Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gluten Free Laughlin/Las Vegas

The weekend before Christmas we went to Laughlin by way of Las Vegas for the company Christmas party. We spent one night in Las Vegas at the Paris hotel. We had a great view! We were on a high floor in a corner room with two windows, one of which looked out over the Arc de Triomphe and the other had a view of the Eiffel Tower. Both windows had a good view of the Fountain at the Bellagio. For dinner we went to the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, where we had another good view of the Water Show. The restaurant was busy, but not crowded. (Of all our trips to Las Vegas this one had the fewest crowds anywhere, and some of the sales clerks seemed almost desperate.)

For dinner I ordered a pheasant dish that came on a risotto. I had Potato Gratin as a side dish. It was big enough for two, but I ate most of it myself, since I did not eat any of the lovely breads, nor did I have the mini popover that came with the little butternut squash flan topped with duck confit. I did eat the flan, but I waited till the waiter came back (a long wait – was he on break during the dinner hour?) to ask him if I could. He assured me that I could, and I did eat it, but I have to wonder why they thought to serve me the popover. Hmmmm... For dessert I had creme brulee, almost always the only dessert I can eat on the menu, with some not very warm coffee. Little candies were served at the end of the meal. I ate the jellies without asking about them. I sometimes wonder at the chances I take – who would have thought that eating a small jelly was taking one’s life in one’s hands?

The next morning I walked over to the new City Center Mall, Crystals, to take a look and to see the new Hotel Aria. The hotel has an enormous curved water wall outside the lobby. The Mall is strange with unusual structures (crystals?) as decoration. One grouping is of large columns of ice that drop into the water at their base at night and rise again renewed the next day. Around the corner from them were long columns containing water tornadoes. At the floor level the lights also had water swirling around them in columns set below the floor.

In the afternoon, after lunch at Chipotle, we were off to Laughlin across the desert . The landscape around Laughlin is a bit like Tatooine. The desert is filled with rubbly kinds of rocks and dirt, and small low bushes, and the mountains surrounding it have weird angular peaks. Laughlin itself is not a glitzy town, for all the many casinos and hotels lining the Colorado River, but it is accessible for all the people from the company to get to from Kingman, so our dinner party was at the Tropicana Express. We arrived a day early, so we went to dinner at The Range at Harrah’s. I ordered Sea Bass, which was served with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans. It was a plainer dinner than at Paris for sure, but I felt safer. We skipped dessert, but I had some coffee, and it was better than I had at the Eiffel Tower and warmer too. Hey! The Riesling was better too and less expensive!

Before our Christmas dinner at Passaggio I talked to the staff about what they could prepare for me. What they decided to do was have my dinner prepared at another restaurant in the Hotel, The Steakhouse. I had eaten there before during last year’s trip and had really enjoyed their food and the care they took in preparing it for me; so while everyone else was having lasagna and pizza and pasta, I had some very nicely sauteed shrimp with a rice pilaf and asparagus. I think The Steakhouse is a keeper. Given my druthers of places I have eaten in Laughlin to date, that would be my choice.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gluten Free Santa Fe/ Taos

This writing was supposed to be about Taos and the Taos Ski Valley, but pretty much all the food consumed on this trip was from or in Santa Fe. We rented a ski in-ski out condo in Taos Ski Valley and stocked up on food at Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe on the way up. The plan had been to stop at Whole Foods there since I had bought food there before and of course Whole Foods Markets are wonderful oases for the gluten intolerant, but I had also heard great things about Trader Joe’s and we happened upon one on our way towards Whole Foods, and so we stopped there. Trader Joe’s was very crowded with upscale customers. It was shopping cart to shopping cart in every aisle, but very exciting. Everyone was in a holiday mood and there were all kinds of things one cannot buy on a plane trip –Christmas plants and wreaths and orchids – wines of all kinds. We did buy some wines, but only enough to consume over the weekend.

When we got to our condo, we found that one could not get to it without a four wheel drive vehicle, so we were a little panicked, but a sweet fellow named Rob, who worked at another hotel in the Ski Valley, was kind enough to get us up to the condo with all the gear and all the food. Bless you, Rob! After that initial shock, we found that we had a faithful driver in Christian, who ferried skiers and shoppers for the rest of our stay. We went back to Santa Fe on Sunday evening and were in time to see some festivities on the Square. There was a Hanukkah celebration going on early in the evening and then a candlelight procession after dusk. Luminaria lined the square – real candles in paper bags with sand – none of those fancy electric ones.

We stayed at the Inn of the Anasazi and had dinner and breakfast there. Definitely a pricey place, but the one nice thing about fancy restaurants is that they pay attention to special diets. I ate a very nice sea bass fillet. The chayote-poblano “cake” it was served with scared me a bit, but it only meant that that the vegetables were layered. I was the only person in our group who had dessert, but then I was the only person who could not partake of the very nicely prepared appetizers.

The dessert was a panacotta and very nice but the sauce was a little tart for my taste. They also had the ever popular crème brulee and some sherbet. Other choices were out of bounds, except for the liqueurs and late harvest wines.

No time to play in the morning. We had very nice Southwestern style breakfasts. The chef was open to preparing whatever people wanted. I had a spinach and tomato egg white frittata with some hash browns. The dining room was lovely, and I must mention that the restrooms, which were down a staircase and past the wine cellar (which was a private room for groups of up to twelve), were also lovely and featured actual cloth towels for drying one’s hands. Maybe it is not so bad that I can’t eat at Taco Bell...


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gluten-Free Lactose-Free Fussy Family Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving at our house tends to look like a simple affair, since the dishes are mostly unadorned. The planning underlying it, however, is complex. This is because there are even more individual proclivities than there are allergies. This year Sandy and her family were not with us, as she was camping with about a hundred gluten-eating family members on her husband's side. (For the curious, she carries in her own food!) Even with four members missing, we had to do a complicated tap dance around what people here will actually eat. And guess what?! We had a great feast. My gluten-intolerant lactose-intolerant sister made wonderful dinner rolls using a Jules recipe, as well as a very lovely pumpkin cheesecake. My daughter-in-law Analida made both a much welcomed gluten-free pumpkin pie and a gluten-laden chocolate pie which had all the “normals” moaning and groaning from overeating. The turkey, which had to be cooked from frozen – Hey! It happens, okay? – came out very well and was quite succulent. It was probably underseasoned for many, but that is why I put out all those tiny little salt and pepper shakers that I have had in the cupboard all these years, but never used.

Since it happens that pretty much all the males in the family, and possibly several of the females, do not like condiments of most kinds, salads are by necessity very simple or creative. There is almost always a jell-o salad, made with lots of fresh fruit and fruit juices (cranberry-pineapple for this time of year) and a green salad served with separate salad dressings of one's choice or a homemade salad that is citrus based. The green salad this year was torn red lettuce leaves with chopped pears. The salad dressing, served separately as always, was a lime honey dressing. I have to say it was really great, even if I did make it myself. The fresh green beans were served steamed and unsalted; sweet potatoes were mashed with orange juice and brown sugar; and we had plain white rice, which everyone in the family can/ will eat. It was a lovely feast and everyone ate well, had a good time, and did not get too overladen with fats and salt. That's probably something to be thankful for.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gluten Free Lunch is Hard

Most cities have nice places where a celiac can eat dinner. Some of them are chains like Outback and some of them are privately owned; but dinners seem easier to obtain than lunch. Lunch is hard! Very near where I work though is a Pappadeaux, and they are open for lunch. Consequently, although it is a pretty expensive way to do lunch (I had the Hudson Bay Platter a couple of weeks ago. It is not a lunch item), I eat there every week or so. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I ate there twice! Lunch and Dinner. As it happened, Pappadeaux was having their big Lobster Fest – all you can eat lobster tails for dinner. What's a body to do? I had to go back! Unfortunately, my lunch was way too good, and I didn't have room to get my money's worth at dinner. In fact, I probably should have skipped dinner all together.

So what did I have for lunch?
First my husband ordered oysters on the half shell, and there was an add-on of boiled shrimp available, so I had the add-on shrimp. Then I ordered the oven baked citrus tilapia topped with shrimp. It was a large portion, nicely cooked, and it was terrific; the shrimp were outstanding as well. I was not able to eat more than a few of the green beans they made special for me, since I cannot have the dirty rice which comes with the fish.

I can't emphasize enough how diligent the staff is at Pappadeaux. They are very attentive to food allergies, and a little while back when there was a mistake in my entree, they did not charge us for it. On another occasion when there was a mistake made, they gave me a second entree which I took home for later. Mistakes do happen. We order entrees that have to be tweaked. That can throw a kitchen off center. Attitude and service make the difference. I love going to Pappadeaux. They make me feel welcome. They work hard at trying to feed me food that will not hurt me. They prepare very tasty dishes. Yay Papaadeaux!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Gluten Free Pizza

I am currently in love... with Boston's pizza. Boston's is a pizza chain with locations throughout the U.S., including one near me in McKinney, Texas. This is my family's new hang-out. They will make almost any of their pizza's on a gluten free crust. I have been enjoying the Hawaiian (canadian bacon and pineapple) too much to try any of the others, but eventually I will get around to trying the Chicken BBQ pizza.
This is real pizza. Not a frost-bitten substitute pulled out of a freezer. They use the same sauce, the same cheese, the same toppings as they do for their "regular" pizzas. (They do use separate utensils and cutting boards in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination.) The crust is a "thin-crust" style and is tasty.
There is just something really satisfying about being able to go to a pizza joint and have a real pizza at a place where the whole family can order something they want. It makes me feel "normal."

Gluten Free Disney World

The family is preparing for another trip to Disney World! This time we are fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine -- to stay in the Treehouses. These are little cottages up on stilts among the trees, tucked up out of the way of the normal hustle and bustle of The World. A side bonus -- since the Treehouses have a kitchen, we will be able to prepare some of our own food, making it easy and cheap to eat Gluten Free.

Here is a link to several reports on dining GF in Disney World, including one by Yours Truly.


Gluten Free NYC

Pizza, hot dogs, knish, bagels... the city calls out from every street corner "eat gluten!" At this time, I would gladly mug someone for the chance to eat potato pancakes without getting sick. (I ask - they always contain flour.)

Fortunately, the Internet is a wonderful place and I found a gluten-free restaurant in the West Village. The Gluten-Free Girl blog sent me to Risotteria, a risotto restaurant that primarily sells gluten-free food. Mark had a "full gluten" pizza, but I had the most incredible risotto. It was super creamy with mozzarella and pesto, all stirred up together and served like a stew. They brought gluten-free bread sticks to the table (nice crunchy, flaky crust) and we drank lemonade. We couldn't decide on the dessert, so we ordered three: a cupcake, carrot cake and a "fudgie."

The fudgie turned out to be two very large chocolate chip cookies, sandwiched together with a massive amount of chocolate icing. They cookies themselves were a little too sweet, so when you add in the frosting it was sugar overload. The cupcake was fun. It was chocolate decorated with white boiled icing and topped with colorful sprinkles. Inside was a cream filling. It was kind of like eating a Ho-Ho. But the real winner was the carrot cake. Carrot cake is such a great dessert for gluten-free cooking, because it is dense rather than airy. This was great, with lots of nuts and dates, and a cream cheese frosting. Yummy.

Friday night we wandered Time Square in search of food. We had tickets to see Rent, so we couldn't go too far. We found a neat place called Duke's that had all kinds of food in a quasi-cafeteria style. I had a make-your-own salad (they make it, but I got to decide what went in it) and Mark had panini. We both had fresh squeezed OJ and we bought some chocolate bars for dessert. Our dinner was only $30, a bargain on Broadway.

It's been kind of challenging eating here in NYC. Not because the food I can eat doesn't exist -- it does; but I have to learn where it is and that reduces our ability to be spontaneous. Fortunately, there are many fresh fruit stands all over the city, so I won't be needing to rely on that ol' Frisco standby -- Fritos.


Gluten Free Atlantis

We just returned from the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. We all had a great time. It's a perfect place to take kids; in some ways it's better than Disney in that it is smaller and more manageable. For example, we never had to take a bus to go anywhere. We even walked to the Dolphin Encounter. (a must do!)

One of the reasons we chose the Atlantis was that my mother and I are Celiacs and must eat gluten-free. We had heard that Atlantis was very accommodating.

I filled out a lot of paperwork before hand to let them know we would be arriving and need a special diet, but the restaurants didn't seem to know we were coming (unlike Disney, where the servers already know before you walk in the door). Nevertheless, everywhere we went they were very accommodating. We spoke with the head chef at each place we went, and they reviewed the menu (or buffet) with us. They were also willing to make special requests -- for example, they had a stir fry station at the Marketplace Buffet. Since the grill was "contaminated" by soy sauce (which contains wheat), the chef prepared our stir fry in a separate pan. Delicious!

Every place we went had tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, so it was easy to eat healthy, gluten free food. We did have some difficulty with finding Quick Service places to eat. I had a hamburger without the bun at a fast food stand, but Mom preferred to skip lunch rather than risk cross-contamination.

Several sit-down restaurants offered us gluten-free bread and/or pancakes. My advice -- say no. They were pasty and awful. Stick with "real" food.

Places we ate:
Marketplace (breakfast and dinner) -- incredible selection, good food, head chef was extremely accommodating.
Water's Edge buffet (breakfast) -- not as big a selection as Marketplace, but plenty of good food including lots of fresh fruit. I didn't bother to talk to a chef here as I just ate hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and yogurt.
Bahamian Club (dinner) -- expensive "fine dining" restaurant. The food was very good and the head chef came out and talked to us personally. Since we could not eat the onion side dish that normally come with the dinner entrees, she made us side dishes from veggies she prepared herself, including some roasted garlic, which was absolutely perfect.
Bimini Road -- Caribbean-themed restaurant that falls under their "relaxed dining" category. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was fun. I had Chicken Mojo and the chef prepared my veggies separately again. I think Mom had fish. The chef made a special dessert of grilled pineapple, since we couldn't eat anything on the desert menu.

All in all, I think Atlantis is an excellent destination for the gluten-free traveler, as well as whole lot of fun.


Gluten Free Las Vegas

Last week we went to Las Vegas and then Kingman AZ and the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West and then back to Las Vegas for a couple more days. The challenge: eating gluten free. Thursday night we just skipped dinner because we had eaten on the plane, which meant that I ate the cheese and lettuce out of the first class “snack” , and I think there was some fruit too. I had some mini corn muffins with me which I had made from the Gluten Free Pantry’s Yankee Cornbread mix. I had some grapes too and a couple of tangerines and apples in reserve.

Ate the buffet at Casear’s Palace for breakfast. There was an omelet station. I had some yogurt too and some fruit, juice and tea. Lunch was at Chipotle, down at the Outlet Malls on Las Vegas Blvd. The y understood what they were supposed to about the gloves. It was so nice. Then we headed out of town. Before dinner we went to a little wine bar in Kingman, where we heard an accordion player and had a glass of wine. Had dinner in a wonderful Italian restaurant in Kingman, AZ, Mattina’s Ristorante Italiano, at 318 E. Oak St., well worth going to. They had been warned ahead by some good friends who had made the reservation for us, and were waiting for us. I ate a shrimp appetizer and a fish entree that was maybe a little spicy for my taste, but excellent, washed down with a glass of Riesling. They did not have Riesling by the glass on the menu, but they served it anyway. I was most grateful. The dessert was a killer – crustless cheesecake with caramel and walnuts. I ate it all, in spite of having recently embarked on a semi- Ornish style diet.

Next morning there was a breakfast buffet at the Marriott in Kingman ( a somewhat bizarre hotel that looks like it might have been decorated by an 8th grader who loves lots of aquamarine tones.) I had the ubiquitous hard boiled egg, some yogurt and some rather ordinary fruit—and tea.

No lunch. Ate the leftover tangerine and mini muffins and drank water. We were at the Skywalk, which is an exorbitantly priced, but thrilling, place. Lunch may actually have been included in our ticket. I’m not sure, but didn’t want to chance it.

We stopped at the Bonefish Grille in Henderson on the way back in to Las Vegas, another great choice, and my favorite meal of the trip Bonefish is owned by the same group that has Outback and Carrabba’s, so they had a gluten free menu and were very knowledgeable. I drank a Mojito with the excellent Chilean Sea Bass and nicely done vegetables. No dessert, but later in the evening we had some tea and a bit of chocolate (Dagoba).

There is a buffet in the NYNY, but I am not recommending it. It was pretty pricey for the yogurt and fruit, with juice and tea. The next two mornings I went into the little Essentials store near the pool and bought a yogurt and orange juice for five dollars, made tea in my room and bought some scones at Whole Foods which is down Las Vegas Blvd at Town Square, not too far from Chipotle’s, where we once again had lunch. Incidentally, Las Vegas does not encourage anyone making tea or coffee in their room. There is no coffee maker in any of the ordinary rooms in Las Vegas. (Our friends had a penthouse suite and they had a whole kitchen, as well as a dining room.) I carry a mug, tea bags, sugar and a heating coil with me. The coils are no longer obtainable (or at least, I have not been able to obtain one), so when it dies, I’m toast (gluten free toast).

Dinner that night was at Hugo’s Cellar, which was quite lovely. Hugo’s gives all the ladies in the party a rose, and they make the salads individually at the table, quite lavish. It could have been (quite probably should have been) a meal in itself. I had another fish dish, this one en papillote, which they cooked in a saute pan at the table. Quite elegant. They had some little desserts on a communal plate included with the dinner, but I didn’t trust them. Then we all went out to Fremont Street and watched the canopy video for awhile (the song at the top of the hour was American Pie) and the spray painter. One couple got a cartoon drawing done of themselves.

No lunch the last day either, after scones, juice and yogurt for breakfast. I was too busy shopping for a Dali print at the Fashion Show Mall. I didn’t see too much in the way of eateries in there, though I think I have read on someone’s post that The Capitol Grill will accommodate gluten free diners.

Crackers and potato chips on the flight back and a tiny nibble of Parmesan cheese that I bought at Whole Foods. Ate the shrimp and some of the lettuce out of the first class (got bumped both ways!) salad and some ordinaryish fruit. Drank club soda. Off the plane in time to go home and have supper. What did we eat? I forget. The trip was over. Back to reality.


Gluten Free Santa Fe

Steve and I flew out on Friday to Santa Fe. I took food with me, since you don't know what will be showing up foodwise on the road. We were upgraded to first class (both ways!!!!) so I was able to eat some of the shrimp salad and the fruit salad. We went to the art auction site early in the evening and they had a little munchies buffet, so we ended up skipping dinner Friday night all together. I ate mostly celery sticks myself—with a little glass of sparkling wine. We stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe which has a very nice small restaurant called Amaya. The staff there was very knowledgeable and we had breakfast there both Saturday and Sunday. They made off menu breakfasts for me of eggs, potatoes with a little paprika and a side dish of beans. Saturday night we had dinner there as well and the meal was spectacular. It was a very reasonably priced prix fixe menu, and I ordered the salmon. It was supposed to come with a blue cheese risotto, but for me they served some very nice little diced potatoes with some pearl onions with a sort of pesto like seasoning. They also served me some extra vegetables, including some small roasted carrots that were quite nice. The meal started with a salad that had diced jicama in it and a very light lime dressing. The dessert though was bowl-licking good. It was two small desserts on one plate – a very nice crème brulee and the real killer dessert – espresso pot de crème topped with whipped cream. Whoa! That's when I wondered if I could get away with picking up the little cup and licking it clean.

We did skip lunch both Saturday and Sunday, since the breakfasts were a bit late to coordinate with the auction times. We went to the car both days though while the auctions were in progress and items we were not going to bid on were up, and ate crackers and potato chips and fruit. I should note that the Hotel Santa Fe is within walking distance of a Whole Foods Market and I walked over there –going through the Santa Fe Farmer's Market on the way. I would have loved to buy some of the creative chili wreaths, but worried about getting them back on the plane undamaged.

Sunday after the auction we drove down to Albuquerque and using the GPS found Paisano's which was a wonderful oasis in the gluten-y desert. We split a sausage stuffed Portabello Mushroom with a very tasty spaghetti sauce and I ordered pizza!!! Wow. That was wonderful. There were many dishes that I could have ordered, but the one that I never get is pizza. And it was very good pizza too. We took our leftovers – Steve had pizza too—in separate little cartons (his was “normal”) and kept them over night in the refrigerator in our hotel room and ate pizza for breakfast before the trip back.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gluten Free Maui

Aloha! I just returned from beautiful Maui!!! Mark and I went to Hawaii four years ago and stayed on Oahu at the Hilton Hawaiian in Waikiki. It's amazing what a difference four years makes. On our last trip, I was miserable, unable to find food, and getting "glutened" at least once a day. Four years later, the world has heard of Gluten Intolerance, even in the far-reaches of Hawaii.

We were staying at the astoundingly beautiful Grand Wailea resort. In many ways it was similar to the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, but far more elegant.

The hotel breakfast buffet gets high marks from me: they had gluten-free cereal (Gorilla Munch) on the buffet! Not "we can get you something from the kitchen." On. The. Buffet. They had a yogurt parfait station, so I used Gorilla Munch instead of granola, and added nuts and dried fruit.

The hotel restaurant Humuhumunukunukuapua'a was not as easy. However, they did manage a salmon entree for me, eliminating the sauce that normally comes with it, and substituting a citrus butter sauce. The restaurant was soooo expensive though, that I really felt that they could have done better than a piece of nearly naked salmon for $40. But then, at those prices, I might have felt that way, even if I wasn't gluten free.

We ate at a luau in Lahaina -- The Feast at Lele. This was incredible. Regarding the show itself, I've been to two luaus in Oahu, and the one at Disney World, and this was in a different class all together. Food wise, they could not have been more accommodating. I had told them I was GF when I made the reservation, and when I checked in they immediately said "which of you is gluten free?" I didn't need to remind them. They were all prepared for me. Every course that came out, the server either told me it was safe for me, or brought me a separate entree. Even Disney has never impressed me this much, and they are my standard for Gluten Free Accommodation. And the food was delicious. We were so full, we didn't even eat dessert, for fear of exploding.

The other big win in Maui was Mama's Fish House on the north shore. Many years ago, I read about Trader Vic's restaurant, and I thought it sounded so cool. When I finally got to go to a Trader Vic's (in Washington, D.C.) it fell short of my expectations. Mama's Fish House was everything I had wanted Trader Vic's to be! The atmosphere of elegant Hawaiian kitch is hard to pull off, but they did it so well. They were also very knowledgeable about gluten, and knew which entrees were safe. The server even brought me some wheat-free soy sauce (tamari) on the side! After mooning over my husband's terryaki meals for days, it was so nice to finally have some soy sauce. I had Opa, a very meaty fish that is almost like chicken. It was fabulous, and the presentation was beautiful. It was like a work of art. I also had a Lava Flow, which is a pina colada with strawberry syrup drizzled down the side. It was delicious, but more importantly, the server went way way out of her way to ensure it was gluten-free. She and the manager actually went out to the freezer to find the original packaging as the bar didn't have the ingredients list. I hadn't even asked if it was GF. They just took it upon themselves to ensure it was safe for me. They earned my everlasting affection for that!

I also need to mention Joy's, a little health food store in Kihei (west side of Maui). After so many rich meals, we were relieved to find this little oasis of "normal food." When people talk about "homestyle" cooking, they usually mean fried foods (at least here in the South). But the food my mama made was never chicken fried steak. We ate low fat, low salt, with lots of veggies. So for me, this was "homestyle." Mark had a turkey and avocado sandwich. He had it on bread, but it was also available in a rice wrapper or wrapped in kale, both great GF options. I had vegetarian chili with tortilla chips. I tasted their soup of the day, which was potato (very good) and they also had smoothies, so there were lots of good choices for the Traveling Celiac.