Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gluten Free for Valentine's Day

Cathy says... The Thursday before Valentine's Day we went to Sam's and bought a whole lot of various fruits – strawberries, blueberries, melon, kiwis and oranges. We also bought a very nice chicken sausage with feta and spinach that says gluten free right on the package and is very flavorful and versatile. The next morning I made our pre-Valentine breakfast. I juiced the oranges with our handy dandy new electric juicer, cut up lots of fruit for a fruit plate, and made a frittata with Eggbeaters, onions, spinach, mushrooms, peppers and tomato, using one half of one of the sausages cut into small squares, and frying up the other half split in two for us to share, so that the breakfast in and of itself was not too far off our low fat diet. I am thinking that a gf poppy seed muffin with it could not have gone wrong, but truly I did not miss the starch, and I was not hungry again till lunch.

Sandy says... we were supposed to have our "Valentine's Day" dinner on the Thursday before the 14th, as it's IMPOSSIBLE to get a sitter on Valentine's Day. Mark had grand plans; he bought tickets to the symphony, a box of GF chocolates from Vosges chocolates, and a pretty little heart charm from JC Penney. Poor Mark. It's really important to him that his gifts are a "suprise." The chocolates arrived two weeks early, and I got the package in a plain unmarked box... which I opened. The heart charm was sitting in the back seat of the car a week before the holiday, when my daughter exclaimed "Daddy, what's this jewelry box doing here?" while I was in the car. Finally, the day of the symphony, a huge snow storm hit Dallas (Dallas! What were the odds?) and the symphony was cancelled. He was crushed. Since we had to pay the sitter regardless, we decided to risk the roads and at least eat dinner together. Due to the road conditions, we thought it best to stay near home, so we went to a local favorite: TruFire. TruFire has always been good to me, and I was thrilled to hear that they now have an Official Gluten Free Menu (laminated and everything). I have been there many times, so I knew what I wanted -- Naked Avocado Salad with Grilled Chicken (hold the Pita, please.) Mmmmm.... always good. I did have a suprise though, when the server said that the vodka they use in their Lemon Drop cocktail is NOT gluten-free! The brand is Belvedere, and I cannot find any info online to suggest that it isn't gluten-free; grain-alcohols are gluten-free regardless of their source (rye, etc). However, it was a flavored vodka, so it is possible that there was an additive. It is also possible that they were misinformed and believed it to have gluten because Belvedere is a Rye based vodka, not potato based. Either way, it was nice to know they are being careful. The best thing about TruFire is their gluten-free flourless chocolate cake with caramel mousse. After all, Valentine's Day is all about the chocolate!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gluten Free at the Great Wolf Lodge

My son asked to go to the Great Wolf Lodge for his birthday. For those of you who haven't been, the GWL is a hotel with an indoor water park and an interactive game called Magic Quest, which sends the kids running all over the hotel with magic wands to complete activities. You must stay at the hotel to enter the water park. There are several locations throughout the U.S. We went to the one in Grapevine, Texas in the north Dallas area.
Most people staying at the GWL never leave the hotel, which means that you are pretty much trapped into eating their food. There are restaurants outside the GWL, but you do have to drive to them, and good luck convincing your kids to put down their magic wands.
The main restaurants at the GWL are the Loose Moose Cottage and the Camp Critter restaurant. At both, the chef will come out and discuss what accommodations can be made for Celiacs. I only ate at the Loose Moose, a buffet-only restaurant. Camp Critter is a full-service sit-down restaurant. You will need to avoid the snack bar in the water park and, obviously, the Pizza Hut inside the Lodge.
The Bear Paw Sweets & Eats is a candy/ice cream place. There are a few snacks available there to satisfy a sweet tooth, but the woman at the counter had no information. She couldn't even tell me the ingredients in their homemade fudge. They had a dairy-free, nut-free candy bar for sale that did not have any gluten ingredients, but it did not say gluten-free on the wrapper.
I ate two meals at the Loose Moose Cottage (and just let me say that "loose" is not a word that Celiacs want to hear!) At both meals I had the chef come out and walk me through the buffet, which they were happy to do. I was able to have a satisfying meal for both breakfast and dinner.
At breakfast I had scrambled eggs with ham and cheese. They also had an omelette station. Both the bacon and sausage were gluten-free. I also had fruit and yogurt. The food was tasty, and I felt good about the experience. One thing to keep in mind if you are also Dairy-free, I was talking to a server and he mentioned his own pet-peeve: the restaurant does not have soy milk available.
Dinner was slightly less satisfying. I did find food to eat, but they were having a theme night with "Mexican and BBQ," both usually safe choices for a Celiac. Unfortunately, all the Mexican food contained either flour or chicken broth, and the chef confirmed that their chicken broth is NOT gluten free. So no rice, no tacos, no enchiladas. The BBQ sauce contained soy sauce, so the brisket was out of the question as well. Fortunately, they have a roast beef carving station, and the meat was ok, but I am soooo tired of having plain beef/steak with nothing on it everywhere I go. There was no au jus, just gravy (not GF). I tried both the roasted potatoes and the potato salad, and the potato salad was the clear winner. I went back for seconds of just the potato salad. Yum! For a veggie, I had green beans with almond slivers.
There was also a salad bar, which the chef pointed out as "safe," but I was leery. Too many croutons, too close to the food. It made me nervous. It was even worse over at the kids salad/fruit bar, where the kids had clearly been sloppy dishing out their food. All in all, the food was good and I was glad to have a safe meal, but it was kind of a bummer to be at a Mexican and BBQ theme meal and not get any Mexican food or BBQ.
One nice thing about the GWL is that all the rooms have a fridge and microwave, so bringing in your own food is fairly easy. Also, there is a Starbucks in the Lodge. When I was there, they did not have any GF options (other than coffee). Their bags of nuts were manufactured in a facility with wheat and they did not have any of the new GF offerings that Starbucks has announced, such as Kind bar, so no snacks to go with your coffee. Hopefully this will change as Starbucks rolls out their new products. I was also disappointed that the front desk did not have ANY info regarding Gluten Intolerance, other than to say "talk to the chef." It would be a big help if they were to offer a list of GF snacks available in the various Lodge shops. We were only at the Great Wolf Lodge for one night, so the available food met our needs. However, if we had been there multiple nights, we would have had to venture out of the Lodge and find food in Grapevine.
In short, the vacation was a success, but not a Home Run. As a competitor to Disney, they fell short of the mark; but compared to other (normal) restaurants and hotels, they were great. And most importantly, nobody poked an eye out running around with those magic wands.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Gluten Free in San Diego

Flying first class is not always a total win if you are Celiac. This time our flight was in the evening and the dinner was particularly fine. I, of course, ate none of it. The choices were either pea soup or braised beef with a kind of ravioli. I was highly tempted by the pea soup, but, of course, the attendants had no idea what was in it. I would have eaten some of the salad. Normally the salads do not come with croutons, so I didn’t mention it. The flight attendant already knew that I couldn’t eat wheat. Well, maybe the salads came packaged with the croutons this time and she thought that I could pick them out or something. Anyway it was a good thing I had my trusted hard boiled eggs and carrot sticks, as well as a few pieces of cheddar cheese.

San Diego was beautiful. The rains they had the week before were over and everyone was happy for the sunshine. It was "sweater weather" and quite nice. We met some friends in Balboa Park and visited the Art Museum, and then went to The Prado, which I had seen at Gluten Free in SD was friendly to “my kind." And it was! I had the fish tacos, and they were quite nice, but I also could have had the mushroom risotto or the seafood paella. We also ordered dessert. This was the only dessert that we ordered while we were in San Diego, as Steve and I are both trying to lose a few pounds. We ordered chocolate souffle, which was served on a little oblong platter with some coffee gelato topped with meringue peaks. Wooooo – that was so good. The coffee flavor was very rich and went well with the souffle. High marks for The Prado, which is a very attractive restaurant in a very exciting park.

Dinner was down on the waterfront at the Island Prime. I picked this one out myself because of the location and because it was upscale, and therefore more likely to be able to come up with a way of adjusting the menu for me. We were still pretty full from the lunch, so I ordered an appetizer. It was really spectacular. It was a tuna stack. From looking at menus and pictures in magazines, I gather that a “stack” is a very popular way of serving appetizers at the moment. Mine was tuna, crab and guacamole. It was served with taro chips. I confess that I ate the chips without asking how they had been prepared, and that was probably dangerous, but I had been served some at The Prado, and told there that I could eat them. That did not mean that the chips were also safe at Island Prime, and if you should eat there, you should probably ask. I ate a little steak from Steve’s dinner and an asparagus spear wrapped in prosciutto. We had asked that his dinner be prepared gluten free as well. Even with my help he could not finish his steak, and I think there was a little asparagus left as well.

The next morning we had breakfast. I did not feel like putting up with the hassle of the buffet, and ordered an egg-white omelet off the menu. It had spinach and tomatoes and onions. It was more than enough food, and I shared it with Steve, who had gone through the buffet, but liked the looks of my meal.

For lunch we went to El Indio, a Mexican restaurant know for their Taquitos. It had been a favorite of ours for many gluten-eating years, so I thought that I would check it out. The lady at the counter had not heard of gluten, and did not know what it meant. I asked her if they used flour in preparing their chicken or their shredded beef. She said that they did use flour in the chicken. I also asked her if they fried flour tortillas in the same oil as the corn tortillas, and they did. I ordered shredded beef soft tacos. They were quite good, but not as good as their taquitos and I do not know if the lunch I ate was safe. I was an asymptomatic Celiac in my wheat eating days. My advice is to stay away from El Indio if you are gluten intolerant.

For our final evening meal in San Diego, we went to the U. S. Grant Grill, located in the U.S. Grant Hotel in the Gaslamp District. I had checked this restaurant out on Gluten Free in SD and it was also well recommended. It’s an expensive restaurant, but the atmosphere is lovely, and the food was superb. I had the scallops and they were excellent-- served with some tiny grapefruit slivers. They were served on one of those oblong trays too. Like the stacks, elongated rectangular dishes seem to be in. Three restaurants – three oblong dishes! Wines there were also pricey, but I had a glass of sparkling wine with the scallops. Quite festive! It was a very lovely way to spend the evening.