Portland, OR: Gluten-Free Paradise

I sat down at the bar at Ground Breaker Brewing in Southeast Portland for dinner. The server approached with a menu and I immediately launched into my I-have-celiac-disease routine. She listened and promptly responded, with a smile, that they do not use gluten anywhere in their facility and that I could have anything on the menu. I was giddy. This never happens.

Next she said, “you don’t have to be afraid here.”

She got it.

Eating out for someone with celiac disease is scary. When food is what makes you sick trusting a stranger to take your condition seriously and make sure you are safe is terrifying. Eating dinner out is like rolling dice; you just never know whether you are going to be sick tomorrow or not.

In most restaurant kitchens wheat abounds and special care must be taken with my food to be sure my meal is truly gluten-free and to prevent cross contamination. This means that not only do I have limited choices of food when I go to restaurants; I have a limited choice of restaurants. In the town that I live I eat at 5 places because those are the only places where I feel safe.

I travel frequently and on occasion I happen upon a 100% gluten-free restaurant or bakery like Posana in Asheville, NC or Coffee and a Specialty Bakery in Seattle, WA. These, of course, are the exception and not the rule – unless you are in Portland.

In Portland I felt like I had been set free, at least in the culinary sense. I ate at multiple restaurants that were 100% gluten-free and others that were experienced serving patrons with celiac disease. It is such a pleasant experience to eat without fear that what you are consuming might hurt you tomorrow.

In my short stay I made the following gluten-free stops in Portland (there are others and I’ll get to them next time):

Ground Breaker Brewing – Ground Breaker is a cozy spot with super friendly staff. I had gnocchi with a venison ragout, fish tacos, and their version of Appalachian stack cake (it wasn’t so much Appalachian, but that is another post entirely).

Brooklyn House – This restaurant is in a former home and has lovely little nooks and crannies perfect for a date or small celebration. It has a 100% gluten-free kitchen with a diverse menu. I had sweet potatoes and the white fish over Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots.

Deschutes Brewery – Deschutes is a super popular Pearl District brewery with award-winning beers. They do a gluten-free beer, but more importantly they have a dedicated fryer. So, I had fries, with garlic and cheese, for the first time in forever. Worth the trip.

Prasad – This is a 100% gluten-free and vegan spot located inside Yoga Pearl, a yoga studio located in the Pearl District. They serve full meals and juices. I ate here twice for breakfast. Day one I had a green juice and a rice bowl. Day two I enjoyed the chili farmhouse scramble with tempeh, greens, and brown rice with another green juice. Both were fantastic. The space is small and is open, so you will see the yogis come and go.

Petunia’s Pies and Pastries – Petunia’s is 100% gluten-free and vegan bakery and was a two-stop spot as well. They serve breakfast, sweets, and drinks and it is lovely. They offer biscuits and gravy and while I was tempted to try I declined, I would rather remember biscuits and gravy the way my Mommy makes them (with lots of gluten). But I did have coconut yogurt with fruit and blueberry coconut pound cake. On the return trip I had a maple, pumpkin, carrot, and zucchini cupcake with maple icing. Also, worth the trip.

Verde Cocina – Also in the Pearl District, this Latin restaurant has a gluten-free kitchen and features house-made chips and tortillas from certified gluten-free masa. I had dinner and lunch here. At dinner I had a chili relleno and for lunch chilaquiles. Both were wonderful, but know these aren’t the cheesy, greasy version of Latin dishes you might expect; both entrees were light on the cheese and heavy on the vegetables. Good and good for you.

Andina – This was the event dinner of the trip. Andina is located around the corner from Verde Cocina in the Pearl District, and while not 100% gluten-free it has a robust gluten-free menu and well-trained staff. There was spicy tuna with potatoes and crab salad, marinated asparagus, paella, and espresso panna cotta. All amazing. The server was very helpful; she eats gluten-free and took the time to recommend a number of other places to visit.

I am looking forward to my next trip to Portland and hope that what is happening in the food world there quickly spreads. If keeping Portland weird means keeping it this gluten-free, then I am in.

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Fall in the Midwest Remembers Spring at the Four Seasons in Nevis

Last week while driving through rural Indiana I caught a glimpse of a soybean field at that special moment when it is green, yellow, and brown at the same time. I immediately stopped in the middle of the road. This is one of those moments, like the turning of the leaves, that change daily. You can’t wait until tomorrow to capture that view, because by tomorrow it will have changed.

It is pretty.

But, it is also a sign. A sign that fall is upon us and that winter is coming. The combines have started to churn up dust on the horizon. At night you can see the eerie glow of the combine lights as they work. Fresh apples are everywhere and the leaves will changes colors soon. This is all part of the opening act for the Midwestern winter – first comes harvest, then the leaves disappear, the wind quickly becomes unbearable, and then the snow. Maybe it will be an easy winter, maybe it will be another harsh one – it is impossible to predict. No one knows.

I looked at those soybean fields and my mind took me right back to my 5 days on the island of Nevis, West Indies in May. It is shocking how quickly a thought of winter will prompt my amygdala to paint scenes of sandy beaches and ocean sunsets in my mind.

I realized earlier this year that I was going to need a real break. I would need a vacation that was more than a stay-cation but less than an over-scheduled-experience-everything-possible vacation. A cousin and a dear friend both recommended Nevis after taking trips there (separately – they don’t know each other). So I signed up, with much less research than I normally do before committing to a trip.

I was a bit nervous about going alone. Traveling alone on a trip with a lot of activities is easy and I do that all the time, but I wondered if I would be happy being alone with nothing much to do for 5 days. But, I went anyway.

I am glad I did.

I spent five peaceful, refreshing, and fabulous days at the Four Seasons Resort on Nevis. It was so lovely that I did not leave the resort. Why would you – there are walking trails, 4 restaurants, 3 pools, watersports, and plenty of perfect beach right there.

It was the best solo trip I have ever taken – walks, reading, laying by the ocean, and making new friends. Dinners were amazing – the two fine dining restaurants Mango and the Coral Grill, were able to create celiac-friendly meals and legitimately seemed to enjoy doing it. The staff members were lovely. They learned my name and preferences quickly and made me feel right at home – so much so that I got goodbye hugs on my last night at Mango. It was an easy place to be.

I returned like new – calm, focused, and ready to get back to life until the next break. So, this winter when I am wondering when it is going to stop snowing I am going to remember Nevis to remind me that winter isn’t all that long. That should hold me over until Hawaii in January.

Eating Gluten-Free on Carnival Cruise Lines

Traveling with celiac disease is a never ending challenge. Spending a week or more in a domestic or international location is difficult. You have to locate grocery stores, pack your food for the plane and beyond and research restaurants that have gluten-free menus or are rumored to cater to the needs of the gluten free. It is a lot of work.

Instead of requesting a gluten-free meal on the plane, I bring my own.

So, when my sister informed me that the 2014 family vacation would be an Alaskan cruise I immediately started spinning all the potential food-related nightmare scenarios. This was my first cruise.

We sailed on the Carnival Miracle for seven days out of Seattle with stops in Skagway, Juneau and Victoria. I shared the least dramatic of my worries with my sister and she assured me that she had made the necessary arrangements for me. I was to meet with Guest Services and then the maitre d’ to discuss my requirements. The Carnival representative assured my sister that they could safely feed me. My sweet sister then researched gluten free eating on Carnival cruises and she found a blog post by the lovely G-Free Laura. I felt better. I knew I would be worried until I was on the boat and talking to someone but this information helped.

I arrived in Seattle and enjoyed lovely gluten-free meals at Tom Douglas’s Lola, Anthony’s and Elliot’sOddfellow’s in Capitol Hill (I also recommend Elliot Bay Book Company while you are there), and Local 360, which is super awesome spot where everything on the menu is local. All these meals were lovely and gluten-free.

Then it was time to board the ship. The embarkation process took less time than I expected (considering there were over 2000 people aboard). We headed for Guest Services to request the partition between our rooms be opened and to talk about my dietary needs. Unfortunately, my record did not reflect that I needed a gluten-free accommodation, it only noted a special need. I took this as – they aren’t ready for me and I have to be perfectly honest, I was scared. Guest Services confidently advised me that all I needed to do was talk with the maitre d’ and it would be fine. I had packed enough food to eat one or two meals a day out of my bag, but I knew I needed at least one good meal a day from the kitchen. So, scared doesn’t really describe it, I had a minor meltdown.

We made our way to the dining room for our first meal. I met the maitre d’, Ken, at the door and explained what I needed. He promptly dispatched the lovely Jana to my table. I explained to her that I have celiac disease and would need a gluten-free meal. I went on to explain that I am medically required to have a gluten-free meal and that I am extremely sensitive. She was unflappable. She assured me immediately that they could accommodate my needs. In fact, because of my concern she offered to personally order and deliver my food herself since my server would be responsible for multiple tables of people. I happily agreed. She got me. To ensure that the kitchen would have time to specially (separately) prepare my meals I would need to order my meals a day in advance. So, every night at dinner I ordered my meals for the next day. It seems like it might be inconvenient, but I did not mind and it gave my family a preview of the next day’s offerings.

Our server, Damir, was helpful and a pleasure to be around. He understood my need and worked hard with Jana and the kitchen to make sure my meals came out at the same time as the rest of the table. This was a struggle on some nights, but they were aware and working on it. The kitchen is stocked with gluten-free bread and flour. So, many traditional items (sandwiches, French toast, pancakes, etc.) are available. I avoid all grains but rice when I am traveling, so I was slightly more limited and declined to eat the bread and flour-based items. Despite my more restrictive diet Jana was able to work with the kitchen each day to find something for me to eat that was interesting. I did eat a lot of steamed vegetables and plain meat – salmon, mahi mahi, flank steak, filet mignon and ribs. But I was also to have the seafood Newberg revised to meet my needs. Instead of the Newberg sauce they made a lemon butter sauce and put it over rice.

They were willing to go the extra step to help me enjoy my meal. As for dessert, the cream brulee and chocolate melting cake were my go-to items. Although, they did have other gluten-free choices. While dining room service was very good and accommodating, the room service and buffet offerings were off limits. I was specifically instructed not to order room service and as a rule I do not eat off buffets (too many changes for cross-contamination). So, on the ship my meals were restricted to what I brought onboard and eating in the main dining room. Know this ahead of time – eating is not a whenever-you-want-it-option unless you have a large stash of food in your cabin.

Chocolate Melting Cake

I was pleased with the attention and consideration that I was given by the dining room staff. They were genuinely concerned for me and they went out of there way to try to make my meals fun and interesting. It was not a perfect situation but the service was great and the food was better than expected. Tip your servers, maitre d’ and Jana. They deserve it.

Four Days in L.A.

The summer’s end arrived early and was anti-climatic. One minute it was July and I was recovering from my summer vacation in London and the next it was August and I was teaching again. So, after two months of a new semester and 7 lectures it was time for another trip. One thing I have learned after 2 years and 8 months or so in Fort Wayne is that I require frequent breaks from Northeast Indiana.

Where to then? The short list was Portland, Los Angeles, or home. I spent Labor Day at home so that left Portland and L.A. Portland in October did not sound all that attractive. If I want gray and rainy I can get that in Fort Wayne. So, L.A. won easily.

I set up temporary housekeeping in Santa Monica at The Viceroy, which was fantastic. Some will tell you that the place to stay in Santa Monica is Shutters on the Beach (just in front of The Viceroy). While Shutters is nice and you may run into a celebrity or two there (if you care for that kind of thing) it seems to be more of a family spot – lots of little ones. If you are traveling alone and can bear to walk a block to the beach then The Viceroy (or one of the other boutique hotels in Santa Monica) is probably better suited for you – fewer children and traditional vacationers. If you go please give my best to John and Andrew who work the front door.

It was a near perfect vacation. No work, no writing, no drama. I took long walks on the beach, bought a shirt at Amoeba Music, had a chauffeured tour (note: the chauffeur is a friend, but still) through Beverly Hills and Hollywood, got to the Griffith Observatory on a reasonably clear day, walked Zuma Beach, cruised up PCH, wandered through Malibu, dreamed of working at Pepperdine, socialized with some lovely friends, saw the Endeavor, and watched three near-perfect sunsets.

Even better, every meal was a great gluten-free experience. I dined on lamb belly at Michael Voltaggio’s ink., then had octopus salad and rock fish at Son of a Gun, drank a juice blend called Bright Eyes with my huevos rancheros at True Food Kitchen, had ceviche at Border Grill, and finished up the trip with curry at Rock Sugar. It was fabulous eating. Traveling gluten-free in L.A. is so easy.

The trip was right on time in every way. I can’t even complain about the L.A. traffic, I did not experience any of the bad parts of the city. I’m not sure that I am west coast kind of girl, but 4 days in Santa Monica is really hard to beat. It made returning to the not very sunny Midwest painful. But I still have the pictures . . .

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Celiac Awareness Month: Ten Things Everyone Should Know

May is Celiac Awareness Month.

As you may have read, I have celiac disease and I talk (and write) about it a lot. It is a huge part of my life – it controls everything I eat, where I eat it, the medication I can take, and even what sunscreen I can wear. In my many discussions about celiac disease with friends, family, servers, colleagues, grocery store clerks, doctors, nurses, and others, I find that people are usually very interested in knowing more about celiac disease.

So, in the spirit of increasing awareness, I offer my list of ten things everyone should know about celiac disease.

  1. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. When people with celiac disease eat gluten it causes an immune response and their immune system attacks and damages their intestines. This damage stops the body from absorbing nutrients properly. Celiac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance to gluten.
  2. Celiac disease is genetic. In order to develop the disease you must have the HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 genes.
  3. One in every 133 people has celiac disease. Many have the disease and do not know it.
  4. Celiac disease has more than 300 symptoms, affecting many different parts of the body, these can include chronic diarrhea, skin disorders, and infertility. These symptoms often subside after a gluten-free diet is instituted.
  5. Celiac disease diagnoses requires a blood test and biopsy. In order to properly diagnose a person with celiac disease the person should be eating gluten, have a blood test, and a biopsy of the upper intestine. If the blood test and the biopsy are positive the person has celiac disease.
  6. The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
  7. The intestinal damage caused by celiac disease can heal over time if gluten is eliminated from the person’s life. A person with celiac disease can never safely reintroduce gluten into his or her diet.
  8. Gluten is found in many products other than breads, crackers, and cereal. It can also be found in soy sauce, condiments, juices/smoothies, candy bars, processed foods, ice cream, beauty products, and alcoholic beverages, to name a few.
  9. Food is not gluten-free if it has come in contact with a surface, utensil, or other ingredient that contains gluten. That is called cross contamination and it can make a person with celiac disease sick.
  10. Not everyone on a gluten-free diet has celiac disease. There are many reasons why people may be on a gluten-free diet.

 

Celiac Awareness Month: Glutino Products Are Certified Gluten-Free

The gluten elimination process can often take a long time and be emotionally and physically challenging. You can read my story here. One of those challenges is finding food to eat. Many patients with celiac disease adopt a whole foods diet to great results. Fruit, vegetables, and most meats are naturally gluten-free (although you still have to inquire about packaging and other manufacturing processes to ensure safety). However, not everyone is willing or able to adopt a whole foods diet and sacrifice all processed foods. Many folks rely on processed foods for snacks, just can’t bear to give up breakfast cereal, or don’t have the time and resources to make every meal and snack fresh from scratch.

In the U.S. the term “gluten-free” is currently not associated with any threshold standards. This means that there is no definition for what gluten-free means on a food label in the U.S. This can make eating processed gluten-free foods extra challenging. One thing that makes it easier is seeking out foods that are certified gluten-free by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. These foods are certified through testing to have less than 10 part per million of gluten in the final product. This provides some comfort to nervous celiac patients.

Certified_Gluten_Free_Logo

I was approached by Glutino to do a review of some of their products. I have tried Glutino products before, but I always noticed that the packaging lacked the certified gluten-free symbol, yet the website indicated that the products are tested to contain less than 10 ppm of gluten. I wondered why this was, so, I asked. This was the response I received from a Glutino representative:

Glutino products are certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.   Though not currently stated on our packaging, we are in the process of adding this certification notification to our products. While the actual certification is a relatively new development for us, our stringent testing processes did not change. As a trusted pioneer and leader in convenient gluten free living, we’ve long supported the mission of the Gluten-Free Certification Organization to improve the health and lives of those living gluten-free and are proud to be adding the certification to our products for all consumers to see.

This information made me more comfortable eating their products. While I eat a very limited and carefully curated selection of processed gluten-free products I was comfortable trying these products and I recommend them to those looking for non-whole foods options for their diets. But remember, every person with celiac disease is different, what works for some may not work for others.

Here is what I found:

Glutino Table Crackers

I like these table crackers, a lot, but you should know up front that these are not going to give you the same cracker experience as a saltine or a Ritz. These crackers are flaky like a regular cracker, but they are much thinner and are larger in size allowing you to break them off into the size you prefer. They would be great with cheese or soup, but I like mine plain.

Glutino Mini Pretzels

A dear friend who has had celiac since he was a child give me some good advice early on, he said, don’t try to replace those things that you love with gluten-free options, because you will often be disappointed. He was mostly right. Except about these pretzels. If you are looking to replace regular pretzels with a gluten-free option then here it is. These mini pretzels (they also have pretzel sticks and pretzels covered in yogurt, fudge, or chocolate) are fantastic. They have the look, feel, and crunch of a regular pretzel. However, they lighter and in my opinion taste better than regular pretzels. I was worried that I was exaggerating so I asked friends, who are not gluten-free, to try these and they agreed: these are great and not great-for-gluten-free great, but legitimately great pretzels.

Glutino Bagel Chips with Cinnamon and Sugar

These little guys are nothing short of addictive. Again, they look, feel, and crunch of bagel chips, despite the wheat flour. I cannot tell any difference between these and regular bagel chips. But the addictive part is the sugar and cinnamon – this is dessert in a box. Try it, you will enjoy it.

Glutino has a whole host of other gluten-free products from breakfast pastries, to cookies and on to flavored crackers. The company has been around for 30 years and is openly committed to serving and advocating for those who live a gluten-free lifestyle. The company understands that gluten-free living is not a fad, rather it is a medical necessity for many. In response to my question regarding advocating for the celiac community, a director at Glutino responded by staying

Today, through our stringent testing process, Glutino’s products contain less than 10 parts per million of gluten — well below the guidelines expected to be announced by the FDA. Glutino has long been advocating for gluten-free labeling standards and is looking forward to the FDA’s decision to regulate gluten-free labeling. Standardized labeling will provide a safer environment in which consumers – especially those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities – can make safe and informed decisions about their diet.

I am a tough sell and the company’s openness to questions, their thoughtful responses, and the tasty food has made me consider them as an option for my diet.

 

While I did not receive any monetary payment for this blog post it was solicited by Glutino and I was provided with free samples of Glutino products. However, I selected the products that I would review based on my individual diet and needs.

Home Ownership Lesson #12

I am no Suzy Homemaker.

I do not enjoy housekeeping. I know people who love it. I have enjoyed having had roommates who love to clean. I have friends who enjoy the satisfaction that comes with completing a task or enjoying the break it provides from their normal routine. These things do not appeal to me.

I am neither good at cleaning nor do I wish to make time to do it (I work at work, I don’t want to work at home – I want to read and watch more episodes of The West Wings on Netflix). When I mop it seems that there is always something left lingering on the floor. My “clean” house never seems to look as good as other people’s “clean” house. I clean because I must. I clean to maintain a reasonably healthy home and to prevent dog hair, laundry and gluten-free crumbs from swallowing my house. Or, guests are coming over. Guilt is an effective cleaning motivator.

I am very grateful for my dishwasher.

I am very grateful for my dishwasher.

People have asked me why I don’t just hire someone to take care of it. Why? Because I am a walking contradiction. I hate to clean, but I am ashamed to hire someone because my house is so small. It seems spoiled of me to have someone else come clean my 1600 square feet that I live in with only a dog, especially since I really only use about half the house. So, I cleaned.

Recently, much to my delight, a friend was looking for some side work cleaning. This was perfect – I wasn’t so much trying to pawn off my work on my little house, I was helping a friend! No shame in that, right? I quickly let her know I’d welcome the help. Everyone wins.

Then, after the deal was done, I started thinking. Actually, obsessing might be a better word. In order for her to clean she would have to come into my house. Usually visits are preceded by me dusting, vacuuming, and clearing all the flat surfaces of laundry. The situation begged the question: should I clean the house before she comes? Of course, I would pick up the dirty clothes off the floor, put away the laundry hanging out on the dryer, and clear the door handles of bras and jackets. But should I really clean before she comes?

I surveyed the house. It needed dusting. The floor needed a sweep. The mirror in the bathroom was dotted with toothpaste splatter. The windows had not been touched since I bought the place. I reasoned that these are the very things she is coming to clean. This is normal. Then, I thought of the microwave. Ahh, the microwave.

I do not buy paper towels (I prefer using cloth rags). Also, I do not own one of those little domes to cover food in the microwave. Now take a moment to think about what the condition of the inside of the microwave might be when you use it for months, without covering food up, or cleaning it. My mother is cringing with embarrassment right now. I hope my Brother-in-Law is sitting down. It was not good.

It took me two days to decide whether or not to clean the microwave. In the end, I decided that I would prefer to endure the shame of someone seeing the inside of it rather than cleaning it myself. Telling, huh? I just hoped that my friend would pray for me rather than judge my housekeeping skills (or lack thereof).

The cleaning day came and went. I arrived home super late that day and was welcomed by the smell of cleanliness (lemon scent with a touch of Clorox, very nice). It was wonderful. The house looked great, including the microwave. I checked it first since I needed to know if she knew.

In a note to my friend later thanking her for the help I apologized for the state of the microwave. Yes, I was fishing to see how awful she thinks I am now. I am just a wee bit of a people pleaser. I am sure you could not tell. To my apology she responded “I actually said ‘woah’ out loud when I opened the microwave!” I thought for a moment of asking how hard it was to clean but I decided to spare myself more self-induced humiliation. I had kind of hoped she would say it was not so bad; clearly, where the microwave is concerned I do not live in reality. It was bad and I knew it. But, I am very happy that it is clean now and that I did not have to do it. I think my cleaning age is around 17.

The lesson? Until I can make it to a box store to buy one of those dome things I am using a paper plate to protect my microwave from my dinner. Promise!

If you are no Suzy Homemaker it is best to just get help.