Archive for December, 2009

WIN-It-Wednesday: Sweet Alexis Baked Goods – Dairy, Egg & Nut Free!

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

This weeks WIN-It-Wednesday is sweet for those concerned with multiple allergies, specifically dairy, egg, nuts and tree nuts.

The Sweet Alexis brand of cookies, breads, cakes and muffins is inspired and managed by an enthusiastic Mom that has two children with numerous allergies. Set out on a mission to provide sweets that were safe for her children, these Mom-inspired products are all produced in a dedicated commercial kitchen, on dedicated equipment, where no eggs, dairy or nuts are allowed. The Sweet Alexis products are also free of preservatives and fillers. 

Some of the egg, dairy and nut-free products that Sweet Alexis makes are: Chocolate Chip Cookies, Blueberry Muffins, super-moist Banana Bread, and decadent Chocolate Cake… to name just a few.

I had the chance to chat with Michele, the Mom that founded Sweet Alexis, in great lengths on the telephone. We chatted from everything from our entrepreneurial endeavors, labeling on food products, obstacle those with allergies need to overcome while on vacation and at restaurants, to the kindness and support those in the food allergy / celiac communities offer to each other. What struck me most however, was her positive attitude and optimistic approach for her mission to help others with food allergies.

This woman is truly inspiring.

After our phone call I checked out the Sweet Alexis website and read about how Sweet Alexis came to be. The story that Michele tells is so similar to the stories I hear daily from so many BeFreeForMe members.  Stories that touch your heart and let you know that you are not alone.

One sentence that Michele writes on her website exemplifies her positive energy and spirit:

“Day by day, I am turning something devastating into a positive and that in itself feels really sweet.”

With that encouraging and inspiring thought in mind, two (yes 2!) LUCKY BeFreeForMe Members, will win a Gift Pack of the Sweet Alexis products, full of a variety of egg-free, dairy-free and nut-free cookies, muffins, breads and cake (A $50 value!) Remember the Sweet Alexis products ALL contain gluten… so these products are NOT for you, if you or your child are on a gluten-free diet!

How can you win?


Reply to this blog and tell us how you, like Michele, make your days sweeter, even while living with food allergies or intolerances (Me? I remember and remain grateful for the foods that I can eat, rather than focus and grieve over the foods that I can not).

All entries must be received by Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 by 12:00 midnight (We’re extending the deadline this week by a few days due the Holiday Week.)

Good Luck, remember that life is indeed very, very sweet, and as always…

Be Free!

Service Dogs for Kid’s with Food Allergies

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Having a child with food allergies can be scary. Letting them go off to school, camp, or after-school activities can be a challenge, since a reaction to an allergic food can be deadly.

Now some parents are enlisting “Man’s Best Friend”, the trustworthy four-legged dog, to buddy up with their children and keep them safe from the deadly dangers of food allergies.

More commonly known as assisting people with vision, hearing, diabetic reactions, or mobility assistance – having dogs assist in keeping kids safe from potentially deadly food allergies is relatively new, but makes perfect sense.

One of the organizations that provide, train and certify these service dogs is Angel Service Dogs. Based out of Monument, Colorado, this non-profit group places Allergy Alert Dogs with individuals and families that are limited in daily activities due to life-threatening, anaphylactic food allergies. 

The Allergy Alert Dogs are trained to detect certain allergens, just like the dogs at the airports and borders that are trained to detect the scent of drugs and explosives. If a potentially dangerous scent is detected, the dogs will alert their owner to avoid contact or ingestion.

Check out more information about the Angel Service Dog organization, how they screen and train their dogs, as well as ways you can help – either by being a “puppy raiser” or by donating to a family raising money for a much needed service dog. Its worth checking out and learning more about how placing services dogs with needy families help prevent unintended exposure to life threatening food allergies!


*  NOTE: Photos are from the Angel Service Dogs website. These are pictures of Riley, the founder’s daughter that has food allergies, with her service dog, Rock-O.

Get Yourself Into The Spirit… Make Some Sugar Cookies (Gluten & Nut-free)!

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

One sure way I get into the Christmas spirit is by cranking up the Christmas tunes, singing at the top of my lungs, and of course… making some frosted sugar cookies.

Not only does the kitchen get filled with a sweet aroma, but the creative juices get flowing while decorating and designing gluten-free cookies that are not only beautiful, but yummy to!

A fool-proof way to ensure the cookies get cut cleanly and precisely is to chill the dough prior to cutting. I chilled mine overnight, but a few hours in the refrigerator will do the trick. Another trick is to make sure that the cookies are cooled completely prior to frosting.

Following is the recipe for the cookies and the frosting glaze:

Jack’s Gluten-free Sugar Cookies

1/3 cup of butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup of shortening
¾ cup of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups of gluten-free all-purpose baking flour – I used Bob’s Red Mill (Check label for allergens)

Beat the butter and the shortening together in a large bowl for about 1 minute. Add in the sugar, baking powder and the salt. Continue to beat until combined.

Next beat in the egg, milk and vanilla extract until mixed well.

Continue to beat, while adding a bit of flour into the batter at a time. Beat well after adding each addition of flour.

Divide dough into two pieces and wrap well in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

On a well floured surface, roll out one plastic wrapped packages of dough. Roll out to about ¼ to ½”. Using cookie cutters, cut out cookies and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about ½” apart from each other.

Bake for about 6-8 minutes, until edges are just starting to brown. Watch the cookies carefully since they will brown fast! When finished, transfer to a plate or wire rack and let cool. Repeat process with the second package of refrigerated dough.

Let cool completely… if not overnight …. Before frosting!

Icing Glaze

1 box (or a pound) of confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons powdered egg whites (found in the baking aisle of the supermarket)
6-7 tablespoons warm water
Food coloring

Several small pudding dishes or paper bowls

In a large bowl, using an electric blender, mix together the sugar, egg whites and the water. Beat for about 6 minutes until mix becomes slightly thickened, and less watery than the start.

Place a bit of the icing in each bowl and mix in food coloring to make the desired colors for the cookies you are frosting. (Note: the more colors you mix up the more creative you will get!)

Spread a super-thin layer of the “base” color (i.e. a snow mans based color would be white) on each cookie using a small spoon or rubber spatula. Let dry completely before adding on other complimentary colors (i.e. carrot orange nose, charcoal colored buttons, red scarf) with a thin tool, such as a tine of a fork. Let dry completely before stacking on top of each other.

Show Us Your Goodness: Could Your Favorite Charity be the One Awarded the $20K?

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Since starting BeFreeForMe just a little more than a year ago, I have been amazed by the outpouring of warmth, sharing and compassion of the BeFreeForMe members. There have been members who have been diagnosed with celiac disease for over 15 years that have contacted me to offer their mentoring and support to the newly diagnosed. I’ve been contacted by a grandmother that has children, and grandchildren, with numerous food allergies, as well as years and years’ worth of tried-and-true recipes that she offered to share with a young, scared Mom whose toddler had been recently diagnosed with numerous food allergies. I’ve had teachers contact me asking where they could find the best resources to educate themselves about food allergies and celiac disease, since they had children in their classroom with these diagnoses and they wanted to educate themselves in order to make these children feel as welcomed and involved as possible.

One of the things I hear over and over from people that have food allergies and celiac disease is their amazement over the sense of community and goodness that has come from others that share in the same diagnosis.

I am amazed myself.

This positive energy from the celiac & food allergy community, often through the support groups, has provided me with a positive and more manageable diagnosis, and I will always be grateful.

That is why I want to share with all of the BeFreeForMe members, Show Us Your Goodness, a program sponsored by riceworks® brown rice crisps that will donate $20,000 to an inspiring nonprofit organization or charitable cause.

During this holiday season, I encourage all of you to check out the Show Us Your Goodness website and nominate one of your favorite nonprofit organizations or charitable causes. Your charity can be local or national. Grassroots or established. Recognized or not.

Also, once the three finalists are picked, I encourage you to vote for one of the nominated groups (the voting between the three finalists will take place between March 16th to April 30th . I will also blog about the three finalists once they are picked!).

If you nominate your favorite charity, or you support one of the previously nominated groups, make sure you comment on this blog post and tell us what charitable group you support. Six (Yes…6!) BeFreeForMe members that post a comment will win a FREE CASE of riceworks® brown rice crisps!  The winners will be picked on February 16th, 2010.

Some of the charitable non-profit groups which I have volunteered for and supported are listed at the bottom of this email. All of these charities have in some way helped my health and touched my soul.  I look forward to hearing about your favorite charities too!

Happy Holiday… Be Charitable… Enjoy the Spirit of the Season… and, as always…

Be Free!
Some of My Favorite Charities:

* Michael Carter Lisnow Respite Center
* Food Allergy Initiative
* National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
* Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network
* Canadian Celiac Association
* Celiac Disease Foundation
* Celiac Sprue Association
* Healthy Villi
* Project Just Because

Friday Favorite: Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

There are so many things that bring back happy memories that include the sweet and sticky marshmallow…Making S’mores on hot summer nights, Congo Bars packed with care in my school time Road Runner lunchbox, and mini-marshmallows topping a steaming cup of hot chocolate after making snow men (and ladies!) with my two sisters many years ago on Cape Cod.

What’s not to love about the marshmallow? Full of fun… Full of memories… and NOT full of gluten!

Simply stated and most definitely under-rated… Kraft’s Jet-Puffed marshmallow gets my vote for the most fun-packed gluten-free food, as well as this week’s BeFreeForMe Friday Favorite honor!

Additional Note: Please notice Kraft Food’s policy on listing gluten in their products. It is straightforward, easy to read… and understand! Thanks Kraft Foods!

WIN-It-Wednesday: Yumpeez

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

If snack-time is turning into nap-time due to the same old boring gluten and allergen-free snacks that you eat day-in and day-out, you need to try Yumpeez.

Yumpeez are made from certified-organic yellow split peas, cleverly disguised as crunchy flavorful snacks.

Besides the unexpected yummy flavor, I was also astonished when I saw the nutritional info and health benefits of these crunchy gluten-free, nut-free, lactose-free and soy-free snacks. High in fiber, protein and iron, they are also a fantastic source of calcium.  Better yet they are trans-fat free, low in fat, and certified vegan.

I also can count on Yumpeez to “hold me over until dinner time” since they are low on the glycemic index, which means they are a complex carbohydrate that also provides energy that sustains.

Yup… now I know why Yumpeez tagline is “Snack To Win!” and “Yumpeez Takes You Into Overtime!”.

My favorite flavor is the Dill, but the Barbeque flavor is a winner too. At only 120 calories per pack, I feel good about reaching for Yumpeez for snacking, especially around the hectic holidays when a portable, healthy snack is welcomed.  I also like to toss a handful over my lunchtime salad, to give myself a crunchy salad topping, with an added protein energy boost. 

All these healthy and flavorful reasons is why I am so glad that Yumpeez is this week’s WIN-It-Wednesday sponsor. Yumpeez will provide two (Yes….2!) LUCKY BeFreeForMe members a 12-pack combo of the Barbeque and the Dill flavored Yumpeez (6 of each flavor)!

How can you WIN?


Reply to this blog and tell us how you take yourself into overtime during this hectic holiday season (Me? I shovel my walkways… no snow blower for me…  to get a dose of unexpected exercise). All entries must be received by Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 12 midnight EST.

Good Luck, slow down to enjoy the spirit of the season and, as always…

Be Free!

Please note:  Next week (12/23) we will not be having our normally scheduled WIN-It-Wednesday contest due to the Christmas Holiday.

Friday Favorite: Kretschmar Deli Meats

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

The honors of this week’s BeFreeForMe’s Friday Favorite was an easy choice… Kretschmar Deli Meats.

Not only are all of Kretschmar’s deli meats gluten free, they are also free of MSG and artificial flavors. What’s not a gluten-free gal to love?

Truthfully, the deli department at your local grocer can be one of the hardest places to navigate when shopping gluten-free. That is why I ask for Kretschmar deli meats… without hesitation or a question about its gluten-free status.

Kretschmar deli meats taste fantastic too. The turkey taste like the real-deal (think Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches) and the roast beef and hams taste like a thin-cut version of the meats you cook at home.

Fresh, tasty, 100% gluten-free… Pick a number, step up to the deli counter, and order away my gluten-free friends!

WIN-It-Wednesday: Allergen-free Candy Canes & Sweets from Caring Candies!

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The holiday season brings about many traditions. One of the most memorable childhood memories for me is enjoying the sweet sticky treat of a candy cane.

For many children however, the simple pleasure of enjoying a candy cane can be missed due to food allergies, diabetes, or an intolerance to artificial sweeteners, synthetic colors or preservatives.

This is why I am so pleased to announce that Really Healthy Stuff, the makers of Caring Candies candy canes and other hard sweet treats is this week’s BeFreeForMe WIN-It-Wednesday sponsor!

Rejoice candy lovers everywhere!

These healthy candies are sugar-free, fat-free, and kosher. Plus they are 100% free from Gluten, Wheat, Soy, Sugar, Yeast, Dairy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Potato, Eggs, Corn, Rice, Sesame, Artificial Sweeteners, Synthetic Colors, and Preservatives. These candies also have a low-glycemic index, and are tooth-friendly since they contain no sugar, aspartame nor saccharine. (Do I see dentist’s everywhere smiling?)

This company does it all… they make the traditional cane canes, candy drops (or bonbons) and lollipops, as well as spiral lollipops & sour lollipops. All are handcrafted the old-fashioned way.

And tasty they are. The come in tons of fun flavors, all naturally flavored with either herbs or fruit essences. These flavors are sophisticated enough for an adult’s sweet-tooth, yet reminiscent of childhood favorites too. Some of the flavors include: Passion Fruit, Black Currant, Apple, Grape, Pineapple-Orange & Lemon… along with the traditional Holiday favorite… Peppermint. My favorite though, is the Raspberry flavored Rainbow Spiralz Lollipops.

These candies are perfect for those on a gluten-free diet, with food allergies or intolerances, diabetics, hyperactive children, dieters and for the all-around health conscious candy lover!

Really Healthy Stuff is offering two (Yes 2!) BeFreeForMe members a gift box jammed packed with tons of these sweets!

How can you win?


Reply to this blog and tell us what brings “sweetness” into your life. (Me? My Mom and Grandmother’s recipe box that is stuffed full of handwritten family favorites that I share in the recipe section of BeFreeForMe, and holiday visits with family & friends). All entries must be received by Sunday, December 13, by 12:00 midnight EST.

Good luck, remember how sweet life really, really is and as always…

Be Free!

Ask Shelley Case: Gluten-free Baking Tips & Tricks

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Question: I love to bake! Can you give me any gluten-free baking tips and pointers for this upcoming holiday season?


Baking with gluten-free ingredients can be both challenging… and fun! In order to make tasty and satisfying gluten-free baked products it is essential to learn how to use different types and combinations of flours, starches and other ingredients, as well as specific baking techniques in order to compensate for the lack of gluten. Here are a few general gluten-free baking tips:

General Gluten-free Baking Tips:
Store gluten-free flours and starches in plastic airtight containers with wide and tightly fitting lids; and for optimum freshness keep them in the refrigerator or freezer. Allow the cold flour or starch to return to room temperature before using.

• Mark It: Label containers with the name of the item and date purchased.

• Measure it once… and twice: Measure flours and starches carefully. Inaccurate measurements can greatly affect the quality of gluten-free recipes because each flour and starch has very unique properties.

• Keep it loose: Loosely spoon the flour or starch into the measuring cup, leveling the top with the flat side of a knife. Never pack down the flour.

• Cook with sparkle: Use shiny, light-colored metal pans (gray not black). Products bake and brown more evenly in lighter colored pans than in dark pans, which can leave edges crisp and over-browned.

• Keep it low: When using glass baking pans and non-stick metal baking pans [gray not black), reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

• Longer is better: Most gluten-free breads are better when baked at lower temperatures for longer periods of time. After the first 10- 15 minutes of baking, tent the bread with foil to prevent over –browning.

• Lows and highs: Baking is also affected by temperature and altitude. Slightly reduce the amount of liquid in recipe if baking at a higher altitude or on a very humid day. For baking at very low altitudes, slightly increase the amount of liquid.

• That’s the way the (gluten-free) bread crumbles: Gluten-free bread dough tends to be softer, stickier and more batter-like. If it is too heavy and dry, the bread tends to be too crumbly.

• Dust it with sweetness: When making a gluten-free chocolate cake or brownies, grease the pan and then “flour” the pan with cocoa.


Texture Tips:

• Double it up: A combination of gluten-free flours and starches makes a better product than single flours.

• Leave it to leavening: Gluten-free baked products often require more leavening than products made with wheat due to the lack of gluten which is necessary to form an elastic dough and enables the product to rise.

• Crumbler fixers: It is important to use xanthan gum or guar gum in baked products in order to prevent crumbling. Add the gum to the dry ingredients as it does not mix with water. For every cup of gluten-free flour, use 1 teaspoon of gum for breads and ½-3/4 teaspoon for other baked goods.

• Gelatin to the rescue: Unflavored powdered gelatin also works as a binding agent and can prevent crumbling. If substituting gelatin for xanthan or guar gum, use twice as much gelatin. Soften the gelatin in half the water called for in the recipe before adding.

• (Butter)Milking it: Substituting buttermilk for the milk or water in recipes results in a lighter, more finely textured product. Carbonated beverages [not diet soft drinks) in place of water or milk can also result in a lighter-textured product (e.g., pancakes, cakes).

• Take the time: Let gluten-free dough sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature to soften. This results in a better-textured product


Flavor Tips:

•  Spice it up: To improve the flavor of gluten-free baked products use more herbs, spices and flavorings (approximately 1/3 – ½ more than normal).

• Get cocoa, nutty & fruity too: Adding chocolate chips, nuts, fruits (e.g., applesauce, bananas) dried fruits (e.g., apricots, cranberries, raisins) can also improve the flavor.

• Hey Sweetie: Honey or molasses can provide more flavor than white sugar. You need to reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe if making this substitution. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use 3/4 cup honey or molasses.

• Toast it: Most gluten-free breads taste better toasted or warm.


Storage Tips:

• Seal it:  Baked products made with gluten-free flours have no preservatives, become stale quickly and are quite perishable. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store in airtight plastic containers or self-seal plastic bags. If the product will not be eaten within one or two days, freeze to ensure minimum loss of moisture and flavor. For breads, it is best to thoroughly cool, slice and separate each slice with wax paper before bagging and freezing.

• Keep it moist: Placing baked products such as muffins in plastic bags when still warm can preserve moisture.

• Thaw Tips: Thaw frozen baked goods at room temperature instead of microwaving at full power; microwaving causes them to become rubbery and tough.


Note: Thanks to the following gluten-free culinary experts for some of the background information on gluten-free flours and starches, substitutions and many of the above baking tips:

Carol Fenster, PhD, President and Founder of Savory Palate, Inc., gluten-free publishing and consulting firm. Author of:
1000 Gluten-Free Recipes; Gluten-Free 101: Easy Basic Dishes without Wheat; Wheat-Free Recipes and Menus: Delicious, Healthful Eating for People with Food Sensitivities; Cooking Free: 220 Flavorful Recipes for People with Food Allergies and Multiple Food Sensitivities

Connie Sarros, Author of gluten-free cookbooks and other resources:
Wheat-Free Gluten-Free Recipes for Special Diets; Wheat-Free Gluten-Free Cookbook for Kids and Busy Adults; Newly Diagnosed Survival Kit; Wheat-Free Gluten-Free Dessert Cookbook; Wheat-Free Gluten-Free Reduced Calorie Cookbook; All You Wanted to Know About Gluten-Free Cooking DVD

Donna Washburn, P.H.Ec. and Heather Butt, P.H.Ec., partners in Quality Professional Services, specializing in recipe development and bread machine baking. Authors of:
Complete Gluten-Free Cookbook; 125 Best Gluten-Free Recipes; The Best Gluten-Free Family Cookbook


Ask Shelley Case is a feature of It is published the second Tuesday of each month. Shelley Case is a Registered Dietitian, Consulting Dietitian, Speaker and Author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. Visit Shelley and more glute-free tips at:

New General Mills Gluten-free Website, LiveGlutenFreely, is Packed with Info!

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

How many times have you called a large food manufacturer to ask if a product is gluten-free? And how many times has the customer service line been closed and your questions have been left unanswered?

According to Katie Lay, from General Mills Health and Wellness Division, “One of the most frequent inquiries our customer service department receives is ‘What products are gluten-free?’”.

To assist those of us needing to eat gluten-freely (and easily!), General Mills has created a new website, (yes… available 24/7!), for their customers living a gluten-free lifestyle. Easily navigated, crisp and packed with information, the website’s goal is to help those living a gluten-free lifestyle determine which General Mill’s products are gluten-free, find out where they can be purchased, as well as discover simple and tasty recipes that can be made with many of these products.

My thoughts? This informative website, along with General Mill’s clear and bold “gluten free” wording on the labels of their 200+ gluten-free products is going to be a hit with the gluten-free set. The path (or should I say supermarket aisles) are now clear for those on a gluten-free diet to easily determine which readily available and affordable General Mill’s products are gluten free. It is important to note however, that all of us living a gluten-free lifestyle must always take responsibility to read the ingredient listing, or look for the words “gluten-free” on a product label, prior to purchasing or eating any item. (This is true for any allergen or dietary concern as well).

While on the website I also signed up for the LiveGlutenFreely electronic newsletter containing recipes, and any new gluten-free product information. These newsletters will be sent directly to my inbox every other month. I can’t wait to get my first edition.

Hopefully this website will be the benchmark of how large conglomerate food manufacturers share their product’s gluten-free information.

And to General Mills… thanks.  Your commitment to the gluten-free community has not gone unnoticed!

Be Free!

P.S. See BeFreeForMe’s recipe section for a Sour Cream Coffee Cake Recipe I made  using Betty Crocker Yellow Cake Mix and Cinnamon Chex Cereal… delicious!

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