Wednesday, June 23, 2010

25th birthday: the planning and shopping

i decided that i wanted to have chicago style hot dogs (i ranted about their gloriousness in a previous post), baked beans, potato salad and chocolate cake for my birthday party.  i have not had a birthday party in 6 years.  i have not had my own birthday cake in 4 years.

my first step was to find the perfect recipes.
the cake
the beans
the potato salad

then, hunt for the ingredients.

on thursday, i met up with ash downtown after she got out of work and we stopped at trader joe's.  it was only my second time in a trader joe's and i was very disappointed by their gluten free selection.  i was confounded by their labeling.  a friend had brought me some chips from there a few weeks ago and i couldn't tell if they were safe to eat.  i found this same type of labeling on other products.  i asked an employee, who promptly took me to the customer service desk.  they treated me like i was complaining, not asking for clarification.  we determined that i am able to eat the products in question and that they had none of the items we were looking for for the party.  we bought some new gluten free things for me to try: frozen pancakes (soggy but yummy), taquitos (just had them for breakfast, they were pretty good), mac and cheese (also decent), and a couple of granola bars (i ate one right away and gave the other to a woman who was begging for money for food).

we left and went to whole foods a few blocks away.  i was also pretty disappointed by their selection, but, we at least found a few things that we needed.  we got grass fed beef hot dogs, for the refined tastes of my friends, as well as tofu pups, which were the only vegetarian hot dogs without gluten ingredients.   we did manage to find the flour that i wanted to use for the cake, the ghirardelli chocolate powder and chips, and some cereal to stock up on.  they did not have the much needed gluten free hot dog buns.

by the time we got home, devon market was closed.  the rest of the shopping would have to wait.  i still had to find the buns.  it wouldn't be right to have hot dogs without buns on my birthday!

on friday, i had occupational therapy for my wrist.  this put me in evanston, near two whole foods, which might or might not have the coveted hot dog buns.  then, i remembered rose's wheat free bakery and cafe!  i had attempted to go there once two years ago, all the way from pilsen.  after nearly two hours on public transportation, i found they were closed when i got there, even though the website had said they'd be open.  i think i had written them off as unreliable and out of the way.

i wrote down their information and called as soon as i was done with o.t.  a woman answered after a few rings and i asked "do you have gluten free hot dog buns?"  she said they usually have to be ordered in advance but she'd look.  she came back to the phone and said she had a bag.  i didn't ask the price.  i didn't ask how many.  i just said "it would make my day if they were still there when i got there within the hour!"  she took my name and i started on the trek over.

(since the bun split in half when ash tried to cut it, i felt the need to hollow it out before putting the toppings on.)

i got an iced coffee from the dunkin doughnuts in the davis station and took the train up to central.  i knew there was a bus that would take me to the bakery, but i felt like these buns had to be earned.  to me, they were a holy grail that could only be claimed after a trying quest.  that said, i walked the mile there.  it felt a lot longer with the 85 degrees, sunshine, and fast cars.  the coffee was done when i got there and i was thoroughly hungry.

i saw pizzas, sandwiches, brownies, cupcakes...  i settled on pesto chicken on a pita.  it was mouthwatering goodness.  the pita had the right texture, smell, taste, and consistency.  i know this because i touched it and smelled it before i tasted it and chewed it.  and of course i took a picture of it before i even touched it.  i ate slowly, enjoying every minute and wishing the serving was bigger.  when i was done, i went to the counter to thank them for the wonderful meal.  i ended up talking with the manager and exchanging restaurant tips.  i left full, with a sense of community, and a smile on my face.

i had planned to head to one of the whole foods next, in search of our favorite pizza crusts and pie crusts for a friend.  the weather had other plans.  a storm came in quickly and when i finally found the bus stop i decided that heading straight home would be best.  it was a journey in it's own right; i really earned those buns and that meal and probably one of the brownies that i didn't buy.

that night, we got the rest of the things we needed from devon market, which is not an integral part of the quest...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

i haven't had that in years!

the first thing i did when i decided to go gluten free was to buy a few cookbooks.  the second thing i did was realize that they are almost the same as my old gluten ridden ones.  the only things that are really different and wonderful about gluten free cookbooks are that they usually have explanations of all the gf grains and flours and guides for cooking with them.  gluten free recipes for all things baked goods are essential.  you cannot simply substitute a gluten free flour in your predominantly gluten containing recipes.  there's an art and science to it.  i am only just now getting into gluten free baking that does not include a boxed mix.

but, back on topic...

there are gluten free recipes tucked in your old cookbooks right along side those horrid gluten containing ones.  you just have to look for them.  when we don't know what to cook for dinner we often start searching the internet and using key ingredients of things we already have in the house.  when one of us has a hankering for a certain dish, we pull out a stack of cookbooks and start searching.

last week one of these hankerings hit.  i wanted potatoes aux gratin and i wanted them now!  we attacked the shelf of cookbooks in a mad furry.  we looked under aux gratin, potatoes and cheese without any luck.  then i remembered they are often called scalloped potatoes, duh.  there it was, plain and simple, in my copy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.  after reading the recipe and seeing that it would take an hour and a half to prep and bake, we decided my craving had to wait until the weekend.

side note:  not being able to use my right hand for much of anything since mid january has put a cramp in  our cooking style.  ash and i discovered early on that we very much enjoy cooking together and are naturally compatible in the kitchen.  i don't mind the prep work and she doesn't mind the raw meat and grease.  we can pick up a task the other was working on or quickly change gears.  i often did dishes while she minded the stove.  with my limited ability we have had to change the dynamic.  i try to get things ready before we start, like clearing the counter and putting away clean dishes.  she has to do almost all the hands on work and all the dish washing.  in order to keep me from standing over her should while she cuts carrots, i have taken to reading out loud to her or busying myself with various one-handed household tasks.


the long awaited day arrived and i got my cheesy scalloped potatoes!  there was only one modification needed to the book's recipe: corn starch had to be substituted for flour.  i wasn't sure at first how much to use, but a glance at the container told me to use half the amount called for in the recipe.  i didn't even have to use my brain!  so here is the recipe, as we did it, based on the previously mentioned book:

1/2 cup chopped onion (we used some white and green because it was in the fridge)
1 clove of garlic, minced (we used the jar kind)
2 tbs margarine/butter
1 tbs corn starch
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 lb potatoes (or so...)

1) grease a 1 1/2 qt casserole dish (a square one worked perfectly).  preheat oven at 350.
2) thinly slice potatoes.  place half the sliced potatoes in the casserole dish (we layered them at an angle so that the next potato half covered the one before it).
3) for sauce, in a small saucepan cook onion and garlic in margarine until tender but not brown.  stir in corn starch and pepper.  add milk all at once.  stirring, cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.  add in cheese and stir until melted.
4) cover the first layer of potatoes with half of the sauce.  add a second layer of potatoes and cover with the remaining sauce.
5) bake covered for 40 minutes.  uncover and bake for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and cheese is browned.

ta da!

it was so good that i don't even remember what else we ate with it, probably steak.  i savored every bite and the left overs were fantastic.  it was the first time in years that i'd had cheesy scalloped potatoes, and they were so much better than the boxed ones i had as a kid!

thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

oh, the days when life was simpler!

i used to eat out a lot, like many people that have busy lives.  i could just grab something on my way home from work, or order delivery (which was a recent accomplishment in the face of social anxiety).  all that changed four years ago when i realized that gluten was causing me a slew of nasty symptoms.  i tried to say goodbye to some of my favorite places and gluten filled foods.  that, of course, only helped to affirm that pizza made me run to the bathroom, while a nice apple or some rice kept me from looking three months pregnant.

i remember my last chicago dog...  it makes my mouth water to think about that soft bun, the vienna beef dog, charred of course, covered in grilled onions, slices of pickles and tomatoes, celery salt and of course some mustard.  those were the days.  the days of agonizing migraines, dangerously fluctuating weight, dizzy spells, anemia, exhaustion...

in the last two years my symptoms have gotten more acute and my ability to eat at restaurants has diminished while increasing my fear for social functions containing food (which is a whole post in itself).  i've also learned of a few more hidden ingredients and can scan a label for gluten in a matter of seconds.

my current list of chicago restaurants and what i can eat there

tank noodle i can eat spring rolls, beef pho, chicken pho minus the dried onions, and curry chicken; there are probably more options but our language barrier keeps me from being adventurous
chipotle any kind of burrito bowl; gloves are changed and my meal is made by one person
jimmy john's any kind of unwich except for the roast beef; gloves are changed and paper is put down on the cutting board
osaka express and shiroi hana i avoid unagi, teriyaki and soy sauce, tempura, and imitation crab meat; i've had bad luck at a few other sushi places; i prefer to stick to one place so that i know what i can eat
gino's east and aurelio's both have gluten free pizzas and salads and prevent cross contamination
falafill only gluten items are the pita and two noodle salad bar choices; i wish they'd just make it completely gluten free!
flat top grill they cook food for people with allergies in a wok and had decent gf dressing and seasoning options; i've only been there once
wendy's baked potato, side salad and frosty
george's they have a list of allergens and everyone is ready to pull it out and make sure the flavor i want is safe, now only if they were to get gluten free cones, that would make me cry tears of joy...
da luciano is a one of a kind place!  members of their extended italian family have celiac disease so they have an extensive gf menu.  i got to go here for my birthday last year on our way to rockford to see journey.  when i saw the menu i wanted to cry.  when my ravioli arrived i wanted to hug everyone that worked there.  we got frozen cannoli to eat after dinner, there are no words for that.
joe's i've only been here once; our server was knowledgeable and made sure that what i ordered was safe; there was an appetizer of scallops that was fantastic and i had king crab legs
cy's crab house i get crab legs with a side of mashed potatoes or broccoli, i've also had oysters but didn't care for them; i make them take the basket of pita bread off the table, it is too tempting; they carry strongbow cider which is gluten free

two nights ago we went to cy's for ash's 31st birthday, along with two friends, one of whom is gluten intolerant.  it's a fantastic meal, and is decently priced, though it is currently difficult for me because of my wrist injury.

i've been told that i can eat at demera, as long as i call ahead, but i haven't yet gone.  i went to p. f. chang's in denver, co and was fine.  i went to the chicago location for my birthday last year and got very sick, but it didn't ruin my day!  i am willing to give them another shot to see if it was just a miscommunication on the part of the waiter because they have identical menu items that do contain gluten.  i was reading another gf blog and heard mention of roy's having a gf menu.  that might be a good one to try for a special occasion.

just because a restaurant has a gluten free menu, or items marked as gluten free, doesn't mean that they have safe practices to keep those items gluten free.  there are so many ways that cross contamination can make a simple gluten free item no longer safe.  utensils, pots/pans, grills, cutting boards, hands, sauces, and friers can all cause cross contamination.  for example, gino's east has taken great care to keep me safe.  they make their gluten free pizzas at a separate facility and freeze them to send to their restaurants.  then, they are cooked in a separate oven and cut with separate knives.  this means i only have the choice of cheese, sausage or pepperoni, but it also means that i will not get sick!

i used to be a very adventurous eater.  i would try anything at least once and loved eating at different ethnic restaurants.  i definitely miss chinese, indian, thai, korean, italian...  i would like to be able to travel one day, but am scared of getting sick, especially away from home in a place i have paid money to be.  i have heard of a few different kinds of dining cards, which are used to explain to waiters and chefs what you can and cannot have.  the free ones don't have a lot of information, but come in many languages.  the ones you can buy online, have less language options but include a list of common gluten ingredients for that cuisine.  i haven't committed to buying or printing any of these yet, though i think they would help prevent miscommunication.  i often get flustered trying to explain things to people, especially when eating out.

anyways, this post had been brewing for a while.  thank you for reading.  i go through a lot to be able to eat out and when it goes wrong it can be bad very bad.  i want to be able to eat at more places but it scares me.  tips, restaurant suggestions and invitations to try new places are welcome.  a special thanks to my core pho phriends jill, tim, alex, joe and ash, as well as those who have joined us carolyn, jim, bill, andrea, glenda (and her mom!), jet, jera, jeff, debbie, amy and dan for making so many tuesday nights a special occasion.