Guest Post: Fellow Milwaukee bloggers take on the Gluten Free Challenge

When Peef and Lo from Burp! Where Food Happens told me they were interested in doing the Gluten Free Challenge, I was thrilled. (and a little nervous for them) I should have known they would be fine. Just fine. Especially because some of their recipes are naturally gluten free. Including this recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Schaum Torte which won in Chef Feker’s Family Recipe Revival contest. And others are easily converted, like this recipe for Asapragus-Pesto Pizza. I’m going to be making it this week as part of my “meatless week” challenge.

They were more than fine. Pros really. And they did it on a weekend when they knew they would be on the go and eating out. Grab your beverage of choice, this one is a little lengthy, but well worth the read.

This is their adventure in the gluten free world…

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This weekend, Peef and I did something we’ve never done before.
We eliminated wheat and gluten from our diets.

Why did we do it?
We took part in the Gluten Free Challenge because we were curious about what it would take to adhere to a more strict set of dietary guidelines.  We’ve been reading Sarah’s blog now for the better part of year.  And we’ve also connected with other GF bloggers like Melissa from Gluten Free for Good and  Jenn and her gluten-free husband from Jenn Cuisine. We know that gluten free foods are popping up everywhere — great news for the one in 133 people suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes a severe allergy to wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats.  But, we are also aware that avoiding gluten can still pose quite the challenge in our wheat-heavy world.

So, for two days (May 22-23) we decided to stand tall and proud, along with all of our GF blogger friends, and raise awareness about gluten intolerance. And it’s a little crazy how much we learned.

DAY ONE (Saturday):
The weekend started off bright and early.  We got up at 5am, hoping to get to the Ozaukee County Master Gardener’s Heirloom Plant and Herb Sale before the doors opened so we could get first dibs on seedlings for our backyard garden.   We skipped breakfast, thinking we’d pick something up along the way. So, we were excited to see that there was a Bake Sale going on when we arrived.

“Perfect!” I thought, “we can grab a muffin.”
Of course, it didn’t take me long to realize that there wouldn’t be any gluten-free muffins to be found at the bake sale.  Peef even asked the nice lady working the counter if there was anything we might be able to eat.  Sadly, she shook her head.  Instead, we soothed our growling stomachs with cups of organic herbal tea.

After loading up on herb plants, we headed home to wait for my sister who was coming down to Milwaukee to meet us for lunch for her birthday.  While we were waiting for her to arrive, Peef started foraging for a late morning snack. As he scanned the cupboards in our house, he found that almost everything contained “gluten cooties”.  Crackers… malted milk balls… leftover pizza… granola… He went through most of our pantry and fridge, reading the labels on the products and putting them back down on the shelf.

Now, I should explain that we’re already dedicated label readers.  We always have our eyes peeled for “evils” like high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and trans-fats.  But, during the GF challenge, we needed to be extra vigilant. Thickeners, stabilizers, flavorings, food starches, vegetable proteins, and MSG … all of these things could contain ingredients that were derived from wheat. So, every time we picked up a package of food to eat, we had to think about what we were putting into our bodies. It also seemed that everything contained some form of gluten or another.

After about ten minutes of shuffling, I heard a shout of victory from the direction of the kitchen and I saw Peef come sauntering out with a handful of toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds).

“No gluten in pumpkin seeds, right?” he asked.

“Nope,” I replied. And he smiled. GF snacking mission completed.

My sister arrived in the early afternoon and we headed off to lunch at the Stack’d Burger Bar on South 1st Street.  We’d heard from Sarah that Stack’d was very GF friendly.  They maintain a dedicated fryer used only for GF foods, and they also featured something unusual – gluten free buns for their burgers.  So, we were pretty excited.

We called ahead to let them know that we were coming so that they could start up the gluten free fryer. They seemed happy to accommodate us, and our server was very helpful when we asked questions about the gluten free items on the menu. Peef ordered the Hangover Burger and I opted for a custom burger with pepperjack cheese and jalapeno peppers.  Both of us requested GF buns and French fries. Both burgers were positively delicious – thick, juicy, and perfectly cooked to our specifications.  And the buns were seriously good.  Their texture was more chewy than the white bakery buns we’re accustomed to eating in restaurants, and the tops were slightly cracked and dry looking.  But, the buns themselves were tasty, and they really held up well to the loaded burgers.   The fries were crisp and delicious. And, even better, they’d been fried in the GF fryer, so we knew they were “safe” for us to eat.


When it came time for dinner, my niece requested that we go out for pizza.  Now, pizza would have been a real challenge for us, had it not been for another great recommendation from Sarah, Transfer Pizzeria and Cafe on the corner of 1st Street, Mitchell Street, and Kinnickinnic Avenue.    While my mother and sister enjoyed pizza made with Transfer’s regular wheat crust, Paul and I were able to enjoy our own individual sized pizzas made with GF crust.  We opted to try the Diavola (with cheese, tomato sauce, salami, hot and red peppers, and onions), and the Roasted Potato Chicken pizza (with garlic sauce, cheese, pan fried potatoes, and chicken).   We didn’t know quite what to expect from a GF crust, but we were very pleased. The crust was thin and crisp – reminiscent of a cracker.  It held up well to the toppings and had a nice, nutty flavor.


DAY TWO (Sunday):
Day two was infinitely less eventful on the food front.   Peef made gluten-free scrambled eggs with onions, tarragon, chives, and Gruyere cheese for breakfast, which we enjoyed with some homemade iced coffee.   I headed off to work for a few hours, and Paul spent the afternoon completing a variety of household chores.

Although I’d been hoping to try my hand at some GF baking on Sunday, the time slipped away from us, and when I came home from work we found ourselves discussing what to have for dinner.  The weather had grown oppressively hot during the course of the day, so we were pretty opposed to turning on the oven.  Instead, we decided to cook our dinner on the grill – which turned out to be a pretty easy way to finish off our GF challenge.  We opted for grass-fed New York Strip steaks (seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic), sautéed mushrooms, grilled asparagus, and packets of purple potatoes cooked with sweet Vidalia onions, garlic, and butter – a meal comprised of basic foods, most of which had been grown or raised within 150 miles of our own doorstep.

We sipped gin & tonics as Paul put the food on the grill. Our drinks were made with Stirrings tonic water, a brand that is sweetened with pure cane sugar (not high fructose corn syrup) and contains no added artificial colors or flavors.  That’s Very Good news when you’re concerned that the “natural flavors” in your food might be tainted with gluten – but I found myself feeling a little bit sad that I had to think about what was in my sugary carbonated beverage.

On the other hand, as I sat there enjoying the smell of our dinner cooking, it also occurred to me that when it comes to going gluten-free, a diet rich in whole (rather than processed) foods – things like organic, local vegetables and high quality meatsmakes everything a whole lot easier.  Things get worlds simpler when we stop opting for packaged foods with long complicated ingredient lists and start getting back to the basics and taking the time to cook dinner for ourselves.


That simple steak dinner was the most “meat and potatoesy” meal that we’ve eaten in a very long time.  But, it was simple. And delicious.  And, the best part of it was, at the end of a long day, there wasn’t a speck of processed food (or gluten) on our plates.

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Of course, the saying goes that “every good thing must come to an end.”  And so it goes with the Gluten Free Challenge. This morning we found ourselves getting back to our old routine.  We made kefir and fruit smoothies for breakfast before heading off to work. For lunch I ate up a bit of the leftover pizza we had languishing in the fridge (which was off-limits during the challenge).  And I have no idea what’s on the docket for dinner tonight, but it may very well involve something with “gluten cooties” in it.

Everything on the surface looks suspiciously the same as BEFORE the challenge. But, trust me when I say that things have changed.  We’ve lived in another’s shoes and experienced what it means to live each day with a gluten allergy – to be dutiful and conscious of every speck of food that goes into our bodies.  And it has opened our eyes to a whole way of looking at the world.   We might not need to avoid gluten for the sake of our own health, but we’re now well aware of what our GF friends go through each day – reading labels, asking questions, doing the research. And it has inspired us to make a few changes in our own lives.

We don’t want to forget our GF friends or their journeys, so we’re hoping to continue to opt for at least one gluten-free meal per week. Maybe we’ll experiment with some of that GF baking we’ve gotten so curious about. If we do, we’ll definitely blog about it. And it’s also quite possible we’ll order another round of that GF pizza at Transfer Pizzeria. After all, it was pretty darned good.  And we’d have never tried it if it weren’t for Sarah and the Gluten Free Challenge.

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Aren’t they great? Impressive. (just like their Burp! Where Food Happens blog, go see!)

Did any of your friends and family take the Gluten Free Challenge over the weekend?

17 thoughts on “Guest Post: Fellow Milwaukee bloggers take on the Gluten Free Challenge

  1. My SIL has been diagnosed as celiac for almost 10 years now. When my husband’s family would visit when we lived in Detroit and then Chicago, I noticed how much my SIL was missing out on since family visits meant going to Greektown for Pizza Papolis in Detroit and then Rosati’s and Gino’s in Chicago.

    Sometimes she would just “splurge”, but I could tell how awful she felt afterwards. I love to cook, so I started to plan menus around things that she could eat. Summertimes were definitely easier because we could grill meats and veggies and nobody missed the bread. (we deep cleaned the kitchen and grill before her visit) Her favorite dessert is cheesecake, so I subbed almond meal for graham cracker crumbs and everyone raved over the cheesecake–Ina Garten’s recipe with homemade fresh cherry topping thickened with arrowroot.

    I even found a substitute for the family’s favorite holiday casseroles containing cream of whatever soup.
    http://www.celiac.com/gluten-free/topic/24286-homemade-cream-of-soup-mix/

    I had quit cooking with cream of soup anyway because the MSG was giving me horrific migraines. The substitute did take a bit more time, but everyone agreed that the finished product was much tastier and having less fat and preservatives made everyone happier.

    I’ve noticed in the past couple of years that more and more bakeries have decent gluten free breads and pastries, and more restaurants are catering to gluten free. PF Chang’s is my favorite–from having a life threatening allergy, I know how seriously they take allergies and cook your food in a clean wok and go over everything with you to make sure that they don’t give you something bad by mistake. I’m hearing that more restaurants are following suit.I know it’s easier to find gluten free in major metropolitan areas, but my SIL doesn’t live in one.

    My SIL says what she misses most is a good sandwich bread, really good pasta, and great pizza. I noticed this week that my local Food Lion had shelves full of gluten free products, including breakfast cereal that wasn’t $10 a box–that’s another worry, with the economy, finding budget friendly groceries is hard enough without having to get the most expensive gluten free brands. SIL’s town got a Trader Joe’s last year, and she said that really helped their grocery dollar.

    I’m working on a decent gluten free chocolate chip cookie. I think I may have stumbled on an idea, but I have to try it regularly before I can convert it in my head. If it’s up to my standards, I’ll post it, right in time for the holidays!

    –The Savvy Blackbird —website under construction, November 2011

  2. Sounds like a yummy weekend! Yes, label reading/risk of cross-contamination is by far the most challenging part. I’m just impressed that you had such great eating-out options during your weekend! Those pizzas look divine!

  3. I think it’s wonderful you had gf restaurant options; many celiac people do not have that luxurious choice. You also needed to inspect silverware and plates for gluten stuck on them. I’ve had to ask for fresh utensils more than once.

    Also, you needed to make sure your barbeque wasn’t contaminated by burning at high heat any old gluten residue off the grill before cooking; grill it in a foil container, or grill it on foil. ;0)

    (Pet peeve: “celiac’s” … it’s plain old “celiac”) 😛

    I kinda wish you’d have tried it longer to see how you felt. Good going though. I can’t even get my family tested or to try.

    • The great thing is that there are so many options becoming available, even is small towns in the middle of no where. 🙂 Thanks for the tips Emma, good to remember to check everything over for and “gluten cooties.”

      I’m really proud they pulled it off for a weekend, as we all know, it can be tough, especially at first. Kudos again to Peef and Lo!!

  4. Wow, cooking GF seems difficult, but eating out GF seems even harder. That is really amazing that you were able to do it for a whole weekend. I didn’t even realize that so many small ingredients, like stabilizers and such, have gluten. I guess you really have to check those labels carefully. Bravo to you guys for taking on this challenge.

    • As you know, staying away from as many processed foods as possible is part of our general cooking philosophy, though I’d definitely miss the convenience factor if I couldn’t rely on them every now and again! Same with eating out — which I think would be an even bigger challenge for us if we needed to remain 100% gluten free.

    • Hi Dan! Thanks for stopping by. It IS much easier to do gluten free when you avoid anything packaged, however there are some great packaged items (convenience foods) that have come out and are really good. You just have to hunt them down!:)

  5. Thanks for featuring two of my favorite bloggers on your blog. I’ve been transitioning into a gluten-free lifestyle, so I’m glad I found your blog. Will definitely be checking in more for more ideas and tips.

  6. An FYI – did you know that Woodman’s Grocery Store, (on 38/Howell) in Oak Creek, has a wonderful GF food selection?
    Many friends of mine and their children shop there for their needs, especially since Woodman’s has expanded their GF area.
    Good luck with this adventure, I’m sure it’ll work out wonderfully for you, and be a very interesting learning experience.

    • Carol – Thanks for the suggestion! Been meaning to get to Woodman’s for a while now, so we might have to take a field trip to Oak Creek.

  7. Very interesting post. I have some of these same feelings in my life as well. I seem to have not only a gluten but grain intolerance. I have found that for me (since I don’t have Celiac’s) that I can tolerate things like buckwheat and quinoa and spelt and even whole wheat flour, if they are sprouted, and even regular whole wheat flour bread if it has been properly soured for over 24 hours, using a sourdough culture. But how many restaurants do you know who cook this way? So I sometimes break my better habits and eat something with gluten…it is a challenge for sure, even with those of us that have a hard time with gluten.

    • I always find it interesting to note how very individual our reactions to different food products are, particularly if we really pay attention to how our bodies react to them. I think that sprouting grains is a great idea. We’ve not done enough of that, but we try to work with sourdough as often as possible, since I do notice that it’s much easier on the digestive system!

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