Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

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.”

The chef marked what I could and couldn't eat before I arrived

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.

Watermark Restaurant in Nashville

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 Restaurant

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.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

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.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

The Waitress Who Went to Bat for An Allergic Foodie

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

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.

The Close-minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

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.

IMG_2772

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.

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

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.

Musings and Morsels from An Allergic Foodie (8-1-14)

My family often shares what we read with one another. My husband emails links of articles and television news stories he’s come across while traveling for work. If you read the newspaper after me, you’ll likely get one full of holes.  As a nonfiction writer, I have boxes full of clippings (we’ve moved these four times). Even our boys share info they’ve discovered on Facebook and YouTube.

It makes me feel good when someone hands me an article they think I’ll be interested in. To me, this says,”I cared enough about you to take the time to clip this.” Well, unless it’s a story about dieting and losing weight–that’s just plain mean. I also don’t like articles about aging. Will you please stop sending me those, Mom?

I often come across something I know could benefit my food-allergic/celiac disease friends but just doesn’t fit into a post. Maybe it’s a peer-reviewed study you ought to know about, or a book I think you’d like, or I’ve just met someone at a conference I think you should meet. This blog is not a recipe blog or a product review blog, but I’ve often wanted to share a recipe or a product I’m particularly excited about. And, of course, I’ve often cut things out of the paper or seen something on TV I’ve wanted to discuss with you.

So this is the inaugural MUSINGS AND MORSELS.  Think of it as a smorgasbord of information–sink your teeth into whatever looks tasty.

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Have you seen the Maple Hill Creamery yogurts with the label “made from organic milk from 100% grass-fed cows?”

Grass-Fed Yogurt

An article this week in the Wall Street Journal says grass-fed dairy products are gaining in popularity by health-conscious consumers. Those allergic to soy, corn and gluten may benefit from milk that’s come from grass-fed-only cows. Though pricey–$6 for a gallon of grassmilk–the article reports that whole milk from grass-fed cows is Organic Valley’s best-selling item at Whole Foods. We’ll probably start seeing grassmilk cheeses and butter soon.

In case you’re wondering what the difference between “organic” and “grass-fed” milk is: the USDA requires cows to graze on a pasture for a minimum of 120 days during the year and get 30 percent or more of their diet from the pasture to be labeled “organic.” The rest of their food can come from a feed of grain, corn, soy, vitamins, minerals and other ingredients.  “Grass-fed” should mean the cow has eaten only on the pasture–no corn, soy or other grains.  But according to the WSJ article, “Some dairy brands labeled ‘grass-fed’ do allow their cows to eat grain if other food is scarce.”  There is no federal regulation of the term “grass-fed” for dairy products.

Here we go again with that deceiving labeling. If you missed my blog post about grass-fed beef and bison, here it is.

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Also in the news: Did you know Monsanto has recently created the Global Corporate Engagement Team to “debunk myths” surrounding the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds and herbicide? This was reported in the St. Louis Business Journal. They’ve actually hired a “director of millennial engagement” to help the public understand “the story behind Monsanto.” An online comment asks if Monsanto is debunking myths or covering up facts. What do you think?

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A blog you’ll like: Mary Kate and Denise at Surviving the Food Allergy Apocalypse  cook up some  awesome allergy-friendly recipes–not only for food but for soap and toothpaste too!

Also, if you haven’t discovered Freedible  yet, you are in for a treat. Freedible is a valuable tool for the “custom eater”–anyone who has a food restriction for any reason. You’ll find online support groups, recipes, blogs, and much more on Freedible.

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Kudos to  Tracy Grabowski of WheatFreely.com and certified by GREAT Kitchens and DineAware for writing an excellent article, Why Many Restaurants Should Not Offer Gluten-Free Menu Options . . . Yet, published in the Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, Spring 2014. She writes that restaurants must be trained before offering gluten-free items: “The truth is that genuinely gluten-free dishes should be more than just replacing a bun, or using a corn or rice versions of pasta.”  She stresses restaurants need be educated and trained in cross-contamination issues and how to read labels for hidden ingredients.

And with that said, I leave you with a photo of a menu from Ninety-Nine Restaurant & Pub in Williston, Vermont.

Gluten Sensitive Menu

 

This menu does not say “gluten free” but “gluten sensitive.” If you have celiac disease as I do, would you feel safe ordering off this menu?

Musings and Morsels #1 originally appeared at Adventures of An Allergic Foodie.

The Allergic Foodie Rap

The Allergic Food Rap

 

See those  girls at the bar banning gluten to look fit?

They’ve got no clue how rye and wheat make a celiac sick.

They sip their Skinny Girl martinis and Omission beer,

Feeling like Gwyneth Paltrow when it was cool to be her.

Even Dr. Oz can’t decide if gluten-free is good or bad,

But smart chefs sure know how to profit on a fad.

Every corner restaurant got wheat-free spaghetti,

Even the waiters say no bread’s made them skinny.

“Well good for you,” An Allergic Foodie wanna say,

“I haven’t lost a pound since eating this way.”

Neither can the girl eat dairy, corn and soy–all make her sick.

Ah, yes dude, take out your pen and pad–this isn’t a trick.

This girl’s diet has nothing to do with the media craze,

For most, this gluten-free thing is just another phase.

But after the gluten-free menus are long gone,

A.F.’s need for A.F. food will still be goin’ strong.

So treat her right–don’t give that girl food without checking

That nothing she eats will be a reaction in the making.

Your tip will reflect the attention you’ve given,

To make sure that girl leaves your restaurant livin’.

But see those girls at the bar skippin’ the crackers?

They don’t get how for celiacs gluten-free matters.

At the end a meal, celiacs will pass on the cake.

But NOT  the girls at the bar cuz their GF diets are fake.

(C) Amy E. Tracy

The Allergic Foodie Rap originally appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Denial after food allergy diagnosis

Denial, or Why I Ate That Damn Pizza

I never eat something I know I shouldn’t.

This, folks, is called being in denial. Denial is when you pretend something that happened didn’t really happen.

Since my gut sprang a leak–make that lots of leaks–and I developed food allergies to many, many foods, I have sometimes been in denial. Okay, the truth is I was in denial a lot after I was diagnosed.

I do not have celiac disease and allergies; it’s just a little indigestion.

The lab must have gotten my blood mixed up with someone else’s– I CANNOT be allergic to that many foods!

I am not allergic to corn. I am not allergic to corn. I am not allergic to corn.

I can eat a tiny bit of soy.

When the little voice in my  head made these statements, I believed them to be real–as real as the pain in my gut.

Denial runs in my family. My mother doesn’t go to the doctor because she doesn’t want to find out she has cancer. My college son didn’t want to admit he’d inherited celiac disease. After all, he’d taken a blood test and it had come back negative. The constant gut ache after eating, the lethargy, the weight loss must be from something else. What college sophomore wants to admit he has to give up beer and pizza?

Who wants to spend their college years in the dorm bathroom either?

Eventually acceptance comes. If you’re new to this, you may not be there quite yet, but you will be.  You’ll decide you really can’t eat those cookies without developing an ugly rash all over your body. You’ll discover almond milk and Bard’s beer aren’t so bad. You’ll start focusing more on what foods you can eat, rather than all the foods you cannot eat. You’ll learn how to grocery shop, cook and eat out.

You’ll accept life is different now, and that’s okay because you feel so much better.

Still, every once in a while, you may slip back to that old frame of mind and that tiny voice in your  head will say, “You haven’t eaten _________ (fill in the blank) in a long time, so how do you know you’re still allergic? Maybe, just maybe, your non-anaphalatic allergies have magically disappeared.”

See this pizza?

Denial and Food Allergies

 

The other night I decided I could eat it (and unfortunately blasted this photo on Instagram). I’d read all about how Mellow Mushroom had taken great strides to ensure their kitchens were clean enough to produce gluten-free pizza crust. (Kudos to Mellow Mushroom!) I’d done my pre-dining out homework.

Check.

I told the server I had celiac and wasn’t just on some fad diet.

Check.

I ordered veggies as toppings to avoid any possible soy, corn, or gluten.

Check.

I asked for Daiya nondairy cheese.

Check.

I ordered a gluten-free New Planet beer.

Double check.

BUT I “FORGOT” TO ASK WHAT OTHER INGREDIENTS WERE IN THE CRUST!!!!!

How stupid was that? I think I just wanted to eat pizza and have a beer and watch basketball like all the “normal” people sitting around me at the bar were doing. I told myself I’d be safe with the gluten-free crust. If there was a little bit of egg or corn in the crust, I minimized what it would do to me.

Good old denial.

Later that night, as I doubled over in pain, I looked up the crust ingredients on the company website. Oddly I found listings of ingredients in several places, but they were all different. However, it’s pretty likely I ate soybean oil, cornstarch, and egg–a hattrick of allergens.

Guess I needed a little reminder that denying my food allergies only makes for a really bad night.

P.S. If you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, the Mellow Mushroom crust was delicious. Please note though that they cannot guarantee any menu item can be completely allergen-free due to possible cross-contamination.

Denial, or Why I Ate That Damn Pizza originally appeared at 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.