Posted in First Aid/Staying Healthy, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Labeling Laws, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Tips and Tricks

It’s That Time of Year Again…

That’s right: cold and flu season is here. (I know,more exciting seasons have arrived too but we’re going to be practical for a minute here.) While it is important for everyone to prepare for cold and flu season, the need for those of us with food allergies/intolerances is just a little bit greater. First of all, for those of us with autoimmune conditions like Celiac, any battle with illness can become more complicated than for the general population. Second, you really want to drag yourself to a store when you’re feeling sick to get the medications you need? Finally, and perhaps most important, do you really want to be sitting at a computer trying to research gluten-free/dye-free/whatever-your-restriction-is-free options when the fog of sickness has already descended, and then driving all over the place trying to hunt down the ones deemed to be safe?

Let me answer those questions for you: no, you don’t. So the time is now: stock up your medicine cabinet with all the cold and flu season essentials now while you are clear-headed enough to look into the ingredients…and not so patiently wait for those company reps to get back to you with an answer about their product.

Now before I dive into my list of suggestions, please remember a few things. First, I am not a doctor, nurse, or any kind of medical professional. My suggestions/recommendations are what have worked for me but you should talk to your own doctor about the best options for you. Second, always, always, always read the labels before you buy or use any product- even one recommended to you. Formulas can change every year and though I’ve done my best to research for this year, you just never know when a new product will hit the shelves so even if you know someone else takes it, always verify for your specific ingredient restrictions. Third, these are just the products that work for me. You may find others that are better suited for you, but hopefully this list at least gets you thinking about the items you should have on hand in your medicine cabinet as we head into the heart of cold/flu season.

cold prevention

If you’re anything like me, as soon as you feel a slight tickle in your throat, you’re doing everything you can to prevent it from turning into a full-fledged cold. Here are my go-to “first line of defense”items:

  • Umcka Cold Care: This was recommended to me by a doctor years ago and it has changed my life (especially when I was teaching elementary school where the little ones are always sneezing!) This one is my personal go-to but any from the line I’ve tried have been great. Maybe it’s all in my head but I swear it has made a difference in preventing full-blown colds, or at least minimizing the severity. It can be hard to find in stores. I’ve usually found it in my local health food store, but some varieties are available on Amazon and even in Walgreens this year. I verified with the company this week that all Umcka products are still gluten-free. (If you have dairy allergies, make sure to check the label and check with your doctor as some do contain lactose.)
  • Zinc Lozenges: Along with Umcka, it can’t hurt to start sucking on those zinc lozenges as soon as you feel that first throat tickle. Cold-EEZE tend to be the most common choice and they do currently label them as gluten-free. You will likely find generic brands that are labeled gluten-free as well. A personal favorite of mine (when I can find them!) are Nature’s Way Sambucus Elderberry Zinc Lozenge. They taste great and that added boost of elderberry can’t hurt, right?
  • Elderberry gummies: Now I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the elderberry craze (and I am still just a little bit.) However, there was a free sample of some elderberry gummies in a blogger bag I received a few years ago and I figured what do I have to lose? I have no concrete proof that they work but I also have no evidence to suggest that they don’t- and they taste delicious- so why not give it a whirl?
Cough syrup
  • Robitussin Honey: I personally love this product because it is tested to ensure it is gluten-free and it seems to actually work (for me!). Also, every part of the package is recyclable which to me is a fun bonus. It is a little pricier than some other varieties, but to me it’s worth it. And there can be sales if you keep an eye out in stores and bring this $1 off coupon.
  • Chestal Honey: This was my go-to cough syrup until Robitussin Honey arrived on the scene. My doctor recommended it to me and I never had a problem with it, but the parent company (Boiron) has a policy of not making gluten-free claims about their products so if that makes you nervous, go with Robitussin.
Cough drops

There are SO many choices when it comes to cough drops. Again, my best advice is to read labels and go with one that is confirmed by the manufacturer. Also be wary of just googling things because I found results from as long ago as 2012 and labeling laws have changed A LOT since then. Here are some potentially surprising/useful things I’ve learned while researching cough drops:

  • Ricola is no longer considered gluten-free! I have to applaud Ricola on their transparency here. They honestly state on their FAQ page that their products cannot be considered gluten-free under current FDA regulations…but then they go on to say that their products do contain less than 20 ppm. So essentially it’s up to you and your doctor what’s right for you, but I no longer consider them an option for myself.
  • Hall’s is complicated. The ingredient list seems safe but again the company won’t make a particular claim that the products are gluten-free. Read here for the best description I’ve found and then decide for yourself.
  • Fisherman’s Friend is your friend. This brand is my personal recommendation. They are gluten-free, vegan (that means dairy-free for me), and contain a LOT less ingredients than most of the other brands I’ve seen. Again, they are a little pricier and can be a little strong in flavor initially but it’s worth it to me to know I’m taking something safe for me.
Theraflu: It’s up to you

Theraflu is another one which is complicated. Honestly I have used their hot liquid powder for years now and have never had a reaction. However, when I called to check again this year I received the seemingly-now-standard response from the representative: they don’t use any gluten-containing ingredients but they do not test the final products so they can’t guarantee anything since some ingredients come from third-party vendors. (AKA we have to cover ourselves so we can’t say it’s gluten-free, but we also don’t want to incur the expense of testing to make sure…so good luck.) Also, it took me FOREVER to get someone to respond to me so if you’re planning to call and talk to them about your specific needs, I’d drop everything and start the process right now.

Tylenol/Advil

Obviously this one should always be on-hand, but it is getting more complicated too. Name-brand Advil was always my go-to for pain relief and fever but now they issued a similar statement to Theraflu saying they can’t guarantee it’s gluten-free. Also, some of the liqui-gel products DO contain a wheat derivative so I’m sure cross-contamination is also a concern. Of course, Tylenol (who used to label products gluten-free) also released a similar statement last year to cover themselves after the new labeling laws went into effect.

The good news is there are some generic brands that are still labeled gluten-free. I personally have generic versions from CVS and from Target. I do recommend you check the label, call the manufacturer, and also check with your doctor too to see what is best for you.

tea with honey

Finally, the classic for fighting a cold: lots of tea with honey. Just please, please, please make sure your tea is gluten-free. (That’s right, you have to worry about tea too!) I’ll admit I came close to purchasing a box of sugar cookie sleigh ride tea once before I noticed the glaring CONTAINS GLUTEN on the side of the box. (Thanks, Celestial Seasonings for being on top of the labeling!!) I know the name itself should have stopped me in my tracks, but in my mind it was tea. I never thought about barley as an ingredient. Here is a great (recent) article about your various tea options. Again, especially when you have a cold and might reach for decaf/herbal tea options, make sure to do your homework first. The last thing you need is a gluten reaction when you are already sick!

An ounce of prevention

My final word here is of course to do what you can to prevent illness this cold/flu season. Wash your hands thoroughly (and make sure it’s a safe soap!) and often. Try to get enough sleep and avoid situations where you may encounter a lot of germs in an enclosed space when you can. Finally, I am not here to wade into the vaccine debate, especially because I know it can be extremely complicated when you have an autoimmune condition. All I am saying is I strongly recommend that you see your doctor and talk about what is best for you. I did have a doctor who advised against the flu shot for me for a few years when around when I was sick/in the process of finding a diagnosis so my immune system was haywire already, because he was concerned the risks for me outweighed the benefits (again where the importance of herd immunity comes in). I personally have had a flu shot for a few years now because I have a toddler and I haven’t had any negative reaction. Also, some doctors strongly urge Celiac patients to get a Pneumonia shot each year- which is not standard protocol for an average 20 or 30-something, but I’ve had several- so I would just suggest talking to a doctor that you trust…and of course ultimately do what you think is best for you.

Here’s to a healthy cold and flu season for all of us!

Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Holidays, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Thanksgiving, Tips and Tricks

A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

Now that we’re in November the excitement is building for the most wonderful time of the year! For me, there is nothing wrong with starting to celebrate the holiday season before Thanksgiving as long as Thanksgiving still gets its due share of attention and celebration. That being said, Thanksgiving can be a source of stress for people with food restrictions, especially for those who are newly diagnosed. (Holidays centered around sharing a meal are hard- especially at first.) Thankfully, there are many of us who have walked this road for several years now so you’re not alone as you face this first (or second or third) Thanksgiving with food restrictions.

Whether you are reading this for yourself or you are preparing for a food-sensitive guest at your own dinner table this year, I wanted to get this post out now because it includes products which can be more difficult to find at the last minute. With 3 weeks to go until the big day, the time to shop/order is now.

Turkey

The main event!

Of course, the main event. Believe it or not, turkey is trickier than you think. Not all turkeys are gluten-free because they can be marinated in or infused with broth, or even just processed on a shared line. There is a helpful list here of a few national brands with gluten-free turkeys, but the best thing to do is read the label and/or contact the company yourself and check. (For example, Butterball doesn’t label their turkeys as gluten-free but the company representative reported that all frozen and fresh turkeys are gluten-free, with the exception of the frozen stuffed turkey- for obvious reasons.) Which brings me to my next point…

Stop and think before you stuff!

It sounds like common sense but obviously most popular stuffing brands/recipes are not gluten-free…because well, bread. So you as the host or as the guest need to make a decision. If you are going to prepare a turkey and stuffing that is gluten-free and allergen-friendly for everyone, then of course you have to use an allergen-safe stuffing (more on that below). My personal preference (and honestly what makes me feel safer as a guest) is to simply have a separate small gluten-free turkey breast that is cooked just for me (and whoever else may need it). Granted, another thing to keep in mind is oven space- not only room for the allergen-free turkey, but also assurance that it isn’t going to come in contact with something allergen-filled in the stove. (Yes, even when you use one of those turkey bags, you’re usually instructed to poke air vents so if air can get in, so can contaminants.) So again my personal recommendation would be one of the following:

  • Roast the gluten-free turkey breast the day before and just warm it up before dinner
  • OR (new idea this year!) prepare the turkey breast separately in an Instant Pot (again only if you have one that is allergen-safe)

Which bring us to…Stuffing!

This is my personal favorite item on the Thanksgiving table. Believe it or not, your days of stuffing are not over! With a little creativity, you can find a way to make a stuffing that is allergen-safe for you. My personal recommendation is hands-down Aleia’s Savory Stuffing. (NOTE: it does contain eggs, but for me eggs baked into things is OK but make sure you know what is safe for you and your guests.) Otherwise, it is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, and Kosher. I have been able to find it at my local Stop and Shop but you may need to order it so check out their website for a store locator near you and for ordering deadlines to guarantee arrival by Thanksgiving. Also, I have seen it on Amazon but I would just warn you to be careful when you order from there because there are older varieties I’ve seen that aren’t dairy-free so make sure it’s from a trusted seller.

Can you believe that’s gluten-free??

What’s turkey without gravy?

I’ll be honest: I was never a huge gravy fan even in my gluten-filled days so this one wasn’t so hard for me to give up. However, a few weeks ago I attended the Greater Boston Gluten-Free Expo and met the lovely people from Full Flavor Foods, and let’s just say my life will never be the same. They handed me a sample of the gluten-free AND dairy-free turkey gravy and it was like all of a sudden a little piece of the world was right again. It brought back warm memories of childhood Thanksgivings at the kids’ table and touched my soul in the way that just the right unexpected food can. I have a packet stashed away for my Thanksgiving table, and if I were you, I would head to their website today to order one for yours!

In the words of my 2-year-old: “SO GOOD.”

Other Important Ingredients to Have On Hand

All of the items mentioned above are important, but so are the smaller ingredients that are necessary to complete the perfect allergen-friendly Thanksgiving meal.

  • Earth Balance Butter: This is key for keeping those mashed potatoes dairy-free, soy-free, and delicious. It can sell out or just not be available in stores (especially for people like me who need the soy-free version) so plan to snag one ASAP.
  • Chicken broth: Both the stuffing mix and my favorite mashed potato recipe require chicken broth. AND NO, NOT ALL CHICKEN BROTH IS SAFE!! I personally love Pacific Foods brand because I know it is safe, but it is expensive. I’ve also found success with the Trader Joe’s brand, Aldi’s brand, and College Inn brand BUT I cannot stress this enough: CHECK THE LABEL. Recipes and procedures change all the time and even brands which were once safe can change (and vice versa!). For example, the College Inn chicken broth in the box is gluten-free BUT the same thing in a can is not because it has hydrolyzed wheat gluten. I know, it’s enough to make my head hurt too.
  • Pie crust!: If you’re lucky enough to have a gluten-free bakery near you, you might consider ordering a pie. Yes, they’re expensive but especially with the limited oven space and the cross-contamination concerns in the kitchen, it might be worth it. If you are planning to try making your own, I would recommend looking for either the King Arthur pie crust mix or my personal favorite (because it’s so easy), these pre-made pie crusts from Wholly Wholesome.
  • Most of the other necessities (potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery and onion for the stuffing, green beans, etc.) can wait until the week of Thanksgiving when you make the big grocery store run for everything else.

OK now that I have given you the product rundown, I want to close with 2 important reminders.

First, I am not exaggerating when I say that planning early is important for preparing an allergen-safe holiday meal.

Even if you have a natural food store near you that carries a lot of these products, it is a BUSY time of year for these companies. This is the one time of year when a lot of people who don’t usually buy gluten-free/dairy-free items are stocking up for someone in their family.

Second, and honestly most important, whether you are preparing to be a guest at a Thanksgiving dinner or you are preparing this meal for someone with food restrictions, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE communicate first.

Levels of sensitivity vary. While one gluten-free guest may not be worried about shared cutting boards, sponges, or wooden spoons, the reality is that for many of us each of those things matter. If you feel more comfortable making your own food at home and bringing it with you, just say so. If you would rather be the one in the kitchen to oversee everything and show up with your own cooking utensils, say so. If you are the chef and you really just don’t feel comfortable doing this safely, say so. The last thing anyone wants is for Thanksgiving dinner to end in someone getting sick so just communicate with one another to see what is best for your particular gathering.

Now, let the countdown continue! Less than 3 weeks until the perfect (for you) gluten-free, dairy-free, whatever-else free Thanksgiving dinner.

Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

The Mystery of Grocery Shopping (AKA Deciphering All Those Labels)

When I was new to the gluten-free world, one of my biggest challenges was deciphering those confusing gluten-free (maybe??) labels at the grocery store. I wish I could say it gets easier with time. In some ways it does, but I’ll be honest, you’re in for a lifetime of detective work. Fortunately there have been some legal changes since 2013 in an effort to make this process less of a mystery, but as you’ll see below, they still leave you with a few cobwebs to clear.

If you have walked through a grocery store lately, chances are you saw more than a dozen products bearing a gluten-free label. Most grocery stores have an ever-growing gluten-free/natural products section which of course fills your heart with glee because that means so many more safe options for you, right?? Well, the answer is maybe, depending on your level of sensitivity.

The mysterious land of gluten-free food…

When I was diagnosed in 2011, there were no official FDA requirements for gluten-free labeling. Thankfully the Celiac community is a passionate one and their efforts led to the FDA issuing Gluten-Free Label Laws, which were passed on August 5, 2013 and went into effect a year later (August 5, 2014). You can read the full text of the FDA statements here but allow me to give you a concise summary.

FDA Gluten-Free Label Requirements

  • Sets the acceptable limit for gluten in a product at 20 ppm (parts per million)
  • States that products with the gluten-free label must be either inherently free from gluten-containing grains OR derived from a gluten-containing grain, provided that it has been processed to remove the gluten, to a point which measures below 20 ppm
  • Classifies gluten-free as a voluntary label (meaning manufacturers can decide whether or not to include it on their packaging)
  • Requires food imported into the United States to meet the same requirements if using the gluten-free label
  • Does NOT require manufactures to test for gluten in their products but the FDA will randomly test products to confirm compliance

Now let me start by saying that I am extremely grateful for the measures taken in 2014 in that at least I can be (relatively) confident that anything with a gluten-free label contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. However, the FDA law still leaves me with some concerns. First, because manufacturers are not required to test final products to ensure 20 ppm, I have to make sure it is a company (or person) that I trust. The good news is that in 2017, the FDA released data of their sampling and of the 250 products sampled, only 1 failed/was recalled. Second, the reality is that 20 ppm can still be too much for some people. In the FDA’s defense, this is the threshold agreed upon by the “celiac experts”, but every person’s sensitivity can vary. I’m not saying the number should necessarily be decreased- I just wish there was a way this was included on the label so that newly-diagnosed patients in particular, were aware of the threshold. Lastly, the labeling law does allow for manufacturers to use other phrases, such as “not made with gluten-containing ingredients” without meeting the established requirements. For a new shopper, that can certainly be confusing.

So now that I might have you feeling even more overwhelmed, there is good news too. You might have also come across products with that little certified gluten-free symbol (as opposed to just the phrase written on the package somewhere).

This little symbol is about to become your best friend.

This is because the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG) developed the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) which provides 3rd party certification of gluten-free products. Again, you can read all the specifics here but the basics are below.

Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO)

  • Requires that all ingredients AND finished products with this logo contain 10 ppm of gluten or less
  • Does not allow any barley-based ingredients in a product
  • Requires annual inspection of equipment, raw materials, and finished products in order to maintain certification

In other words, a product bearing this logo has been certified to be safe sometime within the past calendar year. You can add those products to your cart with as much certainty as you can probably find these days.

So of course now this begs the question: should you only buy items with the certified gluten-free logo?

Only you can make that decision but I will tell you for me the answer is no. Yes, I do feel safer when I pick up a new product with that logo; however, leaving out any product without the logo would mean giving up some wonderful, safe options for me. While the gluten-free certification is a great process for consumers, it is both expensive and time-consuming for the manufacturer. It states on the GFCO website that it can take anywhere from 6-18 weeks to get through the certification process and even then, new packaging has to be printed which includes the label so it will be even longer before it gets on the store shelves. Also, for a small start-up company, the cost of certification (and then annual inspection) might just be out of budget range for the first few years. This is why I love the chance to meet creators of new products at Gluten-Free Expos because I can talk to them in person about their products and production process and decide for myself whether it is safe for me.

So now what??

I know, I may have just added to the confusion in your life with all this information so let me leave you with a Cliffs Note version of how to navigate the puzzle that is grocery shopping in a gluten-free world.

Labeled Gluten-Free: Proceed with relative confidence that this item contains less than 20 ppm of gluten and should be safe for most consumers with Celiac or gluten sensitivity

Certified Gluten-Free: Proceed with strong confidence that this item contains less than 10 ppm of gluten and is most likely safe for consumers with Celiac or gluten sensitivity

Labeled Not Made with Gluten-Containing Ingredients (or some variety of that phrase): Put it down and walk away. This phrase is not held to the FDA standard of gluten-free. It means exactly what it says: the product is not made with gluten-containing ingredients, but also the manufacturer doesn’t have the confidence necessary to put the label gluten-free so it may or may not test below the 20 ppm threshold

No label at all: This is where common sense kicks in. The FDA designated gluten-free as a completely voluntary label so you may see it popping up on anything from bottled water to diced peaches if the manufacturer thinks it might help the product to sell. However, that also means there are many inherently gluten-free products (canned fruit, frozen vegetables, etc.) that will not have any kind of gluten-free label or logo- because it just isn’t in the best interest of the manufacturer to go through that whole process. Again, this is where you have to decide what is best for you and your body.

I hope this little guide helps you (slightly) in your quest to navigate your new grocery shopping world. I will say that if you are shopping for gluten-free guests, I would recommend choosing certified gluten-free items because it will likely put their minds more at ease. Of course, you can also touch base with them about brands or products that they know are safe for them. (I’ll have a future post about hosting gluten-free guests)

Last but not least, if you do have an adverse reaction to a product which is labeled gluten-free, the FDA has established two ways to report this information. You can contact FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System at 240-402-2405 or by email at CAERS@cfsan.fda.gov or you can reach out to an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for the state where the food was purchased. You can find the number for your state listed here. We have to stick together to keep each other safe- if a product makes you sick, you can help prevent it from happening to someone else.

Now, happy (and safe!) shopping! I promise, you’ll get the hang of it πŸ™‚

Posted in Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

Learning, Loving, and Frugal Living

You may remember back in January I deemed this to be “The Year of Fiscal Responsibility”. You may also have noted that in the 9 months which have now passed since that post, I have yet to add a single money-saving tip to this blog. I don’t want you to think I’ve abandoned the theme…I can assure you I didn’t…I just somehow ran out of time to share the wealth! And by that I mean the money-saving tips. I may have lived frugally but I’m not that good πŸ™‚

I just looked back at that post from January and chuckled to myself. Literally. (I startled myself actually when my laughter broke the silence of my apartment.) I laughed when I read the now seemingly-prophetic final line of my original post: What if 2015 is the year that changes everything?.  I’d say 2015 has been that kind of year for me. When I wrote that post, I had no idea that I’d be getting engaged in less than 8 weeks…and I certainly didn’t know how fitting the Year of Fiscal Responsibility would become when attempting to save for a wedding. (I promise the gluten-free wedding planning tips are coming too…it’s just one delinquent post at a time these days πŸ™‚


If I had only known…



Now looking back at my original tips, they have served me well this year. In fact just today I was pointing out to my college roommate (who recently moved to Baltimore!! Yay!!) that those cans from the infamous ShopRite Can Can Sale have carried me through until just this weekend when I had to buy the first can of beans I’ve purchased in 9 months. Thank you, ShopRite. I can assure you I’ll be there in January for a repeat performance. Second, my budget spreadsheet is alive and well…and goodness knows the physicist and I have several others now. (Seriously, those of you who planned weddings in the days before Google Drive and Excel spreadsheets: I tip my hat to you. You’re amazing.) Generic products too are still a staple of my frugal existence. So, first, I’d say yes: keep up with those same tips I gave you in January. Now onto a few more:


1) Find a BJ’s. Or Costco. Now, if you have a family where someone is gluten-free, the annual fee for this membership will easily be worth it. If you’re a single 20-something like myself cooking for 1, well, the typical fee is not. Have no fear. There are other options. You could take my approach, which is scour LivingSocial and Groupon deals until one appears. If you’re patient, I can almost guarantee that it will. I paid $25 for mine last year AND that included a $10 gift card…so in essence I paid $15 for a year membership. I’ve already earned that back just in the gas savings, let alone food! If you don’t want to wait around for a digital deal, pick up the local paper. There is almost always an ad for a 60-day membership. You can easily go and stock up then on some select gluten-free items and call it a day. I stockpiled my freezer with frozen salmon fillets, Bubba burgers, and enough chicken to keep me fed until Thanksgiving. Now each week, I grocery shop for a meal to make on Sunday which lasts until mid-week when I dig into one of my freezer options. It has been amazing…and amazingly cost-effective.


My latest stockpile from BJ’s

 Now this leads me into my next suggestion:

2) Meal Plan. If you’ve never been a teacher and always kind of wondered what it was like to structure your week in neat little boxes, this is your chance. If you are a teacher, this is a welcome break because meal planning seems like nothing compared to those learning objectives, enduring understandings, and essential questions you’ve been filling into the newest curriculum map. Mine is as simple as a dry-erase board. Each weekend, look in your cabinets FIRST. Take note of what you already have that can be turned into a meal. Then make a plan for the week BEFORE you shop. Otherwise, you convince yourself that you need everything you see in the store that is safe for you to eat. 

It’s not rocket science. You just need a rough plan!

3) Clip coupons!: As anyone who has lived with me can attest, I LOVE Sunday mornings. There are few things I love more than the Sunday newspaper and clipping coupons. (I know, you thought I was going to say church, right?? Well, I do love that too…but sometimes that’s Sunday night. No competition there.) I don’t know why people have given up on this money-saving past-time. It actually makes me sad when I see someone checking out at the grocery store who has an item that I know there is a coupon for. I want to run over and stop them…but I also don’t want to be forever banned from the store so I’ve resisted the urge thus far.

It’s Sunday so here are my coupons! And yes, they are all from today.
The first weekend newspaper of the month always has the best coupons!

4) Go digital with coupons!!: If you’re anything like me, making the switch to a smartphone was not an easy decision. The poor Verizon man just stood there while I debated the merits of the gluten-free apps/access to ingredient lists wherever I was with the substantially higher monthly price tag. In the end, the smartphone won out and I can honestly say it is a decision I haven’t regretted for a moment. The “Find Me Gluten Free” app coupled with my ability to pull up gluten-free menus and ingredient lists on the spot in restaurants and grocery stores has made it well worth the investment. Then recently, my sister introduced me to an app which has taken my gratitude for my smartphone to a whole new level: Ibotta. It’s the most amazing digital coupon app which has taken my level of couponing to a whole new level. Basically you go through and select certain rebates you’d like to have, you watch a quick video or take a survey or read a fact, and they give you a coupon! Then when you get home from the store, you simply select which items you purchased, scan the SKU, take a picture of your receipt and within 24 hours you get the money in your Ibotta account…which can later be redeemed for CASH sent straight to your account. I’ve already saved over $20 with my account. The best part is you can even pull it up after you’ve gone shopping to see if there’s anything you just bought that falls on the rebate list. You have up to 7 days after shopping to redeem. The best part is there are challenges to earn bonuses AND we can form a team and help each other save. Do yourself (and me!) a favor: click here and join. You won’t be sorry!

It’s so true. Shop smarter with your smartphone.


5) Go back to the basics: In other words, channel my Grandpa. Well, really both of my grandfathers are master savers. I still remember the giant empty water jug (you know the ones that you put upside down into a water cooler) which my Grandpa filled with loose change. I remember at 6 or 7 being amazed by how much change could fit inside one little jar. Every night when he came home, the empty change from his pockets went into the jug. I started my own version this summer. Though it’s not quite as large as his, I have already filled and emptied it once. Now I’m onto round 2 of filling up this little guy. You really would be surprised how much change you end up with in a week’s time. Every little bit counts!



All right, before I overwhelm you with too many ideas at once, I’ll stop there. Make it your goal to work these into your October lifestyle and then perhaps in November, there will be more tips coming your way! (Again I’ve learned to make no promises in that regard.) I will just leave you with a fantastic idea for a frugal fall meal: chili. I just made a crockpot full tonight and I was so excited I forgot to take a picture of all the steps. All I have is the final product. There are SO many chili recipes but here is the link to the one I used tonight: My “made it through September” teacher brain was too tired to come up with an original recipe this time πŸ™‚


Sunday night deliciousness.

Now it’s time for this tired teacher to head to bed. Tomorrow begins another week of learning, loving, and frugal living πŸ™‚


Posted in Bread/Muffins, Newly-Diagnosed, Pumpkin season!

Letting Go

Letting go. It is a concept which seems innately tied to this time of year. Parents are learning to let go of tiny hands at pre-K and kindergarten classroom doors; slightly more seasoned parents are learning to let go of teenagers who have swapped their place at the family dinner table for a dorm room they now call home. We teachers are letting go too; we’re learning to let go of the students, routines, and sometimes even the classrooms, which we held near and dear just a few months ago. Even Mother Nature joins in solidarity as the trees start letting go of their leaves. There’s a sadness in letting go, and often a degree of pain, but there’s profound beauty in it too; I mean, just look around at the trees in the coming weeks.

I still remember the moment when the harsh reality of fall hit me. I was six years old and dutifully completing my homework assignment for the evening: to walk around the backyard and gather a few beautiful leaves for a leaf-shading exercise at school the next day. I painstakingly narrowed down my choices to 3, packed them in a sandwich baggie, had my mom sign off on my 1st grade homework book, and sat my backpack in its place for the morning. The next morning when I arrived at school and took those same leaves out of my bag, they were noticeably drier and more fragile; by afternoon art class, one was crumbling at my touch. I remember looking around, distraught and yet comforted to see that everyone else’s were doing the same…and I still remember the teacher’s explanation that of course our leaves are crumbling- they’re not on the tree anymore so they’re dead leaves. Now, I’m sure she had a nice kid-friendly way of wording it, but all I remember is the moment of clarity in my little 6-year-old brain…followed swiftly of course by pure devastation. These beautiful brightly colored leaves which I loved to jump in, rake into pumpkin-faced plastic bags, and crunch under my feet were only so beautiful because they were dead. Talk about an existential day in the first grade…
Luckily, I recovered from my first experience of devastation, and in time began to realize that life is a series of beautiful moments, many of which can only arrive after we choose to let go of what is comfortable, familiar, and often cherished. 
So what does this have to with food allergies?? Well, pretty much everything. There’s the obvious: letting go of the foods you’ve come to love and yet your body has come to hate. It’s a weird kind of letting go, because on one hand, you feel so miserable that initially letting the foods go is the easiest thing in the world. You rediscover what it feels like to be alive, to wake up in the morning with a clear head and non-aching limbs. Of course, as your health returns, the letting go becomes a little harder- in part because you have the energy to care again, but also because that reality of forever starts to set in. Letting go for a brief time is manageable, letting go forever is a horse of a different color. Take my word for it, letting go of the foods your body hates is a profoundly beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy- I certainly have my moments of longing- but most of the time, it’s the most beautiful world I can imagine. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m alive: it doesn’t get much more beautiful than that!
Now of course, that’s not the only “letting go” involved. There’s letting go of little traditions: the meals shared at a favorite restaurant which is now off-limits; your favorite Thanksgiving side dish or seasonal Starbucks beverage; the nostalgic visit to the hometown diner where you spent many a childhood evening. These are a little harder, but there’s still beauty waiting on the other side. There are other new traditions just waiting to begin..and having these will do nothing to diminish the memory of the old traditions which will always hold a place in your heart. 
Then there’s the “letting go” of expectations: both yours and those of people around you. I’ll admit this has been the hardest one for me. It means letting go of the pictures you had in your head of how certain life events were going to look: cutting into a giant wedding cake, sharing Friday night pizza dinners with your family, eating apple cider donuts while picking pumpkins on a Saturday morning in October. It means letting go of what other people think when you walk into a restaurant with your thermal tote lunchbox, when you grill the chef at a restaurant before making a reservation, when you politely refuse every single hors d’oeuvres at each wedding you attend. I’ve learned over these past four years that people will make comments, they will make judgments, and sometimes they’ll just make faces…and for the longest time I couldn’t let that go. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I had a moment (during mass…who is surprised by that one??) when it just hit me as clearly as my leaf realization did two decades ago: if I don’t let go and stop worrying about what other people think, I’m only hurting myself. People will make judgments, whether warranted or not. I make judgments too. I wish I didn’t, but we’re all human. I realized that there is profound beauty in this letting go especially: not only do I enable myself to live fully again, but I’ve learned to better empathize with everyone I meet. Again, I’m not saying I’m perfect, not by a longshot, but I do find myself thinking twice when I notice something out of the ordinary and start to draw my own assumptions. Through my own experience these past four years, I have seen that as a society, we’re far too quick to judge when something seems a little out of the ordinary or different than what we expect, and because of that I feel like  I have found the most beautiful gift of all: I have become much more open, more curious, and I’d even say more loving than I ever would have been without a celiac diagnosis. It certainly isn’t always easy, but I have found a beauty even in that, too.
So what did I let go of today? Today I let go of my self-imposed “no pumpkin until fall” commandment. I pulled out a can of pumpkin that has been sitting in my cabinet since last November and I let go of the “poor me, I can’t have my old pumpkin muffins anymore” mentality and moved into problem-solving mode. The result? Well, I whipped up a batch of what might be the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever made, at least in recent years anyway. 
Katie-safe Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Muffins
 1 1/2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance spread (melted)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water 

 Mix all the ingredients. Pour into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
When finished baking, melt Earth Balance spread. Dip the top of each muffin into the melted butter and then into a bowl of sugar mixed with cinnamon.
So my challenge for you today is to take a moment and look at your own life. Food allergies or not, I’m sure there is probably something you’re holding onto that might turn into something more beautiful if you’re willing to let go. So do it…but first make a batch of these as comfort food for the journey. Life, even in the difficult “letting go” moments, is just better with a cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffin in your hand πŸ™‚
Posted in Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

Forever is a Long, Long Time

I think one of the hardest aspects of a diagnosis like celiac or a food allergy is the finality of it all. At first you’re just so grateful to have an answer and relieved that it wasn’t one of the other seemingly-more-frightening options tossed around as a diagnosis. However, in time, that relief gives way to an overwhelming sense of “Wait, this is forever? Like forever forever??”Again, the feeling passes, you gain confidence in yourself and in your new lifestyle…and yet some time down the road, that “Wait, forever?” feeling comes out of nowhere and hits you like a ton of bricks. Now, at this point I’m sure there’s a good chance you’re thinking, Gee, Katie, thanks for the pick-me-up post today. I promise isn’t one of those rare downer posts…rather, it’s a reminder and an assurance that you’re not alone in having thoughts like these. And I don’t think it’s restricted to just food issues either.

Somehow July has already come and gone, and with it my 4-year Celiac-iversary. Crazy, I know. This year the day passed unceremoniously. I didn’t bake a cake or go to dinner at Sweet 27. Honestly, the day was almost over when I even realized the date. (Summer school with 7-year-olds will do that to a person!) A few days later, I had one of those “wait a minute, this is forever?” type moments. For me it happened at church. (I know, I know: who didn’t see that one coming??) There’s a church within walking distance of my new apartment (AKA new as of March, I didn’t move again haha) that has a 6:55 morning mass. One morning I decided to walk over for mass. I went to the freezer and retrieved a low-gluten host, gathered my belongings, and headed out the door at 6:30- plenty of time to make the 15-minute walk and arrive by 6:45 to inquire about how they handle low-gluten host distribution. Well, apparently the church website is a bit outdated, because just when I opened the door at 6:45 on the dot, the procession had begun. I missed my chance. I stayed for mass, the homily was beautiful, and it was still a nice way to start the morning…but I didn’t get to receive the Eucharist. I was so pained by it that for a brief moment during the Eucharistic prayer, I actually pondered going up in line anyway. I actually had the conversation with myself, “Well, maybe it will be OK to take the chance? I mean even if I get sick, won’t it be worth it?” Fortunately, my rational side won out (with a little assistance from the Spirit if you ask me) and I knelt in prayer during the distribution of Eucharist. And as I prayed, I couldn’t help but get that feeling in my stomach as I watched everyone else process up: This is forever. I will never just waltz into mass at the last moment, or randomly pass a church and decide to stop in for mass without my pyx in tow, and process up to fully participate in the Eucharist. Though as sad as I was about that, I think it was exacerbated by the fact that I felt frustrated: here I am, 4 years later- I’m healthy, I’m happy, I encourage other people to embrace their food issues…and yet I still have these moments? What is wrong with me?? 
I took a long walk after mass and pondered this question. That’s when I realized: there’s nothing wrong with me. Well, in regard to the question at hand I mean. We humans have created a society that is very end-goal-oriented. We plow through to-do lists. We earn diplomas, degrees, and certificates, that say You’re Done, You’re Licensed, now check that off the list and move onto something else. We run races which, even if it’s many miles away, always end with a finish line. We plan road trips which may include a few detours, but are never without that checker-flag final destination typed into our GPS. We’re not a society which does open-endedness well. We’re the Marthas of the Gospel from that morning mass last week. We rush through life busily getting things done, and we don’t like to stop and pause for anything, even Jesus himself sitting in our living room. 
I think this reality is what makes chronic illnesses, or any permanent life-altering event, such a challenge. There’s never a point where it’s over or you’re cured and it’s just a blip on the radar and you’re back to regularly-scheduled programming. A chronic illness is forever, and that’s also a word we don’t do well with in this society. I mean just look at the divorce rate, or the number of people just foregoing marriage to live together: commitment scares a lot of people, and forever means whatever we want it to mean when it’s convenient. So when something comes along that really is permanent beyond our control, our brain just can’t quite process that- and it’s totally understandable. It seems logical that the first year of a new reality would be the biggest challenge, because we’re actually not yet sure that we can handle each holiday, event, etc. arriving in a way that isn’t the same as it used to be. However, I can tell you in my experience, that’s true: the first year is hard and you feel a sense of accomplishment when you’ve made it through….but it’s those random moments afterward that get you; when you get upset on a random Tuesday afternoon when you come across some remnant of your former life, or a quiet Sunday night when you realize that there are still many major life events on the road ahead that won’t look quite like you always imagined. Those are the moments when you feel crazy for being upset, but take it from me, you’re not crazy. 
So, what does all this mean for you? Well, two things. First, it means you shouldn’t beat yourself up when moments of doubt sneak up on you, even 27 years into your new reality. This is not a sprint, and it’s not even a marathon, because even those end. This is a forever journey, and unless you have some superhuman magical powers, there will be moments of doubt, darkness, and weakness. You’re not alone in that…and there’s certainly nothing wrong with you. Second, it’s particularly important to keep this in mind if you have celiac, or another food allergy/intolerance, because the reality is, in your case, your continued health is a choice. In those moments of darkness and weakness where you are shocked to find yourself considering just one bite of real cake at a wedding expo or one lick of an ice cream cone on a sweltering summer day, it is 100% your choice. It’s the unique aspect of our condition: there’s no doctor adminsitering the treatment or a nurse overseeing our case 24/7. There are no pharmacists measuring out the appropriate dosages. You are 100% in control of what enters your body (or your child’s if you’re the parent of a young celiac patient). There will be moments when you’re tempted, but we all know the tradeoff is not even close to worth it. Forget the way you’ll feel for the next few weeks, there are longterm effects too
So now the practical advice:
1) Find a friend. Or several. Have someone to call in those dark, defeatist moments. You’re not on this earth alone for a reason. I can assure you I wouldn’t have made it through the past 4 years without the listening ears and comforting hugs of the smiling faces below. If you’re not sure who to turn to, you can always call me, I’m usually pretty good at making people feel better…and I can probably whip up some you-safe comfort food. Which brings us to #2…
I’m very blessed when it comes to the friend department πŸ™‚
2) Have a you-safe comfort option. I think it’s important to have a certain treat that is both you-safe and somewhat easy to obtain for moments such as these. When you’re feeling bad that everyone else is indulging in a summer ice cream treat, go spend the absurd $6 for a pint of you-safe ice cream. It can’t be a regular habit (financially I mean) but sometimes you just need that.
Here’s my newest go-to comfort food.
So expensive…but SO Delicious!
3) Be a Mary. If you’re not a Bible reader, this one may be confusing. Essentially Mary is the opposite of the Martha described above. Martha is busy, stressed, and anxious about getting a meal served and the kitchen cleaned; her sister Mary recognizes the importance of the present moment and sits at the feet of Jesus. Don’t spend your life caught up in the hamster wheel, checking things off and running onto the next. I hate to break it to you, but celiac isn’t going to get a checkmark next to it. Even this cockeyed optimist has given up on the 2026 dream. It’s just not worth setting timelines for such things I have no control over. Live in the moment, enjoy the precious encounters you do have with people, places, and even food….because we don’t know how long forever is for any of those things either.
So get out there and keep making your forever the best it can possibly be: one day and one moment at a time πŸ™‚
Posted in Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

Just to See You Smile

If you’ve encountered me in real life, you know that smiling is one of my favorite things to do. I’ll admit I didn’t even realize how often I smile, or how much I enjoy it until this past spring when I had stitches in my mouth for a few days and couldn’t smile. Even my students commented on how sad it was when an entire class passed without a smile on my face. When that class turned into 3 days, they were nearly at their wits’ end. I’m pretty sure I smiled more than double the next 2 days, partially because of my own excitement, but also to reassure them that my smile hadn’t vanished forever.

Now, those of you who are dealing with food/health issues and haven’t been feeling the greatest, your smiles may be weaker and fewer in number these days…but, take it from me, when you reach that turning point on your road to health, the smile will return with a vengeance! However, inevitably such smiles bring us to our favorite place: the dentist’s office. Now this is a topic I’ve referenced and said I’d come back to multiple times…and somehow I never do. Well, today is the day. I’ve had quite a 10-week relationship with the dentist and there is just so much information that needs to be shared. If I can help just one person avoid a gluten-filled dentist visit, I’ll feel like my suffering has not been in vain πŸ™‚

Courtesy of bestsayingsquotes.com

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up LOVING the dentist. Granted, I think it was in large part due to my perfectionist streak as a child. It was kind of like report card day…the nervous anticipation in the waiting room: will it be another cavity-free visit?? Will the perfect streak continue?? And you walk away with a brand new toothbrush. I mean, really, does it get much better than that when you’re a type-A 9-year-old? Aside from a few sealants, I had a perfect track record when it came to dental health. Now, orthodonture is a different story, but I figure maintaining that perfect track record of dental health while navigating around pounds of metal in your mouth? That takes skill. When my braces finally came off (yes, I went to college with braces on my teeth…I try to forget those days), I ramped up my dental care routine even more. I trekked back up to my dorm room on the 4th floor after breakfast every morning to brush and fluoride rinse. During my 2 years in ACE (when I had no dental insurance), I still scheduled a dental visit/cleaning when I was home on Christmas break and paid out of pocket.

As you can tell, dental hygiene is not something I take lightly. Of course, just a few weeks after my arrival in Baltimore, my health was rapidly in decline and any time I wasn’t at school was spent at doctor’s appointments or lying on couches, so the dentist slipped a little on the priority list.  Still, that February I trudged through the snow to a new dentist. I wasn’t feeling well at all that day, but I still mustered some excitement for the dentist. There’s nothing quite like a good teeth-cleaning in my book! Well, imagine my suprise when I opened my mouth that day and learned that I had not 1, not 2, but 4 cavities. I was shocked. I was devastated. On top of my dizziness, exhaustion, and questionable bloodwork, now we had to add cavities to the mix?? I cried when I got to my car. As devastating as that afternoon was, it wasn’t indelibly sealed in my memory until 5 months later when I sat in my gastroenterologist’s office with my celiac diagnosis and he explained that often times, dental problems (like the ones I had that winter) are the first indicator of celiac in younger patients. He explained that he’s trying to raise awareness among dentists because I should have been sent to his office back in February and by July could have been well on my way to healing rather than the lifeless blob sitting in front of him.

So, point #1: if you, or someone you know, has a similar experience of great teeth which suddenly show significant decay in a short period of time, don’t just brush it off. (Like that pun??) Of course, this also assumes you’ve remained faithful to your dental hygiene regimen and the decay still happened. If you started going to sleep with cupcakes next to your bed for a midnight snack or swore off brushing for a year, then I’d suspect enamel and absorption issues are not to blame. Talk to your dentist. If it’s the same dentist you’ve had, it’s an easy comparison to old x-rays and your chart. If it’s a new dentist, do what I didn’t: call your old dentist and get all your records sent for comparison. My new dentist just assumed I was one of those 20-somethings who relegated tooth care to the bottom of the priority list…and I did nothing to convince her otherwise. I could have saved myself months of misdiagnoses, or at least 5 months of enamel erosion…which for the record, can’t regenerate. (For more information, click here.)

#2: Some toothpastes have gluten in them. Yes, that can make you sick. And of course that will result in more enamel erosion. Talk about a vicious cycle. There is a great summary here of the various brands, but my advice would be this: a) Be wary of Colgate. It’s mentioned in here, but I talked to them myself and the lovely rep told me that though the regular flavor is “apparently gluten-free”, she couldn’t safely verify that for any others. So I personally end to steer clear of Colgate all together; b) Whichever toothpaste you choose, do yourself a favor and double check. A quick email or phone call is well worth your time in the long run. And sometimes it can even be a fun conversation!

I think this was my favorite product phone call to date:
“Is it possible to get the ingredient/allergen list for your Be Adventurous Chocolate mint toothpaste?
It was discontinued so I bought it today for 70% off!

#3: Not all mouthwashes are created equal. Of course by now you know I have a soft spot in my heart for Scope, but Listerine is also a great option. However, the nice Crest representative offered information before I even moved past toothpaste, and told me that both the Pro-Health Rinse and Crest Whitening Rinse contain outside ingredients and may contain gluten!! Again, my advice would be, if you have a product you love (or one that is recommended by your dentist), pick up the phone and check. You have to be especially careful with generic brands: they often contain ingredients from outside suppliers and all kinds of co-mingling can happen. I know, my frugal heart is crying too…but trust me the dental bills later will be far more than the extra $2 for name-brand mouthwash. Deep breath πŸ™‚

Clearly, I love Scope. For many reasons πŸ™‚

#4: Your dental cleaning and fillings might not be safe. This is the doozy. Gluten is in most adhesives (i.e. Elmer’s glue…if you could only have seen me last week at summer school when we used entire bottles to make our own silly putty, the kids thought I was hilarious with my gloves/handwashing, but I was taking no chances) so it makes sense that tooth polish, bonding agents, etc. would also have it. From what my dentist told me, the entire industry has made a shift in the past 5 years away from gluen, and they now get an ingredient list sent with each product, but it’s still best to ask. And if your dentist responds with a laugh when you ask and says, “Honey, I asked if you had any allergies, I meant like latex? I’m not going to feed you bread so gluten isn’t a problem”. Yes, that was a real response from someone who is no longer my dentist. In hindsight, I should have kindly educated her rather than bolt, but those were my early celiac days. Live and learn.

#5: You can be so careful…and you’ll still get burned sometimes. Such is life with celiac. It’s either live in a bubble or always be slightly open to risk. I went to the dentist this week. I love my dental office. I love the dentists, the hygientists, and the x-ray technicians. The receptionist and I greet each other like old friends and swap stories of our respective upcoming wedding plans. They are great people and they know what they’re doing. But while they were applying that numbing gel this week before the Novacain (for yes, yet another cavity…remember what I said about enamel not regenerating? I now have what are called “soft teeth”. All I know is it’s not good.) and when they suctioned, it didn’t all come out and soon I could tell I’d swallowed some (because my entire throat was going numb). I told myself all would be well, even though I kind of knew that was a lie. And it was. I spent some quality time curled up on my bed as my stomach rejected the invader, and after a fitful night attempting to sleep, I woke up the next day with the familiar symptoms of slight contamination: my brain was all foggy, I was irritated by everything and everyone, my face was pale and my heart raced…but the one consolation of knowing what triggered the reaction is knowing that it was a trace enough amount that it shouldn’t escalate. Still it meant a phone call to the doctor and an addition to the file, but fortunately nothing more. Now I’m safe (from the dentist anyway) until February…though considering our wedding will be on the horizon, I may just play it safe and wait an extra month πŸ™‚

In conclusion, please take it from me: before you go to the dentist, do your homework. Talk to your dentist ahead of time. Don’t show up and assume he or she should know everything about every product and about your autoimmune condition. Dentists have an awful lot to learn in just a few years of dental school. It would be like expecting a teacher to be an expert on every single condition a student might walk in with. Just like I would want advanced warning about my students so I can spend time researching and familiarizing myself with the needs of that particular student, the dentist needs the same time to become familiar with your unique needs. Don’t just show up at appointment time expecting quick answers to your questions.

I know it sounds terrifying, but don’t be too nervous. It’s a lot, yes, but it’s totally worth it…just to see you smile πŸ™‚

We love to smile…smiling is our favorite! πŸ™‚