Fun That's Frozen and Gluten-free

funsters.jpgThere is quite a bit of misinformation floating around about celiac living. One such piece of misinformation is that gluten-free and fun just can’t seem to get along. Fortunately, a new celiac-friendly product seeks to reverse that misconception. A recent report released by the TCL Asset Group details the rise of “Funsters”–individually quick GMO, gluten and wheat free frozen mashed potato alphabet letters. In addition to being gluten-free, “Funsters” lack preservatives, contain Omega 3 & 6 and exclude trans fats. You can grill, bake or toast them. And while you’re at it, you might also want to explore the spice spectrum and purchase these iced veggies in flavors Cheddar and BBQ Lite.

Edited to add: You can find “Funsters” at most general health and natural food stores and supermarkets. The retail price for an 18-oz. bag (about 80 letters) usually ranges anywhere from $2.99 to $3.49.

Gluten-free on Fire

A recent article featured in the Health section of the Los Angeles Times discussed this year’s Natural Products Expo West. The annual Expo, which convened March 13 through 16 at the Anaheim Convention Center, showcases the hottest trends in organic cosmetics, pet food, meats and beer. Several vendors line the Convention Center, offering new food or personal-care products for tasting, sniffing and slathering. Among 2008’s items, gluten-free products proved most popular.

Midway through the Times article, Fresh Ideas Group’s Sylvia Tawse, a marketer for natural and organic foods, exclaims, “Gluten-free is just exploding!”

This explosion currently transcends the globe and includes an uptick in vegan foods and macaroons.

Gluten Free Pancake Panacea

gluten-free-pancake-package.gifThe smell travels in a loose confederation of intervals. First, it wakes your nostrils from post-midnight, lucid dreaming. Then, it sustains your taste buds throughout early day.

Fault usually lies with a parent or a spouse. Fault lies with their hands, hands that wake you up a little too early, hands that make the steel spatula do it, that make the steel spatula commit culinary sin–producing the hideously, swell smell of pancakes on a Saturday morning.

If you’re lucky, this parent or spouse molds these cakes into fun shapes and incorporates a cup of walnuts here or a spoonful of chocolate chips there, forging a tasty truce between breakfast and dessert . If you’re a celiac, you hope the cooks in question do all of the above with the caveat that they do it gluten-free.

Whole Foods Grocery store chain makes all of the above possible with its Bob’s Red Mill Pancake Mix. Red Mill bucks the white-flour trend perfected by brand name giants like Mrs. Butterworth and Aunt Jemima. Instead, this gluten-free recipe incorporates potato starch, white sorghum flour, tapioca flour, corn flour and xanthan gum and more to generate a self-described light, fluffy taste.

I had the pleasure of sampling Bob’s Red Mill pancakes Friday morning. Upon preparing the mix, I noted a marked difference between Red Mill’s batter and that of gluten-containing pancake mixes. The gluten-free Mill version is grainier and thicker, where as the gluten-filled mix is more of a soupy or liquid consistency. As far as taste, I expected the Mill cakes to carry a bland, non-descript flavor. To my delight and astonishment, the cakes tasted as sweet as the syrup in which I coated them.

Whole Foods offers this product for $4.69.

How to Dine Gluten Free in Restaurants – Tip #3

Don’t be Afraid to Say “Allergy.”

We all know Celiac Disease isn’t an allergy, and it should never be our goal to spread misinformation. But, I’ve heard of incidents where the gluten free diet has been treated by some restaurants as a version of Atikins, or a voluntary, fad diet. These customers didn’t get the attention they need…and deserve.

I’ve also learned over the years that the word “allergy” means business in the restaurant world. Many restaurants have special procedures designed to handle food allergies. By calling attention to your special needs as an “allergy,” you signal to the staff to follow these special procedures, increasing the chances that you’ll get a safe meal.

For the archive of all tips published to date, visit our Gluten Free Dining Tips section.

How to Dine Gluten Free in Restaurants – Tip #2

Don’t Say “Gluten”…at First.

Some words are simple, and only have one meaning. Unfortunately, gluten isn’t one of them. It can mean different things to different people.

For us, “gluten” is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. But, for chefs, “gluten” is a much more expansive term, and can also include plant proteins found in many cereal grains, including some that are safe for the gluten free diet. Common terms like “glutenous rice” just add a further layer of confusion. Without context, a chef may interpret instructions for a “gluten free” meal to be free of flour, rice, corn, and other starches.

That’s why I recommend spelling out “no wheat, rye, barley (and oats in a restaurant setting)”, and avoiding the word “gluten” the first time you visit a new restaurant. It reduces the chances that a chef will be overly restrictive and unnecessarily limit the options he can present you.

Good strategy or bad? What do you think?

For the archive of all tips published to date, visit our Gluten Free Dining Tips section.