Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving in Southern California

What a fabulous Thanksgiving our family had! We joined the Southern California branch of the family, and had a warm and truly grateful Thanksgiving. There were two turkeys – one stuffed – for the “others,” and one just for us, roasted with an onion and Tex Joy's Herbs du Beaumont. It was tender and juicy and absolutely wonderful. All the sides were gluten free, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, wild rice salad, and various veggies, cooked and raw. Then for dessert – pumpkin custard! Wonderful, though Cathy did eye that apple berry pie with just the smallest twinge of envy.

Sandy, Mark and the kids got in an extra meal on Thanksgiving day, at Huntington Beach.  Most places were closed, but a Hawaiian restaurant called No Ka Oi was open for brunch, and we stopped in for a late breakfast before heading down to the beach.  They were very kind about answering my questions, and Sandy had an omlette with avocado and breakfast potatoes.  Eight-year-old Colin had the most interesting breakfast though -- an entire plate of crab meat.  Just that.  Nothing else.
Omelet at No Ka Oi in Huntington Beach

The next day our group was off to Disneyland! We had no reservations for lunch – bad planning for a group of 8 on the day after Thanksgiving – but we lucked out. While the rest of the group was in line to ride Big Thunder Mountain, Cathy scoped out the Celebration Round-Up BBQ (see menu on Allears.net), which serves lunch outdoors on big picnic tables, whereas most restaurants are geared towards smaller tables for four. By being first in line when it opened at 11 am, we were able to get a table. There is a fixed menu here – BBQ ribs and chicken. We spoke to the chef and learned that the ribs have a coating with wheat, but the chicken is GF. The server brought the ribs and chicken out separately for us; normally they are all piled together in one bucket. The BBQ was served with beans and coleslaw, both of which were GF as well. It was all tasty and there was certainly plenty of food. Plus there was live entertainment with cowboy versions of Christmas songs, which was a lot of fun.

It was a shame, though, that we overate there, because that night we DID have reservations at the Blue Bayou (see menu at Allears.net). The Blue Bayou is located INSIDE the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, overlooking the “river” with an artificial sky that guarantees it’s always a beautiful evening on the bayou. The chef came out to talk with us and went over our choices. Cathy chose salmon and rice noodles and a small portion of rutabaga. While very nice, was clearly out flanked by Sandy's short ribs, fork tender and flavorful. The sauce normally served with the short ribs has flour, so the chef made an au jus for her with pan drippings. They also brought out rolls for us! And they were good too!
The kids at the Blue Bayou restaurant

The next day for lunch, we stopped at the Mexican restaurant, Rancho del Zocalo (menu), in Frontierland. Again, we got there right as it opened, which was important since it’s a cafeteria-style restaurant. A chef came from the back to talk with us and take us through the line, giving instructions directly to the food preparers. That would have been much harder to manage later when the crowds arrived. The chef was justifiably proud of his prep staff, who clearly understood the Allergen Protocol. They changed gloves without being asked, knew the right questions, and took all the proper precautions for avoiding cross-contamination. Cathy had the fish tacos and Sandy had the chicken tacos. They were served with Mexican rice and refried beans, which were also GF.

Our last dinner in Disneyland was in one of the Disneyland hotels called the Paradise Pier. The PCH Grill is a character meal in the mornings, but for dinner it’s just a regular restaurant with no character appearances. Nevertheless, this is a very kid-friendly restaurant (menu). The restaurant is also GF-friendly. They keep GF rolls, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, pizza crusts (and for breakfast, pancakes and bagels) on hand at all times. They also have gluten free cookies and brownies for dessert. The food wasn’t anything special, but for a celiac kid, this place would be a dream come true. Our kids had make-your-own pizzas (the full-gluten version) where the server brought out the crust, sauce, and cheese and let them assemble it themselves. It’s amazing how such a simple thing can transform an ordinary meal into something really special. Sandy had pizza too, on a gluten free crust, which had herbs in the dough. The taste was good, but the texture was crumbly. It might have been better if it had been cooked slightly longer – it wasn’t very toasted. Cathy had a hamburger, and again, the taste of the bun was fine, but it was very crumbly. Still, it’s nice to get a hamburger, and the chef made the fries in a separate fryer, so there would be no cross-contamination from the oil. We had a brownie for dessert, and again – good taste, crumbly texture. Disneyland has a ways to go before it catches up with Disney World for gluten-free cuisine, but they get lots of points for effort -- and it cost about ¼ of what we paid at the Blue Bayou, so that’s worth a lot too.

The kids at the PCH Grill

The only meals we had at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel where we were staying were the breakfasts. Lots of fruit there; omelets cooked to order; uncontaminated bacon and corn tortillas were available, if you asked for it. (The bacon on the buffet was placed on top of pieces of bread.) We were able to eat the breakfast potatoes and the yogurt parfaits. We both over-ate on our last day there, which was a good thing, as we were able to skip lunch and not eat until we were home.

Sandy and Cathy

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gluten Free Hotel in Germany

I just saw an ad for this gluten-free hotel in the Bavarian Alps in Germany.

Wouldn't that be an awesome vacation!  (And they are native English speakers too.)


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gluten Free in New Orleans, part 3

NOLA, day 3

Our third day in New Orleans, I only managed one restaurant meal. After oversleeping in the morning (missing breakfast), I then over-imbibed in the late afternoon and ended up too tired to go out to dinner.

Lunch, however, was at the LaCote Brasserie, in the Renaissance Art Hotel. I had Almond Chicken Salad, served in a cup made out of parmesan cheese (the waiter said it was GF – but I only had a nibble of it, just in case) with field greens. It was very good, but I wouldn’t go there again unless I was staying at the hotel. The wait-staff didn’t impress me and I had no confidence that they truly understood gluten intolerance.

The next morning, however, we set out to Satsuma. This is not a tourist destination. Tucked away in a residential area, it is clearly a place where locals eat. It was kind of hard to find, but worth the effort. I read about it online, as it’s one of the few places in New Orleans that actually advertises gluten free menu items. Sure enough, when I arrived, there was a muffin tin out on the counter with huge, fresh, beautiful, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins – and they were gluten free!

The muffin was delicious and it was such a treat to have a fresh baked pastry in a restaurant. I would have been impressed with that alone, but it wasn’t even the best part of the meal! I had a spinach scramble with eggs, locally grown organic spinach, tomatoes, and goat cheese. It was incredible! I scarfed it down with some fresh squeezed lemonade. Not only was the food delicious, it was beautiful. The chef had used the spinach stems as kind of a garnish – very pretty and very clever. The staff was friendly and the place had a funky hippie vibe that made it feel far more authentic than any other place we ate in New Orleans.

I returned home from our trip happy and well fed!

Gluten Free in New Orleans, part 2

NOLA, day 2

I spent Friday morning touring New Orleans, while Mark was in meetings, but we met up for lunch at Cochon on Tchoupitoulas Street in the Warehouse District. Cochon is French for “pig” and the restaurant is a “boucherie” – butcher shop – making its own boudin, andouille, smoked bacon, and head cheese. When I arrived, I told the waitress I had a gluten “allergy” and she filled out a little card with allergen info to give to the chef with my order. How cool is that! I ordered the smoked beef brisket with horseradish potato salad, right off the menu, no modifications needed. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious. The potato salad had just the right amount of “bite.” Spicy, but not hot. I ate every bite and might have licked the bowl if I hadn’t been surrounded by Mark’s business associates. I also ordered a “Dublin Dr Pepper” to drink – a real treat!
After I separated from the group, I went on a tour of famous New Orleans bars. I have to admit, I didn’t ask about gluten in any of these establishments. I had only a few sips of each cocktail and alcohol usually doesn’t have gluten, so I took my chances. For those interested, we visited the following spots:

TuJague’s – the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans. This is an old-fashioned “belly-up to the bar” bar, meaning it has no bar stools. In fact, originally, there were urinals attached to the bar, so that the men didn’t even have to leave to pee. Ew. Needless to say, although the bar and mirrors are all original, the floor has been replaced. We had Tujague’s Lemonade – vodka, lemonade and cranberry juice. It was sweet and fruity -- my favorite drink of the tour.

Old Absinthe House – we had a traditional Green Fairy, made with much pomp and circumstance. Absinthe was made legal again in the U.S. in 2007, but it is not the same drink that was popular with Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, et al. The version sold in the U.S. does not contain thujone, which is the hallucinogenic that made Absinthe so potent. The revised Green Fairy cocktail also lacks an important ingredient – laudanum. However, the chemical change that makes the Green Fairy fairy-like is still apparent when it is prepared correctly. First, a sugar cube is placed on top of a slotted spoon, balanced over cocktail glass containing a shot of absinthe. The sugar cube is set on fire; then, ice cold water is dripped over the sugar cube, into the glass, where is reacts with the emerald spirit, turning it from bright green to milky green. As the color changes, the Brownian motion produces an effect that looks very much like fairy wings rising in the glass. There was a cool contraption that dripped the water into the glass – like a glass vase with a spigot. It was worth the ten bucks to see the preparation, but I have to say that I would never have been an Absinthe addict. I could get down more than a few mouthfuls of the bitter licorice-flavored concoction.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop – This place looked like a fairy-tale cottage and is one of the oldest structures in New Orleans. It was built some time before 1772. For a very long time, it was a gay bar, but in the 50’s it was bought by a policeman, who kicked the original patrons out. They went down the street and founded a new establishment, which they called Lafitte’s in Exile, which claims to be the oldest gay bar in the United States. At the Blacksmith shop, we had a Hurricane. It was made with fresh fruit juice, unlike the one at Pat O’Brian’s, which is more of a Kool-aid. Like most of the drinks it New Orleans, it was way too strong for me.

Court of the Two Sisters Carriageway Bar -- In order to prevent ladies from getting muck on their long dresses, the nicer buildings in the French Quarter had carriageways into the courtyard, so that the ladies didn’t have to disembark in the street. The Carriageway at the Court of the Two Sisters has been converted into a bar. The drink we had there was a Bayou Bash, a mix of Southern Comfort, Sweet and Sour mix, fruit juice, and red wine. It was quite medicinal tasting, which works, since Southern Comfort was originally marketed as a “medicine.” It was kind of like drinking NyQuil.

By the way, if anyone knows how you become a "court jester," please let me know.  There were names etched in bronze all along the bar, listed as the "court jesters."  My best guess is that they are the past bartenders, but the guy serving us refused to say, stating only that "you have to be male."

Back to food… we ate dinner that night at Clancy’s restaurant, which was definitely off the beaten path, quite far from the French Quarter. My meal there was excellent, though I didn’t do it justice, having already drank my daily allotment of calories for the day during my bar-hopping tour. I’m not normally much of a fish-eater, but I figured I needed to eat something from the water during my stay, so I ordered the Drum with Smoked Salmon. It was incredible – buttery and savory – and served with mashed sweet potatoes. The waiter told me it was GF, but that he would inform the kitchen of my dietary restriction, so they would be extra careful. At dessert time, I had a salted caramel pudding, layered in a wine glass, which was both tasty and pretty. It’s also nice to have something nifty for dessert.  I like crème brulee, but it’s awfully nice to have a different option available from time to time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gluten Free in New Orleans, part 1

The online posts about finding gluten free food in New Orleans led me to expect that this vacation would be the Battle of New Orleans. Instead, I was so well fed; it was the Battle of the Bulge.

Now, it’s true that gumbo and those famous muffuletta are off the menu to me forever, as are beignets and anything that’s made with a roux; but I still found it easy to be Gluten Free in the Big Easy.

It was Veteran’s Day, and so it only made sense to go to the World War II museum, followed by lunch at the museum’s restaurant The American Sector, which features gourmet versions of the American “make-do” cuisine of WWII, such as Sloppy Joes, beef tongue, and potato-chip crusted trout.

I was there on a whim, so I was shocked that the waitress not only knew what gluten-intolerance was, but everything on the menu that was safe for me to eat. I was doubtful, at first, of her claim that the Spicy Garlic Glazed Fried Chicken was GF, but she assured me they were made with rice flour! I couldn’t pass that up. They were basically what I would call “buffalo wings” – crispy and spicy and delicious, served with an assortment of pickles. My favorite was the pickled watermelon rinds, as they were both tasty and unique. My husband ordered the Shrimp Creole, also gluten free, which was good; and we shared a chocolate milkshake, quite possibly the best milkshake I’ve ever had. My meal was fantastic and I highly recommend the American Sector to anyone visiting New Orleans.

Our dinner reservations were made for us, as we were traveling with my husband’s business associates; but we were in good hands. Thursday’s dinner was at the Feelings Café on Chartres Street. I called them ahead of time to let them know I was coming and ensure that there would be something I could eat. They assured me that there were several things on their menu that would be safe and that they would be careful to avoid cross-contamination.

When we arrived, I went over the menu with the waiter, and had a bit of discomfort as he dismissed my explanations as unnecessary. It was one of those “don’t disrespect me by suggesting we don’t know what we are doing” kind of things, which I do understand; but unfortunately, most restaurants DON’T know what GF means and it’s in my best interest to over-explain. Fortunately, he was right and the kitchen was on top of things. In fact, because I called ahead of time, the manager had gone out and bought some gluten free cookies to serve with my crème brulee for dessert!

The restaurant is located in what used to be the D'Aunoy Plantation, so it is dripping with New Orleans charm. We were seated in the restaurant’s beautiful, romantic courtyard. We were outdoors, but sheltered by the high walls and trees, making it feel very secluded – fantastic atmosphere! I ordered the Chicken Clemenceau, tender pieces of chicken with mushrooms, peas, and potatoes, pan sautéed with garlic butter. It was very good. My only complaint would be that it was a very plain flavor and could have used a bit more oomph, but if you are looking for something mild, this would be perfect. Everyone at the table enjoyed their meal and I definitely recommend the Feelings Café.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Mom's Quilt Show Adventure

My two sisters-in-law came from their respective coasts to the International Quilt Show in Houston. Eating at the show is a chore, but I packed Gorp for us to eat on the floor and some fruit for our breakfasts. They ate what they wanted to at the hotel for breakfast and at the Show for lunch, but my own choices were pretty limited, both for breakfasts and for lunch.

At dinner, however, we did well. We were in town for two nights and I took them to PF Chang's the first night. Neither of them had been to one, so that was fun. The second night we went to Ruggles, which I had heard of but never been to myself. It is at 903 Westheimer and is in an old house, brightly painted inside. They have menus which feature dots of different colors for Vegan, Dairy Free, and Gluten Free. The food was spectacular. I tried both soups that my SILS ordered and particularly liked the Butternut Squash Soup, which was very creamy and flavorful. The other soup ordered by a SIL was a Crab Corn Soup. It was a bit too spicy for me. For my entree I ordered the Red Snapper dish with creamy avocado sauce. It was almost like a soup itself and was to die for. In addition to that, I was served a separate plate of sides -- a boiled potato, some au gratin potatoes, asparagus, a grilled tomato, some truly outstanding pureed sweet potatoes--and! I was assured that I could eat everything on my plate without worry. What a great place to eat!!!