Tag Archives: eating out

Gluten-Free Astrology: Sagittarius (born November 22 – December 21)

Some people have all the luck. GF Sagittarius people, specifically. Oh, you may not feel lucky, what with having to be gluten-free and all, but compared to the rest of us, your life’s a breeze! You manage to eat out more than the rest of us, yet suffer from unintentional glutenings far less often. Or you were one of those fortunate jerks who felt better straight after going gluten-free. Some people, the universe just loves more.

Okay, I’ll stop complaining and move on to the good stuff. This month, we’re looking at the GF Sagittarius, and really, what’s not to love? Good-humored, thoughtful, imaginative, and entertaining, you’re well-liked even by gluten-eaters. And you tend to like most people back…but from a distance. Above all, you love your freedom.

Your sign is the archer. Your aim is true; your skin is blue. (Probably a complication of celiac.) Photo © Migy illustration | Flickr

Your sign is the archer. Your aim is true; your skin is blue. (Probably a complication of celiac.)
Photo © Migy illustration | Flickr

Understandably, you’re therefore less than thrilled with your gluten-freedom and all of the constraints it entails. You love traveling, visiting new restaurants, and immersing yourself in interesting cuisines, and the idea of having to limit these adventures, even for your own good, really bugs you. You have a certain disdain for the mundane routines of everyday life—you wish to soar above it all—and upon diagnosis, likely felt shackled and dismayed. To cook for yourself every day, to lose the spontaneity you prize…! Oh dear.

Fortunately, among all the signs, you’re also the most optimistic, so I’m sure it wasn’t (or won’t be) long before you cheered up and began looking forward to the next adventure. Like your polar opposite, Gemini, you love new projects, but—unlike flighty Gemini—you engage whole-heartedly (or, rather, whole-headedly) with the pursuit, keen to fully understand it in all the minute detail that a Gemini would find unspeakably boring. Once you do understand it, you’re liable to move on before finishing, not because it’s boring, but because there’s always something even more interesting around the corner.

Though you and a Gemini may both have twelve different, opened bags of GF flour and a food scale collecting dust in your pantry, you would be able to speak earnestly and accurately about the nutritional and chemical properties of each, and what every gluten-free baking authority has to say about all-purpose blends. And if anyone has a question about flour, you’d be delighted to respond.

In general, the GF Sagittarius enjoys answering questions and doing favors. You’re the type to offer aid to a befuddled-looking fellow gluten-free grocery shopper, or to share your GF discoveries via social media. On the other hand, you’re not one to, say, lead a support group, or anything else requiring a long-term commitment. Just the idea of showing up for weekly meetings probably makes you itchy. Me, listen to the same people say the same things every Thursday night at 7 p.m. forever? you might think. Oh, no no no.

To some, this attitude makes you appear cold, breezy, or unreliable, but you’re not, really. (Well, maybe a teensy bit unreliable.) You just need to feel free to pursue your own gluten-free life the way you feel is best for you—and you extend the same courtesy to others. You’ll help when needed, but never badger.

Poised to puncture the gluten-free fad diet bubble, while a dejected (Cancer?) friend waits for you to pay attention to him again. Photo © Fabio Ricco | Flickr

Poised to puncture the gluten-free fad diet bubble, while a dejected (Cancer?) friend waits for you to pay attention to him.
Photo © Fabio Ricco | Flickr

You have high hopes for the future gluten-free community on a large scale, and big ideas for how to improve things, but you lack follow-through. Your enthusiasm is contagious, though, so if this month, you manage to partner with someone more attuned to the nitty-gritty (might I suggest a Virgo?), you might manage to effect some changes.

Given your love of eating out—which you’ve surely managed to continue after the initial shock of diagnosis—you might put your ability to think clearly and deeply through an issue (and to honestly lay bare the trouble spots therein) to a good cause by raising awareness in the restaurant industry. I’ve written about this topic myself, but geez! I’m a Gemini; I can’t be expected to stay interested long enough to DO something about it. If you lose steam, too, well…you at least will remain sure that it’ll all work itself out. That’s something.

Physically, the GF Sagittarius must watch for liver issues (which you won’t be surprised to learn are associated with celiac disease) and alcoholism. So put down that gluten-removed beer!

Finally, a long list of great Sagittarian writers proves how inventive and intelligent you all are: Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Walt Disney, to name just a few. (None of them were, so far as I know, gluten-free, but I’ve discussed what they might have written if they were.) On the GF side, there’s:

Ingrid Michaelson

Ingrid Michaelson

Ingrid Michaelson, born December 8, 1979, is an indie-pop singer-songwriter who writes fun Sagittarian lyrics (“The Way I Am” displays her love of new adventures, but is oddly accepting of romantic commitment). Back in 2009, she revealed herself to be GF by tweeting, “Why does everything delicious have to have gluten in it????” Again following her Sagittarian nature, she apparently immersed herself in discovering something delicious that didn’t have gluten in it, and in 2011 submitted a yummy-looking flourless chocolate cake recipe to Parade. Unlike some flourless chocolate cakes, it’s actually flourless.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Mark Twain, born November 30, 1835, led a decidedly non-GF life. His long list of favorite foods included “Hot biscuits, Southern style,” “Hot wheat-bread, Southern style,” “Apple dumplings, with real cream,” and “All sorts of American pastry.” However, in a birthday speech in his seventies, he shared that, “In the manner of diet—I have been persistently strict in sticking to the things which didn’t agree with me until one or the other of us got the best of it.” What this tells me is that Twain spent a lifetime battling with unpleasant consequences of eating things he shouldn’t have. Surely one of those was gluten.

I’d love to tell you more, but not being a Sagittarius, I’m unwilling to research this topic any further. If you or a friend are a GF Sagittarius, please share—and let me know what I missed.

As always, the “information,” such as it is, in this post has been largely ripped off from The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need, by Joanna Martine Woolfolk, which is in fact the only astrology book you’ll ever need (need here being a relative term).

See also: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio

GF Sagittariuses, please share your ever-honest feedback in the comments. And if you want to get all of my future posts (astrology and otherwise), feel free to follow me via Twitter, Facebook, or email.

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Gluten-free food: Two chefs get it. Let’s get through to the rest.

“What’s your favorite gluten-free restaurant?” A group of NYC bloggers answered this question during introductions at dinner on Tuesday night. When my turn came (too soon! Wasn’t ready!), I said, abashed, “I don’t eat out much anymore, so I don’t have one yet.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, 93% of people (and, I bet, even more in New York) enjoy eating out, but I’m generally no longer among them. The service is always too brusque, the food too suspect, the assurance too absent. Instead of relaxing, I worry through the entire experience, from ordering (oh God, I’m taking so long) to paying (does the waiter really deserve 20% after dropping crumbs into my meal? But what kind of person doesn’t tip?). Admittedly, my so-so experiences may be partly a function of my restaurant selection and neurotic personality. But it’s also true that a lot of places just don’t get it.

Recently, though, I visited two that did. Check out my reviews, then let’s discuss how to make experiences like these happen more often for us all.

Mehtaphor

When I attended the launch of the GREAT Kitchens Chef’s Table luncheon tour at MehtaphorChef Jehangir Mehta (who also owns Graffiti) served us elegant, inventive tasting courses inspired by Asian (especially Indian) and French cuisine. Standouts, for me, were the grilled tofu topped with a chickpea flour-breaded onion ring and cilantro chutney, and dessert—a rum raisin ice cream sundae topped with sweet pappadum-inspired crisps. The food made me think differently about some of my favorite (and least favorite—see: cilantro) foods, which is exactly what a restaurant should do.

More importantly, the chef and his waitstaff were pleasant, articulate, reliable, and accommodating. Mehta seemed passionate about the idea of serving everybody who entered, and he did it well. He said his dream was to one day own a restaurant serving just one person at a time, which I found pretty cool.

MORE chickpea flour!!!

MORE chickpea flour! It’s everywhere.

Tommy Lasagna

Chef Tommy Mosera is new to the gluten-free business, but it doesn’t show. At Tuesday’s blogger dinner at Tommy Lasagna, our server Zach and the chef himself were so personable, informed, and forthcoming that I almost want to say the service was the standout—except that that’d be unfair to the housemade focaccia and mozzarella, farmers market lasagna, flourless chocolate cake, and light-as-air cheesecake.

Chef Mosera explained he phased in gluten-free items a few at a time to get his staff used to taking precautions—and, my, the precautions! The pasta is made in-house, but in its own equipment, in the morning before any gluten molecules might be in the air to drift into our lasagna like so many acid snowflakes. Mosera also names the gluten-free menu items differently from gluten-containing items (not just “GF such and such”) to avoid confusion at the point of order—an inspired idea. His work seems to have paid off, since afterwards we all felt great (if a tad overstuffed). The restaurant is launching its full gluten-free menu this weekend.

Whatever the omnivores were having sounded good, too, but give me two slabs of fresh mozzarella and I am o-k-a-y.

Whatever the omnivores were having for their first course sounded good, too, but give me a few slabs of fresh mozzarella and I am o-k-a-y.

My compliments to the chefs!

Both chefs also contended admirably with other restrictions thrown their way, including my vegetarianism and a smattering of allergies. If you’re in the New York area and eat gluten-free (or don’t), Mehtaphor and Tommy Lasagna are both well worth a visit.

What inspired these chefs to give us an experience so out of the ordinary? Chef Mosera created his gluten-free menu after his business partner’s wife (the person who suggested he open a restaurant) became gluten sensitive. Chef Mehta feels that serving people food they can eat is why he opened a restaurant in the first place.

So now I wonder: How can we get other chefs to follow their example?

I tried to answer that question this week on My Life With Food Allergies. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to stop by and let me know if you agree.

And, in the spirit of trying new things, check out these blogs by the folks with whom I had the distinct pleasure of sharing these meals. Some of these bloggers, I already followed and was excited to meet in person; some I’d met before and was thrilled to see again; and some were new to me; but all of them are smart, fun folks whose blogs you ought to read (if you don’t already!).

Barbara of About.com IBS, Mike of Gluten-Free Mike, Anya of Another Gluten-Free Blog, Judith of Fooditka and We Heart Astoria, Carolyn of Gluten-Free Bird and the Brooklyn Gluten-Free Meetup Group, Candice of London to NYC, Katie of Gluten-Free Blondie and the hilarious When I Went Gluten-Free, Kristen of Pasta’s Kitchen, and Erin (who organized the Tommy Lasagna dinner) of Gluten-Free Fun, Gluten-Free Globe Trotterand the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup Group.

Have you discovered any new favorite blogs or restaurants recently?

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Don’t know much about chemical sensitivity?

Have you seen the movie Safe?

It’s about a woman (Carol, played by Julianne Moore) who develops a mysterious and steadily worsening illness—most likely multiple chemical sensitivity.

I watched it in college. Though it was a great film, it encouraged me to dwell on my own mysterious illness, which had begun earlier that year. The film set up questions like, “Is her illness even real? Will she ever get better?” Watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder the same things about me.

Later, of course, I found out I have celiac disease, and that it could get better. I just have to not eat some things (okay, a lot of things). Except for avoiding crumbs, I don’t have to worry too much about my environment. I won’t find gluten in the air anywhere besides a bakery, and the worst chemical I contend with is natural flavorings.

cover of Allergic to Life by Kathryn Treat

But I remained curious about chemical sensitivity, which I didn’t know much about beyond its portrayal in the film.

Now, I’ve learned about it from Kathryn Chastain Treat, one of my earliest readers and strongest supporters. She blogs about her extreme chemical sensitivity, and she’s just finished a book: Allergic to Life.

To celebrate her book’s release, I asked her a few questions about what is still a misunderstood and mysterious disease.

Readers, we’d love to hear your answers to these questions, too!

What do you feel your experience has in common with the experience of people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or food allergies? What’s most different?

Kathryn: I feel that in some ways we are very similar. We can’t just go and eat anywhere or anything. I have food allergies, which causes issues similar to those that someone with celiac disease encounters when dining out or with family and friends.

What makes me different is that I have not only food allergies, but also sensitivities to chemicals (perfumes, colognes, fabric softeners) and mold. I do a lot of dining at outdoor cafes if they can tolerate my food allergies (which include foods that may contain mold, like vinegar and soy sauce) and if I can manage to find seating far enough away from someone who is very scented.

What misconceptions do people have about your illness? Which get you mad? Which do you think are just funny? How do you respond?

Kathryn: I believe people, including many in the medical profession, feel that my sensitivities to chemicals and mold are not that serious. They believe that if I can manage a short time in a store (with my mask) that I should be able to go anywhere anytime I want. I also feel that people believe because I do not work and stay at home that I just sit and watch television and eat bon bons in my fluffy slippers.

What makes me the maddest is not taking my symptoms seriously. I think the perception that I have all the time in the world because I don’t work is probably the funniest. They have no idea how much work it takes to stay as well as I have managed to get and how long it takes to clean my house.

I have responded that my total load of what my body tolerates varies from day to day. If I am having a good day, then I can make a trip to the store. I can’t do this every day or spend all day doing this because despite my mask, my body gets too overloaded with chemicals and I end up sick. Sometimes I just ignore it all together because it is hard to convince someone once they have their own preconceived ideas.

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you as a result of being ill?

Kathryn: My younger daughter was here for a visit and we were scheduled to visit my older daughter. My younger daughter had her hair done earlier in the day. Not thinking (I blame my off and on again companion—brainfog), we just jumped in my car. Of course she put on one of my required tyvek suits to avoid bringing any fragrances or chemicals into my car. We started down the road, and about ten miles into our trip I was having difficulty. I was getting a headache, congested, and my voice was slowly getting more of a crackle in it. Suddenly it dawned on both of us that her hair was making me ill.

As soon as possible I pulled to the side of the road and we both jumped out. How were we going to make it safe for us to continue on our journey? We couldn’t go on the way things were and I couldn’t call anyone to come help us. We searched the back seat and then the trunk to find something we could put over her hair.

Aha! There it was, a white plastic garbage bag in my trunk. I always keep some in the car for emergencies or having to put someone’s belongings in it before they can ride with me.

We got the bag out of the trunk and tried to put it over her hair. The wind was blowing and gusts of air would get under the bag and fill it like a balloon. We fought and fought the wind and the air in the bag. Here we are on the side of the road, she is already wearing the white tyvek suit, and we are now trying to put a bag over her head.

Enter the highway patrol cruiser. Just as I thought things couldn’t be worse or crazier than they were, the officer gets out to see if we need assistance. I have to explain as simply as I can without appearing to be a lunatic that I have sensitivities to chemicals and my daughter has just gotten her hair done, making me ill. I also explained that we were trying to cover her hair up with the bag but the air kept getting inside the bag. I purposely tried to ignore the fact that she was dressed in this white suit. The officer, however, noticed and made some funny comment about her tyvek suit and Ghostbusters and then calmly walked over and helped us get the bag on her hair. I was then asked to move aside so that he could write down my license plate number, which was required because he had stopped to check our status. As he walked away, he said it bothered him too when his wife got her hair done.

The story doesn’t end there. A few weeks later our tenant came to pay rent. He was talking about having coffee with his highway patrol officer friends. One had commented about these two women on the side of the road and how he had to help one put a bag over the other one’s head. I immediately started laughing and told him that I was one of the women he rescued that day. Our tenant knows all about my sensitivities and about my story. He started laughing and said he couldn’t wait to tell this particular officer that he knows the women.

I knew the officer would most likely go back and tell the story to all his buddies. I mean, how often does this kind of thing happen?

Okay, now what’s the least funny?

Kathryn: The least funny thing was when I made a quick trip with my daughter into Target. We were getting what she and I needed when we ran into a woman pushing her shopping cart with a little girl trailing alongside her. She saw me with my mask and made the fastest turnaround I had ever seen someone make with a shopping cart. I am sure she thought that I was contagious, and what she never knew was that I was more likely to get sick being around her than her from being around me.

What book or movie character would you nominate as the mascot for chemical sensitivity?

Molly: This was my final question, but we’ve both been wracking our brains and haven’t come up with anyone yet (there’s gotta be a Harry Potter reference in here somewhere). I don’t want to nominate Carol, because Kathryn and Carol don’t seem too similar (watch the film and you’ll agree).

Can you think of one? Let us know if so! Also, be sure to share your own funny and unfunny health stories. And, of course, check out Kathryn’s book.

She is offering a giveaway of three autographed copies through Rafflecopter, and her book is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon (prices vary). Autographed copies (US Only) will be available on her website.

This is stop #7 on her book blog tour, and you can find the rest on her blog.

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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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