Thursday, September 25, 2014

30 lessons from Whole 30 challenge (Part 2 of 3)

The list below includes observations and lessons I learned from my personal Whole 30 journey.  It is not meant as a guideline for anyone else's journey.  Please consult a doctor before embarking on such a restrictive diet. 
  1. Regular butter is better than ghee.
  2. Peanut butter is better than almond butter....but if you eat enough almond butter, you might learn to like it.
  3. BBQ sauce needs some form of sugar added to make it taste great.
  4. Guacamole is terrific with many things, but not as the filler in deviled eggs.
  5. Cilantro is a very undervalued herb - it makes almost anything better!
  6. Real mashed potatoes are better than mashed cauliflower, though mashed cauli-taters (50% potatoes, 50% cauliflower) are decent with coconut milk.  They’re actually tasty when you add butter and sour cream to them.
  7. Sweet potatoes are plenty sweet without adornment when you’re off added sugar.
  8. Finding interesting, compliant meals (that are worth eating) is next to impossible when dining out.
  9. I don’t like unsweetened coffee (even with coconut milk).
  10. Date paste is not as good as sugar or honey.
  11. Sugar is added to way too many processed foods.
  12. Soy is added to way too many processed foods.
  13. Bacon tastes better when cured with sugar.
  14. Aidell’s chicken apple sausage is delicious!
  15. Movies are better with popcorn!
  16. Not snacking (with healthy foods) is not a reasonable way to eat.
  17. Coconut milk works well as a replacement for dairy in some recipes that I would not have thought to use it in previously.
  18. Kiwi, pineapple and strawberries taste very much like candy when you’re on a no-added-sugar diet.  
  19. Eating enough vegetables is not as easy as you think it would be considering you’re avoiding normal starchy carbs like bread, rice, pasta, etc.
  20. Eating extremely clean definitely helps keep energy level swings in check.
  21. No matter how much you love eggs, if you consume enough of them, you can fall out of love with them.
  22. There are some great ways to flavor veggies and meats that I had not considered when on a “normal” diet.  
  23. Cheese is a food group in and of itself.
  24. Dairy adds a lot of great taste and texture to one’s diet.
  25. Buttery tasting macadamia nuts are great, but not nearly as great as popcorn.
  26. Shredded coconut chips (unsweetened) can be used as a filler ingredient in crab cakes, veggie fritters, meatloaf, etc.  
  27. Coconut Aminos is a great replacement for soy sauce!
  28. If you don’t eat starchy carbs during meals, you have to eat a LOT of veggies in order to get full enough to keep from snacking in between meals.
  30. Avoiding gluten is A WALK IN THE PARK compared to avoiding gluten, dairy, soy, added sugar, legumes, alcohol, grains and pseudo grains (like buckwheat and quinoa).      

My post-challenge thoughts will be in the third installment on this topic.  Look for that in the next few weeks.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gluten-free Whole 30 challenge (Part 1 of 3)

When I first heard of the Whole 30 diet in 2012, I wasn't that interested in learning about it.  After all, being gluten-free takes a lot of time and energy (and money if you're inclined to stock up on gluten-free replacement foods). Who wants to avoid a ton of other things besides gluten?  Not me, that was how I felt then anyway.  

Two years later, my tune has least a little bit.  I have no need to avoid anything except gluten, but according to the Whole 30 program creators, their plan can help you reset your metabolism.  Being someone who's always game to try new gluten-free products, I definitely needed such a change.  There is simply not a legit reason to have 6 types of crackers in your pantry.  Period. 

So, after reading and re-reading the Whole 30 plan, ingredients and rules online, I decided to take the plunge.  During my experience, I dubbed the plan the "paleo-on-crack" diet and the "free-of-everything-worth-eating" diet.  But the truth is, I wasn't really ever hungry and most of my meals were interesting, satisfying and tasty.  Some were exceptionally delicious, in fact. 

Even though I was prepared for a plethora of negative side effects, including the likes of severe mood swings and abdomen swelling making one's pants too tight, I only experienced two of the many suggested "phases" noted in the Whole 30 timeline.  The first one was the sugar withdrawal headache on day 3.  Taking a couple of Advil got rid of it, but it took a couple of hours as it was a really bad headache.  The other phase I hit was the EPS (empty plate syndrome) when you're not hungry for anything you can eat.  I felt that way for part of the last week, but it passed quickly and I made it to the end without giving in and noshing on crackers and cheese or my favorite snack - popcorn. 

During my 30 days, I had a couple of minor hiccups, but in looking at some of the odd rules of the diet, they were not of concern to me.  When I went shopping for complaint ingredients like coconut chips, almond butter, no-sugar-added bacon and nuts, I forgot to take the 'names of sugar' list and I ended up thinking coconut nectar was allowed.  After I had a tsp. in my coffee the first day, I realized it's on the 'not allowed' sugars list (which was in the wrong folder in my office).  I had no way to make date paste yet (which I didn't find at the store) so I used a 1/2 tsp. on days 2 and 3.  I finally switched over to homemade date paste (made with the new mini-Cuisinart that finally arrived!) on day 4.  Another incident involved using factory farmed no-added-sugar bacon (from Gwaltney's) because I could not spend almost $100 to order compliant bacon (recommended on Whole 30's website) online.

The last mess up was ending up with a salad with plain chicken on it that also had a few traces of bacon in it when dining out.  I'm sure the bacon was cured with sugar as bacon should be....  I'd made such a huge deal about making sure they didn't put cheese on the salad that I overlooked the bacon.  As usual, the gluten-free menu had no descriptions of the items (what a ridiculous way to print menus!) and from my earlier online review of the options, I only remembered needing to have cheese left off the salad.  

All in all, I found the challenge shockingly easy to stick to and the only plausible explanation for that is that being gluten-free gave me a huge step up during this experience.  Eight + years of reading labels has made me an expert at it. Knowing what ingredients are used in restaurants led me to greatly limit my dining out.  I could not come up with a good reason to go out and pay for a plain, uninteresting meal when I could make something better for a fraction of the cost at home.  The only reason I went out the few times I did was to break the monotony of making ALL my own meals for 30 days.

Part 2 of 3 my Whole 30 experience will post later this week.    

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gwinnett Braves Stadium medical pass available

OK - this post is not timely, but I didn't get the information until the baseball season was pretty much over for the year.  If you're a fan of the Gwinnett Braves minor league team and have food allergies, you may get a medical pass in order to take your own food into the ballpark.  In the past, I've had popcorn, that Minute Maid frozen lemon dessert and a hot dog with an inedible gluten-free bun at the Gwinnett stadium.  When I eventually decided to order a burger without a bun, I was informed that the burger itself contained gluten.  Whaaaaa?????

It's extremely difficult for us to get to the games over there now, but we went once earlier this year.  As usual, I packed safe snacks in a bag (with very well concealed zipper compartments) as I'd previously been told no outside food was allowed.  This info was shared with me by the park's Aramark manager (who is no longer there) who knew I had celiac.  And it's still listed on the website's AtoZ page (see food under "F").  I'm not sure if the medical pass option is a new rule or what, but if you call guest services, you can find out how to obtain one.

Also, in previous years, I was able to get a Redbridge beer at the only on site restaurant Cool Ray field.  If the ball park is convenient for you to get to, you can save a TON of money and spend much less time stuck in traffic than when going to an Atlanta Braves game.

Main Phone Number


Monday, September 15, 2014

Fresh 2 Order has gluten-free soup

The gluten-free menu at Fresh 2 Order is pretty good considering they have no specialty items like bread, cupcakes, etc.  The pork with apricot chutney with mashed sweet potatoes meal is excellent as is the club salad with grilled chicken added.  For the last few years, I kept asking the corporate office if they were going to offer gluten-free soups and the answer was usually "we're looking into it".  However, no gluten-free soups were available during my visits (I even asked about gluten-free options when it was way too hot for soup) so I finally gave up inquiring about it.

Skip to a few weeks ago when I thought to check the company's menu online and I still didn't see any soup listed on the gluten-free menu.  After inquiring at the corporate office yet again, I was told they have a gluten-free soup and it launched back in the spring!  I realized that due to moving twice last year, I had not been to Fresh 2 Order except for once in February (even though I'm 90% closer to a location now than I was before) in over a year.  Hence, I had no idea that indeed, gluten-free lentil soup was introduced.

It's unclear why the soup is only on the "soups" website page and the gluten-free menu wasn't updated online (or in the store we go to) to list it.  Soup is one of the hardest things to find when dining out so most people would not think to check the soup listings after not seeing soup listed on the gluten-free menu. In any case, the lentil soup is vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free (at the time of this posting).  While it might be too hot in the ATL to order hot soup right now, it will be nice to have a tasty option when the weather turns cooler next month.


Friday, September 12, 2014

My Friend's Place rolls out gluten-free bread (sort of)

For over seven years I checked in with the owners of My Friend's Place re: the chance they might start offering gluten-free bread.  The location nearest us was owned by some people that were not too happy when I went into to order the egg and chicken salads to-go back in 2007.  They apparently thought it was a pain to get new containers of the food and use clean scoops in order to ensure the salads remained gluten-free.  I wasn't that bummed when that location went out of business since I eventually stopped going there due their lame attitude.

Fast forward to a couple of months back when I checked the MFP website and saw a huge gluten-free bread notice and a photo of Udi's bread in the home page.  It said something like 'now offering gluten-free sandwiches' - how exciting!  There was only one problem.  As I started dialing location after location of MFP, I quickly learned that very few of them actually had gluten-free bread.  Worse than that, several people I spoke to seemed more than annoyed by the question about the new gluten-free bread.  One manager went so far as to say 'we don't get any requests for gluten-free sandwiches so it's not cost effective for us to have it'.  The problem with that comment is that his location is DIRECTLY across the street from a Jason's Deli that I regularly meet gluten-free friends for lunch at.  But of course, he could be right.  Maybe everyone knows to go to Jason's for fab gluten-free sandwiches (and chicken fingers, baked potatoes and ice cream!) and bypasses My Friend's Place.

It took some time, but I finally found out that the company is rolling out gluten-free service to ALL locations eventually.  But it's going to take some time as they have to train everyone on proper gluten-free service before they can safely offer gluten-free options.  And the company is definitely interested in doing it right which I very much appreciate.  As of now, the only location I'm aware of that has gluten-free sandwiches is the Norcross location.  The one in Augusta might as well, but be sure to check in advance at your location before assuming you can get gluten-free sandwiches there.  And if you want to move the gluten-free service process along, be sure to request gluten-free bread at your location by sending the company's corporate office an email (click here).  The phone number is also on the page.

It didn't occur to me to take a screen grab of the MFP website to prove they did have the gluten-free bread announcement and it's now gone.  But it was there and hopefully, it will be there again soon!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Easy peasy guacamole

Until recently, I'd never made homemade guacamole.  I'm not sure why that is, but I do know I've been missing out on having delicious guacamole any time I have a hankering for it...for no good reason other than laziness!  So far I've made two versions, this one from Delight Gluten-Free and my own version which is a basic guacamole recipe with a small twist.

Since there are only two people in our house, this is a small batch which we can eat before it turns brown.  It should be at least doubled for a 'normal' sized recipe.  This is good enough to eat with a spoon, but I try to refrain from doing that...honestly, I do!  It's great to use as a dip for chips, in a taco salad or as a topping for turkey burgers and grilled chicken.  Because I've seen so many positive reviews of 'guacamole' deviled eggs, I used it that way as well. And I learned that I don't care for boiled eggs and guacamole together - at all.

Homemade Guacamole

  • 2 Haas avocados. peeled and seed removed
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 small white (or yellow) onion
  • 6 strips of roasted red pepper (I used the jar variety)
  • minced green chilies (or jalapenos) to taste
  • 1 lime 
  • pinch of salt
  1. Lightly mash avocado with wooden spoon and squeeze the juice from half the lime over it to prevent browning 
  2. In mini food chopper (or processor), add all other ingredients except red pepper and salt
  3. Pulse several times until the cilantro and onion are the texture you prefer
  4. Add the red pepper strips and pulse a few more times
  5. Taste dip and if needed, add optional salt to taste (I use lime salt sometimes)
This stuff is so good that I find myself thinking of ways I can use it in other dishes.  And I thought the stuff at Chipotle was tops up until now....yea for easy homemade recipes!   

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Red Robin steps up gluten-free game

I thought my first visit to Red Robin (when the company opened a location in Snellville) would be my last visit there - ever.  I didn't get sick, but my burger came out with a bun and then it was sent back out to the table with bits of the bun left on it...  By the time they actually made my meal correctly, my husband was eating dessert.  It was not awful in the scheme of life, but it was a horrible experience in terms of gluten-free dining.  And to make matters worse, the manager gave us a FREE onion ring card for our troubles....seriously.  It was absolutely ridiculous!

After the chain introduced gluten-free buns and fries, we still didn't go back because I didn't feel the staff would know how to get my meal to the table safely.  Fast forward to a fabulous meal at Red Robin during Expo West in 2013.  The food and drinks were simply incredible and none of the gluten-free diners at our table had the least  pang of pain or sickness afterwards.  In fact, we went back to Red Robin at this year's Expo (to a different location in order to avoid the large crowd and wait at the other location) and the food was again wonderful.

Finally, I decided to give another GA location of Red Robin a chance and it turned out to be a great decision!  The only complaint I have is that you have to order from an iPad (at my location) unless you print up a gluten-free menu and take it in yourself.  In CA, everyone got their own printed/laminated gluten-free menu.  The iPad ordering is tedious because you have to scroll through everything and then remember what you chose when the server gets back around to your table.  From now on, I'll take in my own menu in order to save the time and hassle of using the iPad (it took an unusually long time for someone to bring me said iPad).

The gluten-free buns are so soft you can't imagine they're actually gluten-free!  There isn't a decent (to me) gluten-free dessert to enjoy, but having 'bottomless' sweet potato fries (at no charge!) more than makes up for that.  And if you need to avoid more than gluten, you can use the meal 'customizer' on the Red Robin website to figure out what you can order safely.  For the money, Red Robin runs circles around the trendier (read: pricier) Smash Burger.  My review of SB will be coming up next month.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Gibbs Gardens

If you love beautiful gardens, Gibbs Gardens in north GA is definitely worth checking out.  The sprawling property was designed to keep the air as cool as possible - even in the summer!  We were up there over July 4th weekend (along with half of Atlanta) and it was surprisingly cool all over the gardens.  The day lily garden was simply stunning - I had no idea there were that many colors and varieties of day lilies!

There is no outside food allowed in (you can exit the gardens and eat in your car if need be), but the on site cafe's signature chicken salad is gluten-free and absolutely delicious!  Since we decided to get an annual membership, I investigated a bit further re: gluten-free options and even though there are not many, if you call ahead 24 hours and request gluten-free bread for a sandwich, they'll have it ready the next day.  Mind you, I have not done this yet and likely won't until we go up to see the fall colors next month.  I'll report back about the experience later.

Check out the ode to Monet's water lily garden in Giverny, France!   

Besides exploring the various gardens areas, guests are also allowed to tour around the exterior of Jim Gibbs home on the top of the hill.  I'm not sure how he talked his wife into that one, but it's a great tour perk!  From the back of the house you can see far below to the gardens - it's a breathtaking view!


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