Tuesday, July 28, 2009



I love nothing more in the summer months then stepping out the sliding doors to my patio, clipping some fresh herbs from the containers there, and going not more than the few feet back to my kitchen, and putting the vibrant green herbs into my cooking.

Many people are afraid to start vegetable and herb gardens because they don't know what to do with the plants. My theory is, don't over think it. My grandmother and mother always had lush vegetable gardens with zucchini's the size of baseball bats, and more tomatoes than we knew what to do with. In the summer months, whenever we kids would go to a friend to play we were given a brown paper grocery bag with the prolific veggies rolling around inside. I think we even began leaving it by friends' and neighbors' doorsteps in particularly bountiful years. As such, when Mother's Day rolls around I get the itch to plant. I feel compelled to plant tomatoes, but have found not much else grows in my moderately sunny patch. Herbs I have found to be the exception.

I have successfully grown basil, oregano, sage and chives. My basil seems to be the most successful, which prompted me to plant 3 varieties this year. My favorite are sweet basil and lemon/lime basil, which has a slight citrusy flavor that is lovely in salads. I have found that they do best planted in window boxes or containers. The window boxes are the best as they are shallow, and one bag of potting soil will go a a long way. I don't actually have them attached to windows, just sitting on a bench on my patio. By utilizing containers, as opposed to planting in the ground, I have found the herbs to be less bug infested, and there are very few weeds. This translates to low maintenance gardening. They come up very quickly, even when I am not on top of things and end up planting late. The kids love to help, and it is a great teaching tool to show them that this little seed yielded something they could now pick and eat. I think it makes them more interested in cooking if they know they had a hand in growing the ingredients.

Here are my herb growing tips:

1) Use a window box or container with drainage holes (or drill your own).

2) Line the bottom of the box with a single layer of paper coffee filters, allowing the water to drain out and keep the soil in the container.

3) Fill the boxes or containers 3/4 full with organic (my preference) potting soil and a few cups of fertilizer (manure or compost preferably).

4) Use seeds to start. They are cheaper than the starter plants and you get so much more in the end. I also think the seeds yield stronger plants.

5) Poke 3-4 inch holes in the soil several inches apart. Put a few seeds in each hole and cover with soil. Soak with water just after planting. Set in sunny area.

6) Depending on rainfall in your area, check every few days and water if dry. If you get a lot of rain, you will have to water infrequently.

7) When first buds of basil appear, pinch off the little leaves in the center. This is supposed to make them stronger.

8) After you pick your herbs, check them for bugs according to the laws of kashrut. I like to use the Star-K method.

9) If you want to pick and/or check your herbs in advance, wrap in a damp (not soaking) paper towel and refrigerate. They will still very fresh looking up to 24 hours.

10) Use kitchen shears to snip herbs directly into your cooking. No need to dirty the cutting board!

I came across a delightful cookbook in my library called Secrets of Light Latin Cooking by Alexandra Drijanski, Esther Guindi and Mabel Killer. It is translated from Spanish by Mary Humphreys and Susan Lowell. As far as I can tell, these women are members of the Jewish community in Mexico City. Some Sephardi and some not. Looking at the recipes, I can definitely see the Sephardi influence. There are recipes for rice stuffed vegetables and tabouli (not typical Latin American fare). Most of the desserts are appropriate for Passover. Although this is not ostensibly a kosher cookbook, there are no treif ingredients used in the book, nor mixing of meat and milk in any of the recipes. The recipes happen to also be extremely gluten free friendly, including many rice dishes and flourless desserts.

The recipes below, from this cookbook, not only make good use of fresh herbs, but they are also appropriate for the 9 days, which we are in currently. During the 9 days, we do not eat meat other than on Shabbat. If you do not have fresh herbs available, you may substitute 1 teaspoon dried herbs for 1 tablespoon fresh.

All the recipes below are good for getting kids involved in the kitchen. I think it is especially important when you have children with special dietary needs to understand about their unique food preparation needs. What better way to do this than set them to work in the kitchen. It's a great bonding experience, and you will be surprised how much they are able to do. Always use plastic knives with small children, and make sure they wash their hands after handling raw fish, meat or eggs.

Greens with Mango Dressing
(p. 34)
Serves 2

3 cups salad greens
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
1/2 cup (mung) bean sprouts

1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons orange juice
3/4 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 mango, cut into cubes

Puree together the ingredients of the dressing.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables.

Eggplant Stuffed with Rice
(p. 90)
Serves 2

2 large eggplants (not peeled), cut in half and soaked in salted water for 30 minutes
non-stick cooking spray (or 1 Tablespoon olive or canola oil)
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon chopped red onion
3/4 cup peeled, seeded, and diced tomatoes
1/2 cup rice
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped*
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese

*The original recipe doesn't call for a specific amount of oregano. I estimated this to be an appropriate amount for the dish, but you may use more or less.

Remove the eggplant from the water, and scoop out the inside. Save a little of the inside of the eggplant and dice. Place in a small mixing bowl and add salt to taste.

Bake the eggplant shells at 350F degrees for 15 minutes.

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray or oil, and saute the garlic, onion, tomato and diced eggplant. Add the rice allowing it to saute briefly. Add the water, salt, and oregano. Lower the heat, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

Stuff the eggplant halves with the cooked rice mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350F degrees for 15 minutes longer.

The following recipe calls for "firm textured white fish", but I think salmon fillets would work well too.

Fish "Hamburgers"
(p. 109)

Serves 2

10-ounces firm textured white fish, such as fresh cod
1 Tablespoon grated carrot
1 Tablespoon minced onion
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
pinch of saffron (or turmeric)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 egg white (or equivalent egg substitute)
non-stick cooking spray

Simmer the fish for 5 minutes in gently boiling water, then grind or finely chop it.

Mix together the rest of the ingredients, finishing with the egg white, which should be lightly beaten before being mixed in.

Form fish mixture into patties.

Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, place the patties in the dish, and bake at 350F degrees until they are browned, about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some Days are Just Hard


Lillie came home hysterical today. I expected this kind of uncontrollable, can't catch your breath sobbing from some sort of fight between friends or tormenting by a bully. But, not over a cookie.

Apparently, her camp had a Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the month) celebration involving cookies that Lillie couldn't have, for obvious reasons. Neither her counselor or her division head, whom I had given a letter to about her condition just 2 days ago, contacted me in order to send a suitable treat to camp with her. She kept screaming that I should tell her counselor not to give the other campers anything with gluten. I tried to soothe her and asked if she wanted a cookie at home that she could have?

As Lillie sat nibbling on her Lieber's Passover chocolate chocolate chip cookies (which aren't bad) and sniffling still, I told her that it wasn't realistic for me to ask the counselor not to give the other kids gluten containing treats. Although, her cries pierced my heart more than she could know, I felt I couldn't be her hero this time. Mommy really couldn't make it better. I could provide her an alternative, but I couldn't change her world. It is a terrible feeling when a child realizes their mommy or daddy aren't the heros they thought they were for so long, making everything right in a seemingly swift motion.

I am dreading pizza day on Friday, when the whole camp will be happily munching on steaming slices of cheesy goodness from the pizza store. I am hoping there is some child with a wheat or dairy allergy that will also be eating a lunch from home. But, as with any special circumstance which makes a person different, whether small or dramatic, there are challenges to be faced---sometimes daily. I am hoping these cumulative experiences will maker her stronger. I recognize that it is especially challenging when a child has to face them. I couldn't imagine an adult diagnosed with celiac throwing a tantrum at a cocktail party because they couldn't have the canapes. They may be dissappointed, perhaps desirous of the food, but emotionally scarred...I don't think so.

Lillie said she was sorry she told us that her stomach hurt. I thought it quite perceptive of her to recognize that if she hadn't spoken up, she wouldn't have been going through all of this right now. I tried to explain to her it was a good thing she was diagnosed now, as alot of damage could occur if she wasn't. She paused for a moment, but overall I think she just wanted that cookie like the other children. Five years old do have a tendency to want to live for the day.

I drafted a memo for her school teacher, as well as camp counselors (see below) in an effort to ensure that her physical and emotional needs are met while she is in their care . I also provided a list of permissable candies (see Dalla R.O.C.K.S. entry below), and ingredients that are problematic. For all its worth, it's not followed 100%, as I saw today. But, I feel clear guidelines help these caregivers who are not otherwise knowledgable of celiac disease .


I would like to outline a few issues related to Lillie’s diagnosis of celiac disease. Please share these with any teachers or staff members who may be handling food for her. Attached you will find a list of ingredients which Lillie cannot eat in any form.

* Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder. Celiac’s cannot tolerate gluten found in foods. They may not eat wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats in any form. It is not a food allergy. Even 1/8 of a teaspoon of gluten can cause a reaction in the celiac’s body. Lillie would get a bad stomachache upon consuming gluten.

* Given her age, Lillie understands that she is allergic to wheat. Even though celiac disease is not a food allergy, this is the simplest way to explain it to her and ensure she doesn’t eat items with wheat.

* Lillie’s food must not be on the same plate or in any way touch gluten containing products. If someone makes a mistake, throw out her food. Do not try to “clean off” her food from gluten crumbs. A small amount of gluten in her body has the same effect as eating a whole loaf of bread.

* Regarding brachos (blessings), many of the foods she will be bringing to school may look like they require mezonos or hamotzi. However, given their ingredients they may be shehakol and bread may be mezonos (or even shehakol). I will try and label them accordingly, and she knows certain items by heart. Many of the items that require a mezonos (i.e. rice bread) bracho only require Borei Nefashos afterwards.

* A bag of snacks and treats that are gluten-free has been given to her teacher. In case of a party, please contact me in advance, if possible, so I may send in a cupcake that she can eat. Some items like plain potato chips, fruit and plain corn tortilla chips she can have. In that bag are rice cakes and soy “peanut” butter. If she forgets her lunch, please give her this as she can no longer have the sandwiches provided by the school. Please discontinue serving her the school lunch.

* She must was her hands after playing with Play-Doh as it contains wheat.

* Regarding projects involving the above forbidden foods, such as baking challa, she may participate and bring the items home, but she cannot eat them herself. In addition, she must wash her hands after the project.

* Any questions about celiac disease or gluten intolerance, I can recommend: www.celiac.com.

Thank you for your ongoing consideration in this matter. If you need to reach me with any questions or concerns, my phone numbers are: home....and cell....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Serendipitous Sweets


Viana La Place's charming book Desserts and Sweet Snacks: Rustic Italian Style, is not specifically a gluten free cookbook. But, this inviting, slim volume, which contains beautiful photographs, emphasizes seasonal and not too sweet endings for a meal.

I found many naturally gluten free recipes, such as Fresh Figs with Chocolate and Almond Stuffing (doesn't your mouth just water with the title), Summer Fruits with Rose Water and Lemon, and Perfumed Panna Cotta.

I truly believe Americans have cornered the market on sticky, gooey desserts. If you want a loaded chocolate chip cookie, look to an American cookbook, not a French gastronomic tome. But, the Europeans have the market on delicately balanced desserts to compliment, not overwhelm a meal.

Here are two delightful desserts that are not only gluten-free, but good for Passover from Ms. La Place's cookbook:

Chocolate and Espresso Cake
The author suggests baking this cake a day in advance to intensify the espresso flavor.

3/4 Cup whole unpeeled almonds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
5 eggs separated
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons finely ground espresso (or instant coffee granules)

Pre-heat the oven to 350F degrees. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Finely grind the nuts using a coffee-grinder or blender.

In a large mixing bowl, using a fork, lightly beat the egg yolks. Stir in the sugar, nuts, melted chocolate, and espresso. Mix well.

In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pan.

Place in the oven and bake for about 55 minutes. It is ready when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove form the oven and let rest a few minutes, unmold and serve.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ricotta with Cocoa and Brandy
This easy to assemble dessert makes an elegant dairy dessert.

1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons dark cocoa plus extra for sifting over the top
3 Tablespoons brandy or orange juice
1/4 cup unpeeled almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
Powdered sugar

To remove lumps from the ricotta cheese, process in the food processor until smooth.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta with the sugar, cocoa, and brandy, and stir well to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve: spoon the mixture into small dessert bowls. Dust with cocoa powder, sprinkle the top with toasted almonds, then dust with powdered sugar.

Note: To toast the nuts, spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 350F degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Other Foot


Friday morning came with all the promise of the busyness that the day brings for those making Shabbos. After several days of waking early with Daisie's new schedule, I actually woke up feeling somewhat well rested and bordering on perky. "Today is the day the Lillie's doctor said he would have the results of her biopsy", I thought.

To backtrack, in June we met with a new doctor who is supposed to be tops in the field of pediatric gastroenterology, at a children's hospital about 30 minutes away. We had to wait a couple of months for an appointment, and then a call came one day that there was a cancellation and we could be seen sooner. As the day approached, I felt a mix of excitement and dread. I felt an illogical childlike excitement (in my opinion) that we would meet the new doctor and he would say she was misdiagnosed, it was a mistake, it is really just an upset stomach or some other easier to swallow diagnosis. The dread came from knowing that he would, most likely, confirm 100% what the other doctor said. After all, blood tests don't lie.

When we met the most pleasant doctor in an almost Alice in Wonderland type setting that this hospital had created to make its young patient feel at ease, I handed over the blood tests and ran down Lillie's symptoms and the previous doctor's diagnosis. When I uttered the words, "She was diagnosed with celiac disease.", the doctor interjected, "No she wasn't." My head shot up and I stared at him wide eyed. "What!", I thought. This can't be happening. This scenario was supposed to be unrealistic and irrational. He went on to explain that she was diagnosed by blood tests only. First of all, the lab that was used is known for a lot of false positives and mistaken results. Second, the biggest reason for a false positive blood test for celiacs is Crohn's disease. I have two nephews with Crohn's disease. He said given the family history and the blood tests he felt a biopsy was necessary. The first doctor felt there was no need to put her through that since the blood tests, in her opinion were conclusive.

So even though I was less than thrilled about my baby going under general anaesthesia for the test, I was happy that I would know her diagnosis once and for all, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But here's the catch, she had to go back on gluten for a period of 6 weeks in order for the biopsy to be accurate. Once someone is on a gluten free diet for a few months, the damaged villi begin to heal and appear normal. Well it's party time then, I thought. I wanted to throw Oreos at Lillie like they were confetti. The doctor cautioned that some parents choose not to give their kids the glutenny items they really like because its too hard to take them away again. I decided that if Lillie would not be allowed to have "real" pizza again, in her life, she was darn well going to have it now. We went down to the cafeteria to eat the lunches I had brought from home. They didn't sell Oreos, but I gave her pretzels and told her to go to town.

About 3 days after Lillie was back on gluten she came into the kitchen in the morning and said "Oooh my tummy hurts, can I go back to eating gluten free." Now if you've never seen an almost 5 year old beg to be put on a gluten free diet, it's pretty pathetic. I stared at her once again bloated stomach and knew in my heart what would be. Nevertheless, I stuffed her with gluten in those weeks, and I also gave her liquid pro-biotics regularly. I found the latter to be helpful in controlling her bloat.

The biopsy was quick, 15 minutes. About half an hour later the doctor came in with very clear pictures of Lillie's insides. He said he can't see anything in her intestines, but about 1/3 of the cases can only be seen when the samples are looked at under a microscope. I peered at the hills and valleys of her small intestines. They looked good, pink and healthy. I knew from the pictures I had seen in books about celiac disease that these kishkes looked great. B"H. I thought about what the doctor said. I'm lousy at math (my husband can't believe I made it through college without taking calculus), but good with cooking math. 1/3 is alot I thought. 1/3 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup of flour, 1/3 cup of oil. All significant amounts. But, on the other hand, 2/3 is quite a lot. That's almost a cup. So if 2/3 of all cases are diagnosed right away, there is a lot of hope, I rationalized. The doctor said if I didn't hear from him by next Friday to call him.

I left a bit deflated because I thought I would know for certain when I left the hospital that Friday afternoon. I had prepared gluten free oatmeal cookies from a new recipe book I recently bought called Veganomican. I had her gluten free challah on standby in the freezer, in case I needed to pull it out. But I didn't that Friday afternoon. We were left with another week of glutenny goodness ahead of us. Then we waited, each day in anticipation until 4:30 when the doctor's office closes, I waited for the call. I tried to plan Shabbos for the coming week. We were invited out and I apologized to our host that I didn't know Lillie's status yet, but would let her know a.s.a.p., so she could prepare appropriately.

Friday morning came and I decided to wait to call the doctor until after I did camp drop-off. I was thinking, "well today is the day the other foot will fall". But maybe it won't. There is hope. Her intestines look good to the naked eye. Maybe the other foot won't fall, maybe it would high kick. I had visions of the Rockettes in my mind as I cheerily made the beds and got the girls breakfast. Then the call came. A few minutes after the doctor' s office opened at 8:30. The doctor gave me the news quickly, like taking off a band-aid. She has celiac disease. He went on to ask if I wished to make an appointment with the nutrionist in his office? Tears were already welling up in my eyes, but I held them in....until I called my husband and the flood gates opened. "It's not bad" he said, "it's an illness that can be treated with diet. It would be worse if it was Crohn's". "Yes", I answered, "I agree, but it's hard to tell a 4 year old that". At about that moment Lillie came screeching down the stairs and shouted, "Is it pizza day today?" Oy vey, I thought! I made a split second decision to allow her to have her pizza at camp, since she'd been on gluten anyway. And, I would tell her when she came home, so it wouldn't be a shocker when she sat down to her gluten free challah that night. "Yes", I said meekly, "enjoy". Then Rosie had an accident on the floor and the baby was crying for her breakfast, and a million other little things that make up my mornings happened, and I moved on with the day.

I had waited to do my grocery shopping that week until I "got the call". As I reluctantly approached the gluten free section of my supermarket I saw a display of ice cream cones. "Hey, they're gluten free...and kosher...with a heimishe hechsher no less", I said to myself. That's odd in the regular chain supermarket. They were also reasonably priced, less than $5 for a dozen. I was told by a celiac that they usually run about $1 a cone. I truly felt those cones were a wink from G-d, Telling me, it will be ok. Maybe it won't be so, so hard.

I bought the cones, and I pulled the gluten free cookies from the freezer I had made the week before, and we went on with our lives... gluten free.

Note: The ice cream cones were Goldbaum's Gluten Free Sugar Cones.

Veganomicon is written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, the same authors of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Which, I feel has the best dairy free, egg free cupcake recipes ever, and they were considerate enough (as many vegans are) to include gluten free recipes as well. I like Veganomicon because it includes some traditional Jewish recipes, like kugel, which I find very hard to make egg free. The recipe below can be found on page 237 of the book.

Wheat Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 3/4 cups oat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tablespoon ground flaxseeds
1/4 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat the oven to 375F degrees.

Sift together the oat flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flaxseeds and soy milk. Add the brown and granulated sugars and stir, add the oil and vanilla, and whisk vigorously until all ingredients are emulsified (about a minute).

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry; fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto an ungreased baking sheet, leaving 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.

Yield: 18 cookies.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Something sinks in...


Yesterday Rosie was playing "mommy" with a play purse. She had a play package of cookies in the purse and went over to Daisie and said, "You can't have these, they're allergic...they're gluten free!". I thought it was so cute! And it made me realize that something is sinking in, even with a not quite three year old.

Getting one's point across is not an easy task. With our children we reiterate the need to be careful about their food choices due to allergies or celiac disease on a daily basis. When we eat by the homes of others or in restaurants, we must begin the education process anew.

I was delighted to see in my local paper, an article last month with tips on eating out for vegetarians. As I was reading the article, I substituted "celiac" for "vegetarians" and found it applicable and very helpful. In "Vegetarian: Chefs tips on navigating meat-filled menus" by Robert Bieselin, The Bergen Record, June 1, 2009, the reporter recounts ups and downs of navigating restaurant menus with a special needs diet. Overall, he feels for a successful experience you must be a bit flexible as well as assertive. For those with special dietary needs to have an enjoyable experience in a restaurant, the responsibility falls partly on the patron, and partly on the servers and chefs.

Here are some tips he shared:
1) Choose your restaurant wisely. Try to view the menu before going to determine if there are any dishes you can have. Call ahead if necessary to discuss your needs.

2) Be flexible. If there are no entrees that meet your criteria, choose instead 2 or 3 appetizers.

3) Make sure your waiter is able to tell you about the "hidden" offending food in the dishes. For example, the author says that there is often chicken stock used in soups that one may think is a vegetable only soup. The same is true with gluten. Flour is routinely used as a thickener in sauces and soups.

4) Speak up for yourself. If your server is not knowledgeable on the ingredients or preparation techniques of the menu items, speak to the manager or chef. They restaurant wants you to enjoy your experience and return. They should be willing to accommodate you as much as they can.

5) Recognize when the restaurant is not the best choice for you and move on. Don't take it personally if they don't have a good selection of dishes that fit your special needs. A pizza and pasta place for example might not be the best choice of restaurant for a celiac, but a steak house would be great!

I hope these tips help you whether you are wandering the world on your summer vacation or staying put. In reading personal accounts of people newly diagnosed with celiac disease, many feel reluctant to participate in social events at others homes or restaurants because they don't feel comfortable with the food situation. But if you are prepared and assertive about your needs, then you can fully enjoy these experiences.