Category Archives: celiac

Gluten-Free Birthday Parties

cupcakes 9th bday

Liven up homemade gluten-free cakes or cupcakes with cute cake toppers and candles.

gluten-free cupcakes

Pipe frosting with a pastry bag for a professional look.

A version of this post appears as a guest post on the Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery blog. Check it out!

Birthdays are a big deal in our house. Starting weeks beforehand, my kids carefully plan all the food and activities they want to have at their parties. When your child is gluten-free, the planning intensifies. How do you keep the birthday girl safe while entertaining all her friends at a gluten-free birthday party?

My youngest daughter, who has celiac disease, just turned 9. Over the past seven years, we’ve hosted many fun birthday parties for her, filled with games, crafts and amazing gluten-free birthday cakes.

Here are some of our tips for making gluten-free birthday parties a success:

— Make an awesome gluten-free cake. Let’s face it, the cake is usually the centerpiece for the birthday (though I am amazed that my kids have friends who “don’t like cake” — heresy!). Bake a trial cake beforehand to make sure the recipe tastes great. I love King Arthur’s gluten-free chocolate cake mix. The rich, fudgy cake is delicious, and kids always ask for seconds (and sometimes for thirds). For frosting, I use the “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Frosting recipe on the side of the Hershey’s cocoa box.

—If you don’t feel comfortable baking gluten-free cake or cupcakes, try making an ice cream cake or offer a make-your-own ice cream sundae bar and have a multitude of toppings including sprinkles (or “jimmies,” as we say in Philadelphia), chocolate chips, M&Ms, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

— If you make a gluten-free cake or dessert, whatever you do, don’t advertise the treats as gluten-free. For some reason, if people (especially adults) hear the word “gluten-free,” they tend to avoid it like the plague. Teach your kid to be proud of being GF, but if you want people to eat your treats, don’t advertise them as such. (Or as I like to say, “I spent an hour baking that dessert, they better darn well eat it.”)

— Take a cake decorating class before the big birthday bash. A kid’s birthday cake must look good as well as taste good. If you can’t take a cake decorating class, toss on some colorful sprinkles and buy a couple of cute cake toppers or small plastic figurines to put on top of the cake. For cupcakes, experiment to learn how to pipe frosting using a pastry bag.

— Plan the birthday party at a time that does not involve lunch, like from 10 am to noon, or 3 to 5 pm. Kids do not need pizza at every birthday party. Not only will this save you money, but you won’t have to decide whether to serve gluten-free pizza to everyone (if so, it better taste good), or to have both GF and non-GF pizza and then worry about kids running around with greasy-pizza-gluten hands.

— For gluten-free snacks, think about Pirate’s Booty, Skinny Pop popcorn, Pop Chips and grapes or other fruit. For healthy options, try make-your-own fruit kebabs or a make-your-own smoothie bar.

— Advocate for your school to adopt a policy of no edible birthday treats. Honestly, most kids do not need another cupcake. Instead, kids can bring in a non-edible treat to share with their classmates (pencils, erasers, party favors). Other ideas: Schools can announce the names of the birthday kids over the school’s P.A. system, or schools can invite birthday kids to pick out a special book from a stash purchased by the PTA. This avoids allergens in the classroom and helps to combat excessive sweets and childhood obesity. If your school makes it a rule (not just an optional choice), you’ll be surprised at how quickly it will become an accepted part of school culture.

— If your son or daughter is going to a friend’s birthday party, ask the host in advance what food they will be serving. Send your kid with a cupcake (in a cupcake carrier that will keep it from getting smushed), an individual-sized gluten-free pizza (or the GF equivalent of whatever food they are serving), appropriate safe snacks and hand wipes. Stay at the party to serve your kid her special food, or ask a non-busy adult to make sure your child gets her food on a clean plate, served with clean hands.

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Gluten-Free Matzo for Passover-Part 2

gf matzos

Recently, I wrote a post about gluten-free oat matzo for Passover. Fortunately, there’s also a different kind of gluten-free matzo on the block. These gluten-free “matzo-style squares” are matzo alternatives that taste better than regular wheat matzo or gluten-free oat matzo. With a crisp, cracker consistency, these gluten-free matzos are good enough to be eaten year-round (really!).

Made primarily from potato starch and tapioca starch, and lightly salted, the matzos have a delicate taste, unlike regular dry matzo that leaves you parched and scrambling for water. Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares have been on the market for the past two years. Not to be left out, Manischewitz came out with its own “Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares” this year. (How odd that they have the same name.)

Now, these matzos don’t technically meet the seder requirements of matzo — that’s why you’ll notice a disclaimer on the box that says “not a replacement for seder matzo” or “not for sacramental purposes.” At the seder the Hamotzi blessing is supposed to be said over matzo made from one of five grains: wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats. That’s why some people turn to gluten-free oat matzo, though the oat matzo tastes like cardboard and is much more expensive, because of the supervision involved in ensuring that it’s both gluten-free and kosher for Passover.

The Manischewitz and Yehuda gluten-free matzo-style squares are very similar — with a crisp, flatbread consistency. Manischewitz is cheaper, which is always a plus, though I like Yehuda’s flavor slightly better. Both are certified gluten-free, and both do not contain oats (doctors now say that most celiacs can tolerate pure, uncontaminated gluten-free oats, but some celiacs still have reactions from oats). Yehuda and Manischewitz also make smaller gluten-free matzo crackers, too.

Last year, Yehuda added a toasted onion flavor, and this year adds a fiber-enriched version. The fiber-enriched version has 3 grams of dietary fiber, compared to 1.2 grams in the regular matzo squares. The additional fiber comes in the form of “apple fiber” and “plant fiber.” The fiber-enriched version is dry, though. If you want fiber, you’d probably be better off eating a fresh apple, which has 4 grams of fiber, instead of eating apple fiber in your matzo.

Depending on where you live, these matzos can be hard to find. I’ve found them at a local Jewel that has a good kosher selection. Some Whole Foods stores (at least in Chicago) carry the Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares, too. You can also order them online, or ask if your local grocery store can order them for you.

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Gluten-Free Oat Matzo 2013

oat matza2

Gluten-free oat matzo for Passover

This Passover brings more gluten-free matzo choices than ever, which is a welcome relief from a few short years ago when you had to hunt to find any gluten-free options.

Gluten-free matzo falls into two categories. The first is gluten-free oat matzo, which is expensive and tastes like cardboard, but is the ritually correct type of matzo to include in a Passover seder. During the Passover seder, the Hamotzi blessing should be recited over matzo made from one of five grains (wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats), so gluten-free oat matzo qualifies.

The other type of gluten-free matzo is much more tasty (good enough to eat year-round as a crispy flatbread cracker) and much cheaper, but is made primarily from potato starch and tapioca starch. These “matzo-style squares” don’t meet ritual requirements, because they don’t contain wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats, so the box states “not a replacement for seder matzo” or “not for sacramental purposes.”  Yehuda has produced matzo-style squares since 2011, and Manischewitz has come out with its own version this year. (For more information, Tablet magazine published an interesting discussion of the merits of gluten-free matzo.)

Gluten-Free Oat Matzo

In this post, I focus on gluten-free oat matzo. Stay tuned for my post later this week about “matzo-style squares.” (Update: Posted 3/8. “Gluten-Free Matzo for Passover Part 2.”)

A few years ago, oat matzo was the only kind of gluten-free matzo on the market, and it cost about $35-$40/box. Now, prices have come down to about $20-$25/box. There are two versions: machine-made matzas, which are square, and handmade matzas, which are round and are kneaded and baked by hand.

Lakewood Matzah uses certified gluten-free oats that are grown, cleaned and ground in a gluten-free environment. The oat matzo is certified gluten-free by the GFCO, making it a safe choice for celiacs. Their matzo comes in two versions: Gluten Free Oat Machine (Square) Matzoh, $25.99 per lb, with nine matzos per pound, and Gluten Free Oat Hand (Round) Matzoh, $25.99 for three hand matzohs (at least half a pound).

Gluten-Free Oat Matzos. Rabbi Kestenbaum’s gluten-free oat matzos were the first, and for many years the only, gluten-free matzos on the market. Based in London, Kestenbaum has been making them for more than 20 years. This year, for the first time, his Gluten-Free Oat Matzos are certified by the GFCO, making them a safe choice for celiacs. They cost about $29.99 per pound.

Click to read our Q&A interview with Lakewood Matzoh

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Gluten-Free Kitchen Confidential

Recently, I was fortunate to speak at the Celiac Awareness Tour Chicago. My talk was about “gluten-free kitchen confidential” — tips for keeping gluten-free at home and away.

I had many tips and thoughts to share, but here are the headlines:

  • BYOF — Bring Your Own Food. Always be prepared with safe gluten-free food, whether for school, sightseeing, plane trips or dinner parties.
  • Make sure gluten-free kids always have a great-looking, great-tasting gluten-free treat to bring to birthday parties or other occasions. It doesn’t always have to match what the other kids are having, but it should look tempting!
  • Focus on whole, healthy, naturally gluten-free foods such as meat, chicken, fish, fruit, veggies, dairy and eggs. Focus on all the good things that you can eat, not on what you cannot eat.
  • When in doubt, leave it out. Don’t eat something unless you are 100% sure it is gluten-free. Also, if a restaurant doesn’t seem to fully understand your gluten-free requests, then leave. The risk is simply not worth it.

If you have questions about the gluten-free diet, please feel free to email me or post a comment any time. If it’s a more involved request, I also do gluten-free consulting — see the “Consulting” tab at the top of the page.

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Gluten-Free Halloween Candy

trick or treat

Now that we live in a very neighborhoody area of Chicago, my kids really look forward to trick-or-treating. But there is a big Halloween hassle factor. I could do without all the extra sweets and the frustration of figuring out what candy is gluten free and what is not, let alone dealing with food at Halloween parties.

When my daughter was younger, we tried to trade her Halloween candy for a toy. She welcomed the toy, but a day later she was crying for the candy because she didn’t really get the concept that “trading in” meant permanently giving up the candy. These days, she’s pretty amenable to disposing of gluten-containing candies or trading them with her non-celiac sister. She knows she has much more candy than she’ll ever eat anyway.

I get frustrated with candy companies that refuse to print gluten-free lists and instead tell customers to look on the label. I’m sorry, but when we are trick-or-treating or getting a birthday goodie bag with candy, the individual pieces of candy usually don’t have a full ingredient list. I wish these companies would serve their customers, instead of their corporate lawyers.

When searching the Web to find out if a candy is gluten-free, make sure you are looking at gluten-free lists from the most recent year, as ingredients do change. The best source of information is always the candy label — even if you have to go to the drug store to look up labels. Also, be sure to check labeling to see if items are made in shared facilities or on shared equipment as items containing gluten. For instance, Brach’s candies, Palmer chocolates and Russell Stover chocolates all say that their candies are produced in facilities that handle wheat.

These blogs have thorough lists of gluten-free and allergy-free candy. I am grateful for their research.

Gluten-Free Candy Lists:
Sure Foods Living Allergen-Free and Gluten-Free Halloween Candy List 2011
Sure Foods Living Gluten-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2011
Jen Cafferty at GFreeLife’s 2011 Halloween Gluten Free Candy List
Celiac Family: Safe Gluten-Free Halloween Candy (2010)
2012 Update: Check out the extensive 2012 Gluten-Free Halloween Candy List from the awesome Jen Cafferty at gfreelife.com.

Here is my own shorter list of items that are NOT gluten-free. This is not an exhaustive list, and there are other candies that are also NOT gluten-free. But I find this list to be useful, as you can steer your child away from selecting the following candies from a trick-or-treat bowl. Of course, you still need to check every piece of candy to make sure it IS gluten-free, but here are some candies you should definitely keep away from.

Click for my list of candy that is NOT gluten-free

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News and Notes

I wanted to share some good gluten-free experiences we’ve had recently, with a Harry & David gluten-free gift box, King Arthur gluten-free cake mix, and four restaurants in Chicago: Hub 51, Wilde, Lula Cafe and Nano Sushi.

Harry & David Gluten-Free Goodies

Harry & David Gluten-Free Hat Box
Harry & David Gluten-Free Hat Box

– The good folks at MB Limited, who help us out with our computers, sent us a Harry & David Gluten-Free Hat Box. It’s always exciting to open a Harry & David gift tower, so it was fun to unwrap the two hat boxes. Imagine our delight when we discovered that the hat boxes were filled with gluten-free brownies and cookies.

The brownies were some of the most scrumptious brownies I’ve ever had — gluten-free or regular. I looked at the ingredients and was surprised to see that they used black bean powder instead of flour. I was also surprised to see the high amount of fat, but let’s not go there (on the positive side, they had high protein). The gluten-free brownies — two fudge brownies, two walnut brownies and two chocolate chunk brownies — were rich and thick and chocolate.

The gluten-free cookie assortment included two macaroons, two chocolate chip cookies, two peanut butter cookies and two mint chocolate cookies. They were quite good, but the brownies were definitely our favorite. I sent Harry & David an email, asking if their gluten-free goodies were made in a dedicated gluten-free area etc., but I did not hear back.

UPDATE 10/29/11: I just found out that Harry & David has discontinued their gluten-free brownies and cookies. Unfortunately, there’s no explanation from them. I’m sad, those brownies were really delicious.

King Arthur gluten-free birthday cake

gluten-free birthday cake
Birthday cake made with King Arthur gluten-free chocolate cake mix

– Speaking of rich desserts, it was recently my older daughter’s birthday. Although she does not have celiac and usually orders a bakery cake, she requested that I bake her cake this year. I told her it would have to be a gluten-free cake, as I don’t bake with regular flour any more since flour can remain airborne for a few hours and settle on kitchen appliances and counters.

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Navigating holiday parties, gluten-free

pomegranate bark2

Gluten-free pomegranate bark, perfect to bring to a holiday party.

When you’re on a gluten-free diet, the holidays can seem like a minefield of tempting foods with unknown ingredients. A few easy strategies, as well as a few great gluten-free recipes, can make holiday get-togethers much easier.

When going to a holiday party or other event:

    – Understand that you will need to find your holiday cheer in the good company and conversation, not necessarily in the food.

    – Eat before you leave home, so you’re not overly hungry at the party. This will reduce the temptation to eat something that is not safe.

    – Bring your own dish or dessert to share (like the gluten-free lemon bars below), so you are assured there will be something you can eat.

    – Bring a gluten-free granola bar or nut bar (Larabars and Kind bars are tasty and filling), so you can sneak away and have a quick snack if there’s nothing safe for you to eat.

    – Be an early bird. Food left on a buffet table easily can become contaminated when guests use the wrong serving spoon, dip their pita in otherwise gluten-free hummus, or break bread over the salad. If you are at the party early, you can go into the kitchen and reserve untouched portions for yourself. You’ll also be able to read package labels.

    – Let your host know in advance that you cannot eat anything made with wheat, rye, barley and oats. Tell the host that she doesn’t need to make special foods, you would just like to determine which foods will be safe for you to eat. If you can find out the menu, focus on two or three dishes that seem likely to be gluten-free and ask about the ingredients in those specific dishes. If the party will have a buffet, ask the host to put aside uncontaminated portions for you in advance.

    – When in doubt, leave it out. Don’t eat food unless you are certain it is gluten-free.

For easy desserts to bring to holiday get-togethers, check out these Gluten Free Nosh recipes:

Cheers!

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