Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus

Ten days ago I posted a photo on Instagram of an awesome gluten-free pizza using Udi’s Gluten-Free crust that I enjoyed at Flatiron’s American Bar and Grill in Colorado Springs. I hadn’t eaten at this restaurant for over six months because all I could ever order was salad. You all know what that’s like.

Some Restaurants Shouldn't Have Gluten-Free Menus

So imagine my surprise when I learned Flatiron’s now had a huge gluten-free menu that could also accommodate my dairy and soy and corn allergies. We’d just picked the College Celiac up from the airport and I was thrilled we went to Flatiron’s because he could eat safely. I even tweeted my appreciation. The restaurant is locally owned and I like to support neighborhood businesses.

Last night I was craving that pizza. So my husband and I went to Flatiron’s and I ordered the exact pizza I ordered ten days earlier: Veggie pizza but substitute the poblano peppers and garlic for pepperoni. I clearly stated that I was celiac and needed the pizza to be as clean as possible.

The pizza arrives with cheese, which was entirely my fault. I sometimes forget pizza typically comes with cheese! I send the pizza back and the next one arrives with no cheese and no pepperoni. Overcooked, barely any sauce, it tastes awful. And I know that Udi’s Gluten-Free pizza crust tastes good when cooked correctly.

I whip out my camera and show the ten-day-old Instagram pizza photo to the manager who says matter-of-factly, “That doesn’t look like our gluten-free crust, it looks like our regular crust.”

Here’s a photo of the one I got last night. The only difference I see is this one is overcooked and lacking sauce and pepperoni.

Bad Gluten-Free Pizza at Flatiron's

I turn to my husband. “So I guess I can eat gluten now.” I was being sarcastic. It was late and I was hungry.

The manager says, “Maybe you’re not allergic anymore, I’ve heard that can happen.”

I just stared at my husband with my mouth wide open. Here is a manager of a restaurant with a huge gluten-free menu–they even advertise 20 percent off gluten-free items on Thursdays–who clearly has no understanding of celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

I should have said something like, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease with over 300 symptoms and it is not reversible. The only cure is to not eat gluten.” But at that point, I just wanted to go home and get in my jammies and heat up a can of soup.  We left cash to cover our wines and bolted out the door.

Of course, as soon as I got home I tweeted about my bad experience.

People jumped to my defense and were appalled by the manager’s ignorance.  I just love my Twitter friends.

So here is what I woke up this morning thinking: If a restaurant is going to offer a gluten-free menu, every single employee must be educated and trained. They must understand what celiac disease and food allergies are, and why preventing cross-contamination is so important. They must understand that one wrong ingredient can be life-threatening. They must take their customers’ health concerns seriously.

Otherwise, don’t even bother offering a gluten-free or allergy-friendly menu.

I’d rather order that boring old salad than risk getting sick. I certainly don’t want my youngest son with celiac disease and my oldest with dairy and egg allergies to think they are ordering safely when they aren’t.

Ten days ago, I thought I’d re-discovered a restaurant I could eat in. Obviously I was wrong. Just because a restaurant has an extensive gluten-free menu doesn’t mean you should eat there. I’m pretty sure this restaurant, like so many others, jumped on the gluten-free diet movement to make a profit. If they are serious about serving their celiac and allergic customers, they’ll immediately remove the gluten-free menu while they get proper training for the waitstaff and the chefs and the managers. This experience makes me question every restaurant’s reason for offering gluten-free choices–unless I see a certification from a third-party or talk to a manager who clearly “gets it,” I won’t feel safe dining out.

Here’s the other thing that bothers me about this whole experience. As a blogger and social media guru, I recommended this restaurant to my celiac and food-allergic brothers and sisters. Less than two weeks after doing so, I realized this is not a safe restaurant to eat in. So should I stop reviewing restaurants and posting food photos on Instagram? I’m still trying to figure this one out.

Oh, and by the way, I did get sick the next morning–even after eating one small piece of the pizza.

Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus appeared first on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Brain Fog (or Sometimes I Just Crack Myself Up)

Oh my gosh, sometimes I wonder what in the world is wrong with me. I drive all the way to the north side of town before remembering the store I am going to is on the south side of town. And I’ve been going to the same store for 20 years!

Sometimes I can’t remember what year it is! I’m not joking. I once had to google to see if it was 2013 or 2011.

A few weeks ago I panicked because I thought I missed my good friend’s birthday. It’s February and her birthday is in October.

Brain Fog and Celiac Disease/Food Allergies

I’ve never had a good memory. The fact my husband has a photographic memory is both a blessing and a pain in the butt. Who wants to be reminded of the year, day, and time I slipped into the pool, or rode my bike off the path and into the bushes.  (I’m also a bit clumsy.)

But since developing celiac disease and food allergies, my brain has turned to mush.  Dr. Lawrence Wilson from The Center for Development gives a more educated definition of brain fog :

Brain fog may be described as feelings of mental confusion or lack of mental clarity. It is called brain fog because it can feel like a cloud that reduces your ability to think clearly.  It can cause a person to become forgetful, detached and often discouraged and depressed.  It usually is present most of the time, meaning it does not come and go, although it may become better or worse depending on what a person eats, or one’s state of rest and hydration.

Ah ha! I’ve often thought that since I’ve gotten my celiac and allergies sort of under control, I should be thinking clearer and remembering better. This hasn’t happened. What I do notice is some days are worse than others. Or if you’re the half-full type, some days are better than others.

This week my brain’s been bad. Let’s just say I haven’t been entirely “with it.”  And guess what? My gut has been acting up too!  Because of stupid decisions, such as not identifying all the ingredients in foods I ate out, I’ve been spending a good portion of the day in the bathroom and the other portion on the couch. I have no doubt being “gluten-ed” and probably “soy-ed” has scrambled my brains.

Let me give you an example or two.

Yesterday I had a meeting in an office in downtown Colorado Springs. After I pulled into the parking garage and walked into the building, I suddenly realized I was in the wrong building and heading to the wrong office.  Fortunately, when I googled the directions, I discovered the right office was 23 feet away. I laughed. Sometimes I just crack myself up.

But there’s more. After lunch, I went back to the parking garage. I had absolutely no idea where I’d park my car. Was it on the first floor of the garage, or the second? Was it in the north tower, or the south tower? As I was walking around, discreetly clicking my car door opener, two men asked if I was looking for something.

“My car.” I laughed. They looked at my pitifully. Then they attempted to help, but to no avail.

I had to go back to the ticket booth and retrace my steps while continually pushing the panic button.  Eventually my car alarm sounded. I ignored the glares from the ticket booth lady.

Okay, I know you’re dying for a third example, so here it is.

That same evening I attended a brain-empowering lecture by Katherine Boo at Colorado College. Her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity was recognized in 2012 as a top-ten book by The New York Times Book Review. (No, I didn’t just recite that from memory; it’s on the book cover.) I bet Katherine Boo has never experienced brain fog a day in her life.

After Boo’s inspiring talk, my friend and I decided to get a gluten-free meal at Croquette’s Bistro. When we got there, I remembered the restaurant wasn’t supposed to open for a few weeks.

So we went across the street to Poor Richard’s, which has a great menu of salads and soups. But my eyes locked onto the words scrawled on the chalkboard: “Gluten-free pizza.”

I ordered a slice, adding roasted red peppers and mushrooms which I knew wouldn’t have soy, gluten or dairy. The pizza came out and I lifted it to my lips and froze. I’d forgotten to say no cheese! I’d been watching all the people around me eating cheese pizza and it still hadn’t occurred to me that I’d forgotten to order correctly.

I’ve been ordering gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free meals for the past five years! How did I forget?

“Well, I guess I’ll just bring it home to Daniel,” I said to my friend who was enjoying her soup. “He’ll have to pick the mushrooms off since he doesn’t like them.”

When I handed the slice to my son later, he raised his eyebrows. My son has a dairy allergy.

Brain Fog (or Sometimes I Just Crack Myself Up) originally appeared at Adventures of An Allergic Foodie.

How My Leaky Gut Changed My Life

Before the holidays, my family was in a funk. My oldest son, who graduated from college last May, still hadn’t found a real job. My youngest son, in college, wasn’t getting any responses to dozens of internship applications he sent out. My husband and I were spending our holiday family time fighting with the City of Colorado Springs over a cell tower being erected in the center of our mountain view.

We were all out of sorts.

Then, as the new year approached, I started saying “2014 is going to be a good year.”  I said it over and over again.

And you know what happened?  Oldest got a job on December 31st, in Denver where he wanted to  be.  A week later, youngest got an internship with a big concert promoter in Nashville. Even the cell phone tower has been stopped for now.

The power of positive thinking. I’m no Pollyanna, but I do believe attitude makes a difference.

How My Leaky Gut Changed My Life

Occasionally I’ll get an email from a reader thanking me for my positive take on food allergies and celiac disease. This means a lot to me. You see my upbeat outlook didn’t come overnight. Before diagnoses, I was in a lot of physical pain. Looking back now, I realize I was also depressed, and with each medical procedure and doctor’s visit, my attitude got worse. I don’t think you would have liked me much back then.

The day I was told I had multiple food allergies along with celiac disease was the happiest day I’d had in a few years. How weird does that sound? But it’s true. I finally knew what was wrong with me. If I changed my diet, I would feel like my old self.

Of course, when I realized how many foods contain dairy, soy and gluten, a lot of tears were shed, even a tantrum or two. I’m not going to pretend it was easy. But today, I feel like my leaky gut changed my life for the better.  Here are a few reasons why:

• When my youngest started getting sick from gluten and my oldest started reacting severely to dairy, I knew exactly how to help them.

• I’m a good cook. Not Cybele Pascal caliber, but I can find my way around a kitchen now. No more meals from boxes (except for Amy’s dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free mac and cheese!).

• I avoid fast-food like it’s the flu. Oh how I wish I could take back those Taco Bell meals between hockey practices. What was I thinking?

• I buy mostly organic and shop the outside aisles of grocery stores (with an occasional trip down the gluten-free aisle).

• If it weren’t for food allergies and celiac disease, I’d never had tasted quinoa, or thickened a sauce with rice flour, or discovered coconut yogurt, or drank almond milk, or splurged on 25-year-old balsamic, or made noodles out of zucchini.

• I found my voice. When my kids were little, I authored two parenting/healthcare books, but I’d been struggling for years to find another topic to write about. Enter food allergies and celiac disease and I can’t stop writing.

• Finally, I met you. Before blogging, I thought I was the only person in the universe who developed food allergies as an adult. Boy was I wrong. Because of you, my dear readers, I never feel alone. I hope you feel the same.

How have food allergies or celiac disease positively impacted your life?

An Allergic Foodie: What Restaurants Did Wrong in 2013

What Restaurants Did Wrong in 2013

An Allergic Foodie’s Top-Ten List

Whittling down my worst restaurant experiences in 2013 wasn’t easy. This says a lot about the restaurant industry not meeting the needs of those of us who require extra help ordering off a menu and some special food prep back in the kitchen.  Here’s hoping 2014 will bring more attentiveness from wait staff, restaurant owners and managers, and chefs!

Drumroll, please . . . 

10.  Halfway through eating our gluten-free meals, the waiter says to my son and me, “The stewed peaches were cooked with flour—that’s why we served them on the side.”   —Urban Grub, Nashville, TN

9.  After clearly explaining my allergies—no gluten, dairy, soy, corn—the waitress returns to the table and says, “Is it okay to cook in butter?” (To be fair, the chef did come to my table later to confirm my allergies.)  —Craftwood Inn, Manitou Springs, CO

8.  The “gluten-free” oysters are delivered with saltines on top. When I explain I cannot have any wheat touching any food due to extreme sensitivity, the waitress says, “We’ll just take them off then.” (The oysters came back from the kitchen way too fast so I didn’t eat them.) The Famous, Colorado Springs, CO

An Allergic Foodie: What Restaurants Did Wrong in 2013

 7.  I order a salad sans the cheese, croutons and candied walnuts and ask to substitute veggies for all the ingredients I can’t eat. I am charged extra for the veggies. –Every Panera Bread I’ve eaten in and most chain restaurants

6.  I order an Iced Coffee at McDonald’s. I explain I have allergies and therefore do not want cream or flavoring. The cashier charges me for an Iced Latte. I ask her to charge me for a regular coffee because that is what I get–a regular coffee with ice. The manager says they can’t do that. –-A McDonald’s somewhere on the highway between Kansas and Georgia

5.  After ordering a dairy-free sauce, I rave over the delicious gluten-free pasta and veggies. “It’s the cream that makes it taste good,” says the waiter.Eden Inn, Positano, Italy (This really happened in 2012, but it still haunts me!)

4.  The waitress, who says she has extensive allergies herself, arrives with my salad topped with cheese. I tell her the kitchen made a mistake and send it back. She leaves, turns back, and says, “Well, the dressing has cheese in it, too. Does that mean you don’t want the dressing?” Walter’s Bistro, Colorado Springs, CO

3.  Finding ordering difficult and not confident in the waiter’s understanding, I ask to speak to the chef. I am told the chef is too busy to leave the kitchen. Too many restaurants to list

Restaurants and Food Allergies

2.   During the last bite of my gluten-free and diary-free salad, I bite into a big chunk of blue cheese.  Seasons 52, Kansas City, MO

 1.  Watching a basketball game with my husband at a local sports bar, I’m excited when the bartender hands me a large gluten-free menu. I ask about the first item on the menu: Buffalo chicken wings. “Oh, you don’t want those,” she says. “They’re cooked with all the other fried foods.”  Then why are they on the gluten-free menu? “Some people just like to think they’re eating gluten-free.” Flatirons American Bar and Grill, Colorado Springs, CO

Related Posts from An Allergic Foodie

Working Together to Avoid an Allergic Reaction

Get Rid of Tipping? Those with Food Allergies Will Suffer

Food Allergies: Don’t Let Your Guard Down

What Restaurants Did Wrong in 2013: An Allergic Foodie’s Top-Ten List originally appeared at www.adventruresofanallergicfoodie.com.

Easy Holiday Chicken Salad

Easy Holiday Chicken Salad

My gluten-free college boy is home!  I’d planned on making him a smorgasbord of gluten-free meals, which he doesn’t get in school, but I haven’t.  It’s unseasonably warm here in Colorado, warm enough for walking under blue skies in Garden of the Gods.

Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs

Who can blame me, right?

But today I decided to make something for lunch other than gluten-free microwaved burritos.  Chicken Salad. Which I named Easy Holiday Chicken Salad because it has green apples and red dried cranberries, and it takes minutes to prepare.

An Allergic Foodie’s Easy Holiday Chicken Salad

2-3 cups chopped chicken (I’m lazy, so I chopped up Costco‘s bagged rotisserie chicken)

1 cup Earth Balance Mindful Mayo (use more or less depending on how much mayo you like)

2 small peeled and chopped organic Granny Smith apples

1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans. If you’re allergic to nuts, use celery)

1 cup allergy-free dried cranberries

I didn’t use any seasoning because the rotisserie chicken already had a lot of flavor.

Toss, chill, and serve.

I ate my chicken salad on a bed of baby greens. Steve ate his on a gluten-free baguette.

Holiday Chicken Salad

Then we went for a walk.

Help an Allergic Foodie Learn to Cook–please!

One of my goals this summer was to learn some new recipes that my husband might like.

My husband, George, is the one person in our family who does not have food allergies.

Here he is concentrating on some crab legs in a restaurant in Rome (I know he’ll really appreciate me including this flattering photo).

George Eating in Italy

Unlike George, I have a laundry list of foods that can’t pass through my lips. And, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know our oldest son gets ill from dairy and eggs, our youngest from gluten. Even our Lhaso Apso Lucy can’t eat grains without breaking out in hives!

Here’s a picture of Lucy (I can’t pass up the opportunity to show you how cute she is).

November 2011 018

So why then, you may be asking yourself, am I trying to cook for the one person who can eat everything?

It’s simple really. If George likes what I serve, he’ll be more receptive to eating at home–less time in restaurants means less chance of cross-contamination. If George enjoys my gluten-free, egg-free pasta, he’ll forget all about that old wheat pasta his mother used to serve (by the way, George is Italian and loves his pasta!). Keeping wheat out of the kitchen helps me keep a clean–free of contaminants–kitchen.

Most importantly, if I can change my husband’s mindset–anything gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free must taste like cardboard–then I’ll only have to prepare one meal for the four of us!

You’ve been there, haven’t you? One (or more) of your family members is newly diagnosed and you’re cooking two (or more) meals–every mealtime! The wheat pasta and the rice pasta. The GF burger buns and the regular ones. The salad with Croutons and cheese, a salad sans Croutons, one with only Croutons, another without either Croutons or cheese.

Ugh! No wonder I drank a lot of wine in those days!

crazy-woman-drinking-wine

(This really isn’t me.)

Well, sad to say, I did not meet my goal. I ended up making allergy-friendly foods during the week, while my husband was travelling for work, then by the time he got home, I was tired of cooking! On the weekends I often opted for grilling a steak or piece of fish and serving a veggie and a salad. Not bad, but kind of gets boring. I even found myself agreeing to eat out (who doesn’t want an evening without dishes!?).  Of course, I more often than not found myself sick the next day, and the third day and the fourth . . .

But it’s the season of going back to school!  So today I publicly announce my goal of educating myself on allergy-free recipes and learning to cook better!

This IS me--in the 1950s.

This IS me–in the 1950s.

I vow to study every one of the wonderful allergy-friendly cookbooks out there, to read as many of marvelous blogger-chef websites I can find, and to create a smorgasbord of recipes all of us can–and want–to eat.

Now I’m not talking baking GF cookies and breads. I am not a baker, never have been. I much prefer to leave the baking to our local GF bakeries (we have two in Colorado Springs!) or purchase the yummy breads at the health food stores. (Bless you, allergy-free bakers, everywhere!)

What I want to learn to make is home cooking. A tasty meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Shrimp Pad Thai that’s better than the one I can have at Noodles and Company. Oh yes, and Asian chicken lettuce wraps because I sooooo crave the ones I used to eat from P.F. Chang’s. Also, dairy-free, gluten-free mac and cheese that doesn’t come out of a box. Fried chicken for my husband. Pizza for my son who studied in Rome and misses “real” pizza. And easy dishes that my celiac college boy can fix himself.

It’s a tall order.

My first step is to treat myself to a pile of cookbooks. I happen to have a $100 gift card to help me get started–an investment in healthful eating seems like a great idea!

I need your help!  What allergy-friendly cookbooks can you, my fellow allergic foodies, not live without?

Tell me! Tell me!

P.S. If you visit Colorado Springs, don’t miss our gluten-free and allergy-friendly bakeries: Outside the Breadbox and Tabor Mountain Bakehouse.