The Week in Review: Graduation & Gluten

2012-12-14 16.48.55Mr. Munger is now the proud owner of a BA.  He’s been out of the area for the past two years, so I haven’t even begun to fully adjust to the idea that he won’t have to head back up north once 2013 rolls around (this also means we’re one step closer to being able to finally nail down a date).

My immediate family and I all spent last weekend in Bellingham in order to be there for Mr. Munger’s graduation.  The graduation ceremony itself was the usual mix of extremely exciting and extremely boring.  We also had fun looking at Christmas lights and doing a little last-minute shopping. 

But the most complicated and painful aspect of the trip involved, of course, food.

I hadn’t really gone out to eat since I learned about my 10 newest food allergies a couple months back, so going to Anthony’s Homeport in Bellingham, even though we’d previously had good luck with the place, was a little worrisome.  I brought an index card listing all of my major food allergies (soy, eggs, dairy, shellfish, tomatoes), ordered off the gluten-free menu, and stressed the importance of my food being safe to the waitress.  Everything seemed fine.  But later that night the unmistakable, makes–me-feel-like-I’m-going–to-end-up-doubled-up stomach pain kicked in.  Glutened again.

I’d been feeling kind of blue the last couple of weeks about the fact that going out to eating (whether at restaurants or even a friend’s house) really isn’t an options; my list of food foes is too long and the risk is too great.  The funny thing is that even though my latest glutening dashed my dreams of eating out, I also don’t feel like I’m missing out anymore.  Sure, I’d love to go out to a nice restaurant during the holidays but one evening out is not worth the stomach pain (that, at the moment, has been going strong for a solid week and a half).          

Guess this means that my New Year’s goal of learning to cook more recipes (hopefully trying a new one or modified version every week) is now even more important.  And, since Mr. Munger is back in the area again, I have another person to take me grocery shopping (grocery stores are dangerous due to peanuts so I have to take someone with me) and someone to help remind me of all the good tasting food that I can still eat.

Glutened Again: The Magic of Ice Cream

Ice creamWhile my neighbors take advantage of a cooler summer day by having a garage sale and the kids ride bikes in the afternoon sun, the ice cream man is serenading the local residents with tinny versions of “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”  Perhaps he’s trying to tempt us with the idea of all the magic and wonder of the holidays being wrapped into one overpriced little ice cream cone.

A bowl of French vanilla ice cream may not posses the same level of wonder that Christmas morning holds for a sugar-high five-year-old running on no sleep, but for those of us with celiac (an autoimmune disease that makes my body respond to even the slightest amount of gluten  the way other people’s bodies’ might react to being literally poisoned) ice cream is a huge comfort.

And I don’t mean “comfort food” in that handkerchiefs scattered all over the room kind of way, although it’s definitely been known to double as a companion for those times too, but it works to sooth my poor little inner organs after they’ve been abused by gluten.

My sister, Shannon, and I were glutend a couple of days ago.  We’d gone out to eat at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Seattle, careful ordered off the “gluten-free” menu, nicely questioned the server about each of the dishes, and our meals had even come with little flags planted in our pasta claiming the meal was free of all unwanted gluten.  But thanks to cross-contamination issues, we both still ended up feeling pretty crummy.  That’s where the ice cream comes in.

I’ve always tried to be sparing when it came to ice cream and just desserts in general, but the fiancé was worried so he brought Shannon and I each our own container.  And I ate my entire tub of gluten-free, sugar-free ice cream over the course of two days.  Boy oh boy did it make a difference though.  Whenever my insides would begin feeling like they were being barbecued and gored alive, I’d slowly suck on some of the soothing ice cream.  It never made the pain go away completely, but it would help me to go from feeling like I was going to spend the day doubled-up in a corner crying to feeling uncomfortable and out of it.  An almost miraculous transformation.  Ice cream is always helpful, but if gluten had been an actual ingredient (rather than cross-contamination) it wouldn’t have been able to help as much.

Sometimes I’m asked what kind of medicine I take after being glutened, but there really aren’t any meds that would help.  But ice cream, providing I have a decent (or perhaps indecent) amount and the gluten-ing isn’t too sever, works pretty well.  Perhaps the ice cream man is right, maybe when it’s needed ice cream really is magical.

What do you find to be the most helpful after you’ve been accidentally glutened?

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The Old Spaghetti Factory: Is it Really "Gluten-Free?"

Spaghetti FactoryMy community college’s radio program just had their end of the year banquet and award ceremony  for all of the radio students from the last school year and, to my surprise, I actually won a certificate of achievement for “excellence in broadcasting.”  While I enjoyed my AM radio class I was only able to take one before completing my two-year transfer degree (going to the University of Washington in the fall), so I was so surprised to win something.

As with most events, food played a key part in the festivities and the banquet was held at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Seattle.  It’s a restaurant I’d never been to before, but I’d heard generally good things about it and according to their website they offered a complete gluten-free menu.  My sister Shannon (who also is gluten-free) and I even got a cutesy little “gluten-free” flag (note the pic) planted right in the middle of our pasta.

Unfortunately, despite the “gluten-free” menu, talking about each option with the server, and the nifty little flag, Shannon and I both ended up getting glutened.  We were there right at dinnertime and because we were a part of a banquet, the kitchen and wait staff were going a million miles an hour.  It was the perfect setting to have someone forget to wash their hands before making my food, to use the same serving spoon that they had already used with the gluten pasta, or not be careful enough with a crumbly piece of bread.

Perhaps The Spaghetti Factory was having an off day due to the number of people they were feeding.  I don’t know.  It was odd though that both Shannon and I ended up getting sick  when we’d both ordered different things off the “gluten-free” menu.  When my future mother-in-law found out about our most recent glutening, she said that a young lady she knows never goes there because every time she’s been to the Spaghetti Factory in Seattle she’s gotten sick due to gluten.              

To their credit, I loved the general atmosphere of the restaurant and the servers were friendly; if I didn’t have celiac I’d totally go back.   I’m glad that I went to the banquet so that I could see everyone and be there to accept my certificate, but I wish I would’ve packed my own dinner.  I appreciate the fact that they’re trying to be accommodating to their gluten-free guest. Unfortunately, due to the seriousness of celiac disease, “trying” isn’t good enough because now Shannon and I will be sick for a couple of days. 

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Gluten-Free Living: What the Menu Isn’t Telling You

Eating outI used to blindly walk into an unfamiliar restaurant with my fingers thoroughly crossed in the hopes that there was something on the menu I could eat without too much modification.  And then I’d see it.  That small little asterisk in the corner of the menu indicating that they served gluten-free bread.  I’m safe here!  They know how to feed me!  I’d breath a sigh of relief.

As I later discovered though, I was wrong.  Those little notes on the menu or that the cute little homemade “It’s gluten-free!” sign can’t always be trusted.  Sometimes, even my favorite little indie restaurants don’t have a clue.

A little sandwich shop with their grandma’s-kitchen theme made me completely drop my guard once I saw those six deceptive words: “gluten-free bread available upon request.”  Perhaps it was the partly due to the homey tone of the place, but I felt like these folks most know how to take care of me.  So I ordered fried eggs and gluten-free toast (not something I’d order now, thanks to my egg allergy).  It wasn’t until I was getting up to leave that I realized these well-intended people had thrown my bread right into the same crumb-filled, gluten-infested toaster as everyone else’s.  And, without knowing it, they’d put my health in danger.

Even one of my very favorite indie coffee shops is guilty of a similar offense.  I know the manager by name and every Monday a group of friends and I meet there for a few games of Apples to Apples.  They care about their customers and the quality of their products, but that doesn’t mean they know the first thing about gluten.  In fact, the “gluten-free” cookies were made on a wooden cutting board and on the counter right next to a pizza and a couple of sandwiches (all major don’ts due to cross-contamination).  It might be wheat-free, but it’s not really gluten-free.  And it’s not safe.

Yesterday, while on the bus, I ended up talking with the manager at a new little diner that just opened.  He was more than happy to talk about his restaurant, even informing me that he’d tried offering gluten-free bread for a while.  It was no longer on the menu though because it hadn’t sold enough.  “But you could order something in a wrap,” he said very sincerely, “because that would have less gluten.” Less?  But I can’t even have a crumb!

Anyone who tries to sell me on a wheat flour wrap because it has “less gluten” doesn’t know nearly enough about celiac disease for me to feel comfortable with them feeding me.  I don’t think any of these independent businesses are intentionally misleading their customers; like a lot of people, they just don’t understand.

I’ve eaten at some wonderful, extremely careful indie restaurant run by people who go out of their way to keep me safe, but because not every place is like that we have to do some investigating because anyone can write “gluten-free” on cardstock or buy a loaf of bread.

By Kelsey Hough.   All rights reserved.  Contact me for reprint permission by leaving a comment bellow or follow me on Facebook.  

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Gluten-Free Dining: Indian Food

Unlike a lot of  typical “American” dishes that are centered primarily around wheat, a lot of Indian dishes are naturally gluten-free because of the focus on rice.  I also find that Mexican food (providing you stay clear of the flour tortillas) and sea food (as long as you avoid the breaded options) also tend to have a decent number of naturally gluten-free options on the menu (or you can checkout a cookbook).  The trick to eating out: try restaurants where wheat isn’t the center stage of every dish.    

I’ve found that even if an Indian restaurant doesn’t have a specific gluten-free menu, there are still usually a lot of options available.  And if you have any doubts about what you can eat, just ask the waiter or call ahead of time. 

I went out to a little local Indian restaurant, the East India Grill, with the boyfriend to celebrate spring break and that I’d finished my two-year transfer degree at community college—University of Washington, here I come!

I had lamb with curry (featured in the second picture) and he had a chicken and curry dish (feature in the first picture). Both were quite tasty and the presentation was lovely (the food is put in a metal bowl over a candle to keep in warm).  Due to the wonderful flavors and the amount of food I can actually eat, Indian food has become one of my favorite types of food when eating out.

Happy (and safe) dinning!

Gluten-Free Dining: Anthony’s Homeport

DSCN1559Recently, in honor of my 25th birthday, I went to Anthony’s Homeport at Pier 66 in Seattle (there are several different locations in the Puget Sound).  I’m madly in love with sea food and Anthony’s has a gluten-free menu, so going there makes me a very happy camper.  It’s also right by the water, which is definitely a plus. 

I ordered Cajon prawns with red potatoes and asparagus on the side.  Yum!  Now I want to learn how to make Cajon red potatoes.  It was amazing; I couldn’t have been happier with my meal and the view of the waterfront was beautiful.  And the fact that there was a specific gluten-free menu, made me feel so much safer dinning out.     

For some reason the gluten-free menu doesn’t seem to be listed on the website (check out the website for locations), so if you want to know specifically what is available just call ahead of time.  I had to call Anthony’s back around Christmas to make dinner reservations and the staff was very helpful.  They serve slightly different things based on if you’re going during lunch or dinner, but there are gluten-free menus with several delicious options for both meals. 

The only downside to Anthony’s is that it’s a bit more than I’d usually like to spend on a meal ($10 – $15 for lunch and $20 – $25 for dinner), so I only go once in a while for special occasions like Christmas Eve or my birthday.  If you’re in the Puget Sound, though, and are in the mood for some gluten-free sea food, I don’t think you can do better.  Happy (and safe) dining!

Gluten-Free Dining: The Rock Wood Fired Pizza

DSCN1350Mr. M, the boyfriend, and I went to The Rock Wood Fired Pizza as a belated Valentine’s Day outing (he also gave me pasta!).  He loves to eat out for special occasions but, thanks to my various food foes, I find the whole idea of strangers feeding me … well …  pretty scary. 

In order to keep me from getting glutened and still be able to have a dinner date sometimes, we’ve discovered that looking restaurants up online is really helpful.  Sometimes, though, places will have gluten-free options available but it won’t say anything about it on the website (perhaps because it varies based on the location?). 

The Rock didn’t say anything on their site, but when Mr. M called we found that I could actually get any nine inch personal pizza gluten-free!  The moral of the story: call ahead.    I ordered the “Yellow Brick Road” (basically just a Hawaiian), which was really good.  The only downside is that $13 is kind of pricy for a personal pizza (my pizza was $10 with a $3 fee for the gluten-free crust), but it is nice to have the option of going out for gluten-free pizza.

To find locations in your area or to see the menu, check out the website.  And remember, call ahead of time!  Happy (and safe) dining!

Gluten-Free Dining: Red Robin

DSCN1326Whether you’re gluten-free or have a collection of food allergies, eating out can be a pain (literally).  When I found out that I couldn’t have gluten/wheat or beef anymore, I thought my gourmet hamburger days were over.  But, thanks to Red Robin, it appears I was wrong.

Red Robin has several allergen-specific menus that tell you exactly what you can and can’t eat.  Just inform your waiter of your specific food foe and ask to see the appropriate menu.  Don’t be embarrassed, lots of people have to ask for the special menus.  And your dining experience will be much safer and less stressful if you’re not just guessing and hoping things are actually gluten-free, peanut-free, or whatever you need them to be. 

I ordered a grilled turkey burger, without the chipotle mayo (it has gluten), and on a gluten-free bun (there was a $1 fee but it was definitely worth it).  And, instead of fries, I ordered broccoli.  The gluten-free menu says that the fries do not contain any gluten ingredients but that there might be cross contamination with the fryer at some of their restaurants.  If you want to go with fries, just be sure to ask your server if they use a separate fryer for the fries and whether there could be cross contamination.

The gluten-free buns aren’t available at every Red Robin, so you might want to call ahead or you can always get a lettuce wrap.  I couldn’t have been happier with my order.  The bun was soft and the patty was well flavored.  It was perfect.

Hamburger and chicken patties as well as salads are also available gluten-free with minor alterations.  Check out Red Robin’s gluten-free menu online.  Happy (and safe) dining!