Product Review – Nutra Summa

Being relatively new to the blogging game, or at least being new to having more than 1 person read my blog, I often sit in envy of my friends who get lots of samples from companies. Free stuff to try, sent to me instead of being grabbed at an expo, how cool is that? I mean, other than them wanting you to write great things about the product?

Anyway, I recently received my first ever product sample and it took absolutely no arm twisting on the part of anyone to get me to rave about it.

I need to rewind a bit and give you a summary of my average week. This isn’t to get a “whomp whomp” from you, just give you an idea. My day generally starts with a rush to get going (more on that later) 8-9 hours at work, an hour drive to rehearsal, at rehearsal until 10, an hour drive home, grabbing a bite to eat, falling into bed and trying to unwind enough to fall asleep hopefully by midnight. If I don’t have rehearsal, I get a workout in for an hour or so (after cool down and stretching it tends to be a or so”) and I get home around 8 – 8:30 to do script work, work on this, work on my (still to come) website, look up auditions, etc, etc, etc. I love my life, I love being busy, but **whew**. This is what I do to follow my dream of becoming a professional actress/performer/model/superhero. Since I don’t tend to get home until late, my “go to” meal for dinner tends to be a protein shake in some way/shape/form. But finding good protein is not always easy, especially when you want to start cutting down on dairy and don’t like the grit of hemp. Plus Vega and Goat Whey just taste weird.

So fast forward a bit, and I see people tweeting about Nutra Summa. I express an interest in learning more and a couple of weeks later I receive a package with a weeks worth of the Chocolate Pea Protein Powder and their Summa Lean Supplement.

Ok, let me just say right off the bat the Chocolate Protein powder is YUM! It was tasty, but I actually found it to be too sweet. Since I wasn’t too sure how to contact anyone from the company, I got on Twitter to question the inclusion of Cane Sugar, which gave the powder 3g of Sugar.  At 20g of protein, it was matching up nicely with Tara’s Whey and had more than the Whole Paycheck Whey that made me sick (dang “made in a shared facility.”)(I know I should know better.  And stop having conversations with myself.)  ANYWAY, they said that it was how they got the yummy chocolate flavor, and when I compared the sugar with the other brands I have used, I discovered that they all have about 3g of sugar.  I’m thinking it was something else that made the sweet pop for me.  The amount of protein in a serving was on the high end, and that is the most important part.   All in all, it was tasty and if I had a chocolate craving, this would be what I would want to reach for to help curb it.

photo via NutraSumma.com

Chocolate Nutra Summa Pea Protein
Image courtesy of nutrasumma.com

The other sample they sent me was the Summa Lean.  Before my samples were sent, I was asked if I was having trouble with fatigue and energy.  The answer to both was yes.  These pills helped!  Taken twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, these pills claim to “Mobilize stored fat so it can be used as fuel, promotes healthy thyroid function” and many other claims.  Here was my experience.  My sweet cravings dropped to an almost all time low.  I felt like I had a bit more pep.  I didn’t want to snack.  Not exactly the scientific language they use to promote, but I’ve never been one for technical terms.  In a nutshell – they worked!  The pills themselves are about the same size as the multivitamin I take daily, so they are not insanely huge and you actually feel they are a size to give you your money’s worth.

Summa Lean Pills totally work. Image courtesy of nutrasumma.com

Summa Lean Pills totally work.
Image courtesy of nutrasumma.com

So, what’s my verdict?  Well, I am buying a bottle of Summa Lean when I get paid and I am going to try the unflavored pea protein to see if it is less sweet.  Again, the chocolate tastes great and chocolate-y, but it was a bit on the sweet side for me.  But when it comes to giving me what I need out of a protein powder, it is a total 10 out of 10!

As an added bonus, all of these products are Gluten Free and made in a dedicated facility, so no risk of cross-contamination.  WIN!

And here is my recipe for Chocolate Elvis

3 scoops Nutra Summa Chocolate Protein Powder

1/2 cup Chocolate flavored Milk or Milk Substitute (I use Almond Milk)

1/2 cup Vanilla Greek Yogurt

1 Tablespoon of Peanut Butter (or 2 Tablespoons PB2 if using a shaker cup)

1/2 banana

6 ice cubes

 

Was that July?

Holy Crow People!

Is it just me, or did July fly by like a bat outta hell?? Granted, for the most part this summer has felt like an extended fall, but is it really August already!?! YEESH! I felt like it was just last week that I woke up and looked at what my July had in store and thought, “Bring It.”

Let me tell you, July heard my challenge and Brought. It.

The month started off with 3 days on the set of a major motion picture that was filming in town.  Let me just say that film sets are not the place to be when you are an extra on a special needs diet.  Thankfully I thought ahead and brought food, for the most part.  While lunch was covered, the first day I discovered there was no hot water for oatmeal, so that made for an extra long day.  I also failed in the bringing of enough snacks.  Thankfully there was lots and lots of fresh fruit available for me to nosh on.

If this means something, you know what I worked on.

If this means something, you know what I worked on.

It was a fun couple of days where I got to see, but not interact, with some pretty famous people.  I have no clue if I will make it into the finished film, but I will know I was there and a part of something magical that ignited a spark that had been a bit dormant.

After that, rehearsals started picking up for my summer show.  This year I was thrilled to be a part of the Chicago Community Theatre premier of SHREK: THE MUSICAL.  Now, before you get all eye-rollie with me, the script is by the same gentleman who brought us the brilliantly touching RABBIT HOLE.  Shrek is actually one of my favorite newer musicals because the story is one I relate to and there are several songs that I absolutely adore!  But it also involved 2 weeks of rehearsal every night with no internet connection to fill the time between.  This is when my amazing cast shone.  This was probably one of the closest casts I have worked with, and there was so little internal drama that it was heavenly.

The Queen of Hearts and Shrek having a staring contest.  The Queen had to shrink a bit.

The Queen of Hearts and Shrek having a staring contest. The Queen had to shrink a bit.

So those two events filled a bunch of time.  One Saturday of the month saw me attending both an open background call for TRANSFORMERS 4 and then doing background work on an Exxon commercial.  I was paid to look at the Chicago skyline and get color on what was the hottest day of the year.  Granted, if you have been in Chicago you know that it is not too hot and we have had very, very few warm days, so it actually got me a little bit of color!

This month also saw Brandy Wendler returning to Chicago for the 2013 Mrs. International Pageant.   When she got into town we met at the headquarters of ENJOY LIFE FOODS for a tour.  This was a fantastic visit a) because they sponsored Brandy in her pageant, and  b) they are an awesome company that is free of the top 8 allergens.  If you have not tried their food, I highly recommend you pick something up.  Brandy and I have a fondness for the Plentils, and I am also a big fan of the Decadent bars.  After some talking and getting us suited up in our white coats and pretty pink hairnets, it was time for the tour.  All I am going to say is “WOW.”  Wow that this company still packages things by hand, wow that they do so much in so little space, wow at the steps they take to ensure the food is safe, wow, wow, wow.  The Marketing Manager, Kasey, was an absolute joy to have as a tour guide and somewhere she has a picture of Brandy and I climbing Mount Plentil.

With the Enjoy Life sign

With the Enjoy Life sign

Brandy and I are ready to tour the Enjoy Life facilities.  We make the red hair nets look GOOD!

Brandy and I are ready to tour the Enjoy Life facilities. We make the red hair nets look GOOD!

I have bad posture, but with the frabjulous Kasey of Enjoy Life.

I have bad posture, but with the frabjulous Kasey of Enjoy Life.

Brandy was in town to compete in the Mrs. International pageant.   While I could not afford a ticket, I was dying to see her in her finery and bring her some celebratory cupcakes, as I was that confident she would do well.  So, on Friday I got in touch with the fantastic FrannyCakes and we decided that it would be fun and go “crash” the pageant.  Ok, I should probably define that.  By crash we meant go hang out in the lobby, get the results, see Brandy and her handsome hubby after the show.  So…we met up for dinner of a cupcake each at Swirlz Cupcakes before heading up to Skokie to hang out at the mall before it was time to hang out in the lobby.  Granted, by hang out at the mall, I really mean go to Barnes & Noble, get tea, read magazines.

Some of these are FrannyCakes, some are mine.  Can you guess which is which?

Some of these are FrannyCakes, some are mine. Can you guess which is which?

After a bit of light reading, we headed over to the venue to hang out in the lobby and see how she did.  Sadly, we forgot that the first night they only announced who won Most Photogenic and not the Top 10.  Oh well.  We still got to see Brandy and JR, as well as Andrea and her new beau who had come in to cheer.

Yup, we went to a beauty pageant.

Yup, we went to a beauty pageant.

What else did I do??  New headshots were taken, I worked on a commercial for Exxon by lying around a park all day, stood in line for an extra cattle call for the next Transformers movie, attended a holiday party, and I got together with friends to feed our SYTYCD addiction.  It was a crazy busy month, but boy, did I have a LOT of fun!

In other news, it is now mid-August and I am late posting this because I have been cast in yet ANOTHER show.  My goal is to get at least one post up a week, as I juggle rehearsal, work, exercise, lessons, and all the other craziness that is my life.  If I miss, please bear with me, I am not done with y’all yet!

Product Challenge: Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s vs. Glutino Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

I am not going to tell you that I had a love affair with Oreo’s. I ate them, but I very rarely hunted them down and had a massive craving. That being said, who doesn’t love a good sandwich cookie?

My first experience with the Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s came in June when I started to read multiple blogs and Twitter posts about how good they are. My first experience with the Glutino came after my nose job when Sapps bought them at the hospital to help me feel better, took a bite, and spat it into her hand because she thought it was “real.”

The one thing I had yet to find? A reviewer that took these two cookies and put them in a head-to-head competition. A Battle Royale cookie style, so to speak.

Until now.
Image

 

The gauntlet was down. The challenge was issued (by myself, but it was issued) and the comparison was on.

SIZE: Both cookies are roughly 2.25″ wide and 3/4 of an inch thick. Pretty identical so no winner.

SEPARATION: I never ate my name brand sandwich cookies as they came out of the package. Nope! This girl loved to do the twist maneuver on them and see if I could get them to separate with one clear cookie and one with the filling.  Then I would eat the cookie, scrape the filling off the other, then eat the bottom bit.  When I did the twist on these, they both had one clean side and one filling side.

FILLING:  The Glutino cookie filling is a bit sloppy in its application as some of the cookies have filling cupping the edges of the cookie bit.  The Joe-Joe is machine-made perfection with every cookie identical and the filling perfectly centered.  But which filling tasted better??  The Glutino cookie has a creamier filling and, to my “haven’t tasted a real one in over 5 years” mouth, tasted like I remember the brand name cookie tasting.  The Joe-Joe had a vanilla flavor but also tasted a bit granier and was not as satisfying to my tongue.  WINNER:  Glutino

COOKIE:  The Glutino cookie is crunchy, with a strong chocolate flavor, but has a minor aftertaste that is not unpleasant.  The Joe-Joe cookie is not as crunchy (but I opened these a day earlier than put in fridge, so that may be affecting), the chocolate has a bit of an aftertaste, and it feels grittier in my mouth which was not enjoyable.  WINNER:  Glutino

OVERALL COOKIE EXPERIENCE:  Since this is an overall impression of this cookie, and since I have deconstructed the parts, the cookie was eaten in a way I am not accustomed to:  In 1 piece!  The Joe-Joe had a nice crunch but overall, I just don’t care for the texture or the bit of an aftertaste that it leaves in my mouth.  I’m not food savvy enough to truly describe the flavor, but the cookie leaves a very gritty feeling in my mouth that does not feel right.  The Glutino had what tasted like a higher cookie-to-filling ratio.  My bites definitely had more cookie than filling, but they did not leave that gritty feeling in my mouth.  There is a bit of an aftertaste to this, but it was not an “ew” sort of taste, but a familiar taste that made my mouth happy.Image

CALORIES, NUTRITION, & OTHER VARIABLES:  Both cookies have a serving size of 2 cookies.  All of the nutritional information is about the same and what you would expect for a cookie.  You get more servings out of the Joe-Joes (14 to 10) and there is a difference in price of $1.00 – $1.50 (sale/region/store varies).  The Glutino are made in a dedicated GF facility, but may contain milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.  The Joe-Joe’s are made on shared equipment and may containTraces of milk and tree nuts.  And, here are the ingredients:

Glutino Chocolate Sandwich Cookies:  Tapioca Flour, Rice Flour, Vegetable Shortening, Confectioner’s Sugar, Water, Tapioca Syrup, Corn Starch, Cassava Flour, Dextrose, Cocoa, Potato Flour, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Sodium Bicarbonate, Xanthan Gum

Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s:  Cane Sugar, Grain Blend (Corn Flour, Soy Flour, Rice Flour, Cornstarch, Potato Flour, Tapioca Starch, Potato Starch, Xanthan Gum, Arabic Gum, Carrageenan), Palm Oil, Cocoa Powder, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Invert Syrup, Cocoa Powder, Egg White Powder, Sea Salt, Baking Soda, Vanilla Bean Seeds, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavors, Ammonium Bicarbonate

Winner:  I like simple ingredient lists, plus the fact that there is no risk of cross-contamination, so Glutino is the winner here

NON-GF PEEPS OPINION:  My opinion is one thing, but it is also important to see how these cookies fare in the mouths of people who eat the brand name all the time.  Since there was no way I was keeping 2 packages of cookies in my apartment, I took them into work.  Both packages were gone pretty fast, many people commented that they both tasted great, but I noticed more people reached for the Glutino when they wanted a 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th cookie.  When I asked what people thought, they all said that the Glutino had a “Chocolatier” taste and that there was a weird grittiness to the Trader Joe’s.  WINNER:  Glutino

Both cookies are good, but based on all the variables listed here the winner of the Faux-Reo Challenge is the Glutino Chocolate Sandwich Cookie!

Great Big GF BBQ — I’ll Bring Wine (and Dessert)

When Frannycakes invited me to join in the Great Big Gluten-Free Barbecue, I jumped at the chance.  I love get togethers (virtual or in person), and I love food.  My first thought was great, I’ll do like I do in real life and grab a couple of bottles of white wine (preferable a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc), maybe a bag of chips and call it good.

greatbigglutenfreebarbecue

Then I read it was a recipe event.  Well.  Darn.  If you have been reading this blog then you know that I am not much of a chef.  Guess that means more wine for me since I had already run out and bought some.

My family was never one to barbecue, but we did campfires A LOT.  But when I was thinking on something I could do for this I thought back to my happy place, Walt Disney World.  On those really hot days of summer, I loved that the option was always there for me to swing by the Main Street Bakery or Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square and get 2 hot chocolate chip cookies with a slab of ice cream in between.

I have yet to master an easy GF chocolate chip cookie.  So this is to my take on a Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookie recipe that has been around forever.  My mom found it when my Grandma was diagnosed in 1999-2000-ish (she was 76!) and they quickly became a family favorite.  I have no clue who made it originally, I am not trying to step on any toes, I just want to share my favorite treat — with a bit of a “Mel” twist to it.

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Mel’s Tribute to the WDW Main Street Bakery:   GF Peanut Butter Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

  • 1 regular size jar of Peanut Butter (or your fave PB substitute)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 bag of your favorite GF chocolate chips
  • 1 container of your favorite vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the peanut butter, egg and sugar.  Once they are mixed together, add in as many of the chocolate chips as you want.  Use a teaspoon to scoop and roll into balls, then place on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.

Flatten the balls (oh, my mind just went there.  Sorry guys) with a fork.  Sprinkle the top of the cookies with sugar.

Bake 13-18 minutes and remove to a wire rack to cool

Open ice cream.  Grab a tablespoon and 2 cookies.  Scoop the ice cream and place on one cookie then place the other on top.  AMAZING if the cookies are still a little warm, still good if they have cooled off.

These make about 2 dozen cookies, so if you are going where there is a crowd you might want to double the recipe.

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I made these for a non-GF party last year and they were the first desert gone!  It’s always good for the ego when the Gluten Free treats are devoured and other snacks take longer to vanish.

If you want more recipes, visit the brains behind this virtual BBQ, the fabulously talented Frannycakes, and see what others are bringing to pass:  http://wp.me/p1HfLM-Uz 

Enjoy and if you want to find me, I’ll be by the wine.

Product Review — Kyra’s Bake Shop Snickerdoodle Mix

I have said it before and I will say it again: I am not a cook. My kitchen and I do not get along very well. To be completely honest, I have one outlet in my kitchen I can get to and my microwave is hooked up to it. So, I do not own a hand mixer, let alone a stand mixer. When I mix anything, it is by hand and it is always a bit of a prayer that my gas oven gets to the right temperature.

That being said, I have always enjoyed playing around with light baking. If the recipe is simple, I am your girl. If it is a box mix, well, that is just an added bonus. I don’t bake often though, because I live alone and am always on a diet.

At the Chicago GFAF Expo, I was a lucky recipient of a box of the Snickerdoodle Cupcake Mix from two-time(!) CUPCAKE WARS Champion, Kyra Bussanich. I met Kyra a year ago, after her first victory but before the 2nd, and was super excited to try out this mix. It had to be for the right reason and  a friend in town from California followed by a birthday celebration for Frannycakes certainly qualified in my book!

Ready to go with the Snickerdoodle mix!

Ready to go with the Snickerdoodle mix!

The texture of the mix is super fine.  It actually required a bit of shaking of the bag to make sure I had it all out.  This excited me because it was different from what I am used to with gluten-filled cake mixes and the thick, clumpy mix.  Not this!  After I whipped some butter by hand for 2 Kelly Clarkson songs (or 6-8 minutes according to the directions), I accidentally skipped a step in the instructions and added the wet ingredients to the mix.

Looks good and ready to go into cups.

Looks good and ready to go into cups.

So other than making a baker cringe when I mentioned skipping a step, I think a full-on body twitch occurred when I told her I mixed the batter with a fork, as I find it helps eliminate clumps better than a spoon.  You are all allowed to yell at me.  Anyway, there was a minor panic attack when I discovered my lack of a cupcake pan and the presence of mini cupcake cups.  Thank goodness for some ingenuity on my part.

Ingenuity.  Note:  Do not do this again unless you like funky shapes

Ingenuity. Note: Do not do this again unless you like funky shapes

After some playing with my rarely used oven and figuring out baking time, this is what the mix produced:

The finished product, dusted with cinnamon sugar

The finished product, dusted with cinnamon sugar

Since I used Earth Balance as my butter, they did not rise that much.  But even with all my kitchen foibles, these cupcakes were AMAZING!!!  At the party multiple people went back for 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 10ths.  They were a hit with everyone telling me that they could not believe they were Gluten Free.

I am really hoping that these get into stores soon, as this is going to be my go-to mix brand whenever I have to make something.  If you are not adventurous enough to try the Snickerdoodle, these are also available in Chocolate and Vanilla.  Easy, tasty, and passing the non-GF taste test equals something that I highly recommend you seek out.

The One Where I Met April Peveteaux

I am going to be completely honest.  I am a bit lazy and usually do not have time at night to go blog exploring, so unless I hear about a great blog from someone or stumble across it, I probably have never heard of it. Which was the case of GlutenIsMyBitch.   At the beginning of March several people I follow on Twitter started posting pics of these supercute “Fuck Flour” buttons and talking about this book they picked up titled Gluten is My Bitch.  Even though I had sworn off buying any more books until I got through my backlog, I swung by the Book Cellar to get my own copy because with a title like that, how could I refuse?

Word

Word

To say I love this book would be an understatement.  While April apparently has encountered more “run to the bathroom NOW” scenarios than I have, so many of the emotions that she talks about resonated deeply.  It didn’t hurt that her writing style and tone are more than a little bit sarcastic.  Plus the recipes look simple enough that even I couldn’t mess them up — if I ever decide to make one.  You can only imagine my happiness when I saw that she was swinging through Chicago and doing a presentation at the Printers Row Lit Fest.  In fact, I was so excited that I started to make the EL trip into the Loop a week early! D’OH!  Thankfully a well-timed tweet from April saved me from the embarrassment of wandering around like a lost and confused puppy.On the proper day, Chicago decided it was finally time to crank the heat up a bit and supercharge the humidity in her honor.  You know, ACTUALLY give us a day that felt like it belonged in the season we were in and a great day for the city to show off how fantastic it is when the temperatures rise and we all come out of hibernation.  After a quick stop for an iced coffee IV, I was bright-eyed, busy tailed, happily caffeinated, and on my way to Printers Row and the Good Eating tent.  Upon arriving I quickly spotted local GF bloggers Betsy and Andrea.  We did a brief bit of catching up then it was time for April.  Thanks to some pesky health and sanitation regulations, we could only look on as she literally whipped together 3 party appetizers, all while having a conversation with Monica Eng from the Tribune.

Polka dot retroish dress and a hand talker.  April has cool points to spare

Polka dot retroish dress and a hand talker. April has cool points to spare

What I loved was, just like in her book and blog, April was completely open about her challenges, including those fun pre-diagnosis loo runs. Granted, I think she had many more “crap your pants” moments than I did, but every Celiac is different and her stories were just hilarious.  Even though every Celiac/Gluten-Free person is different, while she spoke I looked around and saw so many people nodding their heads in agreement and understanding.  After about 30-ish minutes, they opened the conversation up to questions.  Through all of this, April continued prepping food that we couldn’t eat!  Ah, those pesky laws.

April prepping some sushi grade tuna.

April prepping some sushi grade tuna.

At the end it was announced that April would be signing books under another tent.  You know, that thing I did not bring because I wore my pin purse and the book didn’t fit?  Yeah.  That book.  And somehow I ended up being one of the first in line.  The day was saved when one of the volunteers gave everyone a post-it to write their name on for their autograph.  Just like a in a cartoon, a lightbulb went off over my head.  I realized that I could have her sign the post it  and I would place it in my book when I got home!  Brilliant!

My signed Post-It in place next to the title page.

My signed Post-It in place next to the title page.

I was already feeling pretty good, and my geek-o-meter was hovering in the high zone when it was my time to have my “book” signed.  The geek-o-meter went through the roof when, before I said a word, April stated:  “I know you.”  We have never met in real life.  We have never talked.  We have had some Twitter exchanges, including getting the previously mentioned button, but that was it.  A funny thing happens when the geek-o-meter maxes out.  I get loud – er.  I actually apologized to April because I felt that after that moment, I started yelling and being a spaz, and pretty much all those things that happen when I get really excited and lose my cool.  You know, when I geek out.  April was gracious, fun, and awesome.  I even got a picture with her:IMG_1945 Cute, right?  Except April was behind the table and I was in front of it.  My brain did not even THINK about asking if I could go around to get the picture.  Nope.  My brain saw an open space on the table and decided that I would just sit on the table and lean back.  Cuz that is what you do, right? April has already blogged about the “inappropriateness” of this picture.  I am going to apologize for the whiteness of my thighs in this picture.  I don’t pre-tan and this was the first day that felt warm enough to wear shorts.  Which means my legs have been encased in jeans for the past 9 months or so.  So they are blinding.  But really, this picture is thightastic.  Enjoy!

The uncropped photo.  It's thighlicious.

The uncropped photo. It’s thighlicious.

Oh, and if you have not picked up the book — DO!  It is actually one of the more accessible “Welcome to your new life” books I have read and it is one of the few ones that felt like it was written by someone less than perfect.  You know, human.  And funny.  Cuz we all need to find the humor in our “where is the nearest loo” moments!! http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1617690309/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d11_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=0TPPEGXTR5B92302VH74&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938811&pf_rd_i=507846

Keep It Positive and Be Open

There were about 5 different blog posts I wanted to write this weekend, including product reviews of Red Apple Lipstick, Keeki Pure & Simple nail polishes, about meeting April P, and a couple of ideas still floating around out there that will make it into final form eventually.  Then I read a comment on a support group I belong to that made me reconsider and realize that I needed to write this.

I’m going to paraphrase, but the basic comment was along the lines of, “I am tired of explaining my illness to everyone, they only laugh at me, and I don’t want to deal with normals anymore.”  This broke my heart for so many reasons.

First of all, yes, Celiac disease sucks.  It sucks that we have to make sure that if we dare go out to eat, we need to ask a thousand questions, double and triple check to make sure clean surfaces and utensils are used in the kitchen, that grills are cleaned, that we cannot order like we used to, that even our alcoholic lifestyle has changed.  It. Sucks.  There is no arguing that.  But here is the thing.  It isn’t going away.  Not every.  So unless you want to go back to the land of farting all the time, diarrhea, massive depression, or whatever not-fun symptoms you had when your system was crapping out on you and you didn’t know it, you are stuck with this diagnosis.  But the positive to ALL of this is — we have the only autoimmune disorder where we can control it by food.  We do not need to spend thousands of dollars on medication.  We eat right, we are healthy.  How cool is that?

As far as the people laughing and not understanding, well, maybe I am used to that because I was never one of the cool kids, no matter how hard I tried to be.  Man, I wanted to be cool and popular so bad that I tried to subvert who I was.  I obviously did not succeed at  that, but I wanted to fit in so much it hurt.  People will not understand or accept what they do not want to understand or accept.  Period.  If you want proof of that, just look through history.  That does not mean they people on the mis-understood side stopped trying.  They kept fighting their fight until they got their voices heard.

We are fighting our fight.  For every 3 people who laugh or do not understand, there may be one in there that wants to learn more and get it, but is laughing to go along with the crowd.  Maybe one of the people we tell our story to is experiencing something similar but is too embarrassed to talk about it.  You just opened her eyes to something that maybe her doctor had not considered.  For every “normal” (I really hate that word) person you talk to, you are spreading education and awareness.  That is now someone who at some point later in their life can say, “Hey, I know someone dealing with that.”

And as far as work/whatever/life not getting it.  Been there, done that.  I’m the girl who Instagramed the picture of the apple, water, salt, and pepper packets that were all I could enjoy at a company sponsored luncheon.  Ok, I didn’t eat the salt and pepper, but they were among the GF items I could eat.  What I could not have were the sandwich and chips that were in the lunch.  Was I frustrated?  You bet your non-flaming hinny.  Was I enraged?   So much so that I emailed the event planners when I got back to the office and let them know that there was a portion of their workforce that was affected by this.   At the office event we had on Thursday, there was a small GF pizza.  It was a baby step, but it was a step.  My co-workers now order a GF cupcake when they realized after 3 months I was excluded.  On food days, there is always a co-worker that will bring in something for me to eat.  Yes, it is usually the same co-worker, but another one stopped me from eating something I have made because of something that was added.  It is not a perfect situation, but you will find people out there who care.

That being said, I recently was an extra in a movie and am so thankful that I brought a GoPicnic with me to set, because there was nothing at lunch I could eat.  But that’s just the thing.  I do not expect the world to cater to me.  It is nice when there are options available, but for the most part, I try to keep something on me so I can eat with others.  Yes, I have to explain why, but when they see I am serious about my health, they accept it.  And I am always answering questions about Celiac when I do this.

Life on a daily basis can be frustrating.  Trust me, I have been there.  I have cried tears of frustration over being excluded due to my diet.  I’ve worked for companies that have been great for visitors, lousy for employees.  Heck, I still refuse to eat at my company’s cafeteria because the cross-contamination is so awful.  The thing is, if I isolated myself from every non-GF person out there, I would not have the community of friends I have today.

And my friends/acquaintances/whatever you want to call them make my life better.  The GF’ers who know what I am going through.  AND the “normals” who share my love/geekery over theatre, music, comic books, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, literature, and so many other things.  If I never put myself out there, they never would have come into my life, making my life that less fantastic.

So, yes, we all struggle.  As someone whose symptoms showed up as some pretty scary depression that has gone away post-diagnosis, I know how easy it is to dwell on the negative.  But damnit!  Life is too short to focus on all that is bad in your life and in the world!  Snap out of it already!  Have your pity party, then find 1 bright spot in your day and focus on that instead.  It might be something as simple minor as something that made you crack a smile, or it could be a major accomplishment.  The thing is, focus on the good instead of the bad.  Your life will be that much better for it.

Or, you know, be Elle Woods:

 

Celiac Awareness Month

Wow!  It is June and  2013 is now officially at the 1/2 way point.  Plus we just wrapped up Celiac Awareness Month on May 31st.

What a month.

It is only logical (GAH!  Star Trek) to start with the bad.  By bad I mean, Holy Shizzballs Major Media Outlets, Do You Have Your Head Up Your **edited**!  I mean really.  How hard can it be to have an intern do 5 minutes of simple internet research to get facts?  Apparently it is almost impossible for that to happen.  GlutenDude continued his fantastic, award-winning run of sarcastically dealing with the media stupidity out there and sounding the horn for the rest of us to learn where to direct our ire.  The first idiot spewing off on GF was Rush Limbaugh.  What made me laugh is that the GF community apparently is as fed up with his BS that none of us decided it was worth talking about.  Maybe because he flip-flopped his opinion so much that you ended up not totally sure what the heck he was ranting on.  And we didn’t want to give him the press he so obviously longs for.

Mid-month we had the Disney Channel brouhaha.  A show they air, JESSIE, had an episode where they a) went on about a character having 5 pages of allergies, and then b) had one of the “hero” characters throw pancakes at the allergy boy because he was “annoying.  Way to go Disney.  Let’s show that bullying and picking on someone just because they are irritating you is the way to handle the situation.  This disappointed me most of all because the theme parks are so allergen friendly.  If you aren’t familiar with the episode, the GlutenDude response, and what we as a community accomplished, well…the hyperlinks are there for ya.

Of course, the media crap didn’t end there.  Nope.  Chelsea Handler, who I understand is allergic to Gluten.  Seriously, this was awful and ignorant of the people who have to follow the Gluten Free diet because if they don’t they could DIE!  And then lastly, because we have not endured enough of a media shizz storm, we got a mention on the Today Show 4th hour by Hoda Kotbi.  Well…..yeah.  *sigh*  MAKE IT STOP!!!  Granted, we got a kind of apology, you know, the kind a 4-year-old gives when their mom tells them to apologize for something and they don’t really want to.  All this shows me is that we, as a Gluten Intolerant/Celiac community, need to get out there and start educating how important, and life saving, the gluten-free lifestyle (cuz it is not a diet) is for us.

So, if I am calling for action, what did I do?

Well, I wore a Crave Bakeshop t-shirt to a Doctor Who conference.

photo

With Carole Barrowman. Author and sister to a certain rogue Captain.

I wore green.  A lot.  Considering it is my favorite color, that was not too much of a stretch.  Heck, I own 5(!) different shades of green nail polish.  So I rock the Celiac Awareness color year round.

There was a bit of a heated e-mail conversation with the owner of a restaurant that handed me her card at the Chicago GFAF expo and invited me to try her Gluten Free Breakfast.  Except that it is cooked on the same surface as the Glutenous ingredients and with just a little bit of a clean-up.  Granted, I ate when i was there, knowing the risks, but I don’t know if the upset stomach I had after was from being upset or from being glutened.  Needless to say, she still seems to think that having GF ingredients makes her GF, I cannot convince her otherwise, and I learned what it was like to, hypothetically, bang your head into a brick wall.

There was the Dining Out with Bruce event at DaLuciano’s this month.  To say that I ate a lot of food would be an insult to a lot of food.  I think there was about a TON of food to be had.  Just when we thought we were done, MORE came out!!  This event was such a unifier for the Chicago GF community as it brought so many different people together at an event where you had to talk to your neighbor and learn a bit more.  Plus the food was AMAZING!

Chi GF love at Da Luciano's

Chi GF love at Da Luciano’s

 

Just a bit of our feast

Just a bit of our feast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did my best to try to educate my company about Gluten Free, and why it is important to have options available when there is a company wide event.  Apples, salt and pepper do not make a full, or happy, employee.

Finally hit up the Grand Rapids Gluten Free Food Fair.  Talk about being impressed!  Well, mostly.  One of my favorite companies had a rather dismal “booth”.  Other than that, so many local restaurants came out with knowledge about cross contamination and provide safe food samples it was inspiring.  Plus I got to meet Willy O, who makes an award-winning GF Pizza!  if you live in West Michigan, make sure you Google this FREE event next year.  It is worth attending.

The game of phone tag with the company that operates the food service locations at the United Center ended.  I finally discovered why they only have their GF booth open during sporting events, and gave them a suggestion or two to make life a bit easier for the GF attendee at other events.

I supported smaller Gluten Free companies.  I now own so much Celiac and the Beast wear, it is kind of scary.  But I know if she has a v-neck, I am scooping that up!  Plus there was the end of the month purchase for some more eyeshadow from Red Apple Lipstick.  I’ve purchased from them at the Chicago Expo the last 2 years, but had never done anything online.  Until I read this story on their blog.  How could I not chip in and help out?  We are a COMMUNITY after all.

Except for that minor Twitter disagreement I had with someone who wants people to eat GF his way, aka only the savory not so much the sweet.  I agree that there are a lot of sweet GF recipes out there, but am of the opinion it is because replicating the taste and texture of the sweet is harder to do than to replicate flavors of the savory.  We did agree that the GF community needs to be health conscious, but doesn’t everyone?  Communities do not always see eye-to-eye, it is about how we work together to get over our differences that is important.

And on the very last day of the month, I became the first actor featured on GlutenLibre.com’s GF Performers site.  Pretty kick-ass.

I probably did more, but really, all I did this month was live my life.  It may, or may not have, helped raise awareness of Celiac Disease.  But if I can educate and make a dent in my corner, then I would say it was a pretty good month.

 

Comfort Food is Comforting, Carb-y, and Tasty!

I don’t know about you, but I have been having one of those weeks.  You know, the ones that for some reason start off rough and just continue along that path.  Not as bad as what some are experiencing, but still bad enough to take you off your game and make you feel blah.  If I had a better word to describe the feeling, I would use that.

When I am feeling in a manner that can only be described as “blue,” I have 3 treats that I turn to that help lift my spirits.

The first is PB&J on a cracker.  I can almost hear y’all asking, “But Mel, why don’t you just put it on a piece of bread?”  Maybe it is the playful and portable nature of the cracker, or that it reminds me of my childhood, or maybe it is the crunch.  Whatever it is, I love to smear creamy peanut butter on a Ener-G cracker with a dollop of jam.  For this treat, I always use the Ener-G brand crackers because they are firmer and will hold up to the pressure of the peanut butter being spread.  A couple of these crackers, and I tend to have the hole in my belly filled and get the start of a smile.

This is the first time taking a picture of something I created...

This is the first time taking a picture of something I created…

When my tummy hurts, the one comfort food I crave is not a food at all.  It is a beverage created in Detroit,  is very much a Midwest thing, and sometimes I feel like it is primarily a Michigan thing.  When my stomach hurts or I want a taste of home, I look for the green  Vernors label.  Vernors is a ginger ale that is aged in barrels giving it a different taste profile than other ginger ales on the market.  I wish I could describe the flavor accurately, but since I have known the flavor all of my life it is pretty impossible to do.  All I know is that no other ginger ale feels like a warm hug from a loved one.  Which is the ultimate purpose behind comfort foods, right?

Photo of tasty Vernors from BuffaloChow.com

Photo of tasty Vernors from BuffaloChow.com

I was fortunate enough to know one set of my Great-Grandparents.  And not just know them in a vague sense, know them in we would road trip a couple of times each year to see them, they were alive throughout most of my high school life, and my Great-Grandmother passed after I graduated from HS.  So I have very specific memories of visiting them.  The TV remote on a wire, my Great-Grandfather in his chair, the fully decorated fake Christmas tree residing in their basement inside a garbage bag.  But most of all, I remember the treats my Great-Grandmother Mynette would have for us.  The trip never felt complete if I did not have at least 1 graham cracker frosting sandwich.  It is what it sounds like:  2 graham crackers with a dollop of homemade frosting between them.  When I was first diagnosed, these were the things that I mourned the most.  Granted, I never made homemade frosting but grabbed a can of Betty Crocker when I had a craving or need of home, but still.  It was the lost that hurt the deepest.  Then my mom found the Schar Honey Grahams and I could have that taste of memory again.  The Schar grahams are almost perfect, as they do not break too easily, and they have that graham cracker taste that I love.  When I am having a rough week like this one, I am glad that the grocery store is not far away and that I stashed a box of Schar Honey Grahams in the back of my cupboard as an emergency pick me up.

Graham Cracker Frosting Sandwiches.  Ready to help lift my mood!

Graham Cracker Frosting Sandwiches. Ready to help lift my mood!

 

The only downside about comfort foods is that they do not seem to be too good for you, or your waist line.  But that is the thing about comfort, it is supposed to make you feel better, pounds be damned!

What about you?  What is your favorite comfort food?

Grand Rapids Food Fair, or a Real Example of Christian Goodness

Saturday, May 18th found me in the region I grew up to explore the 7th Annual Gluten Free Food Fair at the Deltaplex. Only in Grand Rapids would one section of the Expo space be a Gluten Free Expo and the other be a Magic: The Gathering event! =)

One of the things that makes this event so unique is that, it is sponsored and run by a church (Anchor Baptist Church) as an outreach they developed after discovering several members of their small (60 people) congregation have Celiac.  Since I wanted to learn a bit more about the event, I took a couple of minutes and spoke with Rachel Coin, the wife of the pastor and a super organizer.  The first couple years of the event it was held at Kuyper College and was free for vendors and guests.  In the last couple of years they started to charge vendors to attend, which then brought in more of the bigger names in the GF community.  This year was the largest event yet, with 62 vendors and over 2,000 attendees. What is truly humbling, and one of those rare examples of a group doing something out of the goodness of their hearts to give back when they saw a need, Anchor Baptist Church makes sure that the parking is free and there is no fee for people to attend.  The vendors are charged enough to cover the expo hall and associated fees, any left over money is set aside for next years event.  Many church members arrived at 7am to set-up, during the event they staffed or assisted at several booths, then helped with tear down.   Other volunteers were from the local Celiac Support Group.  So many volunteers from these two organizations, and they were the backbone of this entire event.  BRAVO!

She-Liac with the fantastic Rachel Coin of Anchor Baptist Church

She-Liac with the fantastic Rachel Coin of Anchor Baptist Church

This event saw the return of She-Liac!  One of the best things about her appearing is that it opens up conversations with people I might not get to talk to.  The costume is slowly being redesigned so that it is not so “Superman”-esque, but today she was rocking a fabulous tee by Celiac and the Beast.

2 things really impressed and surprised me about this event.

  • The very visible presence of two major Grocery Store Chains:  Meijer and Spartan Stores.  The Meijers booth had their Black Bean and Salsa Tortilla chips, while the Spartan row had a small number of samples from many GF companies along with pasta and a couple items from their Full Circle brand.  I had a fun conversation with the rep from Meijers corporate office about some products/brands that would be great for the stores to have.  She had a list with suggestions from others, and it was great they were taking an interest in what the consumer was interested in seeing in store.
  • A number of national chain restaurants had a presence at the expo:  Red Robin was handing out coupons and had a raffle for $20 gift certificates, Qdoba had the makings for a chicken bowl (rice, black beans, chicken, salsa, jalapeno, guacamole, sour cream, cheese) and had their allergen information and a coupon on a dinner, Zoup has soup, Outback Steak House had their chocolate thunder from down under (and a coupon for a free one!  Hello chocolate!),  and The Melting Pot was there with chocolate fondue and fruit.  Not to mention local restaurants Brann’s (yummy ribs and they had greens!) and the Gilmore Collection having a strong presence at the event.

    Melting Pot's Chocolate Fondue with Fruit and the groovy guy putting it all together

    Melting Pot’s Chocolate Fondue with Fruit and the groovy guy putting it all together

After some thought, and consideration knowing my experiences in the area, I decided to attend as She-Liac.  I am still working on what to do with this character, but I wanted to see if she would be a success in Grand Rapids like she was in Chicago.  To change things up a little bit, I decided to wear one of the fabulous designs by Celiac and the Beast.  The shirt was a hit, and I think I talked some of the bakers to purchase her cupcake tee.  =)  It was a slow start to the day, and I got several funny looks, but as the day went on, vendors were taking my pictures, I started having conversations with kids (the highlight of my day), and I was actually asked to attend an event later in the year!

Ok, now on to what I KNOW you have all been looking forward to — My Expo Favorites!

I can now say that I have tasted award-winning pizza, and I want MORE!  Willy Olund, of Willy O’s Pizza and Grille won 1st prize in the United States and 2nd prize in the World in the non-traditional category at the 2010 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.  On top of that, at the 2 Mari in Lecce, Italy his gluten-free pizza was #1 in America!  His booth always had a line, and after tasting the pizza it was easy to see why!  Tasty, with a nice crunch, it left me wanting to make a stop in South Haven on my next trip through West Michigan.  Plus, Willy is a character, so you KNOW we hit it off in a big way!  Seriously, if you find yourself travelling along Lake Michigan in Michigan, make it a point to stop in and get one of these pies!  If you don’t think you will make it to Michigan, give them a call as they will ship their pies for you to bake.

Willy O, and his pizza, get a BIG thumbs up!

Willy O, and his pizza, get a BIG thumbs up!

My next favorite thing goes to the West Michigan Whitecaps and 5/3 Ballpark.  Not only do they have a pretty extensive GF menu (but no buns), next to each item on the menu board there is a green “GF” sticker indicating which items are available Gluten Free.  More parks can learn from them!

In the GF bakery category, 3 bakeries got my attention.  The Sugar Bowl Bakery from Muskegon had these fantastic eclairs that made me think of my Grandma, who was wishing something like that was closer to her.  When they told me they only brought 50 packages with me, I should have jumped on it, instead of waiting to buy them when they were out.  D’oh!  The Flour Uprising in Mount Pleasant (Fire Up Chips!) does both GF and non-GF options.  In a long conversation with one of the owners, Annette, she informed me that all of their GF baking is done first thing in the morning and all of their GF baking supplies, pans and dishes included, are stored separately from everything else.  For $4(!) I purchased a tasty Peanut Butter Chocolate bar and a Chocolate Ginger scone.  My last winner in the bakery round is Ethel’s Edibles om St Clair Shores.  I really did not want to purchase any muffins or anything, but then I tried their Humming Bird muffin.  Oh.  My. Goodness!!  And then a big SQUEE!  Then maybe one other sound of joy as this touches your taste buds.  Imagine if you will a muffin containing the following:  pumpkin spice, pineapple, coconut and raisins, then cover it with an orange cream drizzle.  It is a surprise and wonder that I have not hoovered the four I purchased.

Looking over some of the items from The Flour Uprising

Looking over some of the items from The Flour Uprising

Yummy Humming Bird Muffins and other treats from Ethel's Edibles

Yummy Humming Bird Muffins and other treats from Ethel’s Edibles

The last merchant is one that I met in Chicago, Keeki Pure and Simple.  I bite my nails and I am forever on a search for nail polish I can put on and then chip off.  It’s weird, I know.  I liked the 2 colors I purchased in Chicago along with the yummy tasting chapstick, so I wanted to pick up more.   This time I got a base coat, another nail color, and some of the Cherry Body Lotion.  A full review of what I tried is in the works, but it was fun to meet Keeki, the inspiration for the brand.  One of the silly asides from the event is, after purchasing my items, I left them on the Keeki table.  Of course, I did not realize it until I was back to my parents and went through everything.  Natalie, the CEO and Keeki’s mom, had her cell phone on her business card and met me at a local mall to give me what I had purchased — and she remembered the name of the nail polish even!  Thanks for the fantastic customer service, Natalie and Keeki!

She-Liac and Keeki, rocking the GF beauty products

She-Liac and Keeki, rocking the GF beauty products

One of the BEST things about the Expo was getting to meet up with a couple of friends.  At the Chicago Expo, I had the chance to meet Keeley McGuire.  Being a West Michigan girl, she came to the Expo with her mom and Little Miss.  It was such a joy to see her again and meet everyone.  I also got to catch up with Cece Otto, who was working for Schar while on a break from her American Songline journey along the Lincoln Highway.  If you can picture Kermit the Frog doing his crazy arm flailing, that was how I felt inside seeing these wonderful ladies.

She-Liac, Keeley, and the Little Miss

She-Liac, Keeley, and the Little Miss

IMG_0572

Cece and She-Liac activating their GF twin power

There were 2 downsides to the expo.  One is that one of my favorite brands had next to no presence at the event, and what they had was so ridiculous it was depressing.  The other is that this event emptied out around 2pm after being super busy.  I had honestly never seen anything like that!

Bravo to Anchor Baptist Church for putting together another successful event and here is to many more!

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