Tag Archives: gf diet

Gluten Free Pilgrim

13 Apr

No, I am not talking about Thanksgiving, turkeys or little white bonnets.  I am talking about someone who journeys to far away places.  One of the challenges of being on the gluten free diet is finding places to eat out with friends and family.  I can always find at least 2 or 3 great gluten free places wherever I am  but the thing is…I don’t want to be limited to 2 or 3 restaurants and neither do the other people coming to dinner.

When I say only 2 or 3 places, I mean places that are actively gluten free friendly.  There are other places around where I can ask questions, explain about cross contamination to the waiter and hope for the best but I prefer restaurants like PF Changs, CPK, Rosti Tuscan Kitchen or The Old Spaghetti Factory where I know the waitstaff and chefs have been educated about gluten and trained in safe kitchen practices.

If you want to dine at more than a couple of restaurants, you are going to have to venture out of your zip code.  I once found this incredibly frustrating.  I don’t want to be the reason that my whole family has to spend over an hour in the car just to get to a dinner place that will accommodate me.  Well, I don’t have a magic solution for the long commute, but I do have some advice: change your mentality.

The other day I really wanted to try this place in Los Angeles called Chili Addiction.  This place serves GF hamburgers, hot dogs (buns and all!) as well as delicious chili.  Only one problem — the long commute.  Instead of dwelling on the drive, I told myself to think of this as a gluten free pilgrimage.  People always say “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”  Despite being overused and somewhat corny, I decided to actively adopt this mindset when trying out a new GF restaurant.

The commute from the San Fernando Valley to West Hollywood requires driving through the canyon.  I made sure to enjoy the views – and my Mom’s company – on the way.  When you exit the gorgeous canyon, you are immediately surrounded by a jumpin’ city.  There is so much to see!

When we arrived at the restaurant we were starving!  I ordered a classic hamburger and chili cheese fries.  My burger had a bun!  What a revolutionary concept!  The restaurant was fast, affordable and delicious.  The bun was so light and fluffy I triple checked with the staff that it was gluten free.  I simply couldn’t believe how great it tasted.

 


I  highly recommend Chili Addiction to anyone who is gluten free.  They are super aware of the importance of protecting their products form cross contamination and they make all of their condiments in house.

Although I really enjoyed my dinner at Chili Addiction, this post really isn’t about the food, it is about how to make dining out less stressful and more enjoyable while on the gluten free diet.  There will be times when, in order to get foods that most people don’t think twice about in terms of accessibility, you will need to drive many, many miles.  As a gluten free person this is your reality. But, to be honest, it isn’t so bad! By being a gluten free pilgrim, you get to try new restaurants all over the city and go to new places, not simply new restaurants.

Happy dining!




-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

Gluten Free Sandwich…from a Deli!

13 Feb

I have a hard time trusting non-gluten free restaurants, specifically pizza and sandwich places, that try and serve gluten free foods.  The risk of cross-contamination is so great that the uncertainty drives me nuts.  Not only is there an excessive amount of gluten ingredients floating around but also, I can’t watch the kitchen staff handle my order.  Honestly, it feels like a sick form of gambling, a Celiac version of Russian roulette, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort that restaurants are making to provide food to GF customers, but I feel that they are targeting the gluten intolerant as opposed to Celiacs, which can be confusing and dangerous for consumers.

Despite my hesitations, I recently dined at a sandwich shop that offered gluten free bread.  Luckily, the sandwiches at this establishment are assembled within view of the customers so I had the opportunity to watch how they handled making a gluten free sandwich amongst a sea of gluten sandwiches!

As a UC Berkeley Bear, it is much to my dismay that my fabulous experience at the sandwich shop happened at Stanford University’s CoHo Cafe.  Here is what I observed:

First, when I ordered the sandwich, I told the cashier that my reaction to gluten is severe and that my sandwich “could not come into contact with any utensils or products that have been touching wheat.”  Similarly to how I sometimes describe a Celiac as being “functionally allergic to gluten,” I did not use the phrase “cross-contamination” so as to avoid confusion over jargon.

You should always remind waitstaff and/or chefs at restaurants offering GF products about cross-contamination.  Some places start offering GF products before they do the necessary research about safe kitchen practices.

After placing my order I watched as the person constructing the sandwiches read my order.  She promptly removed her gloves and took a few knives and a cutting board to a sink to wash them with soap and water. Next, she put on a new pair of gloves and grabbed a package of Udi’s bread from a cabinet.  Interestingly, these were the largest slices of Udi’s bread I have ever seen, they must have been special ordered.

The woman toasted the bread in a designated panini press.  While they were toasting, she went into a back room and brought out a small assortment of condiments that had never been used on wheat products.  She assembled the sandwich on the clean cutting board and cut it in half with the newly washed knife.

It was so great to watch such efficient and proper protocol!  I think Subway could learn a lot from this tiny sandwich shop!  Check out this youtube video of a gluten free customer at Subway checking for cross-contamination.  I also think that college campuses should try to catch up with Stanford’s quality service (I am cringing while typing this).  I had  a meal plan at UC Berkeley for a year and the sandwich station in the dining hall was 100% off limits for me.  Not only was there an unreliable supply of gluten free bread but the staff was simply unaware about cross-contamination and how to avoid it. You know someone has fantastic service when a Bear is willing to compliment the actions of anyone or anything even remotely related to Stanford, let alone a Cafe on their campus.

My sandwich was delicious.  Since my diagnosis with Celiac Disease, I have been craving a deli-made sandwich.  I don’t know why, but there is something special about a sandwich made by a deli…for some reason my sandwiches at home simply aren’t the same.

It is important that restaurants offering GF meals are aware about cross contamination!  Next time you dine out, try talking to your server or the chef about how the food is prepared. California Pizza Kitchen had trouble with cross contamination when they tried to offer  a GF pizza crust. How did they figure out there was a problem?  A pro-active Celiac spoke up.  Now, CPK is working with GIG to develop safe kitchen protocol for their GF products.

Cross-contamination is a serious issue.  You do not have to be an expert, you simply need to advocate for yourself, in order to help a restaurant improve their GF service.

-CC

Gluten Free New Year’s Resolutions

30 Dec

New Year’s Resolutions typically focus on self-improvement: a new diet, more exercise, waking up earlier etc.  Although we all work incredibly hard to adhere to the gluten free diet, there is always room for improvement! Making a New Year’s Resolution focusing on improving your gluten free diet is a great way to improve your health and happiness in 2012.

I hate when I get “glutened.”  I find it so discouraging and depressing, not to mention the fact that I am in physical pain as well.  There are steps we can take, rules we can follow, that will decrease the likelihood of getting sick at a restaurant.  The steps aren’t fun…that is why I advise that you take this GF challenge as your New Year’s Resolution.

#1 New Year’s Resolution: Be Gluten Free.

What am I talking about?  I’m already gluten free!!  What I mean is, be extremely gluten free.  I sometimes find myself experiencing this at restaurants: I am fairly confident that a dish on the menu is gluten free but I just want to double-check, only to discover that my waiter has NO idea what I am talking about and can’t answer a single question. Despite my diminished confidence in the dish, I order it anyways.  I sometimes find myself experiencing this at friends houses: someone offers me something to eat that they have made but they have no idea what gluten is and stare at me with their eyes glazed over as I try to ask what ingredients they used, but I eat it anyways.

Many times, I feel so frustrated when I am almost certain, but want confirmation that something is GF that I just give up trying to communicate and just eat whatever the food in question is. My New Year’s Resolution is to stop doing this.

At restaurants, order things that are naturally gluten free (still double-check for cross-contamination though).  Instead of asking questions about a chicken dish that may or may not be dredged in flour, order a salad without croutons or dressing.  Instead of ordering a soup that may or may not be thickened with flour order a hamburger patty without the bun.  DO NOT order french fries at restaurants.  They can be coated with a beer batter, coated in a wheat paste and/or fried in contaminated oil, all scenarios that a waiter is unlikely to know about.  Don’t try to “beat the system,” instead, proudly embrace being gluten free.

Being truly gluten free means giving up uncertainty.  If you are unsure, do not eat it.  I find that erring on the side of caution is better for my health but is difficult to do because of social pressure to be less “picky” about food.

My New Year’s Resolution is to be truly gluten free by giving up uncertainty and erring on the side of caution.

#2 New Year’s Resolution

My second New Year’s Res is to become more informed by following some gluten free blogs and twitter accounts.  This may sound funny, as I am a blogger but I am not very involved in the gluten free blogging world as a reader!  My goal is to find some GF blogs that I find helpful/interesting and that are updated regularly and follow them.  Of course, you can always start off the New Year by following my blog, CC Gluten Freed.  In the future I will post some of the GF blogs that I have started following as part of my New Year’s Resolution.

Following blogs is a great way to get new information that will motivate you to continue on the gluten free diet but if you aren’t in the mood to sit down and read a long post, I suggest finding some GF twitter accounts to follow.  Twitter is a forum that lets you absorb a lot of information very quickly.  I have a twitter account that I update whenever I am out and about and have an interesting gluten free experience.  Look to the right of this post and you will see a few of my tweets!  Follow me at http://twitter.com/#!/CcGlutenFreed

You can search #glutenfree or #celiac to see relevant tweets about being gluten free.

#3 New Year’s Resolution

My third GF New Year’s Resolution only applies to people with “smart phones” and it is to start using the phone to help with the gluten free diet.  How?  Download apps like “Find Me Gluten Free,” an app that takes your current location and gives you a list of GF restaurants near you.  The app provides info about the restaurants, their GF menu, phone number, address and directions.

Other useful phones apps are “scanner apps,” like Celiaccess, that allow you to scan the bar code of a product at a grocery store and the app will tell you if it is GF.  This means you no longer have to strain your eyes reading the teeny tiny text of the ingredients.

I also suggest downloading a News Widget set to update you on any news about gluten.  Set gluten as the key word and everyday you will have new articles about gluten from all over the world right on your phone.

I hope the New Year is filled with health and gluten free food!  Good luck with whatever you decide to do for your New Year’s Resolution!  If you have anymore GF Resolution ideas post a comment.

Happy New Year

-Cc

Tradition

19 Dec

When you are diagnosed with Celiacs you say goodbye to many things. You must say goodbye to  bread, to pasta and to easy, stress-free dining. On the other hand you also say goodbye  to poor health, to weakness and to pain.  Is family tradition amongst this list?  How hard should you work to sustain tradition despite the gluten-free diet or should you simply let go of old traditions and make new ones?  The issue of traditions conflicting with the gluten-free diet seems most pertinent during the Holidays.  What does your family do for Christmas dinner and does it support your gluten-free diet?  Here is my story.

I come from an incredibly family oriented Italian background.  At some point during every Holiday season the family gets together and spends hours in the kitchen making ravioli for our Christmas dinner.  The recipe and process are part of a very old family tradition that brings Bonaduces from across the country together.  When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, the summer of 2008, we were so busy trying to figure out how to be gluten-free on a daily basis that we didn’t think much about my gluten-free future. My first Celiac Christmas there wasn’t much for me to eat, it was as if our family ravioli recipe should somehow be exempt from my GF diet and we didn’t plan ahead.

In the following years we tried many alternatives that would accommodate me while still preserving the family tradition: a side of GF gnocchi (failed), separate GF ravioli (failed) etc..  Eventually we found that the easiest solution, one that tasted good and completely avoided cross contamination, was to make GF lasagna a day before we made the ravioli.

Although this solution is fairly satisfactory there are still some issues at hand.  For one, we make the ravioli at my parent’s house which is where I stay during the Holidays.  This means that the house is filled with flour, the kitchen is completely dredged in flour and must be cleaned thoroughly  to the extreme and the air is a potential contamination risk for days.  Secondly, I am excluded from the family gathering.  I can’t be around people cooking with flour, check out this post for more information about the dangers of air-bourne gluten!  The family gets together and bonds over the process and reminisce about family stories while I have to go keep myself busy outside.

Should gluten-free people impose their lifestyle on the family to the point of altering time-honored tradition? In a way, it makes very little sense for a Celiac to continue a gluten-based tradition because Celiacs is genetic! The family is biologically unfit to have such traditions!  Where do you draw the line between science and sentiment?

I don’t know the answer to this problem.  The best way to sort through the issue of tradition and Celiac Disease is to speak openly and honestly with your family.  I know that my family would be terribly sad if we stopped with the ravioli tradition, I understand that and so for now I am happy to make GF lasagna on a separate day, in a separate kitchen to protect both myself and the family tradition.  Despite my spoken pragmatism, I do hope that one day we can change the family tradition to something that I can take part in.

As always, I hope everyone has an enjoyable and relaxing Holiday season!  The key to holidays and being gluten-free is staying calm and communicating your needs to your family.  There is no clear nor easy answer when it comes to deciding what to do about gluteny traditions when a family member is diagnosed with Celiacs or gluten intolerance. Try not to get upset about the things you miss and, instead, get excited for the new things you can bring to the Holiday season like delicious GF lasagna, GF gingerbread etc etc!  Take pride in your ability to make the holiday gluten-free and show off your culinary work to the extended family during the holidays! They will both be impressed by your work and will slowly come to better understand your needs as a Celiac.

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