Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gluten-Free Grilling, Car Camping Edition

Nachos with corn tortillas, ground turkey seasoned with taco spices, peppers and onions, and fresh salsa.
Summer is in full swing, and the Fourth of July is just around the corner, which means that camping—and grilling—season has arrived. This past weekend we ushered in the season in grand style with a camping trip to Mount Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire. We pitched our tent at the Gilson Pond area of the state park, in a convenient site that allowed us to do it "car camping" style. On Saturday we tackled the famed Mount Monadnock, often hailed as one of the most climbed mountains in the world (the crows we saw during our ascent of the White Dot trail/route certainly seemed to confirm as much). And on Sunday we took a dip in nearby Thorndike Pond. Glorious.

Back in the days when it was just us, we were mostly backcountry campers—we'd carry everything on our backs in expedition packs and hike miles into the mountains to camp in secluded valleys and climb tall peaks. Now that we have young girls, we're doing much more car camping, which allows us to bring more creature comforts from home, offering them a mellow introduction to the outdoors: toys, extra blankets, pillows.

Car camping also offers certain benefits when it comes to planning your gluten-free camping meals:

1. Since you're not limited (as much) by space and weight constraints, you can bring along larger and heavier pots and pans, knives and utensils, etc.
2. And since you can bring along a big cooler full of ice, you have portable "refrigeration," allowing you to bring along otherwise perishable goods.

If we're going to car camp, we like to take full advantage of such benefits.

Bacon as part of breakfast.
In addition to what food to bring and what meals to plan, another important question to answer when you're gluten-free is how to safely cook that food. Sure, you could bring a camp stove from home, and do all your cooking on that. But when we have the chance, we love to cook over an open fire. Most campgrounds will have a fire ring/pit and a grill grate.

Of course, many people before you have used that same grate, and you can bet that they most certainly weren't gluten-free. So how to safely cook gluten-free foods on a potentially cross-contaminated grill? You have several options:

1. Bring aluminum foil and lay sheets across the grate. This is effective at preventing cross-contamination, but I don't like the way heat transfers through to the food.

2. Bring aluminum foil, and individually wrap each grate of the grill. This gives you effective cross-contamination protection and good access to heat from the coals, but it's tedious to set up. (On the plus side, once you've done it, it's ready to go for future meals...)

3. Bring your own grill grate. You could either use it in place of the existing one, or lay yours directly on the top of the other. This could be a full-size grill grate, or it could be a "grill basket," like you might us on your grill at home to prevent vegetables and such from falling through the grate. It's a reasonable and reusable option, though it can be bulky to transport, and messy to bring home with you in the car.

4. Do all your cooking in pots and pans. Self-explanatory, I hope.

5. Incinerate the gluten! This is our preferred method. Build a piping hot fire, and let it burn until any residue on the grill grate is blackened and charred. Scrape down the grill, and you should be good to go. (If you really want to go for broke, pour a pan's worth of bacon grease onto your fire. Be careful ... that stuff is very flammable. Then stand back and watch as your grill grate is bathed in flames.)

Sandwiches on homemade gluten-free bread for our climb of Mount Monadnock.
Scrambling up rocks en route to the top.
Crowds? What crowds?
The Bronski clan.
As for the actual meal planning, the sky's the limit when you're car camping with ample cooking supplies, a cord of wood (or three), and a cooler stocked with ice and yummy food. We have our standard campfire favorites, including hot dogs, corn on the cob, and pouch potatoes. But also like to take popular dishes from home, and deconstruct them for camping.

Take, for example, nachos (in the top photo above). Normally we might make fresh corn tortillas, cook up some ground turkey with taco spices, grilled the peppers and onions, make some rice, etc. and have a hearty plate of tacos. Instead, we brought along a bag of our favorite crunchy corn tortillas and use those as our "taco shells" to pick up and eat the fixin's, which were all cooked over the open fire in a skillet.

Our menu for the weekend looked something like this:

Friday dinner = taco-seasoned ground turkey, peppers and onions, fresh salsa, corn tortillas
Saturday breakfast = bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit
Saturday lunch = PB&J sandwiches on homemade GF bread, fresh fruit, chocolate
Saturday dinner = grilled hot dogs on toasted bread slices, corn on the cob, s'mores
Sunday breakfast = bacon, GF pancakes

We also had plenty of water, juice, naturally gluten-free hard cider, a 6-pack of homebrew gluten-free beer, and snacks.

The corn looks horribly charred, but...
It's perfectly cooked on the inside.
Hot dogs, anyone?
Why yes, don't mind if I do! On toasted, sliced gluten-free bread "toasted" directly over the fire...
Roasted marshmallows and gluten-free s'mores. A must for any camping trip.
This upcoming weekend we'll be headed into the forest once again, but this time there won't be any camping or hiking/scrambling up a mountain. Team Bronski is headed to Finger Lakes National Forest, where I'm racing in my next ultramarathon of the season, the Finger Lakes Fifties trail run. Full race report to come next week!


P.S. My Gluten-Free Edge coauthor Melissa has a post on gluten-free "Backcountry Nutrition for Peak Performance" over on her blog, Gluten-Free for Good. Check it out for more great info!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gluten-Free Labeling Brew Ha Ha

If you've been scrutinizing your beer labels lately (and come on, who isn't?!), then you may have noticed a recent change: some beers—such as Bard's, Redbridge, and New Planet—continue to be labeled as "gluten-free" beers, while others—including Estrella Damm Daura and Omission—have dropped "gluten-free" from their labeling. Why? Has their gluten status changed? As you might imagine, there's a back story, and things aren't exactly black and white.

The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) historically has regulated wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages (which includes traditional beer). When gluten-free beers first started coming to the market in the United States, they fell into a nether-region of regulation. They were "beer" and contained alcohol, but they were brewed from sorghum and other gluten-free ingredients, which meant they weren't classified as malt beverages (which are made from barley and other gluten-containing grains). And so, in 2009 the TTB and FDA reached an agreement for gluten-free beers to be regulated by FDA and its labeling requirements (which is why today a bottle of Bard's or New Planet will have both a nutrition info panel and ingredients listing, unlike "regular" beers).

Then things got complicated. Beers such as Estrella Damm Daura and the latest addition, Omission, are another beast: they're brewed from barley (and thus still considered "real" beer and regulated by TTB, not FDA), but they're processed to remove gluten and make claims about their low-gluten content or theoretical gluten-free status. This prompted TTB to issue an interim guidance document late last month that governs how manufacturers can and can't use "gluten-free" labeling claims in association with their products. It applies to wines, distilled spirits, and malt beverages, including beer, though it seems to have gotten the most attention in the beer world.

In the document, the TTB notes a) that the FDA is still working on making its own gluten-free labeling standard official, and b) the need exists for better, more accurate, and more reliable gluten testing for fermented beverages such as beer. (To wit, earlier this year researchers revealed results of a study that found that certain so-called gluten-free beers brewed from barley had significantly higher gluten content than previously thought.)

In light of these concerns, TTB has taken a surprising—and admirably conservative—approach. Alcoholic beverages may only bear the "gluten-free" claim if three criteria are met: 1) they use only gluten-free ingredients (such as wine from grapes, vodka from potatoes, or beer from sorghum), 2) take steps to prevent cross-contamination, and 3) use no additives, yeasts, or storage materials that would introduce gluten.

Meanwhile, what about these other beers, such as Estrella Damm Daura and Omission? According to TTB, they may say that their beers are "processed or treated or crafted to remove gluten," but they can't say they're gluten-free. And they must include a declaration that the product is made from a gluten-containing grain, that testing protocols may not be adequate, and that the product may contain gluten (whether it actually does or not).

Once the FDA makes its GF labeling standard official—and as new tests for gluten in fermented alcoholic beverages come online—TTB plans to revisit its guidance document. In the meantime, as gluten-free consumers it's important to note that nothing about the beverages in question has changed. What has changed is how they're permitted to be labeled. Whether your brew of choice is a gluten-free beer made from gluten-free grains, or one made from barley but with the gluten removed, stay educated. The more you know...


Friday, June 22, 2012

Race Recap: 2012 Minnewaska Summer Solstice 14k

On an overlook above Lake Minnewaska, with the Gunks' white cliffs behind.
When you're sweating profusely just standing around, you know it's hot. To fix the problem, you could pretty much do one of two things: 1) find some air conditioning (and quick!), or 2) dunk your body into a lake or ocean or swimming pool. Or—if you're me—you can compete in a trail running race.

Like most of the country, this week we've suffered a major hot spell. Here in the Hudson Valley, the heat peaked on Wednesday and Thursday, with temperatures in the high 90s and heat indexes into the 100s. As lucky timing would have it, the annual Minnewaska Summer Solstice 14k trail race was scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30pm, right in the heart of it.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I ran this race last year. It was—unexpectedly—my first race of the season, after recovering from two hospitalizations due to illness earlier in the spring. The 2011 edition of the race featured cool temps, with clouds, fog, and heavy rain. Even so, more than 200 runners turned out for the event.

This year's event couldn't have been more different weather-wise. As the race start loomed, the heat index was still 97 degrees F, according to the race director. That's not just hot; that's downright dangerous. People can—and sadly, do—die pushing their bodies too hard in heat like that.

And they're off! 200+ runners brave the heat.
The race is 14 kilometers—about 8.6 miles—through some of the most gorgeous terrain you could imagine for running. Last year the views were obscured by cloud and fog. This year all was clear for me to see. The race began on a bluff overlooking Lake Minnewaska, then followed gravel carriage roads through forests and along clifftops. Across a green valley, the white and golden cliffs of the Shawangunk Mountains were bathed in warm, late-day light.

Despite the sweltering heat, this was a fun race for me on many levels. Mostly, it boils down to the fact that the race is easy. I don't mean that it's not challenging; I push myself hard no matter what the distance. I mean it's "easy" in other ways: Kelli and the girls don't have to shuttle from aid station to aid station. They can just hang out at the finish line. I also don't have to train specifically for a race of this distance. I can pretty much sign up and go race at any time. It's a great way to push my body in different ways (running a shorter distance for speed, versus a much longer distance for endurance). And races like this don't take much time. Compared to the all-day commitment of running an ultramarathon, shorter trail races of 5k to 15k will be over in 20 minutes to just over 1 hour. Bada bing, bada boom.

Normally, I wouldn't bother worrying about hydration for a run of less than 10 miles. But with the dangerous heat, I knew I needed to be careful. I wore my 20-ounce bottle, filled with First Endurance EFS Drink, and sipped from that about every 7 minutes. The course also featured three aid stations with water—at each aid station, I took two cups. One splashed my face and got dumped over my head; the other splashed my chest and got dumped down my back.

Coming up a short but steep final climb to the finish.
The race began with a brief downhill before beginning a long, sustained climb out to mile 3.75. The next two miles or so the course leveled off a bit, leading to the third aid station at mile 5.5. From there, it was basically a 5k (3.1 miles) trending downhill (though not always) back toward the finish, where you had to re-climb the brief but steep hill at the start/finish line.

In a word, the heat was brutal. I tried to walk a fine line between pushing myself to run well, but remain conservative considering the temperatures. I finished the race in 1 hour 4 minutes 19 seconds. That bests my time from last year by three minutes, and was good enough for me to place 25th out of 212 finishers, just outside the top 10%.

Chatting with Kelli after the race, I was explaining how I was basically red-lined the whole time. But then it occurred to me that for any runner, there can be multiple red lines. I'll explain. If you imagine that your body has an invisible dashboard like that on a car, there are many dials: one for speed, one for endurance/stamina, one for temperature. If you're running for long enough, you might add additional dials for hydration and nutrition, too. If you red-line any one of those dials, then that's going to be the limiting factor for your race. In shorter races, speed tends to be my limiting factor. In ultras, I keep the speed slower, so that endurance becomes the limiting factor. But in yesterday's race, there's no question which dial was red-lined as my limiting factor: my thermostat.

By the end of the race, temperatures up on the ridge were finally beginning to relent (at least a little). Kelli had spread a blanket in the shade of a pine tree, where a picnic dinner was laid out for us all to share. I gulped down an ice cold First Endurance Ultragen (my gluten-free recovery drink of choice ... packed with simple carbs for glycogen replenishment, amino acids for muscle repair, and l-glutamine to promote gut health). Dinner was delicious: homemade chicken tenders (coated in gluten-free bread crumbs and pan-fried in olive oil), plus roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower. It's always a pleasure to enjoy that time with Kelli and the girls—they may not run the actual course with me, but they're an integral part of the racing regardless. I mean it sincerely when I refer to us as Team Bronski.

Team Bronski.
The day after the race I logged an easy 4.3-mile run to aid my leg recovery, and today banked 11.25 miles, which brings my trail running tally for 2012 to just under 700 miles. I'm now beginning my taper in advance of the next race: the Finger Lakes 50-miler on June 30 (which is one week from tomorrow!).

Speaking of races, I want to remind everyone—since I haven't said much about it lately here on the blog—that the 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge is in full swing! My season of racing is all geared toward a very challenging 50-miler—the Virgil Crest Ultra—at the end of September, and my fundraising directly supports the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. As an added incentive to get y'all to donate, I'm giving away signed books to donors at the end of each month.

But here's the terrible irony. You know what? I didn't give away any books at the beginning of this month. Why? Because in the month of May, the Challenge received no donations. And May was National Celiac Awareness Month!

I've not wanted to constantly talk about the Challenge here on the blog, because No Gluten, No Problem is not about me constantly having my hand out, asking for your donations to the NFCA. But I suppose I've been saying too little about the Challenge. I hope you'll help me get the fundraising back on track this month. There's just over one week left in June, and I'm finishing off the month with a big ultra. Won't you join me vicariously through the Challenge?


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Recipe: 90-Minute Mole

I'm a firm believer that time spent in the kitchen crafting a meal is time well spent. Sure, now and again it can turn into hot, sweaty drudgery. But the majority of the time it's pure enjoyment. Every so often, though, if you're lucky you have a transcendent experience ... an epiphany that sets a recipe or a meal apart as something truly special. Today's recipe for 90-Minute Mole is just such a recipe, and its story began some three years ago.

I've long been a fan of Mexican mole, a notoriously complicated sauce—often associated with chocolate, though it need not be an ingredient—that comes a wondrous variety ... black, red, green, etc. Some of the most esteemed mole comes from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It has incredible depth of flavor, thanks to an impressive array of ingredients: various chiles, spices, dried fruit, and much more, including (potentially) Mexican chocolate. Average, run of the mill mole can be ho-hum, but great mole is a heavenly experience.

I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've had truly exceptional mole that has made me sit back in my chair and go, "Wow." One of those times was in fall 2009, deep in the heart—not of Mexico, but—of Arizona.

I was in the Phoenix area on a press trip, and my itinerary included a stay at the Four Seasons Scottsdale. It's a stunning property with an enviable view of nearby Pinnacle Peak. One night included a theme dinner at Crescent Moon, where every course of the meal incorporated chocolate (as an aside, the restaurant's seamless attention to my gluten-free dietary needs was superb). Executive Chef Meliton Mecinas—who hails from Oaxaca—prepared a masterful meal, but the highlight for me was his Oaxacan mole, based on his grandmother's version. This was the real deal. Best of all, I walked away with a version of his recipe.

That recipe has lived tucked away in a filing cabinet, waiting for the right moment for us to attempt it. One month ago, we decided it was time. After a handful of false starts, Kelli and I crafted our own version of Mecinas' sauce, with similar overall complexity and depth of flavor, but simplified process, ingredients list, and shorter preparation time, while still staying true to authentic Oaxacan mole. We call it our 90-Minute Mole, but in this case, it really is built upon the shoulders of giants.

90-Minute Mole
Makes 3 pints

3 oz pasilla chiles (about 15)
1/2 oz gaujillo chiles (about 2)
1/2 oz ancho chiles (about 2)
1 quart GF chicken broth

1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano

Dried Fruits:
1/4 cup dried apricots
2 tbsp golden raisins
1 cup very hot water

1 tbsp olive oil
1 Roma tomato, chopped
1/4 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced

Nuts and Seeds:
2 tbsp raw cashews
2 tbsp blanched almonds
2 tbsp sesame seeds

Sweet Stuff:
1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 oz Mexican chocolate

1. Under running water, wash and de-seed the chiles.
2. Spread them in a single layer on a pan and roast for 20 minutes at 250 deg F, until dry.
3. Place the dried chiles in a pot, add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, do everything else:
4. Toast the spices in a dry pan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
5. Soak the dried fruits in the hot water for 20 minutes.
6. Using the saute pan from the spices, heat the pan over high heat with the olive oil, then add the vegetables and saute until caramelized, about 5 minutes.
7. Toast the nuts and seeds on a cookie sheet in the oven at 275 deg F for 10 minutes.
8. Put the soaked fruit and soaking liquid in a food processor. Puree until smooth.
9. Add the toasted spices and caramelized vegetables, and puree until smooth.
10. Add the toasted nuts and seeds, and puree until smooth.
11. Pour off excess chicken broth from the chiles and reserve. Add the chiles to the food processor, along with the brown sugar, and puree until very smooth, about 5 minutes.
12. Return the pureed mixture to the saute pan, along with the reserved chicken broth. Simmer for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat.
13. Add the Mexican chocolate, and stir until melted.

1. Despite the seemingly long list of ingredients and steps, this is a super-easy recipe with a great pay-off.
2. The sauce stores well and can be used in a variety of ways. Portion into glass containers, seal, and freeze for later use.
3. To make chicken mole as photographed in this post: brown one pound chicken (skinless breast and/or thighs) in a hot skillet with 1/2 tbsp olive oil, about 4 minutes per side. Put the chicken in a slow cooker, cover with about 2 cups mole sauce, and cook on low for 2 hours.
4. Mexican chocolate is a coarse, sweet chocolate usually flavored with cinnamon. (Brands include Ibarra and Abuelita.)
5. We call this 90-minute mole because it should take about 1.5 hours for one person to prepare the sauce from start to finish. Cooking time for any meal with which you'll use the sauce is extra.

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



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Returning to our Roots

 A climber ascends a route at The Trapps, at the Gunks, NY.
Some activities we participate in because we enjoy them. Other activities serve to define us; they are a fundamental part of our identity. For Kelli and me, climbing and being in the mountains belong definitively in the latter category. The climbing rope that literally ties us together is also a metaphor for the bond we share as husband and wife, and now, as parents. It is also an outward sign that our relationship—and our identity as individuals and as a couple—has, in no small part, been forged in the vertical realm.

Food abides by this dichotomy, too. There are plenty of foods that I—and we—love. They are pure enjoyment. (Dishes such as sushi, chicken tikka masala, and pad thai come immediately to mind for me personally.) But there are certain foods and certain recipes that are more fundamental; they are a part of who we are. Some are cherished family recipes and dishes that speak to our heritage. Others are regional dishes that signify where we were born and raised.

But what happens when you lose your connection—temporarily or permanently—to your roots?

The welcome committee, also known as a copperhead.
Rock climbing has been much too absent from our lives in recent years. It's a disconnect I've felt acutely ... physically, emotionally, even spiritually. We went rock climbing once in 2011. Once! In what feels like another life, we were climbing at least once per week, not once per year.

The reasons why are many: We had two children relatively close together. In between, Kelli shattered her foot in a car accident. Life gets busy (especially when your time increasingly becomes allocated for blogging, recipe development, attending gluten-free events, training as an ultramarathon-distance trail runner, and competing—and recovering from—ultramarathons).

Some of these were real hurdles. Others are quasi-excuses. The important thing is that we've recommitted to connecting with our roots.

Kelli climbing up to the GT Ledge, 200 feet off the ground.
That reconnection started on Saturday, when Kelli surprised me with a day of rock climbing at the Gunks, a world-famous cliff—upwards of 300 feet tall in places—just 30 minutes from where we currently live in the Hudson Valley. It's a place with deep significance for us.

I spent years climbing there regularly, starting more than a decade ago. At one point, I knew the cliff well enough—more than a mile long, with hundreds of routes—that I didn't need to bring a guidebook. (Those days are long gone...)

The Gunks are also where I taught Kelli to rock climb, back in the early days of our relationship when we were dating. Those early climbs together were formative. For one, few things solidify a relationship like literally holding your partner's life in your hands while belaying. Several climbs stand out as particularly memorable. One of them is called Hawk.

Self-portrait on top of the cliff.
At 5.5 (a rating of a rock climbing route's difficulty), Hawk is not objectively difficult, but it's subjectively intimidating. The second pitch climbs its way through a series of three slightly overhanging corners. As you successively turn each corner, you must step out and around, with your feet over a void, the ground 150 feet or so below. Kelli bravely surmounted the difficulties, and thereafter climbed with a heightened confidence that'd been absent from her rock climbing up to that point.

With her parents watching our girls this past Saturday, and with the trunk of our car filled with packs and climbing gear, we drove over to the trailhead we'd visited so many times before. It was a sunny, warm, weekend day, and so of course the cliff was crowded with climbers.

We walked along, looking for a route that was a) not already filled with climbers, and b) within our climbing ability (especially considering that we're both out of practice and out of climbing shape). Incredibly, we found ourselves standing at the base of ... Hawk. Was it a sign?

Kelli on rappel.
We dropped our packs, donned our climbing harnesses, racked our gear, and started to tie in to our rope. Just then, a climber on the cliff above called down to me. "Hey! There was a copperhead right there a little earlier!" I spun around, and not two feet behind me was a large, poisonous copperhead snake, sunning itself—impressively disguised—on a bed of brown leaves.

Once we were off the ground and on the rock, concerns about the snake subsided, and we were able to enjoy the climbing. The first pitch was straightforward. Then we climbed through the second pitch that occupies such an important place in our shared climbing history. The second pitch finishes atop the GT Ledge, short for Grand Traverse Ledge, a prominent ledge that cuts across the entire cliff face about two thirds of the way up. From there, it was a short, beautiful, enjoyable pitch to the top of the cliff, where we topped out into the shade of the forest.

We rappelled down the cliff back to our packs (careful to make sure the snake wasn't anywhere close), and walked off into the shade to enjoy lunch before setting our sights on another climb. It felt good. Very good. We did more than spend a day rock climbing. We returned to our roots.

Safely back on the ground, coiling the rope.
I can't stress enough the importance of returning to your roots, especially when it comes to food, and especially when you've been distanced from those roots by dietary restrictions. If you're gluten-free—either newly so or for a long time—make the commitment to keep hold of your cherished family recipes, and to maintain the food traditions of your family, region, or heritage.

For us, the list gets long pretty quickly: mock cake, a Polish sweet bread with poppy seed filling we make for Christmas and Easter; speculaas cookies, based on a recipe that dates to the mid-19th century on the Belgian side of my family; the Sicilian seafood Christmas Eve dinner; the kolachkis of Kelli's family; and the list goes on and on.

Such foods keep us grounded. They are a connection to people and to place. Going gluten-free may be the start of something new—and eventually, something wonderful—but that doesn't mean you need to sever your food roots. In fact, it's more important than ever to strengthen those roots, even as you re-learn how to cook and eat.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Happy Father's Day 2012!

We want to wish a very Happy Father's Day to all the dads, grandpas, and father figures who'll be celebrating this upcoming weekend!

If you're planning a special meal for your fella, might we suggest some pub food or something grilled—It is summer, after all! And grilling and pub food are manly, right?

And if you're going to go that route with the food, why not pair it with a cold, refreshing gluten-free beer? Check out these recipes and reviews:


Country-Style Ribs with Island BBQ Sauce
Chipotle BBQ Sauce
Cilantro Fajita Chicken
Grilled Swordfish with Peach Salsa
Honey Mustard Chicken

Beer Reviews

Bard's Beer
Dogfish Head Tweason'ale
Estrella Damm Daura
Green's Beer 
New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale
New Planet Raspberry Ale
New Planet Tread Lightly Ale 
St. Peter's Sorgham Beer

Beer Tastings

Bard's vs. Barley Lagers
Gluten-Free Beers
New Planet vs. Barley Pale Ales

Pub Food

Fish and Chips
Sesame Soy Chicken Tenders
French Fries
Bagel Dogs
Mozzarella Sticks


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Event Recap: 2012 Long Island Making Tracks for Celiacs 5k

Kelli shares a sample of freshly-baked, gluten-free challah bread.
This past Sunday, we set our sights on the village of Oyster Bay, on Long Island's north shore, for the inaugural Long Island Making Tracks for Celiacs 5k event. We had plenty of reasons to attend: I grew up on Long Island. The event was fairly local to where we currently live in the Hudson Valley (less than 2 hours of driving in the car). It supports a great cause (the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland). And we wanted to show our support for event organizer Craig Pinto, founder of the Kicking 4 Celiac Foundation and a former pro athlete profiled in The Gluten-Free Edge (which comes out next month).

The Making Tracks for Celiacs events have grown over the years. The website says it's been going from 2001 through 2012 and that the event is in its 11th year. Well, unless it skipped a year, one of those numbers is wrong. (If you count, 2001 through 2012 is 12 years of events, making 2012 the 11th anniversary but the 12th year. But I digress...) Regardless, one thing is clear: in that decade of fundraisers, they've raised more than $2 million. This year included more than a dozen fundraisers across the country, including the inaugural one on Long Island.

Runners assemble near the starting line for the 5k run/walk.
More than 200 registered participants—ranging in age from 5 to 72—turned out for the event. Rain early threatened to dampen the event, literally and figuratively, but it mostly held off, giving way to warm temperatures, blue skies, and bright sunshine. Kelli was up early, baking fresh gluten-free challah bread to share with attendees. Then we loaded up the car and made our way to Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park right on the water.

Hot and iced Starbucks coffee, a rockin' DJ, and about a dozen vendors—including some familiar brands plus some local gluten-free bakeries—made for a great central hub of activity.

Soon it was time for the 5k portion of the morning. I had planned on taking it easy and making it a family affair; my legs weren't exactly fresh. It would be my fourth consecutive day of running, including a 12-mile trail run the day before. Kelli was going to stay with our table at the vendor fair, and I was going to put the girls in our double-wide Chariot jogging stroller and take them with me. But as the 9am start time loomed, the girls decided it would be more fun to stay and play, which left me on my own for the 5k.

Crossing the finish line. Photo courtesy Craig Pinto.
And so, instead of lining up in back with the stroller crowd, I toed the front of the starting line with the other "serious" runners. Pinto fired the starting gun and we were off on a picturesque road loop through the hills of Oyster Bay.

I took off running pretty hard. It was "only" 3.1 miles—compared to a 50-mile trail ultra that might take me 10 hours, this would be over in just over 20 minutes. But I knew it'd be tough none the less ... while I have plenty of endurance, my training and my fitness are not built for speed, which is kind of the name of the game if you're going to be competitive in a 5k. I was pretty much red-lined, running right at my lactate threshold, the whole time.

The guy who eventually won the race (a collegiate track runner, as I recall) took off like a rocket. I lost sight of him by the first mile marker, and never saw him again. He finished a full four minutes ahead of me, which is a huge gap in a race of this distance.

For me, the race neatly fell into thirds. The first mile was relatively flat, and a handful of other runners pushed past me. Then we hit the hills, and that's where I got my revenge, re-passing them and improving my position. The final mile was all about pushing as hard as I could through the finish line, since it'd all be over soon.

With event organizer Craig Pinto.
I crossed the finish line in 21:11, which equates to a 6:50 per mile pace (which I'm pretty sure I haven't run since I graduated from high school 15 years ago).

Awards were handed out in four age groups: 19 and under, 20 to 29, 30 to 39, and 40 and over. I placed 4th overall, and to my delight, I won my age group!

My two favorite parts of the day, though, were: a) watching all the finishers come across the finish line, from young children to moms and dads pushing jogging strollers to teams of families and friends, and b) chatting with everyone who came by our table at the vendor fair after the run. It was great to once again connect with the gluten-free community in person, sharing stories, sharing insights, and being reminded once again why we work so hard at this.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Recipe: Cilantro Fajita Chicken

As some of you may have seen via Facebook and Twitter, we have a truckload of mint growing in our garden this year, all of it "rogue" mint that came up from last year's crop. Preparing our 400-square-foot community garden plot for this year's plantings, we discovered another pleasant surprise: rogue cilantro, also a result of last year's crop. The result is that we're enjoying cilantro much earlier than usual.

We had already made a big batch of mojo, but then Kelli—always the cilantro addict—thought of a great way to put cilantro to another use ... in this fajita sauce. What really makes it notable is not the cilantro marinade for the grilled chicken, but rather the sauce we made with surplus cilantro marinade. By adding soaked, pureed cashews and whipping it all together in a blender, it has a delightful creaminess without having any dairy whatsoever.

Cilantro Fajita Chicken
Makes enough marinade and sauce for 1 pound of chicken

1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves
2 green onions (coarsely chopped into large pieces)
1 small jalapeno pepper (coarsely chopped into large pieces)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Juice of 1 lime
6 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup hot water

1. Combine all ingredients, except cashews and hot water, in a food processor and blend until smooth.
2. Remove 1/4 cup of the marinade and set aside.
3. With the remaining marinade, add to a bowl or other container with the pound of chicken. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.
4. While grilling the chicken, prepare the sauce: soak the 1/4 cup raw cashews in 1/4 cup hot water for 20 minutes.
5. Add the cashews, soaking water, and reserved 1/4 cup cilantro marinade to a blender and blend until smooth. Serve as a sauce with the grilled chicken.

Serve with grilled peppers and onions, fresh corn tortillas, and whatever else you like with your fajitas!

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



Monday, June 11, 2012

When the Journey IS the Destination: 6 Lessons for Gluten-Free Baking

Once again it's another Monday, which means that once again I logged another long trail run over the weekend. Compared to the 22-miler from two weekends ago, this past weekend's 12-mile trail run was comparatively short. But distance wasn't the point of this particular run.

My trail runs usually involve known mileage. I plan a route—often up a peak and back, or around a predetermined trail loop—so I roughly know where I'm going and what I'm getting myself into. This past Saturday, however, I took a different approach.

My plan was to run at West Hills County Park on Long Island, New York. We were on the island for Kicking 4 Celiac's inaugural Long Island Making Tracks for Celiacs 5k on Sunday (more on that in a blog post later this week), and I'd never run at West Hills before. I knew that it had hills (no surprise, given its name), including Jayne's Hill—at a whopping 401 feet above sea level, it's the highest point on Long Island—and an extensive trail network. That all sounded appealing. There was just one problem: I couldn't find any maps of the place. I was, in a sense, going to be running blind.

And so I approached my Saturday morning trail run with two goals: a) run for a good while, and b) don't get totally lost.

This was a very different way for me to run, but one that stayed true to another aspect of what I love about long-distance trail running. Last week I wrote about the appeal of rhythm and time; specifically, how ultra running involves the passage of long stretches of time, during which you can think or not think to your heart's content, free of interruption. But another appeal of long-distance trail running for me is movement through space. There's something about setting foot in the wilds, and then covering ground in that environment, that fundamentally feels good to me. Ultra-running is not about pure distance for me. If all I cared about was pure distance, I could go to the local high school track and run six trillion laps until I reached my desired distance. But that has zero appeal to me. It's about the environment through which I move while covering that distance. And when you run without knowledge of where you're going or how far you're going—as I did at West Hills on Saturday—you become that much more aware of your passage through a landscape, I found.

I parked our car near Walt Whitman's birthplace off the northeast corner of the park, then hit the trails. I started running south, clockwise along the eastern edge of the park, trying to hug the perimeter, figuring that'd be a good way to get the lay of the land and maximize the mileage of my first loop in and around the area.

Each time I came to a fork in the trail, I'd take the left fork. That strategy worked well enough until one of those trails led me out of the park. I back-tracked to the last junction and took the other fork. This sequence of events repeated several times. Eventually—somewhere around mile 6—I popped out of the forest into a green, grassy meadow, and there was the park headquarters. I didn't even know the park HAD a headquarters!

I stopped in briefly to chat with the rangers, get my bearings, and get their advice on which way to run. To my surprise, not even they had a map of the entire park. However, one of the older rangers clearly knew that land well, and he verbally told me roughly how to do the kind of run I wanted to run and eventually make it back to my car. I had to chuckle at his final words to me: "Some of those trails aren't marked. It can be a little hairy the first time through there."

By then I'd discovered what he was talking about. It seemed that only about 1 in 3 trails was actually marked with blazes. The rest were just unmarked trails through the forest. Some were sandy bridle paths; others disused forest roads; and still others beautiful, twisting singletrack (my favorite).

Several times I found myself suddenly running a trail I'd clearly been on previously. Somehow I'd run myself in circles, but I'd take it in stride (pardon the pun), pick another trail, and just keep going.

Finally, the path I was running started to go up; its pitch steepened; I sensed I was approaching a height of land. And then, there I was ... atop Jayne's Hill, where a boulder bore a plaque with "Paumanok," a poem by Walt Whitman that pays eloquent homage to Long Island and the waters that surround it (photo below). Soon enough, I was back to my car, with just over 12 miles of trail running and 1,400 feet of cumulative vertical gain behind me. (Just for kicks, enlarge the photo above ... you can see the GPS track of my circuitous route in all its glory. =))

In hindsight, it occurs to me that this sort of trail running into a virtual unknown has many parallels to gluten-free baking, especially when you're first getting your feet wet with gluten-free baking in the kitchen. Those parallels offer some valuable take-home lessons:

1. Enjoy the journey
Sometimes the journey IS the destination. If that's the case, take the time to enjoy every step of that journey.

2. You can't truly make mistakes or take wrong turns
Cut yourself some slack. Channel your inner "tranquilo" (a term we picked up in Bolivia on a high-altitude mountaineering trip five years ago). Relax. If there's nowhere in particular you have to be, then you can't make a mistake or take a wrong turn in getting there. You're already where you need to be ... on the journey.

3. Evaluate
Don't always go full speed ahead. At major junctions, slow down, take stock, evaluate your options, and then choose the best way to proceed. (Hint: it isn't always the left-hand fork...)

4. Trust your sense of direction
Listen to your inner compass. Give yourself some kitchen credit. You know more than you think.

5. Don't be afraid to stop and ask for directions
There's nothing wrong with asking the advice of someone who's been there before; who knows the lay of the land and which way to go. (This applies to everyone, fellas...)

6. There are no setbacks, only learning experiences
If you find yourself right back where you started, or at least back to a place you've already been, don't see it as a setback. View it as a learning experience ... you've exhausted one option, and now have the opportunity to choose another path next.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Bread

Growing up on New York's Long Island, many of my closest childhood friends fell into one of two broad categories: Italian Catholic or Jewish. As a result, though raised in a Christian household I knew my Jewish prayers just as well as my Our Fathers and Hail Marys. I often spent Shabbat dinners at friends' houses on Friday nights, celebrated holidays such as Rosh Hashanah with them, and as we all approached our early teenage years, attended more bar and bat mitzvahs than I could count.

A consistent theme weaving all those events together was challah, a traditional, braided, Jewish egg bread.

When this month's Gluten-Free Ratio Rally tackled bread as its theme, I just knew we had to come up with our own version of challah. It's been on our to-do list for much too long, and this was the perfect excuse.

Though we let our bread brown just a bit too much, that result was purely cosmetic. The bread otherwise turned out fantastic. It is moist, tender, slightly sweet, slightly eggy ... just as good challah bread should be. It's great on its own, or used for sandwiches, or for French toast, or whatever.

As for our final ratio, this one didn't turn out nearly as cleanly as previous Ratio Rallies. Our challah ingredients by weight ended up with roughly 7.5 parts flour, 4.5 parts water, 4 parts eggs, 1.5 parts honey, and 1 part butter (plus a few additional items, such as yeast, salt, and xanthan gum). But that's life.

And while you're at it, be sure to check out Cooking Gluten-Free!, where Karen is this month's Ratio Rally host. There you'll find links to more than a dozen other beautiful breads, including sandwich bread, boule, naan, and more.

You can also check out past posts here on No Gluten, No Problem for other bread recipes, including pumpernickel bagels, Irish soda bread, sandwich bread, baguettes, and rosemary focaccia, to name a few.

Makes 1 large loaf

1 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp yeast
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup melted butter
200g (4 large) eggs
375g (3 cups) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1 egg + 1 tsp water (for an egg wash)

1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water, add the yeast, and let proof until the yeast is nice and active, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the honey, melted butter, and eggs.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, and salt.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well to form a smooth wet dough.
5. Brush a silicone challah mold with oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the dough.
6. Cover and let rise for one hour in a warm place, until the dough roughly doubles in size.
7. Toward the end of the rise, preheat your oven to 375 deg F.
8. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn out of the mold onto a baking sheet. Brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash, then return to the oven for an additional 15 to 18 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches about 190 deg F.

If your loaf begins to brown too quickly in the oven, you can always cover it with a piece of foil.

UPDATE: Since several folks have asked ... We bought our silicone challah mold through Amazon. It works wonderfully! If you're not committed to the braided shape for the bread, you could use a variety of other pans, such as bundt, tube (angel food cake), and similar. Just make sure you have enough room for the dough plus the doubling in size during the rise.

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

This recipe is also effectively refined-sugar-free. To make it fully so, substitute honey or similar for the 1 tbsp sugar during the yeast proofing.

To make this recipe dairy/lactose/casein-free (important if you're going to make your challah parve kosher): substitute canola oil or similar for the melted butter.



Monday, June 4, 2012


Each weekend—with rare exception—I do a long training run. Yesterday was the appointed day, and this time around, I did a 22-miler with about 2,500' of elevation gain. From our home in the mid-Hudson Valley, I ran north to the FDR National Historic Site, then turned onto the Hyde Park trails. It's a beautiful trail network that links three National Park Service-managed historic estates plus several Scenic Hudson parks and preserves.

The trails meander through meadows, over forested bluffs, along the shores of the Hudson River, in and out of wetlands and stream-filled valleys, and along the remnants of old carriageways. I took the run at a comfortable pace, finishing in just under 3 hours 20 minutes, which equates to about a 9-minute-per-mile pace.

That run brings my 2012 trail running to just over 610 miles. That's a pretty good tally so far, I think. And it doesn't include all sorts of other wonderful activities—weekly core yoga sessions, early morning surf sessions at the beach, day hikes in the mountains with Kelli and the girls.

Long trail runs such as yesterday's are important to me for many reasons beyond pure training. One of those reasons is time. The "long run" that is a staple of every ultra runner's training program quite simply takes time. You have to settle in for the long haul, be patient, and give yourself to the run. It is time well spent ... because such runs give you time to think, or if you like, the time not to think and just be. Or both.

When I'm not thinking about nothing and instead thinking about something, all sorts of somethings pop into my head during runs. Yesterday, the theme of "rhythm" kept returning to me. Maybe it was the undulating flow of the trail—up and over a rise, down through a hollow, back up and over. Regardless, I was struck by how "rhythm" weaves its way into most every corner of my life.

There are, of course, the circadian rhythms; the way our biology and our psychology are linked to the alternations of day and night. And there's the rhythm of the seasons. But there are other rhythms as well: The annual rhythm of our garden, from planting to weeding to tending to harvest to consumption and preserving. The rhythm of the waves during a surf session, and the way sets periodically and regularly roll in, while you're bobbing on your surfboard to the ocean's own rhythm, waiting for just the right wave. The rhythm of blogging, which often takes the form of: inspiration for a new recipe, conceiving the recipe, testing the recipe, photographing the recipe, sharing the recipe.

And then there's the rhythm of my training. On a grand scale there's a macro rhythm: the off-season fitness maintenance, the pre-season work to build a strong base, the in-season competition, the immediate post-season "do nothing whatsoever." On the smallest of scales there's the rhythm of my foot-falls, the cadence of my stride over rocks and roots and dirt and mud and crushed gravel.

There's also a micro-rhythm that takes shape in-season: a race, following by a period of rest and recovery, followed by a short block of intense training to prepare better for the next race, and then a taper in preparation for the next event. Then repeat.

I'm in the midst of one such rhythm as I write these words. My last big race (the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler at Bear Mountain) was just over four weeks ago. My next big race—the Finger Lakes 50s Ultramarathon—is just under four weeks away. My training at the moment is intense, but in a few short weeks it will taper drastically to get my body ready for that next big race.

All of these overlapping rhythms are like a silent metronome for my life. They are a way to find my pace. When I think back to the times in my life when I've been the most stressed, the most sick, the most irritable, they are times when I've lost my rhythm. Sure, at times the pace accelerates or decelerates, but ultimately, the rhythm continues, sustaining the flow from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year.

What's your rhythm?