January 31, 2013

Eating Out

I’m not a foodie, but I do like good food and if the food is good, I’ll eat it. I like to enjoy myself too. If the food is mediocre, I’m not impressed as it means I’ve wasted some time, money, and calories that weren’t worth it.

Eating out should be enjoyable whether one’s alone, with a partner, or with friends. Unfortunately, when food issues are factored in, eating out can become quite stressful. There are people I’ve met who never go out to eat. ‘Really? Never?’ ‘Never!’ Then I realize how sad a situation it is. To be so terrified. To not being able to trust someone with your food. Then I’ve met some people who don’t eat anywhere that doesn’t have a gluten-free menu (oh ya, those allergy sheets don’t count). I just think ‘Man, you’re missing out!’. Then I got thinking ‘Am I the weird one? Am I crazy putting my health, and possibily life, at risk just to go to this restaurant or that bar?’. After some thought I realized that as unbalanced I may seem on some days, I’m pretty normal. Eating out is a social activity and I’m not going to let me food issues ruin it for me.

Other celiacs I meet seem a little annoyed when they ask about my favourite restaurants and I can’t name them. I realize they probably just want to know about a safe place to eat. But realistically, I live centrally and could eat at a new restaurant every week and not get to them all within the year. When I tell them I go wherever I like the look of shock and horror amuses me. The conversation usually continues like this:
Them: Really?!?!
Me: Sure, why not?
Them: Well, you don’t know what could happen. It isn’t safe. (Disdain in their voice)
Me: Well, I talk to my server, ask questions, and explain things. It’s actually quite simple. Where do you go?
Them: I only go to places that are safe like Town, Frasers, Play, blah, blah, blah
Me: Oh, do they have a gf menu? (Knowing the answer already)
Them: No, but they’ll make things for me.
Me: Hmmm (Smiling with amusement because they are doing something so much different than I am, right?
I want to go where I want and enjoy myself. But I’m also realistic and smart about it. One cannot expect a cook to wipe down his entire kitchen for me during a dinner rush or otherwise. It’s also not hard to make a sandwich without the bread. Sure it doesn’t look the same, but give me a knife and fork and I’ll survive.

Flexibility should also be key factors, not just for the kitchen staff, but for the diner too. Be flexible and willing. Last summer I was at a restaurant that served gf pizza. Unfortunately, the meat option I asked for wasn’t guaranteed to be gf. No Problem! I had grilled veggies on my pizza instead and loved every bite of it. Recently, for Christmas dinner we dined at a nice restaurant and my meal was easily altered by deleting some au jus and croutons (being gluten-free was also noted on our reservation). Our waitress knew that both dessert options contained flour and so asked what I wanted instead. At a loss about what to suggest I left it up to the kitchen (Yes, I know gasps of horror are being expressed), and at the end of our meal I was presented with a bowl of finely chopped fruit salad. You might not think it was anything special, but it was nice and sweet and perfect. The pineapple, mango, and strawberries were ideal and the blueberries were small and sweet. This wasn’t your usual wintertime woody fruit salad.

Maybe it’s the 15 years of working in restaurants that gives me confidence to go wherever I want. I know what goes on not only at the front of the house, but also at the back. I know what to expect in a working kitchen (And no it isn’t going to be spic and span because they are working. If you find this shocking, think about what your kitchen looks like when you’re making dinner.). On the flip side, it also isn’t going to be utter chaos because that’s when physical injuries occur. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, it may seem chaotic, but trust me… I worked in a school that was so chaotic that a colleague’s hair began falling out. That never happened while I was working in a restaurant.

There is behaviour to expect of the restaurant staff, but believe it or not, there are ways a customer needs to conduct themselves too. Treat the staff with respect. These people are preparing and serving your food. You want to get your meal “safely”, right? Think it doesn’t happen? It does and I’ve done it. The jerk at table 5 who keeps snapping his fingers at the waitress – his burger will land on the floor before it lands on his plate. The guys at table 9 who are a nightmare and keep giving the waiter a hard time – ya, their medium wings will be suicide and their nachos will have jalapeno juice drizzled on the top. Again, be nice to the staff.

You want your meal to be gluten-free and have an enjoyable experience. Believe it or not, they want you to be happy too. But having food allergies or celiac disease doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk. Be nice and clearly explain what you need. Your server is a human being, not an idiot. If they don’t understand, it’s because they don’t know and it’s probably a foreign concept to them. It doesn’t mean you can belittle them. (They can describe the complexities of the 12 beers on tap and all the wines in the big folder your holding. Can you? Not likely; so you really don’t know everything.) If in doubt, ask nicely to speak with a manager, but from experience, it’s all about asking the right questions and being clear. The Honey and I have learnt this and we still have some things to learn. I don’t want to say “Hi, I’m celiac” because 1) I don’t want this ailment to define who I am, and 2) I just picture the server’s eyes gazing over in bewilderment. After checking out the menu I say “I have some questions for you and the kitchen because I have a gluten allergy”. I have 2-3 items/choices picked out then I fire off my questions. When they return I make my decision based on their answers. It’s not fool-proof, but it saves my sanity, and I’m sure theirs as well.

And I know someone will ask… Yes, I have been glutened. Ironically though, it was my fault. I didn’t ask any questions.

January 28, 2013

Easy Guacamole

Guacamole is a great treat. There’s something about the smooth flavour of an avocado mixed with some tomatoes, onions, and some zip. It becomes refreshing. And you don’t feel so bad having a healthy treat. Avocados are great and pack a punch. According to California Avocado this little guys contain 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B vitamins, and folic acid, and they help the body absorb fat-soluble nutrients. Avocados get a bad rap because they are high in fat, but they contain mono-saturated fat, which can help lower blood cholesterol. I think all of this makes quacamole healthy (of course, the tortilla chips aren’t so much so).


Although guacamole can be found in the grocery stores, it doesn’t taste the same. It just doesn’t taste fresh. It’s fairly easy to make at home – chop some onions, peppers (hot if you like), and tomatoes and combine it with some pureed avocado. But it still seems like a lot of work for a Saturday afternoon treat, so I cheat. Those same ingredients are found in salsa and so by combining some salsa to a mashed avocado, you can have some of the best guacamole. 

Easy peasy, but there are some things to keep in mind: Use good salsa. If the salsa tastes horrible (like too much vinegar – YUCK!), then your guacamole will not taste good either.; Add some lime juice. This will help prevent the avocado from turning brown and will help bring out the flavours.


With only 3 ingredients making guacamole at home is super easy. The amounts can be adjusted to your liking (Want more lime? Go for it!). It will also keep in the fridge for a day or two as along as it is covered. Pick up some gf tortilla chips (Que Pasa chips are my favourite as they aren’t very salty) and make it for some friends; They will think you’re brilliant. They don’t need to know the secret, do they?

January 25, 2013

Pamela’s Mix

I’ve been working on a kitchen cupboard and it’s taking a little longer than I expected. I may have mentioned that I have this cupboard full of stuff. There’s pasta, spices, mixes, popcorn, crackers and cat food (for the cat of course!). It got to the point I didn’t really know what was in there anymore. It’s organized; just full. Slowly, I’ve been using items up and it’s getting there slowly. I even took a bunch of cat food to our store so they could donate it to a rescue organization they work with.

In that cupboard was a single serving mix for pancakes (or baking if you really wanted). It was Pamela’s, which I had heard so many things about and seen them at most health food stores. The package itself seemed a little silly. Really? A single serving of pancakes? The directions were easy enough and it mixed up nicely, but it seemed really runny. They also cooked up well and they tasted decent. An upside is that I got more than the four pancakes stated on the package.

Would I buy this again? I’m not sure. It is a good product, but I think I prefer Bob’s Red Mill. Then again, I prefer making pancakes from scratch.

January 21, 2013

Gluten Free Travelling

Travelling can be daunting when you have food sensitivities. You know which places are safe in your hometown, but far and away is another story. If you’re like me, you do a ton of research via Google; typing in ‘gluten-free’ in various forms (hyphenated, one word, two words). Sometimes you come across a travel blog and they may have something of use to you. With blogging becoming so mainstream, many celiacs, like me, are posting their experiences and delightful finds; travelling included.

Here in Canada we’ve got the wonderful Celiac Scene, a website devoted to restaurants and retailers who make sure celiacs can dine safely. When I first discovered it 3-4 years ago, there were maybe 5 or 6 restaurants for all of Ottawa, now there are 2-3 dozen.

There is also Gluten-Free Ontario, a list of celiac friendly restaurants in the province of Ontario. What began as a mostly Toronto where- to-dine has quickly expanded to include restaurants all over the province.

A blog that I came across when researching Boston and Cape Cod in 2011 was Gluten-Free Globetrotter. Written by a woman, like me, who wants to (and loves to) travel all the while being able to eat safely. Her travelling experiences are proof that celiacs can travel safely and enjoy themselves too.

Another is Gluten Free Travelette. Blogging about her travelling adventures and experiences, the writer also has some stunning photos in her posts.

Now this is pretty exciting stuff. Those who have had gluten issues for a long time realize how wonderful this is. The product variety seems to have come a long way, and now too so do restaurants. Travelling seems to be making some progress, small steps albeit.

Celiacs just may have hit the big-time though. While reading through my latest celiac association newsletter last summer I saw a travel website dedicated to gluten-free travelling. I checked it out while researching our trip to Vegas in the fall and it is pretty handy. GlutenFreeTravelSite.com is also worldwide! All the reviews are submitted by celiacs who have dined there, so whether or not you travel write about the ones in your hometown. A celiac tourist may thank you. Another bonus... they just launched an app for the iphone.

Travelling is getting easier for us celiacs. It’s about time.