Tag Archives: Dining Out

Receptively GFree (No Cross-Contamination)

Finding a caterer who not only understands what gluten free means (it’s not, “just avoid the  couscous on the buffet”) but also has the knowledge and expertise to cook 100% gluten free is a challenge. Finding a caterer who can cook delicious AND affordable gluten free food–no $2 upcharge per GFree roll–sounds like an impossible task.

When planning my wedding, I queried a dozen independent caterers as well as in-house caterers at special events facilities in and around metro Atlanta. Several didn’t even bother to answer me. A few seemed to confuse gluten free with the Atkins diet. “We’ll do an all meat and no carbs dinner,” one offered.

Another said I could just take the rolls off my plate and they wouldn’t put gravy on my chicken breast but everyone else should have the gravy because not having the gravy would made the dish less spectacular.

Uh, no, thanks.

My favorite response was, “Well, the bride never eats at her wedding, anyway. You could just bring snacks for yourself and let us make an unforgettable banquet for your guests.”

Really? Continue reading Receptively GFree (No Cross-Contamination)

Ten Lessons Sans Carols: #6 Cool Coat and Cross-Contamination

Schools down here held their last day of classes before the Christmas break on Friday, December 19th. They didn’t reopen until Tuesday of this week. How awesome is that for a winter break? When I was in school, we went until the day before the night before Christmas and we returned on January 2nd, unless the day of the week on which those dates fell gave you a proximal weekend to boot. That made for double depression on New Year’s Day: the holidays are over and we have to go back to school tomorrow. Ugh. No wonder I cried in my closet. I am so glad kids have it better today. Continue reading Ten Lessons Sans Carols: #6 Cool Coat and Cross-Contamination

Oh My God, That’s Horrible!

Not too long ago, I worked for a company in which I, well, just didn’t fit. The people were very nice and extremely good at what they did. They ran as a well-oiled machine of grant writing and money-getting efficiency. The writers could crank out wow! narrative in mere hours and their editors could detect spacing deviations between lines of text, around text in tables, from left margin to right margin, and even between your knitted brows, all in less time than a lunch break. I marveled at their prowess.  And I miserably failed at fitting in. Continue reading Oh My God, That’s Horrible!

What’s On Your Restaurant Table?

It’s the day before the endoscopic exam and I’m nervous. Did I cram enough to pass–or fail–depending on your perspective?  I sure crammed some gluten into me and boy was it painful!

I ate a gluten free cookie from a non-gluten free bakery. I had candy from the same bag into which my nephew plunged his grubby, cookie crumby hands. I let my furniece Abbey lick me after she ate her Cheerios. In short, I allowed myself to get glutened numerous times in the last month with the goal of causing just enough damage to my small intestine that it will get me “randomized,” that is, randomly placed into one of four groups: placebo or one of three different dosages of the medication being tested for efficacy and safety.

I visited a local coffee shop five times to get a soy latte with a shot of sugar free hazelnut because I knew they wouldn’t wash their hands after grabbing a bakery treat from the front case for some gluten-loving customer and before grabbing my cup for making my latte. I knew it would sicken me, and it did.

I think it might sicken you, too, to realize how many times people in food service handle foods and food or beverage serveware without washing their hands or changing/using gloves. It’s also disconcerting to look down at your table and see how much of the previous occupants’ food and drink remain on the surface or in the cracks. I don’t think they ever clean the tables during the day at places like Starbucks and Einstein’s and Ye Nearby Coffee Emporium.

Then we have the restaurants and coffee shops that “clean” the tables with that one rag that sits in a bucket of murky water with a hint of soap suds studding the surface. The same single rag gets wrung out by a clean up person or server who likely didn’t wash his or her hands after finishing whatever they were doing before wiping down the table. After a weak or firm wringing, said cloth gets sploshed across the tabletop a few times. Where do you think the crumbs and spills it just “cleaned” from (or smeared across) the tabletop go? Right into that bucket of wash water! That means the next time the rag gets used to clean a table, it brings those crumbs and spills with it and they get smeared across and commingled with the crumbs and smears on the next table. This could be problematic if you put your fork and knife on the table while waiting for the server to bring your food. Now all that stuff on the table can transfer to your fork and you’re not just eating what’s on your plate, you’re eating what was on other people’s plates, too. Ugh. Gag me with a spoon.

That’s why I always ask for extra napkins and I put my utensils on one of the napkins instead of the table. I also often carry with me sanitizing wipes so I can clean the table myself. If I don’t have wipes, I sometimes put an unfolded napkin on the table to serve as a place mat. What I really want to do is bring my own disposable place mat so I have a clean surface from which to dine. Sure, people would look at me like I’m Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, but I’d rather have strangers stare at me and judge me than be in bed sick for three days. I haven’t taken any of those precautions in the last month because I wanted to get contaminated and the frequency of contamination tells me those tables are not clean and I really need to take those precautions once I’m back on strict GF vigilance.

It also points out why this investigational drug is so important. Even on a strict gluten free diet it can be challenging to stay gluten free in a dirty gluteny world. Having the medication would keep us from getting so sick and so damaged when we inevitably get cross-contaminated. I would love to have that safety, that protection. The effects of getting even tiny amounts of gluten into my body are very painful for days, and it increases my risk of cancer, malnutrition, and other complications.

So, next time you sit down at the table of a coffee shop or casual eatery, look and see: what’s on your table?

What a Trip

With the physical and mental stress of being a lab rat intensifying, I tripped.

Took a trip…to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Below is a picture of the sunset over the Tennessee River from the top deck of the Southern Belle Riverboat. Breathtaking.

River Cruise Sunset

It’s only a two hour drive by car from here to there, even with omnipresent GA Highway Patrol officers pointing their speed detection devices at the northbound traffic. I counted no fewer than fifteen marked police cars from the Downtown Connector to the Georgia state line, though I may have missed a few of the cars and their officers already ticketing scofflaws and speedsters.

After crossing the state line and five lanes of traffic to merge onto I-24, Tennessee welcomed us with open arms and nary a speed trap. Maybe Tennessee’s finest made quota earlier and took Friday to attend booster rallies at their nearby footballing university.

Chattanooga is thrillingly gluten free friendly. Thanks to my go-to restaurant finders www.findmeglutenfree.com and www.glutenfreeregistry.com, I began the trip with a list of several restaurants boasting gluten free menus and favorable reviews. If you have celiac disease, then you know how difficult it can be to find restaurants that serve gluten free fare, and how scary it can be to get to one of those restaurants and discover they really have no idea what gluten free dining means.

“We leave the croutons off the salad!” The server excitedly remarks, when you ask if they have gluten free dishes. Then you ask which salad dressings are gluten free and he or she stares blankly at you. I had one server look at me like I was an idiot. “Well, it’s salad dressing, not turkey dressing. There’s no bread in it.”  Resisting the urge to call the server an idiot, I asked to talk to the manager and the server huffily stomped away. I didn’t even wait for the manager; I walked out the door.

None of this happened in Chattanooga. Instead, all three restaurants quickly proffered a gluten free menu and the servers quickly established their knowledge of all things gluten free.

First up was Tupelo Honey Cafe in Warehouse Row. I chose to create a three-item vegetable plate from the eight or so GF side offerings on their gluten free menu. The goat cheese grits begged to be mixed with the salsa verde black-eyed peas and the result thrillingly tickled my tongue with just enough tang from the goat cheese and a little kick of heat in the peas. They were so good, I had them again for dinner the next night, along with this surprising glass of lemonade, peach nectar and fresh rosemary poured over ice. The server said it was super tart and he always thinned it with a little water, but I found it perfect without dilution.  Think of it as an autumnal equinox elixer: bidding farewell to summer lemonade days and welcoming herbal fall with rosemary, a fragrant ingredient in fall stews and poultry roasts.  Yum-o.

In the Bluff View District–Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria, like its siblings the Back Inn Cafe and Rembrandt’s Coffee House, features a “gluten safe” menu, which means they take extra precautions to prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen and pantry, thanks to extensive training. Tony’s offers three different kinds of gluten free pasta (spaghetti, penne, and fusilli) with your choice of sauces and proteins. I loved my fusilli with roasted mushrooms, tomatoes, basil and fresh garlic. The GF flatbread served with dipping olive oil and shaved fresh parmesan made me feel like a real person and not a sickly charity case. The flatbread had a chewy hearth-made texture I really liked.

I had lunch twice at 212 Market, the first time with a 10% off coupon given to me by the Visitors Bureau worker who highly recommended it. I am glad she did. The main menu identifies GF items right on it–no special separate menu to forget. I like that GF is mainstream here. The first lunch of grilled rainbow trout with grits and grilled squash seemed so light and delicate it nearly floated on the plate. I ate every bit, except for the trout skin. The second lunch featured pan roasted chicken breast with grape tomatoes and herbs with roasted sweet potato rounds and more of the delicious squash. Another clean plate. I’ve noticed that the chicken dish now has new fall sides: acorn squash and kale hash, which sounds so good! Out with summer, in with fall now that it’s October!

I’m eager to return to Chattanooga and try other food establishments with GF menus like Good Dog, which Chattanooga blogger,  A Southern Celiac, recently reviewed. Good Dog serves  all things hot dogs and sausages. Very gluten free friendly with GF buns, GF dogs, and GF fries as well as GF sauces. That post hipped me to North Shore, the trendy neighborhood across the Tennessee River, accessible by the 2,376 foot pedestrian bridge it seems everyone walks.  I could tell you the wild story of the wine tasting festival held on the bridge and how difficult it was to make our way through the hundreds of people milling around in their stilettos and oxfords, sipping wines from one of fifty, yes, fifty, wine tasting tables, not to mention the people with baby strollers, dogs, and bikes, but that’s another story for another blog. Suffice it to say, those were the longest 2,376 feet I’ve walked in a good while but I made it without getting any wine on me or in me and without getting tripped, hit or run over. Whew!

Although I still am trying to get cross-contaminated to ensure my upcoming endoscopy goes well, meaning they see enough damage to randomize me to take one of the three doses of the investigational drug or a placebo, I didn’t get glutened on my trip. That’s good news, really, because it means I don’t have to suffer to have a good or good-tasting time. Bon apetite!