Sometimes I get mad

Sometimes I get mad. Actually, that might be an understatement. Sometimes I get downright angry.

You see, I can handle a lot. I’ve had a very happy home life, a very supportive family, have an amazing husband and 2 beautiful children, and I have a job that I adore.

And yet, I’ve been dealt a lot of crap. If you have read My Story, you know that I went undiagnosed with celiac disease for 30 years – On and off for 15 years I had been to various doctors and specialists.

I also went undiagnosed with depression and anxiety for many years, finally getting diagnosed when I was 23. It took another 4 years to get healthy and it’s still a battle. I’m doing amazing thanks to my doctor, my husband, and my support systems, but it’s still there.

Now I may have eosinophilic esophagitis and yet I still feel like I can handle that. It’s a relatively new disease and still being learned about, but that’s ok. (I find out on March 6 if that is in fact what it is. My last scope saw many biopsies being taken and also found rings in my esophogus, symptomatic of EoE.)

What makes me angry is when my children suffer. And my children, they have suffered. They’ve had the usual colds, a few flus, etc. But then they’ve had other stuff. Mr Man had moderate to severe sleep apnea that required surgery at 3 years and 2 months of age. Miss A started to lose her hearing and had 7 ear infections in a 6 month period around 1 year old (including 3 ruptured ear drums) and had her first surgery at 17 months. Most recently, she also was found to have sleep apnea (though mild) and had surgery a few weeks ago. And some of you have already read Her Story and know what she has gone through getting to a diagnosis of Celiac Disease.

But tonight was harder than all of that. Tonight I had to explain to my little almost-6-year-old what an allergic reaction was. Scientifically. I had to talk about histamine and white blood cells and allergens. I had to talk about hives and asthma and throat closings. I had to talk about it all. Why? Because he was itchy. He was scratching the heck out of his back, and when I took off his shirt, I found this:

Hives were on his back, up his neck, behind his ears and on his hairline. They weren’t on his mouth, face or throat thankfully, but he was itchy. So out came the benadryl.

It seems silly now that I’m writing this that I was so riled up, but in all the times that we’ve talked about his allergies openly and with raw emotion, he’s never been so emphatic. Tonight he used the word “hate” as in “Mom, I hate that I have allergies. I hate having an allergic reaction and I hate feeling like this.” It took everything in me not to burst into tears at that moment. I understand his feelings. I understand the hatred he feels for his allergies. I understand that at almost 6, he kind of gets it. I understand that he’s seen me with hives and he knows that chances are, this is going to be some part of his life for a long time.

We tried to narrow down what the reaction might have been from but we didn’t have much luck. He ate nothing suspect. He played outside in fresh snow where snow mold isn’t present yet. The only thing I can think of that was different is that he went to a museum today. But the reaction came 2 hours after he got home from the museum. We’re drawing a blank.

So tonight I feel more angry than usual. He’s sleeping now. I sang him to sleep using some of his favourite hymns because for Mr Man, that’s what calms him. But my heart breaks for him, and for the conversations like this that are sure to come again.

If anyone has words of advice, please share. My usual positivity is sparse tonight and I could use some good happy guidance.


What’s For Dinner?

I asked one of my favourite newly GF people what I should blog about tonight. You see, I have this whole stack of blog posts in my head. One day I’m going to have to make the list go from brain to paper so that at 3 in the morning I don’t wake up thinking “oh I have a good one” and then start to write it in my head. Because let’s be honest, by the time I really wake up in the morning, I forget most of what I “wrote” and I’m kind of cranky from sleep deprivation.

But tonight I wanted to deviate from the list in my head and write what someone else wanted me to write about. She suggested “Gluten Free Crock-Potting” and so here we are.

Let’s talk about the crock pot for a minute. This is one appliance that if you do not have one, you should probably open a new tab right now and go on a hunt. You don’t need anything fancy my friends! You just need something that (ideally) has a high and a low setting, and that’s it. There are more complex ones out there with timers and temperature settings and fancy dials and stuff, but really, slow cooking isn’t complex. It’s easy, convenient, and a miraculous addition to any family.

Let me tell you the story of how I acquired a slow cooker. It was the year 2002 and my husband and I had just gotten engaged. We got some engagement gifts and one of them was a small slow cooker. Immediately I cursed thinking this was another appliance I’d never use because you know, slow cookers were for old people. Could I have possibly have been more wrong?? The slow cooker came with a recipe book so I tried one. If I recall, I made chicken noodle soup. I tossed everything in the morning before I went to work and walked in after work to amazing smells. The soup wasn’t amazing by any stretch, but it had me very intrigued. We went on to make chicken, ribs, and more soups in our little slow cooker. When we moved across the country, we got rid of it and bought a big one instead!

This all happened pre-celiac disease in our house, so we just went with whatever. Beef stew? No problem, we’ll just coat it in flour. Chicken? No worries, just throw a can of cream of celery soup in there.

Now? Now it’s not as easy. Many recipes are inherently gluten free but most of the cookbooks out there still have “short cuts”. I am not a big proponent of short cuts for two reasons.

1. Most short cuts involve gluten.
2. Most short cuts involve really unhealthy food packed with preservatives, unreadable ingredients and garbage.

Both of them are equally as bad. I just don’t really like, nor appreciate, processed foods.

So in my journey of slow cooking I’ve experimented with great successes, but also with a number of failures. We have a few go-to slow cooker recipes that we use a lot and I thought I’d provide you with some great links.

The Gluten Free Goddess has a whole page of Gluten Free Slow Cooker Recipes! Not only are her recipes generally amazing, but she’s a pretty spectacular writer, too.

A year of slowcooking has been one of my favourite blogs for a while now. It has great recipes and to my knowledge, the author of the blog is the only one who has made a 100% gluten free crock pot cook book. So invaluable!!

I just went to Stephanie’s store too (from A Year of Slowcooking) and have decided that I must have the t-shirt that says “Gluten Free is NOT the new Vegan”. So, so true.

Well friends, I hope I’ve shown you that slowcooking can save you time, money, and cooking at the end of a long day. I love walking in to freshly made food that has been cooking all day. (Sorry in advance if you’re vegetarian) Ham, Pulled Pork, Roasts, Chicken, Stews, Sauces, Soups.. they just all taste better in the slow cooker.

And as an added bonus, did you know you can bake in a slow cooker too? These are about the best GF cinamon buns I’ve had (and I made them vegan too) and they were slow cooked!

Until next time.. happy cooking!

Child Advocacy

I talk a lot about my children being their own little advocates as well as advocates for each other and it inspired me to write a post on it.

Why would you want your children to be advocates? Being food allergic and celiac is not something to ever be embarassed about! Some of us are insanely outspoken (everytime anyone tells me they haven’t been feeling well for a while I instantly ask them if they’ve been tested for celiac disease) while some are quieter while still others are silent sufferers.

I ask you this: why suffer in silence? If people around you aren’t supporting you at home or when you go out, then perhaps you need to take a look at who is your main support. It doesn’t mean you have to ditch your family or your friends, it just means that you can add to those groups and find other people who will give you the support you need. Try looking at your local celiac association (in Canada or in the United States) or The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. There are also tons of people who tweet and blog about food allergies out there.

I never want my children to be embarassed about their food restrictions or to settle in friendships and relationships with someone who doesn’t support them.

Since they’ve been able to speak we’ve used both medical and simpler terms. Mr Man has been saying “I can’t have nuts” “I’m allergic to peanuts” “No nuts no nuts no nuts” since he was 2. Miss A has been saying variations of “Dairy hurts me” “I can’t have soy” and “Does it have wheat?” since she was 3.

So what’s my point?

My point is this: My children see their food restrictions as part of their lives. We talk about how it can be frustrating that they can’t eat what other kids can eat, or that sometimes other people don’t understand, but we also talk about how it means that they’re special; and how they know more about food than most people their ages.

Each child had an amazing moment for me that let me know that what I was doing was right.

Mr Man came home and said “mom, I want to invite (child) to my birthday party. He’s allergic to peanuts too and I think that we each get it. Plus, then he could have my cake.”

How amazing is it that my son wants to befriend someone else like him so that they can understand each other’s restrictions better? And I just love that at almost 6, he wants this other child to be able to have cake without even giving it a second though. Amazing.

Miss A was sitting at the kitchen table at a friend’s house. The girls are 10 days apart and have been friends since birth. G said to Miss A “I can’t eat gluten and you can’t” and Miss A said “Ya, gluten really hurts me but that’s ok. I eat other stuff” and they proceeded to have a 10 minute discussion about gluten. They are 4 years old.

Here’s the amazing thing about it: Her friend would never have any clue about gluten and what it is if she didn’t have Miss A as a friend. And half my friends wouldn’t have any idea about food restrictions if they weren’t my friend.

Here’s my advice on how to talk to your kids:
*Don’t beat around the bush. Tell them about their allergies. Buy books on food allergies like “Mommy, what is celiac disease?”. Don’t treat them like they’re too young to know. The earlier they know, the better equipped they will be for later.

*Do tell them the implications of eating the allergic food. Mr Man knows that if he eats a peanut, he will have a very serious reaction that could land him in the hospital. He also knows the basics of using an epipen. He’s expressed his fears about it but knows that an epipen could save his life.

*Do let them have their fears! No one wants a needle plunged into their thigh! Don’t make it seem like it’s no big deal! It IS a big deal!

*Do have them educate their friends. Supervise at the beginning to make sure they’re sharing accurate information.

*Do let them know they’re not alone!! Check out Katie Chalmer’s amazing work on gluten free kids!

Once you start a conversation, the rest will follow. Period questions come up from my kids and then we have open discussions about it. But they are advocates. They are strong, confident kids who are very knowledgable about their own restrictions.

And with that, I leave you with a picture of my breakfast of champions. I’m away from home right now on business and can therefore eat peanuts without worrying. So I bought a jar. I plan to leave the rest here so it doesn’t come home with me but man, it’s been a nice little treat.

What’s in it? Air?

As a celiac and parent to allergic children, I get asked a lot of .. well, interesting questions. Some of the most popular I get are:

But how do you live without peanut butter? I’d die without peanut butter!
What do you people eat?
I couldn’t never be gluten free. I like bread too much.
How do you live?
Do you ever cheat on your diet?
And the most popular: But what’s in it? AIR?
I generally respond really politely, and in a moment, I really will tell you what’s in my food, and how to answer those questions. But first, I will share with you what I really want to answer.

But how do you live without peanut butter? I’d die without peanut butter! Yes well, if my kid eats peanut butter he’d really potentially die so no offense, but suck it up.

What do you people eat? Food. What do you think we eat?

I couldn’t never be gluten free. I like bread too much. Ya because being celiac and gluten free is what every person wishes for in life.

How do you live? I breathe. In. Out. Repeat.

Do you ever cheat on your diet? No. Never. Do you cheat on yours?

But what’s in it? AIR? Well generally yes. All food contains oxygen and oxygen is in the air, so I’m sure that works somehow..

I’m not generally that rude. Instead I take the time to educate people. But man alive, I sometimes get angry that I have to answer the same questions over and over again. Being celiac, allergic to food, and a parent to allergic children is not something we wish for. It’s something we have to cope with, live with, and reign over, and I’m extremely proud to say that since diagnosis, my son has never had an accidental ingestion of peanuts. My daughter and I stick to an extremely strict gluten free diet (which even my specialist highlighted on my latest scope with exclamation marks at how successful I’ve been), and it’s hard.

Every day is hard; my husband and I can never let our guard down but you know what? I don’t know that I’d change it. Sure, I’d love to have glutened to the nines pizza again. And I’m sure my son might like peanut butter if I let him eat it, but in reality, I think I’ve grown my kids up to be smart, articulate, self-advocating beings as a result.

Case in point. On Valentine’s Day my kids came home with candies and immediately tossed the ones that had no labels into the “daddy is the only one in the house that can eat this” pile. Miss A had jelly beans that looked like jelly bellies but I couldn’t be sure so Mr Man said “I just don’t think we should chance it mom.” At almost 6, he’s a grown up when it comes to his allergies. And me? I couldn’t be more proud.
Now, how do I (or you!) really answer those questions? Try these answers.

But how do you live without peanut butter? I’d die without peanut butter!
You’re right. It’s super hard. I myself loved peanut butter but you know, there are great alternatives out there now. And truthfully, my son doesn’t know what peanut butter even tastes like, so he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out at all. You should try soy butter/sunbutter – they’re actually really amazing! Plus, my son knows that he if eats peanuts, he will have a severe reaction, so he’s never tempted.

What do you people eat?
We eat amazing, home cooked, whole foods. We shop at markets and know our farmers. We bake from scratch and taste everything to the fullest. We eat amazingly well and probably better than most homes!

I couldn’t never be gluten free. I like bread too much.
I loved bread too; but bread certainly didn’t love me. It’s a lot easier to give something up when you know how much damage it’s causing you. For example, did you know that untreated or undiagnosed celiac disease can leave you a ton more likely for digestive cancers? That’s enough to scare me into avoiding bread. It’s hard – for a while you remember what it all tastes like, but you do get used to it.

How do you live?
Like anyone else, I just plan a lot more, read a lot more labels, and can’t dine on a whim.

Do you ever cheat on your diet?
Never. A reaction for me is excrutiating and long lasting. The initial reaction is painful and leaves me lying praying on the bathroom floor. For days after, I’m in a fog. It takes 6 weeks for the intestines to fully repair after an ingestion. So no, I never cheat. It’s just not worth it.

But what’s in it then? AIR?
Soooo much more! We cook with a bunch of different flours, experiment with quinoa, buckwheat and sorghum. We use coconut milk instead of dairy. We cook with so many amazing things and have to find ways to get creative. Our food is mouth wateringly delicious and anyone who eats it typically can’t tell that it’s allergy friendly!

Case in point number 2. Shauna from Gluten Free Girl posted a recipe for banana cream pie with coconut milk. I altered it a bit and it turned out amazing. El Petomakes store bought tarts that are gluten free and Amanda’s house friendly so we used those. I added some vanilla instead of coconut. And while they could use some fruit on the bottom (I omitted the bananas), they were such an amazing treat, tell me that they look like air..

Meal Planning 101

Before I get to Part 2 in the Away From Home series, I thought I’d interject with some meal planning. Not only was it requested by a number of different people, but there are also some new to Gluten-Free living people out there that are feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Welcome to Meal Planning 101!

You’re newly diagnosed, or you’re wanting to branch out into cooking more, or you’re tired of the same old same old. How do you manage? Where do you start? And where do you look at the grocery store?

First of all, take a deep breath. Take a step back away from it all and then take one little baby step forward. That’s what going gluten free is about. Baby steps. Oh sure, you have to take one giant leap (diving face forward tripping over a branch) to go gluten free, but meal prep is smaller little baby steps to get to where you want to go.

1. Find some good, reliable, do-able recipes. Now that we’ve been GF for more than three years, I don’t find that many recipes daunting. But I still have some go-to sources.
Rubelle’s Moon is one of my fave twitter girls to follow – she’s always cooking up something great.
Wendy from Celiacs in the House is all about meal planning and plans her weeks out ahead. She cooks really great stuff and was a huge inspiration to me to start cooking more GF stuff that tasted good.
Jules from Jules Gluten Free has great recipes that are easy, remind me of truly good baking, and she’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever encountered. That should get you started 🙂

There’s some other amazing blogs out there like Gluten Free Girl, and Gluten Free Goddess (and if you have others, please leave it in the comments!) but I’d be here all day just listing them.

When you find good recipes, you have a source to start from. Less daunting, and easier to plan meals from.

2. Make a list of 5 things you’d cook this week.
Why five? Well, when we cooked all 7 days, we ended up wasting food. We still have little kids who don’t yet eat our fridge clean, and there are only so many leftovers I can eat. I’m also currently in a positive where I don’t have a microwave at work to heat things up. But, if you make 5 meals, that still allows for leftovers for lunches, an evening of “help yourself” and an evening of “get out of the house” eating out.

3. Plan the grocery list.
You can do so much of your planning at home. Seperate your list into sections: Produce, Meat, Dairy, Canned Goods, Pasta, other. This will allow you to consult your list and cross things off easier without having to scan the entire thing every time.

You can also download many different APPS on your smart phone to help your grocery list organization. Check ahead of time what ingredients you might need that might be questionable. For instance, if you need to pick up a sauce of some kind, look at home to see what sauces might be safe so that when you get to the store, you’re not overwhelmed with choices.

Many grocery stores now (Whole Foods in the states, Superstore in Canada) have entire aisles dedicated to gluten free foods. When in doubt, head for this aisle and regroup.

4. Stick to your plan!!
The biggest mistakes happen when you decide to wing it and just pop into the grocery store on the way home and forget to read labels.

When we were meal planning, we often added a 6th “optional” menu day that had things that could be carried over to the next week if necessary (for example, enchiladas – we could freeze the meat, and the rest of the ingredients we needed stayed fresh).

5. Plan your lunches.
Lunch is often the hardest part of the transition (it definitely was for me!). Pack leftovers into lunch sized tupperware so you can grab and go in the morning. On Sundays, cut things up for quick assembly (my mom is big into salads so every Sunday she cuts up all her veggies for the week so that each night it’s just a matter of tossing things in together).

When you’re making supper, think lunch. Making quinoa? Make more than you will need and while you’re waiting for supper to cook, cut up some fresh vegetables to throw into the quinoa after for an easy quinoa salad. (See a recipe below).

Never assume you can just run out for fast food or assemble something quickly in the morning – especially at the beginning. A hungry celiac is just not a pleasant person to work with 🙂

Step 6:
Pull out the ingredients, and get cooking!

I hope this has helped. If you need more help, or need any clarification, please drop me a line. I’m always here to answer questions!
You can also find me on twitter @mamaceliac

And now for a quick recipes supper/lunch recipes.
Quinoa Stir Fry Dinner + Quinoa Salad Lunch
Cook 2 cups of quinoa in either vegetable or chicken broth. The quinoa will double in amount, so split it in half once it’s done.
While the quinoa is cooking, cut up as many vegetables as you want – think brocoli, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, peppers, carrots, kales.
Put half in a frying pan to saute – add some garlic and olive oil for rich flavour.
The other half put in a LARGE salad bowl raw.
Once the vegetables are partially cooked, throw half the quinoa in and saute it. Let it simmer in a bit more broth (about 1/2 a cup) until all the broth is gone.
Optional Step: create a hole in the quinoa and add 2 eggs that have been whisked lightly. Once the egg starts to cook and harden, stir up your quinoa stir fry. The egg adds amazing texture and taste.
Turn off your stove and serve up!

For the lunch: add the other half the quinoa to the salad bowl with raw veggies.
Mix up:
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tbsp wine vinegar
the juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic minced
2 tbsp dill
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Once well mixed pour on top of quinoa salad mix and stir well to blend.
Optional: add on craisins – yum!

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Away From Home – part 1

I thought I’d start a mini series on being food restricted away from home. So many times we want to travel.. many of us want to see the world, explore different cultures, or see other parts of our own countries. I still have not seen all parts of Canada, and I’ve only been to about 1/3 of the United States. I’ve only been to one other continent (Europe).

Most of my out of country trips have been pre-celiac diagnosis, and pre-kids for that matter. When we had children, we didn’t stop our travel (at least not before they were 2 and cost more money to fly). Both of my children were on planes at 8 weeks of age. When I was 7 months pregnant and Mr Man was 17 months we took our first road trip down to Boulder, Colorado to see my brother and meet up with my parents. The next summer, we took 5 weeks and drove through the states and back up into Canada to trek out to Ontario for a conference, a wedding, and some family lake time in between (kids were aged 10 months & 2 years). Then I got diagnosed.

Since diagnosis, we’ve been to: Nova Scotia (twice), British Columbia (twice), Portland, Seattle, and Ontario (many times). Here’s what we do. It’s not fool proof I will admit. I’ve been glutened in Portland and Ontario (though that was from food at a funeral).

When we go on our road trips, we always pack a cooler and many bags of food (when we unpack it looks like we’ve just gone to get groceries for the week). We bring vitals that we won’t necessarily be able to get anywhere else. And, if we’re crossing the boarder, we always bring food that you’re allowed to take across (you aren’t allowed to bring many fruits over). We bring: oatmeal, homemade breads like banana bread, bars, snack foods, bagels, Udi’s toast, spices (we save small containers and bring our own spices that we trust). In our next trips, we may pack 1 large and 1 small pot, as well as 1 frying pan and some basic utensils.

In our cooler, we bring meat (we always stay in hotels that have fridges and we refill the cooler with ice to keep meats at optimal temperatures and out of the food danger zone), milks, yogurt (we make our own homemade coconut milk yogurt), etc.

This way, we always have snacks for the road without having to stop at fast food places and worry about what the availability of food or risks of cross contamination are. We will stop at grocery stores in a town and grab some fresh fruits and vegetables, head over to a park, and have a mini picnic. The kids can play and run around, we can get some fresh air and healthy food, and everyone is ready for more driving.

If we’re going on a plane, we always pack multiple containers of food. I trust no food on an airplane. Flight attendants aren’t training in cross contamination and there is too much up in the air (no pun intended) in the food allergy airline world for my liking right now. We buy a drink once we get through security, and then we’re good to go for the whole ride. Depending on the airline, some do still have free snacks, but all of them have wheat and most “may contain” peanuts or tree nuts, so snacks en route are out for us. **Note: You can also now call ahead to most of the airlines to let them know that you have an allergy and they can arrange to have you in an allergy-free section. This is dependent on the airline so please call!**

So now that you’ve travelled to your destination, what do you do when you get there?

* Pay extra for a kitchenette!! The cost of staying in a room with a kitchen is usually about $20-40 more a night than without. Compare this against what you would be spending on food in restaurants and you’re really saving money. Cook the food you brought. Stop at a grocery store and buy fresh ingredients. Cut them up with that knife and small cutting board you threw into your grocery bags and fry them up in a very well cleaned pan or one you brought. Healthier eating and safer.

* But I want to eat out! Check some of the gluten free references out there. There are gluten free apps that allow you to search for restaurants in a city. Post a message on twitter! (We did this when we went to Seattle this summer and it was super helpful!) Do your research before you leave your house! When we went to Portland and Seattle this summer, I had a list of places in each city that I wanted to go to. I didn’t get to all of them, but it was really helpful!

* Ask at the front desk. Many hotels are equipped to answer your questions about where to go and what to eat. They can be more informative and helpful that you’d expect!

* Call restaurants ahead of time. Just like you would at home, don’t go in blind.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to travel. The world is pretty amazing and should be seen. When you have food restrictions it can involve more planning, but it’s just as worth it.