The Philadelphia Gluten-Free Potluck Meetup Group joined with the Greater Berks County Gluten Free Social and Support group (and unofficially the Gluten-free in Delaware County Meetup group, since we have three crossover members!) for lunch at Tomato Bistro
at 102 Rector Street Philadelphia's Manyunk neighborhood (19127) for pizza and fun yesterday. We had a good time as always, laughing, sharing and talking about FOOD! Thanks to Jessie and Cathy for organizing, and thanks to Cathy for always remembering to take pics (and I'm sorry I didn't remember to offer to take one with her in it again this time.)
Corley came along (he LOVES pizza), and even though he got his very own whole gluteny pie, I did ask him on camera what he thought of the gf white pizza. Short and sweet, here it is.
I enjoyed the pizza, and it was fun being with a group of gf folks so we could order a bunch of different kinds and all get to try them. The pies are decidedly gourmet. The one that I didn't try had duck on it, and we had a fig and bacon sans the bacon, a margarita pizza, a veggie pie that we made up (asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, onions and some other stuff) and a fancy white pizza. It was all very good, but I especially appeciated the care they took in preparing and serving it to avoid cross-contamination with glutenous pies. They even brought out never-been-used-before disposable pizza cutters for us to us (I brought one home, so maybe not so disposable.) Oh, and the salad was delish!
One challenge my family has is deciding where to eat out as a family. The boys' favorite place is Olive Garden because of the endless breadsticks and salad in addition to a big serving of cheesy pasta. Olive Garden does have a gf menu, but frankly their gf vegetarian pasta options are nothing I want to spend $10 on, and so when we go there I eat copious salad with dressing on the side and wish I had better gf options. Corley allowed that Tomato Bistro would definitely be a place he would be open to going out to eat at with the family (Jules Thin Crust Pizza most definitely DID NOT get that vote -- the pizzas were too skimpy and fancy for my voracious and basic pizza eating kids), so that is truly a ringing endorsement.
A final word is that I actually like the crust at Seasons and Uno's Chicago Grill better, but family experiences at both weren't that great and they didn't get the "Best Place to Take a Mixed Gluten Requirement Family Award." I'm not sure Tomato Bistro will get that award either (eating with a family in Manyunk has challenges that are not related to Tomato Bistro at all, like crowds and parking), but it's definitely still in the running. All in all, a nice and delicious outing at a place that really knows how to take care of its celiac and gluten intolerant customers. [Oh, and Sunday Nights are Gluten Free Nights at TB -- I'll have to check it out sometime!]
May is Celiac Awareness Month. For my part, I'm GIVING AWAY electronic copies of my new cookbooklet, So What CAN You Eat? Gluten-Free Paleo Vegan (mostly) Recipes for Health and Weight Loss
. (It'll be for sale at the Amazon Kindle Store later today.) It has 19 fast, easy, nutritious, gluten-free recipes plus tips and strategies to support healthy living.To receive a copy, sign up for my mailing list at the home page
of the website and you'll receive an email with the link for the download. In addition, I will be doing a guest "blog" later in the month at http://iamjtheblog.wordpress.com/
. More details to follow.
Also in honor of Celiac Awareness Month, I invited GFDougie to write my first ever guest blog post. Dougie and I met via Twitter. His celiac history is very different from mine and his story of being a non-compliant celiac kid gives me empathy for my own kids who are growing up with their own special variety of "different." Good day to you. I’m going to take you on a personal journey of the how and why a kid blatantly cheats with gluten while having been diagnosed with celiac disease. I hope this personal journey will help you understand what you can do to help support and educate a celiac kid live gluten-free; and likewise, a celiac kid to gain the mental tools of fortitude and strength to obtain the courage to lead a gluten-free lifestyle.
At the time of this writing, I’m in my 40’s. Where has the time gone? It seems just yesterday I was a kid in Elementary and Middle School! A kid that was diagnosed with celiac disease at just under the age of six – quite a remarkable short time-frame for United States’ celiac disease diagnosis average!
It is yesterday and I remember the slamming of the locker doors, the blackboard and the chalk, and the lunch room smells. Oh the lunch room smells – a mixture of putrid yet palatable flavors hanging in the air. Being a celiac kid, I of course brought my lunch from home. The usual fare is peanut butter and crackers, an apple, and Kool-Aid. Oh there were other variations of lunch from home, but this one stands out as I usually started gagging the second cracker “sandwich” down as the crackers were so dry. I remember being tired of living as a kid with celiac, being different, and being made fun of for the strange lunches I brought to school. How do I fit in better with the other kids? Cheat and eat wheat! I’m no longer different as I eat “mystery meat,” cheese pizza, chicken-fried steak, yellow cake, and peanut butter cookies. Even though I ate breakfast at home, breakfast at school is better! Honey Grahams brand cereal is a favorite of mine. Because I’m eating like them, I’m included with the other kids now. I’m accepted.
I remember cheating with gluten in spurts throughout my young life. Why? One major factor was social acceptance. Social acceptance and peer pressure among kids are a strong force to reckon with. Differences are not tolerated and are made fun of. Conformity with other kids is the on-ramp to the highway of acceptance. Another major factor was convenience. Convenience and gluten-free mealtime do not equate. It’s just a fact of reality. Special foods can’t be picked up just anywhere, enduring the pre-assembly of food combinations so dry items don’t get soggy, and eating everything homemade instead of from the vending machine like everyone else. A third major factor is the quality of the gluten-free food. To say the least – crumbly and grainy texture, bland flavor, and sub-par food product structure are nice words and phrases to describe gluten-free food at the time. Why go through all this mental upheaval and hassle when a normal meal is waiting for me at the school lunchroom counter?
As a celiac kid in K-12 public schools, I was not as educated as thoroughly as I should’ve been in regard to what celiac disease actually is. As a kid, I just thought gluten got trapped in your small intestine and other nutrients didn’t get absorbed as a result of the gluten being trapped in the small intestine; yet if I ate salads and other fiber and roughage, the gluten would get “scraped off”my small intestinal walls. While the former part of the last sentence is true, the latter is definitely not! This thought process, however, gave me license to continue my cheating ways with gluten throughout my childhood.
A celiac kid has a lot of hurdles to overcome to successfully eat gluten-free. Of course there are the physical environment and the education hurdles of celiac disease. Just as a celiac adult has to watch out for gluten cross-contamination and ingredients, celiac kids also have these same hurdles. Other hurdles are the psychological and the emotional ones for celiac kids. Taking on the grown-up responsibility of managing a gluten-free diet as a celiac kid is a very tall order. A very strong sense of discipline, high self-esteem, and education of what celiac disease is needs to be instilled in the psychological and emotional make up of a celiac kid. In my opinion, I don’t believe I received these mental tools early enough in my childhood. That said it’s never too late to learn these tools and apply them in relation to a gluten-free diet no matter what the age of the celiac person.
As a postscript, I would like to state for the record I do not advocate cheating on a gluten-free diet if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease at any age. In my experience, I was lucky (or unlucky) not to have experienced some of the debilitating symptoms one can have in regard to celiac disease. Sure, I had constipation, diarrhea, and other symptoms, but at that time in my life those celiac disease symptoms didn’t seem serious enough to permanently stop me from ingesting gluten. My most apparent symptom in regard to celiac disease at that time was Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH). Even that celiac disease symptom wasn’t enough of a deterrent for me to stop ingesting gluten at the time. That said today I’m a healthy, gluten-free celiac disease survivor. I’m thankful for each day I survive gluten-free. My mantra – Gluten-free one day at a time! I'm learning.
Research, educate, and advocate all celiac and gluten-free – and Celiac Disease Awareness for May.
Peace be with you.
Diagnosed with celiac under the age of six years old, Dougie has had a lifetime of learning to live gluten-free. He spent many years on the fringes of gluten-free compliance. Now in his 40’s, Dougie has learned a lot in regard to symptoms, hidden ingredients, and what “not to do” in regard to living with celiac and being gluten-free. He is a regular as GFDougie
in the gluten-free Twitter-verse, offering tips, advice, support and encouragement. His blog, Gluten Free Tip
also offers successful hints, recipes, and products in regard to celiac disease. Read is full bio here
Technology is amazing.
And to answer a couple of questions:
1) Is the kitchen at the top of my website my actual kitchen?
Yes it is! Well, in my mind anyway. Got to have something to shoot for, right? My current kitchen is featured in the video below.
2) What kind of camera do I use for my videos?
Camera, shamera. It's my iPhone! I can upload directly to YouTube. Amazing.
3) Why haven't I figured out to turn the phone sideways so that it's oriented on the screen correctly?
Ah, but I have! I just haven't demonstrated my learning. Plus I need to do an experiment to figure out which way to turn it so that I don't do a video all upside down.
4) What editing software do I use?
None! You'll note that they are all expertly done in one take. If I really goof up, I start over. It's sort of the difference between stage and screen. No telling what kind of excitement might unfold in this "live" format!
5) Is this all I do all day?
No! Not yet, anyway. Mostly I go to a day job and then I spend meaningful time with my family on the evenings and weekends! And I work out! But still, I want to do this more.
Thanks for visiting!
Oh, and check out my video tips on how to live happy and gluten free even if you share your space with gluten-eaters.
I ate at Philadelphia Chutney Company
for the first time months ago. The pictures here are from my lunch outing with my friend Kathy. I fully intended to blog about it right away, but I did experience some GI system distress later that day, so I decided to wait until I'd eaten there again before I made my call on whether to encourage other gluten free folks to eat there.
I've recently lunched there twice more, introducing the place to a different friend each time. On every visit I've asked the person at the counter to direct me to a gluten-free option, and each time the person has answered with confidence that ALL of the dosas (including the vegetarian chicken -- soy) are gluten-free. I had googled the restaurant beforehand and read about other people's positive experiences, and I'm pleased to report that they seem to be the real GF deal. [Between my first visit and my second, I got seriously glutened -- see this blog post for details
-- so now I have a real benchmark for what accidental gluten exposure does to my system.]
I've tried something different each time: First visit was #2 Old School Masala Dosa with a tomato chutney -- masala being the potato filling, and dosa being the wrap made from rice and lentil flours. The second time I had the #6 Grilled Portobello Mushroom, Spinach and Roasted Onions with Goat Cheese with a masala base and a coconut chutney, and the third time I had the #10 Spinach and Balsamic Roasted Onion with the masala base with both a coconut and a curry chutney. I meant to order the #6 without cheese (I'm in the middle of a detox, after all, and I'm not a big goat cheese fan) but the place was busy and I wanted to visit with my friend Debbie rather than spend time sending the food back when it arrived with cheese on it. It was SO GOOD! Of the three, it was my favorite. I do want to try it without the cheese to see if I like it as well (or almost as well.) All three items I've tried were delicious. The masala base is tasty on its own, but my advice is to get a dosa with it AND some of their add-ins. And try the different chutneys -- all three I've tried were interesting and truly enhanced the experience. And my three non-GF friends really liked it too. Kathy, Debbie and Amanda, let's do it again sometime!
And take a look at the SIZE of the dosa! And CHEAP! The Old School Masala is only $6, and the ones with all the stuff are only $7! An interesting gluten-free Center City Philadelphia business lunch for $7! I did add a bottle of water, but still I was in and out of there for under $10.
Eat there. Go there today. You'll have to wait a couple of minutes while they prepare your food. TOTALLY WORTH THE WAIT. Do this. Thank me later.
Burger King recently got some press for the roll-out of their new French fry, which is gluten-free. This is different than McDonald's, whose fries are neither gluten-free or vegetarian, which sort of boggles my mind. Even with GF fries, some folks are apprehensive about the fries because of issues of cross-contamination. Apparently there are some BK's that dedicate a fries-only fryer and who are very conscientious. That is great news! However, I feel like I need to share my story from the inside of the fast food world.
I worked as a manager of a Roy Rogers restaurant (remember them?) in the early 1990’s. It was the worst job I’ve ever had, but I did get some amazingly funny anecdotes that I still get to tell, and I got a huge insight into race and class issues, and techniques used for getting over on one’s employer (my employess enlightened me on the many ways they could steal food and money!). Now that I have to navigate a gluten-free existence, working at Roy’s was a gift in that I gathered loads of data on ways that food prep in the fast food world can lead to cross contamination. As a result, I will never eat at a burger-and-fry-centric fast food place again.
First, I have to note that I was in my 20’s and to my eye at the time, the food wasn’t that unhealthy (my 48-year-old eye has a different opinion, of course.) The chicken was just chicken and we had a dedicated staff person whose sole job was to bread and fry it all day and evening long. If the restaurant was slow some evening, we did let it sit in the warming window longer than company specifications allowed, but I wasn’t allowed to give it to the co-workers (lest they start over producing in order to get the food themselves), so we would have to throw it away and we had to count the waste at the end of the shift, which counted against me as the manager who made the call on how much chicken to make. The burgers were just ground meat (albeit already formed into patties and frozen for shipping). Sausage and bacon was the same as in the grocery store. The rolls came on big racks every other day and looked exactly the same as rolls I bought at the time for home consumption. The fries just looked like potatoes to me (the more I read about fast food fries now, I wonder what the heck was really in them). We cut up tomatoes and lettuce and onions every morning and afternoon for use on the fixin’s bar and for tossed salads. The biscuits were hand mixed and rolled (breakfast) or scooped (lunch and dinner) all day long. The oil in the fryers was vegetable oil that we cleaned daily and changed on a regular schedule.
Some items were pre-fab: The roast beef came pre-cooked, but we sliced it down wafer thin and heated it in pre-packaged au jus for the roast beef sandwiches. The chicken breasts for chicken sandwiches came frozen with char lines painted on. The instructions were to microwave them, but I would throw mine on the 2-sided grill and drop the platen on it for a few seconds to heat them through for a more tender offering. The chicken nuggets and fried chicken patties and hash browns all came frozen and were fried in the same fryers as the French fries. The eggs for scrambling came out of a carton. The pancakes came pre-made and were microwaved in their plastic clamshells.
I was 28, a middle class, college educated lesbian. The store was located at Broad and Snyder near a subway stop and a public high school and two hospitals in South Philadelphia. South Philly is a melting pot of races and cultures, but for the most part, though I lived just a few blocks away, I was not a typical denizen of the hood. I supervised a 65-year-old Cambodian lady for whom English was almost non-existent. She made great biscuits and introduced me to a funny kind of broom that was great for cleaning under tables that the company told me to get rid of but which we kept using anyway. I had two shift supervisors. One was a 55-year-old hard-living alcoholic who would blow her paycheck on booze every Friday night and show up first thing Saturday morning looking all askew in her clothes from the day before, and I was always so grateful to have her there (running short-handed on the weekend was the pits!) My other shift supervisor was a 16-year-old over-achiever who got straight A’s at Girls High. I supervised work-release inmates, budding mobsters, moms who had 5 kids, and a few men in their 20’s who had no real skills and no real promise for a better life.
My motto for my shifts was “Make every item as if you were preparing it for your grandmother,” or “Clean the dining room/bathroom as if your favorite aunt were coming to visit.” This resonated with some, but frankly, not everyone has the gene for good service. And as the manager, especially in a shop where labor hours were carefully watched, I’d end up at a station, like the cash register, for long stretches, so it was hard to keep an eye on what was going on behind the line in the food prep area all the time.
I give all that background to note the huge disconnect between a company’s policies around food handling and the realities of food prep at the actual store. If I worked at Roy’s under the same conditions today and they told me to dedicate a fries-only fryer in order to not cross-contaminate the oil, I would not have any confidence that when the restaurant was busy that a co-worker wouldn’t drop a load of fries into the contaminated fryer to speed things up. Fries are way more popular than nuggets or chicken sandwiches, and the line is long, and who’s really going to know, right? And what about the fry baskets? If a co-worker accidentally pours a bag of frozen fries into the nuggets basket causing cross-contamination, they are not going to throw all of those out on the off-chance that someone with a gluten issue might wander in. And then, depending on where they end up frying them, they’ve just contaminated either that load of fries or the whole gf-dedicated fryer, the warming bin for cooked fries, and the fry scoop.
And as far as items from the grill, I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t be cross-contaminated. At the very minimum, an employee can get fresh gloves and a clean spatula and maybe even wipe down the grill, but midday cleaning of a hot grill in my experience was either just scraping grease into the grease trough with the same spatula or maybe pouring seltzer water over the grill and then scraping it down. Even if bread is not ever technically on the grill, spatula contact from burger to bun is how it’s done. And, as with my chicken breast sandwich prep for personal consumption, I’m living proof that employees don’t always follow company regulations.
In my restaurant, the veggie prep area was separate from all of the chicken breading and biscuit making and hot food cooking, so it would have been the zone least likely to experience cross-contamination. Not all restaurants have that luxury of space, so I wouldn’t count salads as a sure bet, but I suppose I might gamble and eat a tossed salad from a fast food place if I really had to, as long as it didn’t have croutons and the dressing came in a packet with a list of ingredients (or no dressing all together.)
So, in the end, I applaud any corporate efforts to accommodate the needs of gf patrons. Even if I don’t believe I can eat safely in these restaurants and cannot recommend that anyone with celiac disease eat there either, they are raising awareness both with their employees and the general public about gluten issues.
Until yesterday, if you'd asked me what happens to my system if I accidentally eat gluten was, "Oh, I'm pretty lucky. I just get a little gassy." And then I ate eggs at a diner for lunch two days ago.
The diner didn't demonstrate any actual knowledge of gf food handling, and there weren't too many interesting choices on the menu. I decided to risk it and have a spinach and roasted pepper omelette. This was the only meal I'd not prepared for myself for several days, so when my stomach upset began, I zeroed in on the omelette as the culprit pretty quickly.
And the stomach upset quickly turned to diarrhea which turned into excruciating abdominal pain that had me doubled over, shaking, vomiting and crying. Oh. My. God. It was terrible. After a couple of hours, the episode passed, though I'm still feeling the lingering effects today.
I don't blame the restaurant. I was careless and knowingly took a gamble. Now that I know just exactly what can happen, I will not make that mistake again.
And, because I try to find the gift as well as the lesson in everything, this episode reminded me how lucky I am to have such a terrific spouse who took care of me and sat by me even when all there was to do was to put another blanket over me or rinse out the bedroom waste basket. I am truly blessed.
I love my family. I'm thrilled that they don't have medically restricted diets. I love them so much that I don't wish for them to eat gluten-free. They love me, and they don't want me to get sick from accidental gluten exposure. We've created systems for our kitchen that keeps everyone healthy and happy. I've just uploaded a new YouTube video called Happy and Gluten-free tips in a Non-Gluten-Free Kitchen
about staying gluten-free in a non-gluten-free kitchen. I did the video to show what it looks like in real life. The uptake is:
1. Segregate your foods so that no one mistakes your peanut butter with their peanut butter.
2. Designate the GF cooking utensils, not because utensils don't get un-gluteny when you wash them, but because having a unique style spatula or spoon is a great way to remember which to use when you have both gluten-free and gluten-full foods cooking on the stove at the same time.
3. Be careful, but don't make yourself crazy. I make sandwiches for the boys' lunch every school day morning on paper towels on the counter. After I'm done, I wipe the space down with a Clorox wipe and when I make my lunch, I don't do it right on the counter. I use a plate or a cutting board or whatever.
Figure out what systems will work for you. Eat safe, be happy!
Like Whole Foods, it looks like someone in the back room of Trader Joe's is hand-making gluten-free shelf tags. Whole Foods actually has way more GF products that TJ's, and for way more money. TJ's has products that look like they should be free of gluten but which have a suspicious-sounding CYA disclaimer about the possibility of allergen sneaking its way into the product. Even the GF markings on some products are accompanied by the statement "No gluten-containing ingredients," which is different than making a gluten-free claim and which leaves the door ajar for worrying about possible contamination.
All that said, the pre-fab Indian food pouches at TJ's are inexpensive and tasty, so I buy them despite all that. And I'm glad they now carry Udi's, though the price is just as high as everywhere else.
So I ate a little more of that trail mix today -- maybe half a cup, no biggie. I felt very celiac-y within the hour. The mix has white chocolate chips, and now I read that some white chocolate has flour, some doesn't. I got this stuff from Nuts to You, no labels. The place is probably the poster site for gluten contamination.
Lessons of the day #1: Don't eat food from Nuts to You.
Lesson of the day #2: Don't trust white chocolate. Rats.
I went to see the nutritionist yesterday. The experience was less than satisfying. First of all, I hate it when I tell people I'm vegetarian and they continue to talk about meat. For example, she noted that I should be sure to tell wait staff at restaurants to please ask the kitchen to prepare my bunless hamburger on a part of the grill that has been used to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Sure, it's solid advice, and I can extend that to "don't let them fix my eggs where they make french toast and pancakes," but still. It just makes me think she wasn't really listening to me.
Her answers to my questions:
Do I need to be really worried about cross-contamination with utensils? No, just wash them well. (I still have doubts because so much of what I have read says to take great care in this area.)
What about supplements? Take a good multivitamin and take extra calcium and vitamin D. What about B vitamins? Oh, just make sure that they are in your multivitamin. (In my opinion, I get enough calcium from leafy greens and vitamin D from the sun, at least right now, but that I have no visible source of B vitamins.)
Recommendation for a brand of supplements that are GF? Oh, just research it on-line.
What about foods the TJ's foods that say that they are made with care but that they make no promises? Whole Foods has a better selection.
Anything you recommend? There's a really great cereal. Ammar... something in a big green bag. Really tasty. We got it at Whole Foods for my father.
Any other advice? Breakfasts out are hard. You should take your own box of gluten-free cold cereal when you travel.
In the venn diagram of my vegetarian-GF-booze-free chocolate-free eat-to-live diet, I think I will have to become my own expert.