Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Gluten-free in a pandemic? No problem!

Not to make light of the current situation the world finds itself in, but I'm so thankful that I learned to self isolate when I was diagnosed with celiac in 2006.  It took me a good month just to figure out what and was not gluten-free.  Once I felt like I could feed myself safely at home, I started researching how to dine out safely.  The latter task was much harder than the former, but eventually I found others to help me learn the gluten-free ropes.  In the end, it would be more than a year before I got the hang of how to live my new gluten-free life.  From attending weddings to funerals and most everything in between, my new normal was finally set. 

So when the world started to seem like it was spinning out of control, due to some strange new virus, I immediately had a sense of familiarity.  Once again, things were not as I'd always known them.  Once again things were confusing.  Once again, I felt somewhat like an alien who'd landed on a very strange planet.  And most importantly, once again, I knew there was much work to do. 

In the coming weeks, my goal is to help people enjoy the holidays as safely as possible.  This isn't going to be a great holiday season for many families.  In fact, it's going to be overwhelmingly sad.  But there is hope for a better tomorrow.  I can't allow myself to think otherwise.  

Please stay safe and follow the science on this one - your life might literally depend on it. 





Monday, November 11, 2019

Being gluten-free can still be challenging at times

After being gluten-free for over a decade, one would think there's nothing that would throw me.  From weddings to funerals to holiday parties to business functions and non-celiac in-law holidays...I've done it all gluten-free.  For the most part, I've done well when not in charge of where we're eating out.  I do my due diligence, as always, so I pretty much know what to expect on arrival to a restaurant I didn't have the option to choose myself.   

On a recent trip to celebrate an in-laws milestone birthday, I had one of the worst experiences I've had in years.  After contacting the chosen b-day dinner restaurant about what I could safely order, I felt good about the options.  While the email message I got from some manager at the place was rather curt, I chalked it up to them being from New York and didn't think much more of it.

We arrived with a group of 9 to an overly crowded and noisy place...the latter being a blessing in the end.  After I asked the server if they had a gluten-free menu, his demeanor changed in a bad way.  A minute later, some woman who claimed to be the owner of the place was quickly shoving a gluten-free menu in my face and rambling - quite rudely - that they "knew what they were doing and I could ask her if I had any questions".  My husband and I were stunned at the behavior, tone and comments and had no idea why this happened.  I review the limited gf menu and quickly decide that I just want to order seafood (we are at the beach after all) instead of gf pasta or anything else that is considered a replacement item.

When I try to order one of the shrimp entrees, I'm told I can't have it.  That's okay...I'm ready with a back up option, as anyone ordering a at new place better be.  Garlic butter shrimp was said to be fine - no modifications were mentioned.  I was told I could not have the whipped potatoes and would get a baked potato instead.  No question about what the other options might be...  It's right about this point, that in any other situation, we're out of the chairs and headed for the door.  I wouldn't initiate this decision to leave...my husband would have.  But we are not in the position to get up and leave, of course.

When our food comes, I'm given whipped potatoes...which I'd earlier been told - rather rudely - that I could not have.  Then my entree is put down and it looks like plain shrimp with a lemon wedge.  It doesn't look like it's sauteed - nor is any garlic butter sauce to be found.  My husband waives over the server and we ask about the garlic butter.  He snaps that the sauce isn't gluten-free and quickly disappears from the table.  In any other situation, we're asking for my entree to be removed from the check, as I would not want to overpay that much for a bland meal.  But again, we don't have that option.

It turned out that the shrimp had been steamed.  There was no seasoning...no salt or pepper.  I was in a state of shock and my husband was concerned that the potatoes might not be safe.  I was so hungry that I could have eaten the tablecloth so if I threw up later, oh well.  The decent tasting potatoes were in fact, gluten-free.  The unimaginably bland shrimp were also fine - not good - just gluten-free fine.  The place did have good gf crackers so I slathered too many of them with butter in order to get full.

In the end, I didn't get sick and I also didn't have a nice meal.  My husband ordered poorly - that was on him since he can order anything - and didn't enjoy his meal either.  We obviously won't ever go back to the Beachcomber in southwest FL.  At least that's something positive that came from this shockingly disappointing experience :)


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Citizen Soul = GF Fried Chicken

Citizen Soul in downtown Alpharetta, GA has amazing gluten-free fried chicken.  In fact, most of the menu is naturally gluten-free, or can be prepared as such.  They don't make anything with gluten in the fryer.  This place is the BEST for gf fare of the new eateries downtown. 

They also have many gf desserts, though I'm uber partial to the chocolate cake!  Reservations recommended.  Free parking in the garage near the downtown library. 

Apologies that my photos turned out much too blurry to post.  Maybe it was the amazing cocktail I enjoyed there ;)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Fresh crust (from pre-made dough) at Hearth Pizza Tavern

Ever since something changed with the Blue Moon gf crust (at least at the Sandy Springs location) and the same thing happened at Crust in Alpharetta, I've been avoiding pizza places.  I'm not paying an upcharge for something that's not as good as a frozen gf pizza I can make at home.  Duh.

However, I keep the faith that someone will start offering a gluten-free pizza worth eating out in the ATL.  While doing my normal gluten-free pizza in Atlanta web search, which I do every month or so, I came upon rave reviews for the option at Hearth Pizza Tavern in Sandy Springs.  After confirming they have a process in place to keep the pizza crust as safe as possible in a gluten kitchen, we made a date to try it.  The crust comes from a company in Colorado, but it's stretched at the restaurant.  Therefore, it tastes more fresh than the typical frozen crusts that abound in the area.

We arrived to the cool space that is Hearth on a bustling Saturday night.  Even though it was early...around 6 pm, it was so busy there was a wait.  We put our name on the list and headed to the Whole Foods in the same complex.  When we got back less than 15 minutes later, our table was ready.  The server didn't seem to understand much about what gluten-free meant so that was unsettling.  However, the manager on duty (who seemed knowledgeable) oversaw the order.  For reference, the salad we ordered didn't seem to come with any croutons or bread, but you ALWAYS have to order EVERYTHING gluten-free, even salads, so you don't end up with a lovely gluten garnish on your food!  Sure enough, as the server was walking away she said "oh, so you don't want the bread on your salad?".  Mmmmm.....NO I don't want bread unless it's gluten-free.  The look on her face indicated she might not know such a thing exists (LOL!), but at least she got the order in correctly.

The pizza was quite good and most definitely worth having again.  It's no Don Antonio, but let's be real.....we're not in NYC.  I likely would not risk eating at Hearth with a wheat allergy since there's always going to be gluten flour in the air, and the server knowledge (or lack thereof).  My guess is that way more people who order the gluten-free pizza at Hearth have no clue what gluten is in, than people who actually can't eat it ;)

Also, when we called to check on gluten-free ingredients for the pizza, beyond the crust, I also asked if there were any gluten-free ciders.  The answer was "no, I'm sorry we don't have cider" so it was a nice surprise when two were listed on the menu.  I think I had one with blackberry and ginger in it and it was very refreshing!

After taking half my pizza to go, we stopped into WF again and bought the amazing JB's Carrot Cake and another treat from that line we'd not had before - Blueberry Cheesecake - for dessert.

The restaurant group that owns Hearth, MooCoo Group, also offers the "fresh from prepared dough" at Atwood Pizza in the city and some other location in Marietta, which I can't recall the name of....or find online.   


Monday, July 15, 2019

Schar croissants....finally!

OK - if you're someone who isn't able, or interested, in eating something made from gluten-free wheat starch (yes, it's a real thing), then you might want to skip this review.  For reference, Micky D's still lists hydrolyzed wheat as an ingredient (in fryer oil) and I don't know anyone personally that has celiac and can't eat their fries or hash browns.

First a little background....back in 2006, fresh off my celiac dx, we went to London and Paris.  It was one of the most amazing vacations we've taken, even though I had to pass up the amazing treats in Paris patisseries.  In London, at Sainsbury's, I bought all kinds of shelf-stable mini loaves and muffins to supplement my breakfasts in both countries.  I found out much later that the items were made with highly processed gluten-free wheat starch, as was common in Europe at the time.  They were also not made to the US standard of 20ppm, but a much more generous 200ppm.  The EU has changed it's definition to match that of the US, so don't worry if you're traveling there present day.  In any case, the shelf stable goodies were amazing and certainly didn't make me sick.  I likely have a higher threshold than some regarding the amount of gluten that makes me sick.  Sorry - if you think everyone can and will get sick from anything over 20ppm - that's also incorrect.  I cleared this up when interviewing an internationally renowned celiac expert.  As they explained it to me in layman's terms, you have to choose the lowest common denominator when it comes to a gluten-free label standard.  That means some people can't safely take in more than 20ppm of gluten, while others might be able to handle more.  As with all Schar products, they pass the 20ppm standard in every country they're sold in.

So, back to the Schar croissants.  After looking for this item for more than three years, I finally gave up.  I knew the company would run into issues in the US, considering the ingredient label clearly states wheat starch (first ingredient, in fact).  You can't make people understand science and no one should eat anything they don't want to regardless of what science proves.  I assumed the item was no longer sold in the US and didn't think about it again...until I saw the bag of Schar croissants at Earthfare!  Needless to say, I threw the bag in the cart and went on my overly-merry way!

Three days later, I thawed one lone croissant (on the counter) for just over and hour, and baked it for 8 minutes as directed.  It was golden brown...it was pretty flaky...and it was DELICIOUS! I slathered it with butter and savored every amazing bite.  Now, it's not like a fresh baked croissant from Whole Foods, but it's probably as good as anything you'd find frozen - even with gluten in it!  Yes - it's really that tasty, people.

And so I say to Schar - thank you, thank you, thank you!  This is my gluten-free find of the year to date ;)       

*Image courtesy of Schar


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Andean Dream pasta available at Whole Foods Buckhead

Many moons ago, I found Andean Dream pasta.  It's a quinoa/rice blend which is not only edible - but delicious - COLD.  I don't like mayo-based pasta salads so none of the gluten-free pastas I tried worked for my favorite summertime pasta.  I went without cold pasta for a few years since most gluten-free pasta (at that time) was pretty much like a brick when cold.

Anyway, after finding, and faithfully using, Andean Dream pasta for years, I started having a hard time finding it locally. Then I couldn't find it anywhere.  And so for another year or so, I did without pasta salad.  Then, several weeks ago, my husband spotted the Andean Dream macaroni pasta on the bottom shelf at the Whole Foods in Buckhead.  I was so excited that I bought four boxes, leaving one on the shelf.  Maybe this brand is back at the WF near us, but at last check it wasn't.  And this pasta is definitely good enough to swing by WF, when in town, to stock up!

This pasta is vegan, corn free and Kosher, and made with non-GMO ingredients 

Below is my favorite cold pasta recipe...please make it your own - and enjoy!

Mediterranean Pasta Salad


Cooked gluten-free pasta (that is EDIBLE when cold)
green scallions
crumbled feta cheese
minced roasted red peppers
sliced kalamata olives
sea salt


Coat cooked, drained pasta with olive oil (to taste)
Toss in all other ingredients (change them up to suit your personal taste!)
sprinkle with sea salt (to taste)
Cover and refrigerate for two hours or more (to let flavors percolate)
Remove from fridge and uncover about an hour prior to serving (it's very good straight out of fridge, but I like it less chilly)

**To make this pasta into a meal, add cooked chicken or shrimp, or even canned tuna fish.  Just don't set it out for an hour with any meat in it.



Friday, June 28, 2019

Souper Jenny Atlanta - super disappointing

We recently went to the Atlanta History Center to view the once again, refurbished Cyclorama exhibit.  Since we needed lunch beforehand, we chose to meet friends at Souper Jenny, which moved from Buckhead to this most prestigious location...how swanky!  In case you don't know, Souper Jenny has been one of the best places to find fresh gluten-free soups and interesting salads in the Atlanta area for years.  And best of all, to me anyway, they always had amazing gluten-free desserts which most people didn't know were gluten-free.  Lemon ice box cake...yes, please!

Well, we arrived at the counter and I didn't see any gluten-free desserts noted, or any in the case that housed the treats.  To add insult to injury, I'd checked the daily menu right before we left home that morning, and it had the prior day's menu listed..noting the current date.  So now I can't get anything I wanted to eat as my meal or a dessert....  I was able to get some edible rice crackers to go with my soup, instead of a gluten roll.  Since the coffee shop adjacent to Souper Jenny sells bagels, I asked to buy a bit of cream cheese and they gave it to me for free.  I tipped them for the gesture, of course ;)

I ate my crackers with cream cheese, some of my too-spicy soup and black-eyed-pea salad.  We ended up having a  lovely time with our friends, but I didn't have a nice lunch.  Had I known of the horrid changes at this location regarding desserts, I certainly would have chosen a much better place to eat!  With all the amazing gluten-free bakeries in the area, how in the world could Souper Jenny not find something suitable to offer gluten-free customers?  #souperjennyfail

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lemon cupcakes from Katz

For some reason, I've not been able to find the Katz gluten-free apple fritters at Sprouts.  I haven't looked elsewhere for them yet, but plan to eventually.  Anyway, with graduation season upon us, I picked up a box of Katz gluten-free lemon cupcakes so I'd have something handy to throw in a cooler for short road trips to family graduations.  My fave lemon cupcakes from lucky Spoon have also been MIA at Sprouts of late.  Since the Katz option is individually packaged, they're better for travel anyway.     

I ended up not using the Katz treats for my travels as I found some other tasty things to take instead. But the lemon cupcakes from Katz were pretty good.  I really like the icing and prefer to eat the cake when it's not fully thawed out...it reminds me of a lemon icebox cake..though a gf version of one, for sure.  Please note that the amount of filling IRL is in no way, shape or form indicated in the image on the box.  That is almost always the case for anything filled, for some reason.  And the filling that is there hardly has any lemon flavor to it at all. 

There are four units per box.  For the price of approximately $1.25 per cupcake, it's a decent value in the gf world.  My favorite ready-made treat, which I finally found here, runs $5.99 for one piece so not a good value at all.  More about that irresistible treat later.       

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Notable cheesy cracker from Three Bakers

The only "real" tasting gluten-free Cheez-It type cracker I've had in a dozen years was from a bakery in Washington state.  And that company no longer makes what I considered their best item.  Over the years, I've tried most every cheesy crackers I've run across, and while I love Marilyn's Gourmet cheese sticks, I haven't found a Cheez-It replacement worth buying twice.  I was pretty excited by the Lance option, but those ended up having an odd smell to me.  The smell makes them inedible a day or so after the bag is opened.

When I spotted the Three Bakers "Snackers" at Earthfare recently, I knew I had to try them. And, they weren't even that expensive for a gf cracker!  Up front, I should note that I don't really care for air filled snacks, which is what the Snackers are.  They are puffed up and empty inside.  That's clear from the image on the bag, but I had to try them while available.  You never know when your favorite item will be taken off the market by a store, or discontinued by the manufacturer. So annoying!

So...what do I think about the cheese flavored Snackers from Three Bakers? I actually like them a lot!  Not enough to keep them on hand on the regular - due to aforementioned puffy factor - but the taste and texture is really good! 

Find out where you can buy these snacks near you on the 'where to buy' page on the Three Bakers website.    There are three other flavors available including chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip and honey graham.  Now that I think about it, the latter might be worth using for a pie crust! 


Friday, May 31, 2019

Chattanooga ups it's gluten-free game!

Just before the Avalon location of Bantam+Biddy closed in 2018, one of the partners informed us that there was a location opening in July in Chattanooga.  Since our in-laws live there, for the last 16 years we've been regular visitors to the area.  There have been VERY few times when I encountered exciting gluten-free options.  Tony's Trattoria is heads above the rest in terms of gluten-free menus/delicious gluten-free food, but they are the exception. Terra Nostra was pretty impressive, but they are closing for good this summer.  So yeah...Chattanooga isn't on anyone's list to visit for the gluten-free options.  It's the opposite of say...Asheville, NC.

When we were in Chattanooga last September, Bantam+Biddy wasn't open, but it opened soon thereafter.  Upon our return, a couple of weeks ago, B+B was open and we finally got to try it.  The menu was either the same, or very similar to the Ansley Mall location here. We started with the fried green tomatoes (with VERY spicy goat cheese spread), and I had fried chicken tenders and Brussels sprouts.  My husband had some biscuit sandwich (not gluten-free) that he really enjoyed. We were so stuffed (we usually don't order an appetizer at lunch!) so we had to skip dessert.  I'd hoped we could pop back in for dessert during the visit, but the Ironman competition was that weekend and it was TOO crowded in town.  It's so exciting to have such an amazing place to enjoy when in Chattanooga!

Also, most people there don't know all the chicken fingers at B+B are gluten-free.  If you're going with a gluten eater, don't mention it until they tell you how amazing they are...lol!  Even then, you might have a hard time convincing them they just had gluten-free chicken fingers. Not sure why it's such a hard concept to grasp, but apparently for some people, it most definitely is ;)

You can read more about the wonderful addition to downtown Chattanooga - location, etc. - here


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Dollar Tree offers gluten-free travel friendly snacks

The last time we took an int'l Delta flight, in 2017, my gluten-free meal was mostly inedible.  So for a recent international trip, I packed enough food to get through the 8+ hour long flight.  There was a snack, dinner and breakfast being served and I was given all but the snack.  The flight attendant actually apologized for that, and mentioned that her own daughter has celiac.  She was the most thoughtful such employee I've encountered on the subject in over a decade.

When you have to make a meal out of snacks (assuming you won't have access to a microwave), it's a good idea to include some protein, fat and limited carbs.  Crackers and pretzels don't really satisfy if you're in need of a proper meal.  While I packed some items I got at Trader Joe's (trail mix snack bags, for instance), I also found some worthwhile items at the Dollar Tree store.  You know...the place where everything is literally a dollar.  Who knew such a place would offer some interesting gluten-free snacks which are perfect for traveling?!

Even though I had a bag of bacon jerky (you can find many gluten-free jerky options these days), I also picked up a mini pack of pepperoni.  It was real pepperoni, not turkey, so it's fairly greasy. However, it will provide some much needed protein in a pinch.

Lay's Stax chips, which are labeled gluten-free, are also a good option.  You can remove some of the chips from the can, and put baggies of other things inside, under the chips, if need be.  My husband isn't a fan of Stax chips so a whole canister is a bit much to pack for just me.

Jiff peanut butter 3-pack is a great value for only a buck and I still have two containers left over for future adventures.

The only gourmet type item I found at Dollar Tree were seasoned olives.  I'd first discovered GAEA olives in Montreal or Victoria, Canada...I really can't recall for sure...but the pack didn't cost anywhere near a $1 at the airport...lol!  There were just two flavors of the GAEA brand olives at the discount store, including my favorite - Lemon & Oregano.  As always, the olives were delicious!

There are some nuts, seeds and such available at the Dollar Tree as well.  There are obviously many items that travel well, but not many I've found in regular grocery stores are a good value. They're  convenience items and you pay for said convenience.  But not at Dollar Tree...everything's a dollar...convenience item or not ;)

Safe and happy summer travels to all!


Gluten-free in a pandemic? No problem!

Not to make light of the current situation the world finds itself in, but I'm so thankful that I learned to self isolate when I was diag...