Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Barely Bread's softness makes an impression

I got some samples last week of bagels, bread and rolls from a company called Barely Bread.

The company says its certified gluten-free bread products are different because they are grain free. The front of the boxes say the breads are made with almond flour.

What really stands out about Barely Bread is how soft the breads are. That made me particularly impressed with the bagels. I don't need to toast them -- I was able to just warm them up in the microwave.

That's significant to me, because it means I can take it with me to have as breakfast when I'm visiting someone else's home. I'm pretty sure you all know the feeling of being unable to eat any breakfast breads on the road, even if you bring your own, because you can't put them in a foreign toaster without getting them contaminated with gluten. I was able to wrap up the bagel in a paper towel and know it wasn't touching any gluten.

The sandwich rolls, which were also soft, held up well with my sandwich. I have to say I was disappointed with the regular bread. The texture was good, but I just didn't like the taste of it.

But I was very happy with the bagels and rolls. According to the company's website, the only store in Jacksonville selling Barely Bread is Earth Fare. So if you're shopping there, you may want to give it a try.

You can read more about the company's products here: www.barelybread.com/breads

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Jumbo Shrimp with Omission

If you go to a baseball game in Jacksonville this year, you'll see lots of shrimp.

Unfortunately, you won't see a lot of gluten-free options.

In case you missed it, our Southern League team was renamed from the Suns to the Jumbo Shrimp this season. Seriously.

Not only will you see Shrimp all over the field in the form of logos, you'll also see various shrimp dishes available at all concession stands.

Some of that shrimp is naturally gluten free, like the shrimp cocktail. But Ernest Hopkins, director of food and beverage, is very aware of cross-contamination issues and advises caution about eating at the ballpark.

And because of his concerns, the Jumbo Shrimp will not offer gluten-free hot dog buns, which is a big disappointment. But Hopkins said he would rather be safe than sorry and not take a chance that a celiac will be served the wrong bun. Remember, the Jaguars did that to me a couple of years ago, which is why I will never get anything to eat at EverBank Field again until they have a dedicated gluten-free stand (maybe this year?).

There will be Omission beer available. That of course is also risky, because there are major questions about Omission's claims that its process for brewing its barley-based beer removes the gluten. I would probably drink it if I went to a game, but not everyone will feel comfortable with that.

I went to the Shrimp's food-tasting event at the ballpark and the only thing I felt comfortable eating was the shrimp cocktail. They have various other shrimp items including coconut shrimp, a burger topped with shrimp and popcorn shrimp in a waffle bowl. None of those work for us.

I also feel compelled to say the most interesting food item is the Bold City Burger Pie, a 16-ounce burger served between two 8-inch pepperoni pizzas. I think I'm glad it's full of gluten because I wouldn't want to be tempted to try it.

Hopkins said there are a couple of gluten-free options available at the ballpark: salad shakers and fresh fruit cups with yogurt. You can also bring your own gluten-free food to the ballpark.

But if I go to see the Jumbo Shrimp, I think I will have to eat before I go.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

New GF breakfast sandwich at Starbucks.

I generally avoid Starbucks at all costs. Besides the fact that, if I'm going out for coffee, I'd prefer to visit a local establishment, I've never thought Starbucks coffee was any good. I've never understood why people are addicted to it. If I actually need coffee to go, I'd rather get the $1 McDonald's coffee which tastes better and is obviously much cheaper.

But when Starbucks introduced a gluten-free breakfast sandwich to its menu last week, I figured I had to try it. So I went this morning.

It's called the Smoked Canadian Bacon sandwich and it features, according to Starbucks, "cherrywood-smoked Canadian bacon, a peppered egg patty and reduced-fat white cheddar cheese on a gluten-free roll."

The most encouraging part of this new item is the company's gluten-free procedure. The sandwich is shipped from a certified gluten-free kitchen and sealed in an oven-safe parchment bag. So, you don't have to worry about gluten contamination. They served it to me still in the bag, so no employee at this Starbucks ever touched it.

And, yes, I thought it was quite good. I was pleased, although at $4.75, it's not going to be a regular stop for me.

What I like best about this item is it gives all of us a new travel option. How many times have you been on the road, trying to figure out where you can get a quick gluten-free breakfast? Since you can find a Starbucks just about anywhere, you have a good chance of finding something safe to eat just about anywhere.

Another sign of progress in our gluten-free world.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Hospitals need to do better with gluten-free options

My mom passed away this week, which is not the point of this story.

The point is over the last month, I spent time with her in five different Jacksonville hospitals. I could tell you stories about the state of health care, but again that's not the point.

The real point is wondering why hospitals, of all places, don't provide better gluten-free options for patients and visitors.

You really don't see gluten-free options on patient room menus. The Mayo Clinic, of all places, lists about eight different diet options but not a gluten-free option. I mean, the Mayo Clinic is one of the leading celiac research institutions in the country. Do they not understand the need for a gluten-free diet for some patients?

And it would be nice if the hospital cafeterias had some gluten-free options for visitors. I settled for way too many salads with dressings that I hoped were gluten free. At least I didn't get sick.

The rest of the food service world seems to be catching up with understanding why some diners absolutely need safe, gluten-free meals. I think it's time for the hospital industry to get on board.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

GIG study sees danger in gluten-removed beers

Here's some news I didn't want to hear. A study conducted by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) at the University of Chicago's Celiac Research Center found that so-called gluten-removed beers, such as Omission, may be unsafe for people with celiac disease.

This has been an ongoing issue since these beers were introduced. There are several gluten-free beers brewed from grains such as sorghum. Omission (the most well-known gluten-removed beer) and several other brands claim they can brew beer from barley but remove the gluten, so that the gluten content falls below the 20 parts per million standard which is considered safe for celiacs.

However, there has not been a reliable test for gluten content in beers, so many celiac advocates have questioned the actual safety of beer made from barley.

GIG is a trusted organization. In fact, GIG runs the gluten-free certification program, the one that certifies that food products are made according to accepted standards to ensure they are gluten free.

GIG said its study tested blood samples of celiacs and found that none of them reacted to gluten-free beer, but some did react to gluten-removed beers.

“The medical and scientific community has not validated or accepted that these low-gluten or gluten-removed beers are safe because available gluten testing methods have not been sufficiently accurate with fermented and hydrolyzed products,” says GIG Chief Executive Cynthia Kupper, CEO of GIG.

“That is why we conducted this first-of-its-kind study, because even if one person with celiac reacts to gluten-removed beers, it shows it would not be appropriate to certify this product category according to our standards."

Kupper says she hopes a bigger study will be conducted to assess the risks of gluten-removed beers.

I will often drink a gluten-removed beer in a bar or restaurant that has no other gluten-free options but since questions about those beers first emerged a couple of years ago, I stopped buying them in stores to keep at home.

Now I guess I'm going to have to reconsider my options when I'm out. I'm going to be very reluctant to drink another Omission.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Number of gluten-free options at Noodles & Co.

Noodles & Co. opened its first Jacksonville area location last year at the St. Johns Town Center but unfortunately, I was unaware of it.

I say unfortunately because Noodles & Co. has a good variety of gluten-free items on its menu. Fortunately, franchise owner Leigh Lommen invited me to come by and try it out, and I'm glad he did.

First of all, Noodles & Co. has a small pocket "gluten guide" with general information about gluten and what menu items can be made gluten free, and also cautions that the kitchen is not a completely gluten-free environment. Of course, most restaurant kitchens can't guarantee a gluten-free environment but I've always felt a restaurant that acknowledges it at least understands what our problems are.

The restaurant also has an allergen guide you can check to see if a menu item or an ingredient contains gluten or other allergens.

The Noodles & Co. menu has items such as Pad Thai with rice noodles that are already gluten free but also has pasta dishes that can be made gluten-free by substituting regular pasta with gluten-free fusilli.

Desperate to try something different, I ordered Pesto Cavatappi, a pasta dish I don't think I've ever heard of before and definitely hadn't seen gluten-free in any other restaurant. It was quite good and was a good portion size (I took the photo after I was already halfway through it).

You should be able to find something you like on the menu, including salads and other pasta dishes or rice noodle dishes that are gluten free.

If you're looking for it, it's at the end of a strip center beyond the Chick-fil-A (which may be why I hadn't noticed it. It's not visible from the main road). You can visit the website (noodles.com) to find out more about it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Anniversary to me again

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my celiac diagnosis.

That was a day of panic, of course. I had no idea what a gluten-free diet would look like, and it was compounded by the fact that I received this diagnosis as Christmas weekend was beginning.

But a lot has changed in six years. We still have a lot of work to do on education, and it's mind-boggling to me that so many people don't understand the gluten-free diet and still think it's a fad diet.

But we have so many more food choices than we did six years ago, both in grocery stores and restaurants. Just this week, another significant burger chain announced it was offering gluten-free buns when Shake Shack said it now has them.

We don't have any Shake Shacks yet in Jacksonville but it's a growing, popular brand that does have restaurants in Orlando. I'm going to have to try it on my next visit there.

A couple of years ago, I was begging burger joints to start offering gluten-free buns, instead of forcing me to bring my own bun. It's becoming more common.

Unfortunately, we still need to work on getting these places to ensure their french fries are gluten free. I noticed Shake Shack says its fries have gluten free ingredients but it can't assure they are free from contamination. That's also, unfortunately, a common trend.

So that will be my cause for 2017: gluten-free fries. And burritos. I still don't know of any taco place that can offer a gluten-free burrito. I realize it's hard, because gluten-free tortillas almost always crumble in your hands. But I think it's time that somebody comes up with the formula.

I hope this is the year.