Archive for November, 2008

Another meal at Tortilla Coast

Posted in Mexican Restaurants, Restaurants, Washington DC on November 25th, 2008 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

As any celiac knows, it’s great to have a meal at a restaurant and feel healthy the next day, but it’s really great when you eat there twice, and both times emerge healthy and happy! I went to Tortilla Coast last night with some friends and the meal was just as excellent and gluten free as the first time I went.

Also, I called ahead in the morning to tell them that I would be dining there that night and they fried a special batch of chips for me before the oil got contaminated with gluten. When I arrived they served them to me and they were warm, salty, crunchy and delicious! So I got to have chips and salsa just like everyone else. How awesome is that?! It’s so nice to feel normal when dining at a restaurant.

Vegetables, grains, superfoods and more!

Posted in Uncategorized on November 25th, 2008 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

I mentioned Heidi Swanson the other day and her Super Natural Cooking cookbook. Well, I just found out that she has a great website with tons of vegetarian recipes. She also has a section of gluten free recipes! Hopefully this will give you some good ideas for Thanksgiving. Just looking at the pictures will make you want to cook!

Adding spice to your gluten free cooking: Old Bay

Posted in cooking on November 24th, 2008 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

The husband and I love Old Bay! Ever since my friend, Becky, gave us a huge container of the seasoning salt as an engagement gift (she’s from Easton so that sort of explains the gift), we’ve loved using it. When I was first diagnosed with celiacs, we immediately checked to see if Old Bay is gluten free. Lucky for us, it is!

Old Bay is a seasoning salt that is typically used when eating crabs. The husband and I have found that it adds good flavor to many foods. Two of our favorites are sweet potato fries and burgers. This combo is one of our go to weeknight meals and it’s perfect for having a group of people over for dinner. Old Bay is yummy in both turkey burgers and hamburgers and the recipe we use is the same for both.

Old Bay Dinner for 6

Old Bay Burgers:
2 lbs. hamburger (I prefer 85/15…90/10 gets a bit dry)
2 eggs
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 T. Old Bay (the husband and I vary our amount of Old Bay depending on whose taste buds we’re feeding…in our minds, you can’t have too much! 4 tablespoons is actually a bit conservative)
Sliced white cheddar cheese
Sliced avocado
Sliced fresh tomato

1. Heat olive oil in pan and add chopped onion. Saute until onion is brown.
2. In a bowl, mix meat, eggs, onion and Old Bay.
3. Make into 7 patties and they are ready to cook. I think everything is better on the grill, but you can make them on the stove top as well.
4. Add cheese when burgers are almost cooked through.
5. Top burgers with avocado and tomato.

*Note: we prefer to go bunless with these burgers. I still haven’t found a gluten free bun that I love and I find that eating burgers with a fork is not the end of the world; in fact, it makes the dinner seem a little fancier!

Old Bay Sweet Potato Fries:
4 Large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into strips (think steak fries shape…2 inches wide, 4 inches long, and about 1/2 inch thick)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Old Bay

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. In a bowl, mix olive oil and Old Bay; then add sweet potatoes and mix
3. Lay sweet potatoes flat on cookie sheet.
4. Cook for 10 minutes and then flip sweet potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes.
I keep my eye on them and serve them once they start to get brown and a little crispy. The husband thinks you can’t overcook them!

We usually serve this meal with a nice salad as well to add more color to the plate. You can use the extra tomato and avocado for the salad. One of my favorite GF dressings is Maple Farms of Vermont Balsamic Vinaigrette.


Finding Gluten Free ‘Comfort’ in Richmond

Posted in Richmond VA on November 22nd, 2008 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

A few weeks ago the husband and I were in Richmond, Virginia for a wedding. We have many good friends in Richmond so on Friday night we met up for dinner with some good friends from college. When I tell you that we had an amazing dining experience, this is no exaggeration! We went to Comfort (Broad Street) which is known for its yummy southern comfort fare. I had heard great things about Comfort and was hopeful that they would be willing to accommodate me.

The husband and I arrived a little early so we had a drink at the bar. Their beverage and food prices are shockingly reasonable (particularly since I’m used to DC dining prices) and the husband was immediately enthralled by the wide variety of bourbons they offered. Comfort does not take reservations so plan on having a drink at the bar while you wait. This part of the night was just as fun as the remainder of the evening so I didn’t see it as a pain at all. The bartender nicely talked with us and told me that they would definitely be able to find food suitable for me.

Our friends arrived and we were seated in a booth in the back of the restaurant and I immediately began to salivate over the menu! Everything looked delicious and I LOVE side dishes so there were many items I wanted…the question was could I actually eat any of them? Our waitress was incredibly nice and she has a gluten intolerance herself so she knew everything about the menu and what I could and could not eat. For example, she knew that I shouldn’t order the meatloaf because it contains oats. She circled all of the sides that I could have (unfortunately I couldn’t eat the squash casserole or fried okra but there were so many options that it didn’t matter.) She also informed me that all of the entrees were gluten free except the meatloaf and fried catfish.

As all of my fellow celiacs know, just having the ability to choose from so many things on the menu is a rare experience! So what did I order? I had the short ribs as my entrée and the sweet potato puree and asparagus for my sides. What a meal! I ate every single bite and felt totally healthy the next day. Hooray! Definitely a success!

My trip to Comfort was one of my best dining experiences since being diagnosed. The entire staff at Comfort was so welcoming and ‘comforting.’ They understood contamination and all of the little ways gluten can sneak into your food. I was a little nervous about contamination because the kitchen is so small, but it wasn’t a problem at all. I enjoyed a rich, flavorful and filling meal and I actually felt like I had choices! If you’re going to Richmond or driving through, make a stop at Comfort!

200 West Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23220

Comfort on Urbanspoon

What’s for dessert? Buzz Bakery

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21st, 2008 by Betsy – 1 Comment

After a meal at Rustico, David and I often walk across the street to Buzz Bakery. Buzz is always ‘buzzing’ with people and they have a huge array of cakes, cookies and pastries. The best part is they have yummy gluten free treats! On the menu, Buzz has two types of gluten free brownies and cupcakes. I recommend the chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing. Before experiencing Buzz, I was never a huge fan of chocolate cake, but their chocolate cupcake is very flavorful and actually tastes like real cake. (It doesn’t leave a funny aftertaste like some gluten free sweets.) If you get a cupcake to take home for later, I recommend sticking it in the fridge and then zapping it in the microwave for about five seconds when you’re ready to eat. The brownies also freeze well. These treats are a bit pricy, but the chocolate cupcake is definitely worth the $3!

buzz solo 2

Not only does Buzz serve coffee drinks at Buzz, but they also sell wine by the glass and even champagne! Buzz stays open until midnight every night so you can always go for an after dinner dessert and coffee/champagne. Enjoy!

901 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA 22314
Buzz Bakery, Coffee, and Dessert Lounge on Urbanspoon

Rustico’s Chick Pea Crust Pizza

Posted in Uncategorized on November 20th, 2008 by Betsy – 4 Comments

Last night the husband and I went to Rustico in Alexandria for dinner. We love their pizzas and they make a chick pea flour crust pizza that is by far the best gluten free pizza that I’ve eaten. The chick pea makes the crust much heartier and flavorful than the rice flower crusts I’ve tasted before. A word of warning: The people at Rustico make regular flour pizza as well so they don’t guarantee a gluten free kitchen. I appreciate that they understand this concept! That being said, they do cook the chick pea crusts in a different oven from the gluten pizzas AND they make the dough in a separate area of the kitchen.

The atmosphere at Rustico is very warm and welcoming. The husband and I enjoy eating at both the bar and in the restaurant. They offer the full menu in the bar and there are many booths as well. There are TVs to watch athletics and while it’s busy, it’s not so loud that you can’t hear the people that are in your group.

Last night I ordered the sausage pizza which is by far my favorite. The sausage is homemade and gluten free! One of my other favorites is the roasted mushroom with goat cheese. You can also create your own pizza too. In the past I’ve ordered grilled chicken and pesto. Yummy! One of the best parts is that I always have leftovers! Rustico also has a huge selection of beers, including about six gluten free beers. Pizza and beer, what more could a celiac want?!

The manager at Rustico is very friendly and nice. He always stops by our table to talk to us and see how we’re doing. You can also order pizzas for take out as well, which is a fun idea for a Sunday afternoon of football.

So while there is a risk of contamination at Rustico, the fact that the staff understands that there is a risk and that they try to minimize the risk. As you know, any time we celiacs go out to dinner, we’re taking a chance. That being said, the pizza is delicious and the staff wants to be accommodating. Even though I’ve had contamination in the past at Rustico (I’m extremely sensitive to gluten contamination), none of my other celiac friends have gotten sick.

Overall, Rustico is a fun place to go where celiacs can get food that is rarely available to us. This is a regular spot for us! It’s a great place to take non-celiac friends. Some people even prefer the chick pea crust to the regular crust!

827 Slaters Lane Alexandria, VA 22314 703.224.5051
Rustico on Urbanspoon

You can’t always go out to dinner…favorite recipes

Posted in Uncategorized on November 18th, 2008 by Betsy – 1 Comment

While the husband and I love to go out to dinner, we like to cook even more! Even since I was diagnosed with celiacs, we still use ‘normal’ cookbooks because there are so many delicious recipes out there that are naturally gluten free. Our three favorite cookbooks are,

- The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Ina Garten) The husband’s sister, Heidi, introduced us to the world of Barefoot! While all of her cookbooks are great, the original is our favorite. Her perfect roast chicken is so simple, easy and amazing! (Just skip the 2 tsp. of flour.)

- Super Natural Cooking (Heidi Swanson) Given to me by Heidi, this cookbook is vegetarian and uses many different (non-gluten grains) in its recipes. My personal favorite is the chunky lentil soup. It’s so hearty and perfect for the upcoming cold months. Serve it with GF corn bread and it’s a great dinner.

- The New Best Recipe (Cook’s Illustrated) The husband gave me this cookbook for Christmas last year and it has over 1,000 recipes. For example, the writers experiment with the best ways to make oven french fries and they tell you what the best method is. Lucky for us, the fries are GF and so good! You don’t even need a frier to make them!

Both of our lives are hectic and busy, so taking the time to prepare meals together is one of the things we like to do most. In this blog, I hope to share some of our favorite recipes with you in addition to just reviewing restaurants because for the celiac, eating at home is always the safest and most comfortable place to eat!

Lunch at Whole Foods

Posted in Alexandria virginia, Washington DC on November 15th, 2008 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

One of my favorite places to go for lunch on Saturday is Whole Foods in Alexandria (1700 Duke Street). First of all, I could spend hours wandering the aisles at Whole Foods, looking at all of the beautiful items. There is so much for the celiac to eat at Whole Foods and they even make their own line of gluten free foods which can be found in the freezer section. The apple and pumpkin pies actually taste like real pie!

While I could write all day about the incredible gluten free products, the part of Whole Foods that I love the most is their prepared food section. Oftentimes when friends suggest a lunch date, I choose Whole Foods. The store even has a large area to sit at the store or you can take it to go. Today I went with my friends Meredith and Ellie and we each had yummy and very different meals.

I love the salad bar at Whole Foods for many reasons. Their ingredients are always fresh and everything actually looks good…not like it’s been sitting there all day! Also, they list every ingredient in every item on the salad bar.

A word of warning though: Celiacs should always be careful about any kind of buffet/salad bar because of the potential for cross contamination. One of the things I check out first is where the items are located in the salad bar. For example, if there’s chicken next to a cold cous cous salad, I will avoid that chicken as well because of its close proximity to the cous cous as it’s likely people have dropped cous cous into the chicken. While sometimes I’m disappointed that there are things I can’t have, there are so many options that I always have plenty of healthy and yummy items in my salad.

Today in my salad I had a variety of goodness on top of my greens. I had the usual carrots, corn, and grilled chicken, but I also topped my salad with snap peas, a quinoa & chickpea salad, grilled veggies and a cold red bean and rice salad. I also purchased the new Mary’s Gone Crakers ‘Twigs and Sticks’ that I substituted for croutons so as to add a little saltiness to the salad. I usually go with the balsalmic vinagarette dressing, but as I said before all of the ingredients are listed for every item, included salad dressings, so there are many options! Enjoy!

Whole Foods
1700 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

Blue Duck Tavern

Posted in Restaurants, Washington DC on November 15th, 2008 by Betsy – 1 Comment

The husband and I had been reading about Blue Duck Tavern (24th and M) for awhile and hearing great things about the cuisine. Before even eating at the restaurant I loved their philosophy of using fresh and local ingredients. (As I’m a ‘wannabe foodie’ I’m a bit obsessed with the local food movement…more on that later!) We knew nothing about whether or not Blue Duck would accommodate my dietary needs, but I figured that simply due to the fact that they use such natural and fresh ingredients, there would be something I could eat. And fortunately we were right!

This summer the husband and I decided to experience Blue Duck cuisine first hand and we took his parents and sister for a birthday celebration. The decor of Blue Duck is very unique. There are wooden rocking chairs in the lobby and there’s a rustic American feel. Blue Duck is attached to the Hyatt, but you never notice or realize it while you’re in the restaurant. The kitchen is totally open to the restaurant so you can watch the chef in action…that always makes me feel safer about my food because they have to be clean if people are watching! We sat at a huge wooden table (at times it was hard to hear each other, so I would prefer a booth) and started examining the menu.

I had mentioned my celiacs when I made the reservations and the hostess I spoke with assured me that it shouldn’t be a problem. Once we arrived they already had documented my allergy and my waiter immediately told me to pick exactly what I wanted and he would ask the chef. The waiter was very knowledgeable about the ingredients, but he always double checked with the chef which made me feel safer. (Sometimes I get concerned when a waiter acts overconfident and doesn’t want to talk to the chef because he insists that he knows everything.)

Not only did the waiter check with the chef about the items I wanted, but he also asked the chef whether or not there was gluten in the selections of my family members. This was awesome because one of the things I miss as a cealic is being able to share bites of food with the people I’m with! There were very few things I could not have on the menu. I believe there was only one entree that I could not have or that couldn’t be modified in some way to accommodate me.

So what did I get? The menu changes all the time because they use fresh ingredients. I ordered lamb that was unbelievable. It was so tender and the sauce was delicious. I could have it totally as is. They didn’t have to modify it at all. I believe the lamb I ordered this summer was different from what’s currently on the online menu so you’ll always want to check with the chef about their current items. The best news was that pretty much all of the sides were gluten free, including the grits and mashed potatoes! We also shared a baby green salad, white asparagus and a pate.

Blue Duck was the perfect venue to celebrate with family and friends because the meal was very much family style. We passed sides and appetizers around the table and I could participate in the culinary sharing. When people ask me what food I miss the most since being diagnosed as a celiac, I tell them that it’s not the food, it’s the experiences. Wedding receptions and birthday parties where you have to watch everyone else eat together are difficult and even a little lonely. Fortunately, I have wonderful family and friends that are always looking out for me and finding ways to make me feel included. At Blue Duck, I felt a part of the festivities! I could even share homemade peanut butter ice cream for dessert.

Overall, the food at Blue Duck is amazing. They are committed to fresh and simple ingredients, which is a perfect combination for celiac customers. The waiter did not pretend to know everything about celiacs, which I actually appreciated because he checked on everything. When going to Blue Duke (which I high recommend) you definitely want to make reservations in advance.

Blue Duck Tavern: 24 & M Streets, Northwest
Washington, D.C.

Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

What do I say?

Posted in Restaurants on November 14th, 2008 by Betsy – 3 Comments

I’ve had a request to go through what exactly I say to restaurants when trying to explain my gluten-free needs. It can be scary, awkward and intimidating, but this is for our health, comfort and it will ultimately make the next celiac’s visit to that restaurant a little easier so it’s worth it…I promise!  The hope is that you’ll find places that you really feel comfortable and they can become places you frequent.  They’ll appreciate your business and work hard to meet your needs.  Remember, your requests are not silly.  This is not a fad diet or even a chosen lifestyle…it’s your health.

1: Always be polite and appreciative, BUT never apologetic. Not apologizing is tough, and I have trouble following my own rule here, but you should never apologize for a disease over which you have no control.

2: I ask, “Have you heard of gluten?” I can immediately gauge whether I’m going to attempt to eat anything here based on the confident “yes, we train all of our employees in food allergies” or the puzzled expression on the manager’s face.

3. If they know about gluten, but don’t have a special menu, I remind them where gluten can be found (wheat, rye and barley) and that I have a disease that requires me to abide by a strictly gluten free diet.

4. If they assure me that I can eat here, I then select a few dishes in my mind that I would be interested in eating and that possibly don’t contain gluten. I ask the manager about these specific dishes. (It can be overwhelming to both the manager and the celiac customer to ask about the entire menu).

5. If the waiter tells me those dishes are fine, I proceed to ask them about the less well known things gluten is found in: soy sauce, marinades, salad dressings, fryers that could be contaminated.

6. I also ask about how they prepare their food and what their kitchen is like. If they prepare everything on the same griddle, it’s likely to be contaminated. I’ve found that people are very honest about this. I’ve had waiters tell me that I probably shouldn’t eat at the restaurant because of the way they cook their food and that it’s a busy day for them in the kitchen so they don’t have the time to clean as well as the should. (This is why I tend to avoid Sunday brunch at restaurants and diners.)

7. Continue thanking them throughout the meal. A little bit of gratitude goes a long way. If the meal went particularly well.  I’ll even contact the restaurant the next day to thank them for accommodating me.  Tell your celiac friends about the restaurant as well.  We want to give these thoughtful establishments business and encourage them to continue being conscious chefs.

8. A word of warning: this can be a lengthy process, but it’s so worth it! None of us want to be a burden to the restaurant or the people we’re with, but the pain and damage it will do to our bodies if we don’t, is more important.

A final note: Never feel like you HAVE to eat something. Go with your gut…literally and figuratively. You can politely leave the restaurant at any time. If the meal arrives and you don’t feel comfortable, double check with them and if you still don’t feel safe, don’t eat it! I was at a restaurant in Portland, Oregon this summer and I had a bad feeling about the meal when it arrived, but I ate it anyways, and I regretted my decision to not double check for the next 3 days (including a cross country flight)!

So don’t avoid restaurants and dining experiences because you’re scared! There’s so much yummy food out there and just because you have celiacs, doesn’t mean you should miss out!