Tag Archives: restaurants

Going (to) Against the Grain…Help!

Tonight, I’m going to a restaurant. For most people my age in New York, that’s a regular occurrence, but as most of you know, for me, it’s not.

The spot sounds great. It’s described on Yelp variously as a “magical hideaway clubhouse” and “the absolute best place to throw a small, intimate party without much hassle.”

However, despite its tease of a name—Against the Grain—its specialties run more toward grain-based dishes (like soft pretzels and “chorizo in a poncho”) than against them. And when I say grain, I don’t mean sorghum.

Yelpers also suggest, “If your tastes run to beer and you want to have it and only it chalkboarded on the walls, enter here,” and, “If you aren’t a beer drinker, well, hello!, don’t come here.

Clearly, this isn’t my kind of place.

But, as you’ve likely gathered, I didn’t choose it. The restaurant is where a friend is having her birthday party. Her tastes do run to beer, and the soft pretzels do sound awfully tempting, and it is her birthday, so I don’t at all fault her for choosing it. In fact, she graciously called the restaurant on my behalf to inquire about gluten-free options and let me know, basically, there weren’t any. (At least, nothing guaranteed safe.)

stack of non-gluten-free soft pretzels with salt

What I’ll eat tonight is unclear, but it won’t be this.
Photo © Tommi Arina | Flickr

The question then became, what do I do? Although I’ve read all the advice in the world, it seems, I’ve yet to experience this situation. Most of my friends throw parties at bars, where it’s far less awkward not to eat anything, or at home, where dinner is rarely on the menu. And my sister’s graduation weekend featured a catering staff that at least made an effort to accommodate me and a birthday/graduation party for which my parents made everything gluten-free.

I’ve spent the week meaning to call the restaurant in a quiet time and ask whether they mind if I bring something with me, but in typical procrastinating fashion I’ve put it off. There’s still time to do it, but even if they say it’s fine, I’m afraid I’d feel awkward when it came time to plop my tupperware down amidst the small plates. But would it be more awkward to be the only one not eating?

I can’t decide, and as I muse over (and blog about) it, my window for packing anything before I leave for the day is closing. I wish it didn’t require this much thought, but such is celiac life.

What would you do in my situation? Let me know in the poll below, and if you have more advice, or stories about your own dining-out travails, go ahead and put it in the comments.

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope your plans for this evening include good gluten-free food, or at least—like mine—good gluten-full friends.

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Gluten-Free Astrology: Virgo (Born August 23 – September 22)

Hey, Gluten-Free Virgo, wait up! Don’t click…darn. Lost another one. Logical Virgo is the sign least likely to brook the vague suppositions on which astrology is founded, so I’m sure they’ve mostly fled.

Nevertheless, for those in the Virgo ranks whose anxious nature keeps them from completely dismissing even something so silly as a horoscope, or who are working on broadening their rational worldview, or who are simply too kind to abandon me now, I’ll carry on. After all, this stuff is important. Get ready, because my spot-on analysis is about to blow your left-brained mind.

Fun fact: your sign is the Virgin, but she stands more for purity of purpose than for any other kind of purity that might occur to you—though most of you are probably still a bit too reserved to go prancing about naked like this statue. Photo © Tom Magliery | Flickr

Fun fact: your sign is the Virgin, but she stands more for purity of purpose than for any other kind of purity that might occur to you—though most of you are probably still a bit too reserved to go prancing about naked like this statue.
Photo © Tom Magliery | Flickr

The GF Virgo is an organized creature. When you hit the road or the skies, there’s no throwing a half-stale bag of Popchips and a Larabar into the suitcase at the last minute for you; you travel prepared with an assortment of food optimized to fill all your calorie and nutrient needs for precisely the amount of time you’ll be away—plus backups in your carry-on and a bento box for the flight. And no, you didn’t accidentally pack anything liquid.

When you were first diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerance, you wasted no time in clearing out the pantry, wiping down every surface, and perhaps even lining your drawers and resealing the dining room table.

Because of your budget savviness, you’d probably amassed quite an impressive pantry, so throwing out all of those opened packages of flour and pasta and even not-glutenous but possibly contaminated containers of sugar and baking soda may have hurt a little—but just a little. Your mottos are “order above all else”; “a clean home is a happy home”; “idle hands are the devil’s playthings”; and all that Protestant ethic jazz. Some may therefore consider you rather cold or callous, or at the very least a stickler.

And, well, the stickler part is probably true. No trying “just a taste” or figuring “this should be safe” for you. Every package gets checked, every question gets asked, every manufacturer gets directly called. And, as a result, many fewer glutenings get got. You go, GF Virgo.

The cold and callous part, though? No, that’s not you. You care intensely about doing the right thing, and that includes doing right by others. You’re dedicated to your family, friends, and community—so though you may not be as nurturing as a Cancer or as buoyant as a Leo, in your own way you’re just as warm as your fellow summertime signs.

Photo © Rromir Imami | Flickr

Your symbol, the Virgin, is often pictured holding a sheaf of wheat. In the GF Virgo’s case, she’s probably carrying it somewhere far away from her own kitchen to gift to someone who will be able to use it. Because that’s just the kind of person she is. (She will then scrub her hands for five minutes afterwards. Because that’s also the kind of person she is.)
Photo © Rromir Imami | Flickr

This month, you might put your conscientiousness to work on behalf of your fellow GFers by helping a local restaurant to iron out the kinks in its gluten-free service. Using your eagle eye for flaws, teach that sandwich bar attendee to keep the breaded chicken farther away from the cucumber, or point out (gently) that soup isn’t gluten-free if it’s served in a bread bowl. Or take advantage of back-to-school season to do a little educating of your own—many public and private schools have a thing or two to learn about gluten and allergies. Beware, however, of your tendency to overcomplicate. Not every change must be implemented by a planning committee.

Oh, and while I’m criticizing you, I should remind you that you yourself have a tendency to be overcritical, not only of others but of yourself. Virgo rules over the nervous system and the intestines, so the GF Virgo is at the heart of a perfect storm when it comes to gluten-induced anxiety. You’re also quite health-focused, and therefore prone to hypochondria. This month, try to take it easy on yourself; give yourself the same care you give others, but avoid obsessing over the details of your day-to-day wellness. Getting out of your own head (and your extraordinarily tidy house) just might be the best thing for it.

GF Virgos tend to be shy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few famous ones running around. (Pardon me, they are in fact very rarely found “running around” as opposed to “proceeding in a calm and efficient manner toward their goal.”) Here are a couple:

Confucius

Confucius

Confucius, born September 28th, 551 BC, might seem to have a birthday outside of the Virgo date range. However, my ultimate guide to astrology and several less trusty but ultimately convincing websites tell me he was a Virgo, so I’m just going to assume it has something to do with planetary motion and thousands of years having passed and all that. But was he a GF Virgo? Judge for yourself: I hear Confucius said, “I do not eat if I do not get the proper soy sauce.” Sounds like a celiac saying to me.

Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa, born August 26th, 1910, would not be very happy to hear herself associated with this blasphemy, but she was without a doubt a Virgo through and through. It takes some serious belief in rules, order, and a sense of what’s right to become a nun in the first place, not to mention do the additional work to which she dedicated her life. But GF? Well, I don’t mean to say that Mother Theresa was a fad dieter, but she did briefly flirt with eating nothing but rice and salt, in imitation of the diet of the poor. She was talked out of it eventually, but at least for a time, turns out, she was by default a GF Virgo.

Anyone else you can think of? I can’t help but imagine that all of those celiac experts must fall under this sign (Peter Green? Stefano Guandalini? Alessio Fasano? Total Virgos). However, I don’t know their birthdays, and neither does Google, it seems, so you’ll have to take my word for it—though if you’re a GF Virgo, you totally won’t.

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

My dear GF Virgo friends, I am ready for you to tear into me for propagating such unremitting nonsense. (But…come on…didn’t I get it just a little right? Let me know if so!)

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Meda ase, Ghana Cafe! (Gluten-free in DC)

I’m not going to make a habit of reviewing restaurants on this blog, partly because I almost never go to them. I swore them off on January 29th until I’m feeling better, per standard recommendations. However, I admit that I’ve “cheated” and gone out to eat three times since then, at three different restaurants.

One was Sacred Chow near NYU (where I was sad to learn they’d changed their menu from the previous small plates format). I was dining with a gluten-free companion who swore up and down that they were good about cross-contamination, and our waiter made similar assurances. Lack of tapas aside, the meal was tasty as always, but I still didn’t feel right about it. After that I renewed my vow to pass on restaurants that weren’t strictly gluten-free until the time is right.

The two restaurants I’ve made exceptions for since then both claim entirely gluten-free menus: the newish Hu Kitchen near Union Square (paleo and veg-friendly, not so easy to pull off) and Ghana Cafe in Washington, DC, while I was visiting my brother Patrick (warning: their website plays drums at you).

I was excited to learn that the cuisine of Ghana traditionally uses cornmeal and rice rather than wheat (or other gluten-containing grains) as staples, meaning the food is naturally gluten-free. When I called in advance, the staff member assured me that everything was gluten-free. In person, our waiter (who I believe was in fact the owner, though he didn’t introduce himself as such) reassured us that everything was gluten-free, and also volunteered that it was dairy-free and GMO-free. Fine by me!

SAUCE2

This sauce (which we didn’t get to try on its own, though I think it was in Pat’s dish) is available for sale on their website in terrifying bulk quantities.

He also let us know that select products of theirs are available at their local Whole Foods (so far, only their hot sauce, but they’d just dropped off samples of other dishes, including the peanut soup that I had, and were hoping they’d get picked up—good luck!).

I had a rice and black-eyed pea pilaf-style dish (wakye, I think) with peanut soup, and Pat and I split a dish called banku, made of fermented corn, which was a slightly sour polenta-bready thing. I liked it plain; though it was quite bland, it struck me as great comfort food. It became magical when dunked in the peanut soup or spread with the incredible spice mixture that came out with it. This mix was their housemade shito, which is normally based on seafood but which they make vegan. They didn’t want to give away their recipe, but I got confirmation that it was “just spices.” Have you had it?

Me with my new favorite condiment, shito. ("Pull up your shirt!," says my Mom.)

Me with my new favorite condiment, shito. (I know, I know: “Pull up your shirt!,” says Mom.)

Big brother Pat ordered the jollof (tomatoey, spiced) rice with snapper. I think he was a bit surprised when his entrée came out as an entire fish, head and all . . .

HTC PI86100_000094

. . . but that didn’t stop him from eating it. I didn’t stop him either, despite staring at it with perturbed fascination and commenting, “You can still see its little teeth!” and “It’s frowning at me!”

Yeah, I’m that vegetarian.

Anyway, it was a wonderful meal, and the restaurant, I think, is an underappreciated gem, which is why I wanted to be sure to write a review. Atmosphere-wise, it was fine—brightly colored tables, not-too-loud music, and large windows to the street that we sat by. Our waiter and busboy were friendly and forthcoming. Somewhat pricey, but very good food.

I was sort of nervous to go, though, because so few gluten-freers were talking about it online. I found one Yelper who spoke (yelped?) highly of it (others didn’t even mention the gluten-free menu, and many complained about slow service, which, to be fair, we also experienced—Pat and I agreed to term it “relaxed,” but we could’ve gone for a water refill or two, especially with the smallish glasses). A DC Celiac Support Group member also wrote a favorable review, but the restaurant didn’t make it into the most recently updated version of their GF-friendly restaurants list.

Where’s the love, DCers?

Here it is:

HTC PI86100_000096

Another reason I can’t do restaurant reviews: I don’t think to take pictures until the food is gone, and then I beg my dining companions to take them with low-quality cell phone cameras.

Given that my “stuff” isn’t under control, I suppose I shouldn’t have eaten out yet, even with all the reassurances, but I’m not beating myself up over it. I was on vacation, the world didn’t end, and I enjoyed my food. It was also nice to have three different dishes without having to do any dishes after. Best of all, my meal was free. (Thanks, Pat!)

Of course, if you don’t have your big brother there to pick up the tab, your food won’t be free, but it will be gluten-free (and dairy-free, and GMO-free) and tasty. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I definitely recommend Ghana Cafe. And if you get your hands on a decent banku or vegetarian shito recipe, let me know, because I’ll be all over that shito.

Tell me: What’s your favorite underappreciated/hole-in-the-wall/under-blogged-about restaurant?

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Gluten-Free Astrology: Taurus (born April 20 – May 20)

Photo © Duncan Hull | Flickr

Photo © Duncan Hull | Flickr

Springtime is officially here, as is the month of the bull. If you’re an Aries who missed out on my first post, check it out and let me know if your horoscope came true (pssst, it probably didn’t, because I never heard anything about that new neighborhood restaurant—luckily I’m moving back to Manhattan this summer, where I’ll be surrounded with gluten-free bakeries). Sad to say, although the world may revolve around you, this post isn’t about you Aries folks! Moving right along, as the seasons and the stars inevitably do, this month’s Gluten-Free Astrology is all about Taurus.

Taurus begins today, April 20th, and extends through May 20th. It is a sign near and dear to my heart, as my May 23rd bday puts me right on the cusp. But who cares what I think? Let’s move on to the objective stuff!

The Gluten-Free Taurus is ruled by the planet Venus, named for the goddess of beauty, the arts, and pleasure. This means that as a GF Taurus, you’re into luxury, money, and property, but, because you tend to appreciate permanence and stability, you aren’t a spendthrift or a gambler. You may be a regular at a restaurant with a nice gluten-free menu you trust 100 percent, and you likely stick to tried and true gluten-free foods rather than leaping to try every new product that hits the market (maybe you haven’t even tried Udi’s gluten-free flour tortillas yet—if so, I’m with you, still savoring the memory of my last ever white-flour quesadilla and sticking to the corn kind for now).

You are placid but intimidating; your friends know they can depend on you, but woe betide any who provoke your bullish temper by suggesting you’re taking your gluten-free diet a little too seriously or trying to force you to eat gluten. Though you rarely succumb to anger, even your well-known patience and stability have their limits. This month, expect something or someone to threaten your sense of internal order and security—perhaps that restaurant you love will change their menu. Resist the urge to charge! After all, you’re happiest at home anyway. Quiet your offended turmoil by hosting a get-together for your loved ones and indulging your love of luxury by playing host to a fantastic dinner party. Don’t forget to invite me!

I’d be pleased to get an invite to any gathering you hosted, because it’s sure to be luxe. Also, although those who don’t know better may consider you stolid and plodding, your close friends know that underneath your responsible exterior is a romantic dreamer who loves beauty and art—Venus, remember? This month, find time to indulge your artistic sensibility (perhaps by cooking something incredible for that dinner party, or writing poetic comments on other people’s blogs). And try to share it a little! You tend to keep your passion projects secret, which only increases others’ false impression that you’re a bit boring. Use those hidden stores of energy for something that you truly care about, and if you must go about it slowly and painstakingly, well, that’s to be expected.

The body part ruled by GF Taurus is the neck and throat, so this month watch out for colds. Getting a cold in the springtime is the worst. You may also struggle with thyroid issues, not because they are commonly associated with celiac disease but because you’re a Taurus. Keep that throat healthy and find a little time to join the birds in song—your sensuous artistic side often manifests in a beautiful singing voice (my Taurean dad, born May 13th, is a great example).

Finally, not that you care much about such things, here are a few famous Taurus folks (besides my dad) to be aware of:

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann is a Taurus and a lunchtime regular at a gluten-free fish-fry joint, according to Triumph Dining. Whether or not you agree with his politics, you can’t deny that hosting a radio show is a pretty great way to exercise his Taurean mellifluous speaking voice and dogmatism. 

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is another famous Taurus. Oral and anal fixations aside, there’s no evidence that he had issues with any kind of food, including gluten. But…so?

As a GF Taurus, your reliable taste and artistic opinion are always welcomed. So if you’re a Taurus, please let me know your thoughts in the comments! How do you plan to indulge your love of beauty, art, collectibles, and luxury this month?

Not a Taurus? What’s your sign, baby?

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).

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