Monday, January 24, 2011

Shopping Gluten-Free & Your New Staple -Quesadillas


Diane displays some of her gluten-free staples that she purchases.

 Food shopping with food allergies is a skill that you develop. You have several choices: hit the health food store, (easier & expensive), go to your local market (overwhelming and limited) find a co-op (bulk purchasing) or do more of you own cooking.
        When I first found out about my trio of allergies – gluten, dairy and soy, I headed straight for the health food store and received a lot of  welcome help. The smaller size of the store and the fact that 30% of it is directed to foods without dairy, soy or gluten makes it easy. In many supermarkets, gluten-free food is “segregated,” while in the health food store, shopping for gluten, dairy and soy free food is the norm.  
Emotionally, it is a more supportive place to shop where half the people are purchasing the same foods as you are regardless of their food allergies.  When you shop at the supermarket, the food is labeled, as health foods, it is limited and the employees are not as knowledgeable or helpful. But it is less expensive and certainly the supermarket chains are becoming more aware of the available products.  I recommend to start shopping at the health food store for help and variety and then once you have established some products you like and have experimented a bit, head over to the supermarket or join a co-op to purchase your items at a reduced price.  It takes some time to find the substitutes for your gluten filled life style, that you once enjoyed, but they are out there.
     BREAD  -  Let’s start with bread, probably your largest wheat carrying food.  My first couple of months, I ate brown rice bread and I will tell you, that was no substitute.  The brown rice bread was like a brick and only palatable when toasted.  For a time, I thought I had only a wheat allergy and not gluten, so I switched to spelt bread. (be clear with your doctor.)  Then, I found Sami’s Bakery.  Now I can enjoy a cold sandwich on their millet/flax bread or  I can toast or  make a panini on their cinnamon raisin bread.  AND – they now make hot dog rolls and hamburger rolls.  For awhile, I ate everything on the bread, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.  Remember, I will not be ignored.  If you read my previous blogs, I am a foodie and determined to still enjoy culinary experiences.  Chances are, there are some local bakeries as well that may offer some gluten-free products.  As a substitute for bread, I also purchase brown rice tortillas from “Food for Life.” (recipe below)
PASTAS – These run the gamut from brown rice to corn and there are some good ones.  I enjoy, a variety and see what’s on sale.  Tinyada makes a good brown rice product and comes in a variety of shapes.  There are also corn and quinoa pastas.  Check the cooking instructions, as they all require a different amount of time.  You could always consider the fact that Pad Thai noodles were designed to be gluten-free and have been perfected for years. I use them in my chicken noodle soup and no one is the wiser.
CEREAL – At first I ate things with oats in them, not realizing that some oats contain gluten, so that had to change.  The loose cereal in the bins is very expensive and so I sought another option.  I wanted an affordable gluten-free granola type cereal and was not interested in the rice puffs or corn flake type cereals.  Finally, my husband spotted something at our super market; the brand is “Enjoy Life” and is a solid granola.  I enjoy cinnamon crunch and they offer other flavors as well.  Although not inexpensive, it is more reasonable and I will seek it out in the co-op I just joined.
Dessert - Until recently, a tough category.  Gluten free cookies were available at first but tended to be dry.  Now I have found  moist brownies at the super market, and mixes for cakes and breads at both the health food store, co-op and super market.  Gluten free flour has been available for a long time and you can  readily find  both rice flour and almond flour.  I use these flours to whip together pancakes or muffins without a recipe.  Following a recipe drives me nuts.  I look at it once and then I do what I want.  Namaste makes a good rice flour, Bob’s Red Mill has many products and Betty Crocker has even jumped on the band wagon with some gluten-free mixes.  Again you have to see what you like.  I made a gluten-free chocolate cake for a party and my son could not stay away from it.  Normally, he avoids my gluten-free products but he was unaware of its origins and went to town on my cake.
READING LABELS - Shopping takes longer as you should be constantly looking at the ingredients.  I try to do a lot of cooking myself so my use of packaged food is limited, but I still have to read ingredients on some of the products I purchase.  Things to be aware of; in addition to looking out for wheat and gluten on a label , modified food starch is  gluten and should be avoided.   Watch what chicken stock you purchase, many have wheat as do some sausages and soups.  Wheat is a cheap filler and that is part of the problem, why many of us now have food allergies.  Yes, genetics are involved but putting cheap fillers such as soy, wheat and dry milk where it doesn’t really belong can create overexposure and produce an allergy.
           Good luck with your shopping. Products are out there and console yourself by knowing that you are eating healthier than a diet filled with wheat and gluten.  Next time, I will cover shopping  with a dairy allergy. 
1) Four Seasons on Phila Street in Saratoga has good quality, good selection and good help.
2) Price Chopper on route 50 is increasing their stock and has pastas, crackers, cereals, flour, and cookies.  Employees don't really know the products but the manager is willing to listen.
3)  Hannaford I understand has a very good selection but is less convenient for me.
4) Odd job lot has good prices on a variety of flours, mixes and pastas.
     One of my favorite gluten-free products are the brown rice tortillas that I cook with from the company “Food for Life.”  I am able to quickly and easily cook them up and serve them as a quick lunch or dinner or a great appetizer for company.  Mine are also dairy free as I use rice cheese to still create that cheesy goodness that we expect from a quesadilla.  Quesadillas are also flexible because you can use just about anything you have in the fridge to fill them.  When I think I have nothing to serve, I turn to them.
1 tbls. olive oil             2 brown rice tortillas     4 slices of rice cheese   
 2 full slices of onion      4 slices of tomatoes           1/3 cup spinach
Have all your ingredients ready by the stove, as quick assembly is necessary to have the quesidilla come together without burning.  Heat stove to medium under your round frying pan and add oil.  Add 1 tortilla and 2 slices of rice cheese, torn to cover the bottom leaving a half inch from the sides.  Next, add your filling of tomatoes, onions and spinach.  Add the remaining 2 slices of cheese and cover with the other tortilla.  Press down with either a sandwich press(invaluable) or a flat pan with a filled tea pot on top to create weight. When the cheese has started to melt and adhered both sides – flip over to complete the grilling.  The quesadilla is complete when both sides are golden brown and the cheese is melted.  Serve alone for lunch or a great dinner with rice and beans and a salad.  Experiment with different fillings but always have your choice of cheese on the outside of the ingredients to seal the tortillas.  Now you can eat like everyone else.  Enjoy!!

Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Thursday, January 20, 2011

SNOW DAY: A top ten simple pleasure!

(author and son enjoying their snow day) 
When reflecting upon the top ten simple pleasures in life, “snow day” comes to mind.  Nothing says fun like an unexpected day off from your job, work or everyday schedule.  In fact, as a child, the only time I recall my older brother hugging me was when school was cancelled due to snow.  We were in the kitchen listening to WRGB list the snow closings and when Galway was among the listed; my brother grabbed me and jumped up and down with me in his embrace.  It stands out as a memory.  Now hugs and kisses are a natural part of our hellos and goodbyes. 
Everyone loves a snow day, including my younger son’s principal.  He came home from school on Tuesday, January 11th,  with the precise formula to ensure a snow day; 1) toss ice cubes in the toilet and flush, 2) place a spoon under pillow before bed and 3)wear your pajamas backwards.  Easy enough.  When I asked him the source of his information, he replied “Our principal, Dr. Messier.”  What fun!  I guess she was up for a day off too.
Sure enough the formula worked.  Wednesday morning before 7am, my younger son crawled into bed with me with his pajamas on backwards  and at the same time my husband walked in announcing that school was indeed closed. My younger son’s eyes grew wide as he exclaimed, “It worked.” Flush with success from his snow day recipe, my younger son snuggled in for some additional sleep, my husband got up and my teenage son slept away oblivious to the good news.  At 7:30am my husband received the news that his day had also been altered.  He is directing a show for Schenectady children’s theater and his 9 am rehearsal was off.
A couple of hours later, as we had all eventually gotten up and enjoyed some pancakes, the only down side of a snow day reared its chilly head.  SHOVELLING.  After some grumbling by the 8 and 14 year old, we all donned our snow pants, boots, coats, gloves, hats and wool socks.  Clearing our walkways and driveways is no easy feat, as we have 200 feet of sidewalk, plus interior paths and our driveway.  Couple this with the fact that we opted not to purchase a snow blower but have 5 shovels instead. Our reasoning is exercise and the environment.   I have many times since, regretted the absence of a snow blower, but I’m stubborn, and have yet to cave in.
 When we first moved here in February of 2005 from New York City, my mother-in-law gave us a generous gift certificate to the store All Seasons in Glenville.  I wasn’t interested in a snow blower and asked the man if he had anything that was easy on the environment but would get the job done.  He replied nonchalantly, “That would be a shovel.”  Hmmmm .   Well, since we had a fat gift certificate, we ended up buying an electric shovel and came back a year later for a generator, after the ice storm of 2006.
So – we shovel and manage to get the job done by 2pm and decide to head on over to Congress Park for sledding.  Hubbie and the kids are on foot and I cross country ski over.  At this point, our evening teaching gig in Cohoes is still on and as we are heading down the first hill, we receive a call from the organizer asking if we plan on teaching swing that night and more or less suggesting that we don’t.  We feel that we would like to continue to take the day off and decide not to teach.  What a day.
Friends meet up with us in the park and we slide, sleigh and saucer our way down three different slopes.  I ski around a bit as well and my husband enjoys his newish snow shoes.  My eldest son has brought a shovel to the park to try and ride that down a hill but it doesn’t pan out.  Instead we use the shovel to create a padded landing for the bottom of the hill. 
After two hours of sledding, we are ready for the final reward of a snow day; hot chocolate and food.  We all head back to our home on White St.  and indulge in hot chocolate, pizza, wings and a little wine and beer for the adults. It seems not everyone had a day off and we are grateful that Spring Street deli accommodates us with a delivery.  All sledders are famished and the wings in particular go quickly.  No one it seems really had lunch.
 How does a gal who is allergic to wheat dairy and soy handle that menu?  I adjust.  Hot chocolate is out as it has milk in the mix.  Pizza is out for the wheat crust and dairy filled cheese but I am able to have a couple of wings.  I inquired upon ordering and was told there was no wheat, dairy or soy in the wing marinade.  I whip up some pasta with garlic and broccoli and pick a couple of mushrooms and sausage off my husband’s pizza.  Beer is out, cause of the wheat, but I am happy with a little crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
The Saratoga snow day ends with a feeling of pure satisfaction.  We shoveled, we sled, and we shook up our schedules.  My youngest goes to bed wearing his pajamas backwards again, hopeful of another day such as this one.
Epilogue:  Less than a week later on Tuesday January 18th, at 6:50 am, my teenage son walks quietly into my bedroom, where my eight year old and I are sleeping and whispers, “Schools closed.”  My youngest hugs me in celebration and then reaches his arms out to his brother and they share an embrace.

Enjoy your snow days!
Diane Lachtrupp

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Introduction

          Hi – My name is Diane Lachtrupp Martinez.  I am a professional dancer,  mother of two sons, wife of my dance partner and gourmet food enthusiast. Four years ago I discovered that I was allergic to gluten, dairy and soy.  Life as I knew it certainly changed; some of it for the better and some became more challenging. 
        Prior to that discovery, my identity was that of a dancer, mom, wife and dinner party hostess extraordinaire.  Now there was a new co-star on the horizon; that of a person with strong food allergies.  Not only was I allergic to gluten but also dairy and soy.  I could deal without soy, but what is life without a crusty baguette or a creamy brie.  I’ll tell you; it is frustrating, bewildering and sometimes isolating. 
          Being allergic to gluten permeates your entire food life: food planning, food shopping, cooking for yourself and the family, dining out and traveling.  In addition to the diet issues,  your health is greatly affected and as a result your sleep, emotional and physical health suffers.  You take it day by day.
       However, I have not and will not let this illness deter me from my culinary desires.  Over the past four years, I have learned how to navigate these allergies and have found ways to still dine out with pleasure, travel with confidence and entertain with panache. 
         One of my goals for this blog are the following: to share information with you regarding shopping, cooking, menu planning and some recipes.  I will go to the next level and share my experiences in dining out at any restaurant, traveling anywhere and entertaining with menus that please you and your guests.  Food allergies, while taken seriously,  are but merely a bump in the road.
      Another goal for this blog is to write about my career and family.  Since both my husband and I are professional dancers as well as theater performers, our careers definitely spill into our family life.  We enjoy a certain theatricality that comes out at the holidays and during our many parties.  Currently, I am choreographing the show “RENT” for a local group.  That will definitely be on the docket as well as anything else I experience.
        AND Finally– let’s vent.  I want to hear from you.  Although I want this blog to be life affirming and positive, let’s face it, we all have cooked two different types of pasta too many times, dealt with an unsympathetic restaurant or endured the blank stare of an uninformed store clerk.  I will share many of my stories and frustrations with you and hope to hear your experiences in your comments.
         No parties or entertaining on the horizon this week, but lots of dancing and choreographing.
Until then,
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez