Friday, January 25, 2008

Dr. Fesano comes to Atlanta!

Somehow, through a strange twist of fate, the Atlanta Metro Celiacs support group booked Dr. Allesio Fesano to speak at the 2008 kick off meeting. The meeting was last Saturday and snow was expected mid morning which usually means no one, and I really mean no one that isn't on their way to work, leaves their home. Too dangerous driving in bad weather and all! Well in all fairness I should mention that we Atlantans, for the most part do not know how to drive in the snow or ice, so the fact that most of us stay home during the rare snow or ice storm is actually a very good thing. I could barely believe I was going to get to see the esteemed Dr. speak and maybe even meet him briefly....what a treat for our group!

I got up early on Saturday and checked the weather/traffic/roads, and to make sure the meeting was not cancelled. For all I knew flight delays and cancellations could have kept Dr. Fesano from even arriving the night before. No blanket e-mail had been sent out indicating this happened so the show would go on. Thank goodness! The snow would not arrive until 11 am or so and we'd already be in the meeting by then. At least I could make it there - I'd worry about getting home when that time came. Nothing was going to keep me from getting to this meeting - period. I was concerned that no one else would show up and how horrible that would be....the auditorium seats several hundred and we surely should be able to fill it up with such a respected speaker - under normal weather conditions that is. Luckily I was not the only person excited to see Dr. Fesano in person. We had people driving in from others states for the event. With them and those in our group that made it, we did pretty much fill up the space. Yea!

Dr. Fesano has a lovely Italian accent (he's from Italy of course) and has a great sense of humor and was very entertaining to say the least. It's hard to think someone could make learning statistics about Celiac disease fun but Dr. Fesano did just that! He told of how he started his Celiac Center and why he did it - what type of specialists he got to staff and run it, etc. The bottom line was he knew we had a LOT of people in the US who had Celiac. Problem was that doctors here didn't know much, if anything, about Celiac so how could they be diagnosing it properly? Answer of course is they were not diagnosing it, almost at all. Dr. Fesano didn't think this was fair to us - those with Celiac whose lives could be greatly improved by going on the gluten free diet. And so his journey to prove how many Americans have Celiac began.

Fast forward to when the study about the prevalence of Celiac in the US is complete. Ok, so now we know that about 1/100 of us have Celiac. To date less than 10% that have it, know we have it. To say I consider myself one of the lucky ones that does, is quite an understatement. It's one of the greatest blessings of my life. Certainly Dr. Fesano deserves some credit for my own diagnosis. His work set the tone for doctors in the US to start testing for Celiac, even though we still have a long way to go, of course.

Dr. Fesano's insightful and informative talk was eye opening in several ways. It's likely that most of you already know the National Wheat Association has a powerful lobby in Washington but I never knew that was true about the Barley Growers of America...interesting, huh? Well regardless of their power, apparently they were no match for Dr. Fesano. It was his work and that of his center that led to the new labelling law requiring companies to list the word 'wheat' on food labels. He testified on Capitol Hill so often many Senators knew to turn the other way when they saw! So now when you see 'wheat' on a label, you can think of Dr. Fesano as you put it back on the shelf and find a gluten free version of the product.

Many of you are wondering about the magic Celiac pill. Yes it's still being developed by Alba Therapeutics but there might not ever be a day that you can just pop a pill and call Dominos Pizza. Only time will tell - it might be that medication can just reduce the effects of gluten which would greatly help those with severe reactions, so they could feel safer eating out and travelling. Most interesting to me was the fact that eventually there will be a vaccine for Celiac. This will only work for infants and is 15-20 away from being available. Still, it probably means that my niece and nephew that have the Celiac gene, will be able to keep their kids from ever developing Celiac - very good news indeed!

Another intriguing fact about Dr. Fesano's findings is that a current study that is not quite complete has a very good chance of proving that babies who are kept off gluten for a full year after birth might have a much lower risk of developing Celiac in the future. This is compared to infants that are given gluten at the normal age of six months. Certainly the study needs to be completed to be sure. But if it were me having a child, knowing I had the gene (or disease) myself, I'd certainly keep the baby off of gluten for an extra six months. It's not like that would harm the child in any way. You have nothing to lose and maybe a LOT to gain.

I could go on and on but neither of us have the time for that. The take away for me is that we all have Dr. Allessio Fesano to thank that the US medical community is finally getting educated on Celiac, for an improved Celiac panel test his center developed, and for the new label laws (current and on the horizon) that make all our lives easier. In the end, Dr. Fesano just wants us to have the quality of life we deserve. Just like the Ceiacs in most of Europe. I kept thinking throughout the talk that Dr. Fesano must have Celiac himself, or maybe his kids did, but apparently that is not the case. He's just a good guy - period. Oh and of course he's brilliant too! If every doctor was more like him we'd sure have a much better world in which to live. So thanks Dr. Fesano SOOO much - for coming to Atlanta and letting us know there is actually someone out there that cares about us. To learn more about Dr. Fesano's research and how you can help, click here.

In closing I'll leave you with this thought. If you can get a Big Mac in parts of Europe and Australia WITH a gluten free bun - for goodness sake - surely this is possible in the good 'ole USA. Remember to ask for what you want in life - even if it's just a burger with a bun!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sugo = Gluten Free Heaven!

Well, our Meetup event last night did not disappoint and even though it's difficult to believe, it was even better than I could have ever imagined. Truthfully, I'd been a little nervous that all our rsvp's would not show up - 50 people on a week night is quite a turn out and 21 of our 'yes' rsvp's were newbies that had never attended an event before. Statistically speaking, about 50% of new people don't show up. For instance, if we have 10 newbies signed up for an event, we can safely assume 5 or 6 of them won't make it - never changing their rsvp, for reasons unknown to us. But last night my fears were totally unfounded and by 7:05 pm, we had over 40 people in our private room at Sugo. We had a few stragglers who were caught in traffic (some driving well over 20 miles to the restaurant) but by 7:3o or so, we had 46 people there to experience an abolustely amazing event!

Earlier in the day, Fred from Sugo had called me to reconfirm the head count and to inform me that they had prepared special tapas dish for us. It was their signature Moussaka, only made with gluten free breadcrumbs. If you read my previous post, Fred was cooking this dish at the Whole Foods food demo. That night, I didn't bother to hang around to taste it because of course I couldn't, as it's normally full of gluten. Needless to say I ordered this dish to start my meal last night and it was obvious why it's won awards in the tapas catagory at some food competitions. It is out of this world delicious - even when prepared gluten free!

But I should back up and start at the beginning. I arrived early to find the private room wonderfully decorated with candles on the tables and white decorative lights was really quite charming and lovely in almost a surrealistic way. To say the owners and staff at Sugo treat our group (and all their patrons) like royalty is an understatement. It's one of the few places in the Atlanta area that makes you feel like family whether you dine there every week or twice a year. When you dine out in family run establishments in Italy, they make you feel like family and you get that same feeling at Sugo. When everyone in our group was seated, Fred Sr. (also known as Mr. "C") gave a short speech on the origins of the dishes so lovingly prepared for us that night. Besides some fabulous descriptions of the evening's offerings, he shared the story of his family - how a Greek married an Italian, and how they also married Green and Italian cuisines to create spectacular exclusive dishes. You can even watch Mr. "C" explain it in this video.

Some of the dishes offered besides gluten free lasagna were : Pasta and Meatballs (the size of your fist for real), the Three Tenors (divinely prepared lamb, pork tenderloin and homemade sausage), Pesce del Giorno...oh and a fabulous duck dish - Anatra di Sugo - that one of our members proclaimed to be one of the best dishes he's ever had! There were several other entrees offered and well as scrumptious salads which were drizzled with the best balsamic vinegar and an olive oil made from olives never touch the ground! To top off the meal, many of us could not resist the Bomba dessert. This is a vanilla and chocolate gelato ball with a cherry and hazelnut center, which is coated with a dark chocolate's one of Sugo's most popular desserts and it's naturally gluten free - no modifications needed. Simply put, Bomba is the bomb! Forgive me - I realize I'm a little too old for that phrase, but I could not!

Now, if you'd like a gluten free meal like the one described above you have two choices. You can come to Atlanta and dine at Sugo - assuming you don't live in the area, or you can talk to your local Italian restaurant (don't bother with chains) and see if they'd be willing to try and feed you safely. If they will, it's up to YOU to make sure they understand exactly what that means - check ingredients, cross contamination issues - the works). But it never hurts to ask and that's all it took on my part to make this memorable night possible for our Gluten Free Dinner Club. Try it - you have nothing to lose and think about what you might gain - fabulous gluten free meals...and I promise you that is aboslutely priceless!

In the end, last night's event was our best attended dinner ever. In large part this was due to us being offered gluten free lasagna but over half the attendees ordered something besides lasanga. As one of our new members put it (and I'm paraphrasing here) - "I will be at tonight's dinner even if I have to push my car up a hill in pouring rain"- lol! Well obviously he was really determined to be there and just joined our group that day. I'm happy to report that he made it and as far as I know there was no car pushing! But even if he'd really had to do that, he would have been rewarded supremely for his efforts. It was a gluten free experience we won't soon forget, and we'll keep pushing until those are more common than infreqent events in our lives.

Have a lovely weekend everyone! Oh and I've been asked to post photos on my site and I fully intended to start with this post but I was so overwhelmed by everything last night, I never took my camera out of my purse. I promise to do better next time!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gluten Free Lasagna - finally!

To be honest, when I ate gluten, I rarely ate lasagna out and I'd never made it at home. But when you're told you can't have something, you want it all the more, of course. So shortly after I was diagnosed with Celiac, I started making homemade lasagna with gluten free noodles. The recipe I use came from a friend in my Gluten Free Dinner Club and it's about the best lasagna I've ever had - even if you use sauce from a jar. I never pretended to be a gourmet chef, after all. Even though I absolutely LOVE my lasagna, I still wanted someone else to make the dish for me - at least once. As I always say - you have to ask for what you want in life, so that's exactly what I did.

Our Whole Foods Market had a free wine tasting in September and the cooking demo was to be presented by a local restaurant that has an awesome gluten free menu. Sugo has the best Italian food in the Atlanta area. It's a small family owned company with three locations in the Atlanta suburbs. Actually their menu is quite unique because they blend both Italian and Greek recipes from the old country and when you dine there, you think you're in the old country - it's that fabulous! During a lull in the food demo at Whole Foods, I introduced myself to the Chef who is the son of the owner. I only knew his Father and was frankly expecting the Father to be doing the demo. To my delight, Fred the son, is as charming as the Father, so when I asked if he'd make our dinner club some gluten free lasagna, he agreed to. I just had to tell him what noodles to buy - done.

Well, it's been three months since I asked for gluten free lasagna and now the night of bliss is almost here. Tomorrow night we will have 50 dinner club members dining at the Duluth Sugo location. Sugo also prepares gluten free / dairy free dishes for people with both intolerance's, but 22 of us will have the lasagna. This will be the largest gathering for our members ever and we are super excited to kick off the year with such a bang! Can you imagine? Gluten free lasagna in a restaurant in Atlanta, GA? The next closest place this is possible (in the US) is New York City!

I'll be sure and post back after our event how everything went but I'll tell you this now. Since I've already enjoyed fabulous gourmet gluten free meals many times at this establishment, I can highly recommend Sugo to anyone who loves authentic Italian cuisine, with a little Greek thrown in for luck! This is true whether you eat gluten or not, by the way. It's bellisimo!

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