This is my typical dinner. My generic name for it is Beans and Greens. I started eating Beans and Greens a lot before I was diagnosed with celiac. I had decided to lose 30 pounds and eating like this is a fabulous, delicious way to get lots of nutrients and get filled up at the same time. It has no added fat, it's low in salt, and it's very satisfying.
This particular rendition was my dinner last night and the greens were either bok choy or tatsoi (the CSA share we were gifted this week had both and I have to confess I'm not sure which is which -- feel free to enlighten me!), the beans were garbanzos, and I used both red and green bell peppers, onion and garlic and four raw almonds. It's steam-sauteed in a little veggie broth, and I typically season with cayenne pepper and a little salt. Easy peasy. Oh, and because I was feeling the need for a B vitamin boost, I sprinkled a tablespoon of gf nutritional yeast on top after the picture was taken.
Beans and greens can be created with just about any type of green and any type of bean. Make it with GF tamari sauce and throw in a little tofu. Make it with tomatoes, salsa and black beans for a southwestern flavor. Use garbanzo beans or lentils and Indian spices. Make it up, and if it turns out really good, write it down and use the same recipe some evening when you are short on time or ideas.
Old Town Diner in Albuquerque is my new favorite restaurant.
I arrived in Albuquerque for a conference. For traveling, I used all my typical strategies for happy eating for the trip across the country. I got in very late at night, and so didn't have much chance to verify the locations of the restaurants that came up on my "UrbanSpoon Gluten Free Vegetarian 87104" search. And, in fact, not too many choices presented themselves. For breakfast the first day, I had some travel provisions and fruit provided by the conference, so my first dining challenge was lunch that day. I was on a bit of conference overload already, and didn't particularly want to eat with any of my new friends, so I decided to wander into Old Town and look for good Mexican food at a place that wasn't all of the conference goers' first stop (aka Little Anitas.) I found the perfect place: Old Town Diner. Great (for me) was that it was almost completely empty of customers, which meant I could eat without talking about work stuff.
I had in my head that I might do a taco salad sort of thing, but this is a diner, and they serve breakfast all day, and the huevos rancheros called out. The nice server came over, and after we sorted out what kind of chili sauce I wanted (I picked a mix of red and green) he asked about my tortilla choices. I told him I needed to have a gluten-free dining experience and asked if he could check to see if there was any reason to be suspicious of the corn tortillas. He said he'd check. He came back to report that the corn tortillas were fine, but that the chili sauces had some flour in them, and would I like chopped chunks of green chilis instead. Why Yes! That sounds delicious!
The food was amazing. It was likely the BEST HUEVOS RANCHCHEROS I'VE EVER EATEN. The eggs came on a crispy corn tortilla that stayed delightfully crispy throughout the meal -- never got soggy. And a soft corn tortilla came on the side. Wonderfully malleable and flavorful, and nothing like the cardboard-y tortillas in grocery strores. The over-medium eggs were just right, the refried beans and potatoes were very tasty. The chunks of chili gave it a delicious and distinctive New Mexico flavor. I liked the experience and the food so much that I had the exact same lunch the following day. I chatted with one of the owners, and she told me that she has friends who are gluten free, so she'd figured out how to feed them without poisoning them. She was really personable and friendly and clearly wants all their patrons to have a great dining experience.
Since I'll be here in Albuquerque for another couple of days, I expect I'll visit at least once more when my brother and sister-in-law come to town to see me. I might have to buy bigger pants. It will be worth it.
Our friend Geri does good work for relief organizations in Haiti. She'd worked with our local Peace a Pizza and their "donate 20% of your check total with this flyer on this date" deal in order to raise some dough (har-de-har). We wanted to support it, and the kids generally like Peace a Pizza because of the TV in the VW microbus that makes up a good chunk of the decor and the free Pacman/Space Invaders game. I'd heard a rumor that they have a gf pizza, but couldn't find anything conclusive on-line. So, in good gluten-free advocacy form, I called them up to inquire.
Here's how I was greeted:
Thanks for calling Peace a Pizza. We now serve gluten free pizza. This is Bryan. How may I help you?
It doesn't get much more concusive! Since it was 3:30 in the afternoon and I figured they weren't too busy, I chatted Bryan up on how the prepare the ingredients and handle the preparation to make sure that everything stays gluten-free. I won't go into all of the details, but he talked enough about the measures that they take to avoid cross-contamination that I knew they were the real deal.
So we went and I got my very own 12-inch GF cheese pizza. The crust was infused with herbs, which was cool. The pizza is sweet, which isn't my favorite pizza experience, but I asked Jenn to taste it to compare to the regular pizza, and she said it was about the same. We concluded that the sweetness is a function of their tomato sauce. The crust had a nice bendiness to it that is becoming the gold standard of my perfect GF pizza quest. I ate 3/4s of it in a sitting. Too much, but it was hot, fresh pizza for heaven's sake. I saved the rest and ate it on a plane trip the next day. I have to say that it wasn't nearly as good leftover and cold. Next time, I'll try warming it up to see if it rebounds.
They are keeping it a secret, other than answering the phone with a GF message. I could find nothing on the in-store signage, nor on the printed menu, nor on their website. Maybe they only want to make GF pizza for little ol' me (and the people who think to calll and ask.)
So, in the plus column: they seem to know their way around safely making a GF pizza, and the kids like the restaurant. In the minus column: the pizza in general is too sweet and the pizza doesn't make great cold leftovers. The Pluses win! If my kids are happy and I can eat the food, then I'm happy.
That said, my quest for the perfect GF pizza continues.
I went to Food for All's one year anniversary celebration last weekend. I shopped, I sampled, and I ate my way through the store/restaurant. As you may recall from previous posts, I'm on a quest for a suitable easy GF pizza crust, and I may have found it:
Amaranth flatbread. Or is that flat bread? Or both? Regardless, the pizza had a nice bendyness that I've missed. I liked the pizza a lot, so I bought some -- there are five in the package and there's no way I can eat five flatbread pizzas before it would go bad, so when I got home I stuck them in the freezer for later consumption. The guys at Food for All were baking the pizzas on ceramic circles inside grills. I'll be baking them on a pizza pan in the oven. Frankly, theirs were a little overcooked on the bottom, so I figure I can do just as well. I will not use as much cheese as they did. Though theirs was very tasty.
I also got a sandwich. It was the poster child for goopy sandwich syndrome, as previously mentioned on this blog. I got The Nate: Robusto garlic hummus, sliced avocado, local organic sprouts, sliced tomato & sunflower seeds on lightly toasted Schar bread for $6.95. I liked it pretty well, though my first choice was a sandwich made on Joan's GF Itailian roll, but they were out of them (which strikes me as weird since they were having a big anniversary promotion). The Nate was good, though a little citrusy. I think the sandwich was a great value. I also had a really good, lemony cupcake. Delish! I would definitely eat there (or more likely, order takeout from there) again. (The drink was vile. ugh. I should have known that something from the brand name "Caveman Foods" might not be to my liking.)
I also shopped for GF products that I haven't been able to find or which I just haven't seen at the Giant. I found their prices on things like flour blends and cake mixes to be quite high. I did buy a Bob's Red Mill pizza crust mix along with the amaranth flat bread, some buckwheat breakfast cereal, and some chips. As I eat these, I'll evaluate and tell you all about them.
Udi's and Rudi's sandwich bread tastes pretty good. I haven't made bread from scratch in my entire life (well, there were those times as a little kid when I'd assist my dad, who'd start at 9 pm and we'd be up until 2 am kneading, etc, and then the crust was so, well, crusty, that I'd dig a couple of soft bites out of the middle then go to bed a little disappointed, but that's another story), so my knowledge about how to make a decent GF bread is limited to what I've read on the subject since getting my diagnosis. From the limited baking I have done, I know that gluten provides a lot of the spongey texture and density of the baked good. As for Udi's and Rudi's breads, both are quite porous. I suppose this has something to do with the science of getting the bread to rise and be about the right size and consistency of regular bread while at the same time making it enjoyable to the pallette. And while I like the taste okay, I've decided I don't particularly like sandwiches made from them.
As a disclaimer, I need to note that I've never been that into bread. Lucky, I suppose, given my celiac diagnosis. I have eaten plenty of bread in my life, but even pre-diagnosis, most sandwiches I have consumed in my life were all about maximizing convenience and portability. Most sandwiches I have constructed I made in advance for later enjoyment, since I don't reach for a sandwich first when I can eat what I want when I want. For my weight management and good health strategy, I try to stick with vegetables, beans, nuts and fruits as my go-to source. Sandwiches are handy when I have to bring a meal and packing my usual salad and fruit is impractical. My experience with both of these breads is that moist spreads such as jelly, nut butters, hummus, mustard, etc ooze to the outside of the sandwich, robbing it of its convenience as an easy, unmessy portable food option. With a goopy sandwich, I don't set it down because my hands get so messy, and I find that I eat it really fast to minimize the amount of lunch that will end up falling on my pants. Bolting my food is unsatisfying and it makes me feel kind of yucky physically.
Still, having a sandwich option is important. On recent travels, I tried several gf tortillas. Both corn and rice tortillas were kind of brittle and spreads escaped from their confines almost as much as the gf breads.
And then I found the solution. Udi's Bagels! These days, I keep a bag of them in the freezer and thaw them one at a time for my sandwich needs. Once thawed, I toast it one half at a time using my toaster sleeve that Jenn got me from some on-line promotion (Thanks Jenn!)*. Then I add whatever sandwich fixins that I want or have on hand. The bagels are chewy like regular bagels, so toasting makes it more sandwich-friendly so that the contents don't squeeze out upon biting down. Voila! A real sandwich experience that doesn't feel like a compromise and which doesn't require a fistful of napkins or wet wipes.
A couple of notes of caution: 1) an Udi's plain bagel has a whopping 280 calories all by itself, so for me it's a real splurge. 2) A bag of 4 bagels costs more than $5, which is also a splurge.
* We have only one toaster. Since I'm not that into bread and our kitchen is small, when we made our kitchen modifications to accommodate my celiac status, we decided that I could make due with toasting in the oven or eating my bread untoasted. The toaster sleeve is a perfect solution for me at home, and I've packed it on vacations too, where being able to make a sandwich is even more important.