Tag Archives: italian food

Expectations.

4 Aug

Expect: to consider reasonable, due or necessary

Up until very recently my GF expectations have been low.  I did not consider it reasonable that all people should know what gluten is. I did not feel that I was due a gluten free meal at catered or work events.  I did not think it was necessary that people put in extra effort to accommodate my dietary needs when I could always work my way around it on my own.  I expected people to be accepting of the fact that I might bring my own dinner to a catered event but I did not expect the event to accommodate me. Even though precedent dictates that people with alternative diets should be accommodated (look at how mainstream providing vegetarian options has become), for some reason, to my shame, I did not hold those same high expectations for myself or my gluten free community.

Now, my expectations have changed.

I realized that my expectations were being shaped by experience and patterns and not based on what is reasonable, due or necessary. It took  sustained positive experiences to break the pattern of my experiences with food to adjust my expectations.

I was recently accepted into Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to close the achievement gap in the United States.  In order to begin teaching in the Fall I needed to complete a six week training program.  The catch? Room and board were to be provided. Most people rejoice at the news that they get free room and board for six weeks but as someone with Celiac Disease, I expected nothing but trouble.  My experience with Teach For America (TFA) has changed my expectations for the better.  Check out what happened:

The room and board arrangements at Temple University for close to 1,000 corps members and staff members were made by my new organization Teach For America.  Although Temple University already had the infrastructure in place to accommodate people on the gluten free diet, it would not have been operational during the summer without the insistence of Teach For America. The fact that TFA went out of their way to communicate with the dining hall specifically about GF options is pretty astounding for several reasons:

1. TFA was accommodating close to 1,000 people’s needs.  They made accommodations for vegetarian diets, Kosher diets, vegan diets, rooming issues due to disabilities and many more issues.  There were so many needs and people to accommodate. I was so pleased that the Celiacs did not fall through the cracks.

2. TFA had to coordinate with twelve public schools in Philadelphia, finding summer teaching jobs for 800 corp members.  This took much time and effort due to sheer mass of teachers, schools and students. Add in the complicated and ever-twisting bureaucratic channels that TFA had to navigate and I think we can consider the GF accommodations close to a miracle.

Temple designated GF toaster with my Udi’s bagel warming up.

Temple’s GF zone — the GF food options are located in a designated “gluten-free/Kosher zone.” It remains unclear to me why you would combine the Kosher and GF options but…what can you do!

Temple’s GF microwave — Temple had many frozen GF products stored in a freezer in the GF zone.

I was very impressed with Temple’s gluten free infrastructure.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect. The food was bland and unhealthful but that wasn’t because it was GF. It was college cafeteria food!  In addition to the GF zone and availability of GF products the dining hall provided all TFA corps members with bagged lunch. The people with restricted diets (ranging from GF to Kosher to Peanut Free) would pick up their lunches in a separate, designated area.  Each food item (entrée, sides, snacks and drinks) was labeled with the person’s name and dietary restriction. Mine read: Cecilia Bonaduce — Gluten Free

In addition to the five weeks at Temple I spent one week in Washington DC at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel.  The accommodations there were even more impressive than at Temple.  The hotel served breakfast sandwiches every morning for the Teach For America people but at the end of the buffet line there were individually packaged and labeled GF breakfasts consisting of bacon, eggs and fruit.  When they served Italian food for lunch they had a labeled and separate area with GF pasta and sauce.  Though the salad had croutons mixed in it took nothing more than a simple request to one of the waiters to receive a fresh crouton-free salad.

This was my absolute favorite food moment:

The hotel provided bagged lunch and instead of a wilted, undressed salad or a couple of carrot sticks (my old expectations for an “accommodation.”) I opened my brown bag to find a brown rice wrap.  Real food!

After this experience I realized that even if you are going to a catered event with 1,000 people like I did this summer we should be accommodated.  I have officially raised my expectations.  I am hoping for a Pygmalion effect of sorts in which my high expectations will yield positive results in terms of promoting awareness and making accommodations for gluten free people as reasonable, due and necessary  as providing options for vegetarians has become in recent years.

It is time that you, just like me, adjust your expectations in order to protect your health and well-being. I used to hold low expectations because I did not think that GF accommodations were possible. I am telling you now that I am positive that it is possible. I witnessed such accommodations this summer and I hope to continue to experience such positive and inclusive events.  Furthermore, in the event that accommodations are not met, I will be holding myself to higher expectations as well. I expect myself to be an advocate, to speak up and to stand up for what I believe is reasonable, due and necessary.

-CC

Gluten Free Philly

17 Jul

CC Gluten Freed is a blog about the social aspects of being gluten free but if you flip through my most recent posts you might think that it is a blog about gluten free traveling.  So what is with all the travel talk?  My life is in flux right now. Transitioning into a new career all the way across the country.  I started in California working towards my degree at UC Berkeley.  After graduation I went home to Los Angeles to see my family. Despite this homecoming, I was quickly swept away to Seattle for the GIG Conference (which was fabulous, by the way).  From Seattle, I flew to Washington DC, my new home.  From DC, I took a bus to Philadelphia for a 5-week training institute for new teachers.

The constant traveling has posed an interesting gluten free challenge that I was ready to tackle. Specifically, I would be staying at Temple University where all meals would be provided by the dining hall.

I had very little control over what I could get my hands on, both in terms of my literal food options as well as information about the food.

That being said, Temple has a pretty nice system going but I won’t get into that now. Expect a post in about 3 weeks about the unconventional methods that Temple University has been using to accommodate the demands made on my (and a handful of other people’s) behalves by the Teach For America staff.

For now, all I will say is that the food options have been safe but incredibly bland which led me to venture out into Philadelphia to find some food with flavor!

Philadelphia is quite the GF food scene! Thanks to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness restaurants all over Philadelphia have been trained in GF awareness and safe food preparation.  Let me break it down for you:

Le Castagne

Northern Italian Cuisine with GF gnocchi and penne.  This restaurant is awesome. I don’t say this lightly because I am Italian so my standards for Italian food are pretty sky-high.  Not only does this place have great food but it also has a great ambiance and fantastic customer service.  The environment is quiet, posh and sophisticated.  I ordered the Assaggi Vari which is a plate of  Italian meats, grissini (subbed out for extra veggies and salami), cornichons, salami, vegetables, and cheese.

For my entrée I ordered the Gnocchi al Tartufo Bianco which is a gluten free gnocchi (the best I’ve had since becoming GF) served in a white truffle cream sauce. The gnocchi was perfectly pillowy and the cream sauce was a mild cream flavor  but with a savory , truffle kick in every bite.

I, unfortunately, did not have room for dessert.

Distrito

Trendy interior design at Distrito. Swing-set dinner tables!

Food Network star, Jose Garces, is the creator of this restaurant, boasting modern Mexican cuisine.  Despite the modest prices (entrees averaging around $12), I decided to splurge and order the “Chef’s Tastings” called Frida Kahlo for $55. First things first, this is WAY MORE than $55 worth of food both in terms of quantity and quality.  I was worried the restaurant would not let me order the tasting plate since it is a preset menu and I would need GF accommodations but they had no problem adjusting the order for me.  What I did not know was that I was in for an eight course meal.

I started with chips and guacamole served with fresh crab meat. Next, came the salad.  This was no ordinary salad.  Instead of dressing, this salad was topped with, and foodies please forgive me, ice cream! Well, not exactly ice cream.  It was a lemon sorbet or maybe, more accurately, a scoop of lemon shaved ice.  The burst of cold that accompanied each forkful made each bite of salad taste and feel incredibly crisp.

Next up, ceviche! I have never had ceviche made with such quality fish before. The tuna they used seemed like it melted in my mouth.  In addition to the great taste, the presentation was beautiful.  The ceviche tasted creamy and mild with a perfectly smooth texture.

Next up, a classic taco with a twist.  This taco was served with julienne radish which gave this taco a unique, crunchy texture.

Next up, my favorite, a duck confit huarache.  A huarache is an oblong shaped corn flatbread, grilled and covered with melted cheese. My huarache was topped with duck confit, manchego cream, micro-arugula and tequila cherry escabeche (texture of a thick jam or relish).  I should have only eaten half of this dish but its complex flavor  palate was irresistible.

Lamb Dish with pureed grits with truffle oil

Flatbread with duck confit and tequila cherry relish

Spicy Lobster

As if I hadn’t been served enough, the next dish to come out from the kitchen was half of a lobster.  You know when you go to a restaurant and after you order your heart leaps every time a waiter goes by with food because you hope it is yours? Well, I was so full by course 4 that I had the opposite experience. Every time a waiter walked by I feared it was for me and, more times than not, it was!

The last savory dish they brought to my table was a grilled leg of lamb over a puree of grits with truffle oil, fresh mushrooms and micro-arugula. Micro-arugula tastes very peppery with a little spicy kick.

Finally, dessert. Thank goodness it was tiny.  Though traditionally an Italian dessert, I was served a pineapple-mango Panna Cotta. It was the perfect size and weight, light and cleansing.

Wedge and Fig

Though frequently visited for their pretzel bread sandwiches, I found that Wedge and Fig is a great place for a gluten free diner. The staff was very knowledgeable.  My waitress was gluten free too so she knew the ins and outs of the menu!  I ordered the Manchego, drunken fig, prosciutto salad. The figs were soaked in an orange port which gave the otherwise very sweet fruit a savory punch.  

This wouldn’t be a CC Gluten Freed post without a little nugget of gluten free social advice. I went to Wedge and Fig with a big group of brand new friends that I met in Philadelphia. To make ordering go smoothly, I went and talked to the waitress by the hostess stand before we ordered.  This made ordering very seamless.  No one even noticed that my order was different because I had already consulted with the waitress and chef about what was best to order.  If you are ever out with a big group or a new group of friends, try excusing yourself and talking to the manager or waitress before you order so you don’t have to draw any unwanted attention at the table!

Celiac Awareness Night at Citizen’s Bank Park!

If you are in Philly on July 20th, come out for the Celiac Awareness Night at the Phillie’s game!  I am heading out to the game to see the Phillies face off against the SF Giants. I’ll be sitting at a table answering questions about Celiac Disease and the gluten free diet with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  I’ll be the one with the gluten-free hot dog in hand!

Last on my list, Paseano’s for a Philly cheesesteak sandwich (on bread!)

Who knew Philadelphia was such a great gluten free foodie destination!

Happy Travels,

CC

A Local GF Evolution

21 Mar

When I first moved the Berkeley I struggled to find places that offered gluten free options.  Despite being a foodie town, Berkeley has struggled to get on the gluten free bandwagon.  The enthusiasm was, and is, there but the necessary education and safe kitchen practices were simply missing…until now.

Four years later, I am pleased to report that Berkeley is impressively gluten free friendly, improving at an almost exponential rate.  I feel a sense personal responsibility for Berkeley’s improvement, though not sole responsibility. Berkeley’s success is a result of the collective efforts of individual students, community members and nonprofit organizations that work to promote Celiac awareness. In June, I am moving to Washington DC.  I hope to witness and contribute to this, in a sense, evolutionary phenomenom once again.

My father came to visit me last week and I made it a point to take him to as many  GFF (gluten free friendly) restaurants as possible during his stay. It was during this visit when I realized how much Berkeley has changed in the past four years.

La Mediterranee

I always order the same thing at La Med: pomegranate chicken with hummus and chopped veggies. Although my entree option is delicious, I always feel a twinge of jealously towards the people ordering the Tabbouleh, a Greek dish traditionally made with Bulgur Wheat.  Despite having dined at this restaurant over a dozen times, it wasn’t until this most recent trip that La Med told me that they just began offering a GF Tabbouleh, with quinoa serving as a substitute.  I made sure to ask my waitress to let the manager and chef know how much the GF option was appreciated!

Cream

If you visit Berkeley, students will almost invariably point you towards Cream for dessert, an ice-cream sandwich shop that always has a line out the door.  Despite only opening a year or so ago, Cream realized that there is a demand for GF options and began serving GF ice cream sandwiches.  I went to see how they handled cross-contamination and, to my surprise, they did quite well!  Cream keeps the GF cookies on a shelf above the gluten-containing cookies and toasts them on a designated and elevated rack in the oven. The elevation is particularly important because it protects the gluten free cookies from cross contamination via gravity, the last thing you want are little crumbs of gluten falling onto the designated GF oven rack!

Kirala

Arguably the best sushi restaurant in Berkeley, Kirala offers GF soy sauce to customers who ask for it!  The waitstaff is very educated about what the gluten free diet is and what kind of people will want GF soy sauce.  The first time I dined at Kirala, my waiter noticed my packet of Tamari soy sauce and immediately brought me a crystal bottle filled with GF soy sauce.

Filippo’s

It is rare that I find an Italian restaurant that has a GF option.  Filippo’s on College Ave. in Berkeley offers a GF gnocchi.  Unfortunately they used to cook this GF entree in contaminated pasta water!  I found this out the hard way but used my negative experience to improve my community’s GF options.  I wrote a letter to the manager explaining what was wrong with their kitchen practice and he followed up with me in person to show me the improvements the restaurant had made for GF customers. Click here to view sample letters to restaurants about cross contamination concerns. When I talked to Filipo’s about cross-contaomination they had no problem making a change and seemed genuinely glad for the feedback.

These are just a couple of examples of how restaurants can make small changes to their establishments to accommodate GF customers.  Have GF soy sauce in the back, designate oven racks for GF foods, these are cost-free, low maintenance changes that restaurants can make but, despite being a small change, can make a big difference for many customers.

If you have a local restaurant that you used to love before being diagnosed try talking to them about becoming gluten free friendly!

If the restaurant seems very interested in catering to the gluten free population tell them about GREAT Kitchens, an official gluten free training program for restaurant kitchens.  There is no harm in asking! At worst, you educate a restaurant and get gluten/allergens on their minds and at best you get your favorite restaurant back onto your list of dinner options!

-CC

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