Saturday, December 28, 2013

Why I'm looking forward to the 2014 Gluten and Allergen Free Expo

A picture is worth a thousand words- here is our haul from last years's expo:

These were just the samples we managed to collect for products we liked sampling at the expo. It does not include any products we didn't care for, or the many local bakers who offered fresh samples at the expo for on-site tasting only. In a nutshell, there is no other place to be able to sample such a huge variety of quality gluten free foods. It was truly overwhelming. By the end of the expo we were actually taking a single bite of  a cookie, slice of pizza or dessert bar and then THROWING THE REST AWAY because we were so stuffed from all the samples!

If you are gluten free or have other food allergies or intolerance's,  you will want to attend this expo. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area,  your time is January 25th and 26th up in San Mateo. I'll be there as an official blogger. I can't wait to see what demonstrations and other seminars are scheduled. Last year I only made it to a single session but it changed my life -it was about digestive enzymes and I learned about (and received samples for) Gluten Ease 2X which I've now used successfully several times when knowingly ingesting gluten with none of my usual within 30 minutes of eating side effects. While I do not know if these enzymes truly block all antibody activity, I do know I can eat several pieces of gluten pizza or cakes and feel perfectly fine - versus all sorts of horrible digestive issues and 3 days of brain fog and general feeling like crap after accidentally ingesting a single crumb without the enzymes.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Disney World, Gluten Free

There are enough posts out there on other blogs stating how amazing Disney is at dealing with food allergies. They rock. All but one restaurant we visited followed the same process - tell them about your food allergies and the chef will come out and tell you what you can order, if buffet show you what is safe, and then any food you order is brought out by the chef. We were not glutened a single time and we were there for a week.

Here is where we ate, in order of ranking:
  1. Sanaa (Dinner) - Kidani Village Resort
  2. T-Rex (Dinner) - Downtown Disney
  3. Boma (Dinner) - Animal Kingdom Lodge
  4. Crystal Palace (Lunch) - Magic Kingdom
  5. Be Our Guest (Lunch) - Magic Kingdom
  6. Mama Melrose's (Lunch) - Hollywood Studios
  7. 'Ohana (Breakfast) - Polynesian Resort
  8. Garden Grill (Dinner) - EPCOT Center
  9. Restaurant Marrakesh (Lunch) - EPCOT Center
  10. BabyCakes NYC (Dessert) - Downtown Disney
  11. Captain Cook's (Dinner) - Polynesian Resort

Oh Sanaa - what a way to start a vacation!

Our favorite meal by far was our first- we had 10 minutes to get to our reservation after checking in at our room in the Animal Kingdom Lodge next door. Upon arrival we were given a pager for a 10 or so minute wait for our table. Meanwhile we went outside, used the complimentary night vision goggles and looked at some antelope and zebra grazing in the savannah. Upon being seated, the chef came out and basically said nearly everything on the menu was gluten free, assuming we order papadam instead of naan. Now, if you are not accustomed to indian spices, this may not be your favorite place but for us it was pure heaven. Even the Giggler had a great meal - grilled shrimp over rice with green beans. We ordered the bread service (all 9 sauces), 3 salad sampler and a vegetarian entrée to share. Every sauce was excellent and the 9 provided great variety. The vegetarian curry's were served over rice - we ordered a paneer curry + dal) and also delicious. For dessert we shared the blood orange ice cream desert which was tasty but definitely too small for 3 to share had we not gobbled up all of our other dishes. This is one of those meals we will remember for a long time and hope to someday experience again.

T-Rex - great food, great ambiance, great service

First off, many thanks to the tip I read on Disboards that said to get a Landry's Select Card before your trip if  you know you will be dining at T-Rex, Yak & Yeti or Rainforest Café as it puts you basically to the front of the standby line as I was unable to score an advance dining reservation ("ADR" in Disney speak). It costs $25 but you get that credited back when you visit. We were seated within 5 minutes of arriving ahead of a large line of folks.

The chef came out right away to tell us what we could order. We started with the chicken quesadilla appetizer on corn tortillas which we all gobbled up. The rest of our order (which we opted to share) was served to us family style - gluten free macaroni & cheese, a spicy salmon/black bean/rice dish and a big bowl of sautéed green beans. It was all delicious.

The main attraction at T-Rex are the animatronics Dinosaurs. We were seated next to the Wooly Mammoth who moved around every few minutes. We took turns exploring the other areas of the restaurant - each its own theme, all tons of fun to explore.

I hope they open a T-Rex in Northern California some day.

The Rest

  • Boma - great flavor, good variety buffet with some interesting flavors thrown in
  • Crystal Palace - another buffet, salads were out of this world
  • Be Our Guest - get a fastpass for this one and save an hour in line. This was the only place where we did not see the Chef and that was because you order on a screen and you can select allergens which will then only show what you can order and automatically order it with your allergens in mind. The potato leek soup and raspberry lemon cream puffs were standouts.
  • Mama Melrose's - tons of options. I had a pasta/shrimp/vegetable dish while DH had a steak. Giggler had pasta. We went here because we had purchased the Fantasmic dining package which guaranteed us good seats w/o waiting for that night's show. We would not have dined here otherwise - we probably would have gone to the 50's Prime Time Café instead.
  • 'Ohana - the main attraction here is that Mickey, Pluto, Lilo and Stich come to visit. Breakfast was good but not our usual healthy fare- mickey mouse gluten free waffles (which were delicious btw - they use the Bob's Red Mill pancake mix which does not taste this good when I've used it for pancakes - maybe they use special butter in the waffle iron), a small plate of fruit, then a big skillet full of eggs, sausage, bacon and potatoes - all gluten free. Fun to do once, but we'd rather spend our calories on other things.
  • Garden Grill - this was a bit of a disappointment for me as I had very high expectations. I have always loved the ride "The Land" and was very excited to be at a restaurant which revolved around it and served food grown there - but they only showed the "ride" scenes- not the actual garden which is what I think is so incredibly cool - that ride inspired me to become a home gardener. The food was just OK also - tons of meat & potatoes (the tilapia was good) I thought the vegetables would be excellent but we really only got to sample root vegetables - blech.  It was nice for the Giggler to see Mickey and friends again and get some more autographs but I won't be booking this one again. I'll opt for the food court downstairs which appears to use more of the produce grown in the Land pavilion.
  • Restaurant Marrakesh - this was also a disappointment as I had fond memories of dining here 20 years ago. Gluten free options were very scarce. We ended up sharing a chicken kabob over rice with some stewed vegetables. Next time we'll eat at the sit down restaurant inside of the Mexico Pavilion.
  • BabyCakes NYC - this was another one I had high expectations and was disappointed. I found the baked goods were just OK - nothing I'd ever order again, not terrible, but not what I had been led to believe given reviews. We tried cupcake tops, brownies and cookies.
  • Captain Cook's - this was our last meal of the trip and the worst. We had cheese burgers which looked like the burgers served in elementary school w/ some sort of gelatinous gunk on top, along with some very runny overcooked "vegetables" (mainly onion and cabbage). Just plain gross. The good news is they also had some sealed gluten free brownies and chocolate cookies which were actually pretty good -not that disgusting enjoy life brand we were offered throughout Disney World. I wish I could remember the name of the baker -good stuff. We could also get the Dole Pineapple whip which we had been wanting to taste which was also good.

Flying Gluten Free

Traveling gluten free can be so depressing. I'll never forget the layover I had in Seattle when flying from San Francisco to Anchorage. 2008 - our first full year gluten free. We had eaten the gluten free wraps and fruit I had packed for the first flight, and still had a slew of bars and dried fruit & nuts we were saving for our vacation. The terminal had a few eateries- Starbucks, Pizza and Burger King. Of all those places guess what our options were? A banana at Starbucks. Even the prepared salads had croutons sprinkled on top. Fruit cups topped with granola.

Fast forward a few years- now most airports have plenty of offerings although you still have to do your homework. I've had Greek salad in Phoenix, soup in San Francisco. But I still pack a slew of food our flights and trip. The only airline I've seen offer a gluten free snack box is Alaska Airlines (although I have not flown with them in over a year so they may not now). I've done a few International business trips and each time I've packed many pounds of gluten free food to keep me fed throughout the trip. I recall a business lunch where the company I was visiting pre-ordered delicious salads for everyone - but every single one had macaroni salad in the middle. Thank heavens for the Go Picnic! box I had packed that morning. It's important to plan ahead and always have more food than you think you will need.

Fortunately my company allowed me to fly business class to Europe- and in each case I pre-reserved and was successfully served gluten free food.

This post includes pictures of the gluten free meals I was served in International Business class on British Airways, Lufthansa, SWISS Air and United.

I hope this is useful to others who are planning their trips re: figuring out how much gluten free food to pack as well as picking an airline should gluten free food offerings weigh in your decision.

If you couldn't care less about the airline meals, at the bottom of this post I also include what my go to foods are for gluten free travel.

Happy Travels!

SWISS Air- San Francisco to Zurich, June 2012

SWISS Air gets an A minus in my book - lots of variety, lots of flavor - the only reason for the minus is the rice cakes. Upon takeoff I was served some grilled chicken with roasted vegetables, greens w/ dressing and a fruit salad. Oh, and the rice cakes. I thought that was a decent meal given I had no expectations whatsoever.
 Then I was surprised to learn that was the appetizer- this was the main course:
 wow - even more grilled chicken (or it could have been turkey), over rice with some more vegetables. I was stuffed after this meal.

Prior to landing I was served a nice breakfast as well - more vegetables with some rice noodles and 2 fruit plates, some yogurt, and, oh, another rice cake. At least I had some jam to spread on it - this is where I first started to look out for individual packets of peanut butter and other spreads like Nutella which I could bring on future flights.

SWISS Air - Zurich to Stockholm, June 2012

The connecting flight to Stockholm also did not disappoint - more fruit, more vegetables, more lean protein, and a fresh gluten free roll as well! Very impressive and very tasty.


Lufthansa - Stockholm to Frankfurt, June 2012

Breakfast on Lufthansa was surprisingly good - some sliced meat w/ vegetables, yogurt and some friend polenta over stewed apples and berries. Lufthansa gets a B plus overall as the food was not quite as flavorful, not quite as many fruits and vegetables and that horrible Rice Bread. As much as I hate rice cakes, at least they are edible. Rice bread is (RisBrot) is not. It's like eating concrete.

United - Frankfurt to San Francisco, June 2012

United gets a solid B - although I have a feeling the same kitchen in Frankfurt handles both United and Lufthansa. Lunch was some bland chicken with some tomato sauce, diced vegetables, a little fruit and yes, RisBrot. Blech.
 Later I was served this appetizer- also kind of light on flavor (I was not a fan of the 3 flavor mousse thing on the left).
 But the main course was OK - fish with boiled potatoes carrot and broccoli. The flight attendant took pity on me and offered some MozartKugeln (candy) which was leftover from the prior trip.

British Airways - San Francisco to London, September 2013 - same as the "bland" special meal

Flavor and calories - oh that would have been so nice! Each meal had a lot of vegetables, some protein, rice cakes, but no flavor. I suggest packing some individual packets of gluten free sauces as well as peanut butter. One of my favorite meals on that flight was salvaging the rice cakes served with dinner by spreading peanut butter on top.

Meals on this leg deserve a C although I'll give British Airways a B Plus as they made  up for it on my final flight -if all flights had been like that one, BA would have been A Plus.

Here is the first course for dinner- very nicely prepared and fresh, but almost no calories or flavor.
The roasted tomato on the salad was yummy but a little garlic and parmesan would have gone a long way!
 
The main course was a bit more substantial but still left me hungry:
Chicken with mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.
 
Dessert was a beautiful bowl of berries, fat free. Delicious on its own but I did have to dip into some bars an hour or so after dinner.
 
Prior to landing in Heahtrow I was served a plain omlet with grilled tomato and mushrooms as well as some fruit on the side, and more rice cakes. The egg filled me up but again, I would have loved for some salsa or other spice to add.
 
Once I landed in Heathrow I spent some time in the British Airways lounge. I was amazed to find all food was labeled with allergens it contained. I was able to have eggs, beans, chili and curry over rice, in addition to the usual fruit and salad. They also had a sign near the cookies which said to "ask for gluten free biscuits" so I did and this is what I got:
it was delicious! Very fudgy, just the way a brownie should be!
 

 British Airways - London to Stockholm, September 2013

The meal on this flight was filling and pretty tasty. Fish atop tomato rice with sautéed vegetables with a gluten free roll!
 
Here is the label from the roll. It was kind of dry but tasted OK smothered in butter.

 British Airways Stockholm to London, October 2013

Another satisfying meal - eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, fresh gluten free bread and juice.
 

 

British Airways London to San Francisco - October, 2013 - Excellent

The food on my return trip to San Francisco was excellent and filling. The first course included a very tasty lentil salad, fresh bread and mixed greens. This time I was able to flavor the salad with some lemon olive oil, salt and pepper although I would have loved a pre-made dressing or some garlic powder.



The main course was chicken breast with stewed tomatos and broccoli over rice. Not the most flavor but far better than the first flight.
Dessert was a delicious piece of gluten free cheesecake with raspberry sauce!
 Prior to landing, lunch was served - a gluten free sandwich, more bread (which is still in my freezer) and a piece of decadent flourless chocolate cake.
All in my food strategy worked as I came home with some extra bread, chocolate I bought in Stockholm and even a few bars. Had the final flight been as bland/light as my first flight I probably would have eaten all of my travel stash.

Bringing Your Own Gluten Free Stash

 
Here is a summary of what food are my go to items when traveling and preparing my travel stash:
 

Outbound Flight:

  1. Turkey, Cheese & Spinach Wraps. My favorite wrap is Sandwich Petals, followed by Sonoma Teff Wraps and Rudi's Spinach Tortillas. If I have an early flight, I make these the night before, wrap in foil, seal in a large Ziploc and refrigerate until I leave for the airport
  2. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich on Canyon Bakehouse bread. This bread is the real deal and holds up.
  3. Fresh Fruit (Apples, Bananas, Oranges) in a Ziploc, berries when in season. I keep berries in Munchie Mugs (originally purchased for when my daughter was a toddler but now we use them all the time). Pick up some fresh fruit for your return flight as well.
  4. Cheese Sticks (if bringing wraps, fruit and/or cheese I usually bring a lightweight cooler bag along with 2 Ziploc bags - after clearing security I fill one bag with ice from a restaurant or bar and then double bag. I've never had a problem with this request if I mention it's because I have food allergies.

 Other stuff for the flight and during your travels:

  1. Dried fruit and nuts
  2. (for the Giggler - a special treat she does not get usually) Annie's Gummy Bunnies Fruit Snacks
  3. Go Picnic Meals (these come in very handy at amusement parks and when you want some variety of food choices when snacking) - I would never say these fill me up like a meal though - they are strictly for snacks IMO. Tip: sign up for their email list and like them on Facebook to be notified of special deals although be warned- they send out way too many emails. Once a week would be fine but they are more like daily.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gluten Free Store-Bought Bread

When I first had to stop eating gluten, the only gluten free bread available at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe was the brown rice bread by companies like Food For Life. Upon my first bite I became very depressed - it was the consistency of clay and had a horrible bitter taste. So I gave up on store bought bread and decided to become a bread baker. Most attempts tasted OK but did not hold together well but at least it was better than the rice bread. I also tried Kinnikkinnick bread which was far from a brick, but too light and with zero nutrition.  I saw on their site they have recently discontinued a number of their breads so perhaps their new varieties are better.

A few years later Udi's came out with bread, hamburger and hot dog buns which actually held together and tasted decent. Not quite how I remembered their gluten counterparts but do-able. So Udi's became a staple in my freezer for a few years.

Rudi's followed soon after. Their sandwich bread tasted similar to Udi's but Rudi's had something different - cinnamon raisin bread. This was my new favorite bread. I'd toast it up and slather some peanut butter on top. Perfection... at the time.

A few months ago Sprouts was having their semi-annual gluten free sale and I discovered 2 more breads - Katz and Canyon Bakehouse. I first noticed something was different about these breads when I toasted them. Up until now I had always toasted my gluten free bread on the lightest setting on the toaster, and they would always end up quite browned and dry. But Katz and Canyon Bakehouse breads were barely warm and soft at the light setting - so I tried again with medium. Wow - moist, tasty, substantive bread. JUST LIKE GLUTEN BREAD. Seriously? And Canyon Bakehouse also makes a Cinnamon Raisin bread which put the Rudi's bread to shame. I'll bet I could eat these gluten free breads, gasp, untoasted!

Thank you Rudi's and Udi's for being there but I'm afraid I need to move on now.

I have not been able to find Katz since that first discovery in Sprouts but Canyon Bakehouse is at both Sprouts (refrigerated section) and Whole Foods (some in refrigerated, some in freezer - I always freeze my bread regardless of where I buy it).

If you do not live near a Sprouts or Whole Foods, you can buy directly from the sellers or via Amazon.




Trust me, these are the real deal!

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Left Bank - never again.

I had the opportunity to go out with one of my mom's groups to the Left Bank at Santana Row for dinner. I was excited to try The Left Bank as I have heard a lot of good things about it. So, several days before I emailed their web site to find out what sort of gluten free offerings they had (if any). I received a prompt reply from someone from their corporate office who then forwarded my request to the executive chef at the Santana Row location. I was very impressed with the prompt follow up and then soon received a reply from the chef saying there were many things he could prepare gluten free.

So happily I braved Santana Row one rainy evening the week before Christmas - I somehow won the parking battle after only 20 minutes. One mom spent over an hour circling around. At any rate, when I arrived I let my server know I had emailed with the chef earlier in the week and that the chef had told me there was a lot I could order. So the server went off to find out. When he returned he basically said the only things he could recommend that would be safe for me that night were one of the salads or the roasted chicken entree. Meanwhile the rest of the table is enjoying fresh bread and appetizers although the server was kind enough to bring me a plate of vegetable sticks.

I ended up ordering the roast chicken (which was billed as coming with pomme frittes but when my meal arrived with the pomme frites on the side my server said they were fried in shared oil so they were not safe but he had brought them for my table guests to share). I thought that was nice of him, and appreciated being told they were not safe, but it was quite disappointing. I would have at least ordered some other sort of starch like a plain baked potato. Then when the dessert menus came out he told me the only dessert that was safe was the sorbet - not even the creme brule or chocolate mousse was OK. So I left the restaruant close to 3 hours later starving as all I had eaten was some vegetable sticks, roasted chicken (w/ no gravy since it was not safe) and spinach (so glad I ordered that side!).

Maybe I should have escalated and asked the chef to come out. I don't know. It was a busy holiday night, I was hungry and tired, and he had told me there was food to eat. I guess I kept thinking as each course went by I'd get to eat something of substance in the next course.

I will not be back.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

More Pizza

Just a quick note that I've juggled around the pizza rankings and we have a new #1 -

They also use the Venice Bakery crust which  you can order in a small, medium or large crust.  Small and medium use the seasoned crust (our preference) but we ordered large since we wanted to see if they could pull it off - when we tried the large crust at Pizza Party it was a bit soggy for our taste. But Palo Alto Pizza totally pulled it off. Decent amount of sauce (although next time we may ask for a little more), good cheese mix (maybe a bit too much, but still very tasty) and it was cooked to perfection - very crisp crust. We will definitely be back! You can get coupons on their web site too. We saved $3 on a large - when one has to eat gluten free, we'll take any savings we can get.

Speaking of Venice Bakery, I decided to take advantage of a sale they had last month on their crusts at their online store - I purchased a 6 pack of the size medium seasoned crusts and when paired with our pizza stone heated to 500 degrees F (then I turn the oven down to 425), it is just as good as going out. I'm still not 100% pleased with my pizza sauce recipe but I'm almost there. I took it from Chef Johnny's Chicago Stuffed pizza video on youtube. I think if I puree the crushed tomatoes just a tad with an immersion mixer I may be there.

We also tried Mission Pizza in Fremont a few months ago which was also quite good albeit a bit greasy. They too use the Venice crust. If it wasn't so far away that would be a regular place for us as well. Their sauce was exceptional -we tried the standard pizza sauce as well as the tomato garlic one - the garlic one was tasty but a bit too much for us. Next time we'll definitely stick to the regular red sauce.