Thursday, July 31, 2014

Enough

It's a question that's haunted the human mind for centuries. The mirror asks it of young girls, all flat chests and prebuscent hips. Exhausted new mothers gaze at their babies and shake their heads. Even business men in power suits can't escape the worry: "Am I enough?"

I've sumo-wrestled this issue before: celiac and body image, the struggle for self love. I even thought I vanquished it from my mind - as much as a teenage girl can in this society, anyway. But, during my family vacation to Houston, it's popped up again. Even after a day full of city exploration, thrift store shipping and simple conversation, I can't stop picturing me - the weirdo with celiac disease - as a burden

At the ice cream parlor! (I ate a Microbar)
I've been dreaming of my summer vacation to Houston ever since I incinerated the last final of my freshman year. As a marine brat, I grew up on wheels instead of in grandma's kitchen. So, underneath the skyscrapers and freeway exhaust, Houston has always felt like my one stable home. Hot (Hellfire hot) as it may be. 

So, I walked out of the Houston airport feeling confident about living gluten free in the Lonestar State. Heck, I thought, I survived a road trip from Cali to Colorado. I survived a gluten-oblivious Outback at Utah! I can survive anything! 

Texas ain't got nothin' on me! I thought...
Except, I didn't account for the memories stamped on every street corner from my summer visits as a child. The BBQ stop with the best brisket in town. Sweet Tomatoes, where we'd binge on salad, flat bread and a brownie with soft serve. I started drooling before I even saw the sign for Lenny's, home to my favorite (gluten-filled) chicken salad sandwich

And then there's the stress of planning. Like with the roadtrip, I came fully loaded. Restaurant list? Check. Find me Gluten Free App? Got it. And a suitcase full of special food? Yep, we snuck that through security. And yet, as successful as my eats have been (full reviews of which are coming soon!), some nights I just wanted to curl up and cry because I couldn't have Whataburger with the rest of the family. 

My version of Whataburger…thanks Red Robin!
I know my family loves all of me, even the celiac. They've told me multiple times that they'll take me wherever I need to go to get safe, good food. No questions, no complaints, no worries. Just love. But, I hate forcing them to face the crowds of Chipotle during rush hour because that's all I can eat. I hate cracking open the piggy bank to pay for my special grub

What I hate most, though, is the jealousy that can fill me when I glance at my younger sister. Not only because she can devour fried shrimp and chicken fingers with nary a stomach rumble, but also because I see Hannah growing into such an interesting, intelligent young woman whose life is dominated by random facts, animal obsessions and more books that a retired librarian. A woman whose life doesn't depend on checking the box: "gluten free." 

Always on the look out!
So far, my trip to Houston has been an astounding mix of contrasts. A careful (hungry) child to a planning college student. My pre-diagnosis dining adventures vs my deliberate (and still terrified) gluten free eats. Even my sister and I. 

Yet, one thing hasn't changed: my reflection in the mirror. Staring back at me is the same skinny yet slightly toned, determined girl that I've watched emerge for 18 years. When celiac jumbled my diet, it jumbled my identity as well. Now, food isn't my life, but it's a big part of it. It's my hobby. My health. My hope for healing. And, yes, it is also a rock that can weigh me down. 

I have family behind me!
But as I lay here in bed near midnight after a day of feasting, family, and fun, I nod to myself. Because, celiac or not, I am unique and interesting and unlimited in my own way. Celiac or not, I have the right to eat without worry and the permission to accept others' flexibility when offered. 

Simply put, I am enough. And so are you. 



Do you ever feel like a burden because of your dietary needs? Do you ever think that celiac/food allergies hold you back from your full potential? Comment below! 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GF Life 24/7 Guest Post: Surviving as College Celiac

Celiac disease has taken this teenager on quite a journey. I've hit the books in college, played pool around an IV in the hospital and, most recently, left gluten free footsteps across the country during a family roadtrip from California to Colorado.

Celiac has taken me to some strange places...
Some of the most exciting steps of my adventure, though, have occured right on this computer screen! Like writing a guest post for Kaila from GF Life 24/7!

Kaila is a fellow celiac and sufferer of food allergies who runs her own blog about surviving in a world dominated by food. She's topping off her summer with a roadtrip from Wyoming to Canada for the Stratford Festival and was nice enough to invite me to fill her digital shoes for a day!

So, without further ado (I love that phrase!), pop on over to Kaila's amazing blog to hear my top 4 tips for present and future college students!

To Kaila's blog we go!



Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Itch on the Celiac and the Allergist

As a college celiac, I've gotten a lot of weird advice. Mostly from naive fellow college students, coaxing, "Just eat a little gluten! Like one bite will really hurt you!" The advice from my allergist has to take the (gluten free) cake, though.

Summed up in two sentences? "Become an honorary Asian and eat a lot of rice! Rice is low gluten!" The sad part was, throughout my entire appointment, he was trying his best to be helpful. Still, by the time I walked out of his office, my mouth hurt from continually biting my tongue.

My new diet?
I've mentioned my challenges with possible food sensitivities in some of my past posts. Ever since the wisdom teeth saga (wisdom teeth out, infection in, antibiotic mouth wash in, hello allergic reaction!), I've been fighting a never-ending facial rash and itch. I thought my second dose of Prednisone had finally killed the insane need to scratch my off my skin. Until I arrived back home from Colorado, my red and itchy face staring back at me from the mirror.

In a way, I consider myself lucky with celiac disease. Although I'd never even heard of it - or gluten, for that matter - after only a few months of nausea, weight loss and acid reflux, a new name dominated my medical chart. Celiac stinks, but at least I can "fix" it. At least I have a name to curse when I'm hugging my stomach in bed after gluten snuck in my meal.

My kind of t-shirt...
This itching is a different kind of demon. It can't wreak the same physical damage as celiac disease, but mentally? The unknown "why" - Is it a remnant from the mouthwash allergic reaction? Is it something I'm eating? - is scraping away my sanity. When the rash reappeared after Prednisone #2, I lifted up my allergy appointment as the ultimate panacea. A couple tests, a new list of allergens to avoid and presto! Casey is back in business!

Except, it didn't work out that way. The blood tests (which only checked suspected allergens versus every food ingredient) mocked me with all negatives, and the only skin test reactant was flax seed. Even more frustrating than the lack of results, though? The lack of knowledge about celiac disease from my allergist. I'm not demonizing him in any way - he was polite and patiently gave us a mini biology lesson about allergic reactions, sensitivities and everything in between.

All the manners in the world can't entirely destroy my frustration, though. Thousands of people blindly eat gluten free, yet "gluten" is still a foreign language to doctors outside of the gastroenterology field.

Common reaction to the word "gluten"
On some level, I understand. As a writing major, I won't study math in great detail. In the same way, a specialized doctor shouldn't spend decades memorizing every page of general biology.

Except, in this case, celiac disease played a huge role in my allergy testing. He laughed off my flax seed results asking, "Who eats flax seeds on a daily basis?" How about all the celiacs who eat the gluten free products that often rely on flax meal? His biggest piece of advice was to eat "normal foods" rather than trying out "strange" alternative ingredients like chia seeds and quinoa. I wanted to scream - I would, if I could! Send celiac a memo for me!

Until then, I'll devour my chia seed, coconut flour pancakes!
As of yesterday, I am back on Prednisone and praying that the third time will be the (anti-itch) charm. And, the day I'm back from sweating it out with relatives in Texas, I'm starting an Elimination Diet to furrow out any food sensitivities for myself.

For now, I'll just keep eating (hoping that nothing I'm gorging on is triggering my histamine reaction) and keep dreaming.

I'm dreaming of a day when I'll find the diet best fit for my finicky body. I'm dreaming of the day when all types of doctors - and the common public in general - will understand celiac disease and the impact is plays on a person's body and behaviors. Finally, though, I'm dreaming of when my body and mind are back in tune.

Soon, I won't be like Mr. Snowman!
'Cause that is one itch that this celiac just has to scratch.


**This post is also found at RunningwithSpoon's link party! Yay!**

How easily were you diagnosed? Have you ever done an Elimination Diet? Any advice for this itchy celiac? Comment below!




Sunday, July 20, 2014

Celiac Roadtrip, Part 7: Driving Home and Cafe Sol

There are two types of vacations: the relaxing, regenerative "vacas" and the trips that require a relaxing vacation afterwards. Our roadtrip from California to Colorado started as the first, but by the time we re-glued our butts to beige leather, we were salivating at the thought of being back in sunny San Diego.

When we finally drove out of our rental house, van creaking under the weight of our food, luggage and souvenirs, it felt surreal. It's strange how hard we fell for Colorado in such a short time. Within a mere four days, we transformed from California foreigners gawking over deers walking along the roadside to hiking, outdooring, exploring lovers of every Colorado mountain and valley.

The oasis we discovered on one of our hikes...
I joked to my parents that, after the delicious all-gluten free meal at Coquette's, I was biased in my opinion of Colorado. Even discounting my satisfied taste buds, though, Colorado won my heart without a problem.

Nonetheless, our time was finally up and we were ready to get the drive over with. We followed a similar eating strategy as our drive to Colorado, devouring our leftovers from Red Robin for lunch. Oh, the hardship! For dinner each night, I instead relied on my trusty phone app, "Find Me Gluten Free." Chick Fil A won on one night, and I purchased an extra salad for the road. Out of all of our return eats, though, Cafe Sol at Grand Junction will always have a special place in my stomach.

Sunny Cafe Sol!
Cafe Sol is a panini, soup, and salad shop on Main Street. Surrounded by modernist statues (like cement gorillas across the street or a metal biker at the corner), the charm of the bright yellow shop is only compounded by its inside decor. Lanterns, lime green walls and a huge herb garden in the corner of the store? Cafe Sol isn't kidding when it claims to be local, fresh and gluten free friendly.

By the time we drove into Grand Junction, hunger replaced our driving fatigue and we wanted nothing more than to grab the food and go. Luckily for us, Cafe Sol has a to-go option. My dad and sister quickly chose the Chicken Guacamole Panini and the Club, served with (gluten free) BBQ chips. Mom and I took longer, drooling over the 99% gluten free menu. In the end, we both ordered a panini-salad combo, respectively pairing the Chef Salad with the Club and Ahi Tuna Panini.

All the gluten free choices!
The server was extremely familiar with celiac disease and confidently answered all of my questions about cross contamination, sandwich bread and toppings. Sadly (cue crocodile tears), Cafe Sol doesn't have a gluten free dedicated panini-press, so to avoid cross contamination, I had to opt out. They offered to toast my panini in the oven, though, which worked for me!

In the end, we waited about 25 minutes for our order to be ready, each salad and panini packaged separately in a labeled cardboard box. Anytime I see "GF" on my order, reciept or to-go box, I'm one happy girl!

Proof is in the marker!
The food didn't last long, dissappearing soon after we settled in our hotel. First off, the portions were huge! The paninis were the size of a hardback library book and our "small" Chef Salads boasted enough hearty toppings to satisfy a Colorado grizzly. We all stuffed ourselves silly and still had half of our meals for the road the next day. Talk about a score!

Now, for the actual food. Because I didn't use the panini press, my bread lacked the traditional black grill marks. Yet, when I first bit into the combo of multi-grain GF bread, seared 5-spice ahi tuna, orange ginger slaw, cucumber and dynamite sauce, I couldn't have been happier. The tuna was cooked just enough to not be raw, but still tasted juicy. The cucumber and orange ginger slaw added a strong crunch and the unique kick of the sauce tied it all together.

The gluten free panini!
My Chef salad was equally delicious. I ordered my salad without the egg, but I didn't miss it. The mixed greens tasted extremely fresh and they'd piled on the bacon, turkey, ham, provolone cheese, and sherry dijon vinegrette. With the extra avocado I added, it tasted perfect!

The rest of my family were equally impressed, with my sister drooling over the "donut-like bread" and gluten free BBQ chips (which, I test-tasted and gave two thumbs up) and my Dad loving the hearty combo of avocado and chicken breast.

YUM!
Despite the vacation fun, by the time we walked into our Cali house, we were ready to be home. (Or, in my case, I was ready for free access to my kitchen and gluten free ingredients! Pancake craving, finally solved!). As I've reflected on our 10 day adventure, remembering the food, the family and the fun, I'm beyond grateful. I climbed mountains and saw bears. I devoured gluten free pizza and White and Black cake. And, I discovered local restaurant gems like Cafe Sol that serve up kick-butt, allergen-friendly feasts.

Besides the food, though, my favorite part of Cafe Sol was its bathroom (as weird as that sounds). I went in to wash my hands and left with fingers coated in a light dust of colored chalk. The whole bathroom boasts gray chalkboard paint littered with the chalk scrawl from dozens of strangers. Picking yellow, I added my own slogan to the mix: Be happy.

KC - that's me!
If my first vacation away from home since my celiac disease diagnosis taught me anything it's that finding happiness - whether in a gluten free chicken pot pie or during an adventure to the Manitou Cliffs - is the most important mission of all.


*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link party!*

How did your first vacation/roadtrip after a food allergy/celiac diagnosis go? Have you ever had a panini? Comment below!






Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Celiac Roadtrip, Part 6: Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Red Robin

During my family road trip from California to Colorado, we saw amazing sights and devoured delicious food. No day proved to be more surprising in both categories, however, than our last day at Colorado Springs.

Our last planned hurrah was a trip to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ancient home to the ancient Anasazi. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when we drove through the iron gates of the park. Hollowed out caves? Child-like artwork? Overpriced souvenirs? (At least I got the last one right). 

Welcome to the Cliff Dwellings!
With only a glance, the cliff dwellings shattered all of my expectations. The homes were actual homes, carved directly into nature instead of built with wood, cement and beams. As we walked through the rooms, I gawked at the food storage containers (blocks of rock carved next to the wall), meticulous windows and fire pit. Even more amazing, as we climbed deeper into the caves, the heat that forced Mom and I to hide under sun hats (comfort > fashion), disappeared. No need for air conditioners here!

The Anasazi even built buildings of multiple levels held up by carved beams and a used a stone cooking mechanism that reminded me of a pizza oven (of course, I narrow in on the food). My favorite part, though, was smelling a tree that the Anasazi used for cooking: no kidding, it smelled exactly like vanilla! Can I please grow one of those by my bedroom window? 

The Anasazi's home-sweet-home!
After a few hours of exploring, heat and hunger forced us back in the car. With the goal of celebrating our last day at the Springs, we drove to our planned lunching spot: Coquette's

Except as I eagerly pulled on the entrance door, I noticed the "closed" sign hanging in the window. So much for my stellar food planning...Find Me Gluten Free  to the rescue! After scanning the phone app's options while my folks drooled over houses, I settled on Red Robin. I'd heard stellar reviews of their gluten free protocol before and, with the clock inching close to one, our stomachs were getting desperate. Burgers, here we come!

Red Robin to the rescue!
Despite the pack of parked cars surrounding the restaurant, we were quickly seated at a booth in the corner. During my pre-trip research, I'd heard that Red Robin only provides its gluten free menu online or through their phone app, so I quickly downloaded the app. A few clicks later and presto! I had a plethora of mouth-watering options literally at my fingertips

Like usual, I spelled out my celiac autobiography to the waitress, who directed me to use the app and promised to "work with me." I also confirmed that there was a dedicated fryer for the steak fries, since my research showed it can vary by location. 

We all liked this location!
In the end, I ended up ordering a turkey burger with lettuce on their gluten free bun with a side salad. I was hesitant about ordering the bun since I'm usually disappointed with restaurants' gluten free bread, but decided I needed something besides lettuce on my burger! My gluten free mom also gambled with the bread, but got a loaded hamburger and GF steak fries. 

When our food arrived only a short time later, all of our jaws dropped. The burgers were monsters and all of our sides took up half the plate. 

My first bite of my turkey burger, though, skyrocketed me to heaven. Even with limited toppings, it didn't taste plain. Instead, the turkey was light and juicy, but charred on the edges and my lettuce provided the perfect crunch. The bun, though, surprised me the most! I planned on eating maybe half of it if it was slightly edible, but I devoured this baby! Fluffy, solid enough to not fall apart and perfectly crisp. The best bun I've had at a restaurant (Coquette's excluded), hands down. 

My delicious meal!
My side salad was equally huge and delicious. The mixed greens were fresh and crisp, the cabbage added a great crunch and I loved the thousand island dressing on the side.

The star of the sides, though, were my mom's gluten free steak fries. They tasted fluffy, hearty and lacked the typical grease. I also loved that I ate them feeling entirely confident in their "gluten free" label. I ended up devouring most of my mom's fries, which wasn't a problem since Red Robin's steak fries are bottomless. Never-ending gluten free fries? Count me in!

Mom's loaded burger and GF fries!
The rest of my family was equally shocked at how good their meals tasted. My mom adored the gluten free bun and her burger, which was cooked to be lightly pink on the inside. My dad devoured his BBQ burger and my sister destroyed her plate of fried chicken and shrimp. Considering my sister slurped down a mint brownie milkshake, my dad almost finished a second serving of fries and my mom and I wreaked major havoc on our plates, I can say it was so good, we couldn't stop eating. 

I felt extremely safe during this entire meal and our leftovers (we all saved half a burger/chicken fingers and some of our second round of fries) kicked butt when we started the drive back home the next day. I haven't tried the Red Robin near my house, but we are already craving an encore and hope the San Diego location will be just as great. 

On the way home!
The last day at Colorado Springs was full of surprises, but we didn't leave with any complaints! A day of beautiful historical sites, delicious burgers and time with the family? This college celiac can't ask for any more than that! 


How do you eat gluten free on the fly? Have you ever eaten at Red Robin? Comment below!


*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link party!*

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Celiac Road Trip, Part 5: Birthdays, Coquette's and Cake

In my house, June and July are the tastiest sequential months of the year, mainly because my parent's birthdays are two weeks apart. That means lots of cake and little time to eat it - not that we have a problem with that.

So, when we scheduled our Colorado vacation around Mom's birthday, we knew we had to find something special and sweet to celebrate. Cue our second visit to Coquette's

We're back!
We popped by the bistro after chowing down on our Boriello pizza and, even stuffed with Italian goodness, the dessert display had us drooling. Mom and I decided to stick to cake for the birthday theme and we ordered a slice of White and black, Carrot and New York style cheesecake. To balance out our order, I also bought their Angel Salad with a chicken upgrade. 

Meanwhile, my sister was drooling across the street at Poor Richard's Bookstore. The small, brick exterior hides the endless rows of books that seem to span miles into the store. When we met up with Hannah, our dessert and salad in hand, she boasted a heavier (but not by much!) bag bursting with reading material. A sweeter afternoon has never been spent!

Never ending!
By the time we made it home, our stomachs were grumbling so we dug into our goodies. To put things in the proper order, I'll start with the salad (even though I really tasted all the cakes first!). 

The Angel salad is composed of mixed greens, red onions, carrots, tomatoes, goat cheese, apples, candied walnuts & Coquette’s croutons. I also ordered some grilled chicken to up the protein. First off, this salad was huge! I nearly laughed when I saw that they sliced up a whole apple for my meal! 

My delicious dinner! I love GF croutons!

I was skeptical of the fruit and veggie mix at first, but my taste buds were pleasantly surprised. The apple joined with the onions, walnuts, carrots and croutons for the crunch factor while the goat cheese added a nice creaminess. The chicken was equally delicious - fresh, juicy and slightly charred

Now, though, for the real superstars: the birthday cake(s). At first, the typical candle celebration seemed out of reach. Literally, considering we forgot our candles back in California. Matches to the rescue! 

The sad match candle...
They weren't very reliable (i.e. Mom's match blew itself out in record time) but we were too busy laughing and singing to mind. 

First off, Coquette's Carrot cake. All the slices were huge, but Mom's chunk was especially intimidating. The best part of this cake was its moistness, but I also loved how the carrot flavor was noticeable but not overpowering. The cream cheese icing made it our favorite cake flavor! 

The carrot cake!
Then I devoured some of the Black and white cake. It wasn't as moist as the carrot cake, but the layers of white icing and chocolate fudge between the white and black cake stripes made up for it. I loved the vanilla-chocolate combo and the thin layer of melted chocolate on the top won over my taste buds. 


Black and white!

Finally, we tried the New York Style Cheesecake. For being gluten, wheat and soy free, it nailed the cheesecake texture! Perfectly soft, light and creamy with the same rich tartness that every good cheesecake is known for. Mom and I thought it would be better with some fresh strawberries on the side, but my Dad loved it plain. 


Cheesecake!
In the end, our cakes survived three days of snacking and Mom loved her birthday dessert (even though our favorite Pamela's chocolate birthday cake is baking in the oven right now!). Birthdays are about celebrating growth, embracing change and exploring the world and Coquette's during our Colorado vacation helped us do just that


**This article is also found at Runningwithspoon's Link Party!**

Friday, July 11, 2014

Celiac Roadtrip, Part 4: Hiking and Chipotle

As I've shared, my road trip from California to Colorado was full of adventures, from delicious gluten free bistros to getting up close and personal with giraffes. One of my favorite adventures, though, was the day when Dad and I hiked around Starsmore Park and my family raided Chipotle for the first time.

Colorado won my heart with its natural beauty. A deer greeted us in our own (rent) backyard when we first arrived and while we were driving around town on our second day, a bear walked right across the road! 

Our friendly neighborhood deer...
So when Dad and I woke up to a beautiful Sunday morning, we decided to explore the lake. The hike started out according to plan and, when we reached the water, we rested and watched packs of dogs swim (and fetch) their hearts out. And then we decided to try to take a short cut on the way back...we entered the forest looking for the main road and ended up finding an abandoned junk yard of old cars. Sadly, we were too worried about survival to pause for a photo...

After climbing up a dry riverbed and swatting aside dozens of plants, we finally realized that the road we were looking for was on the other side of the mountain. Oops. In the end, we arrived home safely from our (slightly longer than expected) hike. Ironically enough, when we shared our tale with the house owner, he had never even heard of the car yard! 

We did survive!
To celebrate our survival (and reward our hungry stomachs) my family decided to finally try out Chipotle. I've been dreaming of their Mexican food ever since I visited the restaurant with friends during college. I wasn't able to eat anything at the time since I was on the liquid diet, but I drooled plenty! On our road trip, we chowed on Chipotle twice and I'm already looking forward to my next visit!

When I researched Chipotle online, I found mixed reviews on how they handle celiac customers. Everything Chipotle serves is naturally gluten free except for their flour tortillas, so cross contamination is the largest concern. At the advice of fellow celiacs online, I decided to order a burrito bowl (a bowl filled with rice, beans, meat and toppings) and ask workers to change gloves before handling my meal. 

Chipotle: Celiac friend or foe?
Like I mentioned with Outback, chains vary by location in terms of their employee training. At the first Chipotle I ate at, I ended up asking a different employee to make my meal since the first person didn't speak English well. At the second one, though, as soon as I mentioned "gluten", the girl washed her hands, changed gloves and personally made my entire meal. 

In terms of taste, my entire family was impressed. I love the freshness of all the ingredients and, even though I usually dislike tomatoes and guac, I gobbled down my salsa and guacamole! Considering the amount of times I've watched my family devour chips cooked in shared fryers, I also love that Chipotle's chips are gluten free! Even better, I find that a burrito bowl is big enough for two servings and tastes amazing as cold leftovers. 

YUM!
Adventures don't always follow a plan, but, as our car score proves, sometimes those are the best kind! Especially when they end at Chipotle covered in guacamole and salsa!


Has a hike or adventure of yours ever changed plans and turned out better? What do you think of Chipotle? Comment below!