Breaking the Language Barrier

February 3rd, 2014

On the Mount of Olives

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004, I felt like I’d never be able to travel again. Just communicating my dietary needs in English seemed daunting enough, so how was I going to manage it in a foreign tongue? Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of help. In the past decade, I’ve visited plenty of places where I didn’t speak the language — including Peru, Chile, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey, and Israel — and I’ve been able to arrange for gluten-free meals along the way. Eating at a restaurant is always an exercise in trust; for the gluten-intolerant, it feels especially risky. Here’s what’s worked for me:

  • Visit the Celiac Travel website, which provides an impressive selection of cards in many languages. The list is constantly growing, but currently features 54 languages, including Arabic, Basque, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Italian, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Urdu, and Vietnamese. There are several companies that charge money for celiac translation cards, but none of them are better than what Roger and Lyndsay offer on Celiac Travel. If you use their cards, they appreciate a donation, but it’s not required.
  • Check out the list of “Celiac Societies Around the World” compiled by Nancy Lapid on About.com. Often, these societies will have information about restaurants and shops that cater to celiacs. While you’re at it, Google “celiac” or “gluten free” and the names of the cities you’ll be visiting; often you’ll find local groups with plenty of information to share.
  • Ask for advice on the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Facebook Group. You’ll probably find a fellow traveler who’s been to the place you’re planning to see; occasionally, you’ll connect with a local.
  • If possible, learn a few words or phrases in the local language before you go on your trip. Knowing how to say “Tengo la enfermedad celiaca; No puedo comer harina o trigo” (I have celiac disease; I can’t eat flour or wheat) made my travels to Peru and Chile easier. Still, I have to admit that I never managed this in Hungarian.

Does anyone have other ideas for breaking the language barrier? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

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In other news, my first stand-alone thriller, Blood Always Tells, will be published on April 15, 2014, by Tor/Forge. According to Library Journal, “You can’t help turning the pages in anticipation of yet another twist.” You can win an advance copy via GoodReads before February 15th. If you order the hardcover or eBook before the release date, you can win a prize

What I Wish I’d Known When I Was Diagnosed With Celiac Disease

August 19th, 2013

On 9 de Julio Avenue

The main focus of the Gluten-Free Guidebook is about traveling and dining out. But, in the past few months, several friends have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and that’s made me think about how tough the transition to a gluten-free diet can be. When I was diagnosed, back in 2004, I remember thinking that my career as a travel writer was over, and that I’d never be able to eat at a restaurant again. I was wrong on both fronts, but it took me a while to learn that. I wanted to share some of the things I wish I’d known when I was first diagnosed.

  • Finding out you have a problem is a blessing, not a curse: For years before my diagnosis, I was plagued with medical problems that ran the gamut from migraines to joint pain. Post-diagnosis, my first thoughts were all about what I was losing, like the freedom to eat whatever I wanted. In reality, I was gaining a tremendous amount: freedom from the pain and suffering I’d gone through for years. Freedom from prescription medications that I didn’t actually need. Freedom to eat and not be harmed by food. It took me a while to see that the diagnosis gave me more control over my life and my health, but that’s what it did.
  • There are cheat sheets: Reading most ingredient labels is a confusing exercise early on. Is ethyl maltol safe? (Yes.) What about carrageenan? (Yes.) And couscous? (No. Some people mistake it for a type of rice, but it’s actually a gluten-containing grain.) Here’s a list of safe ingredients for gluten-intolerant people. Here’s a list of unsafe ingredients. Pass these easy-to-consult lists on to concerned family and friends who ask for information.
  • The Internet is your best friend and your worst enemy: I’ve done a lot of research on the Web, and it’s a valuable resource. It’s connected me with gluten-free people and groups around the world and provided me with plenty of useful information. But it’s also given me some misinformation along the way. There are a lot of confused people online who will write blog posts that claim things like “Vinegar contains gluten!” (Not true, except for malt vinegar). Some will tell you that you can’t have maltodextrin. (They’re wrong; by law, all maltodextrin in the US and Canada is made from corn. The fact that maltodextrin starts with “malt” doesn’t mean it has gluten.) Others will try to sell you gluten-free shampoo. (Unless you eat shampoo, you don’t need it. Note: please don’t eat shampoo.) Some very trustworthy resources I recommend: the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment, the Celiac Disease Foundation, and the Canadian Celiac Association.
  • If I could recommend just one book: It would be Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide by dietitian Shelley Case. If you look for books about gluten-free eating, there are about a million cookbooks that come up, and 90% of them are about making baked goods. But Shelley Case’s book contains valuable information about living with gluten intolerance, and she does a great job of explaining everything.
  • The devil is in the sauces: It’s easy to spot — and avoid — things like pasta and pastries made with wheat. But gluten sneaks into all kinds of foods, such as soy sauce. After I started eating gluten-free, an editor took me out to lunch, suggesting a Japanese restaurant. That seemed safe to me, since I knew I could eat fish and rice. It never even occurred to me that soy sauce might be a problem until I got sick right after that meal. I learned to question absolutely everything.
  • Cross-contamination is also the devil: Some restaurants will have a product that’s gluten-free — such as french fries — but that product is boiled in the same vat of oil as their beer-battered fish. It can be a heartbreaking moment when you realize that cross-contamination issues have limited your five choices on the menu to one. It doesn’t matter; you’re still coming out ahead. Restaurants are becoming increasingly aware of this issue, with a growing number of kitchens getting training from the Gluten Intolerance Group’s Restaurant Awareness Program.
  • Join a gluten-free community: I’m biased, because the Gluten-Free Guidebook has its own Facebook group — now 2,300+ members strong! It’s a fantastic resource whether you’re traveling or have a general question about gluten-free dining. But there are also lots of groups on Facebook and Yahoo Groups.
  • Don’t trust someone just because they’re selling a gluten-free product: There are shameless hucksters out there who will sell you $10 tubes of gluten-free toothpaste. Unlike shampoo, it’s important that anything you put in your mouth is gluten-free. Guess what? Toothpastes made by Crest, Colgate, Aquafresh, Sensodyne and other companies are already free of gluten. Take a second look at anyone who’s trying to separate you from your money for a gluten-free product… unless that product is Kinnikinnick’s gluten-free donuts, which are divine.
  • Be assertive: At another early post-diagnosis restaurant meal at an over-priced and over-rated NYC restaurant, a server told me he couldn’t “bother” the chef with my questions. I felt embarrassed, but fortunately, I was with a very assertive public-relations exec and she reamed him out in the middle of the restaurant. It was an important lesson: never feel bad about speaking up for your medical needs.
  • Tip extra for good service: If you’ve had to ask your server 101 questions, and your server has done a great job of answering them, make sure they’re properly rewarded. The next gluten-free patron will thank you.
  • It gets easier, honest: Over time, the label-reading, product-hunting, and restaurant-questioning becomes second nature. People are usually incredibly helpful when they find out you’re avoiding gluten for a medical reason, and not because you’re on a fad diet.

Are there other resources that newly-diagnosed gluten-intolerant people could benefit from? Please add them in the comments!

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I have a new book out: my first-ever short story collection, The Black Widow Club: Nine Tales of Obsession and Murder. It’s available as an eBook for $2.99 for Kobo, Kindle, Nook, and Apple e-readers. Unlike my novels, which are available only in the US and Canada, this is available worldwide. It’s also been getting some wonderful reviews. I hope you’ll enjoy it — just don’t read it before bed!

Reader Report: Burleson and Fort Worth, Texas

July 22nd, 2013

I’d like to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who entered the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest. It means a lot to have readers sharing their own expertise with traveling and dining out gluten-free. This one from Cynthia Ross is particularly terrific. Thanks so much, Cynthia!

Burleson and Fort Worth by Cynthia Ross

What can be more stressful than moving halfway across the country? Leaving everything you know and soon after learning you must also entirely change the way you eat. After relocating to Texas from California, I was already skeptical that I could find the fresh organic vegetables and free-from junk food that I was accustomed buying. Then I learned I had to give up gluten and dairy. The only place these things were available when I left Texas 14 years ago was in Whole Foods Market and that is quite a drive from our little town. Fortunately we do have some options.

HEB in Burleson has a reasonable selection of gluten-free, organic, and natural products. However, their organic fresh produce section is not up to par in my opinion. Their organic fruit is often not fresh enough to last more than a day or two and the selection of organic fruits and vegetables is slim. There is also a small 24-hour market called Tiger Farms, which has a good selection of gluten-free food and stocks fresh organic vegetables purchased from the Dallas Farmers Market each week. Their produce tends to be much fresher, better quality, and less expensive than HEB.

Eating out is a little tougher. Although there are restaurants with gluten-free menus in the area, they seem to cater to those on the diet by choice. The responses to my queries about the prevention of cross-contamination make me very leery of eating around here. But hope is not lost! Fort Worth is a mere 25 minutes away.

After living without sushi for over a year, we discovered Shinjuku Station near downtown Fort Worth. Not only do they have a dedicated gluten-free menu (delicious!), they only choose fish that are sustainably fished and use very fresh ingredients. The owners, chef, and wait staff is very knowledgeable, completely understanding of our food issues, and never make us feel like we are a bother. They always make us feel welcome and I know I am safe eating there.

A couple of other places we enjoy are the Mellow Mushroom near TCU and Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth. The Mellow Mushroom has a dedicated gluten-free pizza menu with a gluten-free vegan crust. It is better than most gluten-free pizzas that I’ve tried but I quickly get bored with it. I’m sure it would be much better with cheese but I can’t have it and cannot stand vegan cheese. Sorry, but there is no substitute for real cheese. If you do eat here, make sure you confirm that your pizza is gluten-free when they bring it to your table. Mistakes have happened.

Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth has upscale Mexican cuisine. It is delicious. The prices are decent and they are very accommodating. The chips, salsa and guacamole are gluten-free and they have a dedicated gluten-free menu. If you are also dairy intolerant, the chef can make those items without the dairy products. I especially enjoy their steak or chicken fajitas. A bonus is that margaritas, champagne and wine are half-price on Thursdays during happy hour.

That said, my favorite gluten-free place is my own kitchen. My husband and I are both good cooks – he has only accidentally poisoned me once. I can eat our cooking without fear and my “limitations” have forced me to become more adventurous in my food choices. By taking our own food with us, we can eat whenever and wherever we want which can lead to some interesting adventures. Just this weekend, we popped into Luckenback, TX on a whim to eat our lunch and discovered there was a Waylon Jennings birthday celebration. If we had gone to a restaurant, I would never have learned what “Chicken-poop bingo” was or met that cool steer named “Tumbleweed.”

Gluten-Free Around NYC’s Grand Hyatt

July 9th, 2013

DSCN3460.JPG - 2009-05-08 at 21-54-06

There’s not a lot of good I can say about a New York City summer, but one highlight is always ThrillerFest. It’s been described as “summer camp for thriller readers, fans, writers and industry professionals.” Every year, it brings some of my favorite writers to the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan for several days. In the past, other gluten-free attendees have asked me where to dine in the area, and I wanted to share my list, since there are a lot of conferences at the Grand Hyatt throughout the year. I’ve also mapped out the locations with Google Maps. If you find spots to add, please let me know!

S’mac: There’s now an outpost of this delicious, reasonably priced mac-and-cheese restaurant in Murray Hill. It’s a nine-block walk south of the Grand Hyatt, or you can hop on the 6 train at 42nd Street and travel one stop downtown to 33rd Street. It’s well worth it. Given that conference meals can take place at weird times, this is a great spot to keep in mind, since it’s open from 11am to 11pm daily (closing time is 1am on Friday and Saturday nights).

Dig Inn: This health-focused local chain has a few tables, but mostly it does a take-out business. Its 275 Madison location starts serving breakfast at 7am, then switches to a combined lunch/dinner menu for the rest of the day (until 9pm). Check out this chart for GF and allergy information, as well as vegan options.

Chipotle: This is my go-to fast-food spot. Avoid the tortillas, which are made with wheat flour, but the burrito bowl and all its potential ingredients are gluten-free. The chain provides some helpful food-allergy information on its site. There are three locations within a stone’s throw of the Grand Hyatt: 150 East 44th St. (between Lexington and Third), 274 Madison Avenue (between 39th and 40th), and 9 West 42nd Street (between Fifth and Sixth).

Hale & Hearty: I know it’s hot out, but if you’re still craving soup for lunch, this chain has an outpost in Grand Central itself. Daily options change, but you can usually count on a gluten-free broccoli cheddar and the GF and dairy-free Thai chicken.

4Food: Usually, I only mention spots I’ve visited, but this one was just recommended to me. 4Food makes everything from scratch, including its gluten-free pressed-rice bun. I’m looking forward to checking it out!

Bloom’s Deli: I have to be honest: while I love basic diner food, I’m not thrilled with what’s served up here. Still, I appreciate that the place offers a gluten-free menu, which includes omelets, pancakes, burgers and sandwiches.

Bistango: Almost every item on the menu of this Italian restaurant in Murray Hill can be prepared in a gluten-free version. There’s plenty of gluten-free pizza and pasta dishes, as well as meatier offerings like  rack of lamb. What really makes a meal at Bistango stand out is the graciousness of its staff. The owner, Anthony, goes back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, talking to everyone and making sure that diners are comfortable. This is a gem.

Blue Smoke: If you love rich, smoky barbecue flavors, you’ve found your heaven. This spot offers special gluten-free, nut-free, and vegetarian menus. It’s a little far to go for lunch, but a great spot for a post-conference dinner.

Dos Caminos: If I’m having dinner with a group that includes people with various food allergies and intolerances, this is one of my favorite spots. The cuisine is modern Mexican, and the service is incredibly accommodating.

Pip’s Place — The Gluten-Free Cakery: I’m not going to recommend that you have a slice of banana layer cake, a chocolate cupcake, or a raspberry pinwheel cookie for lunch… but if you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, this dedicated gluten-free bakery is just the spot, especially since it’s only three blocks south of the Grand Hyatt.

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The Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest is open until July 15th. Enter now!

Reader Report: Lucifer’s Pizza in Los Angeles

June 30th, 2013

While I was in Los Angeles in March on my book tour, I heard about a great gluten-free pizza place called Lucifer’s, but I didn’t have time to check it out. Fortunately, reader Laura Smith did, and she wrote this report for the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest (which will be open to entries until July 15, 2013, so send yours in soon!).

Lucifer’s Pizza by Laura Smith

I visited Los Angeles, California, for 2 weeks in April and went for pizza to Lucifer’s. It is one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten, including pre-gluten free! The crust was crispy and sooo very flavorful. Many people order it instead of the regular because it tastes so yummy. I had the Hot Chick (chicken, black pepper, pepperoni, green bell pepper, garlic, onion, tomato & hot chili sauce) personal size and ate it all! The flavors were so perfectly matched with the meat,carmelized onion, peppers and sauce and after four years of going without a good pizza I was in heaven. I cannot recommend it enough. Lucifer’s also offers dairy-free options for the cheese. Their gluten-free crusts are from Venice Bakery and you can order them online. 5 stars for this pizza!

Reader Report: A Gluten Free Adventure in the Junction (Toronto)

June 17th, 2013

I was so excited to read Helen Nelson’s contest entry for the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest (now extended to July 15, 2013, since I disappeared down the rabbit hole while editing my fourth novel…). I’ve known Helen for several years through an amazing group called Sisters in Crime, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in crime fiction (in spite of the name, it’s just as welcoming to men as it is women). Helen is a talented writer, and I really appreciate her using her talents to share information about gluten-free spots in the Junction, a gentrifying neighborhood in Toronto. Many, many thanks, Helen! (PS Contest rules are here. A big thank you to all who have entered the contest so far. Looking forward to reading more reader reports!)

Helen Nelson: Toronto — A Gluten Free Adventure in the Junction 

In the Junction?

Yes, indeed the Junction has changed. No longer hosting the last remaining Woolworth’s store, a hodge podge of strange little stores and donut shops, it now hosts many of the things that make a neighbourhood fun and funky and dare I say even trendy?

My young niece and I embarked on our gluten free breakfast, lunch and treats hunt at around 10 on a Saturday morning. We started off at Bunner’s Bakery, just a little west of High Park Avenue and Dundas. Bunner’s is a vegan and gluten-free bakery. So for me that’s a bonus as in addition to no gluten, there is also no dairy! There we picked up a pumpkin and chocolate chip muffin, a couple of cinnamon buns, some butter tarts, some chocolate chip sandwich cookies and a loaf of bread that was still hot out of the oven. And we liked it all! OK, the cinnamon bun was too much for me. I couldn’t finish it. Although my husband ate his, we decided that next time we’ll get one and split it! A word of warning — get there early! They were selling out of the bread at a rapid rate. Another word of warning — their Supersonic Gypsy Cookie (which gets huge raves), has oats. So glad I asked before I bought and chowed down! They do have a book you can look at that lists their ingredients. And they are promising a recipe book soon!

For lunch we ventured out again to Gabby’s – right at High Park and Dundas. We eat here often. They have a huge menu with lots of selections and a separate menu that is gluten free. Yes!!! Sadly for me a lot on that menu has dairy, but there are a few things that I can have. In the past I’ve had their burger, ribs, a salad plate and sweet potato fries. Today I had a chicken sandwich (on a GF bun). The chicken and the stuff inside the sandwich is great. The bun, well its a bit dry and crumbly, but I’ve found that is all too often the case since I’ve found I can’t really do gluten (or most grains anyway) any more, a few weeks back. Too bad Bunner’s doesn’t actually make buns! My niece had macaroni and cheese and a bunch of my sweet potato fries. Decidedly NOT GF! But she enjoyed her meal! They have a few too many TV screens for my tastes, but the varied menu with GF items and the food quality makes up for that.

Then we walked back a few steps west along Dundas to Delight Chocolates. They sell some unfriendly stuff — like ice cream and brownies. But mainly they sell chocolate! And they offer many chocolate options that are completely dairy free and soy free. No flour or grains either! Its all fair trade and organic too! For those who can have dairy they also sell hot chocolate that apparently is to die for! For those who are able to do dairy (and others too) they also sell fair trade organic coffee.

There is also The Beet, an organic food café, and The Sweet Potato, an organic grocery store, both within about a block. I haven’t checked these out in a while, but I’ll venture to guess that they have lots of GF options as well!

The Gluten-Free Guidebook Turns Five!

April 11th, 2013

EVIL launch party March 5 2013

I’ve been so busy on my book tour for my new novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, that a certain significant date slipped right by me. March 15th, 2013, marked the fifth anniversary of the Gluten-Free Guidebook. Creating this site has introduced me to a lot of incredible people over the years. I know, from the messages I receive, that so many people have found the information helpful; a few have told me that the site gave them the confidence to travel again, when they believed a diagnosis of celiac disease meant they’d never eat out again. Working on this site has been a labor of love for me.

The site has also spawned a vibrant Facebook group, which I love because it helps readers share restaurant recommendations and travel tips. If you’re planning a trip and wondering what your gluten-free dining options are at your destination, it’s the perfect place to start.

To celebrate this site’s fifth anniversary, I’m hosting a contest. I want to hear about your favorite gluten-free places — restaurants, bakeries, shops, hotels, or destinations. Write a Reader Report about them, and you’ll be entered in a draw to win one of my three mystery novels (The Damage Done, The Next One to Fall, Evil in All Its Disguises). Examples of Reader Reports are here.

The fine print: By entering this contest, you automatically give me the right to publish your entry on the Gluten-Free Guidebook, and to edit it as necessary for clarity and length; however, I am under no obligation to publish it. Your entry must be your own original work and cannot infringe on anyone’s copyright. You hold the copyright to your own material and can publish it elsewhere, in print or online. Entrants need to send me their full names and their mailing addresses (the mailing address is only for the prize draw; the information will be kept strictly confidential).

The deadline for entries is May 31 July 15, 2013. Entries must be e-mailed to glutenfreeguidebook [at] gmail [dot] com; please put “Anniversary Contest” in the subject. This contest is open to readers around the world, except where prohibited by law.

Here’s to another year, and many more discoveries on the road!

Scottsdale Is Delicious

March 25th, 2013

Hotel Valley Ho evening

I’m on tour right now for my third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, which was released by Tor/Forge on March 5th, 2013. Evil is a crime novel that features my travel-writing, crime-solving heroine Lily Moore (who first appeared in the Anthony Award-winning The Damage Done); this time, she’s on a press trip to Acapulco when another journalist disappears. The book has been earning rave reviews, and articles about me have been featured in the National Post and the Toronto Star. I’ll be in Austin (BookPeople, March 26, 7pm), Houston (Murder by the Book, March 27, 6:30pm), Chicago (The Book Cellar, April 4, 7pm), Milwaukee (Mystery One, April 6, noon), Minneapolis (Once Upon a Crime, March 8, 7pm) and Toronto (Ben McNally Books, March 18, 6pm). Details about the events are online. If I’m visiting your city, I hope you’ll come say hello!

It’s been a whirlwind so far, but one thing I love about being on the road is discovering great places to eat. So far, Scottsdale wins the prize for best food. I was there for a couple of days after appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books and before speaking at the Poisoned Pen. Here are the places that impressed me:

  • Sauce Pizza & Wine: When I landed at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, I was starving. Fortunately I discovered this spot before I started gnawing on a protein bar. The gluten-free pepperoni-and-porcini pizza I had was so good I pretty much inhaled it. Can you believe I’m looking forward to going back just to eat at the airport? Fortunately, Sauce has several locations throughout Arizona, including Tucson, Chandler, Mesa, and Scottsdale.
  • Citizen Public House: Nestled in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, this spot was a little tricky to find, but it was worth the trouble. The menu is annotated with gluten-free labels, and options include a salad of local field greens with cashews, dried cranberries, goat cheese, grape tomatoes and mustard-fig vinaigrette, and smoked duck breast with creamy rosemary millet, spiced pistachios, and sauteed greens (I can personally recommend both). Next time I’m on tour, I’m trying the butternut squash chowder and the buttermilk roasted chicken.
  • Old Town Tortilla Factory: Neon margaritas and a gluten-free menu? What more could you want? The green enchilada with chicken is simple but perfect.
  • Cafe Zuzu at the Hotel Valley Ho: The menu didn’t mention gluten-free, but the restaurant’s staff is well-trained and thoughtful. They are able to quickly point out celiac-safe options and make modifications wherever necessary. I loved the tomato and cucumber salad in a balsamic vinaigrette and grilled bone-in pork chop.
  • Dottie’s True Blue Cafe: I’m not as enamored of this breakfast spot, since the kitchen placed wheat toast atop my gluten-free omelette. However, I’m including them because the staff was very responsive and helpful when I explained to them why I couldn’t eat the omelette, and they cooked up a fresh one for me. They also serve up excellent gluten-free pancakes. I’m hoping that they’ll be more careful going forward. If you eat there, please let me know!
  • Los Sombreros Cafe & Cantina: I’m cheating a bit by including this restaurant, since I was there last time I was in Scottsdale. Still, it serves up excellent Mexican cuisine, has a beautiful outdoor patio, and I meant to write about it already.

My friend Liisa has given me a list of gluten-free spots to try in Scottsdale next time. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Gluten-Free

February 9th, 2013

I can’t believe my third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, will be out in three weeks. I haven’t even finished writing about all of the places I hit when I was on my book tour for my second novel, The Next One to Fall. Case in point: Denver, Colorado. I’d never visited the Mile-High City before, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was a gluten-free mecca.

My stay in Denver was all too brief (when I’m touring, I often get only 24 to 48 hours in a city, sometimes less). But I was lucky enough to stay at the stunning Castle Marne Bed & Breakfast (pictured above), which gave me an incredibly warm welcome. Located in the historic Raymond House, a three-story stone mansion that dates back to 1889, the B&B is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever stayed. I’d told them in advance that I have celiac disease, and they assured me they’d have no trouble accommodating that. They weren’t kidding — they offered me gluten-free snacks and, at breakfast, had gluten-free bread and blueberry muffins ready. The staff are incredibly kind and thoughtful.

I wish I could recommend Encore, the fabulous restaurant where I had dinner before my event at the Tattered Cover Bookstore, but it closed about a month after I visited Denver. Naked Pizza, just around the corner from Castle Marne, closed up shop as well. Fortunately, the Tattered Cover itself is still going strong, and that includes its excellent café, which offers gluten-free and vegan treats. Denver overall has an abundance of dining options for the gluten-intolerant. Some places that were recommended to me (and are still in operation!):

  • 3 Guys Pies: Their claim to fame is their New York-style pizza, hand-tossed and baked right on the stone. Offerings include gluten-free pizzas, and they’ll deliver for free within a two-mile radius of their location on Capital Hill.
  • Cucina Colore: Contemporary Italian cuisine, complete with gluten-free pasta and other main-course options
  • Lime: a local chain with multiple locations, all offering Mexican staples, from corn-based flautas to ceviche
  • Modmarket: Another small local chain, health-conscious Modmarket offers a gluten-free menu, complete with salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and soups
  • Phat Thai: I love how this restaurant describes itself: “This isn’t a traditional Thai restaurant. We are not Thai. We’re not even Asian. Not even close. Hell, we’ve only visited Thailand!” I love the honesty, and their willingness to accommodate gluten-free diners (much of the menu is naturally gluten-free; some dishes require modification)

Denver also has several gluten-free bakeries, including:

  • Deby’s Gluten-Free: a dedicated gluten-free, peanut-free, and shellfish-free kitchen that offers cooking classes as well as a long list of products (more than a dozen different breads, English muffins, pizza crusts, hotdog buns, cakes, pies, cookies). Deby’s goods are carried by a number of restaurants and grocery stores in and around Denver (check out this list for more celiac-safe places to eat in the city)
  • The Gluten Escape: I love how the spot describes itself: “Our mission is to give people a place to find great food without unwanted ingredients! Welcome to choice, welcome to creativity, and welcome to a place where food differences are no big deal.” The Gluten Escape is also soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan, and can accommodate other dietary restrictions.

Next time, I need to spend more time in Denver. I’ll be back there on March 20th, reading from Evil in All Its Disguises at the Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch Bookstore at 7:30pm. If you’re in the area, please stop by to say hello!

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Evil in All Its Disguises will be published by Forge on March 5th, 2013 (it will be released as a hardcover, eBook, and audiobook that day). I’m giving away advance copies via my author newsletter; if you want to enter the draw, all you have to do is sign up. Book reviewers who are registered with NetGalley can download a copy right now. My second novel, The Next One to Fall, will be released in a paperback edition on February 12, 2012; there is a giveaway on GoodReads right now. Also, for a limited time, the eBook price of my award-winning debut novel, The Damage Done, is down to just $2.99. If you’re a mystery reader, I hope you’ll check out the series.

Gluten-Free Aloha

January 3rd, 2013

Considering how far I’ve traveled around the world, it seems strange that I have yet to visit Hawaii. Lately, I’ve been hearing so much about the rising level of gluten-free awareness there that I’m tempted to head out to the Hawaiian Islands and do some first-hand research. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it, right?)

A while back, my friend Liisa wrote a report for the Gluten-Free Guidebook about celiac-safe spots she’d found in Oahu and Kauai. Her list includes Sweet Marie’s — the first dedicated gluten-free bakery in Kauai — Smith’s Tropical Paradise in Kauai, and Down to Earth in Honolulu. Last month, another friend sent me a photo to show off a delicious-looking gluten-free sandwich she was enjoying while on vacation in Hawaii. It turned out she was at Living Foods Market & Cafe in Poipu, Kauai, a combination grocery store and café featuring specialty gourmet goods (including many gluten-free items), organic products, and an extensive wine selection.

Next, my friend and fellow travel writer Lucas Aykroyd passed along a list of gluten-free restaurants and shops in Hawaii, with notes on each spot from the Hawaiian Tourism Board:

  • Chrysalis Foods (Oahu) – Looking for a gluten-, dairy- and nut-free spot to eat while shopping at Ala Moana Center? Break away from the food court and visit the Vim ‘N Vigor store for the Chrysalis foods counter. The menu changes every week, offering local favorites such as mochiko chicken and mochi treats.
  • Up Country Bakery & Cafe (Hawaii Island) – Satisfy your breakfast taste buds with gluten-free mixed berry muffins, gluten-free banana bread slices or gluten-free pancakes. On your way to see the volcano? Grab a sandwich on gluten-free bread and take it on the road.
  • Maui Brick Oven (Maui) – Located in Kihei, this restaurant initially gained popularity for its gluten-free pizza. Locals and visitors frequent this eatery for its impeccable service and menu selection that also includes pasta and salads.

I’m almost ready to buy a ticket. Has anyone else discovered some great places to eat in Hawaii? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

Photo courtesy of the Hawaiian Tourism Board