chips vs. stix

I’m determined to make the most of my food intolerances, so I try to make reading labels an adventure. I love it when I discover something odd. Case and point: chips vs. stix.

From the front of the bags, these two crunchy snacks don’t seem that different, except for the shape of the chip:

Good Health Natural Foods makes both of them. They are the same color scheme. Their labels are almost identical with the exception of the background color. Other than the shape difference, anyone would assume they are the same chip, just made in a different shape. For the most part, they are. A friend brought the Veggie Stix as a snack for a meeting a few weeks ago, thinking I could eat them. But she bought the “wrong” bag.

Here’s why:

The traces of wheat warning is only on the Stix bag, not the Chips bag. The warning is in a little box under the ingredients list, but other than the boarder, it doesn’t stand out on the back of the bag. Hence, it’s pretty easy to miss.

I have no expectation that anyone buying food for me to consume should obsessively read labels the way I do. Honestly, I felt bad she went out of her way to buy something she was excited to have for me, knowing all too often I can’t eat most of what’s served at social events. My mom did the same thing a few months back: she went out of her way to bake me a loaf of gluten-free bread, but didn’t see that whey was listed on the ingredient list.

As a person living with food intolerances, I’m extremely grateful and consider it thoughtful when someone attempts to cater to my specific needs. It’s not easy to do, especially for most of the people in my life who don’t have to think twice about what they eat. In both of these instances, I’m just glad I read the label before I started eating. It feels a little awkward to second-guess someone’s choice for you, but I’m so glad I did, because in both of these situations, I would have ended up sick and everyone would have ended up feeling bad.

Veggie Stix: welcome to my enemy list.
Veggie Chips: let’s hang out.



dairy-free sorbet

Just had a sweet experience at Jersey Junction: when I told the girl scooping ice cream that I have a dairy intolerance and asked if she could use a clean scoop, she asked me if I wanted her to check in the back for a new, unopened bin of lemon sorbet so I could avoid any cross contamination. Then, she brought out a new bin and a new scoop and handed me a lovely lemon sorbet, untouched by any ice cream scoops. When I thanked her for being so understanding, she told me she understood because she has food intolerances, too.

Score 2 for Grand Rapids.

3-year old nephew Trae searches for the Superman flavor

3-year old nephew Liam sports his Superman ice cream
(yes, they are twins)

gf michigan

We’re in Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit C’s sister’s family and last night we went to an amazing, recently-opened pub: Brewery Vivant. The pub is located in a beautifully renovated church on Cherry Street and features a gorgeous wooden plank community table where you can sit with other groups of people. The bar is located at the front end of the church and looks out on the former sanctuary. There are beautiful vaulted ceilings, stained glass, and wooden hymn plaques that list the day’s beers. There was an installation of paper cranes hanging from the rafters, which gave us a lot to look at. The brewery is housed in its own building next to the church.

I miss being able to drink at breweries, especially because C loves craft beer. I haven’t had a beer in 4 years. Lucky for me, hard apple cider is becoming a brewery special, so I can usually find something gluten-free to drink. My three favorite gluten-free finds last night:

Vander Mill hard cider: This cider is made at a local cider mill and winery in Spring Lake, MI. I tried the apple cider, which was surprisingly dry. I’ve avoided cider in the past because it’s always too sweet for me. They also had a blueberry apple cider which was a lovely purple hue and also quite dry.

Deviled eggs: These were A-mazing. I’m not sure what the filling was made of but the added surprise was that they mixed in cloves. Never would have put together cloves and eggs, but I ate every one of them.

Truffle french fries: vegan fries make with truffle oil. Wow. Another thing I never would have put together on my own, but these were so good. Better yet, they didn’t make me sick because they never flour their fries and the oil isn’t mixed with the two other fries they make, so gluten free people like me avoid contamination.

If you’re traveling in or near Grand Rapids (or live here) check out Vivant: the space and food are great and the wait staff is really understanding and helpful when it comes to eating out with gluten and dairy intolerances.


gluten-free whoopie (pies)

My sister and I hit the jackpot last Thursday in Quincy MA for a family wedding: while wandering around the town looking for possible dinner options and finding absolutely nothing we could guarantee wasn’t going to make us both sick, we landed at Good Health Natural Foods in hopes of throwing together some semblance of a dinner, as well as breakfast and snacks for the following 48 hours. We spent 30 minutes having mini-freak outs about our new food finds, including: yummy popcorn; a sweet bean salsa; cocoa crispy cereal (Sarah’s latest addiction); chocolate candy bars (my first candy bar since last Halloween, a disaster story for another day); and Justin’s peanut butter cups with dark chocolate…

And the jackpot find: a gluten-free, dairy-free whoopie pie.

It was worth the 1,200 calories. No joke: that’s one thousand and two hundred calories of sugar, palm shortening, and heavenly goodness.

If you grew up any where in New England, you grew up eating whoopie pies. My entire family is from New England (mainly Maine and Massachusetts), so I’ve eaten a lot of whoopies in my life.

We bought two of them. One was for us to share with my uncle John (pictured with my sister), who has had crohn’s disease since the 80s. We were giddy to try it. The other one was for my brothers, who love to tease us that nothing gluten-free can be as good as foods containing gluten. Unfortunately, we forgot about it before my older brother left, so my other brother, Joel, got to share in the deliciousness. He was pleasantly surprised.

The fun part of extended family gatherings is that we talk a lot about digestive stuff. My uncle John and two of my cousins have crohn’s disease and a number of us have other digestive issues, so we always spend part of our time talking about our latest contaminations and gluten-free finds. While having digestive issues is no fun, I think I’m pretty lucky that I have a large family with a lot of similar digestive experiences: there’s always someone around to share in the gluten-free excitement.


read labels. always. always. always.

here’s a lesson i can’t seem to learn: always read labels on packaged food. always. always remember you’re never safe if you don’t. ever. you’ve learned that lesson. more than once.

i.e. a month ago, when i didn’t read the label on some bean dip and ate it all day, only to double-over with a massive stomach ache for a total of 8 hours. then i checked the label: whey. awesome bean dip: no wonder you were creamy.

i.e. 2 weeks ago when i ate these. two of them. thinking they were made from rice because they popped out of this ridiculous machine at wegmans and, well, they looked like very large flat things made of rice. #1 on ingredient list: whole wheat flour. #2: wheat flour. label Warning: contains gluten. i was in the middle of biting into my second one when my friend started reading the ingredient list out loud with a look of horror on her face. i tried to save myself by attempting to throw up the dry, tasteless discs of wheat, but all i got up was some spit.

i.e. tonight, when i split one of these tasty bars with my sister. in my excitement to try something new, i went straight for the crispy chocolate and took two heavenly bites. i then started writing a post for this blog about sugar and how i avoid it and  how much of it i tend not to avoid it when i’m visiting my sugar-loving gluten, wheat, soy, and dairy-intolerant sister. while typing, i picked up the package and read the ingredient list.

ingredient list: milk chocolate coating (sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk powder, cocoa mass, anhydrous milk fat, whey powder, soy lechthin, natural flavor, vanilla), sugar, palm oil, etc etc, whey powder, etc etc.
Warning: Contains milk, soy, and tree nuts.

My sister’s response to this new knowledge: “Wow, so that’s why I’ve felt kinda gross after eating those last week…”

My response:

Dear Schar Gluten-Free Chocolate Hazelnut Bars,
Welcome to the enemy list. I really hope I don’t throw up your crispy chocolate goodness tonight. I hope you don’t hurt, no matter what end you come out tomorrow. I hate your processed-dessert pretty yellow packaging and all it’s contents. I don’t care that you’re Europe’s #1 gluten-free snack. We had a short-lived, 4 minute love affair before I realized you were full of evil and whey. It’s over.
It’s not you. It’s me.
I’m not good at being friends after, so goodbye is goodbye.
Not yours,




talking about poop is not sexy.

It’s the complete opposite of sexy. It’s taboo. It makes people uncomfortable. It’s not something people want to know about, unless those people are having the same experiences I am. Even then, some people still don’t want to talk about it.

If you’re one of those people who can’t bear to hear about it, you’ve come to the wrong blog. (A small part of my husband C probably died inside when I started writing this blog because he’s one of those people. Despite my tendency to talk about poop, he hasn’t left me. Yet.) While I have no intention of keeping anyone abreast of my daily trips to the bathroom, I do want to be open and honest about my frustrations on this blog, because that’s the point of it.

This morning, I got up and went to the bathroom. I didn’t think there was a problem until I went. And then I realized something was wrong. Something was different. I’ve had none of the usual symptoms in the past 24 hours: cramps, stomach pain, and/or intestinal pain. With the exception of being very sore from lifting weights and very hot from the heat, I’ve felt great all week.

So…what’s going on?

I have no idea. Now I am going back through every single thing I’ve eaten in the last 48 hours to see if it’s possible I ate something contaminated with gluten and/or dairy products. I can’t think of anything. It is possible that I’m simply eating so many fruits and veggies that my digestive track is adjusting. Not sure. It’s possible I ate something contaminated last weekend and I’m finally seeing the repercussions.

This is why people with digestive issues obsess about food. We want answers. We want to know why, especially when we’re giving up so many food options in order to keep our bodies on track and then something literally slips in and out. This is the cycle I’ve been living in for 4+ years. It gets easier to discover the culprit the more limited your diet is, but it’s not less annoying when you can’t figure it out.

no more coffee

I gave up coffee 3 years ago. It was a brutal transition, but I’m happy to report that I survived it and filled the void with tea successfully. So successfully that I have only had 3 cups of coffee in the last 3 years.

Cup #1: July 2009 on a camping trip with a few of my closest gal friends. I gulped down espresso made over the campfire because I knew it would taste good and I was constipated.* If you are a coffee drinker, you probably know that coffee is an excellent diarrheic. It worked like a charm.

Cup #2: August 2010 on vacation with my family in Maine. I drank it because, once again, I was constipated from traveling. And once again, it worked.

Cup #3: last week, while at Javas, I decided I should try a latte with almond milk, just because I had never had one and it felt right. It was delish.

I gave up coffee because my acupuncturist insisted that I give it up. I was a solid year into horrible digestive issues and two semesters into my Ph.D. and I couldn’t eat a thing without sh*^ing it out within hours. So, I went on an extremely limited diet under the guidance of my acupuncturist and medical doctor. Coffee was at the top of the list because coffee made me sick. Really sick. Immediately sick. Leave class because I think I’m gonna die sick. I know now that drinking coffee was just exacerbating my digestive issues, but because we didn’t know what those digestive issues were, it was simply a guessing game: eliminate anything hard to digest and see what happens. (The elimination included coffee, beans, alcohol, anything raw and a host of other things I’ll fill you in on later.)

I’m a former barista. I supported myself through my master’s degree by working at Starbucks, where I fell in love with working the espresso bar (I still miss is) and realized that there were fewer holiday drinks lovelier than a peppermint mocha. When I started teaching, I picked up a part-time summer job at a local coffee shop so I could hang with my friends who also worked there part time. When I started my PhD, I realized that coffee had become not only one of my main “energy sources” but also a large part of my social life. I was close friends with people who own cafes in the city. A regular part of my day was seeing them, sitting in their cafes, chatting with the baristas, and drinking a lot of coffee. This is still true.

I went off coffee the way you’d wean yourself from a medication: slowly, deliberately, and with lots of headaches and cravings. It took 3 weeks for me to stop drinking it. It took a year for me to stop craving it. Now, I hardly think about it. I’ve become completely obsessed with tea. I’ve become as snobby about good tea as I was about good coffee. Only with tea, I never get a stomachache, I rarely get hyper or shaky, and unless it’s green tea, I don’t notice any negative (or positive) effect on digestive track.

When I tell people I don’t drink coffee, I usually get a “how are you surviving life” comment. Like anything you eliminate from your life, the less you have it, the less you realize it was ever there in the first place. Now I only crave coffee on random occasions, and I rarely give in to those cravings simply because I like tea so much more now.

I’m going to do an iced-tea round-up later today or tomorrow, highlighting my favorite places for iced tea in Rochester and how I make it at home. If you love iced tea as much as I do, check back.

*Don’t be fooled: if you have celiac or other digestive issues, constipation is a huge indication there’s a problem. It can be just as bad as having the opposite problem.


can’t. stop. eating. potato. salad.

So, another potato salad recipe because I found 5 large sweet potatoes starting to mold on the kitchen counter this morning. 3 were still worthy. C and I loved the potato salad I made the other day, so I’m hoping this one is just as good.

*3 large sweet potatoes, cubed and boiled till soft
*3 celery stalks, chopped
*3 green onions, chopped
*1/2 a large red onion
*1/3 c cilantro (packed in. more if you love it as much as i do)

Once potatoes have cooled, combine everything.

Dressing: combine and then mix into salad so everything is coated
*3 tbls of dijon spicy mustard (i have a serious mustard addiction)
*2 tbls light mayo
*2 tbls vinegar (red wine or cider)
*multiple dashes of hot sauce
*salt and pepper to taste

I’ll probably put this on top of spicy greens for a big salad. I think it would be even better if the potatoes were chopped and roasted so they were a bit browned, but it’s almost 90 degrees and I’m not turning the oven on this week.

I promise the next recipe will not contain potatoes. 🙂


random (not-so) fun-fact

Here’s a random fact about me: I only went poop about once a month for the first 11 years of my life.

Crazy? Yes.
Ironic? Totally.

When I told my GI doctor that fact last year, her mouth fell open and she almost dropped my file. In that moment, sitting in her office, getting the pep talk for my first endoscopy and colonoscopy, I realized: “Wow, so not sh*^ing for the first 11 years of your life is kinda odd…funny it never occurred to me.”

Here’s what I remember from those early years:
*Standing at the end of the table after dinner, watching as my mom dumped two heaping tablespoons of Citrucel into a glass of cool water and waiting for her to hand it to me. I would stand there and stir the thick, orange liquid and watch it slowly dissolve. It was meant to taste like Tang. It had the texture of a smoothie gone wrong. I would plug my nose and try to swallow down as much as I could without taking a breath. I rarely got it all down in one gulp. Usually two. I now believe this is the main reason I hate all things with fake orange flavoring.

*This was followed by two large soup-size spoon-fulls of mineral oil, straight from the bottle. (You know, the same kind of mineral oil you can use to polish stainless-steel, remove makeup, and wipe on tools to prevent rust.) Some times I would try to trick my mom by selecting a smaller spoon and hope she wouldn’t notice. She always did. After these two rituals were over, I could eat dessert, which we always had. I always prayed whatever dessert was it would take the wretched taste out of my mouth.

*Going poop in the tub. When I was…maybe 8 or 9. WAY too old to be pooping in the tub. My younger sister and I loved to take baths together and play with our dolls and make magic potions using all of my mom’s measuring cups and plastic pitchers. I’m surprised we didn’t flood the house. I distinctly remember how much being in water relaxed me. I also remember how much I wanted to make my parents proud by actually going poop. For real. Like really going. So I did. But because I hadn’t pooped in god knows how long, it hurt. A lot. I still remember hopping around the bathroom trying not to hold it in, but also desperately scared to let it out, dripping wet, totally naked, and freaking out while my 5-year-old sister sat in the tub screaming “Mom! Mom! Rachel’s gonna poop! Rachel’s gonna poop!” like she was witnessing a true miracle.

I’m pretty sure I managed to go in the toilet, but all I remember after that is my amazing mother, holding my lanky wet body on the toilet and trying to calm me down, saying over and over again, “Just relax and it will be okay, just relax.”

*I wasn’t good at relaxing. The only time I relaxed was when I was in water. I grew up on Otisco Lake, a small semi-finger lake surrounded by hills and farms and tiny villages. I was a really good swimmer. I was also really good at pooping in the lake. In fact, I’m pretty certain that between the ages of 7-10, that’s the only place I went in the summers. I’d swim out deep, go, wiggle it out of my bathing suit, and hope the waves from the small motorboats would be large enough to force it to drift away from me and anyone else I was swimming with. Fortunately, for me, no one ever noticed, even though I did itall the time. Unfortunately, for me and my father, I made the mistake of doing the same thing in a friend’s swimming pool one summer. Not knowing what was floating on the water, my dad picked it up and immediately realized: no, this is not dog sh*^. In fact, this is Rachel sh*^ and I know this because it looks like it is too large to come out of a 7 year old body.

Needless to say, I was not allowed to swim in the pool for the rest of the day.

Here’s what blows my mind: I was never diagnosed with an issue. Ever.

Last year, my GI doctor asked me to see what I could find out from my parents about the history of my first 11 poop-free years. Having been diagnosed by my GI with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome, which often means: we don’t know what’s wrong with you so here’s a label so we feel better not knowing what’s really wrong with you) my GI was curious if my childhood history was playing a role in my adult digestive issues. If I had developed issues around not going when I was young, referred to today as “holding,” that was one thing. If I had developed encopresis from incomplete potty training or ability to go, that was another. If I was born not going, that was just nuts.

Turns out I was born not going. In fact, my mother told me she noticed the first week I was born that I hardly pooped. She brought me to the doctor, who told her it was normal. She brought me to more than one doctor. They all said it would go away.

Guess what. It didn’t.

And so began my 11 or so sh*^-free years. My parents brought me to a few more doctors when we moved to NY. Doctors: still not worried. They put me in therapy: nothing changed. They fed me Citrucel and mineral oil: still held. And so, I adjusted. My mother was distraught about it, but had few resources to get more answers. She felt horrible making me drink nasty substances every night. My father believed they had done everything possible to fix me and that it simply had to be biological. My siblings (I have 3) never once laughed at me, made fun of me to my face or to their friends, or noticed when I sat down during a game of tag to hold in what I was certain was going to be the most painful experience of my life. When I ask them now what they remember, they all say they felt bad when I had to stand at gulp down orange sludge and oil, which didn’t seem to make a difference anyway. I was never disciplined for not going or the way I went when I finally did go. (With the exception of the pool episode above: I was disciplined for lying that it was my poop (pretty sure I swore it was the dog’s) and for not telling my parents I had gone. Secretly, I think my parents were relieved I actually went.)

You can imagine my surprise when at 28, I couldn’t stop going. Although what strikes me now is how unsurprised I was when my digestive issues started surfacing 17 years later. I hardly noticed. Actually, I chose not to notice. More on that part of the journey soon.


peanut butter tastes better

C and i are huge fans of smoothies. we should buy stock in frozen strawberries and bananas.

a few days ago, i was hungry and craving sweets, but because i rarely keep anything sweet in the house and didn’t want to go anywhere, i decided to throw a few things in the blender and see what happened. what happened was my new addiction: banana peanut butter heaven.

toss the following into your blender for a perfect snack, dessert, or energy boaster:
*1 banana, preferably a few days past it’s prime so it’s nice and sweet
*2 spoon-fulls (as in  tablespoon size) of peanut butter. i only buy organic peanut butter from my local co-op because it’s what i’m used to and the kind i love. the only ingredient is peanuts.  gives it a nice nutty taste without all the sugar.
*1 cup of unsweetened original almond milk

blend till mixed and tiny bubbles form on the top of the smoothie. if you use a small banana, it makes about a mug-full. if the banana is old enough, you won’t need to add any sweeter. it’s a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free dessert of sorts. enjoy daily.