "episode," I've remained largely healthy, largely free of injury, and - with the exception of one gluten cross-contamination from a restaurant while traveling - confidently gluten-free. This all bodes well for the race.

The big variable, though, is the race itself. It's not a distance to take for granted. Just because I handled it well last year doesn't mean I will this year. Race day - just two weeks away - will tell all.

The other race I'm running (in case you haven't noticed), is the fundraising race. I'm trying to raise $5,000 for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness...$100 per mile. I'm once again thrilled to report great progress thanks to your support. We're now at 41% of my goal, with roughly $2,040 raised so far. I'd love to go into the weekend at 50%. Won't you help me - and us - get there? Please visit my fundraising page and help make it happen.

This week I announce two new corporate sponsors, who have generously donated to the NFCA. The first is this week's Featured Sponsor: New Planet Gluten-Free Beer. They're a 2x Supporter, having also donated to the NFCA during last year's inaugural Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge. We're pretty big fans of New Planet. You may have caught our review of their Off Grid Pale Ale, our review of their Raspberry Ale, our review of their Tread Lightly Ale, or New Planet's impressive performance in our Great Gluten-Free Blind Beer Tasting.

Secondly, I'm announcing an additional Sustaining Sponsor: Rudi's Gluten-Free Bakery. They make some of the best gluten-free bread you'll find in the supermarket, and they've recently added pizza crust, as well as multigrain hot dog rolls and hamburger buns. Like New Planet, Rudi's is also a 2x Supporter, also stepping up for a second year in a row after supporting the NFCA as a Sustaining Sponsor in last year's inaugural Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge. Thank you Rudi's and New Planet!

Finally, a reminder that the other Sustaining Sponsor is The Gluten-Free Bistro, which makes an awesome pizza crust, all-purpose flour blend, and pasta.

Please note that these sponsors are not advertisers. When I say we love 'em, it's because we love the company and the product. When I link to past reviews, they are independent, unbiased reviews of these company's products. We've taken no money from these sponsors. All of their "sponsorship" money goes directly to the NFCA as a donation. We never see a dime. I plug them here on the blog as a way to say thank you for their support of a cause we all have a stake in. It doesn't hurt that we also love these companies, and you can look back and read our reviews to find out exactly why.

But enough of that. It's time to focus back on the training. An ultramarathon is looming, and the clock is ticking...

- Pete

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Product Review: La Famiglia DelGrosso Pasta Sauces

Between our "Artisanal" cookbooks and the from-scratch recipes we share here on the blog, you might get the impression that we don't buy, use or otherwise eat prepared foods. That's not quite the case, and to suggest otherwise would be just plain inaccurate. While the vast majority of our cooking and baking is in fact from scratch, our pantry is stocked - if lightly - with some "standard" foods that come in handy when convenience, time, or motivation are at a premium. Consider pasta sauces.

Yes, we make our own marinara sauce from scratch. But we also like to have a jar, maybe two, in the pantry. When we need to throw together a quick, easy dinner, gluten-free pasta with jarred sauce is a no-brainer. Especially when such a meal is easily "fortified" with some fresh vegetables (diced peppers, zucchini, whatever), or some freshly cooked ground turkey (to make a bolognese), or maybe some sauteed shrimp in garlic.

However, when we do go the route of the jarred sauce, we want it to be a) tasty, and b) consistent with the types of sauces we'd make ourselves at home. By both measures, the pasta sauces from La Famiglia DelGrosso just may have hit a home run, and we don't toss around such praise lightly.

Over the years, many brands of pasta sauce have graced our pantry shelves...both big-name brands such as Ragu and Classico, as well as natural, organic brands such as Muir Glen. A very small handful have been winners. Some have been good. But more have left us dissatisfied. They can be oily, or taste like glorified tomato paste, or have a flavor profile that just didn't match our tastes. The fact that we've bounced from brand to brand for so long should be an indication of our general state of displeasure. Until now.

Founded in the 1940s by an Italian-American family, La Famiglia DelGrosso bills itself as the "oldest major family-owned manufacturer of pasta sauce in the United States." They do one thing - make pasta sauce - and do it very well. LFD's full line of 8 pasta sauces is all gluten-free. A handy nutritional table on their website also makes it easy to identify Kosher, vegetarian, vegan, and no-sugar-added varieties.

The company sent us 3 gratis samples to review: Uncle Joe's Vodka Celebration, Uncle Fred's Fireworks Sauce, and Aunt Cindy's Sun-Dried Tomato Sonata. We immediately fell in love with the familiar all-natural ingredients. Making pasta sauce at home, we wouldn't do much differently. Take the Fireworks sauce as an example. It contains: whole Italian plum tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, olive oil, zucchini, fresh onions, organic sugar, sea salt, garlic, basil, crushed red pepper, and white pepper. That's it.

What did we think of the flavor? Here's our assessment:

Aunt Cindy's Sun-Dried Tomato Sonata - Warm, well-rounded, nicely-balanced flavors. A definite cheesiness to this sauce, though not overpoweringly so. That said, with the heavy cream and pecorino romano, it proved just a touch too much dairy/cheese for our sensibilities.

Uncle Fred's Fireworks Sauce - Superb. Great, bright flavor, with a good bit of heat. It proved too spicy for Kelli and the girls, but it was right in my sweet spot. Loved it.

Uncle Joe's Vodka Celebration - Rich, bright flavor, with just a touch of subtle heat. Didn't taste cheesy at all, despite some cream and pecorino romano in the ingredients. In some ways, a blend of the best characteristics of the previous two flavors. The overall family favorite.

Our search for a pantry pasta sauce is over. La Famiglia DelGrosso has earned a spot with our famiglia. And with 8 gluten-free, tasty, natural variations in their line of sauces, they just might earn a spot with your famiglia, too.

- Pete

Image courtesy La Famiglia DelGrosso

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Donut Holes

It's that time of the month again ... the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally! If you've caught our participation in past months, you've seen us make tortellini for the pasta theme, almond choux florentines for the pate a choux theme, and mesquite scones for the scone theme. This month the theme is donuts and fritters, and Meg at Gluten-Free Boulangerie is the host. (Be sure to check out her post for links to lots of other fabulous gluten-free bloggers participating in this month's Ratio Rally!)

Donuts, as simple as they seem, come in a variety of styles (not counting the near-limitless flavor combinations). You have yeast donuts and cake donuts, fried donuts and baked donuts, whole donuts and donut holes. You get the idea.

We decided to focus our attention on donut holes. And not just any donut holes. Jelly-filled donut holes topped with powdered sugar. Something akin to the Munchins you'd find at Dunkin' Donuts.

Now, I'm not one for giving disclaimers ahead of sharing a recipe, but I'm going to break with convention this time: The weight measurements for ingredients in the recipe are approximate. Hopefully, that approximation is pretty darned near exact. But in between test batches of donut holes, our digital kitchen scale kicked the bucket, so we had to switch from baking by weight to baking by volume, and then back-calculating the weight measurements. That said, let's get on with the recipe...

Jelly Donut Holes
Makes 18 donut holes

120g milk (about 1/2 cup)
30g butter (about 2 tbsp)
1/4 tsp salt
53g sugar (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp GF pure vanilla extract
50g egg, beaten (1 large)
190g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
Oil for frying

1. Scald the milk. Then add the butter, salt, sugar and vanilla. When the mixture cools to 130 deg F, add the egg.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, xanthan gum and yeast.
3. Add the milk mixture to the flour, and mix until the dough is smooth.
4. Use a 1.5-inch diameter or similar cookie scoop, and scoop dough balls onto a greased cookie sheet. Spray or brush the dough balls with oil. Put in a warm place to rise for at least one hour.
5. Deep fry in oil, in batches, for 2 minutes 30 seconds at 360 deg F.
6. Pipe the jelly filling (recipe follows) into the donut holes and dust with powdered sugar.


This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free.

Raspberry Filling

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tbsp cold water
1 cup raspberries

1. Mix together the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan.
2. Stir in the water.
3. Add the raspberries.
4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for one minute, until the filling is thick and clear.

Note: For a smoother filling, you can also strain out the raspberry seeds, but we didn't bother this time.

On a final and unrelated note, I'm thrilled to announce that I'm now more than 1/3 of the way toward my goal of raising $5,000 in the 2nd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge. All donations benefit the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the gluten-free community. There are less than 3 weeks to go until race day. Please visit my fundraising page and make a donation today! Every dollar helps! Thank you for your support!

- Pete

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Foto: Corn Chowder

As novice gardeners, we've been delighted with many of our successes, but we've also faced some challenges, and had our share of failures. Our cantaloupe never took off (we blame the intense shade caused by our community garden neighbor's seven-foot-tall sunflowers). Some critters kept stealing the sugar snap peas we planted, before they had a chance to germinate. We allowed our green onions to get choked out by weeds before they were mature enough to better fend for themselves. Fortunately, on the average we've had more of the success than the failure.

One thing that has persistently plagued us, though, has been determining when the time is right to harvest ears of corn off the stalk. Sometimes the ears haven't filled out with kernels completely yet. More often, we've waited too long and the corn is over the hill. Some astute readers noticed this in the corn pics from last week's garden-centric Friday Foto. (And a big thanks to the experienced gardeners among you who emailed us with tips!)

Needless to say, we were left with quite a few ears of corn that weren't exactly in their prime for steaming and eating fresh right off the cob. What to do? We made this delicious corn-and-potato chowder. With the nights slowly beginning to turn cooler in our neck of the woods, it's a great evening dish that combines the harvest of late summer with the warm comfort of hearty fall cuisine.

Corn Chowder
Makes about 6 servings

4 strips bacon
1 medium onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (or any all-purpose GF flour blend)
3 cups GF chicken stock
2 medium potatoes, cubed small (Yukon gold or similar)
5 ears corn, cut from the cob
1 cup half-and-half
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook the bacon in the bottom of a heavy saucepan (4 quart capacity or so) until well-done. Remove the cooked bacon. Crumble once cool enough to touch.
2. Add the onion and garlic to the bacon drippings. Saute over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent.
3. Add the flour and stir to coat the onion and garlic.
4. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.
5. Add the potatoes and cook until soft, about 20 minutes.
6. Puree all but 1/4 cup of the corn. Add all of the corn, plus the half-and-half, and simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Add the vinegar and reserved bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


This recipe is: gluten-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free, soy-free.

Finally, on a non-recipe-related note, I just wanted to conclude this Friday Foto that immediately precedes Labor Day Weekend with a big thank you. Just since Wednesday, two days ago, when I posted my last ultramarathon training update, we've made more progress toward my National Foundation for Celiac Awareness fundraising goal. We're now approaching $1,400 raised, 27% of the way toward my goal of $5,000 ($100 per mile).

This effort has been getting some good traction on Twitter today, and I have to extend a second big thank you to all the bloggers who are tweeting and sharing the endeavor.

Before you log off and enjoy the long weekend, please check out the fundraising page and consider making a donation today. Every dollar counts, and every dollar helps the gluten-free community! Thanks for your support!

With just a few weeks to go until the race, this is going to be a big training weekend for me. Until next week...

- Pete

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Product Review: Glutino

When Glutino first contacted us, offering to send gratis product samples for us to review here on No Gluten, No Problem, my first thought was, "No thanks. We've got you covered already." After all, a Glutino product of one sort or another - especially the pretzels and crackers - has been a constant presence in our pantry for at least two or three years. Our girls love them. They make for tasty, easy-to-pack treats to take with us in the car, to the beach, on hikes, whatever.

Upon checking the NGNP archives, however, I was shocked to find we in fact hadn't reviewed Glutino previously. The only thing I found were a pair of blog posts (number one and number two) following a trip to Quebec, which made passing references to Glutino crackers and snack bars. That was it. I can only chalk this up to being a "not seeing the forest for the trees" moment. Glutino has been right in front of our eyes, and we largely haven't written about it. Until now.

Quebec-based Glutino tests all of their products to make sure they meet the widely adopted 20ppm international gluten-free "standard." I put them into the "diversified company" category of GF food manufacturers. Many companies specialize... in frozen foods, or prepared baked goods, or box mixes, or cereals. Glutino does a little bit of everything, especially since acquiring Gluten-Free Pantry in 2004.

I already mentioned that we're fans of their pretzels (stay tuned for a forthcoming Versus post where Glutino and Snyder GF pretzels face off against each other). We're also fans of their crackers. We've had their snack bars and cereals. And if you caught our Brownies Versus post in February of this year, you know that GF Pantry's brownie mix scored very highly against the competition.

When it came time to choose product samples from the kind folks at Glutino, we knew that we wanted to branch out and try other parts of their product line. This review focuses on those foods.

Chicken Pad Thai

The pad thai had a good - if somewhat non-traditional - sauce. A little heat, a little sweet. It was a thick sauce, almost like a gravy. The brown rice noodle was a different (and healthier) touch, which we liked. At 370 calories, it was a bit small as a serving for either Kelli or me. And with 890mg (37% recommended daily value), the sodium was a bit high. The prepared dish, when it came out of the microwave, looked different than the product packaging. Instead of beautiful pieces of white meat chicken over well-defined rice noodles, it was more one big mess of saucy meat and noodles. But the taste was good, and it was made with lots of familiar whole ingredients: brown rice noodles, cooked chicken, water, tamari, eggs, onions, sugar, carrots, etc. You get the picture. Overall, a thumbs up.

Pepperoni Pizza

Like the pad thai, the pepperoni pizza was fairly small, measuring just six inches across, and weighing in with 360 calories and 850mg (35%rdv) sodium. After cooking the pizza in our toaster oven, the edge of the crust got hard and cracker-like. (Overall, the crust texture was much better than Amy's "mealy" GF pizza crust.) The blend of mozzarella and Monterey jack cheeses gave it a "cheesier" taste, but the pizza could have used a touch more sauce for better crust-to-cheese-to-tomato balance. Overall, though, Kelli and I both came to the same independent conclusion that Glutino's pepperoni pizza tasted similar to - and as good as - a "typical" frozen gluten pizza.

Bagel Chips

The bagel chips were very crunchy, almost too much so. But they were as good as any gluten bagel chip we've had in the now distant past. They had a pleasant light saltiness. With the right dip, or perhaps a bruschetta topping, they'd be great. One criticism (and this is true of many Glutino baked goods) is that they're made with almost all gluten-free starches, as opposed to whole grain flours that would have more protein and nutrients. That said, Kelli and I agreed that we liked these bagel chips better than Glutino's actual bagels.

Poppy Seed Bagels

I'll say from the outset - the bagels are at a disadvantage. Coming frozen (as so many GF baked goods do), they basically require at least light toasting to make them approachable. Once you do that, though, they're actually pretty good. They're a little dense, a little dry, a little small, and nothing at all like a "proper" boiled-then-baked Long Island bagel. But they're chewy, and perfectly good, and even better when topped with butter or jam or peanut butter or whatever you like.


The sheer diversity - in both breadth and depth of offerings - of the Glutino line is impressive. On the average, for taste and texture, their stuff is pretty good. We have some nutritional criticisms here or there - serving sizes on meals could contain more calories and less salt; baked goods could use more whole flours than refined starches, etc. But overall, there's much to recommend about Glutino's line of GF foods.

And if actions speak louder than words, consider these two facts: 1) as I write these words, we have both Glutino crackers and pretzels in our pantry (for the girls), and 2) when traveling, I find it a comfort to see the familiar Glutino name when I'm scanning the grocery store aisles to stock up on some good, GF food while on the road.

- Pete

All images courtesy Glutino