On the Road With Author Avery Aames

I first met fellow mystery author Avery Aames a couple of years ago, but I didn’t discover until quite recently that she eats gluten-free. (Since then, we’ve had meals together at a couple of my favorite restaurants in New York, Bistango and Rosa Mexicano). Avery is the author of a series called the Cheese Shop Mysteries: the first book, The Long Quiche Goodbye, won the Agatha Award for Best New Novel. Since then, she’s released Lost and Fondue, and her third novel, Clobbered by Camembert, is about to come out. If you haven’t encountered Avery’s work before, here’s your chance: she is giving away a copy of The Long Quiche Goodbye and a copy of Lost and Fondue. To enter the draw, all you have to do is comment below by February 7th — and have a US address for her to mail the books to. You can also check out Avery’s website, follow her on Twitter and on Facebook, and read her two blogs, Mystery Lovers Kitchen and Killer Characters.

First, tell us a bit about your books. For people who haven’t encountered the Cheese Shop Mysteries yet, how would you describe the books?

Tasty.  No, just kidding. First, let me thank you for asking me to join you! Great questions. The Cheese Shop Mysteries are cozies. Each book is set in the quaint, fictional town of Providence, Ohio with a cheese shop owner as the protagonist. Why set a mystery in a cheese shop? This particular one, Fromagerie Bessette, is a hub. It draws in tourists and locals and is a great place for gossip. Charlotte, who owns the cheese shop, is a caring, family-oriented person who is a fixer by nature. In the first novel, her grandmother is accused of murder. How can she not get involved?

How long have you been on a gluten-free diet, and how difficult was the transition for you?

Fifteen years. Luckily, I am a cook, so when I found out I had to eat without gluten, I did everything I could to get started that day. [It turns out I was probably celiac my entire life but misdiagnosed.] There wasn’t a lot written at the time, but there was celiac.com on the Internet, so I studied the site religiously. It took almost six months for my system to resolve. It is still touch and go because of the hidden gluten in so many foods, but I’m very alert too all items.

You travel frequently for writers’ conferences and book events. How do you prepare for a trip? Do you do any gluten-free research in advance?

I always make some gluten-free banana bread so that I can have something sweet and “bready” on the trip. It packs well and stays well, even if not refrigerated. I like my carbs, but I won’t eat them at very many restaurants, even if they assure me they’re gluten-free. When I go to conferences, I call ahead to the hotel and talk to the banquet managers. I also check out the restaurants where we have reservations and ask if they are familiar with gluten-free needs. And when I’m at the conference, I always contact the dining room manager as I enter. With a big smile, of course.

Are there any restaurants and/or hotels that you found did a really great job at taking care of a gluten-free guest?

Well, Bistango in New York is heaven!  [Thank you for introducing me to it.] I don’t mean to be a food snob, but I’ve found that many of the upper-end restaurants are better at doing on-the-spot gluten-free because the great chefs are so well-trained in substitution. They know how to remove nuts, dairy, and now gluten. Also, they love a challenge. However, I will give kudos to chain restaurants like PF Changs (excellent), Outback Steakhouse (they have a GF menu), and others. They are getting educated and bringing that to the customer. Maria’s Kitchen in Los Angeles does a terrific job.

What is the toughest thing about traveling gluten-free?

The toughest thing going to places where friends want to dine but they feel “guilty” because I can’t eat what they’re eating. I do my best not to let them feel guilty. I’m fine. I’m not starving. I am not invested in food.  Except cheese, of course. And chocolate. And ice cream. I adore ice cream!

What things do you always bring with you when you travel?

I always bring the banana bread, as I said. Then I bring my sound machine, a book (whatever is highest on my night stand, usually a mystery or thriller), and accessories. That’s the last thing I say to myself before I close the suitcase. Do I have accessories…jewelry, purses, a scarf. I wear a lot of black to conferences, but I love those dashes of color.  And, yes, a pashmina is a must. In those cold conference rooms, brrr. A pashmina helps keep me warm and feeling loved.

You live in Los Angeles, which is a popular destination. Have you found any restaurants, bakeries or shops near you that you’d recommend to gluten-free travelers?

I have found a number of great places that know about gluten-free. Two of my favorites are Playa and Rivera, both owned by the same team. One is downtown and the other is halfway between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. They serve tapas-style cuisine. Everything in the restaurant can be tailored to my needs. The other fun place that is family style is Maria’s Kitchen, as I mentioned above. It’s an Italian place, but they offer risotto and gluten-free pizza, which are fabulous!  I don’t frequent bakeries. I find they are highly overpriced when it comes to gluten-free items and, like I said, I bake myself. I’m a good baker. (Buffing fingernails on my shirt front and laughing)

What’s your own dream destination to visit?

I would love to go back to Italy, the Tuscany region. I visited Italy briefly as a student in college, but I haven’t been back. I’m a little nervous about the gluten-free thing there and the language barrier (I speak broken Spanish to communicate), but Italy is one of the foremost countries in exploring gluten-free items. Did you know that the children in Italy are tested at the age of two for gluten-free allergies? Soon. Soon.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Also, any readings or conference appearances coming up?

I think the biggest thing when traveling is to prepare ahead. Know the territory. Call the restaurants. Call the hotels. And make sure you bring snacks. For the airplane, too. [Sounds silly but protein travels well on an airplane: hardboiled eggs and turkey burgers are easy and not too messy.]

As for my schedule, my next book comes out February 7th. I’m very excited. I’m having a book launch at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach on the 7th.  Then I’ll be traveling to Houston (Murder by the Book) and I’m trying to arrange a signing in the San Francisco area for mid-February. I just found out that my favorite bookstore in San Mateo closed. {Major sigh!!!} The book industry has been hit hard by e-books and Internet shopping. I have an event calendar on my website, so I hope readers will take a look.

Again, thank you so much for letting me join you today. I’m thrilled to have you as my friend.

Next Stop: Israel

I’m leaving for Israel tomorrow. It’s a whirlwind trip, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I’ll be there for just under a week with a group of journalists from the Society of American Travel Writers, and over the next few days, I’ll get to see Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and a few other spots. I asked for advice on the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Facebook Group, and I got a wonderful reply from a woman named Marina Novikov, who is currently planning a trip to Israel. She gave me permission to pass along her findings on the blog, with the caveat that, since she hasn’t visited Israel yet, she can’t confirm that the information is entirely accurate. Here’s what she’s found so far. Thanks so much, Marina!

IN JERUSALEM

1. Ben Ami, 38 Emek Refaim St. in the German Colony; tel 02 6510070 (a lot of cakes and biscuits, maybe full gf menu).

2. Pera e Mela, 6 Safra Square; tel 02-6230280 (Italian – gluten free pasta – have to call them in advance)

3. Black Bar ‘n’ Burger, 18 Shlomzion Hamalka St.; tel 02-6246767

4. Tito Bravo Italian restaurant, 12 Shamai St, Jerusalem; tel: +972-2-6255585 (pizza, gluten-free menu)

IN TEL AVIV

1. Dapei Rimon, 15 Yehudit Avenue; tel 077-7107007 (gluten free pasta & pizza)

2. Hudson Brasserie, Habarzel 27, Tel-Aviv; tel: +972-3-6444733  (Specializes in meet dishes;  gluten-free menu)

3. Falafel Baribua Falafel, Homos, Shakshuka — multiple locations (gluten-free menu)

IN HERZELIA

1.  Masho… Tov etzel Josef and Louis (translates to – Something Good at Josef and Louis’ Place), 48 Ben-Gurion St, Herzelia; tel: +972-57- 9442783 (Vegetarian health food, variety of Mediterranean, French and Italian dishes, gluten-free menu)

IN HAIFA

1. Ototo Pizza Pizza & Pasta, 86 Hatichon St, Neve Sha’anan; tel: +972-4-8228060 +972-4-8322366 +972-4-8228080  (gluten-free menu, pizza, kosher)

2. Black Bar & Burger, Cinemall, Lev Hamifratz; Tel. 04-8422400

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Have you traveled in Israel? I’d love to hear your experiences with dining gluten-free!

Viva Las Vegas!

Las Vegas’s official motto is “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but I was there for a few days in December, and you wouldn’t expect me to keep secrets about where I dined, would you? I’m thrilled to report that the Strip is filled with an ever-expanding array of gluten-free options. Here are some of of the places I enjoyed:

Mon Ami Gabi: This Parisian-style bistro is directly across the Strip from the Bellagio’s fountains, so you get a spectacular show every half-hour. The gluten-free menu was just as impressive to me, and I ate at the restaurant twice: once for dinner (with decadently cheesy French onion soup and lovely steak frites) and once for lunch (for a savory burger with a gluten-free bun… and more frites). Every gluten-free guest is automatically served warm GF bread, which was a delight (that was something Mon Ami Gabi didn’t offer the last time I was in Vegas, in 2009). In Paris Resort & Casino [address] 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-944-4224.

Border Grill: Located at the south end of the Strip, this restaurant also offers a separate gluten-free menu. The dishes are on the heavy side, but you didn’t come to Vegas for health reasons, did you? The queso fundido was served up as a starter, but it almost made an entire meal, with its gooey mix of melted manchego, panela, asadero, and Oaxacan string cheeses, served with chorizo and roasted poblano peppers. Don’t ask me how, but I still found room for the Kobe beef tacos, too. In Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino [address] 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-632-7403.

Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare: Located at the Wynn, this was a break-the-bank kind of meal, but the incredible fish is worth it (the “catch of the day” is literally flown in fresh each day). On the phone, I was told there was a gluten-free menu, but I was disappointed when I first saw it, because what I saw was a small booklet with all of 10 dishes listed inside. However, that turned out to be simply a list of the plates that are naturally gluten-free, and the chef was happy to modify almost anything on the menu to make it celiac-safe. The restaurant overlooks a private lagoon, making for an exceptionally romantic setting, too. In Wynn Las Vegas [address] 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-770-3463.

Aria Buffet: I’m a little afraid of buffets, to tell you the truth. There’s so often a risk of accidental cross-contamination — all it takes is for a careless guest to use the same serving tongs on a mix of gluten-full and gluten-free different dishes to ruin the latter ones. That’s why the Aria was such a pleasant surprise. I was there for brunch, and the fresh omelette station was a welcome find. Overall, the buffet was well organized, so that fruit salad was far away from cereals, lessening the risk of cross-contamination. Located in the Aria [address] 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 877-230-2742.

P.F. Chang’s: I’m still wishing a P.F. Chang’s would open in Manhattan. The restaurant has an Asian-inspired gluten-free menu with plenty of choice for starters and mains, and two options for dessert: rich chocolate mousse or a dark-chocolate-and-raspberry cake. Located in Planet Hollywood [address] 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-836-0955.

Maggiano’s Little Italy: My first time dining here, and I loved it. Gluten-free guests automatically get a visit from a sous-chef at their table, so their (many) options are clearly pointed out. I’m officially a fan of the “Rigatoni D” (with chicken, caramelized onions, mushrooms and a marsala cream sauce). Located in Fashion Show Mall [address] 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-220-4185

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I have book news: my debut novel, The Damage Done, is now out in paperback in the U.S. and Canada! You can see its beautiful new cover, watch a video interview with me about the book, and enter a contest for a signed copy.

My second novel, The Next One to Fall, will be released on Valentine’s Day 2012. It’s a murder mystery set in Peru, and it’s already getting wonderful reviews. There’s a special contest for people who pre-order the book, and for every copy that is ordered before the release date, I’m donating a dollar to Heifer. I’m also planning a book tour that will take me back to Houston, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and that will introduce me to Austin, Denver, and San Diego. Hope to see you while I’m on the road!