Mixed Vegetable Panang Curry with Tofu from Bangkok Cuisine
I recently attended a four-day Xocai Healthy Dark Chocolate
convention at the Atlantis Resort and Casino in Reno, NV. Before heading there, I introduced myself over the phone to chefs Bob and Dennis, who gave me tips in navigating the conference culinary offerings, and where I would have the best chance for success in the half dozen or so restaurants that are part of the casino. They were both very nice, and I did enjoy a nice conference salad one day. However, I mostly relied on provisions of apples, oranges, bananas and raisins as well as carrots and hummus from the grocery store across the street, and the powdered peanut butter and gf amaranth rolls I brought from home. And let's not forget the Xocai protein shake! One of my roommates brought her bullet blender, so breakfast was a snap.But of course there were opportunities to eat out. One evening we wanted to eat al fresco -- a natural result of having been inside a casino meeting room all day when the weather outside was sunny and 80. We lucked into the Great Basin Brewing Company, having picked it on the basis that they had outdoor seating. It was a short cab ride from the resort and they had a fairly well-endowed gluten-free menu (though I thought it strange that they didn't appear to carry any gf beers.) I enjoyed the La Flaca Rice Bowl sans chips, which was essentially rice and beans with a spicy salsa, topped with avocado. It was just what I needed and it really hit the spot! The service was a bit on the slow side, but we WERE a party of eight, so I will not judge them on their usual service time based on our experience. Our server was delightful, attentive and very helpful. Sadly, I've forgotten her name.The next night we decided to eat out again, and so I set out to find something interesting that could meet the needs of our group. Usiing UrbanSpoon.com, I spotted Bangkok Cuisine, which was also a short cab ride from the Atlantis. I called in advance and learned that they didn't have a gluten-free menu but that they could easily and safely accommodate me.
When we arrived, Veronica our server was super helpful and guided me through their extensive menu. Our group of eight decided to do a family-style meal sharing, but I kept mine separate until I'd filled my plate then put it on the go-around with the other dishes. I had the mixed vegetable coconut soup -- spicy, light and refreshing -- and the mixed vegetable panang curry over rice. No problem with the service here -- the food came out quite fast. There is nothing like fresh and authentic Thai food to really buoy my spirits, not that they were low, but I just hadn't had Thai food other than Pei Wei (a chain restaurant that is owned by the same people who run PF Chang's) since my celiac diagnosis. Who knew Reno would be the place for reintroducing me to excellent Thai food?I do want to note that before I went I identified a couple of places to eat that were an easy walk from the casino that looked promising. Zpizza offers a gluten-free crust and delivery, so I would probably have ordered in if I hadn't been traveling with a posse
. The Aroma Club
also had some possibilities, though their hours didn't match well with my free time from the conference.All in all, I had a great trip and was really pleased with my dining out experiences. Thanks, Reno!
La Flaca from Great Basin Brewing Co.
Here's my updated list of restaurant picks for visitors coming to Philadelphia for an event at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. For my day job, I am director of gardening programs at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
(PHS). I work with our community gardens and City Harvest
projects. It is very gratifying to be able to work with Philadelphians to make their neighborhoods and community spaces cleaner, greener, safer, healthier and more vibrant. One way that PHS raises the necessary funds to carry on this important work is to present the Philadelphia International Flower Show
every March. For the staff of PHS, it’s an all-hands-on-deck week-long affair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to ensure that visitors have the best experience possible. The show opens to the public the first Saturday in March, and we expect that more than quarter of a million people will walk through the doors that week.
Statistically speaking, that means more than 3,000 people with celiac and many, many others with gluten sensitivity and allergies will be in attendance as well. Food services at the convention center are handled by Aramark. I usually pack my lunch. I’ve found that trying to buy my lunch there is unsatisfactory from a cost, time, vegetarian and gluten-free perspective. However, if you are planning on visiting the show and have the time to take a little walk, get your hand stamped and check out one of these four really good, inexpensive places you can get an interesting GF lunch or dinner.Mumbai Bistro
at 10th and Locust. I ate there last week, and though they seem to have changed how they mark the GF options on the printed menu, the food on the buffet is clearly marked regarding its gf status. I had a plate of interesting Indian food and a bottle of water for about $6. Can’t beat that! CLOSED ON MONDAYS! That’s gotten me a couple of times.Fuel
at 1221 Walnut Street. I haven’t reviewed it for my blog, but I should! They have an interesting menu, carry GF bread for their sandwiches, and the waiter I had was very well-versed in the steps that they take to avoid gluten cross-contamination. Probably a $10 lunch experience.Philadelphia Chutney Company
at 1628 Sansom: A little further away, but good and interesting and cheap. Also a $10 lunch experience.Mi Lah Vegetarian
on 16th between Locust and Walnut. It’s a little more – probably a $15 – but really amazing and interesting food and they clearly mark what they can make GF. Jenn and I ate there last night and I can’t speak highly enough of the place. Check ‘em out for dinner if you have the inclination. We had a shared appetizer, entrees and a dessert apiece and paid $68 including tax and tip. A splurge for us for sure, but SO GOOD!Georgio on Pine at 1328 Pine Street is a real treat -- a more grown-up experience, so leave more time to bask in the warmth and upscale elegance of the place.
Tell them you are gluten-free and they'll bring you actual delicious locally baked gf bread right to your table. You'll be able to choose pasta or pizza (with Still Riding crust) and more.
There are other higher end places that are worth a look, but I haven’t eaten at them, so I can’t make personal recommendations. I also have write-ups of more than a dozen other Center City restaurants on my Restaurants
page if you are up for a walk or checking out other sites while you are in town. Or get in touch and I can tell you about the restaurants that I've heard great things about but haven't tried yet, like Alma de Cuba. If you have suggestions, leave a comment!
Come look for me at PHS's exhibit at the Show, where I'll be much of the week. And Bon Appétit!
[My next free webinar installment: Office parties, unsupportive family, and more ideas for food! Send me your favorite party or holiday food pics and recipes and I'll feature them. :-) Monday the 22nd at 8 pm Eastern. Register here: http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=E950DF86854731]
1. Rent an apartment with a functioning refrigerator and stove. Having a freezer and oven are great too! We were traveling with another couple, so we got a two bedroom apartment for $1,400 for a full week in the 18th arrondissement, the neighborhood called Montmartre not too far from the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. It was close to two subway stops and an excellent bus line, so even though it wasn’t right across the street from the Louvre, it was easy to get to the places we wanted to go. Plus, it was near cute shops, a grocery store, and had that local neighborhood charm. (We found our place through a friend, but I recommend that you check out Vacation Rental by Owner— www.vrbo.com – to find a place. Make sure it is REALLY two-bedroom though, not one bedroom and a couch in the living room if you need a place that size.) But the key reason the apartment was great was that I could make my own breakfast and pack snacks or an interesting second meal for when we were out and about. My key rule is always know where your next meal or snack is coming from, and when in an unfamiliar city without a great command of the language, having your own food is critical.
2. Request the special meal on the plane, but have your own too. We flew USAir from Philadelphia because we wanted a non-stop flight and they had the best price ($1,000 apiece.) We booked on-line and there is no way with USAir to order a special meal without calling them up. You have to find the secret phone number (the info is here: http://shopping.usairways.com/en-US/traveltools/intheair/foodandbeverages/specialmeals.html). They do offer a gluten-free special meal, but nothing for gluten-free vegetarians, so if you are a vegetarian like me, you will certainly want to pack your own food anyway. On the way there I traded my fish for my friend’s fruit salad. On the way home, I ate the rice but left the chicken breast. The main meal they served, if you are omnivorous, looked pretty good. Their supplemental snack near the end of the flights was a pretty sad affair by anyone’s standards.
3. In addition to your food for the plane, pack gluten-free provisions. I packed plenty of gluten-free on-the-go-type foods in the suitcase that I checked which was great, since navigating label-reading at the grocery store and finding equivalent products the health food store were a bit of a challenge. Udi’s bagels were a must (I also packed my toaster sleeve!) And one thing to note: Parisians apparently don’t eat peanut butter. I finally found it at the health food store Naturalia, but it looked like an import from Germany. Go figure!
4. That said, find the Monoprix (grocery store) and Naturalia and various outdoor markets to see what culinary life in Paris is like, and to buy cheese and veggies etc (Monoprix and markets) and any gluten-free crackers or cereal or whatever to have on hand (Naturalia).
5. Take a cutting board and appropriate utensils. Our apartment was great, but the cutting boards and spoons were all wooden and could have been a big source of cross-contamination. I made due without getting a new cutting board, but I did buy a plastic spatula that I could use on the non-stick pans without worry. I brought it home and now I think of Paris every time I use it.
6. Before you go, get/make a list of gluten-free friendly restaurants by arrondissement, with notes about hours and days, and follow them on Facebook. I didn’t realize until I got there that arrondissement number = zipcode. For example, the Louvre in the 1st arrondissement which is in 75001. This made it much easier to identify our likely lunch or dinner venue based on what we were going to be doing that day. Be sure to double check their hours. Unsurprisingly, their websites and Facebook pages are IN FRENCH, so I goofed a couple of times and took us to restaurants that weren’t open. Since I don’t speak French I was reluctant to call ahead. Get over this fear and save yourself many extra miles on your already tired feet! Carry your list around with you. I'll post my list here soon, I promise!
7. Get a weekly Paris Metro (public transportation) pass. For around 24 euros, you can go everywhere. This gets you to and from your apartment to museums and those far flung gluten-free dining gems. If you are from a city and are familiar with subways, it’s actually easier to use than many. Here’s a website that explains it: http://parisbytrain.com/paris-train-metro-week-pass-navigo-decouverte/
8. Have a plan each day. It’s much less stressful if you know when and where your meals are coming from each day. Even if you don’t decide until the night before or the morning of, have a concrete picture of how you expect to get your nutritional needs met safely. If you don’t plan and get hungry while you are out and about, you are more likely to make risky decisions.
9. Plan for picnics. Paris is loaded with great parks, gardens and random green spaces. Take advantage of them! Be one of those people who lounge about, looking tranquil and eating apple slices with brie and drinking sparkling water. We planned a picnic and happened upon a flash dance mob (that conjures an image, doesn’t it?) Actually we think it was just an outdoor dance rehearsal in a park, but it was fun to watch and a really excellent Paris experience.
10. Take pictures of the food, the place and the menu to help you remember where you had the best success. Post them on-line! Sell your list on Fiverr.com! Tell others in the gluten-free community where you had success so that we can live vicariously through you and we can collectively have pleasantly memorable international travel experience.
The the overnight road trip to AC was all about Corley's 11th birthday. We saw the Amazing Kozak the Magician on Monday night, which was a total homerun. We stayed over at Harrah's and the boys frollicked in the pool for a good portion of the next day.
Culinarily, I sustained myself primarily with apples, reconstituted powdered peanut butter (surprisingly good!) and the Kinnikinnick sandwich bread I reviewed earlier in the week. The family had messy pizza on the boardwalk. For Corley's big birthday lunch, however, we wanted to find a place that would accommodate all of us.
We picked the Rain Forest Cafe
on the boardwalk. It's a theme restaurant with animals that spring to life every 15 minutes and has a passing thunder shower every half hour. Perfect for the younger set! It was listed in Find Me Gluten Free, so I had some hope that we'd be able to craft a palatable meal for me. Upon my announcement of needed a gluten-free dining experience, we were greeted by the chef, who told me to check out the regular menu (they don't have a gf-specific menu) and then he would come talk to me about what he could build to meet my needs and tastes.
The menu is not very vegetarian friendly, which posed a bit of a challenge. I suspect that the chef usually does a gluten-free request by preparing a meaty protein source in a clean pan, with maybe a house salad. The menu contained enough Mexican-y sorts of offerings including tri-color tortilla chips and a black bean-corn salsa thing that I thought I could create an appetizing taco salad sort of thing. In consult with the chef, I learned that their chips aren't gluten-free, and the black bean corn salsa thing was neither vegetarian or gluten-free. I ended up ordering a salad of romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, chopped egg, and unseasoned canned black beans with an underacheiving pico de gallo for a dressing. Not thrilling, but healthy enough, and safely prepared.
We had ordered the Chocolate Volcano birthday dessert for Corley. Fabulous for him (and Jenn and Scott), but inedible for me. I was a little dissappointed that the server didn't attempt to offer me something else. Instead, he brought four plates for us to share the dessert, conveying to me either a complete lack of understanding of the gluten issue, or that he might not have been paying that much attention. I eventually flagged him down for a cup of decaf. It was a total missed opportunity for him to increase the somewhat substantial check. What was nice was that I was only charged $4.49 for my salad -- practically free compared to their other salads. I can handle a less-than-thrilling lunch if I don't have to pay an arm and a leg for it!
My advice for any mid-priced Italian or Mexican restaurant in Atlantic City is to develop a decent gluten-free menu and get the word out about it. There is such a huge opportunity there to serve our community. Whoever leads will be a big winner.
All in all, the trip was terrific. As much as my meal was forgetable, the real memories were in the fun we had as a family and the absolute joy Corley took from this birthday jaunt.
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I made this video when on a trip for work, but I figure it applies if you are traveling for holiday as well, especially if you are traveling somewhere that hasn't reached the enlightened state of the Gluten Free Menu, or you are staying with hosts that mean well but don't quite get it.
1) Plan ahead. How many meals and snacks will you have for the duration? On a scale of 1 - 10, how likely are you to find gluten-free fare while you are gone? The lower the score, the more you need to plan and food you'll need to pack. Will you have easy access to a grocery store where you can pick up items you need?
2) Pack it in. Be sure to take enough food for the trip and for your first meal or snack at your destination so that you have enough time to solidify your plan on arrival.
3) Implement the plan. If you flew to your location and are renting a car, maybe you can stop at a supermarket for the things you'll need before you arrive at your final location. Maybe your mother-in-law will be making a run to the store and you can offer to ride along and then pick up a few things. For the big family meal at a restaurant, suggest a place that you've researched in advance and know has a gf menu. Chain family restaurants like Olive Garden have unthrilling gf menus that can be a definite back-up plan if you don't have a more interesting choice. If the restaurant has already been established, call in advance to discuss your options. Imagine what it will be like to get all of your meals and snacks handled, and if this part is especially challenging, pretend you are a secret agent on a mission to secure the top secret gf packages. Have fun with it! Since you've got a little food on hand that you packed, no need to freak out.
4) Enjoy your stay! Once you are secure in the knowledge that you will be able to eat safely (even if your food choices aren't thrilling, like in my video), then remember the purpose of the trip -- spending time with family, networking, or whatever. Be in the moment and have fun with it. Don't spend a bunch of time being bent out of shape that you have to do all these dietary shinanigans. Life's too short.
Safe travels, and let me know how it goes!
Yes! Candle Cafe
was definitely the culinary highlight of Jenn's and my recent trip to New York. It's a vegan restaurant with a dedicated gf menu
and loads of stuff for the celiac and gluten intolerant crowd. It was an easy walk from the Met, casual enough that our travel-and-museum ensembles of jeans and mostly comfortable shoes were not out of place, but with enough ambiance to befit a date on Saturday night. We arrived at 7:45 pm and though the place was crowded, we lucked into getting a table right away (they don't take reservations.)
I had the Paradise Casserole: "Layers of sweet potato, black beans and millet over steamed greens with country gravy" for $16. With the gravy, it was moist and flavorful and greens were gently prepared and had loads of personality. Jenn ordered the Mediterranian wrap in a whole wheat pita for $14 followed by chocolate mousse pie. The serving sizes were generous, the prices reasonable, the service impecible, and the food was delicious! I highly recommend Candle Cafe East if you are in the vacinity of Central Park. And if you are on the Upper West Side, check out Candle Cafe West, the more swanky cousin of the original Candle Cafe. At least I think they are more swanky -- they take reservations.
I'm starting a new series of posts! I'm sure there are other gf travelers out there who are going the same places and doing the same research, I've had some spotty success in finding a satisfying meal in neighborhoods near tourist attractions. I provided some suggestions about where to eat when visiting the Philadelphia Flower Show
, and this post relays our experiences near our hotel near the World Trade Center. I'm hoping that people like me who are traveling to similar touristy spots will find my info and save a wasted trip to a place that that isn't there or just isn't what you are looking for.
All that said, I always prefer a non-chain restaurant experience when possible. When you have celiac disease, there is some comfort in knowing almost exactly what it will be like when you go out to eat. When I travel though, when at all possible I want to see and do and eat stuff I can't have at home. And if any place has a variety of restaurants that can accommodate special dietary needs, it's New York. Our plan was to take the Staten Island Ferry into the financial district since our hotel was the Millenium Hilton next to the World Trade Center Memorial. We would arrive around lunchtime, and my research did not reveal a lot of choices in that neighborhood that would accommodate. One place, Battery Place Market
, was pretty close and seemed to have gf offerings on their menu, but it was hard to tell from the website and on-line reviews if it would suit. [We checked it out for breakfast the next day. I would LOVE this place if I were in town for an extended stay nearby and I needed to get provisions to keep in my hotel room, but it's not a Yay-we're-in-New-York-Let's-eat-someplace-cool-and-fun experience. It's more of a order-food-from-the-counter-and-eat-it-outside sort of place. The gf offering that I could have gotten that morning was a gf pasta salad from the case, and it was surrounded by gluteny foods. I had a cup of coffee and a Kind Bar.] I found a great review on Celiac Chicks of a place called PizzaBola. Further on-line research revealed that the downtown location had closed. Our real goal for the day was to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not fart around trying to get lunch that I could eat. We did have some food with us (I never travel without, just in case), but we decided that a chain lunch in New York is better than an apple and a Lara Bar.
From our last trip to NY, I'd remembered that there are a plethora of Le Pain Quotidien
restaurants. First of all, it seems just wrong for a celiac to have to go to a restaurant that brags about bread in its name, but I've done pretty well with Au Bon Pain, and chains give a nice predictability, even if it's a novel experience. Second, we were doing our research on the fly with our iPhones, and I have to say the LPQ website is NOT made for the "Let's find one of these places fast" sort of searches. Anyway, we finally found one that was maybe 5 blocks away and which would put us near the subway to the Met.
The day was a little cold and dreary, and the restaurant had a nice, warm, "let's hang out here for awhile" vibe to it. We opted for a table for two instead of the big communal table experience. There were a number of options for me, and I have to confess that I didn't make the vegan choice. I really wanted to try their 6 veggie quiche on a buckwheat crust with a side of salad on the regular menu. The quiche was tasty, the buckwheat crust unremarkable (which was fine with me), the portion size was generous and the salad was fresh and delicious. Jenn reported that she enjoyed her lunch as well. Two less than positive aspects: 1) Our server started out strong but completely ignored us and his other diners from the moment our meals arrived until the moment we walked out the door. I would have ordered coffee and I wanted to try a gf tartine, but the moments ticked on and he didn't return. 2) It was pretty expensive for what we got: Approx $35 for a sandwich, a piece of quiche, iced tea and water. This is likely the New York pricing -- they don't list prices from other cities' LPQ's on the website to compare, so next time I'm near a Philadelphia location I'll take a peek and see how it measures up.
The next day after our visit to Ellis Island and before we hopped on the Staten Island Ferry to begin our return trip, we decided to visit another LPQ location. This time we WERE looking for predictable and relatively fast. From our generally positive menu experience the day before, we knew I could get something else interesting. We went to the location in Battery Park City -- not as warm and squishy feeling, and the place was sparsely populated. We did sit at the big table that time, since it seemed to be the warmest seat in a dining room that was a little chilly. Plus, it was near an electrical outlet and both our cell phones needed a little goosing.
This time I ordered the organic black bean hummus with avocado and spicy tahini on a gf tartine, which was vegan. A non-gf tartine is a sort of stiff regular bread, and the sandwiches are served open faced. You pick them up and eat them like a slice of small pizza. The gf tartine is more like a cracker. It's thin and stiff and did a good job of not falling apart upon being bitten into. Jenn had the egg salad minus capers and anchovies. My food was very much something I would fix myself and it was very good, though if I'd made it, I'd probably have used some cayenne to give it more kick. The spicy tahini dressing came on the side and I used all of it. The gf tartine was of a less generous proportion than the egg salad, which was a little dissappointing. Jenn and I both agreed this time that the $30+ for two sandwiches and an iced tea seemed like a lot for what we got. Still, I had an interesting gf vegan lunch which is huge, and I would definitely keep LPQ in mind as a fall back restaurant on any of my travels.
Next up: Dinner near the Met!
I'm traveling for work and thought I'd demonstrate my approach to happy GF traveling. Go here to see it:http://www.youtube.com/user/clairebakerOK#p/a/u/1/Heu3xsldmWE
Then come back and tell me your travel tips (or any on-camera tips, like make sure you aren't standing near a mirror so that everyone can see that you are shooting the vid yourself on your iPhone...)