Thursday, May 24, 2012

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate...Gluten Free

This photo has nothing to do with this post.
A lovely, relaxing photo was simply a nice antidote to my current mood.

I promised in a post last week that I would be writing more on a book I recently read title Allergic Girl by Sloane Miller. Unfortunately, not only should I have written about it sooner, I should have studied it better.

My fabulous niece/goddaughter and I went for a nice walk along a beautiful trail that runs through our town. After a three mile trek, we decided to grab dinner at one of my favorite and familiar local burger joints. All started well with a friendly and attentive host who replied with a confident 'yes' when I asked if I could have a gluten free menu. We sat at a table right on the trail and had a very modern chat, trading phones back and forth as we discovered something new and funny on twitter or facebook. We were giggling away when the server arrived, a sweet young gal (SYG) obviously brimming with enthusiasm for her new job.

That would be the end of the happy part of this story. Let me recap the downslide.

Me: I'll have the house special burger, gluten-free.

SYG: What's that?

Me: Gluten-free. I have a food sensitivity. Just make sure you note it on the ticket. The kitchen will understand.

SYG: Okay. Your side?

Me: I'll have whatever side the kitchen recommends as gluten free.

SYG: Well, it comes with a side.

Me: Yes, I need a GLUTEN-free side. Please just note for the kitchen that I'll take any gluten-free side they recommend.

SYG: Okay

At that point, my gut said, "Get a manager, STAT." My inner southern girl said, "Don't make a fuss." The latter is a mantra from my childhood, taught by my mother. She's been gone for over ten years, yet she still beats out my intuition every time. Of course, even Mom would have agreed with my gut on this one.

The burger was brought out by a kitchen staff member who plopped down a plate of fries. I asked if they were gluten-free. He turned to another server, not SYG, and my niece saw him roll his eyes. Looking back to me he simply said, "I don't know" to which I responded, "Could you find out?"

A few minutes later, SYG came back. I asked again about the fries and she also said she didn't know. To which I said, "But I asked you to tell the kitchen to give me a gluten-free side." SYG response, "Um, let me go check."

A few minutes later, "No, they aren't gluten free. What else can I bring you?"

That was the moment of truth. The point in time where I should have said, "A manager" or "A whole new dinner" or "the big reveal of the candid camera crew for the latest episode of What Would You Do". But, no, I chickened out and said "steamed veggies." Then, and I still can't believe I did this, I ATE THE STUPID BURGER!! I still was in so much denial that my safe, reliable burger joint wouldn't screw up THAT badly, that I ate a burger that was obviously not safe for me to consume. Of course, here I am two hours later, fatigued, irritable and with an extremely upset stomach.

So, let's break down where I went wrong per Allergic Girl, shall we?

1. First and foremost, I didn't get anyone on the restaurant staff on Team Me. Ms. Miller talks quite a bit about engaging someone in the restaurant whether it be the manager, chef, or server to have an interest in serving me safely. Building rapport not only makes for a more pleasant dinner, but also a safer one.

2. I put way too much trust in the wrong person. In the book it is repeated often that the only one responsible for my safety is me. It's not that I trusted SYG to understand gluten-free, but I did trust her to communicate my order precisely to the kitchen. She was obviously too new and too overwhelmed to be expected to focus on my health. It was unfair of me to put that on her. 

3. I ignored my gut. When my head is screaming "Don't eat it!" or "Ask for the manager!" I shouldn't even question it. It's far more polite and appropriate to give a restaurant the opportunity to put their best foot forward, rather than blindly throwing in an order and hoping for the best.

4. I didn't do anything to win over the kitchen staff who served my food or to educate SYG. This is a bit iffy. After all the kitchen guy rolled his eyes at me. However, I also was on edge and anxious when I saw those waffle fries. I knew it was a no-go and I was irritated. The best move would have been to smile and state, "As I mentioned to my server, I have a food sensitivity and I really need your help to ensure I don't get sick. Could you verify for me that these fries are gluten free and safe for me to eat?" It's hard to eye-roll someone trying to enlist you as a defender. But, when someone barks in half-panic, "Are these gluten-free?", I'm sure a hectic kitchen staff member could give a rat's behind what your problem is. That may not be fair, but it is reality.

5. I wasn't prepared to not eat. One reason I ignored my gut is that I was famished. We had just walked several miles and I had nothing in my purse to nosh on. Had there been one Gluten Free Bar or protein shake mix in my possession, I could have more easily refused my burger and snacked from my purse while continuing to enjoy a beverage and the conversation. Instead, I was desperate for food and vulnerable to making a dining blunder.

There is quite a bit more in Allergy Girl that is valuable to anyone on a special diet. These are simply the top five I really need to work on. What are some of your tricks for dealing with dining out? I'm sure there are some other restaurant blunders out there. Please do share!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gluten Free Dairy Free Breakfast Casserole

Before I get to the recipe I have to share, I must tell you about a great group of ladies I met this evening.

Tonight, I hosted my first Arbonne Spa Party. A friend asked me to do the event for one of her fellow red-hatters who was celebrating a birthday. It was a great deal of fun. Those ladies know how to laugh. There was one lady in particular who really got my attention. They call her TOBI, Tough Old Broad of Indiana. How cute is that? She earned the moniker by surviving an aneurysm, two brain tumors and lung cancer. Tough indeed.

We were talking about the purity of the Arbonne products and I mentioned how the nutrition line is helping me beat my addiction to sugar and processed foods. She laughed and said, "Life is too short to not eat what you want." That really stunned me and I'm still trying to process it. Here is this wonderful, lovely woman who would rather eat whatever she wants than feel better by eating better.

Please don't misunderstand. I am not judging. I am simply trying to understand. This increcibly brave survivor has stared the big C in the face more than once and survived with a smile. I can't begin to know what that journey is like. The difficult part of TOBI's statement, for me, is that it's a false choice. I have dairy free ice cream and almond flour cupcakes whenever I have a hankering. (Yes, I said hankering. Did I ever mention I'm from Kentucky?) I can't go to DQ and get a sundae. I can't go to the local baker and pick up a sheet cake. But, I can whip up a mean chocolate 'ice cream' with coconut milk and I can throw together a batch of chocolate chip cookies in my kitchen in less than twenty minutes without the chemicals or processed junk. Plus, I can keep up with my kids and feel great.

I wanted so badly to explain to TOBI that there is a whole world out there that doesn't require you to eat twigs for breakfast and celery sticks for lunch. I wanted to show her all the food blogs I follow and the awesome, delicious food that can be found there. I wanted to tell her how much better life is on the simple, non-processed side of the food schism. I wanted to do something, but instead, all I could do was stand there with a stupid smile plastered to my face. Trying to explain my food world to the conventional eater just feels so ridiculously difficult. Most likely, if you are reading this, you know my quandary. I'm curious. How do you educate the conventional food eaters in your life? Have you ever brought someone over to the healthy side? Please share. I don't want to let another TOBI get by without at least planting a seed that might later grow into a gluten-free, refined-sugar-free, food-as-medicine and enjoyment eater.

While you ponder, check out my latest recipe revision. This is my mom's famous Breakfast Casserole refined to meet my daughter's dairy-free, gluten free requirements. It tastes identical to Mom's. I ran into an old friend, April, last fall. I hadn't seen her in nearly ten years. First thing she told me was that my mom's breakfast casserole is still her family's favorite and she thinks of me every time she makes it. Yep, it's legacy-making good.

Hmm. Maybe I should email her this revised recipe. Perhaps educating the mainstream is simply a matter of demonstrating how easy and tasty healthier food can be, even if they don't think they need it.

Mom's Breakfast Casserole Made Gluten Free & Dairy Free

6 eggs
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 slices of gluten free bread*
1 cup dairy free cheddar cheese such as daiya
1 lb breakfast sausage, browned & drained**
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp celtic sea salt

Beat eggs, milk, salt and mustard. Add bread, sausage and cheese. Pour in greased 9x9 casserole. Bake 40 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Let stand a few minutes before serving.

*My kids don't like the crust on the GF bread I buy. What I cut off, I throw in a Ziploc in the freezer for use later in this casserole or other recipes calling for bread crumbs. I used 1 cup of crust pieces for this recipe.

**I've used both chicken and turkey breakfast sausage. I've even used a bag of Jimmy Dean precooked sausage crumbles in a pinch, though I don't recommend it due to some of the additives in it.

I'm sharing this over at Simply Indulgent Tuesdays for May 22.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Food Sensitive Softball Player

Before I jump into my latest tale, I'd like to clear my conscious. As it turns out, I am not going to be a daily blogger. I've tried it and it has been an epic failure. I'm too much of a perfectionist. Once I miss a day, it all goes to heck. So, let's call this what it is: a sporadic posting of random thoughts, stories, recipes and things I've learned that I want to share. The stress of writing a daily blog post is now vanquished from my life and you get less random filler. It's a win-win. 

Whew, I feel so much better already. Glad to clear the air. 

A photo of our athlete from her first softball season

I have been quite busy over the last week and a half since I last posted. My DH has been travelling. Shocking, I know. I had to travel for work myself and took advantage of the time to do some reading. My literature of choice were both non-fictions: Allergic Girl by Sloane Miller and The Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Nakazawa. The first was fun, enlightening and prescient. The second was intriguing. I'll give you a better low down on each book next week. For now, let me tell you why I am so thankful that Allergy Girl landed on my reading list so recently.

Yesterday was my eldest's final softball game of the season. My eldest, as you may know, has gluten sensitivity and an allergy to dairy. She was just diagnosed three months ago and it's been quite a change for us. She has handled everything like a champ, better than  anyone should expect a thirteen-year-old to deal with such a thing. However, nothing prepared me for the maturity and fortitude she demonstrated yesterday evening.

Last night, after the game, the coaches asked the girls to sit in a circle  on the field to talk about the season. They extolled praises regarding the growth in their softball fundamentals, leadership skills and team camaraderie. Then, to celebrate and bring the girls together, they pulled out a cake and a cookie pie.

My heart dropped into my stomach. My eldest, as a reflex, pushed back from the circle. The other girls dove in. 

I watched the coaches, hoping against hope that they would realize their mistake and at least acknowledge my girl, but no recognition came. Eventually, her teammates started getting a bit rowdy with the baked goods and she had to stand up and walk away. While they all laughed and horsed around, she plastered on a smile, went into the dugout alone and started putting away the equipment. I followed her and apologized for not anticipating a last-game celebration treat. I offered to help put away the equipment. She just continued smiling and said it was okay, that she'd rather do the work alone. 

A few minutes later another mom recognized what happened and confirmed that I wouldn't be off my rocker for being upset with the coaches, both of whom knew about my eldest's food sensitivities. But I should know better. Sloane Miller in Allergic Girl makes the point continuously that NO ONE is responsible for your care but you. Of course, for a child, it's no one's responsibility but the parents. I could dwell on the fact that either coach could have called or emailed me to let me know what they had planned so I could bring something my girl could enjoy, but they didn't. I could seethe over the fact that they found it more convenient to exclude her than to reach out. I'll admit that I did dwell and seethe quite a bit until I thought of Allergic Girl and was forced to recognize that this was my failing. I could have had a direct conversation with the coaches after her diagnosis and made it clear that they could call me anytime with questions or to let me know if special accommodations might be needed. I could have called them a few days before the final game to ask what they had planned. There is plenty I could have done, but I didn't. 

One thing I did do, though, was watch a very good girl take one more step toward becoming a great woman. She could have cried. She could have stomped off mad. I wouldn't have blamed her. Heck, that's what I wanted to do. Instead, she plastered that smile on her face, got productive and rose above it all. I am so unbelievably proud of her. 

I'll do a more in-depth review of what I learned from Allergic Girl in a coming post. For now, I'll simply highly recommend it as a must read for anyone with food sensitivities and any parent of a food-sensitive child. Ms. Miller does a fantastic job of putting things in perspective, pushing us to take responsibility for our own health while encouraging others to work with us to help manage our food issues. It's a delicate balance, but one I feel more capable of finding after reading her book. 

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