Monday, October 31, 2011

Gluten Free Encinitas

This is what the perfect sandwich looks like.  It is a hot turkey panini on gluten free rosemary ciabatta bread, with colby jack cheese, tomatoes, and avocado.   Heaven.

I had a day to myself in San Diego, California, to do anything I wanted without kids or husband in tow.  So what did I do?  I googled "gluten free cupcakes in San Diego" which led me to the 2good2B Gluten Free Bakery in Encinitas (on the coast, just north of San Diego).  Encinitas is a beach town, the kind that is laid back and full of surfers, not the kind that is full of expensive people wearing expensive bathing suits that can't get wet.  I really loved the vibe there, but more than that, I loved the gluten free bakery.

I had the aforementioned sandwich for lunch, then bought a box of cupcakes and brownies to take back to the hotel.  Over the course of the next two days, I tasted them all.

Brownie with Walnuts -- very rich chocolate taste, hint of mocha which gave it some complexity.  Great texture.
Lemon Cupcake -- Vanilla cupcake with yummy lemon cream filling, and a vanilla frosting. All of the cupcakes had too much frosting.  I lopped off about half of the frosting.  
Chocolate Cupcake -- less interesting than the others, but still good.  Chocolate frosting was very rich.
Carrot Cupcake -- my favorite, tender cake with lots of spice-y goodness.  Too much vanilla frosting, but it accented the cake very well.  
Turtle Cupcake -- the same as the chocolate cupcake, but with a caramel nut sauce dribbled over the top.  The sauce was excellent, but there wasn't enough of it to compete with the enormous amount of chocolate icing.  I separated the cupcake into three sections -- cake, bulk of the chocolate frosting, and the top of chocolate frosting with all the caramel sauce on it -- and got rid of the middle part.  The cake with the caramel sauce and just a little chocolate frosting was divine.  

I was so in love with this place that I stopped there on Sunday on my way to the airport so I could buy some loaves to take home.  While I was there, my hubby convinced me that I really needed another sandwich (even though I had just eaten a huge breakfast less than 2 hours before).  He was absolutely right.  Man, that second sandwich was just as good as the first.  I'm going to be having dreams about that sandwich.  Mmmmm.

We brought home a loaf of rosemary bread for Mom (Cathy) and a baguette, which I took with me to my women's group as my contribution toward breakfast on Monday.  It was a big hit with everyone.  


Gluten Free in Balboa Park

Is there a better place to spend the morning than wandering through Balboa Park in San Diego?  Our plane landed around 10 am, and we didn't have to be up to Rancho Bernardo until evening, so we headed straight to Balboa Park.  No actual plan, just figured we'd find something to do when we got there.  We chose to go to the Museum of Man which has a wonderful permanent exhibit detailing the life of prehistoric man, as well as a permanent Ancient Egypt exhibit with some really cool mummies.

Now the really fun thing.  I googled "Balboa Park gluten free" and up pops.... Mom's post here on the Traveling Celiac, where she reviewed eating at Balboa Park's premier restaurant, The Prado.  Since it's important to listen to your mother, I ate at The Prado.  Wow. Just Wow.

First of all, we ate on the patio, overlooking the Japanese Botanical Gardens, and the weather couldn't have been any more perfect.  Just being there was a treat.  Then I asked if they had a gluten free menu, and the waiter told me that there is a key on the regular menu indicating the items that are GF.  Then he said that if there is something that looks good that isn't labeled GF, to let him know because they may be able to make it GF with modifications (for example, the steak tacos aren't labeled GF, because of the flour tortillas, but the steak is fine, so they could make it with corn tortillas instead.)

The waiter brought out hummus for the table, which is normally served with a flatbread cracker, but he brought me taro chips instead.  Yea!!!  The hummus was quite spicy, hotter than I normally like my food, but it was so flavorful that I didn't care.  Too often, here in Texas, I get food that is hot for the sake of being hot, not because the flavor really works.  This had a perfect balance of heat and flavor.

Mark had a mojito, which was perfect and should serve as the model for all mojitos everywhere.  I had a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, also extremely good.

I ordered tortilla soup, also a bit spicy, but absolutely to die for.  This is the second best tortilla soup I have ever had.  (The best was from The Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas).  It was thick and hearty and delicious. Sometimes tortilla soups have big chunks of stuff in them, like a stew, and I don't like that.  This is a real soup.

I should have stopped there, but my eyes were bigger than my stomach, so I ordered a stone fruit salad -- a mixture of baby greens, peaches, toasted almonds, and "Midnight Moon Cheese" topped with a caramel cider vinaigrette dressing.  The waiter told me I could add any of their proteins to it as they are all gluten free (salmon, steak, chicken, shrimp), so I added steak.  It was quite lovely to look at, but I was so full from the soup, that I pretty much just picked out the peaches and ate those, but I did let them box it up for me to take "home" on the hopes that the hotel would have a fridge in the room.  (It did.)

To be honest, at that point I was thinking the salad was a miss.  It seemed bland compared to the soup and just didn't dazzle me.  The next morning, however, I ate that salad cold for breakfast and thought I had died and gone to heaven.  The steak was flavorful, the salad dressing made me want to lick the to-go box to get every last bit, and the moon cheese was a revelation!  Wow, wow, wow.  Obviously I had been too full and had eaten too much spice to fully appreciate the subtlety of the salad the previous day.

The Prado was a huge success and I would gladly eat there again (and again and again).  Thanks, Mom!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finger Lakes Winery Mini Review

I recently read a review of wineries in the Finger lakes by Eric Asimov, the wine critic for The New York Times. He said a lot of nice things about some wineries that I have been to, but I noticed that he mostly concentrated on Seneca Lake wineries. I spend my summers on the west side of Cayuga Lake and therefore go to more wineries there, and I drink mostly Rieslings, which is a good thing if one is drinking wines in the Finger Lakes. Rieslings thrive there, as the climate is very Rhine like.

So I decided to tell you about (in alphabetical order for fairness' sake) three of my favorite Cayuga wineries. The first is Buttonwood Grove, a winery that looks a little like a Swiss chalet and sits on a hill overlooking the lake. There are flowers all along the walkway, and half way down the hill is a pond where couples often have weddings. Outside the winery is a large deck with an awning facing the lake where you can sit and enjoy some wine and cheese. In addition to a lovely Riesling, Buttonwood Grove makes a very flavorful dessert wine, Blackberry Briar, that is a big favorite with almost everyone who drinks dessert wines. (Not everyone does drink dessert wines, but my opinion is that they are gluten free, dairy free and fat free. How can you argue with that?)

Also a long time favorite winery is Swedish Hill, on Route 414, between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, but part of the Cayuga Wine Trail. They have a very crisp Cayuga White that I particularly like. There are many Finger Lakes wineries that have a Cayuga White, made from a grape that was developed just for the Finger Lakes region by Cornell University. The wine is always one of the least expensive at any of the wineries, but because the grape is so suited to the climate the wine is often one of the more flavorful offerings and that makes it a great buy.

Last in this review, but certainly not least, is Thirsty Owl, a winery which has a bistro with both indoor and outdoor seating. The deck seating overlooks the lake and is one of my most favorite places to have lunch with visiting friends. Some family members of the owners are gluten intolerant which means that the bistro is very familiar with the diet and are able to help with choosing dishes that are gluten free. The Diamond Custard, which is served with berries, is made with Diamond wine produced by Thirsty Owl. It's a sweeter wine and very good, but the Riesling here is a real winner, as is Snow Owl, another one of my favorites, which we buy by the case to serve at home.

If you want to check out the wineries in the Finger Lakes, you can go to, or to to learn about the wineries located on Cayuga Lake. There are probably a hundred wineries in the area now, and in addition to the wineries, there are several breweries (pretty much off limits to celiacs) and some distilleries, not so much off limits to celiacs! Check it out. It's a great place to visit even if you are a teetotaler. There are fresh fruits and Farmers Markets and water sports; there are waterfalls, universities, and history. It's a lovely area and still not overly commercialized, almost a secret place, but not so hidden that you can't sit in wonderful little restaurants feeling the incredibly luck of being in the middle of nowhere enjoying a superb meal accompanied by an excellent (and local!) glass of wine


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Date Night Denton

Denton, TX is a neat place.  It's a college town (University of North Texas and Texas Women's University) and college towns always seem to attract businesses are that fresh and exciting.  Denton has a bustling town square, which is already adorned with Christmas lights (it's October), and a thriving music scene.

We were there to try out Hannah's Off the Square, a restaurant located... just off the town square.  (Duh.)  They have an extraordinary gluten free menu, with 12 different entrees, not one of which comes with a caveat like "order with no sauce and no sides."  No, this is a REAL gluten free menu with choices like quail, bass, shrimp, pork, or lamb.

We ate outside in the courtyard/patio; it was a beautiful evening.  I started with vegetarian Black Bean Soup with Smoked Paprika Crema.  It was very flavorful, but spicy, and much more like a chili than a soup.  They served it with gluten free crackers (Nut Thins) which was a really nice touch.  

For my entree, I had Chicken Saltimbocca: Pan seared chicken breast, with sage and prosciutto brown butter cream, served over a butternut squash risotto.   It was very good.  (I have had a love affair with risotto since my husband and I went to a cool little risotto restaurant in NYC.)  

We were too full for dessert, which was a shame, because I would have liked to try the honey-lime grilled fruit kabob a la mode.  Sounds yummy.  

It was a bit pricey.  Dinner for two with soup, entree, and wine (no dessert) plus tip came to $98, but we left full and happy.