Review: Trader Joe’s French Macaroon Cookies

I hope you had the merriest of Christmases and enjoyed a day of celebration and relaxation with your loved ones! ¬†Today I have a review to share with you, of the cookies I ended up eating with my family after Christmas dinner! ūüôā

Macaroons are all the rage right now, at least in the wedding and food blogging worlds. ¬†I’ve had a recipe for them bookmarked since last Spring (before going gluten free) and I’m determined to make them. ¬†Some day.

But since I had an insanely short prep time for Christmas cooking/baking, thanks to working up until Christmas Eve Eve, and being sick most of last week, there was no way I was going to make my own macaroons for Christmas.

I did, however, pick up some at Trader Joe’s.

These are incredibly hard to find – the stores only carry them sometimes, and sell out of them quickly. ¬†Plus they’re frozen – which is sort of confusing unless you know they’re there. ¬†But they are totally worth keeping an eye out for. ¬†Tucked between the cheesecakes and bonbons in the freezer section of our local Trader Joe’s, I found a stack of boxes of these Macaroons a la Parisienne. ¬†Of course I flipped them over right away to check the ingredients, even though macaroons are made with almond flour and should be gluten free by definition (of course you never know!). ¬†They were good to go, so I bought two packages to share with my family.

Each package has six vanilla macaroons and six chocolate ones. ¬†The chocolate are filled with a rich dark chocolate ganache, while the vanilla are filled with a light vanilla cream. ¬†Both the vanilla and chocolate cookies are crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and verge on being too sweet (as is so often the case with meringues). ¬†They’re not artisan macaroon cookies from a French bakery, but they’re more than acceptable as a nice gluten and gum free treat. ¬†My family agreed that we liked the vanilla slightly better than the chocolate (even though we’re generally chocolate fans – I actually think it was because the vanilla was really quite tasty). ¬†I will definitely be getting these again, if and when I can find them!

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Review: Glutino Chocolate-Covered Vanilla Wafer Cookies

I just needed something sweet. ¬†Nothing too much. ¬†I didn’t want ice cream (the last few times I’ve eaten ice cream I think the guar gum in the base has hit me funny). ¬†I didn’t want a candy bar.

If this were six months ago I’d have run over to the coffee cart here on campus, grabbed a chocolate croissant or even a bagel, and been done with it. ¬†As it was, I had to go to three separate places in order to satisfy my craving for a little something.

I was kind of surprised I found anything at all.

Especially something by Glutino, whose products I’ve had to stay away from since finding out that Xanthan Gum does numbers on my digestive tract. ¬†Their stuff is full of it.

Usually.

But these cookies aren’t. ¬†I was so surprised that I sat there in the student store, reading over the ingredients list four times.

By the way I probably paid twice what these would cost in a regular store, since I was on campus… ¬†Oh well. ¬†I do need to be better about bringing myself snacks.

Anyway.  These cookies.

They’re like the cream-filled vanilla wafer cookies that we used to have as kids. ¬†Except covered in a weak milk chocolate coating.

The texture of the wafer is actually perfect – just as wafer-y as I remember the “real” ones being, and with a pleasant crunch – but the flavor is off. ¬†I suspect it’s because these are made with potato flour (which is regarded by most GF folks to have a pretty disgusting flavor). ¬†They leave a pretty nasty aftertaste, to be completely honest.

Let’s just say that I wouldn’t buy them again and leave it at that, shall we?

By the way… This is likely my last post until after Christmas. ¬†I had lofty ideas about making my own GF Christmas cookies well in advance of the holiday and posting them here… But it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll be ready to post them until next week, considering I work all day tomorrow at my day job and haven’t started baking yet (oops). Have a happy and healthy holiday!

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Antibiotics Suck!

This latest round of antibiotics I’m taking has definitely hit me hard. ¬†They have a label on them stating that they make you drowsy, and lesser warnings in the packaging about potential stomach upset. ¬†Of course not only was I nodding off yesterday afternoon after taking the first one (at my desk – oops), but I was nauseous all afternoon and evening.

I could barely do a thing last night, despite our un-decorated tree and our messy house. ¬†I felt awful. ¬†Luckily I didn’t have as severe a side effect as I do when I ingest xanthan gum, or as many as when I ingest gluten, but these pills are without a doubt difficult for my body to digest. ¬†I’m just trying to stay hydrated, take my vitamins, and pray that everything rights itself. ¬†The last thing I want to do is end up in the emergency room during Christmas because of a bad reaction to antibiotics, or because they went through me so quickly that they weren’t absorbed and my condition got worse.

I just want this to all be over – I am so ready to start feeling human again!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll take a little nap on my keyboard…

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Gluten Free Holidays and Being Well

I’ve been struggling for the last two or three weeks with being sick. ¬†As far as we can tell, this has absolutely nothing to do with my being gluten intolerant – it’s all other stuff – but considering that one thing turned into two others, I’m not very happy about it. ¬†I’ve been to the doctor’s office more times than I can count (since we’re also doing all sorts of lovely tests to rule out parasites and diseases in my gut, before I go in next week for my celiac resistance test). ¬†I have been poked, prodded, and checked.

The good news is that, despite my hypoglycemia, I don’t have diabetes. ¬†YAY! ¬†Sometimes the two can be linked, and I had started to worry – since I’ve had quite a few days where I felt seriously low blood sugar lately – that I had contracted that on top of everything else. I just think it’s more general crappiness that I’ve been dealing with.

I just took my prescription pills (two, since apparently I’ve got double the fun going on right now) and I’ve said a few prayers that they stay down. ¬†I’ve got a notoriously sensitive stomach for pills (which is why I take dye-free vitamins!) and any time I get medicine I worry about it. ¬†Not to mention my worry about side effects (since I had such a horrific time two years ago with the antibiotics a well-meaning doctor prescribed me that had an INSANE side-effect list including, well, intestinal difficulties that could, according to the packaging, linger for months). ¬†I’m crossing my fingers.

I just hope that I start feeling better soon.

On a less awful note, it’s Christmas in…. ¬†5 days? ¬†That’s insane. ¬†Our tree is half-decorated. ¬†Our kitchen is a wreck. ¬†We still haven’t sent out Christmas presents to my husband’s family, and our Christmas cards just went out this morning. ¬†Except for the ones for my clients. ¬†Oops. ¬†Glad they say “Happy Holidays” because they might end up being New Year’s cards.

Despite all the craziness, ¬†I really am looking forward to Christmas. ¬†Not just because it brings me a week off work (I work up until Christmas Eve Eve, though, and will be doing a lot for my business during my gap week). ¬†I love spending time with my family and giving gifts to my loved ones. ¬†We’re actually going a little nontraditional this year (well, considering my grandmother’s parents emigrated from Ensenada, maybe this is actually MORE traditional, but not for Christmases since I’ve been alive!), and making the whole shebang gluten free. ¬†Tamales (Costco has a big box of them, with flavorful beef and fluffy masa, and we’ll supplement with Trader Joes’ brand for the vegetarian), Spanish rice, refried beans, zucchini with corn (apparently my great grandmother’s recipe), and a big green salad. ¬†My aunt and grandma will probably bring Christmas cookies. ¬†I’ll see if I have time to make any for myself, but at least I’ll be bringing GF chocolate cupcakes (I use Ina Garten’s recipe, but sub a GF flour blend) with buttercream frosting for my mom’s birthday (she’s born on Christmas).

Oh, and last night I had a tiny bit of ice cream from the ice cream shop down the road. ¬†I love this place so much. ¬†But they use guar gum in their ice cream base. ¬†So I’ve been mostly staying away. ¬†Well, once I found out (thanks hubby for asking them!). ¬†Sure enough, I noticed it this morning. ¬†Sadness. ¬†It seems like I’m getting more sensitive.

I’m just hoping to get through the next few days without any more health issues. ¬†I am wondering if my body’s lack of fighting against infections is a sign of celiac (since it’s an autoimmune disorder)? ¬†I guess I’ll find out…

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On Making Guests Feel Welcome and Making Guests Feel Crappy

Thursday evening I read a post by Gluten Free Girl on Facebook. ¬†She’d linked to an article where Martha Stewart was quoted as saying something like people with food allergies were just being picky and could stand to miss a meal, so she didn’t believe in catering to them.

It doesn’t really surprise me – there’s so much ignorance about food sensitivities and allergies in this world. ¬†I know I didn’t think twice about people with food allergies until my friend’s daughter was diagnosed with allergies to soy, eggs, shellfish, and corn. ¬†Shortly thereafter, her mom was diagnosed with gluten and lactose intolerance. ¬†Suddenly, they had a very small window of things the whole family could eat. ¬†Before I realized gluten was the culprit in my diet, I’d go out to eat with them and just wonder how they could keep everything straight.

Of course, the answer to that is that you learn to, because you have to.

Anyway, I feel like the article itself might have been overblown a bit, and that Martha might be suffering from extreme ignorance (because otherwise? I really want to give her a virtual smack!).  That said, her attitude is not isolated.

Not everyone is interested in making people with food allergies and sensitivities welcome.

In fact, I have a story to tell.

Just one day after I read that article was our department’s final holiday bash. ¬†I’m lucky to work in a place that takes celebration very seriously – we’ve had a total of three holiday get-togethers over the last two weeks. ¬†They also take my sensitivities seriously and I love them for it.

This party, though, has been held at the same place for years. ¬†It’s always a lunch out at Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens. ¬†It’s a beautiful location (in fact I have a friend who is getting married there), and Karl Strauss makes a decent lunch. ¬†Except for someone who is gluten intolerant.

Pretty much everything on their menu is made with beer, dipped in a beer batter, or fried in the oil that just contained beer batter. ¬†Having actually been there once before since I went gluten free, I’ve done a lot of digging around for good gluten free menu options. ¬†But every review I’ve read says the same thing: stay away at all costs, because their kitchen is a bastion of cross-contamination. ¬†Every single gluten intolerant reviewer got sick.

When I couldn’t convince anyone to change the long-standing venue choice for our department lunch, I have to admit that I almost didn’t go. ¬†But instead I decided I’d bring my own lunch and sit and eat with everyone else. ¬†My boss and her boss were sure it wouldn’t be a problem, and even said they’d call ahead to check with the restaurant (they admitted to me on Friday that they’d both forgotten). ¬†I know it’s not standard to bring your own food into a restaurant, but I also know that I’ve been to restaurants recently that have suggested that people with intolerances can and should bring at least their own bread. ¬†And I’ve done it. ¬†More than once. ¬†Without so much as a cross look from the waitress. ¬†I was so nervous about the cross-contamination issue that I didn’t even bother calling ahead or figuring out what I could order there and what a headache it would be – I just brought my own lunch.

When I was asked what I was ordering, I just asked for a plate. ¬†I had my own food, I explained, because I had food allergies, but wanted to eat with my coworkers. ¬†I didn’t actually need the plate – but I figured it would make me feel like less of a second-class citizen. ¬†The waitress looked distressed and said that she’d talk with her manager. ¬†Uh oh.

A few minutes later, the manager approached me. ¬†“I hear that you wanted a plate?” she asked, standoffishly. ¬†When I said yes, that I had my own food because of my food allergies, she snorted. ¬†“Well, we don’t do that. ¬†It’s against health code.” ¬†I pushed back. ¬†Against health code? ¬†I can see if I was serving it to other people that they wouldn’t want to take the risk of one of them getting sick (although restaurants routinely allow outside birthday cakes, so this “health code” must be pretty flimsy), but if I’m the only one eating my own meal, how can that possibly be a big enough issue for them to care about? ¬†I’m allergic and will get sick if I eat cross-contaminated food, I explained. ¬†“I can have the chef come out and talk with you, but I can’t let you eat any outside food,” she added, raising her voice. ¬†“It’s against health code and our policy!”

Ah.

Their policy.

That’s the real kicker.

They can’t run the risk of me eating food I prepared myself because it’ll make them look bad.

I told her I would simply not eat, and turned away, blinking back tears. ¬†If you’ve never experienced the horrific side effects of a food sensitivity, you probably are thinking that I’m crazy right about now. ¬†But the last two weeks were such a roller coaster ride with my health that the last thing I wanted to do was willfully ingest something that had a 98% chance of making me sick. ¬†I knew I could talk to the chef, get a green salad prepared in a separate bowl by people whose hands had just been cleaned, served with oil and vinegar, and be okay. ¬†In theory. ¬†I also knew, based on prior experience at Karl Strauss and the reviews I’d read, that their kitchen is notoriously bad with special orders (case in point: I used to work a block away from the La Jolla location before I went gluten free, and ordered Lemon Chicken once, with no capers because I can’t stand them; I not only got capers but I got extra capers!). ¬†And that because there is so much gluten in their kitchen there is a good chance that no matter how careful the chef said he’d be, I would still get glutenized. ¬†That is, if the chef took the time to understand and care.

To be told that it was against their policy, when I was already going to be eating leftover cold gluten free pizza (definitely not a gourmet treat!) instead of freshly made food… ¬†I felt like I’d been slapped in the face.

I stuck it out through appetizers (which kept getting put down in front of me, of course – full of wontons and soy sauce-laden fish and things fried in shared oil) and managed to convince my boss’ boss (who was very upset) not to make a big deal of the situation. ¬†I knew that all that everyone would remember of the lunch was him getting into a verbal confrontation with the manager, if I let him, so I asked him please not to worry. ¬†Luckily the food took forever, so I had plenty of time to spend with my coworkers, but eventually their food came.

When I was asked by the same waitress who originally had said she had to talk with her manager about my gluten allergy whether I had ordered the pastrami sandwich she was waving in front of my face (I wouldn’t have, even had I been able to eat it, but at least can you not rub it in my face?), I decided enough was enough and took my leave. ¬†I would have gamely eaten my food, given the opportunity, and spent another hour socializing with everyone. ¬†But I was done watching everyone else eat while I sat there shaking from low blood sugar.

I walked out to my car and sat in tears for a few minutes before choking down my lunch and driving away. ¬†I felt so crappy and unwelcome. ¬†Such a small thing – just letting me eat at the table with my coworkers (who were all paying customers, so it’s not like I was taking up a whole table by myself and paying just for an iced tea) – was obviously too much for Karl Strauss Brewery Gardens. ¬†Because of their policy.

Because, you know, I might bring in something to eat for myself and eat it there and get sick, and sue them for letting me bring in my own food.  Or some other such rubbish.

By the way, I’ve been scouring the health code. ¬†I can’t see anywhere that it’s spelled out that I can’t bring my own food in to a restaurant, for my own consumption only, if I want to. ¬†Allergies, sensitivities, or nothing at all but pickiness. ¬†I can’t see it anywhere. ¬† Not one mention of it.

Which means, of course, that the manager was just lying to me.

I have some choice words that I’ll save. ¬†I will only say this – that if a restaurant were focused on the welcome of their guests (like the amazing guys at Kitchen 4140 on Morena, who not only didn’t bat an eyelash at my gluten free bread, but offered to carefully toast it for me, away from all the other bread in their kitchen), the policy would be different. ¬†I will be staying as far away as possible from Karl Strauss, and telling all my friends to do the same. ¬†People with allergies and sensitivities shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens, and we shouldn’t have to sit around and watch other people eat, because of a b.s. policy. ¬†Period.

Oh, and next year? ¬†We’re going out for sushi. ¬†It’s already been decided by the HR manager and my boss’ boss. ¬†I told you my coworkers are awesome.

*****

Of course, since it’s the holidays that wasn’t my only party of the weekend. ¬†I was lucky enough to be invited to my friend Nicki’s house for a party last night that was the complete opposite of Friday’s lunch. ¬†Not only did she specifically make a dinner that required no extra effort to be gluten free (I only needed to stay away from the bread and croutons), she also made sure I didn’t get any gums in my diet (even making her own salad dressing to toss with the salad). ¬†She checked in with me multiple times to see if I could eat the food she was serving and the gifts she was giving (even calling to check about marshmallows for the cocoa!). ¬†She searched high and low for gluten- and gum-free cookies (finally finding some chocolate-dipped shortbread by Schar that were actually good enough that several of the other – non-gf – guests had more than one!). ¬†She even checked to make sure I could drink the coffee creamer (she got one that has only carrageenan, a gum-like substance made from seaweed – it can cause intestinal issues in some people and I haven’t done thorough testing with it yet, but I also haven’t had a reaction to it yet).

I don’t expect this from most people. ¬†As long as I know in advance what is being served, I can bring my own alternatives (GF bread or pasta, tamari sauce, corn tortillas, half-and-half and sugar, etc.). ¬†It’s not a matter of making a huge effort for me, so much as not excluding me from being able to eat at all. ¬†That’s all that any good host or hostess would want to do, right? ¬†Unlike the Martha Stewart article I mentioned above, most people (and restaurants, actually) just want to make sure their guests are welcome. ¬†Isn’t that the point of having guests?

By the way, being hypoglycemic – having low blood sugar – dictates that I can’t really miss a meal. ¬†I get shaky, sleepy, non-functional. ¬†I get headaches and nausea. ¬†So if I ever get an invitation to Martha’s house for a dinner party I’ll be declining it. ¬†I’d much rather go to Nicki’s for some more rosemary chicken!

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Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Spaghetti (Two Types)

Spaghetti is a staple in our house. ¬†When I have time I make my own version of my grandmother’s long-simmered sauce, but usually for a quick weeknight meal I keep a bottle of Trader Joe’s tomato basil marinara around. ¬†My husband and I will cut up and add veggies or meat (usually some of TJ’s chicken Italian sausage, half an onion, some garlic, and a handful of fresh basil). ¬†We eat pasta at least once a week (not really a surprise, since I’m half Italian).

Of course once I went gluten free, I had to change how I ate. ¬†Pasta, bread, and other wheat-based products had to go. ¬†Luckily I love rice noodles too, so we had some around from the very first experimental week of going without gluten. ¬†Since then we’ve tried out tons of brands of rice noodles. ¬†Some were pretty good (Jovial is our favorite, followed by Tinkyada). ¬†Some weren’t as good. ¬†But we’d never really ventured outside of brown rice noodles.

Until we were checking out at Trader Joe’s a couple of weeks ago and the checker suggested that we try the corn noodles. ¬†We hadn’t even seen them (they were on an endcap) but had thrown the brand new (that week!) brown rice noodles into our cart. ¬†She said a friend had tried the corn spaghetti and loved it. ¬†So my husband went and grabbed a package.

Oh my goodness, I can’t even tell you how much I love this corn spaghetti.

First of all, it cooks up perfectly. ¬†Toothsome but not sticky or mushy. ¬†Even after an extra minute in the water. ¬†Secondly, it’s got a great flavor. ¬†It’s kind of like eating a hybrid of polenta and spaghetti. ¬†But not nearly as odd as you’d think. ¬†The texture of the cooked noodle is at least as good as the texture of Jovial’s noodles. ¬†Which is to say that it’s excellent.

But the rice pasta?  Not so much.

It was gooey, clumpy, and made the cooking water cloudy and full of starch. ¬†The flavor was kind of akin to dishwater. ¬†I am a HUGE Trader Joe’s fan (again, this post is totally based on products I *bought* and I’m not compensated in any way to say this!). ¬†99% of every thing I’ve bought there has been fantastic. ¬†But these rice noodles? ¬†Bleh. ¬†Not even worth buying.

I will totally be buying the corn noodles again.  I even hear they come in more shapes!

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Review: St. Amour Cookies

I’m starting something new today. ¬†I’ve been thinking about this since I started blogging about being without gluten and gums. ¬†There aren’t that many products out there that I can eat. ¬†Processed ones, at least. ¬†I try to stay away from food that’s processed, in general, but sometimes you’ve got to have a cookie. ¬†Or a cracker. ¬†Or another snack. ¬†It’s especially important when I’m on the go, or at my desk at work, to have non-homemade options that I know about. ¬†Trust me, no matter how on top of things I am, there are times when I just can’t cook. ¬†Period.

I work two jobs.  It happens.

Anyway, lately I’ve been really keeping my eyes open for gluten- and gum-free products. ¬†There aren’t a lot out there. ¬†It’s tough to find them. ¬†So I thought I’d review some.

By the way, I’m not super comfortable with the idea of getting free things to review. ¬†It’s just me. ¬†So unless I say otherwise, any and every review I do will be of things I bought myself, with my own money, unprompted by the manufacturers. ¬†That way I can be completely unbiased.

So… ¬†These St. Amour cookies.

I bought them a couple of month back at Whole Foods (this review actually should have posted in September but for some reason it didn’t!). ¬†They’re not cheap. ¬†A very small package runs you about $5. ¬†But they don’t have junk in them. ¬†Rice flour, sugar, butter, vanilla. ¬†It’s nice to see a list of pronounceable ingredients. ¬†I haven’t tried all the flavors, so I can only speak to the two I have. ¬†One – the vanilla butter cookies – was pretty amazing. ¬†Crunchy, crumbly, sweet. ¬†Slightly too sweet, in comparison to my memory of Nilla wafers, but these are a nice treat with some black coffee. ¬†I’d highly recommend these to someone buying a treat for a gluten free friend, or for a gluten free person to have lying around just in case. ¬†I will say that they tended to give me quite a hypoglycemic crash if I ate more than one (which I did only once), which was, I think, a result of the amount of sugar in them.

The other – the lemon vanilla madelines – was dense, heavy, and frankly not good at all. ¬†I was excited to try them, since I love madelines, but these weren’t the slightly-crisp-on-the-outside and featherlight-cake-on-the-inside traditional madeline cookies… ¬†They were simultaneously dry and soggy, dense, and completely one-dimensional. ¬†I wouldn’t recommend them. ¬†I guess I’m just going to have to make my own some day!

I have a few more products I’m excited to review here in the next several weeks!

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