Thursday, October 25, 2012

Roasted Grape Risotto with Adobo-Paprika Chicken

Ever since I've seen the commercial on the Food Network for it, I've been intrigued by the Roasted Grape Risotto recipe. However, the one I found on the internet calls for super expensive gooey bad-for-you cheese and a crazy amount of butter. I love butter and all, but risotto is rich enough! So I've tweaked the recipe and this is what I came up with:

5 chicken thighs
Adobo salt (I use Goya brand)

Roasted grapes:
half a bag of grapes
olive oil

3 cups of stock
1 cup of risotto
1/4 cup of good white wine
white balsamic vinegar infused with pear
parmesan cheese
1 big shallot, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tbsp of Smart Balance lactose free Omega 3 spread (or butter)

I took the skin off of the chicken thighs, and rubbed the thighs in generous amounts of paprika and adobo salt, then let sit for two hours. Preheat the oven to 400. I put the skin in a low heat pan with foil-wrapped bricks on top to cook the fat out. The result is a crispy skin with most of the fat cooked out into the pan, and the skin makes an excellent appetizer when dusted with bacon salt -- reserve 2 tbsp of the fat, toss about half of what's left, and then stir in some canola oil. Once the oil is hot (it doesn't take long), add the chicken thighs for about 2-3 mins on each side, or until browned. Put the whole pan in the oven when you start the risotto -- the amount of time it takes to make the risotto is about how long the thighs should be in the oven. .

I started off by roasting the grapes -- we cut the giant globe grapes in half to get the seeds out, then tossed in a drizzle of olive oil. I sprinkled with salt and a dusting of thyme, then popped in the convection toaster oven at 400 for about 8 minutes. I then moved the rack to the top rack near the broiler and let broil for a minute so that the skins browned slightly.

Put the reserved chicken fat in another pan, with a little canola or olive oil on medium high heat. Toss the shallot in, then add the risotto and salt and pepper to taste. Toast up the risotto in this mixture, and when it starts to stick to the pan, deglaze with half of the wine. After the wine cooks down, add the rest. While doing all of this, the chicken broth should be heating. I use a glass measuring cup, and I microwave the broth for time purposes. Stir the risotto while slowly adding the broth over time. Once all of the broth is absorbed, the rice should be starting to look like a risotto. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir well. Add as much cheese as desired (I used three 1-inch cubes grated up), then the lemon zest. Mix until the risotto has a slight bite but is soft and tender. At this point, the chicken thighs will be done. Take them out and let them rest.

Add the grapes and stir. Add the juice in, and remove from heat when risotto is soft all the way through. Finish with the SmartBalance spread and give it a final stir. Serve chicken on top of the risotto, and enjoy!*

*I wish I had taken pictures, but my husband and I were too hungry and I didn't think about it. But it was delicious!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tusker House Restaurant: Gluten Free Buffets DO Exist!

The Animal Kingdom theme park is not an easy place to eat. There aren't many sit downs (just Tusker House and Yak & Yeti, which I will write about on a later date), and the quick service places are all fairly standard. The Tusker House, however, has always been one of my favorite places to eat in all of Disney. The menu is interesting and different and as far as buffets go, it's the best one. For those who are not gluten-free, TRY THE CHOCOLATE MANGO BREAD. I cannot emphasize enough how delicious this fresh baked bread is, smeared with butter. I miss it very, very much. Here is the menu, courtesy of

Lunch Buffet - Appetizers: Spicy South African preserves, Tabbouleh, Hummus and Baba Ghanoush, Endive/Apple/Walnut salad, Caesar salad, Mixed Greens salad, Tomato & Cucumber salad, Sliced Turkey/Ham/Cheese, Tunisian Couscous salad, Green bean & onion salad, Curried rice salad and Fresh fruit. Vegetarian Table: Marrakesh couscous, Vegetable samosas, Spiced Tandoori Tofu, Jollaf rice, and Pearl couscous with sweet basil essence. Kids Selections: PB&J sandwich, Corn dog nuggets, Mac & Cheese, Corn medley, Chicken Drumsticks, Green beans, and Mashed potatoes. Adult Selections: Salmon filet, Root veggies, Seafood stew, Orzo pasta, green bean medley, Rotisserie chicken, potato wedges, mashed potatoes, Carved top sirloin and pork loin, Cape Malay curry chicken, and Basmati rice with almonds. Dessert Selections: Fruit cobbler, Warm banana-cinnamon bread pudding with vanilla sauce, and assorted pastries. Prices vary 15.00-35.99  *

Of this, there are obviously some dishes I couldn't have. The chef came out to our table and walked me through the entire buffet, pointing out what was safe and what wasn't. He also said that if I was worried about cross-contamination (which I was), he would bring me out a plate of whatever I wanted. I picked out a few items and waited at my seat.

Here's what I tried:
Spicy South African preserves
Endive/apple/walnut salad
Tomato and cucumber salad
Mashed potatoes
Salmon filet
Root veggies in turmeric
Rotisserie chicken
Coffee BBQ pork loin
Top sirloin
Basmati rice with almonds

There was more I could've sampled, but this was a lunch and I wasn't able to consume much more than this. The preserved fruit was absolutely out of this world, especially when smeared on the super tender pork loin. The salads were pretty standard, as were the mashed potatoes, but the rice with the salmon filet was incredible. I don't normally love cooked salmon, as I find most places overcook it (especially at a buffet), but it was tender and moist with this amazing tomato chutney on top. I also loved the root veggies in turmeric, they reminded me of my favorite vegetarian dish at Ethiopian restaurants. The rotisserie chicken was surprisingly complex, doused in all sorts of herbs and garlic. I definitely did not feel like I missed out on anything, even with my celiac.

Dessert was a little more complicated. As you can see from the menu, everything has gluten. The chef offered to make me a fruit plate, or a sorbet dessert (I quickly got sick of sorbet after this trip though), and he said he'd also make a cookie plate for me. I opted for the cookie plate, which was full of familiar items, like Enjoy Life chocolate chip cookies. There was also a handful of berries on there. The OMG... It's Gluten Free gluten-free brownie was one of the grossest things I've ever eaten.. I actually spit out the bite as soon as I took it, much to the chagrin of the family sitting next to us. It was prepackaged and solid as a rock, but I can't fault Disney for stocking a crappy brand of gluten-free brownies. Enjoy Life is awesome, so that cookie was great. And after the lunch I just ate, a big dessert was not in the cards.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix

On a whim, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies. Prior to being diagnosed with celiac, I was not a baker. Now, I'm definitely not a baker. Baking from scratch is a totally foreign concept to me, I prefer cooking. So I took a trip to the store and picked up some Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix (from the regular baking aisle) for $4.99.

All that I needed was an egg, a stick of softened butter, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I combined the wet ingredients first, then added in the cookie mix. The box warned that the dough would be "crumbly"... boy, was that an understatement. It looked like damp sand! This was definitely not the cookie dough of my childhood where I could sneak spoonfuls. This is not raw cookie dough that you can eat.

The oven was preheated to 350, and I tried my best to make balls out of the moist sand-like "dough." It actually shaped fairly well, and I popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. The box suggested 8-11 minutes for small cookies and 12-15 for larger, but my medium sized cookies took probably 20 minutes to bake.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The cookies were moist and buttery, and though a little on the gritty side in terms of an aftertaste (as all gluten free cookies are from the rice flour), I thought they were delicious. Are these as good as the Nestle pre-made dough cookies? No. But for gluten-free, these are a godsend -- especially since this is easily found in any grocery store.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Disney's Pop Century: What Resort Eating Means When You're Gluten Free

I've been to Disney many times and I've stayed in a wide range of places, from value to deluxe. After years of trying out the different resorts, I've come to the conclusion that Pop Century, a value resort, is my favorite place to stay. Location-wise, it's very central to all of the parks, and transportation-wise, it has its own bus system. The theme is a lot of fun (who doesn't love a ginormous Big Wheel?) and I love the pop culture references from the last 60 years. The only downside is the sprawl of the resort, but if you book a preferred room, you'll be placed close to the main transportation center. (The other downside was that they had a time capsule of technology that's super outdated... I laughed at the original Gameboy, the 8 tracks, the Apple IIc... and stopped laughing when I realized they included the tape recorder that I still use. Even the same make and model.)

I was a little worried about trying to get gluten-free at a value resort. The moderate and deluxe resorts have sit-down restaurants, while the value resorts only offer cafeteria-style quick service. The food is also not spectacular at the quick service-style restaurants -- it's fairly standard fare, like burgers and hot dogs and pasta. They generally offer a salmon or chicken special with sides like mashed potatoes and vegetables.

This also doesn't really mean much to me, because when I go to Disney, I only ever eat breakfast at the resorts. Lunch and dinner are going to be spent at one of the million amazing restaurants at the parks and deluxe resorts. On this particular trip, we missed our lunch reservation upon arrival and were forced to eat lunch at Pop Century.

We arrived at the cafeteria, and thanks to some Internet research, I knew to ask for the chef. I went to the nearest employee and asked for the chef for a food allergy, and moments later, Karen appeared. She walked me through station by station (there are four in total at Pop Century, including a pasta station and a grille), and pointed out everything I could eat and more importantly, everything she could adjust for me to be gluten-free. Her exact words? "I will make you anything you want." She rattled off a list of the things she can do with the items she had in the kitchen, including pastas, burgers, chicken fingers, pizza.. my head started spinning with all of the options. She also told me that when I came back for breakfast, she could do gluten-free pancakes, gluten-free waffles, gluten-free muffins, you name it.

She also said that in the morning, the lines at each station are crazy. For people with allergies, do not bother waiting in line. Karen told me to simply grab a manager/employee, tell them I had an allergy, and wait by the kitchen door for a chef to come out. It's quicker than waiting in line to tell them to get the chef.

I asked her for a bacon cheeseburger with fries. REAL French fries!! They have a dedicated fryer for gluten allergies. She gave me one of those flashing buzzer thingies, told me to go ahead and pay, and then wait for my food. Because my husband could simply walk up and grab a meal, his food was obviously ready before mine, as she had to make it fresh. But it also meant that instead of having a burger that had been sitting there for half an hour, I had a fresh one. I also had a fruit bar for dessert -- I could have had a number of options, including gluten-free brownies and fruit cups.

My food took probably 10-15 minutes in total. I'm betting that during a rush, it would take longer, but I have no problem waiting longer for food if it means I don't get sick. My burger was great, and I forgot how delicious fresh crispy fries are. This clearly was not the best burger and fries I've ever had in my life, but for a cafeteria-style restaurant, it was very tasty. It was a good omen of things to come!

This was also the beginning of my constant waiting for food. I noticed that whenever I ordered anywhere with an allergy, my food took much longer than other tables around us. While at Tutto Italia in Epcot (more on that amazing meal later), the server explained that whenever they get an allergy request, the kitchen washes all of its pans and utensils before beginning to cook that dish, which is why my food took so much longer. Honestly, I'm on vacation. I'm in no rush. What do I care if my food takes an extra 10-15 minutes? If it's taking longer because they're trying to keep me safe, I really can't complain. So if you are going to Disney with a food allergy, expect your food to take a little longer, but be grateful that it's for your own good.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Going Gluten-Free at Disney Food and Wine 2012

Disney was amazing. I have a number of posts that will come over the next few weeks because we ate so many meals there, but I wanted to start off with a review of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities. I used this handy guide to get myself through:

The highlights?

1.) Florida's white corn arepa with mangalista pork. Oh. My. Gah. I love arepas as it is -- we often go to a local Venezuelan restaurant and get them. This arepa was stuffed with a tender flavorful pork and fried -- the best part was that Florida's offerings were BOTH gluten free, so the stand was completely uncontaminated.
2.) Australia's grilled lamb chop with mint pesto. The potato crunchies were salt and vinegar flavored, and the vinegar was malt vinegar, so I had to leave those off. But the chop was perfectly cooked and the pesto was to die for.
3.) Florida's shrimp ceviche with the fried plaintain and roasted tomatoes. Spicy and cold, this ceviche was perfect for a hot day.

The protocol appeared to be different for each booth when dealing with a food allergy. At first, the booth workers said every time that I ordered anything, I had to wait until they called the chef and had him come over. The first time this happened, the chef told me to simply ask for the ingredients binder at each stand, and the allergens are listed at the top of the page. At a few stands, this was fine. But a couple of stands insisted on having the chef called each time, and he was always at a different stand, so I had to wait for him. I dealt with a very rude worker at South Africa (of course, I told Guest Relations and they were very apologetic and said they would deal with it) who treated my allergy like a major inconvenience. This was at the soft opening, so I understand that they were still working out the kinks.

Every other stand, however, was wonderful. They treated me with respect and clearly just wanted to make sure I didn't get sick. The binders were very useful, and often, I would check the binder to just make sure I could order anything at all.

Other gluten free items sampled included:
-New Zealand's seared scallop, which was tasty but nothing special
-Singapore's beef rendang, which was very flavorful but a little too spicy for a super hot day
-Australia's shrimp on the barbie, which was excellent

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gluten-Free Quinoa Mac 'n Cheese

Dinner tonight is one of my favorite meals of all time -- gluten-free quinoa mac 'n cheese. This simple faux mac 'n cheese is comforting and oozy, but is deliciously gluten free.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
2 eggs
Crushed potato chips

Start by sauteing the onion in olive oil/canola oil over medium high heat. Salt and pepper until the onions begin to sweat, and add the garlic. Saute for about a minute, then add the quinoa. The oil should coat the quinoa and toast it for a minute. Add the broth, mix, then cover and lower the heat until the quinoa is simmering. Once the spirals begin to unravel, the quinoa is ready. Take off the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Preheat oven to 425. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the eggs and milk. Add one scoop of the quinoa at a time and mix after each scoop, essentially tempering the custard mix so you don't end up with scrambled eggs. Add most of the cheese in (the amount of cheese and type you use is really up to you and your tastes -- mix it up and try some chunks of bleu cheese in there, or some parmesan), pepper to taste, and mix it up. Pour mixture into a greased baking pan, and then top with the remainder of the cheese. Add crushed potato chips on top. I like to use BBQ or something along those lines -- tonight, we're trying it with Lays Classic BLT chips.

Pop that into the oven, and bake 25 minutes, or until mac 'n cheese sets and browns a little on the side. Cut into chunks and serve!

Tonight, it's being served alongside a thyme-rosemary pork tenderloin and wilted baby spinach. The egg custard does a great job of acting like glue and keeping the mac 'n cheese super creamy without making a flour-based roux.

I'm going to have a few big entries coming up -- heading to Disney's Food and Wine Festival in two weeks, AND we have a bunch of big restaurant reservations. Can't wait to write about it!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Move Over Relish -- Slawsa is My New Favorite GF Condiment

I was recently sent a sample of Slawsa, a relish alternative, from Julie Busha at Nicole Foods. A cabbage-based mustard and vinegar relish, the product is from the owner's mother's recipe, a Southern classic.

I'm always thrilled to find condiments that are gluten-free. So many use malt vinegar or stabilizers like maltodextrin and neglect to mention if the maltodextrin is from corn or wheat. Busha assures me that all ingredients have been checked and this condiment is definitely gluten-free. And I didn't have a reaction, so I know it's true. I am VERY sensitive, and I definitely would've gotten sick if there had been any trace. I spent last Sunday night in the hospital when served regular soy sauce instead of gluten-free soy sauce -- that's how sensitive I am. 

My husband and I used the jar as an occasion to have hot dogs for dinner (with a roasted zucchini and feta salad on the side). Nathan's hot dogs (gluten free), and an Udi's gluten-free hot dog bun for me. Usually, when I eat hot dogs, I'm a strictly ketchup person. I'm not a fan of mustard, and I don't really like relish on my hot dogs.

At first bite, the Slawsa was sweet, crunchy, and slightly mustardy, with a touch of vinegar tang. As I chewed, the Slawsa finished with a slow growing heat. I was blown away by the complexity of the flavors, and the balance of sweet and tangy. I checked the ingredients and was very surprised to find that it is low in sodium -- most condiments are super high in sodium. I ended up piling more onto my hot dog and wolfing it down.

Compared to your basic relish, Slawsa is crunchier, with a wider depth of flavors. It's salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy (though not very spicy) all at once. This is a great addition to any Labor Day Weekend grilling event!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Eating Gluten Free at Alta Strada - MGM - Foxwoods

Foxwoods is in the type of area where there really is nothing for miles and miles. Though I live near the Wellesley Alta Strada, my friend and I decided to go to the one at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods while visiting my parents for the weekend, who live nearby. I tried googling "Foxwoods gluten-free" to see if anything came up, and the only option was the Veranda Cafe, which is not the type of place we were looking for.

Our server at Alta Strada was incredibly friendly and kind. She went through the whole menu with me, and let me know what I could have and what I couldn't have. I was disappointed that they don't carry gluten-free pasta -- it seems like something easy enough to hold onto, and they have delicious sauces there that I would've loved to try. I opted to start with the Caesar salad (hold the croutons) and got my old standby, the bunless burger with a side of veg instead of fries.

The Caesar salad was wonderful and salty. I was a little bummed watching my friend eat the freshly baked crusty Italian bread, and a gluten-free roll would've been great. I don't understand why restaurants don't carry them -- they're frozen and don't spoil, so they can be kept for people like me. But I enjoyed my salad.

My burger was also excellent. It came with bacon, mushrooms, and cheese, and the veg was broccoli rabe with sauteed garlic and red pepper flakes. It was perfectly cooked, high quality meat, and extremely tasty.

The highlight of the meal, for me, was the dessert. Alta Strada is the sister restaurant to a favorite Boston spot of mine, Via Matta. At Via, they make these Marscarporeos, which are homemade Oreo cookies with a marscrapone filling. One time years ago, they offered a special of stone fruit with the marscarpone filling. I asked the server if the pastry chef could do something similar, and she said it was no problem. I got a dish of brunch fruit (green apples, bananas, strawberries), with a dish of the marscarpone cream -- absolutely delicious. It's always a nice surprise to get something for dessert that isn't sorbet or ice cream.

Overall, Alta Strada didn't really cater directly to celiacs. They don't offer gluten free pizza or pasta, but almost all of their entrees are already gluten free, with the exception of their chicken parmigiana and their chicken milanese. But there were enough options that I was happy with my meal, and the dessert made it completely worthwhile.

It's also worth noting that the Alta Strada at Foxwoods has a different menu than the Alta Strada in Wellesley. The one in Wellesley offers tapas-style small plates, which I love, and I've never seen a burger on their menu.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Liberty Tree Tavern in Disney World: One of the BEST GF Meals Ever!!

It's no secret that Disney is a friend to those with food allergies. They are equipped to handle all common food allergies. What I didn't realize was the level of care they'd put towards making sure that I had an amazing meal.

Let me start off by saying that I am a big, big Disney World fan. I've been to Disney many times, but never as someone with celiac disease. My husband and I chose Disney as our honeymoon destination, because of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, where we ate what I estimate to be close to 5000 calories a day. As someone who loves food, there are few places in the world with that many good restaurants clustered in an easy-to-access area. It's a very controlled area with everything focused on fun and delicious food, with a wide range of cuisines and truly some of the best restaurants in the country. I also love Disney's attention to detail -- their staff continues to go above and beyond to make sure that every single guest is having an amazing time. I have a million stories of how a Disney staff member has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me out. I'm well aware that Disney is a business and everything they do is for money -- but they know how to make that money by making everything they do magical. It's impossible to be in a bad mood in Disney World, and this is coming from someone who is notoriously crotchety and cranky. Even my grumpy husband, who is cranky about pretty much everything, loved our trip to Disney.

I went to Orlando for work, and my coworkers and I headed to Magic Kingdom. Because it was a day-of idea, we didn't really have many choices when it came to restaurant reservations. It doesn't help that the Magic Kingdom is one of the worst places to try to get a good sitdown meal, rivaled only by Hollywood Studios. So in a choice between the Crystal Palace and the Liberty Tree Tavern, I decided to go with the Tavern, because it's on the parade route and we would be eating around that time.

The Liberty Tree Tavern is a Colonial-era themed restaurant with an all-you-can-eat family style setup. There's no buffet line -- rather, costumed servers bring platters of food to your table, and you can request as much as you want. Upon arrival and checking in, the hostess double-checked and asked who in our party of four had the gluten allergy. I let her know it was me, and she made a note on the reservation, and seated us promptly.

Our server was incredibly well-trained in food allergies. He knew exactly what gluten is, and how cross-contamination works, and assured me that I was in good hands. Within minutes, the chef came to our table and was very friendly and assuring. He informed us what was on the menu that night -- salad, roasted multi-colored carrots, green beans, mashed potatoes, mac 'n cheese, roasted pork, turkey, a beef roast, and stuffed apple cake with vanilla ice cream -- and let me know what I could and couldn't have. I obviously could not eat the mac 'n cheese, the cake, or the gravy that came with everyone else's food, but I was happy to know that nothing else had any kind of gluten contamination.

We began the meal, and to my surprise, hot gluten-free tapioca rolls with fresh butter (my own, to avoid contamination with everyone else's bread) arrived. These were the BEST gluten free rolls I've ever had -- as long as they were hot. The texture was like that of a really good whole wheat roll, but once it got cold, it turned into cardboard. I honestly didn't care -- I was thrilled to even be able to eat bread while everyone else broke into their bread baskets.

Everything was delicious. To my absolute delight, the server brought me my own gravy boat of GLUTEN FREE GRAVY. I absolutely love gravy, and being unable to eat it in restaurants has been a sore spot for me. I assumed it would be like a jus, more broth-like than gravy-like, but it was truly a real gravy made with rice flour. It was a slightly different color than the regular gravy, but it tasted just like the real thing and I was really touched that they would go the extra mile to make some for me. I poured it on everything! The salad had an incredible vinaigrette, the mashed potatoes were perfect, and the meats were tender and juicy. The beef was by far the best protein, with a flavorful crust and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Surprisingly, the highlight of the meal was the multi-colored carrots. Red, orange, and purple carrots were perfectly roasted and an amazing balance of sweet and salty. This was, hands down, the best meal I've had in the Magic Kingdom.

The stuffed apple cake looked extraordinary. My coworker, a former pastry chef, raved about it, so I knew it was good. The server brought me a bowl of sorbet with fresh blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, plus a dish of vanilla ice cream, so I didn't feel left out. I was just so content and happy knowing that I had eaten an amazing meal with no gluten contamination.

I was blown away by the level of service here. Every person, from the reservation taker to the hostess to the chef, was well-educated and trained in food allergies. They took it very seriously (quite a contrast to many restaurants in Orlando, where I've been asked several times "what's gluten?") and made sure that I had as well-rounded a meal as my coworkers. My husband and I are returning to Disney for our one year anniversary, and I am so excited to go to a place where I can eat literally everywhere and not worry about a lack of variety or getting contaminated. I'm especially excited to check out the new Babycakes bakery in Downtown Disney, the allergen-free bakery where we can use our snack points from our Disney dining plan.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Oga's in Natick -- Delicious, But Be Wary of the Staff

Since I've lived in Natick, Oga's on Route 9 has been one of my favorite restaurants. I always mocked it, seeing as it's located in a Blockbuster plaza, but when I found out that the Japanese Red Sox players were going there to eat, I knew it must be something special. It's beyond special. It's literally one of the best restaurants I've ever been to, anywhere. The spicy tuna tostada (spicy tuna served on a "tostada" of rice wrapped in seaweed pounded flat then tempura fried) and the gindara saikyo-yaki (broiled cod marinated in miso and sake) are two of the best dishes I've ever had. The gindara saikyo-yaki is also gluten free!

However, I hadn't gone since my celiac diagnosis. I am always a little wary of places where the staff doesn't speak English well, because it's hard to translate to them what "gluten" is. This is an example of how some places just don't get it.

I went with my siblings there, and explained that two of us (my brother also has celiac) cannot have gluten. The server brought over gluten-free soy sauce for us, which is always a good start. She said that the chefs recommended we avoid the rolls and stick to the straight up fish, just to be safe. We started off with the sashimi platter, which was beautiful. White tuna, mackerel, salmon, oysters, octopus, etc. However, it came drizzled with a ponzu sauce. I asked the server if there was regular soy sauce in the ponzu, and she said "yes." So I said, "I told you, I cannot have gluten, so I need this remade." Her response? "Well, can't you just eat around it?"

No. I cannot eat around it. It took all of my self control to not lose it on her right then and there. I said, "No, even if I eat a little, I will become very sick. Can I have this made again without the sauce?" At that point, she got a little hesitant, and says "But we already made this one." I don't know if maybe she thought she was going to get in trouble with the chef or management. Either way, I asked her to go find out if "another one could be made," and she left the plate of sashimi on our table while she went to go find out. For at least five minutes. We stared at it, wishing we could eat it, because we were starving. She finally came back and took the plate away and brought back a clean plate with no ponzu drizzled on the sashimi.

The rest of the meal was fine, but I was beyond furious at the gall of saying to someone "Well, can't you just eat around it?" In retrospect, I really should have asked to speak to the manager. I generally avoid it, as someone who worked in the food industry and understand that mistakes can be made. But if nothing else, this girl needed to be trained on food allergies, and it's clear that she wasn't. I just didn't want to raise a fuss because I want to keep going back for the gindara saikyo-yaki. So do I recommend this restaurant? Yes, the food is always delicious there. It's very legit Japanese food, and the chefs are incredibly creative and consistent. However, BE CAREFUL if you have food allergies. The staff is clearly not trained in dealing with them. Normally, I've had great service at Oga's. This was the first time it was this bad, and it makes me a little scared to go back.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Zaftig's = Wonderful

I have been TERRIBLE about keeping up with the blog, and I am sorry!! I went into tech week for my play and things went downhill from there in terms of time management, so blogging just wasn't going to happen. No excuses, I know.

But I'm back! And I have lots to tell you, starting with great news -- Zaftig's now carries gluten free bagels and buns! I had a wonderful gravlax plate with a toasted gluten free bagel, and it was everything I dreamed of and more. I really respect that they understand what celiac disease is to begin with, and even considers it right down to the vinegars used. Many restaurants I've been to don't seem to understand how sensitive some of us are, and the dire consequences if we ingest even the tiniest bit. There was a server at a nice restaurant, one of my favorites, who said "well.. can't you eat around it?" More on that in another blog post, but needless to say, I was furious. No, I can't just eat around it! Yeesh. I can't blame the restaurant for bad service, but it makes me not trust the kitchen if this is the idiot who's taking my order.

It's hard to trust restaurants to begin with. I was recently in Orlando for a work event, and I got contaminated by the Hilton Orlando, even though the server had spoken to the chef and everyone seemed to be well-educated on celiac disease. I had the shrimp and grits with chorizo... well, the chorizo (I'm guessing) wasn't gluten free, as I learned a few hours later while I curled up on the bathroom floor puking my guts out. It was the typical "I've been contaminated" reaction, and it ruined my trip. My boss made up for it by taking us to Disney World... more on that in a later blog, too! Needless to say, Disney is quite possibly the greatest place in the world when it comes to food allergies.

Sorry to tease two very exciting future blog posts, but I promise to write them up soon!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eating Gluten Free at Paparazzi

I had heard many things about the gluten-free menu at Paparazzi (Insert Lady Gaga joke here). I've been there before and was never really wowed by their regular menu, and I always found it a bit overpriced. My husband and I decided to give Paparazzi (the Framingham location) a try for lunch one day, and we were pleasantly surprised by the offerings.

First, Paparazzi brings a basket of breadsticks out to every table. My heart broke a little when I saw them, but the server also brought out some freshly toasted gluten-free bread, slathered in butter and topped with fresh herbs. The bread was incredible! The herbs and the butter really made it. The one problem was our server.. she was very nice, but she was either rushed or uneducated. I asked if the gluten-free bread brought out could be used on their burger. She looked at me quizzically and said "You know, I've never run into that before." And then ran off. I assumed it was to go ask her manager or the chef... no. She didn't. She just ran off. I had to specifically wave her down and have her ask the chef, which she did. And yes, the burger can be served on the bread.

Paparazzi also does any of their pasta sauces in gluten-free penne. I ordered the Bolognese, because I am a sucker for a good Bolognese. At first, I thought they had mixed up my order, because the pasta did not taste gluten free. But I was assured that it was, and I didn't get sick, so it must've been. The pasta quality was very good, and the sauce had a good level of flavors. The pancetta, veal, and onions really came through in each bite, with big chunks of mushroom for texture. I did find it a bit on the salty side, but it was still a good pasta dish.

We didn't do dessert because we were in a rush, but I'll have to do it next time. I'm also intrigued by the burger on that excellent bun. It's hard to justify dinner there when it's so expensive, but for lunch, it seems like it's a pretty good deal.

Click here to view information about Paparazzi's Framingham location.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gluten Free Menu at Zaftig's -- Going to a Jewish Deli and No Bagels?!

Before the celiac diagnosis, Zaftig's was always one of my favorite restaurants. When I was in college, my friends and I would take the C line out to Coolidge Corner, and wait 2 hours for brunch at Zaftig's in Brookline. It was always well worth the wait -- Jewish deli food has always been comfort food to me, and their brunch options are out of this world. The banana stuffed French toast... drooool.

After my husband and I bought our house in Natick a few years ago, Zaftig's fortuitously opened up a location near our home. Since it opened, we've probably eaten there dozens of times, and we never get sick of it. Their sandwiches are amazing, their latkes (especially the loaded latkes stack -- layered with chili, bacon and cheese, or smoked salmon and creme fraiche) are to die for, and their griddled banana bread with date butter is a sinfully delicious heart attack on a plate. I always ordered my gross-out sandwiches, like beef tongue, with the kickass potato salad and half sour pickle. But when I was diagnosed and could no longer eat gluten, the first thought I had was "No more smoked fish plates at Zaftig's!!" and I wanted to cry.

But Zaftig's once again comforted me, when I called and found out that they offer a dedicated gluten-free menu that takes cross contamination into consideration. The menu is obviously limited -- they don't yet offer gluten free bread and bagels, so the smoked fish plates are only available with just the fish. Not so alluring. But my beloved potato salad is gluten free, as is my favorite entree -- the stuffed cabbages with a tomato cranberry sauce. It normally comes with a slice of challah bread, but I substitute some potato salad instead, and I am thrilled.

Zaftig's can also do most of its omelets gluten-free, as well as its scrambles and breakfast sides. Sadly, the roast beef and roast turkey are both not gluten free, nor is Zaftig's amazing brisket. I'm guessing something with the rub or the vinegars they use probably include gluten. Sad. Doubly sad is that the latkes are contaminated with gluten. On the plus side, the celiac disease is limiting me from eating things like banana bread fried in butter and deep fried potato pancakes smothered in cheese, so at the very least, it's forcing me to eat healthier. The celiac is achieving what my mom's tried to do my entire life. Admittedly, I miss items like the latkes and Zaftig's bagels with cream cheese and their housemade gravlax. I didn't think I'd miss bagels so much, but I do.

But I can still get my stuffed cabbages with potato salad, and it's much better to focus on the delicious things I CAN have, rather than the delicious bad-for-you things that I can't have. I am grateful to Zaftig's for taking celiac sufferers into consideration, and making an easy to follow dedicated menu for us. Now how about some gluten-free bagels so I can still enjoy the gravlax...?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Going Gluten Free at Sel de la Terre

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to check out Sel de la Terre, one of our favorite places to eat. We love the one on the Waterfront and on Boylston St. in Boston, but there is one in Natick too, so we decided to see what they could do for me and my celiac disease.

First off, despite the fact that this place is in the Natick Collection, this is not your typical mall eatery. Entrees are 25+ and it's definitely more high-end than what you might find at say, California Pizza Kitchen. Our server fully understood gluten and celiac disease, thankfully, and guided me through the menu. There were obvious things I couldn't have, like flatbreads, but he also warned me about the short ribs being dusted in flour. It was nice to know that he was on top of things and that I didn't have to worry about whether or not he knew his stuff well enough for me to trust him.

We ordered the moules (or mussels) in a white wine, capers, and tomato broth. The crostini came on the side as to avoid cross contamination, which I appreciated. The portion was very small, but the mussels were perfectly cooked and the broth was good enough to drink. Which I did.

For entrees, my husband got the pan seared bass on red quinoa salad with braised endive and orange fennel reduction. The bass, however, was dusted in flour, so I couldn't try it. But I ordered the bunless burger, with FRIES!! Sel de la Terre is well-known in the city for its fresh rosemary pomme frites, often deemed the best fries in the city. The server assured me that the fries were completely gluten free, and not contaminated by any gluten sources in the frying oil. I could have kissed him! I miss fries so much, and these are some of my favorite. The burger, smeared with sweet caramelized onions and a hunk of what I think was Gruyere, was perfectly cooked and the quality of the meat was fantastic.

They even had gluten free dessert options! There was the seasonal and always reliable sorbet selection (this night's was pear, guava, and Concord grape), and creme brulee, but they also offered a poached pear with a star anise sabayon. I wasn't feeling the sabayon, so I went boring and had the sorbet, which was delicious. My husband had the apple cran polenta crumble, which smelled amazing. He said it was delicious, and essentially licked the plate clean.

Sel de la Terre didn't exactly blow my expectations away (after all, at those prices, they'd better be able to accommodate someone with celiac disease), but I was still pleased with the meal overall. Though the appetizer portion was small (especially for a $13 plate), it was tasty, and the staff took extra care to make me feel safe. It was an expensive meal, but I'm happy to pay a little more for peace of mind when I go out to eat.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gluten Free Mac 'n Cheese -- First attempt

Who doesn't love a good mac 'n cheese? There's something so comforting and warm about it, and I love how you can customize it to your tastes. Last week, we had an eight lb ham that we needed to use up, so I decided to chop some up and make mac 'n cheese with some ham and spinach. I figured I could use brown rice pasta, and safe cheese, but I didn't think about the cheese sauce.

The problem is that I start all of my cheese sauces with a bechamel -- start a roux with butter and flour, then add milk and whisk until creamy. Obviously, the flour was an issue, so I went to my pantry to see what kind of gluten-free flours I had. I found potato flour, so I figured, why not? It should work, right?

Nope. Miserable failure. The potato flour clumped up and didn't dissolve when I added the milk, so it looked like baby formula mixed with mashed potatoes. Gross. I had to ditch the whole shebang.

I instead skipped the flour, and whisked butter and milk together. Then I added American cheese, goat cheese, salt/pepper, garlic powder, and waited until it got hot. I mixed some corn starch with water, then dumped it in, brought it to a boil, and then took it off the heat. It cooled to just the right texture, and I poured it over the cooked noodles with some ham that had been sauteed with spinach. I threw some shredded cheddar on top, and then popped it in the oven for half an hour. The brown rice pasta held up well, surprisingly, and it ended up being a decent -- though not stellar -- mac 'n cheese.

Lesson to be learned? Potato flour CANNOT be used to make a roux. I may try tapioca flour next time, or corn flour, and see how that works instead. According to the interwebs, arrowroot flour works well as a rue. I've also used brown rice flour to make a roux for turkey gravy, though I don't know how it would work with milk.

Other fun ideas for mac 'n cheese:
  • Ditch half of the milk/cream and add pureed steamed/roasted cauliflower instead. It adds a really nice nuttiness to the dish, and helps work in vegetables. 
  • Use a half cup of Greek yogurt to replace some of the cream.
  • Puree some butternut squash as a replacement for some of the cream.
  • Bacon. Bacon bacon bacon. BACON.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Surviving Super Bowl Sunday -- For Party Hosts with Celiac Guests

This post isn't so much for celiacs, but for people hosting parties today. For some of us, the best part of the Super Bowl is the copious amounts of food that will be served, from takeout to homemade. Here's a guide to help hosts without gluten issues understand what their guests with celiac can and cannot eat.
  • Baked goods -- Obviously, this is the big one for us. We can't have anything with flour, or that's even been dusted with flour. Most people understand this. But what about when you're cooking, and are in a rush, and decide to reuse a cookie sheet for something that will be celiac safe? That's the kind of cross contamination that makes a celiac really sick. 
  • Wings/BBQ -- My formerly favorite part of watching Super Bowls was ordering a ridiculous amount of wings and chowing down. Unfortunately, if they're from any wing takeout place, they aren't gluten-free, even if they don't dust the wings in flour. They fry them in the same oil as the battered chicken, and that's enough to make us sick. Same goes for BBQ -- it's not the preparation, but the BBQ sauce. Most restaurants use vinegars made from gluten (such as malt vinegar) for the marinade/sauce, so this is not gluten free.
  • Chips and salsa -- Seems pretty clear cut, right? No flour in any of this. Except.. still not gluten free, depending on the brand. Tostitos chips are gluten free, but NOT the ones that are "Hint of..." flavored. And Tostitos salsa is not gluten free. Many companies will process their chips and salsa on the same equipment that processes items with gluten, and this is enough to sicken us. For someone with just a sensitivity to gluten, these items are probably fine. 
  • Potato chips and snacks -- Many potato chips are safe (Utz brand, for example, and regular Lays), but many are not. Miss Vickie's are not gluten free, nor are a bunch of Lays flavors. Doritos are also not gluten free -- they are processed on the same equipment as some gluten items. For those of us who are so sensitive that even the slightest contamination will make us sick, here's a list of Frito Lays products that are positively gluten free and those that are not made with gluten products, but processed on the same equipment.
  • Pizza -- Obvious. Gluten-free pizza is the only kind of pizza we can eat, and if you are making a frozen one, make sure it's a clean cookie sheet.
  • Chinese takeout -- Another common takeout food for the Super Bowl (I used to work in a Chinese restaurant, and Super Bowl Sunday was always nuts), Chinese food, especially the bastardized American version, is chock full of gluten. Everything is battered and fried, or fried in the same oil. Soy sauce is made from wheat, so anything with soy sauce is off limits -- that means pretty much everything.
Please understand that most celiac sufferers will show up with their own food. I, personally, do not plan to put anyone out or inconvenience a host by making them accommodate my food issues. But when I host parties, it is important to me that I accommodate all food allergies (I had a dedicated food allergy plan, including separate desserts, for guests with allergies at my wedding) and take this task very seriously. If there are any others out there like me, I hope this helps!

Also.. GO PATS!

Feelin' Like a Tourist: Legal Seafoods with Celiac Disease

For years, I've raised an eyebrow at people who go to Legal Seafoods. Honestly, I found it stale and boring, and the type of place that only tourists go to. I also never understood the buzz surrounding their "award-winning chowder." I ordered it once, and it's one of the few things I've ever sent back to a kitchen. It was cold and runny, and the potatoes were mealy.. absolutely inedible. The chowder paled in comparison to the chowder at my old place of employment, Great Bay. The chowder at GB absolutely knocked it out of the park and is still the best chowder i've ever had.

After they introduced Legal C Bar in Dedham, however, I saw the changes going on at the company. They were evolving as a restaurant with new menus and decor, and I started to warm up to the company. Once I learned about their attitude towards food allergies, I warmed up even more. Legal Seafoods is one of the few restaurants where my little nephew can eat. He's got severe food allergies (dairy, eggs, nuts, mustard), and they take his allergies in stride and are prepared when we call ahead. The staff is trained about allergies, and I've heard they even scrub the dishwashers in the bar to prevent any cross contamination.

They also have a great dedicated gluten-free menu. The meal began with hot gluten free bread (!!) with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and poppy seeds on top. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the bread -- the texture was a bit rougher than their usual rolls, and they weren't crusty, but they were a little closer to cornbread in texture, though less crumbly. But the bread was moist and warm, and I was thrilled to have the rolls. Nothing makes me sadder than watching my husband eat his chock full o' gluten warm crusty rolls at a restaurant while I sip my water.

I was skeptical when I saw calamari on the menu, but it's battered with brown rice and cornmeal. I was still skeptical, as calamari is obviously fried, and I asked if the calamari was fried in the same oil as everything else. The server assured me that the calamari was actually pan fried to prevent cross contamination. I ordered it Rhode Island style, with hot peppers (is there any other way?), and was relatively pleased with the product. The pan frying vs. deep frying meant a chewier product, unfortunately. But I understand that I can't have it all! The flavor was great, though it would have benefited from a marinara dipping sauce.

I had a mild panic attack when I found a French fry in our calamari. I know that the fries at Legal are NOT gluten free, and I wasn't sure if that was because of the frying oil or because the fries were actually dusted with flour -- some places actually do that to boost crispiness. Our server let us know that the fries were not treated with flour, but she also double checked with our chef to make sure that I was still safe. I felt VERY taken care of, and every dish was delivered by the manager because of my allergy. The server also told me that though it isn't on the menu, Legal will pan fry French fries for its customers with celiac disease. Woohoo!

For entrees, I tried Anna's baked scrod, with jasmine rice and sauteed spinach. The scrod was perfectly baked, though I found the gluten free crumb to be a bit flavorless. A dash of salt and lemon juice helped a lot. The portion was plentiful, but it just wasn't my favorite.

My husband's entree was much more successful -- he got a mixed grille of seafood. Scallops, shrimp, mahi mahi, swordfish, and tuna, all cooked on the wood grille, with a side of broccoli and brown rice. I LOVED the shrimp and the scallops.. I stole two shrimp from him. They were perfectly cooked with just the right seasoning. I even enjoyed the swordfish -- I normally don't go for swordfish. Once you've seen prep cooks "deworming" a swordfish, your desire for swordfish changes. Next time I go to Legal (and there WILL be a next time), I am ordering the wood grilled shrimp.

The sad thing about Legal's gluten free menu is that all of the interesting sides are only on the regular menu. Broccoli and cheese, mashed potatoes, jalapeno cheddar polenta, seaweed salad, onion strings -- all of these things are contaminated with gluten. And honestly, I think this is easily avoided. Do the onion strings like the calamari, with brown rice flour and cornmeal. Use freshly grated cheese on your items instead of bagged shredded/grated cheese, and the broccoli, mashed potatoes, and polenta will be celiac safe. Use gluten-free vinegars and soy sauces in the seaweed salad. I hope someone at Legal will read this and take these ideas into consideration!

Our dessert was this decadent Belgian chocolate mousse parfait, both gluten free and sugar free. The rich chocolate mousse was light and fluffy, layered with an unsweetened whipped cream. It was pure dessert heaven. This was easily the best gluten free dessert that I've had since my diagnosis, and it gave my taste buds hope for dessert in the future.

Overall, this was a great experience. My gluten free needs were not only met, but they were understood by the entire staff. That's the biggest frustration for me, when I go out and eat. It's hard to explain celiac disease to people and get them to understand that I'm not on a gluten-free diet as a choice, but because I will become gravely ill if even the teensiest bit of gluten finds its way into my food. The food was good, and it wasn't even an expensive evening -- I believe our bill was $80. I will definitely be returning to Legal when I want some gluten free seafood. I am dying to try their crispy fried haddock. I miss fish and chips so much!

Check out Legal's gluten free and regular menus here.

Next up: The failed (but salvaged) gluten free mac 'n cheese experiment.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Panera -- Being Gluten Free Where the Name Literally Means Bread

For my husband and I, our go to "I don't feel like cooking tonight so let's just pick something up" place is Panera Bread. Their bread is great, their sandwiches filling, and their baked goods delicious. After getting my celiac diagnosis, I just assumed I, and by extension, my husband, would never be able to enjoy Panera again.

That's one of the hardest things about celiac disease. It's not the giving up of food, but for my husband to also have to give up stuff. I certainly don't make him give things up, but he just doesn't want to go to Panera by himself. And he's not going to make a big box of regular pasta for himself if I can't eat any. I feel guilty a lot, despite his assurances that he hasn't really had to give up anything. While he hasn't, WE as a unit have. We no longer have the same "share a pizza" night. We don't get to go to our favorite Italian place with handmade pasta and enjoy the fresh-baked bread together.

But after some research, I discovered that Panera is not only good about celiac disease, they go above and beyond to make sure there's no contamination. For example, a lot of people assume that because the bread is baked on-premises, there must be flour floating about. Obviously, if this were the case, it would not be safe to eat there. But Panera gets their bread dough delivered every morning -- it's already made, so there's no flour being tossed around. Also, if you tell them you have a food allergy, they actually have a command on their computers that says "change gloves." It shows up on the receipt you get, which I appreciate. I watched the guy making my salad check the receipt and toss out his gloves for a fresh pair. You can also ask them to open a new bag of ingredients, in case you're worried that a gluten-contaminated glove reached into the container of lettuce.

Many of their soups are gluten-free, such as my favorite -- the low-fat black bean soup. Obviously, you can't have any of the sandwiches, but they will do them for you as a salad or a lettuce wrap instead. I for one can't stand lettuce wraps (just eat a damn salad instead of wrapping it in lettuce and getting your germy hands all over it), so I always get the salads. My personal favorite is the Chopped Chicken Cobb -- I order it with feta instead of gorgonzola (Panera warns that their gorgonzola, like much of the stinky blue cheese family, could be cultivated with gluten). With the pick 2, I get a small soup and a half salad, and I am very happy.

Obviously, there are never guarantees unless you've made it yourself. There's always human error. But as someone who enjoys food as much as I do, I don't think it's worth living in fear. People are going to do the best they can. But the convenience of being able to pick up a salad at Panera outweighs the tiny risk that I might get some gluten contamination. Yes, it could happen at Panera -- but it could happen at any restaurant that also touts itself as gluten-free. And even cooking at home, I might absentmindedly contaminate what I make. No one is infallible, so I will continue to test my options in and out of my home. That includes Panera Bread, or as my husband calls it, "Bread Bread."

Check out the full list of gluten-free menu items from Panera.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gluten-Free Ham Glaze

I am a pork lover. I love any iteration of pork, but especially bacon and ham. I refuse to accept that ham can only be eaten around Christmas, so I asked my husband to pick up a good 10 lbs-er when at the grocery store. He picked up a gluten-free brand, but neither of us thought about the glaze that would go on the ham. After a little research, I found out that most glaze packets are made with wheat. Boo-urns. The best part of a ham is the crackly glaze, and my mother's pineapple topping just didn't do that crackly thing.

So I started experimenting. Ham went into the oven at 275, tightly covered with tin foil, at about 15 mins per pound. And here's the glaze that I used:

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp yellow or Dijon mustard
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

I took the ham out and uncovered it about half an hour before it was ready. I whisked it all together and spooned it over the ham, then popped it back in at 300 without the tin foil.

The result? A wonderfully crackly and perfectly savory-sweet glaze to go with the ham. I plan to use this versatile glaze the next time I broil up some salmon or some pork chops, too.

Obviously, we didn't just eat ham. We had some brown rice, and I fine chopped some fresh Brussels sprouts to pair with the sweet and salty ham. I cooked them down in EVOO and salt, with some grated garlic, then deglazed the pan with some apple cider vinegar. It paired really nicely with the ham glaze!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Forum in Boston

I did my first official review for My wonderful editor, Carol, has embraced my situation and is assigning me restaurants that can cater to my dietary restrictions. See what I have to say about Forum on Boylston St. in Boston. It replaced Vox Populi, and boy, am I glad it did. What a waste of real estate that was. Overpriced drinks, crappy food, and cougars all over the place. Forum is a welcome replacement to that mess.

It did not have a dedicated gluten-free menu, but most of the menu was gluten-free already, thanks to the chef making everything from scratch. I was also thrilled with how educated the server and management were about celiac disease.

Read my Forum review on

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How My Health (and Body) Has Changed Since Going Gluten-Free

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, it was not a surprise. My brother is also celiac (actually, both of them are), and has been living gluten-free for three years. I knew this was genetic. However, I didn't have symptoms. My choice in getting tested yearly was not due to intestinal distress or issues, but instead because of my brother's celiac disease. I had a blood test every year, and this was the first year it came back positive. As a result, I had an endoscopy and biopsy to confirm.

I read a lot of forums where people say how they feel SO much better since going gluten-free, and that they no longer have stomachaches and pains. I wish I could say the same. I suffer from abdominal migraines (related to my own chronic migraines) and have been getting treatment for them from both neurologists and gastroenterologists, but they are unrelated to my celiac disease. I keep a dutiful journal of my migraines, and being gluten-free has not affected their frequency. I was secretly hoping that gluten was triggering these migraines, but alas, it is not the case. Maybe things will change as I am gluten free for a longer period of time -- one can always hope!

However, while I don't feel a huge difference in my digestive system and intestines, I have had overall health improvement. For the past three years, I've had severe eczema on my legs that two dermatologists have been unable to treat. I was at the point where I would wake up with my legs bleeding from scratching in my sleep. I was on the strongest prescription steroid cream available, and wrapping my legs in Saran Wrap after coating them before bed. I've long since given up on trying to treat it -- nothing seemed to make it go away completely. Now, after going gluten-free? My eczema has gone from bloody and scaly broken skin to pale pink healing skin, and it no longer itches.

I also feel like I have tons more energy. I just wasn't digesting my food properly, and not reaping the benefits of the nutrition. Now that I'm digesting food properly, I am more alert and energetic all day. With this energy, I have been more motivated to exercise and work out.

Best of all? I've lost two inches on my waist. I haven't lost any weight or body mass, but I didn't realize that the gluten was bloating my midsection. I am a fairly skinny person, but I always had an oddly large waist that I would hide under empire-waist shirts and dresses -- I chalked it up to being apple-shaped. Since going gluten-free, I've noticed (and others have too) that my natural waist has shrunk. My apple shape has gone to a more feminine pear shape, and it's pretty awesome.

So if you have celiac disease and no symptoms, don't feel like giving up gluten won't change how you feel. It may improve your health in unexpected ways.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Things I Miss the Most

Since switching to the gluten-free lifestyle, there are certain things that I miss the most. I'm sure I'm not alone here, so I've compiled a list of most-craved items, and how I satisfy that craving.

1.) Fried chicken. I have yet to try fried chicken-on-the-bone at home yet, but I did make delicious fried chicken tenders using corn flour. I dredged the tenders in corn flour, then egg, then more corn flour.. then more egg, then more corn flour. The corn added a really nice texture and flavor to the chicken, actually. It was better than the ones I used to make with flour.

2.) Pasta. This is a common one. But the more gluten-free pasta I try, the more that I like. We really enjoyed corn pasta, and brown rice pasta. My next goal is to try to make homemade fresh pasta, gluten-free. I have a pasta press, so I will be sure to blog about that when I give it a shot. I am planning to give Paparazzi a try -- I hear they have gluten-free pasta dishes.

3.) Pizza. I. love. pizza. Who doesn't? Cheesy and wonderful, crispy crust.. there's nothing like it. I miss it. However, there are plenty of good gluten-free options out there. The best one I've found is at The Grilling Greek in Natick, on Route 135. This place quite frankly deserves its own review, because it is my favorite place to order takeout. The tiny unassuming shack churns out some of the best food you will ever have -- pita baked to order, fresh gyros, all for incredibly reasonable prices. But now with my gluten allergy, I order their gluten-free pizza, especially the White Greek pizza -- feta, roasted red peppers, grilled chicken, and roasted garlic. The pizza is wonderfully crispy and chewy all at once, and the best part? It heats up well the next day. I have yet to find another gluten-free pizza that lasts a day. If you aren't in the area, Wicked in Dedham also has excellent gluten-free pizza that heats up well the next day. It's pricey, but tasty.

4.) Toast. I didn't think I would miss a simple thing like my slice of toast in the morning. I used to eat, every morning, multi-grain toast with peanut butter and dried cranberries. Instead, I now eat oatmeal. Be warned, many oatmeals are processed with wheat. So I had to order the Glutenfreeda brand from Amazon. There are also some celiacs who cannot eat oats. However, research shows that the majority of celiac sufferers can tolerate oats just fine -- it's best to check with your doctor. Either way, I get a packet of plain oatmeal, add honey and dried cranberries, then some boiling water. Breakfast is restored!

5.) French fries. Who doesn't love a crispy crunchy fried potato? I am a sucker for French fries, and giving them up has really sucked. Admittedly, it makes me order a healthier side when at a restaurant, but most restaurants simply don't have a dedicated fryer for their fries, meaning they are contaminated with gluten from the other battered items in the fryillator. However, the saving grace? McDonald's. That's right. The best French fries in fast food are, in fact, gluten free. McDonald's does in fact list a gluten byproduct in the beef flavoring put into the fries (yeah, they put beef flavoring in their fries... why do you think they taste so good?). However, tests have shown that the beef flavoring is SO processed that the amount of gluten left is negligible and not enough to trigger a reaction in celiacs. And Mickey D's has dedicated fryers for just their French fries! Amazing. I'll stop into McDonald's for a hot fudge sundae (also gluten-free) and a big side of fries for a treat. Obviously, this is a once in awhile thing.

6.) Burgers. I love burgers so much. They are my favorite comfort food, a nice burger and fries. I am sick of restaurants saying "We have gluten-free burgers!" and what they really mean is "We can serve a meat patty with no bun and call it a burger!" I've tried the gluten-free burgers at several restaurants at this point. BBC is well-known for its gluten-free menu, but the burger bun is terrible. It tastes like drywall. Not Your Average Joe's also has a gluten-free menu, with a very good bun (they also serve the bun as a bread basket in the beginning of the meal), but disappointingly, the burger itself sucks. My server didn't even take a temperature, and it came out medium well and dry. If I could somehow combine BBC's meat patty with the bun from Not Your Average Joe's... So, in lieu of this, I turn to The Cottage in Wellesley. The L.A. Burger is very tasty, and it is actually served on bread.

7.) Wings. Every Valentine's Day, my husband and I have a tradition. We watch terrible movies on the living room floor, with a gigantic order of chicken wings. We love Wing It in Allston, and even the Wings Over... chain. I just love chicken wings (on the bone, of course. Don't give me that fried chicken tender crap and try to tell me that's a wing. If it ain't flapped, it ain't a wing.) and I love getting all gross from the sauce and working for the meat on the bone. Unfortunately, most chains fry their wings in the same fryers as their boneless (and covered in gluten) counterparts. It just isn't safe to eat. Luckily for me, we live near the BBC in Framingham. They have an expansive gluten-free menu, which includes their wings -- they oven roast them in lieu of frying. So not only are they gluten-free, but they're technically better for you anyway! BBC does takeout, so we will order their buffalo wings plus entrees, and it's an affordable and delicious dinner. Do they taste as good as deep fried wings? Well, no. But they are extremely satisfying, and as close to the real thing that I can get without busting out my Fry Daddy at home.

8.) Cupcakes. I do not normally have much of a sweet tooth, but I love cupcakes. Treat Cupcake Bar in Needham has fantastic gluten-free vegan cupcakes, but more importantly, they have varying flavors. There are plenty of good bakeries with gluten free cupcakes (Glutenus Minimus, for example) that are delicious, but they only ever come in chocolate with vanilla frosting. Treat has an entire menu of gluten-free vegan cupcakes, and they do custom orders. I've even emailed with the baker to discuss their practices to avoid cross-contamination. In this picture, you can see the varying flavors they have -- chocolate with orange frosting, mint chocolate cookie with mint frosting, cookies 'n cream, pumpkin with cinnamon frosting, mochaccino, chocolate with coconut frosting and chocolate ganache.. so delicious.

So, that's it so far. Any other substitutions people out there recommend? Is there any craving you're having a hard time satisfying? I'd love to hear from you!

Gone Gluten Free

I've been absent from this blog since I began writing for (I didn't want to be competing with myself), but my recent diagnosis of celiac disease has brought me back to blogging for myself. My life as a foodie has completely changed since being diagnosed a month ago, and it's hard to say if it's for the better or the worse. For those of you who don't know, celiac disease is when gluten (found in all wheat and wheat byproducts) creates an autoimmune response in the intestines, eroding the intestinal lining. Untreated, the disease leads to malnutrition, osteoporosis, and even cancer. The only treatment? Cutting all gluten and gluten-contaminated products out of your diet.

No bread, pasta, wheat noodles, cakes, cookies, etc. The obvious stuff. But there's also the not so obvious stuff -- some kinds of vinegar, soy sauce, shredded cheeses, processed foods, fried food from restaurants (the oil is often shared with battered items), and even makeup and toothpaste. This really required a full-life overhaul for me.

That being said, I was prepared. My brothers also have celiac disease, and my nephew has severe food allergies (dairy, egg, nuts, mustard), so I cook Thanksgiving dinner and it's a gluten/dairy/egg/nut/spice free meal. If I can cook that, I can deal with just a gluten allergy. Since my brother was diagnosed 3 years ago, I've made it a point to educate myself on the disease, so I had a better starting off point than most people diagnosed with celiac disease. The other difficult thing for people who go gluten free is giving up beer -- however, I gave up beer and alcohol years ago due to an allergy, so I have already won half the battle!

So anyway, this will be the new direction of the blog. I've hated how long I ignored this blog, but now I have a focus that will help differentiate from what I do for I plan to blog about trying to live gluten free in the Boston area, and review gluten free items. If there's anything you'd like me to address, please let me know!