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Flashback Tuesday: I’m enjoying the holidays with my family as I hope you are. This post appeared last year. The appetizers from my friend’s party were a hit. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays to you and your family.
It took another Amy–my friend Amy Brown–to teach me it’s okay to serve your nonallergic guests allergy-friendly foods.
Maybe it comes from having a husband who has yet to embrace gluten-free, dairy-free foods (to be fair, he doesn’t have to) that makes me think everyone else will feel the same way he does: Not going to try it if I don’t have to.
So I often go to the trouble of serving “regular” food at our social gatherings. A few years ago when we moved into our new home, I hosted a potluck open house where everyone brought an appetizer. As you might guess, there was very little for me to eat.
Then last year I hosted a holiday cookie exchange. I figured this was a fun way for my kids and my husband to get treats without me having to touch a stick of butter or sift flour. Ironically, it was over Christmas break last year that my younger son realized gluten was making him sick and my oldest son gave up everything dairy.
So when this holiday season came around, I decided to skip hosting a party. With our sons home, I just didn’t want to have foods around that they couldn’t enjoy. And frankly, I didn’t want to do all the work of preparing both allergy-free and regular foods.
Then I went to Amy Brown’s party. Take a look at this table of yummy appetizers:
The food was incredible! Amy and her husband, Brandon, follow a “Whole30” diet, eliminating grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes. This made many of the appetizers free of gluten, soy, and dairy! They did include some macaroni and cheese the kids devoured and deviled eggs that my husband devoured.
My favorite appetizer was incredibly simple: A BLT on a toothpick!
Then there were these adorable olive penguins.
And the zucchini wrapped around sausage with pesto and olive oil were fabulous.
Amy also made several types of dips, including one with eggplant and red peppers that she found at She Cooks . . . He Cleans (recipe follows). I’m not a big fan of eggplant, but I’ll be making this dip soon. I eat a lot of veggies and hummus, so–cover your ears, Amy–I wasn’t that excited to try the black bean hummus. But I did, and it was delish!
And who wouldn’t want to eat their veggies when presented this way?
Amy also served the gluten-free crackers on a separate plate and labeled them!
None of the guests seemed to notice the appetizers were “different” or “allergy-free” or “gluten-free.” The food was just good . . . actually, better than good. And oh so cute.
(Note this recipe includes sesame seeds)
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded
- 4 garlic cloves, whole, peeled
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (to start with…)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons tahini paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- juice of one lemon
- lots more good extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400F.
Cut the eggplant up into 1-inch square pieces. (Before cutting, I like to take off some of the skin in stripes around the eggplant. Up to you.) Cut the red bell peppers into 1 inch strips. Toss the eggplant, peppers, and garlic in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and several grindings of pepper.
Spread the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing once during cooking, until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Place the vegetables in a food processor; add the tahini, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, and another glug (or two) of olive oil. Process in pulses until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Try to avoid over-processing or it will become paste-like in texture.)
Drizzle with more olive oil on top, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie. Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Dip originally appeared at She Cooks . . . He Cleans. Thank you to Amy Brown for sharing these treats and photos.
So I think I ate too much turkey and gluten-free pie over Thanksgiving because I can’t seem to snap out of this funk I’m in. Or maybe it’s because the season of holiday parties is upon us and I hate, hate, hate having to do the food two-step every time a well-meaning host offers me a plate of cheese . . . and then a plate of sliders . . . and then a plate of desserts.
I usually love the holidays, but this year I want to hibernate in my Snuggly with my Netflix subscription until New Year’s Day.
I think I know why I’m feeling so blue. And it’s not just that I can’t bake cookies without buying a college education’s worth of allergy-friendly ingredients, or that Breakfast with Santa means no breakfast at all.
It’s because I’m tired of the people I love STILL NOT GETTING IT.
There. I said it. On the Internet. For everyone to read.
It’s been almost six years since I first learned the food I was eating was making me sick. Six years! I’ve had time to adjust. My loved ones have had time to adjust. Yet Dear Old Mom still reminds me how I ate everything and anything as a kid (yes, I was on the plump side). Is this her way of saying the numerous doctors I’ve consulted are all wrong about my dozen plus food allergies? Does she think my celiac disease–which was passed on by my parents’ genes!–is a figment of my imagination?
Then there’s Darling Husband, the Eater of Everything. Unlike Mom, he doesn’t dispute that my allergies and celiac are real and he supports my need for a special diet.
He just doesn’t want my restrictions to restrict him.
He still insists on eating at his favorite restaurants–including the ones that gluten or soy or dairy me every time I eat there. He loves Italian food, and he doesn’t understand–or want to try to understand–why I’m fearful of restaurants that can’t help having wheat flour floating in the air. Nor does he get how monotonous the plain salmon and spinach gets after eating it every Friday night year after year.
Recently, during a rather heated discussion about where to go for dinner, Darling Husband, Eater of Everything, said, “Can I pick the restaurant this time?” As if I’d been choosing the places to eat these last years for fun–not out of the need to stay healthy and keep breathing.
And then there are those “friends,” the ones who think it’s funny to mock my special food requests after I place an order. It is not funny. It is annoying. It is hurtful.
A fellow allergic foodie recently expressed in an online support forum how upset she was when her family didn’t want to come for Thanksgiving because they didn’t like her allergy-free food. I’m pretty sure people have passed on dinner at my house for the same reason. But this was THANKSGIVING. A time for loved ones to come together and be thankful. My heart broke for her.
The one present I would like this Christmas is for my family and friends to accept and respect my food restrictions.
Otherwise, just wrap up another Snugly.
The smiling white-coated waiter glided up to our rooftop table and introduced himself as Paul.
“I understand there are some food allergies at this table,” Paul said, handing us leather-bound menus.
When I’d made the reservation for Watermark Restaurant in Nashville on Urban Spoon, I listed my son’s and my celiac disease as well as my allergies to soy and dairy. We were driving through Nashville on our way home to Colorado and wanted to have a special family dinner with our college boy. Watermark was on our bucket list of restaurants to try.
“I’ve gone over your food restrictions with the chef and I’ve marked what dishes have your allergens.” I looked down at the extensive menu where Paul had placed an X for not gluten-friendly and crossed out the items containing dairy. “Of course, we can also make accommodations, such as leaving off butter. And you don’t have to worry about soy here.”
His words were music to An Allergic Foodie’s ears. I told him how much I appreciated his efforts. Little did he know I had recently had a terrible experience when a chef didn’t want to communicate with the waitstaff and didn’t take my food restrictions seriously. I actually think this demon chef, as I’ve come to call him, intentionally “poisoned” me by including allergens in my food.
After taking our drink orders, Paul then told me because we had decided to eat outside, he didn’t have our table. I panicked. I wanted Paul! The waiter who had done his homework to provide a complete stranger with a safe meal. We considered changing to an inside table, but after a day in the car driving for eight hours, we were enjoying the pleasant evening air.
Paul returned with our drinks. “Well, looks like I’ll be your waiter after all. The other waiter is uncomfortable with your food allergies.”
This was a first. A waiter who fully admitted food allergies alarmed him. I appreciated the other waiter’s honesty, especially since it meant I got Paul back. I’ve often witnessed a waiter’s anxiety over serving me, but I’ve never had someone pass the reigns to a waiter who was more experienced and comfortable with special dietary needs. Kudos to the waiter who didn’t want to serve me for the right reason–not because I was a pain in the neck, but because he wanted to keep my son and me safe.
Executive Chef Joe Shaw’s food was heavenly. Each of our appetizers and main meals were a work of art and just as delicious as they looked. For appetizers, Steve had pan-seared scallops with duck confit over a sweet potato puree and poultry demi glace. I had New Orleans style barbecue shrimp, and George had corn and duck egg custard with pan-seared foie gras.
Watermark uses a wood grill–absolutely no gas–that lended my main dish, a Niman Ranch pork chop a mouth-watering hickory flavor. Even the rapini melted in my mouth. Steve had lamb on ratatouille and George had his usual ribeye though he said there was nothing usual about it.
Since developing food allergies and celiac disease I’ve had more terrible experiences than good ones. But Paul gave me hope that there are those in the restaurant industry who do take my son’s and my health seriously–and who take pleasure in serving us.
Thank you, Paul, for renewing my faith.
Just getting over a few days of food-allergy misery. I’ve been eating out a lot–just check my Facebook or Instagram photos!–so I’m not all that surprised a bit of gluten, soy, dairy, or corn snuck into my food. I guess I tempted the Food Allergy Gods one too many times.
This may sound slightly paranoid to some of you, but I kind of wonder if this time at this particular restaurant the chef didn’t intentionally leave an allergen in my order. It’s horrible to suspect someone who is preparing your food isn’t taking your food restrictions seriously, but we all know it happens.
Here’s how the dining experience–er, dining disaster–played out. The waitress is terrific–very aware of my needs because she herself is gluten sensitive. She asks myriad questions and goes over the menu in detail. To be safe, it’s decided I’ll order plain grouper and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. The table will share crab legs for an appetizer, butter on the side. The only unanswered question is what kind sauce of the six offered I can have on my fish. She goes back to the kitchen to find out.
When she returns, her face is flushed She explains that the head chef is “old school” and believes the front of the house–the waiters and servers–shouldn’t converse with the back of the house–the chefs. I thought this only happened in the movies! How in the world is our waitress suppose to find out if food is allergen free without talking one-on-one with the person preparing the food?
“I told him you’re not going to have to use an epipen on my watch!” she says. Her pen flies up in the air like a sword.
This waitress went to battle for me. How awesome is that? But that’s also why it makes getting sick from this meal even worse–and why I suspect foul play.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just leave the restaurant then. In hindsight, I should have. But it was late, few other restaurants were opened, and we were so enjoying this view of the full moon.
So I ate my plain grouper that was nondescript, which was fine if it meant not getting sick.
Of course, you now know how that panned out.
While rolled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, I rehashed that meal in my head. I pictured the chef ignoring that lovely waitress. I wondered what he missed–or added–to my order that made me so sick. I kept asking myself, If this chef had a wife or a child with food allergies, how would he feel about interacting with the front of the house then?
I’m often quick to blame a waiter for leaving croutons on my salad or butter on my vegetables, but maybe I don’t know what he is dealing with behind those swinging steel doors. When a hierarchy exists in restaurants–when good communication between all food staff members doesn’t exist–those of us with food restrictions pay the price.
The only time I’ll return to this restaurant is to see the sunset. I’m pretty sure this chef could care less about losing me as a customer, but the waitress may. She did her job exactly right. I’ll give her a high-five the next time I see her.
Sitting at the hotel bar during a recent food allergy conference I was surprised–no, shocked– when two mothers of food-allergic children told me that adults shouldn’t need help coping with their allergies. They were wondering why I was at the conference. Now before you get angry, let me explain their side. They assumed all adults with food allergies had developed them as children. Hence, by adulthood, food-allergic folks should be experienced–physically and emotionally–at handling restrictions and reactions.
Imagine! I had no idea some people thought this way! Of course, I quickly took this opportunity to tell them how wrong they were.
I explained people can develop food allergies and celiac disease and other health issues requiring food restrictions at any time in life. I shared that my symptoms started in my late thirties, though it took nearly ten years to find out multiple food allergies, celiac disease, and eosinophilic esophagitis were the cause.
My kids ate everything–and I mean everything!–when they were little. Their food issues developed as teens. My oldest son realized dairy and eggs were off-limits in high school, and my youngest started showing signs of celiac disease his first year in college. I also mentioned one of my adult friends couldn’t eat dairy and gluten due to Crohn’s Disease and another developed life-threatening reactions to many foods in her thirties. Oh, and by the way, one of my favorite attendees at the conference was a spunky senior citizen with over 40 recently diagnosed food allergies and intolerances.
After we were all on our second glass of wine, I may have suggested that getting diagnosed with food allergies as an adult may actually be more difficult than being diagnosed as a child. What I was trying to say is the food-allergic adults needed the conference as much as the parents of food-allergic kids did. Figuring out all the foods containing soy, dairy, gluten and corn fell on my shoulders–I didn’t have mom and dad to guide me. My young adult sons taught themselves how to negotiate school cafeterias and participate in social activities with peers who didn’t get that food could make them horribly sick. My oldest even figured out how to eat dairy- and egg-free in Italy, the land of pizza and cheese. After years of not needing to worry about allergy-friendly menus, or planes with peanuts, or explaining to family members why they couldn’t double-dip, becoming “the weird person who can’t eat anything” is like being a foreigner in a new land–yet the doctors don’t offer any counseling.
I think the women were kind of tired of me by then. They wanted to get back to talking about preschools and camps. But this conversation opened my eyes to how some people may view adults with food allergies. Will a waiter or chef who thinks I’ve managed celiac disease all my life have a false sense of security that I know what I’m doing when ordering my food? Will my co-workers and friends not believe me when I become sick from food; after all, shouldn’t I know how to eat by now? My own mother doesn’t understand my health issues because I didn’t have food allergies as a child, so how can I expect strangers to understand?
Fortunately, there are those out there who do get it. The next few blog posts will focus on resources for teens and adults, starting with Erica Brahan’s “A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions: A Practical Guide to Keep from Going Crazy.” Gotta love the title.
Please be sure to let me know of any resources I miss. And remember, I do know how difficult a later-in-life diagnosis is–I am here to help.
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.
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.
— An Allergic Foodie (@anallergicfoodi) August 6, 2014
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.
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.
— An Allergic Foodie (@anallergicfoodi) August 16, 2014
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.