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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Weddings, a Time to Celebrate and Eat

Spring means showers and flowers, and it is also the unofficial start of wedding season. This past weekend I attended a fabulous wedding.  The rain stopped, the skies opened, and the sun shined down on a beautiful couple with hundreds of family and friends.  Whether you are in a wedding or simply attending, you have to plan your meal accordingly. Most guests can mindlessly sample the hors d’oeuvres while sipping the “Bride and Groom Martini” drink special of the night, but this behavior is not for everyone. So what is the best approach to this highly-celebratory social event?  Though the answer is up to each individual I will offer a few suggestions.

The cocktail hour starts the night. Endless trays are butlered around by the staff, and while most will happily nosh their way through each tray, you wonder what is in the dish, how it was prepared, and ultimately if it is ‘safe’ to eat. Then there is the sit-down portion of the evening. You are here to have an enjoyable time with friends and family, and that includes taking the guesswork out of dinner. A few strategies include:

–  Call the restaurant/venue prior to going

–  Talk to your waiter before they begin serving the main meal

–  Bring food with you

–  Have a snack/meal before you go

Today many places are aware of food allergies and the gluten-free diet. Wedding venues in particular strive to satisfy the wedding party, and offer vegetarian and gluten-free options. If you know the bride/ groom you can have a request put in, but it is just as effective if you notify the place directly prior to going. You can also inquire about the cocktail party dishes. Once there during the cocktail hour, if you aren’t sure, stick with the basics: vegetables, cheeses, and fruits. During the sit-down portion you can pull your waiter aside and explain your platter will be gluten-free.  In my experience they will be more than willing to work with you to keep your food free of sauces and seasonings, and will also notify the chef.

Though it has become easier to talk to waiters and managers about the gluten-free diet, as a precaution it is always advised to have food with you. This goes for your daily routine as you never know where the day can take you. Keep it simple, such as a bar (cereal or fruit/nut) that can fit nicely in your purse. If you prefer pack additional food, such as a premade peanut butter sandwich, and keep it in the car. This way in case you don’t feel comfortable eating there you have a back-up plan.

Lastly, have a snack or meal before you go. A wedding can last for the better part of the day, and you will need the energy especially when the dancing begins! If you eat before you go, you can spend your time socializing and sipping a drink instead of eyeing the platters with questions running through your mind during the cocktail hour. I would, however, still contact the venue to confirm your formal dinner platter to ensure you have a solid meal. These events are to be enjoyed by all. This includes you. Plan ahead and when the time comes, celebrate!

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Bridget’s – Ambler, PA

After a long work week where do you typically find yourself?  Happy Hour of course!  This includes starting the night off with a refreshing drink to wash away the stress from work, and to enjoy the company of friends you haven’t seen in a while.   On this particular night I found myself with a dear friend at a local restaurant in Ambler, PA – Bridget’s Steak House.  What started out as drinks evolved into a welcomed dinner and more drinks (just look at their wine list, you would have done the same too).

Eating out should be a pleasant time, but for celiacs and celiacs alike, it usually poses some concern when ordering.  You always wonder if the staff understands what gluten free means, and not just the specific ingredients but the way it is prepared too.  Cross contamination is as much of a problem as the ingredients are, and it is difficult to convey this to busy waiters and staff.  This was not the case at Bridget’s Steak House.  Upon first learning that I required a special meal the manager was most helpful in discussing with the chef my diet restriction, and then he also directed one of the waitresses who understood the diet to speak with me.  They were more than willing to customize any dish I wanted.  

Quite confident in the service, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to eat a hot meal.  I chose their chicken dish that included goat cheese, prosciutto, asparagus and a substitution of the risotto for their mashed potatoes.  This sounds quite simple but don’t be fooled.  The dish had an artistic look, which captured my attention, as it was layered so that each bit embraced all the flavors and textures of each component.  The chicken was cooked and seasoned perfectly and was smoothered with a warm goat cheese, and topped off with the proscuitto.  This made for a salty and creamy combination of the cheese and ham, with the chicken being cooked so that the juices made your mouth water.  The mashed potatoes offered a smooth and creamy texture with a parmesan cheese mixed throughout, while the aspargus provided the crunch aspect of the meal.  To say I enjoyed the dish would be an understatement.   

Experiences such as this reminds me that there are times when I can order a full meal and not let worry prevent me from savoring it.  For all of you that are skeptical of ordering even a salad I hope the exceptional service provided by Bridget’s Steak House altered your perspective in working with the staff.  It is not easy to discuss your  diet contraints, but there are places that want to serve you and allow you to enjoy the finer foods.  Always use your discretion, but if you feel comfortable enough order something decadent as I did please, please, please seize the chance!!

Did You Know?

May is Celiac Awareness Month.  There are a ton of ways to spread the word and raise awareness, so instead of me writing to you I thought it would be fun to click your way through all of the information about celiac disease and special events happening!

NFCA:  www.celiaccentral.org/pantryraid/

Celiac.com:  www.celiac.com/articles/22076/1/National-Celiac-Awareness-Month-and-History-of-Celiac-Disease/Page1.html 

Rudi’s:  www.rudisglutenfree.com/events/

Triumph Dining:  www.triumphdining.com/blog/2012/05/01/national-celiac-awareness-month/

Celiac Awareness Tour:  www.facebook.com/celiacawarenesstour 

Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/udisglutenfree/national-celiac-awareness-month-2012/

Coping with the Gluten Free Diet

It’s not easy when you first learn you have to go gluten free. It doesn’t compare to being sick for  week, taking an antibiotic, and then going back to your lifestyle.  Nope, this diet is for life.  What you have to remember when you are diagnosed as being celiac, or gluten intolerant, is to focus on what you can eat and not what you can’t eat. Perspective is key to jump starting your new lifestyle.  Finally you know what makes you ill and you can prevent it.

In the beginning start small.  Stick with simple foods that are easily definable and easy to say.  A rule I learned to live by as I overcame the label reading hurdle (hydrolyzed wheat protein and/or hydrolyzed soy protein – really I need to learn this stuff)?, I started with the least processed foods.  This meant food shopping along the perimeter of the super market and down the organic isles, even though gluten free does not mean organic.  Reading labels became easier over time.  You get familiar with the term gluten, and understand that it encompasses multiple grains such as rye, spelt, barely, and durum.  Also, when the FDA passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), consumers were able to see in bold if the product contained one of the top eight food allergens.  The caveat?  Gluten is not part of the top eight food allergens, only wheat.  This means products such as Rice Krispies contain gluten because malt flavoring is listed in the ingredients, but the allergen warning does not disclose it.

Over the past few years gluten free products have been hitting the shelves.  You can find breads, cake mixes, pizza crusts, pasta that doesn’t turn to mush if it overcooked by 30 seconds, and a wide array of sauces.  Stores are making it easier to find their gluten free products too.  Wegmans has a “G” marking a product as Gluten Free, and recently Giant has instituted a program where they disclose gluten free products throughout the store.  Though these seem like small steps they are a huge help in daily living.  It’s nice to be able to go in a store, like Wegmans, and just shop from their gluten free section.  It decreases the time needed to read labels, and more manufacturers are promoting that their products are produced in a dedicated gluten free facility.

Lastly, as you continue to develop a routine to manage your gluten free lifestyle, be adventurous in the kitchen.  Try out new recipes and dishes whenever possible.  Test out quick meals that can be thrown together in 30 minutes, to meals that recreate what you used to eat when wheat was in.  Being gluten free doesn’t mean sacrificing taste or eating the same five foods daily.  View dinner as a veggie, meat, and starch and go from there.  Or base it on being Italian, Mexican, or Asian.  No time to cook?  There are great frozen meals out there too.  Really you can have all that.

Domino’s Goes Gluten Free

Domino’s has announced they will offer a gluten free pizza!!  According to CBS News  the pizza chain is adapting to fit the changing needs of its consumers.  A word of caution for those with celiac disease – you run the risk of cross contamination.  It has been stated that while the national pizza chain does offer the gluen free crust they cannot guarantee their kitchen operations will maintain the pizza as a certified gluten-free product.

I realize at first glance this post brings great joy to many of you, followed by a little sadness.  Yes, it would be absolutely WONDERFUL to order pizza with everyone on Friday night and eat from the same pizza box.  That dream isn’t reality just yet, but if a national pizza chain is developing their product line to include a gluten free crust they are on the right path.  As they continue to ensure safe practices in the kitchen I believe the pizza chain will be offering their gluten-free pizza crust to those with celiac as well as those that are gluten intolerant.  Currently they are working with the NFCA (National Foundation for Celiac Awareness) and their GREAT kitchen program that aids in safe procedures.

Parties

The title is broad enough to encompass everything from BBQ’s at your friends house to bridal showers such as the one I attended this past weekend.  They all require you to eat out and in a social setting.  I’m sure many people have encountered such environments, and if attended unprepared you can either be left hungry or accidentally being glutened.  Don’t let your gluten-free diet prevent you from partaking in social events.

There are a few ways you can overcome the awkwardness of not eating with the group.  You can plan ahead by talking to the host/hostess to see if you can bring a dish or you can eat ahead.  I personally feel it is more fun to make something that can be shared with all the attending guests.  If it is a BBQ bring a hearty side, such as potato or pasta salad, and desserts are always a crowd pleaser.  Brownies and cookies are simple to make thanks to manufacturers such as Betty Crocker, and they are tasty to boot. For my friends bridal shower we honored the ‘Cinco de Mayo’ theme and we had a taco bar.  Corn tortillas, cheese, salsa, guacamole, beans, and lettuce made for a filling and flavorful lunch.  If eating ahead, have a light meal, and dine on some finger foods if preferred.  Stick with easy-to-identify dishes such as fruits, veggies, non-marinaded meats, cheeses etc.  I would also recommend reading any and all labels that are present to be certain you avoid all wheat and gluten items.  For instance, not all chips are corn chips these days.  Some are labeled ‘multigrain’ and include wheat.  Some creamy dips like ranch or vegetable can also contain gluten.  Stick with the bottled dressings to be sure you know what you are getting.

These social gatherings are meant to be a time of fun.  Todays take-away allows you to just that; offer to bring your own dish or eat ahead.  Either way you want to focus on socializing with the people you care about and enjoying yourself without worrying about being hungry and finding something ‘safe’ to eat.

The Celiac Awareness Tour

This past weekend, April 28th, I had the pleasure of attending the Celiac Awareness Tour. A newbie to the tour, I quickly realized I walked into a fantasy world where I didn’t have to question everything that was put in front of me. I predicted I would sample some treats, but I had no idea I would be munching on pizza, muffins, cinnamon rolls, breads, chicken fingers, fried ravioli, lasagna, and beer; oh the list goes on! The complement to the savory and sweet foods I sampled were the vendors and hosts of the event. They were enthusiastic about their products, and were well-informed of what constitutes a gluten-free food. They understood safe ingredients and safe procedures such as cross-contamination, and you could socialize as you ate instead of asking question after question.

As I made my way from table to table, I realized I wanted to take away more from this event then simply eating till I reached my bursting point. How could I incorporate some of today’s products into my gluten free lifestyle? I decide to focus on three areas: bread, dessert, and a restaurant. My first stop was the sweet portion of the day. I tried everything gluten and wheat free including macaroons. The macaroons were mouth-watering, and they were an instant hit by those swarming the table. Created by Jennies Gluten-Free Bakery, I sampled all three versions: the original, the chocolate drizzled, and the all-chocolate. They had a delectable texture from the coconut, and a melt-in-your-mouth sweetness that made you go back to try the other varieties. What amazed me the most was the consistency – you felt like you were eating a decadent dessert that satisfied your sweet tooth. I’d like to say which one I liked the best, but sadly I am unable to. All three were amazing and I would highly recommend these as your daily indulgence.

Next I stumbled upon an old favorite luncheon spot, The Couch Tomato. Located in Manayunk I recall being served huge portions of fresh ingredients comprising a unique salad. Adding more bliss to the day than I thought possible, the owner Craig Mosmen, informed me the company expanded their product line and introduced a gluten-free pizza crust. They did a demo showing how they make the pizza followed by cooking and serving it to the drooling audience. When I tell you there was a line at the booth, I mean there was a line that wrapped down to the entryway, with growling stomachs ready to pounce. My first bite was nothing but exceptional, and I have the burnt pizza mark on the roof of my mouth as evidence. The dough stole the show. With the first bite you penetrate the crunchy outer- crust and reach the soft inside. It had the right amount of spices and herbs, topped with melted cheese, and tomato sauce that brought together the three main components of a pizza. Seconds anyone?

My last quest was the bread. Growing up in Philadelphia everyone knows you have to have a good hoagie. Queue Arize. Never before have I been satisfied with a bread, nonetheless one that has the consistency and texture of a good old hearty Italian loaf. Sure, I may have only sampled a piece topped with a cinnamon-butter spread, but that bread spoke volumes. It had the softness and consistency of its gluten counterpart; with your first touch you could feel the freshness and it bounced back to retain its shape. No crumbling upon biting, no doughy texture when chewing, just a wonderful piece of white bread. This bread was made from an Italian for an Italian. Unfortunately, it hasn’t reached the store shelves of PA, but in time I hope to find it!

Overall, this event was satisfying in multiple ways. A plethora of delicious foods, eager business owners ready to present the gluten-free world their amazing creations, and best of all the entire event turned into just a food show. Everyone there understood the purpose of the event, and eventually after the initial wow factor of realizing you could eat everything there (unless you couldn’t do oats), the conversations were focused on taste and texture. As a personal highlight I was able to bring home with me three new ways I could diversify my gluten free style  of cooking and eating.