A Pizza Praise

I know I JUST wrote a post about how we feel bad when we eat things that aren’t homemade, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t scaremongering. No matter where you live, there are some wholesome choices you can make outside the home. You can find restaurants with sustainable, fresh, local ingredients, who do not use chemical-laden products because the real thing is so much better, and who care about your specific dietary restrictions or concerns. There are restaurant kitchens you can learn to trust nearly as much as your own.

This post isn’t about them. This post is about pizza.

Pizza is one of my favourite foods. I love love LOVE pizza. One of my favourite silly jokes is even about pizza:

How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?
Deep pan, crisp and even

You’re groaning now, but you know you’ll tell someone later. Anyway, I sorely miss good pizza (and even bad pizza).  I haven’t yet perfected a gluten-free pizza dough myself. A lot of pre-made bases are chewy, and I never remember that I need an extra hour before baking for boxed doughs to proof. The frozen pizzas offered in the Tesco and Sainsbury’s shops here vary wildly, and, when I found one I really liked, it disappeared forever. What’s a gluten-free girl to do?!

Last year, Dominos UK announced they were rolling out gluten-free pizzas to all their stores by 1 November. All staff would have to take gluten informational training to know about cross-contamination. A couple of days before the 1st, we decided to give them a try. If the Belfast branches were waiting until the 1st to roll out, I figured the worst that could happen was we would be told to wait a few days to order. Wrong. CB phoned, and it went something like this:

CB: Do you offer your gluten-free pizzas yet?
Dominos employee 1: I don’t know what that is. I’ll get the manager.
Dominos manager 1: We did have gluten-free bases, but nobody ordered them. We binned them.
CB: You binned them? You didn’t even advertise them. It wasn’t on your menu.
Dominos manager 1: You can call another branch and see if they have them still. Tell them I told you to call over.

Second branch:

CB: Do you offer your gluten-free pizzas yet? One of the other branch managers told me to phone over to you.
Dominos employee 2: I don’t know what that is. The manager isn’t in, but I’ll phone him and have him phone you back.
. . .
Dominos manager 2: I’m not sure if we have them. What is gluten?
CB: In short, gluten is something that’s in wheat and other grains that some people are allergic to.
Dominos manager 2: Really? Can you tell me more about it? What does it do?
CB: [proves he actually listens to me and spends about 3-4 minutes talking about Celiac and gluten]
Dominos manager 2: Wow. Thanks. I’ve never heard of that. We don’t have anything gluten-free, I don’t think.

While the employees and managers were really nice, they had no idea what was going on (and I have to assume the bit about having binned them was a panic-driven fabrication). At that point, I wasn’t even so bothered they didn’t have the bases — I was prepared for that possibility since it was only rolling out — but I was very concerned by the fact that the information was so sparse and different. They clearly had not be trained about gluten cross-contamination if one of the managers didn’t even know what gluten is. As you may know, I like to have my voice heard. I got in contact with the national Dominos folks and discussed the issues we discovered in the Belfast branches. After a bit of back and forth, we agreed that it was best they pushed the roll-out date back a few weeks and work on employee education. I was later offered a voucher for my assistance and trouble and to try the new pizza when it came out and give feedback.

A few weeks later, voucher in hand, I tread onto the Dominos website. There is a big GF on the choice of bases. There are comments about which toppings are not gluten-free, which, it is good to see, are very few. I double- and triple-check everything before I place the order. I half-expect the phone to ring, and they will tell me they still don’t have them in Belfast. Not even three minutes later, an unknown number calls. I answer.

Dominos employee: You ordered a gluten-free pizza?
Me: (sighing) Yes, I did.
Dominos employee: I just wanted you to know there is egg in the base. Some people are allergic to eggs, and I wanted to make sure that was okay.
Me: Absolutely. Thank you so much for asking.

What a difference. Less than a month prior, no one in the shops even knew what food allergies were. Now they’re phoning to make sure I’m not allergic to eggs?! How wonderful! The delivery driver explained that they always make sure the pizza boxes marked with a gluten-free sticker sit on top of the others, just in case something could fall down into it somehow. Some drivers choose to leave off the dips because they aren’t sure about the content and don’t want to give out something that might have gluten (They don’t; I checked). I was overwhelmed by the allergy-attentive service by a take-away pizza chain!

The Dominos pizza is good and tasty, but it’s not fantastic. It relies a lot on corn, which results in a heavier crust than their usual fare. It is crispy, which is a big problem with gluten-free doughs, and it isn’t too chewy. It only comes in one size (9″), but, in all, it makes for a good indulgent take-away, especially since they added spinach back to the toppings choices! The next hurdle I see for them is understanding that, because of some recent recipe changes, not a single side item or dessert is gluten-free. Currently, the only gluten-free option is the pizza itself.

Dominos Pizza delivered

Dominos Pizza delivered, pre-spinach return

Only a few weeks ago, Pizza Express announced their new gluten-free range (It’s even on the main page of their website!). After doing my research on how they are meant to be trained for cross-contamination (and knowing that I expect a little more from them than I would from Dominos), we decided to give them a try. The menu clearly marks items which have “NGCI”: Non-Gluten-Containing Ingredients. There aren’t a ton of options, but there are a few starters (including a lovely white wine and butternut squash risotto), at least one dessert, and a beer. (Their extensive online allergen menu (PDF) makes suggestions on how to make other items suitable for X allergy.) Nearly all of their pizzas can be made on the gluten-free base without any topping adjustments.

The service astounded me. I always fear the worst when someone questions the gluten-free thing.

Server: Oh, are you gluten-free?
Me: Yes, I am.
Server: I will alert the kitchen.

Rather than being made to feel a picky eater, she let me know with that simple statement that my dietary needs would be taken seriously. One table over, I heard the same server discussing with the mother of a young Celiac girl the changes the company had made in every kitchen for the gluten-free range. They have a completely new and gluten-free portion of every kitchen. Nothing ever goes on that side that has touched the other foods. They have a new oven that is only for gluten-free pizzas. In the cases where they are forced to utilize the same shelf space, the gluten-free items are all on higher shelves so that no errant flour can fall onto them. They are clear when they deliver the pizzas to the table which is gluten-free, but the setting is just the same — it sounds like such a little thing, but, when something is obviously different from others, it draws attention to it when you’d rather just get on with eating.

Pizza Express does have a superior crust. I would expect that. They have quality ingredients with responsible sources. The crust looks and tastes like a regular pizza crust. I’m shocked to say that I almost forgot I was eating a gluten-free pizza. Every once in a while, if I let my mind wander while eating, I’ll come back to the meal with a sudden paranoia that I have made a massive mistake and WHAT HAVE I EATEN?! That panic lasted a second longer when I realised there was pizza in my hand and it looked so good.

REAL pizza from Pizza Express!

REAL pizza from Pizza Express!

Pizzas from Dominos and Pizza Express lead completely divergent existences in the pizza world. Though Dominos did stumble at the beginning, eventually both chains impressed me. I can’t expect for any employee or company to know everything straight out of the gate, but a true willingness to learn and a commitment to respect go a long way in my book.

Week Three Check-in — Green Smoothie Challenge

It appears that the green smoothies are having an unintended (or, at least, unexpected) consequence for both CB and me. Whenever we eat food that I haven’t made in the house, we feel sick. Have the green smoothies made us picky eaters?

My best explanation (and please let me know if you have any other information and/or theories!) is that, as our bodies are getting more good things, we are satisfying the cravings we mistake for wanting bad things. When we want sugar and are giving it full fruit sugars with the fibre with which they are meant by nature to be consumed, our bodies are sated. We give it what it wants in a more healthful form and also make it work for it. I also know that, when your body is missing or not getting enough of certain nutrients, it tells you to eat things it shouldn’t because, well, your gut is good, but it lacks a brain. This phenomenon is often cited as the main reason pregnant women crave non-edible things — a baby requires a lot of the vitamins and minerals in a woman’s body, and her body is begging her to replace them without being able to actually articulate what’s needed.

I’m getting away from myself. My point is that I’m giving my body good things, and it’s starting to forget about the bad things. Why does that means that we’re not feeling well when eating outside of the house? Well, even though I carefully police everything I eat for gluten/other allergens, not everyone has the same standards for quality food as I do. When home, I try to make as much “real food” as possible. I try to balance foods without depriving us of what we want. You can have sugar, salt, and fat as long as you use the right sugar, salt, and fat in the right amounts. Assuming that every bad thing we eat does a tiny, tiny amount of damage means that we should assume that every good thing we eat does a tiny, tiny amount of repair work. I am suddenly thinking of Wreck-It Ralph. If you have more Felixes (Felii?) than Ralphs, the building is more quickly repaired. (If you haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, repair that now.) A building that is in good shape requires less daily repair, and I can only imagine the same must be said about our bodies. If our bodies are in constantly better shape by all the little good things we eat, the bad things have less of a chance to wear us down, make us tired, and make us want more bad things; however, you also notice a broken window in an otherwise pristine house faster than you can count the broken things in a derelict one.  When something is wrong, it will let you know right away.  It may sound bad, but wouldn’t you want to know about the problem before it has the chance to cause more damage?

In addition to having more things like magnesium and manganese, I have also realised that eating these raw fruits and veggies provides my body with more prebiotics for my probiotics, making them that much more effective. If you think I’m just talking nonsense now, let me tell you about these -biotics. I’ve talked before about probiotics, and you’ve no doubt heard about them from countless other sources. They are helpful, good bacteria that your body often depletes in poor health. They can also be killed off when you take antibiotics because the medicine can’t differentiate between good and bad bacteria. Less talked about are prebiotics, but they are just as important as their pro- friends and come in more bright and shiny flavours. While probiotics are only found in foods with live cultures like yogurt, prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates found in some fruits, most whole grains, and foods like honey, onions, and garlic. (Bonus tip: yogurt and kefir actually contain both prebiotics and probiotics and are “complete” in that sense.)

While you can’t digest prebiotics, guess who can: probiotics. Prebiotics are used as fuel for the probiotics (are you still with me?), which allows them to grow, thrive, and repopulate your gut. We tend to eat prebiotics even when our body has depleted good bacteria, which confuses our body because it can’t do anything with it. It spends a lot of energy trying to digest the indigestible, and we can get tired just from eating food. Balancing pre- and probiotics works to your advantage because you get the fuel you need to go about your day, and your helpful bacteria get the fuel they need to help you do what you need to do.

All right, I’ll take off my teacher hat. It is summer, after all, and I know you only come here for the cute animal pictures.

She sure knows how to work an angle.

She sure knows how to work an angle.

All that up there is to say that, while I might feel poorly after eating something junky or not to the same standards as I would make at home, I feel better as soon as I have my smoothie. It’s like it magically makes everything inside me better. With all the new and varied prebiotics I have had by eating whole greens and smart fruits like bananas, my probiotics seem to have kicked into high gear and worked even harder to heal my body. I may be becoming a picky eater in the meantime, but I think it’s really just listening to what my body really wants, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Slowly Simmered Dreams

I have finally achieved one of my goals in life: I have a slow cooker. I know. I know. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a really huge development for me as a person.

Isn't she pretty?

Isn’t she pretty?

There are some things you just can’t make without a slow cooker. You can live without those things, but your life would be devoid of joy. You may think you are happy now, but there is happiness you can’t even imagine on the other side. CB asked me last night if our slow cooker has been off since we got it, and I was able to answer ‘yes’ only because I haven’t done any overnight experiments yet.

I’m convinced that my slow cooker can time travel (it is parked next to the TARDIS) or, at least, look into the future. When I first set it on the counter on Monday, I stared for a moment, contemplating what I should first make. It reached out to me, explaining that chicken noodle soup was truly the only option. I even had leftover roasted chicken from Sunday’s dinner! How did it know that, the very next day, I would feel bad and need something comforting and wholesome to eat? It’s magic!

One of the most appealing things about a slow cooker (and the real selling point for CB) is that I can make dinner at any time during the day. I sat down to write this post at 10:30am, and tonight’s dinner is already done. It is, honestly, a matter of practicality. In my ever-growing quest to understand my body, I had to realise that I don’t always have the energy to make dinner at dinner time. When it gets to be about 5pm and I’m not sure I can roll myself off the couch to cook, it makes the option for unhealthy take-away that much more enticing. If I’m brimming with energy at about noon, why not make dinner at noon? A slow cooker gives me the flexibility to create a healthy meal without undue strain on my body. I also already have three slow cooker meals in the freezer, ready to be thawed whenever we want them. I made almost an entire week’s worth of dinners in one day. One busy afternoon — without too much pressure because they didn’t have to be on the table at any particular time — and I had one dinner for that night, one for the fridge, and three to be frozen. I was inordinately proud of myself and intend to integrate it into a weekly ordeal.

Last night, I also made this apple pie risotto from our gfree life.  I added two tablespoons of flax meal to the recipe (I just can’t help myself).  It was amazing — sweet without being too sugary, dessert-y without being heavy, and filling enough that CB had some for breakfast instead of his usual porridge.

CB kept calling it "crumble" because that's what it smells like.

CB kept calling it “crumble” because that’s what it smells like.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken, pre-cooked and shredded or uncooked (It will cook along the way)*
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of cayenne powder
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 big handful kale, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli, in small pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon dried cilantro/coriander OR 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried basil OR 1/2 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
Choice of noodles/pasta — I used 2 cups of brown rice shells; eyeball how much you need and remember they will expand when cooked

*You can use bone-in chicken if you take the weight into consideration and understand that you may get loose bones in your soup. It does add a certain richness in flavour, but I don’t like taking the chance.

Hardware:
Slow cooker
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board and 2 forks, if uncooked chicken is used

Directions:
Dump all ingredients EXCEPT noodles/pasta into the slow cooker. Stir together and cook on low for 6 hours.

Choose your own adventure:

A. If using precooked chicken, stir in your noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

B. If using uncooked chicken, remove it from the slow cooker at this time. Place it on the cutting board and carefully use the forks to shred the meat. Return to slow cooker with noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

I was so excited for this soup.

I was so excited for this soup.

Week Two Check-in — Green Smoothie Challenge

We had one beautiful, sunny day last week where we got the whole family out in the garden and had our green smoothies.  I’m reminding myself of this event partly because there were snow flurries yesterday and we got rained on in the wind today.

I think I assumed that, at some point, the benefits of the Love Your Greens 30 Day Challenge would taper off. I have worked tirelessly over the past two years to reinvigorate and revitalize my body. I have been reading and researching treatments and natural remedies. I have been removing and replacing in my diet. I have been recognizing and responding to what my body says. I have been reintroducing foods and recording the results. I am now running out of R-words to use for the process.

I still believe that one of the biggest changes in my life came about when I found the right probiotic for my body. I started healing in leaps and bounds. With the exception of the ever-present need to look at labels and menus very carefully, I often feel good enough that I “forget” about being Celiac. I put “forget” in quotation marks because it is clearly still on the forefront of my mind as food is one of the defining characteristics of my life — Hey! That’s the tagline of the blog! Folks without dietary restrictions in their life, whether for themselves or for someone they love, whether self-imposed or required, rarely think twice about what all is in the food they eat. They don’t have to carefully plan outings based on where they can eat or when they can get home to make food. They don’t have to turn down food offered by a friend because they’re not 100% sure of every ingredient. They don’t have to have the same level of trust in companies, shops, and restaurants because of the consequences of cross-contamination. My point is that, at some point, these actions become second nature. We read every label of every food without thinking I am reading this label because it might have X ingredient that I cannot have. We just do it.

One of the big changes I have touched on before is medication. I carefully weaned myself off all my IBS medicines. I have now also taken myself off of all of my medications. Since my surgery in October, I haven’t taken anything to help me breathe or control airborne allergies. A few months ago, I realized that my body had actually healed enough that I didn’t need daily acid reflux medication, either. Not even two years ago, I was taking 21 pills a day just to do what little I did.

Here’s where the greens come into the story. I have had heartburn since making that decision — not everyday and not badly enough to think that I needed to start the medicine again. Since starting the green smoothie challenge two weeks ago, I haven’t had ANY heartburn. None. It’s gone. I have gone from feeling like my throat would catch fire if I even took my medication late to no medicine and no pain.  In addition, my energy levels have stayed up, I feel like I have lost more weight (I try not to weight myself often), I feel comfortable wearing jeans without fearing I might swell too large for them, and I have started sleeping more — this last point is a huge deal for a life-long insomniac.

It goes to show that, when you do right by your body, give it effective and personalized fuel, and listen to what it says, you never stop healing. I made my mother-in-law her first green smoothie this week to help kickstart her own positive changes, and I’m learning how to make my own green smoothie recipes to add variety to the program. This recipe is one I made for CB when he had to leave before the crack of dawn to travel for a conference. If possible, it’s best to make it the night before you want it and let it get really cold; you might want to blend in some ice if you don’t have the time to spare. It is thick and filling with enough fibre and protein for a great start for your day.

Sweet Green Porridge Smoothie

Ingredients:
1/2 cup almond milk (substitute with water or coconut water if you don’t have or can’t have almond milk)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoon chia seed
1/4 cup gluten-free oats, blitzed beyond recognition in a food processor
1 handful spinach
1 handful collards
1/2 banana
1/4 cup frozen mango
2 teaspoons natural peanut butter
1 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
handful of ice (optional)

Hardware:
Blender
Food processor
Measuring cups and spoons
Freezer

Directions:
Put almond milk, water, chia seed, and greens to the blender and blend until there are no big chunks visible. Add the oats and give a good spin. Dump in all the remaining ingredients (banana, mango, peanut butter, cocoa powder) and blend to combine.

If you want to drink it immediately, blend in the ice and serve. If you will store it for later — my recommendation — pour into a freezer safe container and park in the freezer overnight. The ice will thin the smoothie, which you may like, but it is needed to make it cold enough to drink right away.

Our week in smoothies:

Tiny Tacos

There is a new favourite in our household, and it goes by the name of Tiny Tacos. It has been long-established that a sure-fire way to market any product to me is to make it smaller. You wouldn’t believe the little knick-knacks I have just because they’re small and adorable. I used to make paper cranes out of Starburst wrappers; then, I realised I could use the scrap from it (cut off to leave the wrapper square) to make even tinier ones. The smallest I got was just under 1cm tall. I’m a bit mental.

I bought these.  I don't need them.  But they're tiny.

I bought these. I don’t need them. They’re tiny.

Regardless, Tiny Tacos are very tasty, and they are reasonably quick to throw together. I’m in the home stretch of essay-grading, but every moment spent away from the red pen feels like it needs to be justified. We’re also nearly a week through the Love Your Greens Challenge, and it has made a truly exciting addition to our diets. While Tiny Tacos aren’t exactly bad for you, they’re not the best healthy food, either, so the green smoothies have made me feel less guilty about putting these things on a plate. If you’re at a loss for how to celebrate Cinco de Mayo today, knock out some easy Tiny Tacos and feel very fake-Mexican, indeed.

Tiny Tacos

I think I could successfully market these things to myself.

I think I could successfully market these things to myself.

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless, diced into small cubes
1 teaspoon cumin*
1/2 teaspoon paprika*
1/2 teaspoon black pepper*
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder*
1/2 teaspoon garlic*
a few leaves of fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
1 15oz can refried beans (or make your own. no judgment either way.)
2 cups grated cheddar or blend of cheese, divided
1/2 cup medium salsa
about 10 chopped black olives, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
bag of gluten-free tortilla chips
sour cream
lettuce, chopped
* If you have a taco seasoning mix or packet that you like, go for it instead of the spices listed here. I prefer to make my own spice mixes, but I am well aware that not everyone does.

Hardware:
Chopping board
Medium saucepan
Medium frying pan
Casserole dish
Cheese grater
Wooden spoons
Spatula
Knives
measuring cups and spoons
stove
oven

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C. Crush enough tortilla chips to cover the bottom of your casserole dish. You don’t want to put too many because they will get soggy; the idea is to form a bit of a crust, not to have a crunchy bottom.

Very helpful Matryoshka

Very helpful Matryoshka

In the saucepan, stir together the refried beans, 1 cup of cheese, and the salsa. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking and burning (as there is very little liquid). When warmed through, stir in the chopped coriander/cilantro and spread across the tortilla chip base in your casserole dish. Smooth with the spatula.

It's not pretty, but it's relatively smooth -- Casserole dish after two layers

It’s not pretty, but it’s relatively smooth — Casserole dish after two layers

After spreading the bean mixture, put the olive oil, cumin, paprika, black pepper, cayenne, and garlic in the pan. Heat the pan over medium heat to infuse a bit of the spices into the oil. Add the diced chicken and completely coat with the oil mixture. Cook until done, at least five minutes depending on the size of your chicken bites. Add the chicken evenly on top of the beans in the casserole dish.

Top with remaining cheese and chopped olives. Bake for about 10 minutes — everything that needs to be cooked is already cooked. You just want to make sure everything is warm and the cheese is melted.

If you have thick handmade or handmade-style tortilla chips, you can toss the toppings (sour cream and lettuce) right on and eat it like a dip. Our chips were not so sturdy, so I scooped each bite onto a chip with a fork and topped it like I would a taco. After all, they are Tiny Tacos.