Tag Archives: restaurants

Test your gluten-free knowledge! (A National Foundation for Celiac Awareness campaign)

As I’ve said before, despite or because of being an SAT tutor, I’m not really into standardized tests. Still, some (like the Patient Autonomy Test!) are genuinely useful assessments.

In 2012, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) tested the gluten-free knowledge of foodservice professionals attending a National Restaurant Association Show. According to this report, the results were abysmal. Under 50 percent of the restaurant pros could name a single gluten-containing grain other than wheat. That’s one test I wish chefs (and waiters, too) would invest a little time and energy prepping for.

Since you’re reading this blog, I’m willing to bet you can name more than one gluten-containing grain. But how much do you really know about gluten and its related disorders? If you’re brave enough, you can find out! The NFCA has come through with another quiz, this time with a different audience in mind: us, and our family and friends.

Rudi’s, everyone’s favorite grilled cheese maker (don’t tell Udi’s) is sponsoring the 10-question quiz and providing 10 gluten-free prize packs to quiz-takers. You get an entry even if you get a couple questions wrong—and you’re sure to learn a thing or two.

Take the quiz here, then challenge a friend to take it, too!

Why take the quiz (besides the prize packs)? To answer that, I look to another campaign by the NFCA, which urges us to “Restore your health. Reclaim your life. Take the pledge.” You can commit to take the pledge here, and it’s really simple: educate, empower, advocate.

At its most basic level, the pledge is about self-preservation. When you get diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder, you have to educate yourself in a whole new way of life, feel empowered to make the right choices for your health, and be willing to advocate for your needs in situations that demand it. (I wrote this as part of a testimonial I provided to the NFCA earlier this year. Read more testimonials here.)

I truly believe that the very most important thing we can do for our health is to learn about it, and after that, to educate others. If we don’t learn all we can about celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and gluten, how can we expect people like chefs—or even doctors—to bother with it? Cheesy as it is, in the case of GRDs, health does start from within.

So what are you waiting for? Take the quiz, then come back and tell me how you did! I’ve modestly held out until now to say this, by the way, but—woohoo!—I got ’em all right.

As for the prize pack, I wish you some belated St. Patrick’s Day good luck. If you, like me, managed to get celiac disease despite having a 132 out of 133 (or about 99.25%) chance of not getting it, then you probably need some.

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) Test Your Gluten-Free Knowledge campaign logo

Have you taken the pledge? Does it resonate with you? Do you feel educated and equipped to educate others about the gluten-free diet?

[Disclosure notice: I was offered two free Rudi’s product coupons valued at $10 in return for posting about the campaign. Although I’m looking forward to the grilled cheeses—or maybe giving the coupons away to one of you—I’d have posted about this anyway in accordance with my strict post-about-stuff-that-is-interesting-to-me-at-the-moment-when-I’m-writing-it policy. I was not otherwise compensated.]

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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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Ain’t no party like a celiac party

In fact, the only thing that beats a celiac party is THREE celiac events, back to back, like the recent and upcoming ones I’m about to describe. Am I right, or am I right?

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First, for everyone who’s been wondering whether our gluten-free paper mâché piñata held together…the answer is YES. Cornstarch + water pretty much = glue. It’s kind of gross.

Want to make your own? We used this recipe, and it couldn’t be simpler. A few tips, though:

  1. The recipe calls for boiling water, so be careful of tender little hands if you have kiddie helpers (not that you have to; as we can attest, it’s fun at any age).
  2. You’ll need to let the first layer dry a couple days before adding another, so start early.
  3. Paper is stronger than you think, so don’t add a billion layers unless you and your guests have a lot of rage to work out.
  4. We used to paint the shells when we made piñatas with our mom, but this time we glued streamers all over it and called it a day. How you decorate is up to you, but if you really want a gluten-free piñata, pick a GF paint.
Pinterest-worthy, no?

Pinterest-worthy, no?

For fear of it breaking too soon, we were overzealous in our double- and triple-layering, and the piñata ended up a bit too structurally sound. Instead of breaking, after many whacks it came loose from the ceiling, fell to the floor, and still didn’t break. Althea had to go Super Saiyan on it until it finally made like Humpty Dumpty and splat. (Yes, I feel those references belong in a sentence together.)

Our friends were way too cool/sober to rush for the gluten-free, nut-free candy once it hit the ground, though they did eventually saunter over to pick through it. (Tootsie Rolls, Starbursts, and Skittles, if you’re wondering, along with some shockingly good caramel apple lollipops, also in the Tootsie family, in green apple, Golden Delicious, and Macintosh flavors.)

No one filled up their goodie bags (who do they think they are? Grownups?), so we have lots left to give away to trick-or-treaters. We’ve hidden it from ourselves to help it last till Halloween. Do you give out treats at Halloween? Have you bought your stash already, and do you have to hide it from yourself, too?

I had my goodie bag at the ready, going up for my turn (with the mop handle bat).

I had my goodie bag ready, sure I’d bring the candy down on my turn…


...but then did not manage to hit the thing at all.

…but did not manage to hit the thing at all.

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Tonight Althea and I will be heading to another gluten-free party. If you’re in New York City, I hope to see you there! Tickets will be sold at the door for $30, cash or credit, and it’s for a good cause: a fundraiser for the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago.
More details are available HERE, but most importantly, the event includes:

The organizers are clearly out to prove that, contrary to popular opinion and T-shirts, fun hasn’t died yet at the U of C. Perhaps it was the gluten-free diet.

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Finally, next Tuesday, I’m participating in another exciting event: a luncheon at Mehtaphor, part of NFCA’s GREAT Kitchens 10-City Chefs Table Tour. There I’ll learn about—and report on—what top chefs like Jehangir Mehta are doing to extend a hand to the gluten-free community.

Given that I’ve had restaurant training on the brain, I have some questions about GREAT I hope to ask. If there’s anything you’d like to know, let me know.

Chef Mehta is also serving up a gluten-free prix fixe menu on Wednesday, October 23rd, open to the public, so make a reservation through the Mehtaphor website if you’d like a taste.

Will you be attending the party or reserving a table at Mehtaphor? Any other exciting GF events coming up on your horizon?

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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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