Tuesday, December 29, 2015

parties with panache: pizza recipes!

I've learned a great deal of things since finding out about my food allergies, and one of them is that social gatherings almost always include food of some sort! It was something I never really put much thought into before it became a matter of survival, and I think it's only when someone is put into that position that they realize how much of our sociality revolves around food. Holidays, birthdays, reunions, family gatherings, parties, end-of-week work gatherings, and even staff meetings include snacks, potlucks, meals, barbecues, and even restaurants. Because of this, those with food allergies have a lot more to think about and prepare for when it comes to being social.

Some venues are easier than others. Potluck picnics and beach barbecues are easy because the allergic person can simply bring their own food. When it involves work functions, friends' houses, and restaurants, though, things can get a bit more difficult.

There are definite social changes that happen when you develop food allergies. Those weekly meetups with friends at the local restaurant become awkward, either on the part of the allergy person who can't eat anything on the menu, or the friends who then feel sorry for them. I noticed this shift when I was finally diagnosed and suddenly had no safe restaurants. The invitations became few and far between in the name of not making me feel bad that I couldn't eat anything on the menu. Instead, it felt isolating to be constantly left out of fun events.

For this reason, we often hosted the parties and game nights at our house. We always had a "safe" area for my food and a potluck area for everyone else. It worked for a while and we loved being able to play host and hostess on special occasions and book clubs and get togethers. This became a nightmare though, when I realized that I was so sensitive that the food my friends brought over was causing cross contamination issues. Ben and I started experimenting with snacks and meals that could be made fairly easily and would feed several people so that having a get together didn't have to be food-less, but also wouldn't mean a Thanksgiving-like event with a whole day of cooking involved. It had to be something that adults would enjoy, but their kids would also eat. It had to be free of multiple allergens and something that could also be served for our vegetarian friends. We started with pizza: the quintessential and easily-customizable party food. After our first party serving the pizza, we had several friends requesting to come over again so they could partake again! Each time, we make a few favorites and try something new, so I thought I'd share some of our favorites in case you ever find yourself in a pizza rut!

The Basics:

For most of our pizzas, we prefer to use the Chebe flour mixes, because they are grain free and are pretty versatile. Many other blends are too watery or too starchy (or don't hold up well as leftovers). Each pizza also uses about a cup of sauce and 1.5-2 cups of mozzarella cheese (I use the Organic Valley brand).

The Sauce:

My favorite prepared sauce is the Organicville pizza sauce. It's got a nice flavor and thickness, and the vinegar is sourced from sugarcane and not corn like most other sauces. I purchase it from Vitacost, and for those of you in the states, I've seen it at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Natural Grocers as well.

I often prepare my own sauce, which is great because I can adjust the thickness and spices as needed. Because we have typically lived in places where fresh, organic tomatoes were not always available, I had to search for a while to find a good substitute. I love the Bionaturae tomato paste, an organic product from Tuscany.

  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water (adjust for preferred thickness)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 tbsp basil
  • 1/2 tbsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste


Mix all ingredients, adding the water last. Stir and add water to the thickness you prefer. For the best results, let the sauce rest for an hour to enrich the flavor. Then, spread it on the dough. Remember not to add too much sauce, as you don't want your dough to become soggy! I add my favorite spices to the following toppings and then bake the pizza at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

**Tip: If you're going for a more creamy sauce, substitute the water with a nice, thick coconut milk! These are the two I use most often: Native Forest and Aroy-D.

The Toppings:

There are several different topping variations we've used with the basic sauce and cheese combination.

  • Pepperoni and black olives. Before I was as corn sensitive as I am at this point, I was able to use pepperoni. This is no longer an option for me, but I still do have a safe brand of sausage, so we use sausage with black olives now.
  • Pineapple and peppers. This has been a favorite with our friends - simply dice some different colors of bell peppers along with some pineapple slices for a colorful and tasty combination!
  • Yakiniku meat. We make yakiniku pretty frequently (thinly sliced, grilled beef) and sometimes use the leftovers as a pizza topping. This tastes delicious with black olives, pineapple, and/or bell pepper slices!
  • Cream cheese. This is an idea we got from a Japanese pizza shop. After putting the sauce on, but before adding the cheese, drop some small dabs of cream cheese around the pizza (no need to spread!) I use the Organic Valley cream cheese, as it's the only one I don't seem to be allergic to. 
  • Cream cheese and kabocha. A bonus addition to the previous entry that we recently discovered is kabocha (Japanese winter squash). Slice the squash into quarters and then slice one of the quarters into thin slices. After layering the sauce, cream cheese, and mozzarella, add the squash slices and some garlic to the top before baking.

Stay tuned for some non-red sauce based pizzas, coming up soon!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

tokyo tasting: a gluten free guide to traveling and eating out in tokyo

Having celiac is not easy, and having it in a country that does not really recognize it as an issue makes for an interesting situation. I definitely feel lucky that we figured all of this out while living in a country where the people are extremely helpful and accommodating, but it doesn't help things that most Japanese have never heard of "celiac" or "gluten" and have no idea which foods contain the ingredients I need to avoid. Explaining a "wheat allergy" is simply not enough, since there is hidden gluten in just about everything here.

It's taken a while, but we have finally figured out our "system" here at home. Traveling, though, has been a different story. We originally transferred to Japan so we would be able to travel, experience cultures, and see the world. These were easy to accomplish pre-celiac, but they have become incredibly difficult now. When we travel these days, 2/3 of our baggage contains food in case we can't find restaurants that will serve me (this has happened - while it's frustrating, I'd rather they tell me up front they can't serve me than to serve me food that will make me sick).

On our first trip to Tokyo, I really enjoyed the city but didn't plan to visit again. It was too big, and there were too many people. We added other Japanese cities to our list of places to visit, not envisioning a return to Tokyo in the near future.

Then, celiac happened.

Our first post-diagnosis visit to Tokyo was very different than our previous time. Ben's parents were coming to visit and we had plans to join them in Tokyo for a week before traveling with them back up to Aomori. This trip, I had to research EVERYTHING ahead of time. Our schedules and destinations revolved around the few "safe" restaurants I had researched. The time leading up to our departure was full of anxiety, as there were not many resources and blogs out there to help. Those that did exist gave conflicting information. (Examples include whether plain combini onigiri or senbei are always safe bets... FYI, they're not.) Looking back, though, our trip wasn't half bad! We found a few restaurants that were able to accommodate my dietary restrictions, and even one that specifically had fluent English-speakers to help in situations like mine. The city has become one of my "safe places" and we are always excited to travel there now. We have since visited Tokyo multiple times, and continue to go back to our tried-and-true favorite places.

Sadly, some of these restaurants are no longer open. A few are, though, and I wanted to make sure to write about them in case this information can help anyone traveling to Tokyo with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  I am extremely sensitive to cross contamination, and have never gotten sick at the following restaurants.

The first restaurant I'd highly recommend is Gonpachi. I have visited several locations of this Tokyo restaurant, and haven't gotten sick at any of them, but my favorite is the one in Nishi Azabu. I have written about this place before, but didn't really go into much detail about their allergy protocols. I was a baby celiac at that point, and I've learned that I was doing so much incorrectly at that point. I have, however, been back to this restaurant several times since, and have still had wonderful experiences every time.

While Gonpachi is an izakaya style restaurant, they use very good quality meats and vegetables in their cooking. Their noodles (which aren't gluten free) are made by hand each day, and they try to source from local farms. I won't eat at most izakaya style restaurants, but this one is my exception because of these reasons. Another reason is that Gonpachi Nishi Azabu has an "allergy specialist" to help people like me figure out what they can eat safely.

At the time of the writing of this blog, Gonapchi Nishi Azabu's allergy specialist is named Teresa. She is fabulous to work with and we always check before heading to Tokyo to ensure she will be working when we visit. Teresa speaks English and is well-versed in finding foods that are safe for those with allergies. She is willing to go back and forth between the customer and the chefs to ensure that the correct ingredients and protocols are taken to keep someone from getting contaminated.

If you go, make sure you ask her to remind the cooking staff to clean the surfaces before cooking your food.

Here are a few of my favorite things off the menu:

  • Asparagus wrapped in bacon. This is quintessential izakaya food if you eat pork. So delicious!
  • Rice bowl. Gonpachi has a few rice bowls, but none of them (as they are on the menu) are safe for someone who is very sensitive. They will, however, make one for you that is, as long as you let them know exactly what you need! I get a modified "takana meshi" - without the pickled mustard leaves and with an addition of grilled chicken and fresh avocado. They bring out all the seaweed and spices separately, so I can see exactly what will go into my bowl before it's done. I mix it up and add my safe soy sauce myself, and it's delicious!
  • Gyutan. I love beef tongue when it's done right, and it's definitely done right here. I ask for the gyutan without the sesame oil, as I have not been able to confirm that it's safe. I just use my safe soy sauce for dipping instead.
  • Chicken on a skewer. I'm not sure that this one is on the menu by itself, but they've never had an issue with making it for me. I love yakitori and rarely get to order it, because it's so difficult to find restaurants with safe cooking practices in terms of cross contamination! I order it shiodake (with salt only) and then use my soy sauce.
  • Yuzu Lime Iced Tea. I look forward to coming to Gonpachi for the yuzu tea more than anything else, especially in the summer. It's so delicious! The first post-celiac time we visited Gonpachi, I was very nervous about trying this again. Even with my corn allergy on top of everything, I did not get sick at all.

All in all, Gonpachi is definitely worth a visit!

My other favorite restaurant in Tokyo is Moti. This is an Indian restaurant near Roppongi Station. The owner speaks some English and while he doesn't know much about gluten or celiac, he is very willing to go over all ingredients with you. I can't say I've branched out as far as the menu goes, because the butter chicken curry is so good that I get it every time.

We have visited every six months or so, and the owners always remember us when we walk in. Just make sure you check every ingredient and let the owners know what you're avoiding so they can check it. Also, ask for rice instead of the naan and you'll be good to go. They have offered sticky rice in the past, so you will need to make sure you opt for plain rice (the sticky rice is not safe).

I hope this is able to help you as you navigate your way through Tokyo! Let me know if you have any great gluten free experiences at either of these (or any other) restaurants in Tokyo!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

a natural approach

Because of my multiple food allergies, I cannot consistently rely on traditional medications when I'm feeling under the weather. Cough drops, allergy medications, headache pills, throat spray, and even prescription medications and antibiotics all contain allergens. Because of this, I've had to trial different homeopathic remedies for various ailments. Some work better than others, and I'm often a bit weary to try them because of the cost and difficulty in retrieving the necessary ingredients.

I've mentioned before that I've been trying out essential oils to see if they can help with symptoms, and so far I've come a long way in managing my seasonal allergies and monthly migraine headaches. Upon coming down with a nasty bug that's been going around the school, I decided to research some cold and flu (and possibly strep) remedies, some of them using essential oils.

I found a range of different combinations and used what I found to make my own cold and flu concoction. Yes, it took longer than downing a little cup of NyQuil, but overall it was easy and did wonders for both of us this weekend!

What I Did/Used:

1. Oregano gargle. I mixed a few drops of oil of oregano, which tastes positively disgusting, but works wonders (keep in mind that this is not oregano essential oil, as gargling with or drinking essential oils is not typically considered a safe practice by licensed aromatherapists) and a little more than a half cup of warm water in a glass. I took a mouthful, gargled for 10 seconds, spit, and then repeated the process a few times. **Just a warning that if you're a wimp like I am, you may want to have something prepared to chew or drink after this! I had a Gin Gin ready and this took away the icky taste quickly, and it doesn't hurt that ginger has healing capabilities!**

2. Oil pulling. I've been doing an oil pulling challenge to help my teeth, and the research has shown that oil pulling is especially good for taking toxins from the throat and mouth. I have a very strong gag reflex so I've never been able to pull for the recommended 20 minutes, but I typically pull for 8-10 minutes. For this batch, I added a few drops of Peppermint essential oil to help with the taste from the Oregano.

3. Cold/Flu lotion. This is the concoction discussed above, created after researching numerous blogs and websites. While you could easily add beeswax or shea butter to make a real body butter type of lotion, the quickest and easiest way is to simply use solid coconut oil. (See the recipe below!)

The Results: I repeated the gargle, the oil pulling, and the application of the "lotion" to my feet twice a day throughout the weekend, once upon waking in the mornings and once in the evenings. While this might not work for everyone, I can tell you that I felt markedly better the next morning (when mornings are usually when I feel the worst), I slept more than I usually do when I'm sick (since I wasn't waking up congested and unable to swallow multiple times during the night), and I felt almost 100% better after two days (when it usually takes 4-7 days).

If you're into trialing home remedies or if you're an essential oil user, I hope this information will help for the next time you're sick!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

the joys of crockpot cooking: a chicken casserole recipe

Nine years (and five days) ago, we got a crock pot as a wedding gift. Six months ago, I used it for the first time. I always had great intentions of making these great meals with it, but I just never really had the knowledge (or motivation) to learn how to use it correctly. Plus, there was always that worry that I'd inadvertently burn the house down.

Nowadays, though, I make just about everything from scratch and my crock pot has become my kitchen savior! I'm kicking myself for all the years I could have been making delicious and healthy meals with this quintessential kitchen appliance.

Weekends and breaks from school have become times for crock pot experimentation and I figured it might be beneficial to post a few of my favorite concoctions for future use (and for anyone who might be reading!)

The following recipe is gluten free (as always, use safe-for-you brands and ingredients!) and could fairly easily be made grain free or paleo by substituting some of the ingredients. I plan to try it out with spaghetti squash or cauliflower "rice" in future variations. It was delicious with the rice, though, and if you are okay with grains I'd suggest following the recipe the first time and then playing around with it later on.

Cheesy Crock-Pot Broccoli Chicken

4 Chicken Breasts, thawed
8 oz chicken broth
6-8 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 heads of broccoli (or 1 head broccoli and 1 head cauliflower)
1 cup greek yogurt
1 1/2 cups rice
1/2 cup coconut cream (or cream cheese)
2 cups cheese
Spices to taste (I use garlic powder, onion powder, marjoram, oregano, a pinch of rosemary, salt, and pepper)

Grease the crock pot with a small bit of butter or oil (I use about a teaspoon of coconut oil and a paper towel to spread it). Place the chicken breasts in the bottom. Dump the carrot chunks in, along with the chicken broth and greek yogurt. Make sure the chicken is at least mostly covered. Then, add the spices. I don't measure the spices as I add them, but I would estimate a teaspoon of garlic powder, a half teaspoon onion powder, a half teaspoon marjoram, a half teaspoon oregano, a pinch of rosemary, a half teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon pepper. I make sure the chicken is covered in the combination of spices and then cook on high for four hours or on low for six (depending on your crock pot's settings, the times may vary).

After the four (or six) hours, or about an hour and a half before you want to eat, add the broccoli, cauliflower, and rice. With the rice, add about a cup and a half of water and make sure the rice is submerged. (You could also just cook the rice separately and add it when you're ready to eat if that's easier for your situation.)

Five to ten minutes before serving, add the coconut cream or cream cheese and then stir in the cheese until the mixture is nice and creamy. Your amounts may vary depending on the type of rice you use and the humidity where you live.

Hope you enjoy! My husband suggested putting the mixture into a pot pie next time instead of adding the rice, so we plan to try that next!