#TBT Dining out gluten free


IMG_0098

 

I originally wrote this post on June 15, 2015.  It’s still relevant in the fact that dining out is still a major undertaking.  So much so, that I hardly go out to eat anymore.

When I decided to go gluten free almost a year ago, I sat down and had a talk with my husband.  “Honey”, I said, ” I think I will have to give up gluten.  Everything I have read points to that”.

“Ok”, he said, ” but I won’t be going gluten free.   But I will eat whatever you cook for me”.   Now that’s love!   But sometimes I wonder just how easy it is to live with someone who can’t eat gluten or dairy.  Especially when he is a carb and cheese addict.  But he has adjusted.  And he loves my new recipes.

When I first started out, date night became a whole new challenge.  Our first dinner out to our favorite steak place went something like this:

We sat down and I said, ” I can’t eat gluten or dairy. “. The server literally tore the regular menu from my hands and brought me a gluten free menu.  There were basically two choices-steak and salmon.  So I ordered the steak- no fried onions, and the baked potato with no sour cream. At this point, I was still eating butter.  Next was the salad bar.  I knew most of their dressings were gluten free.  While we were still eating the salad the entrees came.  You guessed it-fried onions and sour cream.   I removed the onions and scraped the sour cream from the potato.

I was a bit annoyed and I am sure my husband was too.   I ended up calling the waiter over and letting them know  I was not happy.   The steak had been overcooked too.  In fact, the manager brought my replacement dinner out to me and asked if everything was ok.   Meanwhile, my hubby continued to eat his meal.  Like I said, he is very patient and understanding.

You may not be so lucky.   Here are some tips to help you avoid icy stares and daggers:

  • Check the menu ahead of time.  Nothing annoys people more than waiting for someone to decide what is safe for them to eat
  • Go out to eat at non-peak times if possible.  Wait and kitchen staff won’t be as accommodating when they are running about like chickens without heads
  • Have a backup plan.  They may be out of salmon
  • Call ahead if possible to speak to the chef so that something can be prepared in advance
  • Let your family know of your dietary restrictions ahead of time.   They may not understand what gluten free means
  •  Bring your own food to family gatherings.  This eliminates problems from the get go

Being gluten and dairy free is hard.  It is much harder on your loved ones.   Cut them some slack.  Just smile and say, “pass the vegetables”.

Is it safe? Review of Smashburger, Murfreesboro


smashburger

The other day, my husband and I took a drive to Murfreesboro.  Anytime we take a day trip, it becomes a challenge to find a place to stop for lunch that won’t make me deathly sick.

Smashburger is one of the places that is utilizing online allergen menus that you can customize depending on what foods, spices, seeds, fruits, vegetables and additives you want to avoid.  It then gives options based on these choices.

I think this is wonderful, however, how does it translate to reality?  Anytime you choose to dine out with a food allergy or intolerance, it can become a literal crap shoot.  This is the main reason I have mostly stopped dining out.  It simply is not worth the hassle to me to have to be a detective to find a safe meal, and to be chained to my bathroom for several days.  If we are doing an activity after that meal, it becomes an embarrassment when I have to use a public bathroom, especially when it is in a location that is anywhere near a crowd of people.

That said, I have to say that the staff at Smashburger seems to follow that allergen menu pretty carefully.  They have everything in their register so that it can be put right on the order.  But then there is the ‘cover our ass” disclaimer:

In preparing results displayed by our Interactive Allergen Menu and other nutritional disclosures, we have relied on information provided to us by third party food suppliers.

Accordingly, we can make no guarantees regarding the allergen content of these items.

All Smashburger menu items are prepared on shared equipment and cross-contact with any allergens you wish avoid may occur during preparation.

The allergen and nutritional information on this website applies with respect to the United States only.

After carefully selecting gluten, wheat, dairy, nuts and tree nuts products to avoid, I was given several options.  I decided on the classic smashburger and the sweet potato fries. They have just rolled out gluten-free buns as well.   I read the ingredients and there were none of the allergens I had selected.  Yet, I still got sick.

There could be several culprits:

  • The burger was really greasy.  Having IBS and no gall bladder, this could have done it due to the high amount of fat.
  • I had a large glass of Dr. Pepper.  High fructose corn syrup is another irritant
  • The fries were cross contaminated.  They do not have a dedicated fryer.  Although this is not usually a problem for me.  But the fries should not be labeled gluten free
  • The bun was buttered.  This is usually done automatically without a thought from the kitchen staff, although I was assured there was no dairy on my order

These are all things that could be avoided.  I am willing to give them another chance because the food was really, really good.  Next time I will skip the fries, and drink water.

Anytime we choose to dine out, it is a game of Russian roulette.  Is it worth it?  That depends on you and how adventurous you are.  You can peruse menus til you turn blue, but I am convinced there is no such thing as a safe meal out, unless the restaurant is dedicated to serving only allergen free food.  And that is a rare thing these days.

So to Smashburger I say,  you are on the right track, and thank you for the effort.  It is much appreciated.  But please know that if foods are prepared on shared equipment, they are NOT allergen free and should not be labeled as such.

Order at your own risk!

 

Review of Rodizio Grill, Nashville


skewers

 

This year for my birthday/anniversary, we thought we would try something a little bit different for our celebration dinner.

Rodizio grill is a Brazilian steakhouse.  This is not your ordinary steakhouse, but a true dining experience.  They have restaurants all over the United States.

Meats are spit roasted, and served by “gauchos” at tableside.  You have a red and green little doohicky on your table, and you flip it green when you want more meat, and red when you want to stop.  You can flip it as much as you like through the course of the evening.  They also have an extensive hot and cold salad and sides bar.  The cost for the salad bar and meats was $36.99 per person.  The price for just the sides bar is $19.99.  With drinks the bill came to over $100.00 for the two of us.

We went on a Monday night, which might have not have been the best night to go.  It was not crowded at all, which might have affected the outcome of our dinner.

I had requested a copy of their gluten and dairy allergen lists about a week before we were to go.  I received both by email from the Assistant General Manager.

rodizio-gluten-listrodizio-dairy-list

 

Having these lists ahead of time, I was able to plan what was safe and what wasn’t for me to eat.  There were a couple of meats that were basted with butter, and some that had gluten.   I double checked the list with what was listed on their menu.   There were a few things that were overlooked, but I was able to catch them.   But someone who does not do their due diligence might not have.

There are a few things I think could be improved on:

  • Salad bar option is offered by itself, but the meat part of the meal is not.  If you fill up on the salad bar, there is no room for the meats, which is where you will get your money’s worth
  • Salad bar gluten free options are marked, so are menu options.  Dairy free is not.
  • “Gaucho” servers have no idea what has gluten or dairy in it
  • We had three different servers during our meal due to it being a “slow night”.  The second and third servers had no idea what my dietary restrictions were
  • A manager was supposed to come to our table but he never materialized
  • We were never given all of our sides
  • Not a good variety of meats-mostly beef
  • we had to ask for certain items
  • some of the meats were really salty

But there were good things as well:

  • Our initial server was really attentive
  • what meats we did try were really good
  • a fish dish was made especially for me to be dairy free
  • servers were very polite and accommodating
  • we ate our fill of meats

I was happy that they wanted to make the fish especially for me, but it was toward the end of our dinner, and I was quite full by this point.  I only took one small piece and I fear the rest was discarded.   I didn’t want to say no since they went ahead and prepared it without really asking me after I asked if the fish was dairy free.  I felt obligated to try it.

The staff was friendly and attentive.  But since it was a slow night, we were a bit disappointed with the selection of meats.

Most of the salad bar items are off limits if you can ‘t eat dairy.  They should be marked.

This would be a nice place to go if you have friends visiting from out of town.  It was overall a nice and different experience, and I would recommend it.  And yes, I would return.

 

 

It’s not just wheat-how to explain multiple food intolerances and allergies


 

food-allergy

Most of my family and friends understand that I have an intolerance to both gluten and dairy.  But when I try to explain my other food intolerances and allergies, I lose them quickly.  I try to explain that it’s easier for me to bring my own food than for them to worry about finding traces of the multiple foods I can’t eat.  Especially when those foods can come in many disguises.

My list goes something like this:

Wheat, rye, barley, rye, soy sauce, malt, dairy, honey, tree nuts, peanuts, honey and agave.  I have added soy recently, but not because I am allergic.  I believe it messed up my thyroid so I am limiting it for now.  

How can you ask your loved ones to shop for you when you have such a long list of foods you can’t eat?   Or how do you explain to a server or chef in a restaurant about the long list of foods that are off limits.  The easiest way is to carry a card listing those foods.

I tried to find a card that was not only free, but that was customizable.  I could not find such a card online.  There are many websites that offer free and for a fee food allergy cards, but they can’t be customized.  It’s either wheat and milk, or eggs and milk, etc.  I do not have allergies except to nuts and peanuts.  If you want a gluten intolerance card, you can’t add other food intolerances.  Hmmm, I thought, I might have to take things into my own hands and make one.

I fired up my word program and selected a business card template.  I came up with this:

allergen-card

I don’t have any blank business cards at the moment, but I printed these out and will carry them in my purse.  Next time I go out to eat I can just hand one of these to the server and ask them to give it to the chef.   I also wanted to mention that I carry an EpiPen.  My husband knows I carry it and knows how to use it.  But in case he is not with me, I am covered.

Allergen alert cards are a great idea, but I hope that in the future they will not only be free, but customizable for all food allergens and intolerances.  There is an app, but the reviews are not good.  I am hoping that one that actually works will be developed.

Having one of these will give peace of mind and the ability to have a safe dining experience.

 

When pre-ordering doesn’t work-what you can do


 

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-3-01-37-pm

example of finding a restaurant on Google

 

 

Last week, I wrote a post about pre-ordering when dining out, and how that can help you to have a more pleasant dining experience.  But what can you do when that is not an option?  Say you want to go to a local mom and pop, or fast food restaurant.  Pre-ordering at those would not be an option.

The first thing you should do is try to find the restaurant’s menu on Google.  Try searching for the name of the restaurant+gluten free.  Not all restaurants have gluten free menus.  It is getting more mainstream, but smaller places won’t have this option.  They might not even have an online presence.  If this is the case, look for reviews on Tripadvisor or Yelp.  Enter the name of the restaurant again, +gluten free.  Narrowing down by locality on one of these sites might help you find a review from someone who has eaten there and ordered a gluten free dish.  You can also go to app store and download Find Me Gluten Free, or Gluten free registry.  If you can’t locate a menu or phone number, skip to a restaurant that at least has some kind of menu posted.  You need a point of reference.  Don’t just wing it.

If you are going to a restaurant that does not have gluten free or dairy free food, ask if you can bring your own food such as bread, dairy free butter or gluten-free salad dressing.   Sometimes staff will not know if the food is gluten or dairy free, so don’t take the chance that it is or isn’t.  In the case of the Lahaina Chicken Company I ate at, the girl at the counter did not even know that butter had dairy in it.  This is more likely to happen the smaller the restaurant is.  Don’t count on ignorant staff.

If you are traveling, try to rent a condo or room with a full kitchen. Not only will this save you money, but it will save you a good bit of anxiety trying to find gluten or dairy free options for three meals a day.  That could quickly ruin a vacation.  Also, if you can, bring a cooler with foods you can eat on the road.  Eating at fast food places is a Russian roulette at best.  No one wants to be sick on a long car ride.

You would be wise to avoid Italian and Chinese restaurants.  There is a good chance that neither will have gluten free options.  Depending on staff, they might not understand what gluten is.  Most Japanese restaurants now have gluten-free soy sauce, but don’t assume.  Sushi is a safe bet but be careful to avoid California rolls as they often contain fake seafood that is made with wheat.  Also avoid the Miso soup and seaweed salad.

These are just some tips that can help you have a pleasant dinner out or a pleasant vacation.  If you have some tips of your own you would like to share, please comment.

 

 

 

 

Is pre-ordering from a restaurant a good idea?


event_magazine_dining_out_2_1030360735

 

While I was on my cruise to Hawaii, I learned a very valuable lesson.  The smoothest way to ensure that my food was prepared correctly and allergen free was to pre-order the next days’ meals in advance.  Yes, it sort of put me on the spot,  but it worked to my advantage.  Kitchen and wait staff were extra careful and gave my meals the attention they deserved.  It made me wonder if the same could be done at home.

I have written in the past about calling the restaurant in advance and speaking with the manager, but I never actually put it into practice.  It also worked well at the Hilo Bay Cafe, where I had my chirashizushi.  I emailed ahead and asked if this could be made gluten free.  They were able to accommodate me, and had it ready and waiting for me when I arrived.  What a pleasure!  Not to have to pore over a menu for ages just to find something “safe” or to not have to wait an eternity for my food.

This might not work with a small, local restaurant but it would probably work with a large chain.  Also, pick your dish wisely;  as I learned, a caesar salad isn’t a caesar salad when it has no croutons or parmesan and has balsamic dressing.  Choose dishes that can be easily converted.  There are a few tips that will help you achieve this:

  • Pick a simple dish to be converted, like the sushi dish I described.  If you have dairy allergies, avoid converting dishes made with complex ingredients.
  • Ask if there is a dedicated fryer
  • Ask if they have gluten free soy sauce (Asian)
  • work with the chef-they might have great ideas, or you might.  Know your ingredients if possible (some website menus show all ingredients in a dish) to see what might be swapped out.
  • Expect to forego dessert
  • If it’s a holiday, give plenty of notice, but the busiest time might not be the best time.
  • don’t expect miracles-sometimes swapping or leaving out ingredients will ruin a dish.  Have a backup plan.
  • Ask to speak to the restaurant manager.  Or better yet, send an email.  Emails will allow you to explain in more detail what you are looking for.
  • Make sure the manager speaks to the chef.
  • Ask if gluten free pasta is available.
  • Olive oil can be subbed for butter in quite a few dishes-even hollandaise!
  • Non-dairy milk can be subbed for dairy milk in most cases.
  • Bring your own butter substitute and/or salad dressing with you.
  • If you can, book a reservation through Open Table-this will allow you to include details on your allergies and give the staff more time to accommodate you.
  • Give ample time to the staff to find ways to help you.  Don’t call an hour in advance. and expect them to be able to whip something up on the spot.
  • Ask if there is gluten free bread-and ask for olive oil for dipping.

These are just some of the ways you can pre-order a meal at your favorite restaurant.  I would love to hear your stories about how you planned ahead,  and also about your disasters!  Please comment and share your experience!

 

Gluten free hacks


designmakehacks

When I find a really good article about gluten free hacks, I want to, of course, share it with all of you.  These hacks include baking, as well as general hacks.

Gluten free baking is one of the most difficult things to master in the roster of gluten-free living.  But once you do, it opens up a whole new world.  You can find the original article here.  Thanks to Bob’s Red Mill for posting the article.

Substitute oat flour for wheat flour

It can be substituted one for one for wheat flour and can be made quickly in a blender by blending whole grain oats until they are a fine powder.

Use a mix of flours to create better texture

When using two flours, you want to go for a 60/40 ratio.  For more on different flours and how to use them, click here.   Lack of volume can be made up by using xantham or guar gum.  However, watch out for sensitivities as xantham gum, in particular, can cause stomach upset.

Gluten free cake mix has multiple uses

It can be used for pound cakes, muffins, and quick bread as well.

Add baking powder to gluten free flours to help them rise

Sometimes gluten free baked goods need an additional lift.  I also found a tip that says you should use seltzer in gluten free pancakes as well as baking powder, to help them rise.

Substitute corn tortillas for flour tortillas

This is an easy swap but read labels, and be especially careful when dining out.  Corn tortillas are often dusted with wheat flour.

Swap lettuce wraps for bread in sandwiches and burgers

This is a great hack when you are dining out and want to enjoy a burger

Swap coconut or almond milk for cow’s milk

Not only is this better for the cows, and the environment, it’s better for you!  Both can be used in baking and cooking.

Use coconut cream instead of regular cream

Coconut cream can be whipped as well.  It can also be used in recipes calling for heavy cream.  Just be sure to drain the liquid.  If you are whipping the cream , refrigerate overnight so that the cream thickens and separates from the liquid.

Substitute sugar with honey or maple syrup

You can use honey or maple syrup in both cooking and baking instead of sugar.  Be sure to check for ratios-it may not be measure for measure.

Substitute rice for cauliflower

You can make a wonderful fried rice with cauliflower

Make vegetable noodle pasta

Be sure to salt and drain veggies like zucchini before cooking.  Also, don’t overcook as veggie noodles will turn mushy.

I hope you enjoyed these tips and that they make your gluten-free life a little easier!