Tag Archives: cross-contamination

A Candy Corny Calligram for Lovers and Haters

.
Oh

you
small
sweet
treat in
three fall
hues! You
pain me yet
I can’t refuse.
You’re cloying,
but I eat up still;
I simply cannot get
my fill. Each year I say
That’s quite enough! But
sticking to it’s really tough.
When I went vegetarian, I gave
up eating gelatin, and thought that I
had got you beat, especially when I gave
up wheat. For Brach’s, the kind I always ate,
may contain wheat. I said, that’s great! I steeled
myself to say goodbye, and swore I’d manage not
to cry. It all might turn out for the best; perhaps I’d feel
that I’d been blessed. But, look! my sister said, let’s see,
Some brand MUST make it gluten-free. She turned out to be
fully right, as I learned surfing site-to-site. The Jelly Belly kind is
clean, of wheat & nuts & gelatine. So, yes, I bought us both a bunch
although it was a budget crunch. And now—surprise—I’m feeling sick,
from falling for your same old trick. I feel that I can eat and eat, but ALWAYS
you prove way 
too sweet. I thought I’d lost you—planned to mourn—but still you
haunt me, Candy Corn
. I’m sure that I will quit next year. Till then, I’ll savor every ear.

250px-candy-corn

For those who don’t gag at the thought of candy corn: Jelly Belly’s is gluten-free and (in my opinion, but not my sister’s) better-textured than the more traditional but iffier Brach’s. It’s also about a thousand times the price, so start saving up now for next year. (Or for the Christmas “reindeer corn”…oh dear.)

For everyone: happy almost-Halloween! What bad habit can’t you seem to quit?

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Up your waiting game! 5 ways to better serve gluten- and allergy-free restaurant-goers

Some restaurants don’t compromise. “No substitutions,” their menus declare, and their waiters seem to think patrons should put up or shut up. Unfortunately, for customers with celiac disease or food allergies, neither option works. Most of us would sooner get up and leave.

Any restaurant is free to choose to lose my business this way. I’m concerned, though, with those that do try to accommodate us. Third-party programs exist to train their staff in safe food service. But judging, for example, from the name of one of the big ones—NFCA’s GREAT Gluten-Free Kitchens—these programs focus primarily (though not only) on the food preparation.

Customers rarely get to meet the chef or peek into the kitchen (though a chef who personally introduces him/herself, and who offers a tour of the kitchen, would be a “great” chef indeed). Though the chef, soux chefs, and line cooks could be doing everything right, we customers have no idea. We interact with the “front of house” crew: the host, the server, the bussers. And it’s there that many restaurants go wrong.

waitress with tray of tacos

Is that a flour tortilla I spy?
Photo © Give2Tech | Flickr

A special menu, though a start, is not enough. We need some special service, too. Waiters and waitresses, try these five service “ups” to get your gluten- and allergy-free guest’s thumbs up.

1) LISTEN UP.

Do this FIRST. Allow me to give you my spiel, even if you just heard the exact same thing two minutes ago from another gluten-free customer who has read the same eating-out advice that I have. I need to feel like you’re not only hearing me, but listening to me, so try a nod or two and a serious expression (not a smirk—practice in the mirror). Don’t cut me off to say, “We know all about that here.” You may mean to project confidence and competence, but instead you sound dismissive or condescending. And perhaps you missed this day in kindergarten, but it’s rude to interrupt.

2) SPEAK UP.

Remember, this comes after you’ve listened. Tell me you understand—unless you don’t, in which case ask. Explain which items are gluten-free, and which can be made gluten-free with modifications. Tell me what your restaurant staff does to avoid cross-contamination with gluten. Tell me that you will inform the kitchen of my needs. Don’t tell me, “If it’s marked gluten-free, they know to avoid contact.” That’s BS. No way is the kitchen taking extra precautions every time someone orders hummus just because hummus has a “gluten-free” asterisk on the menu.

3) ’FESS UP.

This can happen in place of #2, if, post-spiel, you feel you can’t accommodate me. Trust me: I’d rather know. I’ll go somewhere else, or sit without eating. Either way, we’ll get along better. This can also happen at any point throughout the meal, if something goes wrong. If a piece of bread went onto my plate, tell me they’re making a new one so my food will be late. I won’t blame you; I’ll appreciate it.

Italian waiter carrying tray of subs

“Hang on…this might not be quite what you ordered.”
Photo © Stephen Wu | Flickr

4) KEEP IT UP.

The game isn’t over with the order. Ideally, the same server who took my order would bring the food, and note, “This is the gluten-free such-and-such.” (That’s the time to demonstrate your steel-trap memory, by the way, not while taking the order.) For a real gold star, bring out my food in a separate trip from dishes containing gluten, especially bread. I get it, you can carry seventeen trays at once with a wine bottle on your head. But show off your octopoid dexterity to someone else. Don’t carry my gluten-free babaganoush underneath a plate of crumb-shedding pita.

5) FOLLOW UP.

Give me a chance to provide feedback. Ask how everything is, and practice #1 while I’m answering. If something went wrong, try to fix it—as you’d do for any other customer.

All of these “ups” require one important “down”: slow down. Servers need to take the time to properly communicate with me and with the rest of the staff, who in turn need to take the time required to make and serve the food safely. To do it right, the pace has to be slower. (I’ve proven this to myself every time I’ve tried to cook in a shared kitchen.)

I get that this isn’t a popular request. Servers may imagine every moment they spend with one customer as a moment in which a different customer is tapping his fork, waiting to give his dessert order, and scaling down his intended tip. But I’m not asking for a lot of time. I’m asking for what would, over the course of a meal, amount to an additional minute per step (or less): time that wouldn’t unduly impact other customers’ experience, but would infinitely improve mine.

waiters race

Although waiters’ races do in fact exist, and look like fun, I’m more impressed with slow and steady.
Photo © Gwenaël Piaser | Flickr

I rarely eat out, but while visiting my brother in DC this weekend, I tried several restaurants listed in Find Me Gluten-Free. We went to Busboys & Poets, Rasoi Indian Kitchen, and Cava Mezze. All of them had gluten-free menus, but my satisfaction varied, largely based on service.

Until more servers brush up on these tips, I’ll be eating at home, where I can source and cook my food exactly the way I like it, not worry about communicating with strangers, and throw all the dishes in the dishwasher when I’m done.

Now that’s what I call service.

Tell me your favorite tips for waiters and waitresses, and your best and worst restaurant experiences. If you are a waiter or waitress, I’d love to hear how you interact with gluten- and allergy-free guests, and what you’ve learned from it.

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Wait, wait…don’t gluten me! (I’m talking to you, Trader Joe’s.)

I hope you’re in the mood for some shenanigans. It’s the Friday before a long weekend, which means it’s time for one thing only: limericks about gluten.

In 2011, we learned that 21 percent of young people get most of their news from the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live. Judge that as you will. I myself am among the unreported mass of people who get the majority of their news from podcasts of Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Are you?

Who doesn't love this guy?

Who doesn’t love this man?

For me, it means that I’m always at least a week behind and that I occasionally mistake the fake news stories on the show for real news. It also means I have a thing for Carl Kasell.

In Carl’s honor, I hereby introduce to you the first ever installment of Wait, Wait…Don’t Gluten Me! I’ll share three gluten-related tidbits I recently discovered, in limerick form.

Guess the missing word in each and you’ll win my voice on your home answering machine or voicemail. Just kidding—you don’t want that. I don’t even want that.

Here we go:

Limerick #1

There once was a blind brownie test,
the results of which couldn’t be guessed.
Some with gluten, some not,
twenty mixes were bought.
And GF Betty Crocker was ____.

Highlight for answer:    BEST   

Stunning underdog victory! Full results here.

Stunning underdog victory! Full results here.

I’ve never tried this mix, but it seems I should—and fast. (May I remind you again that it’s Friday?) 

Have you tried the Betty Crocker mix? Does it live up to the hype if so? What’s your favorite brownie mix or recipe if not?

*

Limerick #2

I wanted to eat something green;
Trader Joe’s prices weren’t too obscene.
Skimmed the salad greens bag,
and I thought I might gag!
Wheat in lettuce? Now that’s just plain ____.

Highlight for answer:    MEAN   

photo (2)

Hey, at least it’s kosher.

Ugh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten TJ’s greens over the past months. I know, I know, “If it has a label, read it.” It just didn’t occur to me that the rule would extend to lettuce! Yet another reminder to maintain “constant vigilance.”

What’s the most surprising place you’ve discovered potential gluten contamination?

*

Limerick #3

What triggers this illness? Not sure.
It’s genetic but likely there’s more.
BacteriaTrauma?
No milk from your momma?
Who cares? Please just find us a ____!

Highlight for answer:    CURE   

433px-Injection_Syringe_01

Photo © Armin Kübelbeck
Shots! (Once again, my friends…Friday.)

Do you think they’ll figure out a vaccine in our lifetime? What’s your pet theory about the cause of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? 

Mine is that it’s all in our heads.

*

That’s it! If you got ’em all right before looking at the answers and feel you deserve a reward, come back next week. I’ll be sharing a test of a different sort, giveaway included.

In the meantime, tell me: What intriguing gluten-free news have you come across lately? (Limericks encouraged but certainly not required.) And do you love NPR as much as I do?

If you’re new in these parts, welcome! Please check out my About page or skim the index to see what I’m about (hint: it’s not all limericks). If you’d like to stick around, scroll to the bottom to follow me via Facebook, Twitter, email, WordPress, or any blog-reading platform your heart desires.

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How many crumbs would a wood table suck if a wood table could suck up crumbs?

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably already have a sense of this, but let me remind you: I’m kind of an anxious person.

That said, I’m also a forgetful person. This combination means that sometimes I forget to be anxious until after something has already happened. It’s like my brain decides, “Hang on a second, I didn’t hear your heart racing. Let’s try that again.”

Throughout my school years, this tendency manifested itself in anxiety dreams about tests and report cards after I’d already received my grades. And, not to brag, but they were generally good ones—so what was I so worried about? Today, I keep up the tradition at work by hitting “send” on emails only to immediately scroll through them to check for typos or misaddressed salutations or other pernicious little errors—too late to take it back, but not too late to stress about it.

And, of course, if I run out of fodder for my after-the-fact fretting, there’s always gluten.

Take this recent example: my sister and I bought a table.

“What’s so stressful about that?,” you might ask (if you didn’t read the post’s title, that is; otherwise, you’ve probably already guessed, you smartypants, you). Here’s what’s stressful about that:

It’s a used table.

A used wooden table.

Now, a used wooden table is not in and of itself stressful. In fact, when my sister and I were at the store picking it out, I was quite relaxed. We spotted the table almost right away, so I didn’t have to worry we wouldn’t find one that day. We’d thought to take measurements of our kitchen before heading out, so I didn’t have to worry that it wouldn’t fit. We haggled down the price a bit and got some chairs thrown into the bargain, so I didn’t have to worry about price. And Salvation Army delivers—every few weeks, at least—so we didn’t have to worry about transport.

I didn’t even think to worry about gluten.

But yesterday, the table arrived (no returns allowed), and all of a sudden I thought to worry. People (including me) throw out wooden spoons and cutting boards after diagnosis, after all. How many times have you read that “wood is a porous material that can trap small amounts of gluten” (on sites like About.com). Wood is pretty much the first thing to go, after, you know, the sack of semolina you’ve been hoarding to make your own pasta with one day. And here I’d gone and introduced a big hunk of used wood right into my gluten-free kitchen sanctuary.

I thought it over. Just how much gluten could be in that table? Had its previous owners used it as a cutting board for bread, or rolled out cookies directly on its surface? Was there a baby in its former home who mashed her cereal—or Play-Doh—into its wooden grains? Did the family eat dumplings or empanadas or pierogies at this table? Pasta or pizza or pie dough? And how much of it, if so, would have gotten into the table itself? Was the table, even now, dropping crumbs onto the floor beneath it? (It didn’t seem to be…but gluten is small.) Would I gluten myself just by touching the table or eating at it? Should we leave it wrapped in the plastic in which it came? Or should I simply avoid eating at my own table? If I didn’t, would I steadily lose the gains I’ve made, and gain the antibodies I’ve lost?

In short: What. Had. We. Done?

I chewed my lip, wrung my hands, and ambushed my sister the moment she got home from work.

“We have a table!” she said, happily.

“Yeah!” I said, feigning cheeriness just for a moment. Then I dropped the ruse. “What if it has gluten on it?” I said.

My sister—clever, even-keeled sister—thought that one over for about half a second, and replied, “Well, we could just eat off of plates. And maybe use a tablecloth.”

Oh.

Right.

People use plates and tablecloths, don’t they? Somewhat regularly, even. Nice, comforting things, plates and tablecloths: things through which gluten—real or imaginary—cannot penetrate.

Feeling foolish, I nodded. “Yes, or placemats.”

“Placemats,” Althea agreed decisively. “I like that.”

With that, all my buyer’s remorse and postmortem nerves—suddenly as silly seeming as any of those report card nightmares in the light of day—evaporated.

Well, almost.

When buying secondhand, there’s always one thing left to worry about: that is, of course, bedbugs.

Indulge me with your thoughts on whether, say, an Udi’s cookie dropped onto a washed wooden table should be considered cross-contaminated, or tell me about the last time you made a mountain out of a molehill. Otherwise, have a worry-free weekend.

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