Who Am I?

No Oats For You!

Posted: April 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on No Oats For You!

Yes, my body has turned into a form of the Soup Nazi this past week and emphatically denied me oats. Apparently I’m one of the small percentage of celiacs who also can’t tolerate oats.

I set up the test pretty well. I got tested and certified gluten free steel cut oats by Bob’s Red Mill. I prepared and ate them in the middle of last week. For the past week I’ve otherwise eaten even more conservatively than I usually do. We’ve not been out to eat at all and I haven’t eaten anything that wasn’t either made by my wife or me or a normal part of my diet. I loved eating the bowl of oatmeal. That was always one of my favorites.

But I’ve been paying for it ever since. Bloating, painful cramping, and a variety of symptoms I won’t describe in detail. I’m only now really beginning to feel better.

So I guess I got unmistakable results from my test, just not the results I wanted. Oh well. At least I don’t suffer from a dairy, corn, or soy intolerance like some celiacs do. I’ve managed without oats for a year with no real struggle. It would be a lot more difficult to remove any of the other three from my diet on top of gluten. So, all things considered, I guess I can’t really complain.

Still, I was really hoping for a more positive result.


In Defense Of Food 0 – Introductory Thoughts

Posted: March 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, In Defense Of Food | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on In Defense Of Food 0 – Introductory Thoughts

Last week I read Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto. It’s quite well written and thoroughly sourced. He’s a journalist, not a scientist, but he is an academic as well and certainly able to document and defend his ideas. I plan to devote a post reviewing each of the three sections of his book. Pollan’s basic premise is actually simple and he unveils it immediately in the introduction.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done in the United States today. The first two sections explore why it has become so difficult and the last section explores ways to overcome those difficulties. If more of us begin to “vote” with our wallets, we may begin to have a real impact.

For the past year, since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I’ve had to actually read and analyze the full ingredient list on absolutely everything (other than fresh produce)Ā  before I eat it. I already knew that some common things were actually imitations, of course. For example, I’ve loved buttermilk my whole life. And it’s next to impossible to actually buy real buttermilk anywhere. Read the label on the “buttermilk” in the store next time you go shopping. Odds are it’s not actually buttermilk at all, but rather a chemical concoction designed to emulate the taste and texture of buttermilk. However, I didn’t realize until I began reading all labels just how little of our food is actually the food itself and how much is a processed imitation. That heavy whipping cream? Probably not real cream or at least not just cream. Those potato chips? You won’t find more than a few that are really just sliced, fried, and salted potatoes. Check that butter to see if it’s really just butter. Most of what is sold as “yogurt” is a lot more than milk with bacterial cultures. I even have to watch out for supposedly “raw” meat. It sometimes comes with a list of ingredients as well.

I’m not the sort of person who was blithely unaware of the health implications of processed foods. I grew up in a family that frequented health food stores and subscribed to Mother Earth News back in the 70s. My parents gardened so much that I was sick of it by the time I became an adult. We had a yogurt maker to make our own yogurt from scratch. My father co-authored an Indian cookbook and began teaching me how to cook (and letting me experiment) by the time I was in 5th grade. I’ve been somewhat aware of food and environmental concerns my whole life and have been partially engaged. I have friends with various sorts of food allergies and sensitivities and know their struggles. Even given all that background, I’ve been surprised this past year by just how difficult it is today to find real food.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), the Internet allows me to research each individual chemical ingredient and additive so I haven’t had to completely eliminate such things from my diet simply because I had no idea what it was. But I feel like cheering anytime IĀ  find a short ingredient list with normal things in it that I recognize without online research. I find that I buy more from non-US companies.

Tasty Bites is a good example of one such company. In order to illustrate my point, let’s take a simple product like unflavored rice. Here is Tasty Bites microwaveable basmati rice. Look at the ingredients. There are three of them: water, basmati rice, and sunflower oil. That’s it. Short, simple, and easy to decipher. Compare that to the ingredients in Uncle Ben’s Basmati Ready Rice product (one of the shortest ingredient lists of all the Ready Rice products): WATER; BASMATI RICE; CANOLA OIL AND/OR SUNFLOWER OIL; SOY LECHITHIN; NIACIN; IRON (FERRIC ORTHOPHOSPHATE); THIAMINE (THIAMINE MONONITRATE); FOLATE (FOLIC ACID). I happen to know that most of that list represents an attempt to add “nutrients” into the processed rice. But I think it illustrates the point. Moreover, the Tasty Bites rice, simple as it is, tastes better than Uncle Ben’s processed rice product.

Or let’s look at a more complicated Tasty Bites product, their Zesty Lentils & Peas. Here is its ingredient list: Water, Bengal Lentils, Green Peas, Yellow Peas, Red Pepper, Coriander, Sunflower Oil, Sugar, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Cumin, Chilies. It’s a longer list, but every single one of those ingredients is easily recognizable. Moreover, they are all food, not chemical additives or heavily processed food-like substances. Tasty Bites is just one example company, but it illustrates the lie that packaged foods require a preservative chemical bath. It’s a lie that too many of us have swallowed without question and authors like Michael Pollan are beginning to expose it.


Kerbey Lane Cafe

Posted: March 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Kerbey Lane Cafe

I’ve waited until I visited Kerbey Lane Cafe a couple of times in different locations before writing this review. My readers have to understand that this was one of my favorite restaurants before my diagnosis. It was hard for me to believe that the restaurant that made the best pancakes I had ever had could also safely prepare gluten free dishes. I wasn’t willing to even risk disappointment until my wife had some health issues that left us greatly relieved right by the original restaurant on Kerbey Lane. After that experience, I risked another visit at a different location with my daughter.

I’m happy to report that despite their well-deserved pancake fame, Kerbey Lane Cafe is able to prepare certain dishes without cross-contamination. The first time I risked a visit, I discovered they have a gluten free menu. On that visit I ordered the migas. They were as good as they’ve ever been and I had no adverse reaction. On the next visit I ordered one of their enchilada options. It was similarly fantastic with no adverse reaction.

If you are a celiac visiting Austin, give Kerbey Lane Cafe a try. You’ll be glad you did.


9 Months Gluten Free

Posted: January 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

This month marks the ninth month since I was diagnosed with celiac and began the required gluten free diet. It also marks a full year since the physical which revealed iron deficient anemia and began the testing process that ultimately led to my diagnosis. I have a few more doctors now than I did a year ago. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

I do know that I feel much better now than I did a year ago. I’m not exhausted all the time. My fingers and toes (and hands and feet and arms and legs) aren’t constantly going numb, tingly, or even hurting. My digestion is slowly improving. As much as the physical improvement, though, the mental relief has been a blessing. Simply knowing why these past few years have been so extremely rough has lifted a weight. It’s horrible when you know something’s wrong, but you can’t figure out what it could possibly be. I wondered at times if I was just losing it.

My wife and I have adapted pretty well. I won’t say it’s easy. It’s many things, but easy is not one of them. Still, it would be a lot harder if we weren’t both pretty good cooks and if product labeling was still as bad as I read it was a decade ago. It’s a hard change, but it’s manageable.

I’m sometimes asked if I’m ever tempted to “cheat” on the gluten free diet. I have to confess I’m always bemused by the question and never quite sure what to say. If you knew that eating something was going to make you sick and seriously damage your body — not in the long-term, but in fairly short order — would you be inclined to eat it anyway? Would any sane person? So know, I’m not tempted to “cheat”. I want to keep getting better. I would love to actually reach the point where my body recovers and I can say I’m truly in good health again.

That does not, of course, mean that are not foods I miss and which cannot easily be replaced by anything else. There are. And there are times when I grieve their loss. But that does not translate into a desire to actually eat or drink them. Yes, it’s annoying to always be on guard and always checking the ingredients in anything and everything before I put it in my mouth. It does get tiresome at times. But it’s a small price to pay not to be sick.


Promise Pizza

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Today my wife and I decided to try a new pizza place in Round Rock, Promise Pizza (also on twitter @promisepizza), for lunch. They offer all natural and organic ingredients, have a gluten free crust, gluten free sauce, and gluten free toppings, and, for the vegans or lactose intolerant out there Daiya “cheese” and a vegan crust and sauce. They also have a great lunch special, a personal 8″ one topping pizza (additional toppings at a small added cost), a drink, and cinnamon knots for $5.95.

My wife got the lunch special with chicken and mushrooms for her toppings. She enjoyed the pizza (and I was jealous of the thick, puffy, chewy crust), but absolutely loved the cinnamon knots. She said they were much, much, much better than the typical cinnamon pizza or stix you get at most places.

As is fairly normal, the gluten free crust was only available in one size, the 10″, and wasn’t part of the lunch special. I checked and the italian sausage was gluten free, pretty rare for sausage at a commercial restaurant, so I decided to get that along with red peppers for my toppings. The pizza was very good. They use a more complex and flavorful dough than the typical rice flour crusts I’ve encountered since I was diagnosed with celiac. It was more than simply a platform for transporting the cheese, sauce, and toppings. I actually enjoyed the crust itself. Oh, and they had natural gingerale at the soda machine, immediately endearing their restaurant to me. šŸ˜‰

My wife’s assessment was that Promise Pizza is a place she wouldn’t mind going back to in the future. Since I have so few quick lunch options and the ones I find are not always thumbs up for her, that was good news. Moreover, it’s the closest place to our home that offers any sort of gluten free pizza. It’s my luck that it’s the best I’ve found so far. Pizza is not really “health” food, but more “comfort” food. But they offer pizza that is as healthy and eco-friendly as pizza can be!


The Elements or Gifts of the Eucharist

Posted: November 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Elements or Gifts of the Eucharist

In other posts, I’ve looked at the Eucharist in history, at the mystery of the Eucharist, at its place in liturgy, and many other questions. A conversation with my youngest daughter this past week left me reflecting on the elements or gifts themselves or, to put it more prosaically, the bread and wine. There have been a number of practices regarding both over the course of the centuries. I would wager many modern Protestants are unfamiliar with all but the most recent.

One of the variations of practice that sometimes rose to the level of dispute was the use of leavened vs. unleavened bread in the Eucharist. Over time, the West settled into a practice of using unleavened bread and the East leavened bread, but that did not happen all at once. For centuries, there was a mixed practice in both East and West. All too often today, the concept of leaven is conflated with yeast. While scientifically accurate, it fails to capture the ancient mindset well. It would be more accurate to think of leaven as what we might call starter, if you’ve ever made bread in some of the more traditional ways.

Unlike much of what you might hear people in some corners say today, neither in the Holy Scriptures nor in the Fathers is leaven ever simply synonymous with sin or evil. Rather, leaven more describes a process of one substance permeating and changing the nature of another. Sin often acts that way. But, if you remember Jesus’ parable, so does the Kingdom.

The theology developed by proponents of either perspective is varied and rich. It’s worth spending time to explore if such things interest you. But, to summarize and over-simplify, there did tend to be some noteworthy trends.

Among those who favored unleavened bread, the primary point was the connection of the Eucharist to Passover because Christ is our Passover. And on Passover Jews ate unleavened bread. Why? Because on the night of the tenth plague, the Israelites prepared in haste to leave. You have to wait for leavened bread to rise, usually more than once whereas unleavened bread is prepared quickly. It is the bread of haste and the bitterness of departure.

Those who made this connection often also saw the meal at which Christ instituted the mystery of the Eucharist as a Passover meal at which they would have been eating unleavened bread. From very early on, you can see that this is a disputed point. And, indeed, if you read the gospels some things are clear. The connection to Passover is evident as is the fact that Passover is near. The room was one in which Jesus said he intended to eat Passover with his disciples. That is also certain. It is unclear whether or not the actual meal was a Passover meal and, if it was, whether or not Jesus was celebrating it on the “right” day. If you try to figure out exactly what day each event occurs you’ll give yourself a headache. Trust me, I know.

However, those who favored the use of leavened bread were not primarily concerned about whether or not the institution in the upper room happened in the context of a Passover meal or not. They drew from the parable of the leaven of the Kingdom and saw the leaven of Christ working itself into and through the people of God as the Kingdom spread into the nations. Although that last supper in the upper room was a night of departures, we do not eat in haste, ready to leave. Rather, we live in the Kingdom now and the Eucharist is as much about the Resurrection as it is the Cross.

I don’t have a strong opinion either way, though I tend to lean in the direction of the arguments for leavened bread. They seem to hold more weight to me. Of course, as a diagnosed celiac, it’s largely a moot point for me in practical terms. Leavened or unleavened, I can’t consume the bread. But it is still a very interesting aspect of the practice of our faith to explore.

The other ancient dispute over practice which continues to this day revolves around the wine of the Eucharist. No, it’s not the dispute that would probably immediately spring to mind for most of my fellow modern American Protestants. We’ll get to that one later. No, this one is the practice of using pure wine in the Eucharist vs. wine mixed with hot water. Nobody that I’ve read on this dispute argues that Christ used anything but pure wine during the last supper. And on that basis, it became the standard practice in the West.

In the East, however, it has long been the practice to mix hot water with the wine. There are many different reasons given. One (from St. Cyril of Alexandria, I think) was that the water was the Church and in the Eucharist we take Christ into our body and become part of his body. Another makes reference to the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side on the Cross, arguing that it is thus appropriate for our Eucharist to be wine and water. Another perspective, especially in the Armenian and Ethiopian Churches holds that the water represents the Holy Spirit, since water is normally connected to the Spirit.

This debate became so heated that at one point in time anathemas flew. Personally, I can see both perspectives and find them both not without merit. I am also certain that, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we receive either as the blood of our Lord, which is really all that matters.

The last dispute about the nature of the gifts themselves is the modern Protestant practice, connected to the 19th century temperance movement, of using grape juice instead of wine. I’ve heard and read myriad scriptural interpretations and theological circumlocutions to justify this particular innovation. If you think you have one that I’ve not heard, feel free to share it. This is a modern issue because it could only have arisen in our technologically advanced modern era. This is also where a dose of practical reality is needed more than theology.

In the modern West, we have become disconnected from the realities of food. We can have anything we want almost any time of the year. I know that personally, on those rare occasions I cannot find produce I desire at that moment, I’m irritated. But that is not how things have worked for much of human history. In the northern hemisphere, grapes are harvested in the fall. Oh, in some climates, like Cyprus, they might be harvested as early as late July and in Germany and some other places, grapes like icewine grapes might be harvested as late as January, but in general grapes are harvested in the fall. Passover is in the spring, all the way on the other side of the annual calendar. Moreover, there was no refrigeration or pasteurization in the ancient world.

What does that mean? It’s very simple really. That night in the upper room with Jesus of Nazareth, nobody had grapes or grape juice. Nobody in the city had grapes or grape juice. Nobody in the northern hemisphere had grapes or grape juice.

They had raisins and wine.

And the same realities carry through most of human history. There was not even the possibility of a question about whether to use grape juice or wine. All that anyone had available to use was wine. That’s why this is an uniquely modern dispute.

In 1869, Thomas Bramwell Welch, dentist, physician, and Methodist Communion steward, successfully applied the process of pasteurization to grape juice producing an “unfermented wine” with a long shelf life when properly sealed. He used the product for communion in his church. His son Charles, the enterprising sort, saw an opportunity and began marketing their “unfermented wine” for use by other Temperance Movement minded churches. It’s on that basis that the Welch company and fortune was built. Good, bad, or indifferent, the possibility of using grape juice in communion dates from 1869. Before then, it was not possible.

My perspective? I’m skeptical of the claim that only Christians in the last 150 years have been able to do Communion the right way. I tend to distrust modern innovations in a two thousand year old faith, especially when I can specifically locate the person and events responsible for the innovation. I just can’t drink that particular koolaid. This particular practice has no connection to anything in Scripture or the historic practice of the Church. It’s a very recent modern novelty. And it seems that it’s primarily churches who hold the Eucharist in relatively low regard, at least to judge by the frequency of their participation in it, that adhere to this modern innovation.

Those are the thoughts that have been bouncing around my head this week about the physical nature of the elements themselves. If anyone knows of any significant variation in the bread and wine which I’ve missed, let me know.


Business Travel with Celiac

Posted: September 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Week before last marked the first business trip I had to make since I was diagnosed with celiac disease last April. Fortunately, my job doesn’t require that I travel very often. I’ve never been very fond of business travel and it’s even more of a pain now. This trip was to Ogden, UT. Ogden does not exactly have a surfeit of the national restaurant chains with established gluten free menu options. Further, there were a number of coworkers with me on this trip and we were sharing a single suburban. They all know I have celiac, so that’s not a problem. Nevertheless, eating out together would have required both the lengthy conversation with a waiter and/or manager and would have either severely restricted the places they could eat or would have left me sitting at some places that offered little safe for me to eat.

So I decided to skip the whole eating out thing. I stayed at the Comfort Suites, which provided a small refrigerator and microwave in the room. I packed one of the smallest George Foreman grills so I could easily grill some chicken breasts (seasoned with Tabasco) and gluten free sausage — both of which you can find in just about any grocery store. I saw that there was a Super Walmart near the Comfort Suites, so I visited a local Super Walmart to prepare a menu plan and shopping list. Walmart is hardly my first (or even tenth) choice for grocery shopping. However, they do tend to have similar items stocked in every location, so it seemed like a safe bet. I also packed my insulated lunch box, so I could fix and keep cool my own lunch each day in the office in Ogden.

The week went pretty well and mostly according to plan. The first day, by the time we got to Ogden, checked in, and I had gone shopping, unpacked, and put everything away, I had gone some twelve hours with nothing but a Kind bar and a Larabar. I wasn’t in the mood to cook something to eat and clean up. But I did it nonetheless. I didn’t really get involved in any of the socializing, since what there was mostly revolved around lunches and dinners. But that’s OK. I enjoy being around people, but I’m fine being alone as well.

I did pick up a nasty upper respiratory bug (not the flu) that hit me not too long after I got home. That was no fun, and seems to be one of the little joys of traveling. But the trip was productive and I ate safely the whole week. I did put the mixed fruit (mostly melon) and the greek yogurt I bought under the little freezer compartment in the mini-frig after I had some for breakfast the first morning. The next day it was frozen solid. I was sad about that. šŸ™ But otherwise the menu worked out perfectly!


Brick Oven on 35th

Posted: July 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Brick Oven on 35th

After an afternoon of rollerskating yesterday, my youngest daughter and I got dinner at the Brick Oven on 35th restaurant. The restaurant is an old house in one of Austin’s older areas near the Seton Medical Center. They have lots of artwork by local artists on display (and for sale) on the walls. The old plaster walls and hardwood floors provide a certain ambience. We enjoyed it.

They have an extensive gluten free menu that includes pizza! I ordered their Hawaiian pizza on a gluten free crust. Even though it was a small personal size, I thought I would only eat part of it and take the rest home. But it was soooo delicious I gobbled the whole thing. My daughter ate all of her pizza (with gluten crust) as well. It’s now the next day and I’ve had nary a sign of any gluten contamination. Of course, if they are going to claim a gluten free menu in the middle of all the medical buildings and practices that surround a major hospital, I suppose they better know what they’re doing!

This is now officially on my list of favorite restaurants! I just wish it was closer to us. Their gluten free pasta dishes are made using brown rice pasta. Their gluten free menu even included gluten free beer! I didn’t have any, but the fact that there’s a place in Austin where celiacs can safely order the classic American combination of pizza and beer is pretty amazing to me.

Definitely two thumbs up!


3 Months Gluten Free

Posted: July 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Actually, it’s more like 3 1/2 months now, but I decided it’s time for an update. I finally got the results of all the latest series of tests in and I have no other condition besides celiac causing bone loss. That’s the best news I could have expected under the circumstances, and hopefully means I will begin to recover bone density in my spine naturally at some point. The endocrinologist wants to do another scan next year. In the meantime, she’s increased the calcium + vitamin D supplement I’m taking to 3X daily: morning, midday, and evening. I do wonder how many years I had undiagnosed celiac for the malabsorption of calcium to actually lead to osteoporosis in my spine. I don’t think that happens overnight.

Otherwise I’m beginning to settle into something of a routine with the gluten free diet. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but I try to keep my focus less on what I can’t eat and more on the goal for which I am striving. All things considered I could be in worse health. For now it’s a matter of taking it one day at a time.


Outback

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Outback

Tonight after watching Harry Potter 6, my family and I decided to try the Outback Steakhouse for dinner. They are one of the chains that have a gluten free menu. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I needn’t have worried. The words, “I can’t eat wheat. I have celiac” were barely out of my mouth when the waiter interrupted, “You need the gluten free menu.” I said yes. Exactly. It’s always a relief when I get better than a blank stare. When I ordered, our waiter made a point of telling me he would double-check with the manager to make certain that what I had ordered was safe for me to eat and that he would make sure to let the kitchen know so nothing got accidentally contaminated.

Wow!

That’s the level of service, knowledge, and concern I had previously only associated with premium restaurants like Flemings and locally owned non-chain restaurants. I liked Outback somewhat before my diagnosis with celiac. My opinion of them just went up several notches. Needless to say, we will be going back. Definitely impressed.