The Best of 2009 for the Gluten-Free

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One of my favorite things about the last week of the year is that it’s a good time to take stock of what’s happened over the past 360+ days. In 2009, I found that some posts got a great deal of feedback from readers — and I learned that sometimes it’s impossible to predict which ones will spark the most interest. Below are the posts that garnered the greatest responses, and if you missed them the first time around, you can still read them (and comment) now.

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to e-mail me, follow me on Twitter, join the Facebook group, or make a comment on the site. I deeply appreciate your support, and look forward to hearing more from you in 2010. Happy new year!

Vacation Planning for Celiacs: Cruises

The irony for me was that, after researching different cruise options, I ended up going to Las Vegas instead. But my research wasn’t wasted: because I looked at the gluten-free options onboard different cruise lines, I was able to share what I’d found about Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, MSC and other companies. Better yet, so many readers contacted me about their cruise experiences (mostly with positive reports about dining gluten-free) that it inspired another post.

New York City Day by Day… for Celiacs

When I wrote the New York City Day by Day guidebook for Frommer’s, I was a newly diagnosed celiac. Fortunately, the book didn’t require full-length restaurant reviews; since it was intended as a cheat sheet to the city, and mostly filled with walking tours, I could get away with short mentions of favorite eateries. Of course, that list included many great spots for the gluten-free, such as Rosa Mexicano, Rice, Blue Smoke, and Pure Food & Wine. The book is now available as a download from the New York Public Library; for details, check out the original post.

Philadelphia’s Great Gluten-Free Initiative

Bravo to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness for training so many Philadelphia chefs via its Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) program… to the wonderful chefs who took part… and to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation for being savvy enough to recognize this as a terrific tourism initiative.

Smart Businesses Support Celiacs

This was inspired by Starbucks’ “now you see it, now you don’t” gluten-free Orange Valencia Cake. Remember it? But the post was about much more than Starbucks. It was about making smart choices to support businesses that are responsive to their customers’ needs. One of the things I wrote last July was, “At a time when we’re all watching our budgets, I’d like to make a case for spending even more carefully. If a major corporation isn’t serious about serving the gluten-intolerant, I see no reason to support them.” I stand by that position.

Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Toronto Eaton Centre

This post was an accident. While I was in Toronto last June, working on the Frommer’s Toronto 2010 guidebook, a business lunch was canceled at the last minute. Since I was stranded near the Eaton Centre, my hometown’s famous shopping complex, I decided to explore the fast-food options there. The response from readers was overwhelming. It turned out that just about everyone wanted to know more about celiac-safe fast food. This post had an unexpected result: a Toronto reader wrote to tell me that the Druxy’s Famous Deli in Commerce Court had gluten-free bread. When another reader saw that, she contacted Peter Druxerman, Druxy’s vice-president of marketing, to ask if the company could make gluten-free bread available at their outlet inside Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. In the blink of an eye, Druxy’s responded, adding gluten-free bread to its offerings at PMH. Remember what I said earlier about supporting businesses that are responsive to their customers?

On the Road With…

I love finding out the secrets of great travelers. Both Alice Bast, founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and Sloane Miller, who writes the delightful Allergic Girl blog and runs Worry-Free Dinners in New York, were kind enough to share many of theirs.

Mail-Ordering Gluten-Free Groceries

First and foremost, the Gluten-Free Guidebook is about travel and dining out. But even if you’re on the road a lot, as I am, you need to buy groceries sometimes. I’m lucky to have some great spots near me in New York, but there are also some companies that I order from online. And it still surprises me that Amazon consistently offers some of the best prices on gluten-free groceries.

A Celebratory Gluten-Free Lunch in New York

For those of you who know me mainly as a travel writer and celiac advocate, it came as a shock that I have a dark side. My debut crime novel, The Damage Done, will be published by Forge in October 2010. I have been publishing short stories for a while, but I’m still happily surprised about my two-book deal with Forge. What I didn’t expect was that some criminally minded fiction types would be interested in the Gluten-Free Guidebook, too. David Cranmer, editor of Beat to a Pulp (one of the best places to find contemporary crime fiction), asked me about both my novel and my gluten-free travels when he interviewed me. Jen Forbus, the book blogger behind the wonderful Jen’s Book Thoughts, was kind enough to ask me to take part in her Six-Word Memoir project, in which she asked crime writers — including Dennis Lehane, Linda Fairstein, Joseph Wambaugh, Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, and Mary Higgins Clark — to sum themselves up in six words. Have you read mine yet?

All About Gluten-Free Edmonton, Alberta (Part 1)

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to speak with Jenifer Christenson, the executive director of external relations for the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. She has celiac disease and is incredibly well-informed about dining gluten-free in Edmonton and the surrounding area. She wanted to share the names of many restaurants that either offer gluten-free menu items, or that are happy to accommodate gluten-intolerant diners.

If you’re planning a visit to Edmonton, Jenifer recommends that you first stop by the website of the Canadian Celiac Association’s Edmonton Chapter. It’s an invaluable resource that lists restaurants, with dining notes from association members who’ve visited them (it’s also updated on a regular basis). If a restaurant offers gluten-free pasta or whips up a special off-the-menu dessert, it’s noted there. The site also lists restaurants in other parts of the province of Alberta, including Calgary. For more general trip-planning information — including what to see and do and where to stay — see www.edmonton.com.

Jenifer provided me with so much information that I’ve divided it into a couple of posts. Here are some of the places where celiacs can dine safely in Edmonton. For many, many more, check out the CCA’s Edmonton Chapter website.

DOWNTOWN EDMONTON

Blue Plate Diner [address] 10145 – 104 Street, Edmonton [tel] 780-429-0740 [web] www.blueplatediner.ca

The Creperie [address] 10220 – 103 Street, Edmonton [tel] 780-420-6656 [web] www.thecreperie.com

Louisiana Purchase [address] 10320 – 111 Street, Edmonton [tel] 780-420-6779 [web] www.louisianapurchase.ca

Normand’s [address] 11639A Jasper Avenue, Edmonton [tel] 780-482-2600 [web] www.normands.com

Skinny Legs and Cowgirls Bistro [address] 9008 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton [tel] 780-423-4107 [web] www.skinnylegsandcowgirls.com

WEST END

Caf̩ de Ville [address] 10137 Р124 Street, Edmonton [tel] 780-488-9188 [web] www.cafedeville.com

The Dish & The Runaway Spoon [address] 12417 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton [tel] 780-488-6641 [web] www.thedishandspoon.com (Note: The Dish is a restaurant and The Runaway Spoon is a catering company; both have gluten-free options.)

Ernest’s Dining Room [address] At Nait School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, 11762 – 106 Street, Edmonton [tel] 780-471-8678 [web] www.nait.ca

Matahari [address] 10108B – 124 Street, Edmonton [tel] 780-452-8262 [web] http://matahari-asiandining.com

SOUTH SIDE

Blue Chair Caf̩ [address] 9624 Р76 Avenue, Edmonton [tel] 780-989-2861 [web] www.bluechair.ca

OPM Asian Bistro & Lounge [address] 1820 – 99 Street, Edmonton 780-989-5898 [web] www.opm.ca

Pizzeria Prego [address] 5860 – 111 Street, Edmonton [tel] 780-439-7734 [web] www.pregopizza.com

Unheard of Restaurant [address] 9602 – 82 Avenue, Edmonton [tel] 780-432-0480 [web] www.unheardof.com

Photograph provided courtesy of Edmonton Economic Development Corporation.

On the Road With Allergic Girl

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When I started the Gluten-Free Guidebook in March 2008, one of my role models was Sloane Miller. I admired her Allergic Girl blog for its charming style, thoroughly researched posts, and sense of adventure. Many people with gluten intolerance or food allergies focus on what they can’t have; Sloane’s writing inspires me with the sense of what’s possible. A tireless advocate for the food-allergic, Sloane has been featured in many national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN.com, New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, and ABCNews.com. A New York State-licensed psychotherapeutic social worker since 2000, Sloane founded a private coaching practice, Allergic Girl Resources, for the food-allergic community in 2007. Part of her practice includes Worry-Free Dinners, an NYC-based dining club for adults and children with food allergies and intolerances. Here’s what she had to say about her recent travels.

How often do you travel? Not often enough. I fly 2-4 times a year domestically and I get away on weekends throughout the year.

Where have you traveled since going gluten-free? I’ve been gluten-free since 2004, and since then all of my travel has been domestic: Florida, Long Island, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Eastern seaboard mainly.

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? As someone with food allergies (tree nuts, salmon, some fruits and veggies; and I’m dairy- and wheat-intolerant) my family has been traveling with food for as long as I can remember. My standard complement includes: boxes of juices, packages of applesauce, dried organic fruit (raisins, apricots, dates), granola that I make at home (recipe here), rice crackers and organic cheese, fruit, Enjoy Life cookies and chocolates. Most of my bag is actually food when I travel. I also shop when I get to a new place. I find the local grocery or greenmarket and stock up on allergy-friendly local goodies.

What other things do you always bring with you? Medicines for environmental allergies, food allergies and allergic asthma, always in multiples, and all up to date. A travel pillow, check. Tea, check. (I like PG Tips from England so I always make sure to have some on hand when traveling. Also if I feel wheezy because of a new room, space or hotel, some caffeine helps to calm it down.) Magazines that I never have time to read otherwise: The New Yorker, Oprah, Lucky and Real Simple. Music and movies although I rarely get to those, too. There’s a lot of packing in my world that’s for a just in case scenario. Just in case there are delays and I need food or entertainment, just in case there are feather pillows only and I need something to sleep on. Clothing is always secondary to food because what’s better than shopping for new duds in a new place?

How do you prepare for a trip? Homework, homework, homework.  All the advance work makes getting there and being there so much more relaxing. Of course, you also need to prepare for the unexpected by remaining calm and flexible and that’s where your just-in-case provisions come in handy. I recently traveled for work to Boston and I had brought enough food with me for three days (dinners, lunches and breakfasts). Very quickly, I made friends with the hotel chef who cooked all of my meals for me, allergen-free. So then I schlepped all of the food home again. There were unexpected train delays because of a bomb scare. Was I concerned? Nope, I had enough food to feed half the line.

Any favorite restaurants? My favorite NYC safe restos are listed here. Now ask me, where do I think I and my dietary needs will be welcomed with open arms, delicious food and excellent service? I have that dream list too: Alinea in Chicago, IL, Per Se in NYC, Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, to name a few.

Any favorite hotels? I love small boutique hotels, ones that take an interest in each and every guest. I especially love returning to a hotel year after year, having a favorite room and overlook. The Standard Miami (room 32) is one fave. So is the St Thomas D’Aquin (room 15) in Paris. I’ve been invited to stay at the Winvian in CT for work. The property looks wonderful and like it may be a new favorite.

Favorite city or destination that is not your hometown or current home base? Drat. I do love New York. It is my hometown, my current home base and my favorite tourist spot. I love Paris and London, and Oxford, cities I’ve spent considerable time in. I also love the English countryside, I’d like to see more of it. I love the ocean; ocean towns are some of my faves.

What’s your dream destination? When I was little my dream destination was Hawaii. Probably because of too many reruns of the Brady Brunch goes to Hawaii eps. However, I think I’d still like to go there for maybe a month and explore.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Don’t be afraid to travel because you believe you may not be able to eat safely. There are many valuable resources out there to help you. Seek them out and use them. Here’s an article by Conde Nast Traveler that may help you get on your way. And of course, Gluten-Free Guidebook, which is an invaluable resource. Thanks, Hilary!

Photograph of Sloane Miller: copyright Kenneth Chen.

San Francisco Food, Las Vegas Style

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Las Vegas has been called many things, but I like to think of it as the world’s biggest theme park. Where else could you visit a pyramid with a Sphinx in front, soar to the top of a scale version of the Eiffel Tower, and take a Venetian-style gondola ride in one afternoon? There are representations of New York City and Monaco, hints of Southeast Asian colonial style (at Mandalay Bay), and scenes of ancient Roman decadence (at Caesar’s Palace, of course). But there’s one great city that doesn’t figure into the design of any of the resorts, and yet dominates Las Vegas’s haute culinary scene: San Francisco.

Having visited the City by the Bay in the spring of 2008 — and discovering places such as Fish & Farm, Le Colonial, Millennium, and Regalito Rosticeria — I’d already experienced some great gluten-free cooking. But while I was aware that many Vegas restaurants are outposts of New York spots (including some that are known for their gluten-free-friendliness, such as Smith & Wollensky and Dos Caminos), I had no idea that San Francisco chefs had taken the city by storm.

One of the highlights of my visit to Vegas was dinner at Bradley Ogden’s eponymous restaurant in Caesar’s Palace. It sits on the edge of the casino, but it’s a world apart. Caesar’s Palace was one of my favorite gambling spots (not that I’m a high roller — slot machines like Gold Fish are more my speed). While the casino’s got sweeping ceilings, over-the top decorations and plenty of distractions, it’s also filled with smoke, noise, and bright lights (like every casino on the Strip).

The Bradley Ogden restaurant is an oasis of clean lines, neutral tones, and serene quiet. (Like all indoor Las Vegas restaurants, it is smoke-free.) From the start, the incredibly charming server, Alexis, made it clear that I could have most of the items on the menu, since everything is made from scratch on-site and the kitchen would be happy to make whatever modifications necessary for a gluten-free meal. I ended up ordering from the prix fixe menu, which offered three courses for $59. I had a Caesar salad to start, followed by pork loin for my main dish and ice cream for dessert. The food was simply incredible, and the service was sublime.

What really amazed me was that the thoughtfulness didn’t end with that night. Before I ordered, I talked with the server about why I often can’t get a gluten-free Caesar salad (it’s not just an issue of holding the croutons; many chefs use a Worcestershire sauce that contains wheat in the dressing). When I filled in the comment card at the end of the evening, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the meal and the attentive service. The next day, I received an e-mail from the restaurant, giving me their recipe for a perfect Caesar salad. Now that’s what I call service.

Bradley Ogden at Caesar’s Palace [address] 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas NV 89109 [tel] 877-346-4642 [web] www.caesarspalace.com or www.chefbradleyogden.com.