Friday, March 30, 2012

Athlete Insight: Shelby Kaho


In The Gluten-Free Edge, Melissa (Gluten Free for Good) and I interview and profile dozens of amazing gluten-free athletes. One of the wonderful challenges of writing the book was that we discovered many more gluten-free athletes than we could ever hope to fit within the book's pages. And so, we're featuring more athletes here on No Gluten, No Problem in "Athlete Insight," a recurring series. Learn from them. Be inspired by them. And see that—whether you're gluten-free for medical reasons or voluntarily to gain a performance edge—gluten-free athletes are out there, living an active gluten-free life to the fullest.

Shelby Kaho
Collegiate hurdler

Born: 1993
Lives: Ohio
Gluten-free since: 2005/2006

If you're familiar with Wendy of Celiacs in the House, then you already know one member of the Kaho clan. Today, meet her daughter, Shelby.

Shelby was home schooled until the 7th grade, when she switched into public school in order to play sports. "In middle school, I tried everything: basketball, volleyball, track," she says. "Track was just it. It came naturally to me. I was always fast and could jump high." As she transitioned into high school, track remained her athletic focus.

By then, however, the Kaho family had been uncovering their long-standing but as yet undiagnosed problem with gluten. Shelby's brother had been hospitalized with severe anemia. That eventually led to a celiac disease diagnosis. Shelby, meanwhile, had been having her own health challenges. "I'd been diagnosed with IBS, gastric reflux," she says. "I had a weak immune system, bad allergies, fatigue. And I had stomach problems—there was something at least every day ... cramps, nausea." Testing revealed that she, too, had celiac disease. (As it turned out, their mom Wendy had celiac as well, and genealogy research has revealed a number of ancestors who likely had it, though they didn't know it.)


For Shelby, some symptoms resolved quickly on the gluten-free diet. Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies resulted in shin splints that bordered on stress fractures (a situation common to many athletes with undiagnosed celiac disease). Once gluten-free, her bone density rebounded and she had a major growth spurt.

Others symptoms took more time to resolve. "This year, after being gluten-free for more than five years, is the first time my immune system feels a lot better," she explains. "I'm the healthiest I've been; I'm a lot stronger."

Stronger is definitely the operative word. Shelby, a freshman at Ohio's Wittenberg University, earned a spot on the track and field team as a walk-on. She runs the 60- and 100-m dash, though the 60-m hurdles is her true specialty. Earlier this month, she won the 60-m hurdle individual championship at the North Coast Athletic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships.

Staying safely gluten-free while a college athlete has involved a multi-pronged strategy. Her teammates are supportive. "Everyone is great about it; they look out for me," Shelby says. She travels to meets with a cooler full of gluten-free foods. The team stays at accommodations with mini-fridges and microwaves in the rooms. Back on campus, she's been working with the executive chef and the manager of dining services to ensure that she has good options. And her dorm room is always stocked with plenty of tasty gluten-free fare.

The effort is paying off ... for her health and her athletics. "I'm continuing to improve and get stronger," Shelby says. Gluten—once a major health hurdle—is now in her rear view mirror, and looking to the future, it's full speed ahead.

Favorite gluten-free foods: Steak. Gluten-free pizzas on Udi's crust. Rice for carbs, though sometimes potatoes. Lots of fruits and vegetables.

P.S. Shelby blogs about her experience as a gluten-free college athlete over at One Hurdle at a Time.

–Pete

Photos courtesy Wittenberg Athletics, by Kim Johnson and Drew Casey / Wabash Sports Information.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recipe: Cranberry-Pecan Quinoa Salad


Quinoa is a versatile pseudo-grain that's naturally gluten-free and packed with nutrition. It's been a part of our cooking regularly ever since a 2007 mountaineering expedition to Bolivia. (Quinoa is native to South America's Andes.) We often make a cold quinoa salad with green onions, red bell pepper, and a red wine vinaigrette. We've also been known to use quinoa in lieu of bread crumbs in a turkey meatloaf.

But we're always looking to incorporate quinoa into our diet in new ways, and today's recipe—Cranberry-Pecan Quinoa Salad—absolutely fits the bill. It's simple to make, yet rich in flavor. It could easily be the star of a lunch or dinner meal, or serve equally well as a side to an entree.

Cranberry-Pecan Quinoa Salad
Makes 4 side servings, 2 as a main dish

Ingredients
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup Craisins
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 tbsp minced fresh basil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Garlic powder

Steps
1. Combine the quinoa and water in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Then remove from heat, remove the lid, and fluff.
2. Add the chopped pecans, Craisins, and basil.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add a dash each of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Mix well.
4. Add the vinaigrette to the quinoa salad and toss to mix. Serve warm or cold.

Notes
To make a cold version of the salad, you could cook the quinoa ahead of time and chill it in the fridge, then proceed with the remaining steps of the recipe.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/casein/lactose-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, corn-free, vegetarian.

To make the recipe refined-sugar-free, substitute raisins or similar for the Craisins (dried cranberries sweetened with sugar).

Nutrition Info
Per side serving: 224 calories, 14g fat, 24g carbs, 4g protein, 41mg sodium, 7g sugars, plus at least 40% RDA riboflavin, at least 20% RDA phosphorous, and at least 10% RDA iron and manganese.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Recipe nutrition info approximate, calculated using SparkRecipes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Product Review: Dogfish Head Tweason'ale


In late January 2012, the beer-drinking gluten-free world was abuzz with the news of a new brew coming to market: Tweason'ale from Dogfish Head. Dogfish is a highly respected Delaware-based craft brewery known not only for their "standard" styles, but also for their unique brews, such as a chicha, based on traditional Andean corn beer, and Midas Touch, based on the ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels found in the tomb of King Midas. Pretty cool, huh?

Now, they're adding a gluten-free offering to their lineup. Since it was first brewed and released in between traditional beer seasons, it was named "Tweason'ale" (as opposed to being a seasonal). Dogfish plans to brew it four times per year.

Since its initial release in late January, we've patiently been waiting for it to arrive in our neck of the woods here in the Hudson Valley. Every two weeks, or so it seemed, we'd stop in at our local beer distributor and check, only to walk out empty-handed. Until this past weekend. Tweason'ale was in stock!

It's sold in four packs of 12-ounce bottles. For us, the base cost of the four pack, plus state taxes and bottle deposits, resulted in a price tag of just over $12. Very steep for a four pack of beer. We just hoped Tweason'ale would be worth it, lest it become an occasional tweasonal indulgence at best.


First, major kudos to Dogfish Head for earning GFCO gluten-free certification. It's not cheap or easy to do, but I know that the trusted seal of approval will put many gluten-free minds to rest who'd otherwise be concerned about drinking a gluten-free beer from a brewery that also brews traditional barley-based suds.

Tweason'ale is brewed from water, sorghum syrup, strawberries, buckwheat honey, hops, and yeast. As you can see from the pics, it has a beautiful amber color. Unfortunately, it also has approximately zero head retention.

There are gentle hops in the nose, and it has a subtle but distinct beer-like aroma.

As for taste, with the use of strawberries and honey, we worried that the beer would taste too sweet or fruity. It is in fact somewhat sweet, though not overly so, and the strawberries—while present—were surprisingly subtle. Unfortunately, it lacks any hint of malted barley character when you actually drink it. (Yes, I know it contains no actual malted barley, but that still tends to be the flavor profile against which all beers, including GF offerings, are based...) At 6% alcohol by volume, it's stiffer than many other GF beers, and you feel it ever so slightly in the back of the palate, but it's well within an acceptable range for craft beers.

The lack of barley-like beer taste in the mouth was disappointing because the nose was so inviting. That said, it's still a refreshing beer that would taste especially good cold on a hot day.

We love the simple, straightforward ingredients, not to mention the GF certification, and we had high expectations for this new beer from Dogfish Head. Though we were initially underwhelmed by the taste (especially compared to the beer's inviting nose) and somewhat put off by the expensive price, this is a worthy addition to the GF beer market. After taking careful notes while tasting the first two bottles, we quite happily knocked back the remaining two bottles with no trouble.

In the end, I'd put Tweason'ale in the same lineup as New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale and 3R Raspberry Ale. If you like lighter, sweeter beers, Tweason'ale will be right up your alley. But if you're looking for more malted character, look to a brew such as Bard's, and if you're looking for more hops, look to New Planet's Off Grid Pale Ale.

–Pete

Monday, March 26, 2012

Recipe: Island BBQ Sauce


We're year 'round outdoor grillers. Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail keep us from firing up the grill, whether it's to cook meat, or fish, or veggies, or pizza, or even—in the case of our oven going kaput the night before Marin's 3-year birthday party this past winter—a tray of gluten-free baked ziti. Seriously.

But with spring officially here now (and the temperatures to match), we're thinking even more about grillin' and outdoor livin'. In fact, we've even broken out the deck furniture and umbrella. The woodchucks that lived under the deck last spring are back again this year. And this time around we've augmented the backyard with a small soccer net for the girls.


Of course, we can't manage to grill for any length of time without doing up some good ol' barbeque. From our standard BBQ sauce, to a chipotle-spiced version, to many other variations, we're suckers for a good sauce.

Remember when we went head over heels for the bbq ribs at The Buccaneer in St. Croix? Well, the sauce was one of the main selling points. And you know us ... we couldn't resist coming home, heading straight into the kitchen, and not coming back out again until we'd come up with our own version. The result—Island BBQ Sauce—has a distinctly Caribbean flair, with pineapple and guava. But it's still undeniably a well-balanced bbq sauce that's finger-lickin' good.


Island BBQ Sauce
Makes about 2.5 cups sauce

Ingredients
1/2 cup freshly pureed pineapple
1 cup guava juice (such as Ceres brand)
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tbsp GF Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Steps
1. Whisk together all ingredients until well-mixed.
2. Use 1 1/2 cups of the sauce to marinate your chosen protein. Reserve the remaining 1 cup to make a thicker sauce.
3. While your protein is marinating, preheat your grill to medium. Then grill your protein, brushing with the marinade throughout grilling.
4. Meanwhile, whisk 1 tsp cornstarch into the 1 cup reserved sauce. Bring to an easy boil over the stovetop, just until the cornstarch clears and the sauce thickens. Let cool.
5. When your protein is done grilling, toss in the thickened bbq sauce to coat.

Notes
2.5 cups of Island BBQ Sauce is enough for about 12 to 15 ribs. You could easily use the sauce for bone-in ribs, country-style boneless ribs, chicken breasts, tofu ... let your taste buds run wild.

You can also mix up a batch of the sauce, and then use only as much as needed for the quantity of protein you're grilling, keeping the rest in the fridge for later. For example, we recently made just half a dozen country-style ribs, so we made a full batch of sauce, but marinated in 3/4 cup sauce, thickened 1/2 cup sauce to coat, and reserved another 1.25 cups sauce in the fridge for later in the week.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/casein/lactose-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

Depending on your ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, it may or may not also be refined-sugar-free, soy-free, and vegetarian.

Nutritional Info
Per tbsp: 12.5 calories, 0g fat, 3g carbs, 0g protein, 2.5g sugars, 57mg sodium.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Friday, March 23, 2012

Recipe: Easy "Tempura" Tofu


This past November, Kelli and I celebrated our 8-year wedding anniversary. As we wrote later that month, we did dinner that night at The Artist's Palate in Poughkeepsie. One of our appetizers was crispy tofu. The tofu was lightly battered in rice flour and deep fried. It was very similar to a true tempura, when vegetables (and other foods) are dipped in a wet batter (often made with water and wheat flour, though just as easily made with rice flour or another gluten-free flour) and deep fried. It was dee-licious, and since then, I've had that tofu preparation in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to this past week, when I was whipping together an Asian-inspired vegetable and noodle dish for dinner one night. There was half a brick of tofu in our fridge that needed to be used up, and I seized the opportunity. As you'll see in the recipe below, I didn't make a proper tempura. But the result was equally delicious, easier to make, and arguably healthier.

The resulting tofu cubes are delicious on their own as a snack—they're like tofu versions of popcorn shrimp or popcorn chicken. Pair them with an Asian dipping sauce as an appetizer. Add them at the last minute to Asian-inspired entrees. Or even place them over salad in lieu of croutons. The opportunities are many!

Easy "Tempura" Tofu
Makes about 3 servings (when added to an entree)

Ingredients
8 ounces extra firm tofu
1/4 cup Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
Salt
Pepper
Ground ginger
Garlic Powder
Olive oil (extra light)

Steps
1. Using a paper towel or clean kitchen towel, squeeze the tofu of excess water. Then cut into cubes. (The cubes will still be moist ... this is a good thing!)
2. In a bowl, add the flour, then season with salt, pepper, ground ginger, and garlic powder (about 1 tsp of each). Mix.
3. Add the tofu cubes to the bowl, and toss to coat well.
4. Transfer the tofu to a colander/strainer, and shake lightly to remove excess flour.
5. Add enough olive oil to your skillet so that the oil depth is 1/4 inch or 1/2 cm. Heat over medium-high heat. Test the temperature with one tofu cube—it should sizzle well when added to the oil, but the oil should be kept below its smoke point.
6. Pan fry the tofu, in batches if necessary, turning occasionally until lightly browned on all sides.
7. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Serve warm.

Notes
Though we used our signature flour blend for this recipe, you could substitute most any all-purpose gluten-free flour blend or GF flour.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free, vegetarian.

Nutrition Info
Per serving: 213 calories, 18g fat, 6g carbs, 9g protein, 395mg sodium, 1g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, plus at least 50% RDA manganese, and at least 10% RDA magnesium, phosphorous, and selenium.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Recipe nutrition info approximate, calculated using SparkRecipes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Product Review: Halfpops


For as long as we've been together, Kelli and I have been fond of road tripping. In the early days of our relationship, that meant making the 4-hour drive to her hometown of Ithaca, NY; or the 5-hour drive to the Adirondack Mountains; or the even longer drive to the Presidential Range in northern New Hampshire. When we moved to Colorado, it took the form of long drives across Wyoming's Red Desert; or out I-70 to Grand Junction and Colorado's Western Slope; or even 2,000 miles back to New York one year, when a blizzard shut Denver International Airport days before Christmas, and we didn't want to miss the holiday with family.

Back then, snacks on such road trips tended to be defined by foods that otherwise weren't a part of our diet. We ate them exclusively on road trips. It eventually became a strong association. Take Corn Nuts. It's been years since I've had them. We tend not to eat that type of snack food these days.

But I can't tell you how many small bags of Corn Nuts we went through on drives to and from our then-home in New Jersey and Kelli's hometown in upstate New York. These days, when we gas up the car, if the stop happens to require popping in to the station's mini-mart, seeing the ubiquitous racks of Corn Nuts recalls those days way back when.

And what do Corn Nuts have to do with today's product review? All will be revealed in a moment.


A new company called Halfpops recently contacted us, offering to send gratis samples for us to review. Described as partially popped popcorn (hence, half-popped), we were willing to give it a try. Though we don't eat Corn Nuts these days the way we used to, we're known to pop a fresh batch of popcorn from time to time, and sometimes even make it with a little sugar in the Belgian style (which tastes remarkably like kettle corn). How would we like these Halfpops, we wondered?

For now, the company offers two flavors: Natural Butter & Pure Ocean Sea Salt and Natural Aged White Cheddar. (New flavors are currently in development, and they're asking consumers to vote! The options are Natural Kettle Corn, Natural Chipotle & Lime, and Natural Jalapeno Aged Cheddar Cheese. Kettle Corn currently holds a sizeable lead over the other flavor options.)

Halfpops are certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, which gives a comforting and stringent third-party verification of the products' GF status. Yeah for Halfpops earning GFCO certification!


Another plus is the simple ingredients labels on the two Halfpops flavors we sampled. The Natural Butter & Pure Ocean Sea Salt flavor contains just popcorn, canola oil, butter, and sea salt. That's it. Similarly, the Natural Aged White Cheddar contains popcorn, canola oil, cheddar cheese, whey, dry buttermilk, and sea salt.

Given that the popcorn is air-popped, I was a bit dismayed to see canola oil as the second ingredient. I'd prefer to see no oil, or at least an oil other than canola. I suspect they might use some oil to help the salt and other flavorings stick to the Halfpops. The flavors also tend to be just a touch too salty for my taste. The first bites are delicious, but after eating enough, it tends to saturate the palate.

But Halfpops are undoubtedly tasty. And their texture? That's where the Corn Nuts come in. If true light, fluffy popcorn and hard crunchy Corn Nuts had a love child, Halfpops would be their hybrid offspring. Halfpops are both chewy and crunchy. Because they're harder to chew, we've found they're unsuitable for Charlotte, who's still waiting on some of her molars, and who tends to choke on the Halfpops. But Marin and Kelli and I all enjoy them.

If you're looking for a new twist on a familiar gluten-free snack (popcorn), Halfpops are worth a look.

And, you can do just that in today's giveaway! As I've said in previous posts, our review policy is to only accept as much complimentary product samples as we need to do a review. Surplus gets passed along to you, our beloved readers! Halfpops sent us way more product than we need, so we're going to give away 4 bags (two 2-ounce bags of each flavor) to one lucky blog reader. Just leave your name and a tidbit about your favorite popcorn snack in the comments. We'll choose one winner at random and let you know who that person is at the end of next week!

–Pete

Images courtesy Halfpops.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wheat Belly, Busted


When Wheat Belly, by William Davis, M.D., came out in August 2011, it was an instant hit. It became a New York Times bestseller.  Praise far outweighed criticism. Especially in the gluten-free community, it enjoyed rave reviews. The book was received essentially as gospel. Why?

In my opinion, there are three main reasons:

  • It's written by an M.D., which adds a patina of credibility to the book's claims,
  • It's filled with endnotes of citations that reference scientific peer-reviewed publications, and
  • Its message—to "lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health"—already agrees with the world view of many in the GF community (that wheat and gluten equals bad).
But as you'll see, those three factors are dangerous. They build a facade of trust and credibility. They cause us to let down our guard; to cease being the critically-thinking readers that we ought to be. And sometimes, that means we fail to question information that is suspect; we unknowingly accept and perpetuate a myth; we fall victim to false information.

I didn't set out to write a review of Wheat Belly. I had been heavily researching another unrelated project. Coincidental timing then played a key role. After reading a number of prominent medical studies involving wheat, gluten, weight loss, and celiac disease, I found myself reading Wheat Belly, in which Davis cites some of those exact same studies. 

Except that there was one major problem: Davis' claims—and his conclusions based on the research studies he cites—were exactly the opposite of what I'd been reading in those very studies. Here are several important examples:

Consider Chapter 3, Wheat Deconstructed, page 36 of the hardcover edition. Davis writes "if we look only at overweight people who are not severely malnourished at the time of diagnosis who remove wheat from their diet, it becomes clear that this enables them to lose a substantial amount of weight." He supposedly backs up this claim in the very next sentence by continuing, "A Mayo Clinic/University of Iowa study of 215 obese celiac patients showed 27.5 pounds of weight loss in the first six months of a wheat-free diet." Sounds pretty impressive and compelling ... until you realize he's wrong.

First of all, the study didn't examine 215 obese patients. Body Mass Index for study participants ranged from underweight to normal to overweight to obese. Secondly, only 25 of those 215 patients lost weight, and the weight loss was not restricted to the obese subset of participants. (Further, 91 of the 215 patients gained weight, but I'll return to the issue of weight gain among obese celiacs in a moment.) You can read the full text of the study as reported in the original American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article here.

Next consider Chapter 5, The Wheat/Obesity Connection, page 66 of the hardcover edition. Here Davis invokes a study reported in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. He claims that of newly diagnosed celiac disease patients, 39 percent start overweight and 13 percent start obese. Next Davis writes that "by this estimate, more than half the people now diagnosed with celiac disease are therefore overweight or obese."

Not quite. Actually, the study noted that overweight and obese patients together accounted for 39 percent of diagnoses. The 13 percent obese patients were a subset of the overweight group. By Davis' questionable math, underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese celiac disease patients would account for 114% of diagnoses, which is impossible.

At the start of the very next paragraph, he invokes a familiar line nearly identical to that from Chapter 3: "If we focus only on overweight people who are not severely malnourished at the time of diagnosis, celiac sufferers actually lose a substantial quantity of weight when they eliminate wheat gluten."

I call B.S. You know that study Davis just cited in the previous paragraph of his book to build his case? The same study from which he errantly claimed more than half of newly diagnosed celiacs are overweight? Here is what researchers actually found, and I quote directly: "Of patients compliant with a gluten-free diet, 81 percent had gained weight after 2 years, including 82% of initially overweight patients" (emphasis mine). 

This finding is not buried deep in the report somewhere. It's important enough that researchers also call it out directly in the top-level abstract. When Davis claims that initially overweight celiac disease patients lose a significant amount of weight on a gluten-free diet, how does he explain the fact that 82% of those patients gained weight ... in one of the very studies he uses to back up his questionable claim?

To me this appears to be more than an innocent, but careless, oversight; it is more than a case of blissful ignorance. Those results are front and center in the study, and they directly contradict his claim. It would take an act of willful omission to leave it out; it's audacious that he cites the study to bolster his claim.

For a third and final example, consider Chapter 4, The Addictive Properties of Wheat, page 50 of the hardcover edition. Here, Davis writes about gluten exorphins, opiate-like compounds created when stomach enzymes take a crack at partially digesting gluten. Researchers are continuing to study how they impact the human body in myriad ways. One branch of such studies uses the drug naloxone, an opiate blocker, to cancel the potential effect of gluten exorphins and other related compounds. 

Davis makes the claim that gluten exorphins are addictive like morphine (another opiate), and that those addictive properties cause you to eat more calories and gain weight. As the theory goes, block the gluten exorphins with naloxone, and you block the addictive properties of wheat-based foods. To back up his boast, he then cites a study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which binge eaters were left in a room filled with a variety of foods for one hour. Davis writes "participants consumed 28 percent less wheat crackers, bread sticks, and pretzels with the administration of naloxone." And there you have it! See? Naloxone blocked the evil action of gluten exorphins, and those binge eaters ate fewer calories as a result! Except that's not what happened.

Here's the truth: While naloxone appeared to have an impact on the consumption of high fat and high sugar foods, it had no effect that correlated with gluten. In fact, while Davis claims that participants consumed 28 percent fewer wheat crackers, bread sticks, and pretzels, they actually consumed 40 percent more gluten-containing bread sticks.

The three examples I've noted are hardly the sum total of the problems I found with the book. There are many others, though I've already made my point.

Those of us in the gluten-free community want to agree with Wheat Belly because Davis' message resonates with us. But it's an overly simplified message, at times built on tenuous claims. And how would we ever know? He's an M.D. He's the expert, right? And he cites all those sexy research studies. 

If I had read this book at another time in my life, I likely would have been none the wiser. I would have read the book, peeked at the citations, and been satisfied. But perhaps serendipity of a certain sort is at work here ... that I read this book at precisely that moment in my life when I was best equipped with the knowledge I needed to critically evaluate it. I now pass that evaluation along to you.

For certain, some of what Davis writes is valid. And I have some GF blogging colleagues/friends who know Davis personally. They say he's a very nice man, which may indeed be true.

But I'm more than disappointed with Davis and Wheat Belly; I'm downright angry. This book can and should be better. We, the gluten-free community, deserve as much. It does an injustice to the very legitimate case against wheat and gluten, and it is insulting to us, the readers. Sadly, Wheat Belly looks polished from a distance, but upon closer inspection it goes belly up. Sections of the book amount to propaganda, fallacies, and unsubstantiated claims. For me, Wheat Belly is a bust.

Are wheat and gluten a health problem? For many of us, undoubtedly. But there's much more to the story than meets the eye, and you're not always getting the straight story in Wheat Belly.

–Pete

Image of wheat field courtesy Stock.Xchng / Oeil De Nuit.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Recipe: Chicken Cacciatore


I can't believe that as I type these words it's still technically winter and yet the mercury reads in the mid 70s Fahrenheit. Talk about a season getting flipped on its head. It feels like the final nails in the coffin of the winter that never was.

That hasn't stopped us from making hearty—and in this case—rustic dishes in the kitchen, however. We open the shutters, let the light pour in, open the double-hung window, and enjoy a light breeze and some fresh air in the otherwise dark, cramped space that comprises the kitchen in the house we're renting at the moment.


Maybe it's my Sicilian heritage speaking, or perhaps just a simple food craving, but in recent weeks Italian has figured prominently in our weekly meal planning. Most recently, we made this bright, flavorful, and classic chicken cacciatore.

"Cacciatore" means "hunter" in Italian, and in cooking often—though not always—refers to a meal made with braised chicken. Some versions use white wine, others red. Some have capers, some not. Our version combines braised chicken thighs with tomato, pepper, onion, white wine, and dried and fresh herbs. The result is a dish layered with complex flavors that sing on the tongue.


Chicken Cacciatore
Makes 3 servings

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
6 chicken thighs, trimmed of most fat
1/4 cup Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
Salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine (such as pinot grigio)
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes with liquid (one 14.5-ounce can)
1 cup GF chickenbroth
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried rosemary pulsed in a spice grinder
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp nonpareilles capers
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Steps
1. In a bowl, season the flour with some salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken thighs in the flour and cook about 5 minutes per side, to lightly brown the chicken and cook most of the way. Remove the chicken.
2. Add the garlic to the pan and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the pepper and onion and saute until soft, about 4 minutes.
4. Add the white wine and simmer, about 4 more minutes.
5. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, and dried herbs (oregano, rosemary, bay leaf) and bring to a simmer.
6. Add the capers and chicken, reduce the heat to medium, and cook the chicken until done, about 10 minutes.
7. Remove the bay leaf. Garnish with fresh basil. Serve with rice.

Notes
Though we used our signature flour blend to dredge the chicken, you could substitute most any GF flour or flour blend to do the job.

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

To make the recipe dairy-free, omit the 1 tbsp butter and use additional olive oil.

Nutrition Info
Per serving (excludes rice): 351 calories, 15g fat, 31g protein, 19g carbs, 325mg sodium, 4g dietary fiber, 0g sugars, plus 750mg potassium and at least 140% RDA vitamin C, at least 60% RDA vitamin A, at least 40% RDA manganese, at least 30% RDA vitamin B6, phosphorous, and selenium, at least 20% RDA riboflavin and zinc, and at least 10% RDA copper, folate, iron, magnesium, and thiamin.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Recipe nutrition info approximate, calculated using SparkRecipes.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Progress


What has life been like for you since going gluten-free? It's a seemingly simple question, one you can answer from a variety of perspectives. Talk about the food. Talk about health. Talk about community.

Me? I can talk about my shoes. My trail running sneakers, to be exact. Carrie Bradshaw had her Manolo Blahniks, her Jimmy Choos, her Christian Laboutins. I have my La Sportivas, my Montrails, my Inov-8s. Peek in my closet, and a pile of dirty, worn trail running sneakers will tell you what I've been up to since going gluten-free in early 2007.

Those yellow sneakers in the back of the photo? Those are La Sportiva Fireblades. Three consecutive pairs of those shoes got me through adventure racing and off-road triathlons, right up to the Xterra U.S. national championship at the end of the 2009 race season.

Next up came Brooks Cascadias (two consecutive pairs, in fact), which I wore as I transitioned into ultramarathon trail running and competed in my first Virgil Crest Ultra—and the 1st Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge—in 2010.

Second from the front you'll find my Montrail Mountain Masochist trail runners, which I started using late last year. They're supportive shoes with a full rockplate underfoot, for times when the trail gets really rough and my feet need a little something extra.

And right in the front of the photo? Those are my Inov-8 RocLite 295s, my go-to trail runner. I just wore those for a 10-mile run (technically, it was 9.8 miles, but who's counting?) on Wednesday night. Love them.

What do all those shoes have to do with the gluten-free life? For me, one word: progress.

Because there, in that photo at the top of this blog post, is a picture that encapsulates so much of what has happened since I went gluten-free: I regained my health. I regained and built upon my athleticism and passion for endurance sports. I found community—in family, in friends, in blogging colleagues, in you, our readers, in fellow athletes. And I found food—food that fuels my body and my soul, and sustains me in ultra endurance racing as in life. That's what I call progress.

Progress has figured prominently lately in other ways, as well.

We're just a few months away from the release of two new book titles: the revised and expanded 2nd Edition of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking (with Kelli) and the new The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life (with Melissa of Gluten-Free for Good). I'm sure I don't have to tell you just how much progress we've made to get to this point where the books are in layout and going through final review before heading off to the printer soon.

And then there was our January trip to St. Croix, which we wrote about extensively this week (part I, part II, and part III). That trip was all about recovery for me—physical, psychological, emotional. Since then, in roughly 8.5 weeks of training, I've lost 12 pounds and logged nearly 250 miles of trail running, including an auspicious start to the race season at the Febapple Frozen 50k. I'd call that progress, too. And I'm making more progress week by week, as I prepare for my second race of the season: the North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge 50-miler the first weekend in May, which is just 7 weeks away!

Lastly, progress also comes to mind with the 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge, to raise money for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Two weeks in, the first donations have come in and we're on our way to reaching my goal of raising at least $5,000 to benefit the gluten-free community. Our progress thus far is modest—we're 4% of the way to the grand goal—but like running an ultramarathon, this is about slow, relentless, forward progress. It takes time, and it takes patience, but progress will be made. Won't you help me take the next step? Click on the image logo or link in the upper right of the blog to go to the fundraising page. (Plus, you might win a book!) Thank you for your support!

How about you? What has life been like for you since going gluten-free? How have you measured progress? I'd love to know!

–Pete

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recipe: Lime and a Coconut Cocktail


Earlier this week we posted gluten-free recaps (part 1 and part 2) of our recent vacation to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Today it's time to share a recipe inspired by the trip. It's a frozen cocktail we're calling a Lime and a Coconut.

Go ahead and sing it now, because we know you must be thinking it: "She put the lime in the coconut, she drank them both up..." Good ol' Harry Nilsson and his song "Coconut." But I digress...

The younger Bronski ladies enjoying a virgin version of the original inspiration for this cocktail. At Eat @ Cane Bay in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
We discovered the source inspiration for this tasty beverage while visiting Cane Bay. While lounging on the beach, a server from the nearby restaurant Eat @ Cane Bay came by with small samples of a cocktail du jour. They were hoping to entice beachgoers to come in to the open-air joint for cocktails, and perhaps some lunch.

Boy did it work for us. We were caught, hook, line, and sinker. This drink wasn't good. It was great. Coconut. Fresh lime. Local rum. What's not to love?

Upon returning to New York, we set about developing our own version and today's recipe is the delicious result. And heck, with the green lime, that makes it appropriate for St. Patrick's Day this upcoming weekend, right? Because what's more Irish than a rum-based Caribbean cocktail?


Lime and a Coconut Cocktail
Makes 4 short glasses, or 2 tall glasses

Measurements based on 1 shot = 1.5 fluid ounces = 3 tablespoons

Ingredients
4 shots Cruzan vanilla rum
4 shots cream of coconut (sweetened coconut cream, such as Coco Lopez)
1 shot agave nectar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 to 3 limes)
1/4 fresh lime
1 tbsp finely shredded, unsweetened, dehydrated coconut (such as Let's Do...Organic)
2 large cups ice (500g by weight)
Lime wedges, for garnish

Steps
1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Garnish glasses with wedges of lime.

Notes
The recipe calls for 1/4 fresh lime. Yes, the whole thing ... rind and all. Depending on how powerful your blender is, it may be a good idea to cut up the 1/4 lime into smaller pieces, but either way, in it all goes!

For the dehydrated coconut, we used finely shredded coconut like that used in baking. The texture is much finer than traditional shredded coconut, like you might use to make coconut macaroons, and works better in this cocktail. (We tried both...)

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, egg-free, soy-free, corn-free.

Depending on your perspective on coconut, this recipe may also be considered tree-nut-free.

This recipe can also be made refined-sugar-free by using unsweetened coconut cream and additional agave nectar.

The recipe is easily made virgin/alcohol-free by omitting the rum.

Nutrition Info
It's a cocktail. Do you really need nutrition info?

Enjoy!

–Pete

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Travel: Out and About, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Where to venture on the island today?
Welcome to Part II of our look at traveling while gluten-free to the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix! Yesterday we gave an in-depth review of the Buccaneer, the resort where we stayed for our (mostly) glorious 8 days in the Caribbean back in mid-January. Today, we take a look at how it was being gluten-free while out and about on the island.

Grotto Beach near the Buccaneer.
Not knowing what the gluten-free supermarket situation would be like, we preemptively traveled to St. Croix with an entire carry-on bag full of food—GF cereal, snack bars, crackers, chips ... the kind of stuff we weren't sure we'd be able to buy locally. That turned out to be a wise choice. Specialty gluten-free products are hard to come by on St. Croix. And those foods that you do find at the supermarkets—including naturally gluten-free foods such as fruits and veggies, as well as snacks such as corn chips—are incredibly expensive.

Marin, L to R: at the beach, out to lunch in Christiansted, on a sailboat.
True to Bronski form, we spent about half our vacation lounging at the resort, and the other half out and about exploring the island, including its local cuisine. It's an M.O. that started back in 2003, when we spent our honeymoon in St. Lucia. We purposefully try to get away from the resorts and the tourist restaurants, and find the places the locals eat. Some of our best meals have been enjoyed this way at tiny roadside shacks and out of the way places.

But that was in the days before I got sick, and before I became healthy again on a gluten-free diet. Eating off the beaten track has become more challenging, more plagued by potential dietary land mines. And so it was in St. Croix.

Downtown Christiansted.
One day we ventured into Christiansted, the main town on the island. A historic town center sits adjacent to a waterfront boardwalk, where you'll find many restaurants. We explored an old fort, and wandered the narrow streets, popping into shops here and there.

As lunchtime loomed, we walked to and fro on the boardwalk, searching for a restaurant that seemed (a) safe for gluten-free food, and (b) appealing. A number of options seemed to involve either sandwiches or foods that were breaded and fried. After taking what seemed like our third lap, still looking for a good option, we settled on the popular RumRunners.

Gluten was everywhere on the menu. But though the menu wasn't particularly GF-friendly (by any stretch), our server was incredibly accommodating, checking with the kitchen and helping to construct lunch meals that in theory would be safe for us to eat. My blackened shrimp with rice and pico de gallo was quite tasty. Alas, a short time later, the telltale signs of having been glutened started to rear their ugly heads. Strike one. I spent the afternoon back at the resort, recovering.

Argh... there be rum in them there barrels. At the Cruzan Rum Distillery.
The following day, our plan was to drive from Christiansted (on the northeast coast of the island) to St. Croix's western shore and the town of Frederiksted. En route we took a side detour to the distillery of Cruzan Rum, where we stocked up on several bottles of the local specialty. (More to come on that in tomorrow's recipe for a delicious cocktail!)

Charlotte, L to R: at the beach, at the pool, on a sailboat.
Then it was on to Frederiksted, which is where the cruise ships dock when they come to the island. Frederiksted—we discovered—is a case of "damned if you, damned if you don't." On the one hand, we had no desire to go to town on a day when the cruise ships were in, when we'd be fighting the hordes of passengers coming to shore for the day. On the other hand, arrive on a non-cruise-ship day, as we did, and you'll find Frederiksted all but boarded up.

The two faces of Frederiksted: sleepy town and gorgeous waterfront.
With most of the restaurants and storefronts closed, finding lunch proved a challenge. Just as we were about to give up, we stumbled upon Blue Moon, across the street from the town's renovated waterfront promenade. My jerk chicken with veggie sides was one of the poorer jerks I've had in the Caribbean ... tough and dry, with an uninspired dry rub that little resembled the rich flavors of the best Caribbean wet jerks.

Then our server informed us that they had a gluten-free coconut macaroon pie (my memory suggests almonds were also involved, though I forget...), topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. What was this? A pleasant surprise! Yes please. I'll have one of those.

But for the second day in a row, a little while later the rumblings began as they had the day before. Glutened. Blech. Strike two. We—and especially I—began to appreciate more and more the gluten-free offerings of the Buccaneer.

Air and water.
It was comforting to know that the Buccaneer provided a safe, gluten-free culinary home base. It was reassuring that I could return to the resort and eat a good meal that wouldn't make me sick. But this slow realization also made me sad. It has always been a point of pride for me that we purposefully eat away from the resorts where we've stayed; that we get out and about in the communities and eat less like a tourist and more like a local. Now here I was, centering my eating at the resort because that's what I needed to do to eat food and keep that food in my body. Sigh.

At the Christopher Columbus landing site.
Undeterred, the next day we took another road trip, this time to the rugged northern coast of the island. Along the way, we couldn't resist a short side-trip to the Columbus Landing Site in Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve, where Christopher Columbus and his crew set foot on shore in 1493, during this second visit to the New World.

Then it was onward to Cane Bay, home of The Wall, a world-famous dive site just a few hundred meters offshore where the ocean floor drops from 90 feet deep to thousands of feet deep.

Showing a little Rudi's gluten-free love at Cane Bay.
After snorkeling over to the Wall (it was too deep to see much from a snorkeler's perspective) and playing in the sand and water with the girls, we had lunch at the restaurant Eat @ Cane Bay. Fortunately, there was no strike three in terms of being glutened. Eat @ Cane Bay was the beginning of culinary redemption for our out and about adventures on St. Croix. An order of Carolina-style BBQ pulled pork (sans bun) totally hit the spot. So did Eat's "Lime and a Coconut" cocktails. (The recipe for our own version is coming tomorrow! Trust us. You're going to love this one.)

Are you feeling relaxed yet?
Eat @ Cane Bay proved the start of several very good meals. We browsed through restaurant brochures, the phone book, island dining guides, and even solicited recommendations from a taxi driver one day, to find other inspiring places to eat.

Sunset over Green Cay Marina from The Galleon.
Our search struck gold when we found the Galleon, located at Green Cay Marina along the northeast coast of St. Croix. Beef tenderloin with a medallion of local lobster and cabernet demi-glace. Seared tuna. Our taste buds were in heaven. Service was impeccable. Although the dessert menu didn't offer many GF options, the chef offered to bake a special gluten-free dessert with advance notice if we knew we'd be returning for another meal. How's that for service? Unfortunately, our trip was coming to a close, or we certainly would have accepted the generous offer.

The Galleon is pricy, but for us, the quality of the meal was worth every penny. If you visit St. Croix, indulge and visit this gem.

Turquoise waters and white sand beaches at Buck Island Reef National Monument.
And finally, for our last meal off the resort, we stayed local and visited Salud Bistro, a short drive west of Christiansted. It scores high marks with the locals, and we weren't disappointed. The truffle fries were so good we ordered a second round. A local butter lettuce salad with garam masala spiced toasted pumpkin seeds, a parmesan cracker, and champagne vinaigrette was very good. So were the steamed mussels with pork chorizo sausage.

Ahh. That's better.
In the end, we had a wonderful vacation, and came away with incredibly fond memories of St. Croix, including—at times—the food.

On our last day, we went on a sailboat—a gorgeous 40' catamaran—to Buck Island Reef National Monument. By what can only be described as a most incredible coincidence, the captain of the boat, Captain Mike, hails from New Paltz, New York, less than 30 minutes from where we now live in the Hudson Valley. What's more, he's an ultrarunner and one of the organizers of the St. Croix Scenic 50 ultramarathon. It was happening the weekend after our visit! Had our vacation been shifted by one week, we would have been in town for the event.

Captain Mike suggested I fly back for the race. That didn't happen. But there's always next year, and now we know where to eat ... and where not to.

–Pete

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Travel: The Buccaneer, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

View from the Grotto Pool at the Buccaneer.
Our recent mid-January vacation to the Caribbean had been a long time coming. We had originally hoped to take such a trip back in November, but with two major book projects underway at the time—and with deadlines looming—we pushed the trip off. It would be a reward and much-needed getaway once all the heavy lifting was done.

This was our first time back to the Caribbean since the girls were born. It was also our first time traveling to the Caribbean since Kelli had resigned from Hilton. Suddenly detached from any hospitality company, the entire Caribbean was open to us. Deciding where to go was challenging, but we ultimately settled on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

It seemed to offer much of what we've loved about our best Caribbean trips: Beautiful beaches. Good snorkeling. Mountains and hiking. A vibrant local culture. And, we hoped, delicious gluten-free food, including fresh fish.

Such trips for us tend to balance two inclinations: (a) the desire to sit on the beach, swim in the water, and sip tropical cocktails, and (b) to get out and about on the island to adventure and explore.

The rear of the Great House at The Buccaneer.
We chose the Buccaneer for our stay. Its reputation preceded it. Travel & Leisure named it one of the top 25 hotels in the Caribbean. Conde Nast Traveler called it one of the world's top 50 tropical resorts. Islands named it one of the world's top legendary resorts. The official accolades went on and on. Customer reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor were similarly glowing.

Just as important for us, however, was that the Buccaneer was well-versed in accommodating gluten-free needs. (It didn't hurt that the Buccaneer also won a 2011 Wine Spectator award of excellence, and that Frommer's declared the Buccaneer's the finest dining room on all of St. Croix.)

Then, weeks before our trip, I was interviewing a triathlete for The Gluten-Free Edge. She happened to be a lawyer, and previously worked for a federal judge in St. Thomas. She frequently traveled to nearby St. Croix for business. "We always stayed at the Buccaneer!" she said cheerfully. "It's fabulous. You'll love it there." We hoped she would be right!

(In this review we focus on the food. Anyone who wants more info about our overall experience at the resort, don't hesitate to shoot us an email.)

The Buccaneer's old sugar mill ruins, one of many that dot the island.
The Buccaneer offers several on-property dining options:
  • The Terrace - Located in the Great House, this is the resort's fine dining option.
  • The Martel Lounge - Adjacent to the Terrace, the Lounge offers a less expensive and more limited menu of pub fare.
  • The Mermaid - Located next to Mermaid Beach. Open for lunch every day, and for dinner most days.
Guest rooms—such as those in the family cottages where we stayed—have a mini-fridge, which was great for storing a few snacks we'd purchased in town. The Buccaneer also recently completed a gorgeous renovation to one of its Ocean Front Rooms, complete with a kitchenette featuring high-end countertops and brushed stainless steel appliances; great if you want to cook a few simple meals in your room.

Our first night at the Buccaneer—as we noshed on dinner at the Lounge to the sounds of live music from local musicians—I chatted with both our server and the resort's director of food and beverage. We were very impressed with their attention to detail, especially on the finer points of preparing safe gluten-free fare. Consider the following:
  • The menus include a number of naturally gluten-free options.
  • The staff overall were vigilant, going so far one night as to read the ingredients on a bottle of Worcestershire sauce to make sure a dish was indeed gluten-free. (Also, no one did a double take—as has happened at other restaurants—when we explained that we needed our food to be prepared gluten-free.)
  • Gluten-free menu items, such as sweet potato fries, are cooked in separate fryer oil than gluten-containing menu items, such as tempura.
  • Gluten-free pasta is available (boiled in separate water).
  • Gluten-free bread is available. We're not sure the brand, but it was definitely multi-grain bread with quinoa and flax.
  • Entree sauces are thickened by reduction, not by using flour.
  • Since almost all of the kids menu items contained gluten, we were able to request kid-sized portions of gluten-free adult entrees and appetizers.

Sunset over Mermaid Beach.
And so how did the gluten-free food at the Buccaneer stack up?

First, let me say that we stayed there for 8 days (Saturday to Saturday). We ate well. And I didn't get sick once. (I cannot say this about other restaurants on the island, which you'll read about tomorrow in the second half of our gluten-free St. Croix roundup.) Major kudos to the Buccaneer.

The Lounge

The Lounge offers a variety of pub and pub-esque fare, including BBQ ribs with sweet potato fries. The BBQ ribs are done in a house-made sauce prepared by the director of food and beverage. The ribs are DIVINE. Yes, all caps were required for that one. They were so good that in our 8 days we ordered the ribs three times between us. Fall-off-the-bone tender. Meaty. Super flavorful.

(Stay tuned, No Gluten, No Problem readers! The director of F&B gave us a little insight into his recipe. We've been in the kitchen, perfecting our own version of a Crucian Island BBQ sauce—as we're calling it—and we'll be posting the recipe next week.)

I'll be honest. The ribs kind of overshadowed everything else on the Lounge menu. So much so that I can't remember anything else I ordered there, nor do my tasting notes offer any further insight. I can say that the Lounge bartender makes a mean mojito.

The Mermaid

The beach-side Mermaid, which we visited on several occasions for both lunch and dinner, offered inconsistent service and food. Lunch tended to be excellent on both counts. For example, a Caesar salad topped with grilled jerk chicken gave a distinctive Caribbean flair to an otherwise classic dish, and was delicious. Our server, noting that Marin had thoroughly enjoyed a piece of fruit plucked from the top of one of our tropical cocktails, brought her a cup of fruit to enjoy for her own.

On another day, though, dinner left something to be desired. Service was poor. We felt ignored. Our water glasses sat empty for the better part of an hour while our server refilled the glasses of diners seated at tables around us. Kelli's Mahi Creole—fresh mahi-mahi in a Creole-style red sauce—was very good. But my Linguine Vera Cruz—with gluten-free pasta, of course—was so so. It was like a bouillabaisse with a mildly spicy tomato sauce. The shrimp and fish in the dish were good; the scallops were slightly fishy; but of 4 mussels on my plate, 2 were closed (a sign they were probably dead), and of the 2 that were open, one was bad enough I didn't care to eat the second.

I will say that this sub-par experience for dinner at the Mermaid was something of an outlier on our visit, and not representative of our experience at the Buccaneer on the whole.

One happy gluten-free family.
The Terrace

Dinner at the Terrace was sublime. Our server consulted with the chef to prepare gluten-free versions of two of the night's specials. Kelli had a wonderful seared yellowfin tuna with wasabi cucumber salad and sriracha aioli. I had a Thai BBQ wahoo with spicy lemongrass dashi broth and sweet red and yellow peppers. Both dishes were served with baby bok choi and rice. The girls shared some of our entrees, as well as a gluten-free fungi (boiled cornmeal).

On our last night, we ate dinner at the Lounge, but ordered a dish off the Terrace menu for the girls. The gluten-free pasta came out way too al dente to the point of being grossly underdone, but our server happily sent it back and had a new batch prepared, which turned out great.

Breakfast

Breakfast was served everyday on the Terrace, in the same space that, come nightfall, gets converted to the Terrace dining room and the Lounge. Gluten-free options consisted primarily of eggs, bacon, potatoes, fungi, and copious fresh fruit. (Coffee, tea, and a variety of fresh-squeezed juices were available as well.) That was all fine, but by the morning of day 8, our taste buds were screaming for a change.

Cocktails

The beach bar at Mermaid Beach serves up a number of tasty Caribbean cocktails. Raising Cane and Caribbean Sunset are particularly good. Check out the Buccaneer's vintage cocktail menu.

Overall Impression

Despite a few disappointments—most notably a sub-par dinner one night at the Mermaid and lack of variety in breakfast options—we gave the Buccaneer high marks for doing gluten-free the right way. We ate well, without concern that we'd get sick from cross-contamination. The Buccaneer was knowledgeable, attentive, and the fact that it offered GF pasta and bread was a very nice surprise on a Caribbean island that otherwise seemed to offer little in the way of such specialty GF foods. And when the food was good—as with the ribs with sweet potato fries, jerk chicken Caesar salad, and fresh catch fish entrees such as seared yellowfin tuna and Thai BBQ wahoo—it was really good.

If your future Caribbean vacation plans ever include both "gluten-free" and "St. Croix," the Buccaneer should rate highly on your list.

–Pete

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recipe: Sweet Potato - Black Bean Chili


Spring officially arrives in less than ten days! With temperatures forecast to hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit here in the Hudson Valley this week, it seems that winter may be on its way out a little early. Even so, the nights are still pretty cool, and I'm not entirely convinced Old Man Winter doesn't have at least one more trick up his sleeve. We'll see.

Just in case, we're keeping this hearty, body-warming Sweet Potato - Black Bean Chili recipe at the ready. It served us very well recently when the mercury dipped, and we know it'll serve us well again, too.

Plus, sweet potatoes have been making a regular appearance on our menu lately. Sweet potato fries are perpetually popular in the Bronski household. And just this past weekend while visiting good friends in Boston, sweet potatoes again graced the dinner table, this time prepared two ways: as sweet potato chips (tossed in olive oil and seasoning) and as cubed, roasted sweet potatoes (paired with whole oven-roasted chicken and Brussels sprouts).

Sweet Potato - Black Bean Chili
Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients
Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 sweet potato (~11 ounces), peeled and diced large
3 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, no salt added
1/2 lb black beans, soaked and cooked
3 cups GF chicken broth
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
Juice of 1/2 lime
Cilantro (for garnish)

Steps
1. Heat about 1 tbsp or so of olive oil in a large saucepan. Then saute the onions until soft.
2. Add the sweet potatoes, and saute an additional 5 minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients through and including the chipotle powder (but not the lime and cilantro).
4. Bring to a simmer. Cook about 30 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are soft and the chili's flavors are well developed.
5. Leave the chili chunky. Or, to prepare as we photographed the dish, reserve about 3/4 cup of the chili. Puree the remainder with an immersion blender to make a smooth, thick soup.
6. Mix in the lime juice.
7. Add back in the reserved chunky chili (for both texture and presentation). Garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro.
8. Serve with fresh gluten-free cornbread.

Notes
For the black beans, we soaked the beans in water overnight. The next day, we drained the water and rinsed the beans. Then we added new water, and cooked the beans for 1 to 2 hours until tender. Drain the beans, and they're ready to be used in the recipe!

For the tomatoes, we actually used bags of frozen tomatoes from our garden, incorporating both the tomato "pulp" and the tomato "juice" from the freezer bags. We estimated them to yield about 3 standard cans of diced tomatoes, as called for in the recipe.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/casein/lactose-free, egg-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, soy-free, refined-sugar-free.

The recipe is easily made vegetarian and vegan by substituting GF vegetable broth for the GF chicken broth.

Nutritional Info
Per serving: 160 calories, 3g fat, 28g carbs, 6g protein, 165mg sodium, 6g dietary fiber, 3g sugars, plus 466mg potassium, and at least 200% RDA vitamin A, at least 30% RDA vitamin C, at least 20% RDA manganese, and at least 10% RDA vitamin B-6, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, and thiamin.

–Pete

Recipe nutrition info approximate, calculated using SparkRecipes.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Athlete Insight: Katherine Sumner

Katherine Sumner in black top and maroon singlet.
In The Gluten-Free Edge, Melissa (Gluten Free for Good) and I interview and profile dozens of amazing gluten-free athletes. One of the wonderful challenges of writing the book was that we discovered many more gluten-free athletes than we could ever hope to fit within the book's pages. And so, we're featuring more athletes here on No Gluten, No Problem in "Athlete Insight," a recurring series. Learn from them. Be inspired by them. And see that—whether you're gluten-free for medical reasons or voluntarily to gain a performance edge—gluten-free athletes are out there, living an active gluten-free life to the fullest.

Katherine Sumner
High school wrestler

Born: 1997
Lives: New York
Gluten-free since: 2011

Fourteen-year-old Katherine Sumner has been active in sports for as long as she can remember—soccer, swimming, running cross country, field hockey, track & field. Her foray into wrestling started six years ago, when she was in third grade and her younger brother Leland came home with forms to join the wrestling team. He asked his sisters—Katherine and Mary—if they wanted to join, too. "Mary instantly said no, but I decided to try it," says Katherine. "I've been with it ever since."

In 2011, though, she started experiencing health problems. She was fatigued much of the time, and by September, Katherine was having severe stomach pains that were becoming more and more frequent.

There was a family history of problems with gluten. Katherine's grandmother, aunt, and father were all diagnosed with celiac disease. Four years ago, she was tested, too. Those test results were negative. But with her recent problems, her parents decided to have her tested again. This time, she came back positive for celiac disease. That was in November.

"It wasn't as big of a change for me as it would be for some people," she says, "because I was already eating gluten-free at home with my dad." The biggest change, she notes, was eating outside the home with friends and family. Fortunately, her friends and teammates have been supportive of her new dietary needs.

Most importantly, on the gluten-free diet, Katherine's health has returned. "It took a little while, but now my body is feeling great! I feel more awake and healthier than I have in a while," she notes. "I'm able to think clearer now. I also feel stronger, which is helping with my wrestling."

Favorite gluten-free foods: "There are all sorts of gluten-free foods that I love, but my favorites are parfait and my mom's gluten-free brownies."

When I conducted this interview, Katherine was in the midst of a great high school wrestling season. Her record at the time was 16-10. At just 99 pounds, it has sometimes been difficult finding an opponent in the same weight class, and so 9 of her wins came by forfeit. But of her 7 live victories, 6 have come by pin.

Photo by Dean O'Gorman. Courtesy Nancy Sumner.

–Pete

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Product Review: Vidazorb


Gluten in medications, vitamins, and dietary supplements is no laughing matter ... especially if you need them to treat an illness or maintain gastrointestinal or overall health. It's one more aspect of the gluten-free life where we have to remain vigilant. And if you've ever tried reaching out to pharmaceutical companies to try and determine the gluten-free status of a given medication, you know that answers don't always come easily.

That's one reason why the NFCA recently undertook its Gluten in Medications survey, which will inform a second stage of research in partnership with St. John's University and Allied Health Professions. It's important work, as those of us who've been "glutened" by medications, vitamins, or supplements can attest to. (Three years ago I got zapped by a generic lactase enzyme caplet...)

When Vidazorb—makers of a line of gluten-free, dairy-free, calorie-free, sugar-free probiotic dietary supplements—offered to send a gratis sample bottle for us to review, I was curious and accepted. I chose their Super C version, which they market for athletes and others. More on it in a moment.

One thing that's fairly unique about the Vidazorb probiotics is that they come in the form of chewable tablets that do not require refrigeration. This makes them pretty convenient, especially when you're traveling.

The tablets are lightly sweetened with sucralose, the same artificial sweetener behind Splenda. According to Vidazorb, it's part of their formula for making successful chewable tablets that keep the probiotics alive without refrigeration. It also helps to make the tablets calorie- and sugar-free, and thus suitable for diabetics, which is important. My own personal preference, however, is for natural sweeteners. I tend to steer pretty clear of artificial sweeteners, including sucralose.

Vidazorb offers a range of five probiotic formulations, depending on what you're looking for:
  • Daily - Lemon flavored. Includes L. acidophilus.
  • Plus - Vanilla flavored. Basically Daily plus Bifidobacterium.
  • +OPC - Pomegranate flavored. Basically Plus plus OPC (non-GMO grape seed extract).
  • Super C - Orange-pineapple flavored. Basically +OPC plus vitamin C.
  • Belly Boost - Wild berry flavored. For kids.
The orange-pineapple of the Super C I've been taking doesn't taste especially like either fruit. The chewable tablets simply have a pleasant, slightly sweet taste. They come 90 pills to a bottle, and Vidazorb recommends taking 1 pill three times per day. Hence, one bottle is a one month supply. Each tablet contains 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units). The Vidazorb website has a handy chart where you can compare their product against other sources of probiotics, such as Activia.

Vidazorb was formulated in partnership with Chr Hansen, and is manufactured in the U.S. by Tedor Pharma. The Vidazorb website has plenty of language targeting the celiac disease and broader gluten intolerant / gluten-free population, and so I've sent questions to the company inquiring about its manufacturing practices and whether or not it does any in-house or third-party gluten testing. (I'll update this paragraph when I receive a reply.)

In the meantime, I can offer my anecdotal experience using Vidazorb's Super C for the last few weeks. Personally, I haven't experienced any noticeable change in my gastrointestinal system or overall health, positive or negative. My gut has been taking the British advice to "keep calm and carry on." I've experienced no symptoms that would suggest there's any rogue gluten in the tablets. I also haven't experienced any profound gut renaissance. But I'll say that going into my sample trial period, my GI system was feeling pretty darned good. I haven't been exposed to gluten since our vacation back in mid-January, and thanks to yogurt, kefir, and other foods, I feel like my diet—and my gut—is pretty healthy, balanced, and regular.

However, I could certainly see the potential benefit of a product such as Vidazorb. If you're newly gluten-free and have a recovering GI system; if you've recently been "glutened;" if you were on antibiotics for an illness; or if you're looking to re-establish gut balance with priobiotics for any other reason, Vidazorb could certainly be part of the equation.

–Pete

Image courtesy Vidazorb.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Crepes


After missing the last two Gluten-Free Ratio Rallies, we're getting back in on the action this month with the theme of crepes. This month No One Likes Crumbley Cookies is hosting the Rally. After you read this post, be sure to head over there to find links to lots of other tasty crepe recipes, including a few savory crepes, and plenty of sweet ones, too.

The working ratio for crepes was flour : liquid : egg in a ratio of 1 : 2 : 2 (or 1 : 4 for flour : everything else). As usual, it was interesting to see if we—and our blogging colleagues—settled on a similar ratio or something different.
When it came time to decide which kind of crepe we'd make, we had to put on our thinking caps. We love our base crepe recipe, which you'll find in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking. Today's crepe recipe is based on it. We've also done some crepes before on the blog, such as dessert crepes with vanilla ice cream and a blueberry sauce, and breakfast crepes with a cherry-pomegranate sauce.

At one point I suggested we do something with crepes and orange zest. Kelli was quick to point out that what I was proposing sounded an awful lot like Crepes Suzette, perhaps the classic crepe preparation. Too cliche? To obvious? Probably not. But we moved on anyway.

We finally settled on Key Lime Crepes—a stack of crepes layered with a dairy-free coconut-lime pastry cream. Traditionally, crepe stacks would be made of full-sized crepes, with individual portions cut away as wedges, like a slice of pie or cake. We decided to give the crepe stack an unconventional twist.  From our full-sized finished crepes, we cut out a series of identical crepe rounds that we made into individual stacks. The result is an elegant and easy dessert!


Key Lime Crepes
Makes 8 full-size crepes

Ingredients
3/4 cup (94g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 tbsp sugar
2 eggs (100g)
1 cup (240g) milk
1 tsp GF pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp (28g) melted butter

Steps
1. Mix together the flour and sugar.
2. Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla, and mix well.
3. Add the melted butter, and mix just until combined.
4. Grease a skillet (we used a nonstick version) with butter or cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter into the pan, and spread the batter thin by tilting pan around.
5. Cook the crepe for about 45 seconds, until it begins to dry.
6. Flip the crepe (a fork is helpful), and cook on the second side briefly. The finished crepe should be blond to light golden brown.
7. Repeat with the remaining crepe batter.
8. To make the crepe rounds: Use a water glass, large circular cookie cutter, or other implement to cut out identical circles of crepe. You should get 3 mini crepe rounds per 1 full-size crepe. (The crepe scraps make a tasty snack while you're working on this dessert!)
9. To assemble the key lime crepes, place first crepe on a plate, spread a thin layer of cream (recipe follows), add another crepe on top, another layer of cream, and continue, using 6 mini crepe rounds per stack. Makes 4 servings/crepe stacks.
10. Top with whipped cream (traditional or dairy-free). Garnish with additional lime zest.

Notes
With some relatively minor adjustments, the crepe ingredients could be "idealized" to:

100g flour
100g eggs
250g milk
30g butter
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

This would yield a ratio of flour : liquid : egg of 1 : 2.5 : 1. If you add in the melted butter as a liquid, it gets very close to 1 : 3 : 1, or 1 : 4 for the ratio of flour : everything else in the base working ratio above. Not too shabby!

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free.

The coconut - key lime pastry cream recipe that follows below is dairy-free. To make the crepes dairy-free as well, replace the milk and butter with dairy-free alternatives.

Coconut - Key Lime Pastry Cream
Makes 1 1/4 cups

Ingredients
One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup lime juice
Zest from 1 lime

Steps
1. Scald the milk.
2. Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch, add to the egg yolks, and whisk until the eggs become light in color.
3. Temper the egg mixture into the milk, bring to a boil for about 1 minute, and turn off the heat.
4. Whisk in the lime juice and zest.
5. Let cool.

Notes
If you don't have key limes, you can easily substitute the larger Persian limes.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/casein/lactose-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free.

Enjoy!

–Pete