Archive for January, 2010

Living Without Magazine Provides New Online Resource

Posted in advice, cooking, recipe on January 29th, 2010 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

I often get a lot of my gluten-free news from my friend, Jennifer Harris, who writes  the Gwinnett Gluten-Free Examiner.  Today in the Examiner Jennifer informed us that Living Without magazine now has a website for its readers.  This is a great resource for individuals and families who are coping with food allergies and/or celiac.  The website provides recipes, forums to discuss topics, and my personal favorite, “Ask Your Doctor.”  Living Without offers advice and guidance for those with a variety of food allergies, but their website has a component that’s designated specifically for gluten-free readers.

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I’ve enjoyed reading the articles Living Without has already posted on this brand new website, including Must-Dos for Newly Diagnosed Celiacs, and of course with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I loved thinking of good baking ideas while perusing Romantic Gluten-Free Chocolate Desserts.

Check out Living Without and let me know what you like about this new celiac resource.

Granola Goes Gluten-Free

Posted in recipe, vegetarian on January 27th, 2010 by Betsy – 3 Comments

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One of the foods that I missed the most when I was first diagnosed with celiac was granola.  I love granola with ice cream, yogurt, cereal, in trail mix, or simply on its own.  It’s such a yummy snack and if you’re a texture person like me, the crunch of perfectly toasted oats and nuts is just wonderful.  Oats are controversial in the celiac world because even though they are technically gluten free, they are easily contaminated, making them most likely containing gluten, unless they are tested for gluten content.  There are some brands of gluten-free ‘granola’ out there but I hesitate to refer to them as granola because they don’t contain any oats.  Usually it’s a clump of corn flakes with some syrups and dried nuts.  While it has a nice crunch, these store-bought GF granolas just aren’t the same.  Yes, certified gluten-free oats are more expensive than Quaker, but I’m definitely willing to splurge on this grain and it’s so much more economical to make your own granola and it keeps well in the fridge for a long time.

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Betsy’s Granola (Created with guidance from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups certified GF oats
  • 2 cups mixed nuts and seeds (I used chopped cashews, pecans, almonds, & sunflower seeds)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter (I prefer to use natural PB that still has salt though)
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • Ground flaxseed (optional)

Preheat oven to 325.  Put a 9 x 13-inch roasting pan over medium-low heat.  (I put the pan over two burners.  Add the oats and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to change color and become fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes.

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Add the nuts and seeds and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.  Add the coconut and cook and stir for 2 more minutes.  Add the cinnamon, salt (to taste), flaxseed, honey and peanut butter.  Stir and place in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice during cooking process.

Remove from oven, add raisins and cranberries, and cool on a rack.  Stir once in a while until the granola reaches room temperature.  Transfer to a sealed container and store in refrigerator.  I make it in large batches so I’ll even stick some in the freezer.

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Granola continues to be one of my all-time favorite foods because it has a little bit of everything.  Sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy.  Don’t think of this recipe as a concrete set of rules.  Other things you can add to your granola are maple syrup or molasses as a sweetener or different seasonings such as nutmeg, vanilla beans or even ginger.  If you have a sweet tooth, try putting chocolate chips in your batch.  A great ice cream topping!

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Making Economical & Healthy Food Choices

Posted in advice, local food, Uncategorized, vegetarian on January 26th, 2010 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

Many of you are familiar with Shauna who writes the wonderful and beautiful blog,  Gluten Free Girl & the Chef.  Her website inspires me often and includes wonderful images and stories about her food, family, and friends.  Shauna creates amazing gluten-free food with her husband, the chef, and writes about her experience with food.  She, too, has an incredible story of  years of sickness and a new outlook on life after her celiacdiagnosis.

In today’s Gluten-Free Girl post, Eating on $18 a day, Shauna writes about trying to feed her family for a week, spending only $18 a day on food.  Why is she doing this?  This week is King County’s United Way Hunger Action Week and people can pledge to only spend the maximum food stamp allotment for the size of their family to see how many people live. Individuals are allotted $7 a day, couples $12 a day, and a family of three (like Shauna’s) gets $18.

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Reading Gluten-Free Girl’s post today brought out a lot of emotions in me.  It enrages me that families go hungry and many people in this country are denied the opportunity to eat healthy, nutritious food.  Sadly, it is much cheaper and quicker to eat a Big Mac Extra Value Meal than to make a healthy, colorful meal for your family.  Also, our country ends up spending much more money on health care because of the cheap, and void of nutrition, food that people put in their bodies.  It seems if more money was spent on healthy food, we could prevent many other diseases, health problems and costs.

We try to eat economically in our home but we definitely spend money on good, nutrient packed food, with the occasional splurge on a nice steak to share.  Unfortunately the gluten-free diet can be expensive, especially finding products like breads and baking mixes.  I try not to complain about the expenses too much because I love my gluten-free life and the excuse to try new recipes and concoctions in the kitchen.  While it would be difficult to live gluten-free on only $7 a day, I think it can be accomplished.

Here are some of the things I do regularly in a conscious attempt to cut my food costs:

Be Flexible at the Store: When going grocery shopping, bring a couple of meal ideas with you and then make your final decision based on what’s on sale that week.

Buy in bulk online: Ordering gluten-free flours, Lara Bars and cereal in bulk on Amazon.com can save lots of money.  Just make sure you have a place to store all of it!  (You get free shipping on Amazon if you spend more than $25!)

Soups & stews: They make great, filling, and nutritious meals.  Soups and stews make a ton of food and you can freeze leftovers.  Stews are a great way to use meat sparingly but still get a hearty meal.  Cornbread goes well with this and you can make a batch of cornbread and freeze it in individual pieces.

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Bake from scratch: I will make a big batch of muffins on a Saturday morning and freeze the extras.  Then I have a stash when I’m craving a yummy muffin for breakfast and don’t feel the impulse to buy more expensive gluten-free muffins at Whole Foods.

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Buying seasonally and locallyCSAs are a great way to get fresh produce more economically and forces you to be more creative in the kitchen.

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Go Vegetarian Occasionally: David and I are eating more and more vegetarian dinners and I find that we’re spending less money and eating much better food.  I just don’t miss the meat.

Add Beans to your Plate: Lentils and beans offer fiber, nutrients, and protein to your meal and fill you up.  Check out the beautiful bean dish I made last night with fresh swiss chard from The Local Farmstand.  I’ll be using the extra beans to make white chicken chili later this week.

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What meals do you make that are healthy nutritious, and economical?  What shopping guidance do you have that helps you limit your grocery spending?

Even Super Bowl Stars Go Gluten-Free

Posted in advice on January 25th, 2010 by Betsy – 2 Comments

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With yesterday’s NFL division championship games, I couldn’t resist giving a shout out to New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, a fellow gluten-free eater.  While Brees does not have celiac, he has an allergy to gluten and eats a diet free from wheat and gluten.  (Brees discovered this allergy in 2004 as well as allergies to dairy and nuts.)  Check out this 2007 Sports Illustrated article that discusses Brees’ workout regime as well as a typical day of gluten-free meals for the quarterback.  In a Wall Street Journal interview last fall, Brees claims that he has much more energy due to his new diet and these changes allow him to sleep better and perform better on the athletic field.  Clearly this professional athlete values making his body feel as good as possible because he relies on his energy and health in order to be successful at his job.  (Lots of people rely on Drew Brees feeling good and throwing well!)  While we may not all be NFL stars, each of us needs to feel our best in order to engage in our own daily tasks.  Hopefully Drew Brees will continue to feel energized and healthy as he continues to train for the Super Bowl in two weeks.  Go Saints!

Teff & Amaranth Apple Muffins: A Local Winter Treat

Posted in baking, local food, vegetarian on January 22nd, 2010 by Betsy – 2 Comments

In the winter, I find myself missing homemade blueberry muffins.  I love the taste of a blueberry muffin in the summer, packed with freshly picked huge blueberries from my in-laws’ farm in Linden, VA.  While we do freeze blueberries so we can make muffins after the season, those remnants of summer are usually long gone by the time December rolls around.  Recently I was craving some kind of breakfast muffin but I didn’t want to use flavorless fruit that had traveled thousands of miles to get to me.  I also wanted to create something in my kitchen that involved the least amount of grocery shopping.  Isn’t it so nice when you realize you already own every ingredient you need for a certain recipe?

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I had some beautiful north Georgia apples in my fruit bowl and I thought perhaps I could use those in some kind of baked good.  I was envisioning apple pie meets blueberry muffins.  Yum.  These apples inspired me, as did a whole wheat apple muffin recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Of course I had to omit the whole wheat flour from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, and replace it with other flour concoctions.  These muffins turned out so well, in fact they might be some of the yummiest muffins I’ve made.  The chunks of apples added great texture and the teff and amaranth flour were a great compliment to the apples.  I actually think those flours might even be better than the whole wheat and all-purpose flour combination in the original recipe.

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A word of warning, these muffins were a little difficult to transport because they were so moist and delicious.  I had extras so I refrigerated them and they tasted fresh for the remainder of the week.  Great for breakfast or with tea in the afternoon.

Teff & Amaranth Apple Muffins (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup white rice flour
  • ½ cup brown rice flour
  • ¼ cup teff flour
  • ¼ cup amaranth flour
  • ¼ cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
  • 2 large apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 450.  Grease and lightly flour 18 muffin cups.  (I used rice flour.)

Mix together the flours, baking powder, xanthan gum, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and ¼ of the cup of brown sugar.  Beat until fluffy.  Add the egg and mix well.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl once.  Mix in the yogurt gently.  Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the pieces of apple.

Put batter into muffin cups in a muffin pan.  Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar on top of the muffins.  (I sprinkle liberally because the brown sugar is delicious on top.)

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Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400 and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.  They are done when you can insert a toothpick into the center and it comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then put on a wire cooling rack.

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These apple muffins make a great component for a brunch and you can make them a few days in advance.  Enjoy!

Dorms, Tailgating, & Cafeterias: Gluten-Free College Advice

Posted in advice on January 21st, 2010 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

In the last couple of weeks, two of my former students have been diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerances.  As the number of celiac diagnoses continues to increase in the United States, more and more teenagers and adults in their early 20s will be turning to a gluten-free diet.  Going gluten-free creates many challenges for people of all ages, but young adults have their own set of hurdles they must face as they adjust to their new dietary guidelines.

In emailing recently with a student who was just diagnosed with celiac, it reminded me just how difficult it is for teenagers and college-aged people with celiac to cope with their gluten-free diet.  When you’re living on a dorm or in an apartment with others, you have less control over the food that surrounds you and even what goes in your mouth.  You’re more likely to go out or be eating in a cafeteria, which means you’re not the one preparing your food.  I get a little anxious anytime I eat out or even go to a friend’s house for a meal, but for those at boarding school, in college, or even recently out of college, eating outside of your home is a constant reality.

Even though I wasn’t diagnosed with celiac until post-college, I can understand some of the issues young celiacs face in their daily lives, after living at a boarding school for the last three years and still being a “20-something” myself. I’ve provided some tips to help alleviate the stress that can come with celiac and putting your dietary needs in the hands of others.  Even if you’re not a teenager or in your early 20s, you might still find these tips helpful for you.

-       “Be prepared.” Yes, I know this is the Boy Scout’s motto, but it is key to living the gluten-free life.  I never travel anywhere without a small stash of food in my bag.  A Lara Bar, a bag of peanuts, and M&Ms are always on hand for me, no matter where I’m going or how certain I am that I’ll be able to consume a gluten-free meal.  You never want to be caught hungry and empty handed.  Believe me, it’s not a good feeling (and it becomes more tempting to eat gluten when you’re hungry).

-       Create your own late night snacks.  In college, there’s a lot of late night eating, for a variety of reasons.  People are up later studying or hanging out on dorm so there’s a need for more sustenance at unusual hours.  Also, alcohol consumption translates into thinking late night pizza is a good idea.  Well, it’s really not a good idea for you now that you’re gluten-free.  Make sure that you stock up on things that you can eat late night, if you enjoy this aspect of college life.  I met a girl with celiac who loves late-night pasta, so she always makes sure that she has some gluten-free pasta in her apartment to whip up when she feels the need.  Frozen GF pizzas might do the job as well.  I know it’s not the same as greasy, freshly delivered pizza, but we all have to make life adjustments.  (Good news!  5 Guys burgers are GF without the bun and their fries are gluten-free as well so this could be a good late night food stop for you if you’re feeling the post-bars food craving.)

-       Ask Questions.  It can feel awkward and even obnoxious to constantly ask questions about the food you’re eating, but it’s a must.  Especially since you can’t control how things are being prepared and what ingredients are going into them, you must be informed.

-       Make friends with the people who make your food.  If you are on a meal plan at college, introduce yourself to the managerial staff and the people who make and serve your food.  If they know you and understand your needs, they’ll be more able to accommodate your needs.  If you go to a certain restaurant a lot, ask to meet the owner or the manager.  I’ve found that people in the food service industry want to get it right and are well intentioned.  Don’t hesitate to try to connect with those people.  When they can connect a face to the ‘disease’ they’re more likely to want to help you out and go the extra mile.

-       Find gluten-free places you trust: When friends ask where a good place is for you to eat, have answers.  Your whole outlook on your city or college town will change once you’ve been diagnosed with celiac.  It’s worth investigating your options so that you can go to restaurants with friends and feel confident in your meal.  I attended UVA and now when I go back to Charlottesville, my entire trip is different because I’ve discovered places that make great gluten-free accommodations for me.  Charlottesville is a town that’s known for its sandwiches and great bagel places, but I’ve found delicious food for me too.

-       Go with your instinct & just say, “No.”: If it doesn’t feel right, skip it.  This piece of advice comes from someone who has not always gone with her instinct and regretted it later.  I tend to worry about hurting people’s feelings but my health is more important than feelings.  I now ask to look at jars and labels at friends’ houses, even though it can be uncomfortable.  I politely turn things down if I think it’s going to make me sick later.  In restaurants, the same principle applies.

-       Beware Tailgating: Tailgating is a favorite pastime for college students.  I, too, love a good tailgate, but sadly, I have yet to find any gluten-free friendly tailgates.  Issues of contamination are almost unavoidable when people are grabbing sandwiches and chips with one hand while holding their glutenous beer in the other.  While it might feel a bit awkward to have to say “no” to every ham biscuit or piece of Bojangle’s fried chicken that’s offered to you, it’s worth it.  Even if someone has nicely made a gluten-free artichoke dip, make sure that gluten-filled food products have not been dipped into the same dip.  If I’m going to be at a football game, I make sure to have plenty of food with me and eat a big breakfast earlier in the day.

-       Limit the variables: I often describe my body as a science experiment, so it’s only fitting that I discuss ‘controlling variables.’  When I am planning a weekend away, I make sure that at least a few of the meals will be in my control.  I like to bring my own breakfast food and snacks so that at least some meals I won’t have to worry about potential contamination or food issues.  I find that bringing some of my own food cuts down on the variables (potential for getting sick) and makes me feel more comfortable at my other meals.  The nice thing about breakfast is that you can always get coffee with your friends and still feel like you’re sharing in the meal and the social time.  Limiting the variables definitely applies for college students as well because there are so many times that your eating is left in the hands of others.  Give yourself some meals where you create what you ingest.

-       Find activities that are non-food related: It seems that most of the social events we do with others involve food in some way.  There are many fun things to do with friends that don’t revolve around a meal so think about what some of those might be in your town.  For me, I enjoy hiking, running, going to an athletic event and even wine tasting.  (Cheers to wine being gluten-free!)

Staying healthy on a gluten-free diet is about monitoring what goes into your body.  When you don’t create your meals, this becomes more difficult.  Try to stay positive, especially if you’re still adjusting to your new gluten-free life.  I promise, it’s worth it.  There will be ups and downs, but over time it will get easier.

Bon Appetit Recommends Gluten-Free Pastas

Posted in advice, cooking, GF product, recipe on January 20th, 2010 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

My apologies for the delay in writing this post.  I love my subscription to Bon Appetit and usually I devour the material the minute it arrives.  When my January issue arrived, I was wrapped up in my favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver’s, new book, The Lacuna, so I held off on diving into Bon Appetit.  Of course when I was ready to start reading this month’s issue, I couldn’t locate my copy.  Fortunately, David found it yesterday on our coffee table, and I immediately started scouring its contents.  Even though Bon Appetit doesn’t create recipes that are labeled ‘gluten-free,’ they have many recipes that are naturally gluten-free, and the ones that aren’t GF, I simply modify to make gluten free.

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To my surprise and excitement, Bon Appetit’s Conscious Cook selected her “Top 3” brands of gluten-free pasta.  While I’m not a huge pasta person in the first place, I will say the editor was smart to select pasta brands that use a combination of flours, such as corn and quinoa, as opposed to just rice.  She selected Riso Bello Spaghetti al Riso, Ancient Harvest Supergrain Quinoa, and Rustichella d’Abruzzo Organic Corn Spaghetti.  Cooking gluten-free pasta can be a little tricky because it gets sticky pretty easily, but I find that good brands don’t taste too different from regular pasta.  Bon Appetit’s attention to gluten-free items is another example of the rising prevalence of celiac and gluten intolerance in the U.S.  This only affirms my belief that you can be a gluten-free foodie.

What gluten-free pasta brand do you prefer?  Do you have a favorite pasta dish?  I enjoy tossing homemade pesto with chicken and pasta.  While fresh basil is not seasonal right now, it makes me excited for warmer weather ahead.  We’re not too far from spring, right?

Easy Gluten-Free Dinner

Posted in advice, cooking, recipe, side dish on January 19th, 2010 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

While it can seem overwhelming to cook gluten-free, it really can be done and done simply, with lots of good flavor.  I have to give a shout out to my friends Maury, Mary Stuart and Jen for showing just how easy gluten-free can be.  I invited the three of them over for dinner a few weeks ago and we shared a delicious gluten-free meal together.  Two years ago, if I invited friends over for dinner, I would have denied any requests made by my guests to “bring something.”  I feel safest in my home because I make the food myself and in the past I didn’t want to bring any variables into my one controlled eating space.

Over time I’ve become much more comfortable explaining to friends my dietary restrictions, and I’ve allowed myself to trust others to make gluten-free food.  My friends (and yours too!) want to accommodate our gluten-free needs.  Of course this thoughtful group of women each wanted to bring something and since I’ve eaten with them many times (I lived in Mary Stuart’s house while moving this summer and she and her husband, Joel made many delicious GF meals for me), I trust each of them and they serve as reminders to me, just how easy and simple gluten-free dining can be.

Each of us provided a component of the meal that we shared.  The food was delicious and they all made gluten-free seem so “normal” (because it can be!).  It is the best feeling when friends and family members accommodate my gluten-free needs and I’m so appreciative of the many people in my life who have been thoughtful and gone to great lengths to ask questions, educate themselves and prepare gluten-free food for me.

There are probably many meals you make that are naturally gluten-free.  Check out our dinner menu to see how simple it can be.

Here’s what we ate:

Mary Stuart brought a creative, yet simple appetizer.  She made delicious crackers, using Glutinos, topped with Gruyere cheese and fig jam.  Great flavor combinations and very easy to assemble.  The fig jam added nice color and I loved the texture as well.

I made Red Wine Braised Chicken with Onions & Thyme for our entrée that tasted delicious on a cold winter night.

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Maury made her famous roasted sweet potatoes that have become one of my favorite dishes.  All she does is roast sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper at 375 for about 40 minutes and then she adds parmesan cheese to them.  So good!  (A sprinkle of parmesan cheese is a great addition to roasted veggies.)

Jen, who recently went gluten-free, brought a spinach salad with walnuts, craisins, feta and red onions.  A great winter salad and the red onions and craisins added festive colors.  Jen’s homemade salad dressing was composed of olive oil, basil, brown sugar, Dijon mustard, and apple cider vinegar.  Very flavorful and not too heavy.  It complimented the salad perfectly.

I’m one of those people that likes to mix everything on my plate and this meal was perfect for that, even though we didn’t even plan our components of the meal together.  It just seemed to fit.  I only wish I had more photos to document the evening’s cuisine.  We’ll just have to do it again!

Who knew gluten free could be so easy?

When I was first diagnosed with celiac, I never imagined that I would feel so safe eating food made by others.  It takes time, but you too can enjoy sharing meals with others.  When your friends ask questions, give them clear answers.  They want to get it right, I promise.  And they will.

MetroFresh: Great GF Lunch Spot in Midtown

Posted in Atlanta, local food, vegetarian on January 15th, 2010 by Betsy – Be the first to comment

Everybody needs a casual spot to grab a quick lunch with a friend.  For those of us with celiac and gluten allergies, it can be tricky to find a gluten-free friendly lunch spot.  “Casual and quick” usually translates as “unsafe and contaminated” to celiacs.  Fortunately, I have been introduced to the world of MetroFresh.  Good news gluten-free Atlantans!  Located in Midtown, on Monroe Drive (in the same shopping center as Trader Joe’s), MetroFresh offers a different menu every day, full of yummy soups and sides, many of which are gluten-free.

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Mitchell, the owner of MetroFresh, sends out a daily email that lists what’s on the menu at for the day.  I love Mitchell’s emails because he shares with his customers what’s going on at MetroFresh as well as his own personal anecdotes.  For example, I learned this week that Mitchell is trying to grow a beard, which is currently at the itchy stage in the growing process.   Today he even sent out the movie listings for the weekend  (You get $1 off at Landmark Midtown with a MetroFresh purchase.)  Mitchell’s emails are casual, yet thoughtful, making me feel connected to him and the MetroFresh crew.

Also, on the menu/daily email, Mitchell puts a GF next to all of the items that are gluten-free.  Hurray!  These two letters are wonderful because I know all of my options ahead of time and can be planning in my head what I’m going to order.  (What can I say?  I’m a planner.)  Why can’t all restaurants do this?  Mitchell also notes vegan, vegetarian, fish, egg and dairy as well.  You can go to the MetroFresh website to get on their daily email list.

MetroFresh also has breakfast, Sunday brunch, and dinner take out.  Fewer of these options are gluten-free, but sometimes there are gluten-free options listed.  Lunch delivery is also an option, but I love going to MetroFresh because the store has a great atmosphere.

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As I mentioned, the menu is different each day at MetroFresh, so I’ve been keeping track of what I’ve ordered the last few times I’ve been to MetroFresh.  Hopefully this list will give you an idea of what they offer.  I must say that their gluten-filled sandwiches also sound and look delicious, but sadly I will never try one of those.

Yummy Goodness I’ve Ordered at MetroFresh:

  • Pureed Veggie Soup with Basil Pistou & Orange and Striped Beet Salad with Walnuts and Butternut Squash
  • Field greens with berries, mandarins & goat cheese with ginger vinaigrette and Tuscan Veggie Soup
  • Tuscan white bean with rosemary & sun dried tomato soup and roasted beets with mangoes, clementines & maple orange vinaigrette

Doesn’t it all sound delicious?  This is my kind of food.  Fresh, healthy, and so flavorful.

MetroFressh -In Midtown Promenade – 931 Monroe Drive  NE – Atlanta, GA 30308
Metrofresh on Urbanspoon

36 Days Until Woodfire Grill & Reflections on Reality TV

Posted in Atlanta, Restaurants on January 13th, 2010 by Betsy – 1 Comment

I have a confession to make.  I love reality television.  I know, I know.  As a high school teacher, I should scoff at shows like ‘The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love’ and ‘The Real World: XXIV’  (Yes, ‘The Real World’ is on it’s twenty-fourth season and finally in Washington, D.C.)  Hurray! As someone who loves cooking and reality television, it’s only appropriate that I always wait in eager anticipation for each season of ‘Top Chef.’  Ok, that’s an understatement.  I’m obsessed with Top Chef.  Padma is gorgeous, Tom Colicchio cracks me up, and the food is absolutely beautiful.  I love the quick fires, elimination challenges, and the contestants.  These folks are real chefs.  They know what they’re doing and all have established culinary careers.  This is not the amateur reality television.  ‘Top Chef’ is the real deal.

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When David and I moved to Atlanta last summer, we decided to go without a television for the year.  Leaving the flat screen at home, I was a little nervous about this life change, especially considering my love of all things “reality,” but my students had introduced me to the world of Hulu so I figured it couldn’t be too bad.

Upon moving into our quaint apartment, I found that I loved not having a TV clogging up the living room.  Hulu, Netflix and the internet have allowed me to continue watching the shows that I’m particularly interested in like ‘The Office,’ ’30 Rock,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Dexter; and yes, ‘The Bachelor.’  We watch sporting events at friends’ houses when we want to but I definitely watch less television.  It’s been great.  We don’t just turn on the tube when we’re looking for something to do.  We cook more and have more people into our home as a result of going “sans TV.”

BUT, the major downer of this whole ‘no TV’ phase of life is that it’s impossible to get episodes of ‘Top Chef’ on the internet.  Bravo is super stingy about releasing its episodes, causing me much frustration as week after week of episodes passed with me missing them.  I had to scour the internet to learn about the contestants, find out Padma was pregnant and figure out what SUV would be featured in their trips to Whole Foods, and shamelessly promoted throughout the season.  I was particularly saddened by this unexpected internet let down because I moved to Atlanta right when the latest season began and three of the chefs from this past season run restaurants in Atlanta.

kevin

I tell my friends back in DC that Atlanta has some of the best restaurants in the country and Top Chef is a perfect example of this.  Richard Blais owns Flip, Hector owns Pura Vida and Eli used to be the head chef at Eno.  My favorite, Kevin Gillespie, owns and cooks at Woodfire.  How can you not love Kevin?  Great smile, fabulous beard, so well composed on screen, and he loves pork!  Did you notice that the Top Chef producers always used Kevin’s interviews to debrief and explain challenges.  Great chef and public speaker.  Kevin avoided drama, befriended many, excelled at ‘Pigs & Pinot,’ and was very funny.  Even though the last episode didn’t go his way, he still won fan favorite, (and “Betsy’s Favortite”) as well as so many challenges throughout the season.  Kevin also supports local farmers, including Crystal Organics, by buying their produce.    He even hosted a benefit dinner for Love is Love Farm when they were hit by the floods this fall.  A southerner and an Atlantan, Kevin’s here to stay and working to create the perfect restaurant for Atlanta diners.  Check out this recent interview with Kevin from yelp.com where he discusses his future in Atlanta. Doesn’t he sound great?

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Betsy, how do you know so much about last season’s Top Chef  if you’ve just been complaining that you couldn’t find it on the internet?”  Good question.  Bravo so nicely put two episodes on bravo.com during the season.  Of course I watched those.  When I visited my parents in October, I immediately set their Tivo for every ‘Top Chef’ rerun that would air throughout the weekend.  My friend, Laurel, had me over for the finale at the end of the season.  (If only I’d known her earlier in the season!)  So I ended up getting to watch the majority of this season’s episodes, but not as many as I would like.  Bravo, I beg you, put episodes online next season!  I miss Padma’s outfits, judge’s table, the “Gladware Kitchen,” the GE equipment, trips to Whole Foods and other product plugs.

All of this being said, hopefully you now understand my love for all things Top Chef.  While I’m sad that I missed out on watching this last season in its entirety, (Bravo, if you just put it online, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now)  I’ve loved being in the midst of the Atlanta restaurant scene during the Top Chef hype.  I’ve already dined at Flip, Pura Vida, and Eno, but I have not yet been to Kevin’s Woodfire.  Business has been booming for Kevin since the show aired.  This is wonderful news except for people, like me, who have trouble planning ahead and getting reservations.  Good news!  I just made my reservations for Woodfire for Thursday, February 18th.  Yes, it’s over a month away but I’m already thinking about it.  I’ve looked at the sample menu and am hungry just thinking about it.  (The menu changes every day of course.)  I’m not even worried about gluten-free options because I’m sure the folks at Woodfire will do it right.  Maybe I’ll even get to meet Kevin…