Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eating my way through Asheville, NC.

Asheville, North Carolina: where all the cool kids go. We recently (okay, maybe it was recently when I started this post, but I've had some serious writer's block) spent 5 days (4 nights) in Asheville, NC. It was my first real gluten free vacation. I'm happy to say that Asheville is a lovely place to travel gluten free. God bless all the gluten free and vegan hippies of Asheville, because everywhere we went either had a GF menu or was willing to accommodate (I'm not vegan, but I've noticed that once people are used to feeding vegans they easily transition to feeding celiacs). Granted, I did some research before hand, but the number of restaurants we had to choose from was impressive. Also, we were on a fairly tight budget. We wanted to do a lot of stuff, so we tried to be as frugal as possible on food. We stopped at the grocery and packed picnic lunches for a of our days out. The grocery there, Ingles, had a good salad bar and a decent selection of GF snacks.

Kathmandu Cafe (Himalayan Cusine) was so good we ate there twice. The first night we had dinner there and were pleasantly surprised to find that nearly everything on the menu was gluten free. We had a potato cake appetizer and two different lamb dishes. They grind the spices (imported from Nepal, Tibet, and India) fresh for each dish. On our way out, we found that they had an all you can eat lunch buffet for less than $9. We knew that we'd have to come back for that. The buffet was mostly chicken and vegetarian dishes, which were all excellent, but not the show stoppers that the dinner items were.

Homegrown was so good we would have eaten there at least twice if we'd had more time. It is definitely on my list for when we get back to Asheville... oh, and we'll be back. The menu is written up on a chalk board and everything is... you guessed it... home grown. I had grilled trout with a tomato basil aioli and cheesy grits. I love cheesy grits. The entrees here were under $10 and reasonable portioned. The atmosphere is casual and cozy, and I really fell in love with the place.

Luella's BBQ was our last meal in Asheville. It was so good that I wanted to bring back a 5 gallon bucket full of brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Ben got the ribs, and it was the first time I'd seen ribs actually fall off the bone. The place was packed with locals, and we had to wait quite a while for a table... but it was well worth the wait. They had a number of GF sides to choose from but I had to go with the classics, slaw and beans. The prices here were unbelievably good for the portion sizes. I would say this is another must-stop for anyone going to Asheville.

Our most spendy dinner was at the Biltmore. We spend a day and a half at the Biltmore and loved every minute of it. It was far better than either of us even expected. I highly recommend a trip to the Biltmore... just make sure you give yourself plenty of time! I'm not sure what I was expecting, but we got an historic/museumlike experience, an outdoor hike through some magnificent gardens (including a 15 acre azalea garden), a farm visit, and a wine tasting. After all that, we were ready to eat! We ate at the Bistro, which was located near the winery. We had a lovely shrimp and scallop ceviche to start, and then, the best bison burgers we've ever had. The bison were locally raised, and I seriously can't imagine a better tasting burger. Mine was sans bun, but really, I think a bun would have just distracted from the awesomeness that was the burger.

One of the biggest shockers about our food experience on this trip was how few sweets we ate. We didn't have dessert most nights. I had some fresh fruit at the hotel, and that was all my usually incurable sweet tooth needed. On the night we did splurge for some sweets, we stopped into this chocolate store downtown called the Chocolate Fetish. They had a GF menu and tons of selections. I was very pleased with my selection of a pistachio dark chocolate frog and ancient pleasures truffle. In looking up their web site to link to for this post, I see that they  ship... though I think I'd rather use the excuse to go back to Asheville!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

S'more Brownies? Yes, please.

Last week at work, we had a department picnic. Being new to the department, I wasn't sure how that would go for the gluten free folks, so I planned to attend the picnic for the social time and eat food from home in my office. Thanks to some gluten free co-workers, I had gluten free hot dogs on Udi's buns for the main event and chocolate chunk macaroons for dessert. It really didn't bother me this time around to be surrounded with food I couldn't eat. Instead, one dessert in particular inspired me. 

I had heard the buzz about s'more brownies a while ago, and while intrigued, I was never motivated to try them. After seeing them in person, however, I had to give it a whirl. I got the recipe from the lovely lady who made them, and it would have been easy to convert the original recipe to gluten free. However, because A. I didn't have a ton of time this weekend and B. I didn't need to have 35 brownies in my house, I improvised.

I got a box of Smoreables gluten free "graham" style cookies, the Gluten Free Pantry brownie mix, and a bag of marshmallows and went to work. I greased and 8 by 8 glass pan with butter and placed a layer of Smoreables on the bottom. I mixed the brownies as directed and spread that over the Smoreables. I baked the brownies as instructed on the box and, when they were done, topped them with marshmallows. I put them under the broiler for about 30 seconds until they were toasty but not burned. I caught mine at the last possible minute. They toasted faster than I expected!

The result was a sweet, sticky, delicious treat (exactly how a s'more should taste). They were too sweet and sticky for Ben's taste, but my friend and I enjoyed them. I'm glad I didn't make the 9 x 13 sized batch... I couldn't stay out of them!

So, for an easy sweet treat that looks impressive, tastes delicious, and takes less than an hour (including baking time) keep these in mind. I know I'll be contributing a batch to the fall cookouts I attend!

Note: These are a disaster to cut when they are still warm. You won't want to, but you really should wait until they are room temperature (or really close to it). 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tastes Like... Sunshine and Lemonade!

Last month I FINALLY made it to Cherbourg Bakery in Bexley. They've been on my radar for months now, but Bexley might as well be in another state considering how seldom I'm in that part of town. I can tell you, though, that after my trip to Cherbourg, I'll be trekking to Bexley more often!

This place has been getting great reviews and is known for their lemon bars. I've never been a huge fan of lemon bars, but I had to try them. If you'd like to see pictures of all the amazing tasty treats I'm about to describe, go to the Cherbourg Bakery Web site (see the link above). We took a couple pics but they don't do the goodies justice... and the Web site is beautiful, so you should go there anyway. (And order some treats online while you're there!)

Back to the lemon bars: I can only describe the taste as "sunshine and lemonade." When I told my family this, my dad responded with "I didn't know sunshine had a taste." Well, it does and it's delicious.

Besides the lemon bars, I can personally vouch for the sugar cookies with buttercream icing (perhaps the best buttercream icing ever), the madeleines (inexplicably good), the parmesan biscuit/rolls (savory goodness), and the carrot muffins. If you live near or pass through Bexley/Columbus/Ohio, I'd say it is worth visiting this little bakery. Be warned though... they seem to sell out, so don't wait until they're about to close!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me.

I recently celebrated my birthday... and by "celebrated," I mean "ate a lot of really awesome food." In all of my birthday gluttony, I managed to avoid being glutened.... a happy birthday indeed.

It started the weekend before my birthday with gluten free birthday pie. My mom took my technique for GF pie crust to the next level. The word Ben used for it was "epic." I'm not sure I have ever heard about a pie being described as "epic," but that's an accurate descriptor for that rhubarb masterpiece. I'd show you a picture of it, but I forgot to take one.

Then, Ben took me out for my fancy b-day dinner at G. Michael's Bistro. We'd never been there before, but the menu looked amazing. They had a gluten free menu; it looked like a lot of their menu items were naturally gluten free. The server was knowledgeable, and I never once felt uneasy about the gluten status of the food. For that alone, I'd go back in a heartbeat. The food was all that I had hoped it would be. The hardest part was deciding what to have! We sat outside on the patio and had a lovely evening. We had the mussels and shrimp cocktail. Ben had a duo of fowl, which was a duo of delicious. I had the halibut with fiddle ferns, purple potatoes, and asparagus salad. The big surprise, I loved the fiddle head ferns! I kicked myself for not picking any while I was out hiking this spring.

I finished out birthday week by spending an evening in the kitchen with my birthday presents: a kitchen scale, a cookbook, and a doughnut pan. From the cookbook, The Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, I made the veal goulash. I made it with ground beef instead of veal, and canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones because the fresh ones are still out of season. The result was still delicious! 

I also made sugar and spice doughnuts. I used the kitchen scale to weigh out the flours (using the Gluten Free Girl's all purpose flour ratios). I used the recipe from Cooking for Isaiah (still one of my favorite cookbooks). Then, I had my first fresh gluten free doughnut. ever. YUM!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Check Out Those Buns!

Yes, those are gluten free hot dog buns... No, I did not make them. I paid a ridiculous amount for four buns  getting the Kinnikinnick Tapioca buns from the frozen foods section at Kroger.

Since I've been gluten free, I've had hot dogs in a bun one other time, and the buns got crumbly and soggy and were not very tasty. The other day was perfect hot dog weather, and I wanted to eat mine on a bun, with onions, relish, ketchup, and mustard, like a grown up (not cut up on a plate like a toddler; also, Mom's veg relish doesn't stay on the dog as well without the bun). So, I went to Kroger and got what they had... and they were good. 

I fixed the plate you see in the picture and was super excited about the prospect of hot dogs on buns. The buns felt a bit dense, but they were doing an excellent job of holding all of my toppings in place. They were soft, moist, and not crumbly or soggy. I was sure I'd found a winner. And in the category of taste, I had.

However, after I had eaten two hot dogs with buns, I felt full. REALLY full. Kind of like I'd eaten a brick. That's when I decided to check out the nutrition facts. Now, I'm always preaching about how GF foods (especially baked goods) are higher in fat and calories than the regular versions. But while basking in the glow of the prospect of buns, I didn't bother to read the nutrition facts. I was eating hot dogs for dinner, and I wasn't going to worry about things like calories... but I was still caught off guard when I did read the label. In one GF bun, there were 225 calories and 7.5 grams of fat! Regular buns have about 110 calories per bun and and 1.5 grams of fat. No wonder the GF ones were delicious!

Now, I don't expect a meal based on hot dogs to be an exceptionally healthy one, but wow; there has to be a better option. I hear Udi's has GF hot dog buns now, but I've not found them in the store, and I don't know how killer their nutrition facts are. And I suppose I could make my own buns sometime... but in the mean time, it looks like I'll got back to eating my hot dogs with a knife and fork (and a spoon for Mom's relish on the side!).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Featured post!

I'm very excited to have my most recent post featured on SparkPeople.com's Daily Spark! Check out the link below, and when you're done reading my post check out some of the other awesome blogs and articles!

A Gluten for Punishment on SparkPeople.com!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Big Bad Gluten

Going gluten-free? Have you ever wondered if you should go gluten-free? You might have heard about gluten in the news and media, or seen gluten-free labels on the products in the grocery store, or known someone who went gluten free. In honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about some gluten-free basics. 

I’ve been living gluten free for more than two years now. Like many people, I was less than thrilled with my diagnosis. I remember crying over my beautiful dinner of grilled salmon and steamed rice because all I wanted was a piece of bread. Initially, I even rebelled against my diagnosis and binged on pizza, which I soon regretted. Once the reality sank in that I could actually feel good by eating the right foods, I never looked back. 

What is gluten, anyway? First, let’s talk about what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in some grains, particularly in wheat and its close relatives: barley, rye, and spelt. These grains and their derivatives are off limits to anyone on a gluten-free diet. Oats are usually contaminated because they are processed alongside gluten-full grains. Specially processed gluten-free oats are available, but some people still have gluten-like reactions to them. (I’m one of those lucky ones!)

There are a lot of misconceptions about gluten and the gluten-free diet. Whenever I meet a new group of people, I find myself educating them and debunking some of those ideas. But I do love to talk about food and nutrition and being gluten free. It’s a good thing, too, because whenever I go to a new restaurant I have to give “the spiel.” It goes a little something like this:
Me: “Hi! I have Celiac disease and cannot consume gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. [etc]…Do you have a gluten-free menu, or can you make some menu suggestions for foods that would be safe for me to eat?”
Server: “Ummm… so you can’t have sugar, right?”
(This really happened. More than once. I ate lettuce at those places… or didn’t eat at all. Some things are not worth the risk.)

It's not a fad diet. Some people believe that “going gluten free” is a fad diet, like going low-carb. What those people don’t realize is that the gluten-free diet is a medically prescribed diet for the treatment of Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten creates a reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed.
Other people believe that because Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance don’t result in anaphylactic reactions that it isn’t serious. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Celiacs who continue to consume gluten, either by choice or by accident, are at risk for intestinal cancers, infertility, malnutrition, and a host of other ailments. Not as much is known about the disease processes involved with gluten intolerance, but anyone with it will tell you that the pain, discomfort, and other side effects that come with gluten consumption are just not worth it. Symptoms of Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance can vary, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 1 in 133 Americans is affected. 

Feeding the belief that the gluten-free diet is a phase or a fad is the idea that following a gluten-free diet is inherently healthier than eating normally. Now, if your “normal” diet is fast food and cookies, and your gluten-free diet is whole foods, mainly fruits and vegetables, then yes, the gluten-free diet is healthier. But, just because a food is gluten free doesn’t mean that it is healthier than its gluten-full counterpart. Do you know how they get gluten-free cookies to taste good? They add copious amounts of sugar and fat. Gluten-free “sandwich” bread can have up to twice as many calories per slice as “regular” bread.  Your gluten-free diet can be as healthful or as unhealthful as any gluten-full diet. Eating whole, unprocessed foods is important to good health regardless of your gluten status.

Think about all the food you CAN eat. In my gluten-free journey, I’ve come to appreciate the foods that are naturally gluten free, such as fish, meat, vegetables, quinoa, millet, rice, fruit, etc.  Vegetables are naturally gluten free. If you were looking for a reason to eat more vegetables… there you go! Think about a trip to your local farmers' market. On the gluten-free diet, you'll have to pass up the baked goods, but that's about it. Right now I can get meat, eggs, cheese, lettuce, strawberries, radishes, asparagus, spinach, carrots, rhubarb, honey, maple syrup, and more. That doesn't sound like a diet of deprivation to me!

Surround yourself with support. If you think that you might have a gluten problem, I encourage you to talk to your doctor. I suffered for years because I stayed with a doctor who was satisfied with the diagnosis of “stress and IBS.” When I finally went looking for answers to my IBS, I found a doctor who listened and did the extra tests to confirm my gluten issues.  And if someone in your life is gluten free, educate yourself! My friends and family that have made it a priority to learn about Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance have been a huge part of my support system. A good friend who has a gluten-free food area at her party so that you don't have to worry about cross-contamination is worth her weight in gold!