Adventures in Gluten (and Sugar) Freedom from a southern blogger chick!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Informed consent (and a Sunday blessing or two)

First, thank you God that Hendley is OK.

And who among us isn't sad about the death of the wonderful Paul Newman? Speaking as a film fan, he was brilliant no matter the role. Speaking as the parent of a diasbled adult, Newman's Own Products (which are nothing short of spectacular AND mostly gluten free!) contributed thousands of dollars to specials needs charities, which is brilliant. Speaking as a happily married woman, I envy the 50-year romance he had with Joanne Woodward. He once said of her, "When you have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?" Whatta man. And speaking as a citizen of planet earth, we've lost a great humanitarian.

And now, informed consent:

I got my granny panties in a wad last week when I saw this article on the Delphi Forums Celiac listserv. Everyone spent a lot of time debating whether Splenda or sugar was better for consumption, but NO ONE seemed to note the glaring item for concern. The study, conducted by Duke University, was funded by the lobbying arm of the Sugar Association.

I was concerned more by the sponsorship than I was by the results. So Splenda causes obesity, kills "good" intestinal bacteria, and keeps the body from absorbing medications? I'd like more proof, please, funded by a non-partisan group. I just can't imagine that they didn't "cook the books" in favor of sugar, as opposed to Splenda.

I really don't know what to think. As a person living with diabetes and celiac disease, I DO need to have my medications absorbed and my "good intestinal bacteria" intact. I'd like not to be obese any more, too. But nothing you tell me will convince me that sugar, FOR ME, in any significant amount, will improve my health over my consumption of Splenda. I have not intentionally chosen a sugar-filled drink (over one with Splenda, saccharine or aspartame) in a long time. If I do have a food with sugar in it, I make sure it is pure sugar (or honey, or molasses) as opposed to corn syrup, and I have it in a small, small portion. I watch my sugar intake because it causes great damage to my eyes, stomach, and nerve endings when it drives up my blood glucose.

Let's face it -- most of the time, a person with such complex health concerns as I have NEEDS Splenda and NEEDS to be as sugar free as possible. Sorry, sugar association, you're going to have to come at me with a fair, realistic study before I give up my Splenda use. Oh, and run it by my docs for their approval, while you're at it. Your product is a bigger threat to me than Splenda is or ever will be.

And readers, remember, caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware. Or in this case, let the survey reader beware. Read the fine print and take caution when you see these surveys. It might not be all that it is cracked up to be.

Much love, and hand me that Diet Rite Tangerine soda, sweetened with Splenda, will you?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Hungry 100

OK, Stella has her groove back...

I was reading a new food blog I found, The Hungry Hamburger (not a GF Food Blog) about the 100 foods one should sure try before he or she dies. This was also on Serious Eats, one of my favorite food blogs.

But, I'm a pretty adventuresome eater, way before GF, and I have to say, rather than putting in bold the ones I HAVE eaten, I'll bold/italicize the ones I haven't. There are 10 I haven't tried and eight I will never try. And most of them are GF.

I haven't eaten Horse, for instance, but I have eaten the Belizean "royal rat," Gibnut, Cow-foot soup, and Pigtails and Peas.

How about you?

The Hungry Hamburger List

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush LOVE IT! And it's GF
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses It's cheese.
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes My sis Janet used to make Peach wine. YUM!
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras OMG how i love this food...
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (on GF crackers, no less)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (yes, I've tried one nibble)
27. Dulce de leche You can buy it out of a can at WalMart. YUM!
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda Heck, make it with GF bread...
31. Wasabi peas YAY! Love them, and can find them GF, too!
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I've had lassi, but not salted. I'm claiming it. And no, it's not a puppy.)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar Never smoked a cigar, but have had cognac where others were smoking nearby. It counts.
37. Clotted cream tea At the Savoy in London, 1999 good time...
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects Not intentionally
43. Phaal A hot curry. Haven't tried it yet.
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi a pickled fruit
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini My FAVORITE martini, BTW
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads LOVE them, actually, sauteed in butter crispy. LOVE them!
63. Kaolin Hell, I'm southern, and that stuff is in the water around here!
64. Currywurst
65. Durian No, but I would.
66. Frogs’ legs Won't ever, either.
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis Can't do it, it's not GF.
69. Fried plantain YUM. A favorite, to be sure. In Belize, if possible.
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette Don't like em, won't do it again, but yeah, I have.
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (Food of the gods. No blini any more, but Caviar is perhaps my favorite food!)
73. Louche absinthe (OK, had a facsimle in New Orleans at the Old Ansinthe House, no less)
74. Gjetost, or brunost (out of curiousity once, at a Swiss Colony at Northlake Mall)
75. Roadkill I eat Vienna Sausages. Does that count?
76. Baijiu (yes, actually, once at a Chinese feast).
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (gonna have me some of dat tomorrow night at the new local Thai place)
82. Eggs Benedict )do I hear the hallelujah chorus?)
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare I'm sorry, I don't eat rabbit/hare or squirrel (aka rats with good PR).
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse Again, not intentionally...
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Much love, and report back in the comments!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Eeek! It has been more than a week

I apologize, friends, for not blogging more often right now. Truth be told, I've been having some internal issues, and I've 1) not been cooking and 2) not been eating well.

Ok, not tonight. Tonight I'm having a pan-roasted steak and some leftover GF blooming onion that I froze.

But, last night, I had some canned fruit cocktail and some fresh grapes with my GF chicken Vienna Sausages (I know). The night before, I had popcorn and some GF McDonald's fries. And Sunday, I ate popcorn while watching the Emmy awards. Saturday night, after great GF meals at the Connect 2008 conference in Athens, I ate boiled peanuts and Cheetos for dinner.

See what I mean? Had I not gone to Connect, well, I would have subsisted on pork rinds last weekend. I'm sure of it.

I don't know what the problem is with me, but I just don't have much gumption to cook. I'm entirely stressed at work, and I've been on the road a lot. I'm not cooking, and I'm not eating out. I'm just junkin' it up.

I am maintaining my 100 percent GF status, though, and that is what is important. I still rarely eat sugar, and I'm still limiting the other allergen-producing foods.

So I ask you, GF friends. What do you do when this happens to you?

Much love, and I hope the slump ends soon!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A corny discussion

This is a first for me. I'm doubling up a post on both my personal blog and my public relations class blog.

This is a post about the use of propaganda in public relations campaigns. And it's directly related to a mass-mediated commercial and a web site campaign that's been going on since the beginning on September.

Backstory: Readers of my gluten-free blog know I've made a concerted effort to eliminate high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from my diet. My personal research has convinced me that this product is dangerous to the digestive tract, especially for those who are immuno-challenged, like I am. I based my decision on two things: First, I did research (including paper documents from non-biased nutritionists,) and Second, I did an elimination diet. I eliminated HFCS from my diet (even threw away my ketchup, bbq sauce, and salad dressings). I've also tried to give up my consumption of plain old corn syrup, but that is also difficult. But suffice it to say that this endeavor has made me all but give up Snickers bars, my favorite gluten-free treat. Finally, I discussed this at length with a medical professional I trust -- my gastroenterologist.

I have been troubled by and curious about a new campaign from the Corn Refiners Association that has been airing on television for the past several weeks. This persuasive campaign is designed to show the innocence of HFCS, with a cute couple discussing the safety of the ingredients. (You can find this video, and the other commercials, here. I recommend you watch so you'll see the message they send.

Yes, they want you to believe that HFCS is a Sweet Surprise. Over and over, the corn refiners association wants you to know that there is no caloric difference in HFCS and sugar. That there's no difference in HFCS and honey. And that HFCS is less expensive to use than sugar, honey, or molasses as a sweetner.

And to make sure you believe them, they back up their claims by doing survey research and sending out press releases.

For instance, consider the Press Release that suggests that a National survey* of Moms shows that Moms are more concerned about individual ingredients, rather than the "big picture" -- that kids still eat the wrong foods and don't exercise enough. The sponsor of the survey? The CRA. I immediately notices the *asterisk* by the word survey in the lead of the release. What did following that asterisk show? I quote:

*Wakefi eld, a national polling fi rm, conducted the survey between August 18 and August 25, 2008 using an email invitation and an online survey. Results were collected from a random sample of 400 mothers ages 18 and older. Quotas are set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population.

If you don't know survey research, recognize this: A national survey that is invited and online is only going to get a certain kind of audience. And I highly doubt that they conducted a random sample of 400 mothers age 18 and over, especially if they set QUOTAS to ensure reliable representation of the U.S. population. In other words, it's a survey that generalizes to a large audience something tested only on a small one.

This is propaganda, from a group most attacked by a society that is giving up HFCS for healthier choices. It is a direct response to the film King Corn, which has raised awareness and concern about corn production in the United States. They've even created their own propaganda website that echos the information at Sweet Surprise. You'll find it on google -- under High Fructose Corn Syrup Facts. Read to the bottom! It's copyright the Corn Refiners Association!

Here's a funny thing about propaganda, though. It always contains a kernel (pun intended) of truth. For instance, yes, HFCS is cheaper to use than sugar, honey, or molasses. And yes, the press release is right -- some parents aren't seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to dietary issues for obese children. Many of their claims are in fact couched in truth.

But as is the case with most propaganda, it's the truth, but not the whole truth. Not completely.

One must read on to get a clearer picture. I read this site several months ago, and it convinced me that, FOR ME, high fructose corn syrup is a risk.

What I hope you're asking now is, "is that website also propaganda?" Is it the tool of a propaganda campaign from people who want to take down the Corn Refiners Association?

The point, and there is an important one here: Propaganda and persuasions are everywhere, about every single product in society. Public relations is an industry of persuasion and often, propaganda, and ALL public relation's communication to society is on behalf of a client. Someone out there is representing the Corn Refiners Association. Someone out there is representing the film King Corn.

And somewhere out there, there's the truth HFCS and its impact on the human digestive system.

The directive for all of us, as consumers, is caveat emptor. That applies to our consumption of ALL media, whether that media is selling popsicles or political candidates.

But what is the directive for those of us who are public relations practitioners? To quote Hamlet, "Ay, there's the rub." Must we believe in the clients we represent? Students, could you represent a client in whose stance or product you didn't believe?

We must always, always be aware of the source and motive of our information, whether we're on the receiving or disseminating end of it.

And remember, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention!

Much love, and pay attention!


Friday, September 12, 2008

Thinking of my friends in Texas

There's a disruption in the force tonight, and its name is Ike. It has had me glued to the television today, while I've tried to work on research and plan for next week at school.

I have lots of friends and family in Texas, both real and virtual )readers of this blog as well as Delphi Forum friends). Bob and Paula and their family are in the storm's path in Houston -- in fact, Paula, with her work, is in a chemical plant in Texas City (right there!) The storm is as big AS Texas, which means friends in San Antonio, Tyler, Burleson, and Huntsville are gonna get a lot of rain and win. And so will my much loved family -- Randy's folks -- in Dallas.

Now's the time for all of us to send up some positive thoughts and affirming prayers on their behalf. And be prepared to help if the need arises.

I'm afraid it ain't gonna be pretty. I've heard "worse than Katrina" a few too many times today to be comfortable.

Much love, and be safe out there friends.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Gluten-Free Mecca in Atlanta: TWO Urban Licks

Friends, I had another phenomenal dining experience in Atlanta last weekend. (Julie, Jenn, Joy, JP - Read the P.S.)

Promise me, GF and non-GF friends alike, if you need a place to dine in the ATL, you'll go to TWO Urban Licks.

And this man? Chef Cameron Thompson? He's a saint.

Now, let me tell you about the menu. I called ahead (as usual) as asked my vetting questions. When we got there, the host asked, "Now who's my gluten-free diner?" At the table, Billy, our waiter, asked the same question.

Then, the miracle happened. Billy took a menu into the kitchen and came back with it PERSONALLY ANNOTATED FOR ME by Chef Thompson. In all my time as a GF diner, I've NEVER had that kind of personal service. NEVER. I mean, I've had great chefs, and great suggestions, but a PERSONALLY annotated menu? Amazing.

And friends, there was a lot to choose from on this menu. Read this description below:

"All of the small plates are ideal for sharing or savoring on your own. A few of the menu’s highlights include the Salmon Chips, loaded with short smoked salmon, chipotle cream cheese, capers, and red onion; Lamb Lollipops served with grape chile jam and goat cheese; entrĂ©e options include Pork Shoulder with NY baked cheddar macaroni and pork jus; and the Bronzed Sea Scallops served over smoked gouda grits in a tomato broth."

Of all those items described above, only the macaroni and cheese was off limits -- and I could have ordered the pork with another side dish. Both Randy and a new friend, Enoch, had the pork. I tasted it....mmmmmmmmmmmmm. You could, to quote Billy, "eat it with a spoon."

I had the salmon chips and the scallops, and an assortment of homemade ice cream for dessert. Delish!

Now, I hoped to show you a picture of the menu but the beautiful annotations wouldn't show up on the camera. And I'm still waiting for pics from Enoch of this beautiful place.

But I wanted to post this message. I felt so wonderful dining at TWO, and I know you will love it, TOO!

Much love, and visit the website and enjoy the music, too!

P.S. Turns out, small world, Billy was Chris Harrell's former roomie and best friend. We had a great time calling Chris on Billy's phone, and laughing. I mean, who would have thought this guy was best friends with one of your old classmates from GC?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vetting the Gluten-Free Restaurant

I had one of those disheartening GF dining experiences this weekend while in Las Vegas with Randy and our friends Paula and Bob. We planned to meet them in Vegas early this summer, to treat Bob in celebration of his graduation from law school. It was also their 30th wedding anniversary, so we had a lot to celebrate. The room was on me, and the celebration dinner was on Randy. We were so excited to see them.

But we got sidetracked on the topic of a gluten-free menu at the party restaurant of choice.

It leads me to this question: What criteria do you use when you "clear" a restaurant for dining? In political party convention terms, how do you vet a restaurant?

I use a three-tier process to make my decisions. First, and always, I consult others on the gluten-free diet for suggestions. I was just in Las Vegas, where I'd been before. I already had some names and some good suggestions from our last trip.

Second, I look for the TNT -- tried and true -- gluten free places. I know there's a dedicated GF menu at PF Changs, Outback, Maggiano's, Bone Fish, Chick Fil A, even to some extent at McDonalds.

But sometimes, in the case of special occasion or curiosity, I try to find safe food other places. Here is how I "vet" a restaurant before I make a reservation.

I am a member of a restaurant reservation system called Open Table, where I log in and make online reservations. Open Table doesn't always list GF menus, but it is a convenient place to find restaurants and their information -- it makes it easy to look at menus quickly and make decisions.

I always make phone calls to restaurants that I plan to dine at out of town. ALWAYS. I ask to speak to a manager and ask if the restaurant can accommodate someone with food allergies, specifically gluten intolerance.

I am not an inconsiderate diner, folks. I am if anything kind and generous to places that work things out for me. So if they say no, then I thank them politely and take my business elsewhere. Take Bobby Flay, for instance -- love him as a chef, but he has no desire to accommodate anyone with a food allergy. On his web page he takes questions, and it's clear from his answers he's pretty clueless about GF meals. I don't get mad, I just don't go.

But I had a first experience Saturday at a place called rumjungle at Mandalay Bay that left me angry and defensive.

If you're gluten free, don't waste your time. They really don't want you there.

Here's my saga:

Last Tuesday, I called rumJungle, which I'd found on Open Table, and asked my usual questions. The manager on call (whoever it was -- I wish I'd written down her name -- said, "Sure. We can handle anything." I asked more pointedly if that included their fire-pit dinners (it's a Brazilian steak house with the swords and fire and all). She said, "Absolutely."

So far, so good. I was excited. Randy was even going to make a rare exception and go off his diet for this! (And trust me, he stuck to it the rest of the trip!)

When we checked in at rumjungle, the hostess greeted us and said the server would bring us my gluten free menu suggestions. They were sweet, warm, and welcoming at the desk. And the place, it looked incredibly fun.

A young, grossly inexperienced server came to the table and admitted she didn't really know what gluten was, but she announced there was no GF menu, that she'd talked to the chef, and he suggested I get a plain steak or salmon. I should not order any of the toppings or butters for the meats, and the fire pit was out of the question, except for salmon and turkey.

But, I protested, I was told there was "no problem." Well, she said, there's not, as long as I didn't want to participate in the specialties of the house.

Nope. No menu. Only suggestion? Plain steak or salmon. Plain sides. I'm sorry, but I was told I could participate in the Fire Pit meals. I wanted the fun to begin as promised by the manager I spoke to on the phone!

Bob and Paula, being the friends they are, said, "Let's leave." Randy said so too. But it was 8 p.m. on a Saturday night in Las Freaking Vegas, and I wasn't giving up. I asked for the manager. This had to be a mistake.

I proceeded to have a discussion (almost an argument) with one of the most patronizing, arrogant managers ("one of them, he said") I've ever met. He kept saying there was nothing safe. I was trying to point out that I understood that, but because of one of his staff's comments, I planned an entire celebration around a menu of food that I could not eat. He basically repeated what Sally Server said. Plain steak. Salmon. None of the sides were safe. The meat in the fire pit -- not safe. The worst part was he kept trying to tell me WHY it wasn't safe. I wanted him to explain why I'd been told it WAS safe. We were fighting at cross purposes.

I implored him one more time...are you sure? I mean, the person I talked to on the phone was so certain. He asked me if I had her name. Well, that to me implied that he thought I was making this all up. At least, that was what I inferred from his tone.

I was livid. I gave in to my friends, and we got up and left. Before I left, I told the manager he should train his staff better. We were misled, and that person basically RUINED plans that had been in the works for a long time. And I said one more thing:
I don't want to force my allergies on you, but you should not lead people to believe that you can work with them when in fact, you cannot. I would have preferred you tell me to go elsewhere than get my hopes up and embarrass me in front of my friends and family. That is just rude.

And he said, I swear to you, he said NOTHING. He just walked away.

Someone was looking out for us (add that to the fact that business is down in Vegas right now). I called Nobhill,Michael Mina's exquisite restaurant at the MGM Grand, where we dined last year. They had a table for us. We had a delicious meal, and I was treated like the gluten-free queen. At no point was I excluded from the meal. I was treated politely and with great care. It was amazing. I have always recommended them on the Celiac Listserv, and they continue to have my admiration and support.

Wish we'd gone there first. Glad we went there in the end.

So perhaps this is a warning for you GF diners out there. When you phone a place to see if it can accommodate your GF needs,
check twice. But don't get your hopes up.

It's a jungle out there.

Much love,


Some places I can add to the good list in Las Vegas:
The restaurant at Ellis Island (prime rib)
The buffet at the Monte Carlo (the chef accompanied me around and even had them cook me a steak on the clean grill).