Tag Archives: restaurants

Gluten Free At The Spa

30 May

After four grueling years at UC Berkeley, I have finished my degree in Public Health.  My reward?  A relaxing vacation at the spa, Rancho La Puerta.  Located in Tecate, Mexico, this spa focuses on fitness, wellness and nutrition. Being gluten free makes total relaxation difficult to achieve even when at a spa.  Overall, I loved my experience at the Ranch and took home some interesting insights that I hope will improve my gluten free experience.

Insight #1 Constant Vigilance

Although I often write about the importance of focus and effort when it comes to being gluten free eg reading labels on products you’ve bought a thousand times or asking about cross-contamination even when you think the dish is safe, I thought that a place committed to health with a focus on food might be an exception. I thought I could drop my guard. What I found at Rancho La Puerta is that this is simply not the case.

While at the Ranch, I saw a poster advertising their “Gluten Free Thursday” cooking class.  Here is what happened:

The cooking classes at the spa are usually taught by their Executive Chef, Denise Roa. However, once a week the spa invites guest chefs to teach.  This week, on Gluten Free Thursday, the spa had invited Romney Steele aka Nani, the granddaughter of the founders of the restaurant Nepenthe in Big Sur, California.  The cooking class was set up so that groups of two spa guests would make one dish using a recipe provided by Nani.

I was working with my Aunt Celia on a baked Sea Bass dish with an orange and tarragon relish.  The menu was out of this world.  All of the ingredients were picked fresh from the Ranch’s vegetable garden.  In fact, before starting the class, the spa guests had to go pick (literally) their ingredients from the garden.

The cooking school’s main classroom

All of the recipes were gluten free and things went smoothly for the most part until we encountered a problem: Nani included a recipe for a pea puree that needed some form of chip/starch-medium to eat.  Because this was overlooked when preparing the class, Nani asked one of the workers to go grab some pita bread from the back for the dish.  See the problem?

If someone had blindly accepted the sign on the door saying “Gluten Free Thursday” they might not even think to ask if the pita bread was gluten free.  My Aunt and I quickly noticed and spoke to Nani about the gluten situation to which she replied “Well, you don’t have to eat that dish.”  Despite this discouragement, the Executive Chef, Denise, was horrified at the lapse in gluten free practice and grabbed and grilled some corn tortillas to replace the pita bread.

I don’t usually post recipes but two of the GF dishes we made were simply too good not to post.  If interested in some of the recipes I cooked during this class click here for the Quinoa with Cumber and Mint recipe and for the roasted Sea Bass with Orange-Tarragon Relish recipe.

The take away point? Even when places advertise something as gluten free remain vigilant.

Insight #2 Simple Healthful Foods Are The Way To Go

I have read this advice on many blogs, pamphlets, books and websites but I never really understood it.  Ordering simple, healthful dishes can make being gluten free a lot simpler.   At the Ranch, I found that this was absolutely true. Why is it not until now that I experienced the ease that accompanies simply prepared meals?  Simple foods are hard to find at restaurants!

At the spa every dish was made with ingredients found in their gardens or grown within a 30 mile radius of the Ranch.  When you looked at the meal, you could tell what components made up the dish.  Of course, you should always check about sauces and ingredients but I noticed that dishes that are truly simple and truly healthful aren’t muddled with questionable ingredients.  The Beet and Basil Salad was a salad made up of…well, beets and basil.  The extravagant, calorie-laden entrees that you find at most restaurants make being gluten free so complicated!  If I saw  “Carrot Soup” on a menu at most restaurants, I would not order it.  It may have flour as a thickener, contain malt vinegar or come garnished with fried onion crisps. At the Ranch, I knew the Carrot Soup was made of carrots and more carrots.

Beet soup served at the ranch with a fresh flower from the garden as garnish


I haven’t quite worked out how to use my new insight about simple, healthful foods to improve my gluten free lifestyle but when I do, I’ll be sure to post.  For now, I am simplifying the meals I make at home and trying to choose simple items at restaurants but still accompany my order with a long series of questions.

Insight #3 Apparently, Being Gluten Free Is Hard, So Be Nice To Yourself!

Rancho La Puerta is a spa dedicated to health and fitness. The spa’s clientele are hyper-aware of their diets and have strict exercise regimes.  These people demonstrate the type of dietary discipline I can only dream of.  They eat only what they need. In other words, teeny tiny portions.  They limit their sugar intake, their meat consumption and their dairy consumption.  They exercise every day and, when given the choice, choose the salad entrée over the hamburger with fries.

Despite the fact that I found their discipline incredible and something to aspire to, I overheard conversation after conversation about how people had “tried to go gluten free but it was too hard.”  These insanely disciplined and professionally successful people admitted that being gluten free was too much of a challenge!  One woman said “I felt so great after that month but I just couldn’t keep it up.”

View of Villa Sol 2, my room at the ranch

It was so nice and refreshing to hear other people commenting about the difficulty of being gluten free.  It is a thankless job, demanding self-discipline, constant vigilance, intelligence and the ability to not only articulate your needs effectively but to advocate for your health in the face of constant obstacles.  It is funny but talking to the health nuts at the spa about the gluten free diet made me kind of proud that I am gluten free.

Take away point? Every now and then, take a moment to appreciate yourself and all the work you put in to being gluten free.  Most people don’t know how much effort it takes to truly be GF.  Just remember to be kind to yourself and be proud of the fact that you are gluten free.

Although I couldn’t help but think about my blog while at the spa, I did manage to relax and decompress from four tough years at UC Berkeley.  I hope to bring my insights from the spa home with me by practicing constant vigilance, choosing simple healthful meals and appreciating my GF efforts and I hope that you do too!

View from my morning hike to the garden for breakfast

-(the new relaxed) CC

CDF Education Conference!

30 Apr

What a successful conference!  I am sure all who attended will agree that the day of feasting and learning could not have been better.  The Celiac Disease Foundation pulled out all the stops for this year’s Annual Education Conference and Food Faire.

I had a table promoting CC Gluten Freed and got some great feedback from the gluten free community.  I am so pleased to report that many people have found the site very helpful and even inspiring!

I was lucky enough to be considered a speaker at an event where such prominent figures as Dr. Stefano Guandalini of University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University Celiac Disease Center and Dr. Gregory Harmon of the UCLA Celiac Disease Center were speaking.  I lead the Young Adult, Teen and Tween session, designing activities and giving a speech about the surprising social benefits of being gluten free, a silver lining, if you will. At the end of the session I raffled off three Kraft Mac N’s Cheese Powder bottles!  This is one of the only foods I have not found a perfect GF substitute for.  I quested for the powder (sold separately from the glutinous pasta) for days and days and am so glad I found it.  You should have seen the kids’ faces when they won the ingredients for the best Mac N’ Cheese in US history.

In addition to the great speakers and educational lectures at this event, attendees had access to over a hundred food vendors providing samples of delicious GF products.  I, personally, could not help but go back for a second serving of pizza at the Udi’s table!

I learned a lot not only from the speakers but from the gf people who stopped by my table.  For example, I met a ton of people who were diagnosed with Celiacs only after their children or grandchildren were diagnosed!  I wonder if this is because of the involvement of parents in children’s health, the quality of pediatric care in the US compared to adult care or if there is some other explanation!  I also received a lot for requests to purchase CC Gluten Freed wristbands for family members, support groups or gluten free clubs and organizations.  In response, I have made the bracelets available here! I, personally, always wear 3 of them so I can give them away if I meet a GF person on the road!  The bracelets are very fun and meaningful.  Check out the meaning behind OWN IT.

For those of you who are just joining ccglutenfreed.com after meeting me at the conference: WELCOME!  I hope you enjoy the blog.  I had such a great time at the conference.  It was a day I will never forget.

drawing a crowd at the CC Gluten Freed table!

CC Gluten Freed was located next to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center table!

vendor exhibits



-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

Public Health 198: Changing the Restaurant Industry

8 Mar

UC Berkeley, one of the world’s finest public universities, allows undergraduate students to design and teach their own courses offered for academic credit.  I took advantage of this incredible opportunity offered by the university to promote Celiac Disease awareness and make an impact on both my campus and local communities.

Public Health 198 is a course offered for 2 academic units called Changing the Restaurant Industry.  The course focuses on how the restaurant industry accommodates customers with restricted diets.  By thinking of the restaurant’s ability to accommodate restricted diets as a public health issue, I was able to design an intervention strategy based on public health theories to improve the quality of food service in the Bay Area.

Public Health 198 is a series of 14 lectures all focused on promoting allergy awareness in the restaurant industry.  We covered the theory of Community-Based Public health Initiatives, concluding that the best way to improve our community is to have community-members take action.  The course requires that all students (40 students enrolled) recruit at least one restaurant to undergo a training program designed by the students.

Some well known members of the gluten free community have guest lectured for my class including Dr. Emily Nock of Walnut Creek Kaiser, Tom Herndon, the Executive Chef at Hipp Kitchen and owner of Full Fridge and Beckee Moreland from NFCA and GREAT Kitchens amongst many other speakers!

Topics of the course include: community-based public health initiatives, law and liability, peanut, egg, shellfish, corn, soy and dairy allergies, the gluten free diet, veganism, Diabetes Management and an introduction to entrepreneurship in the context of public health and the restaurant industry.

Check out this lecture given by Dr. Emily Nock about Celiac Disease.

Celiac Disease Lecture Part 1

Celiac Disease Lecture Part 2

Check out this lecture by CC about safe kitchen practices and restaurant concerns for gluten free food preparation.

Restaurants: Gluten Free Preparation Part 1

Restaurants: Gluten Free Preparation part 2

Please note these videos were made for students to review, not for professional purposes so please excuse the poor editing

The most important takeaway point from my experience creating this class is the importance of, what I like to call, contextual activism.  It is important to take ownership of your health and your gluten free diet.  One way to do this is to engage in awareness promotion and activism.  Contextual activism is where you base your actions on your personal life context.  I am currently a college student so I used campus resources to create a class to promote gluten free awareness.  You can do this too!  If you are a mom of a Celiac kid, create a play group for kids with allergies.  If you are a lawyer, consider guest blogging on a gluten free blog about law and liability in the context of “being glutened” at a restaurant.  There are countless examples of ways to get involved with awareness promotion: the trick is, creativity!

Take ownership of your life and your health.  Engage in contextual activism to promote Celiac Disease awareness.

-CC

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