Sweet Passover, Happy Easter

When I was in Berkeley, California, for a Mystery Readers International literary salon earlier this week with fellow author Brad Parks, a lovely lady named Laura-Kate Ruska baked a gluten-free chocolate cake for me. My friend Janet Rudolph, who runs the Dying for Chocolate blog (and who hosted the salon), has posted the recipe. Not only is the cake absolutely delicious, but it’s perfect for both Passover and Easter celebrations. Bon appétit (and thank you, Laura-Kate!).

I’ve written about gluten-free Passover treats before (in 2010 and 2011), but I haven’t mentioned the gluten-free Easter candy list. It’s a great resource, especially since we’ve learned that a “gluten-free” label doesn’t always mean that a product is celiac-safe (in particular, I’m thinking of Jelly Belly’s Peter Rabbit Deluxe Easter Mix, which is NOT gluten-free, in spite of an erroneous label that claims it is; the product has been recalled). Here’s to a healthy, safe spring for everyone!

(Photo above: Janet Rudolph and her husband, Frank, thoughtfully prepared special wine bottles with the cover of my new book, The Next One to Fall, and Brad’s latest, The Girl Next Door. Glad to say my bottle made it home safely from California, thanks to an invention called the WineSkin!)

Sweet Passover

Passover is a special time of year for celiacs. What other holiday has so many gluten-free treats specifically created for it? Also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Passover generally prohibits the consumption of grains (rice and beans are also on the forbidden list for Ashkenazi Jews). That’s not to say that everything is celiac-safe, since one staple of the regular Passover diet is matzo, an unleavened bread that’s made from wheat. That means anything made with matzo — such as matzo-ball soup, gefilte fish, and any product made with matzo meal — is off limits. But there are many dessert options — which can range from traditional macaroons to raspberry rolls, chocolate-covered marshmallows to fudge brownies, and marble loaf cake to chocolate-chip cookies — that suit the gluten-intolerant.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a selection of gluten-free Passover foods at your local grocery store or Costco. You can also order online: Kosher.com will ship orders anywhere in the US. Another option for mail-order delivery is Shabtai Gourmet, a bakery that is entirely gluten-free; they are also dairy- caesin- and soy-free, and their products are certified kosher.

If you need advice and recipes to help you prepare a gluten-free yet traditional Seder, Elana’s Pantry is a great resource. There’s also an extensive list of Passover-appropriate recipes available from Kosher Celiac Cookery; some even feature that gluten-free favorite quinoa, which is actually a berry and not a grain. Nancy Lapid, About.com’s celiac guide, prepared a great list of items to watch for in “The Jewish Holiday of Passover: A Gluten-Free Bonanza.”

Wishing everyone who celebrates the holiday a very sweet Passover!

Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Reader Report Contest

One of my favorite things about writing the Gluten-Free Guidebook is hearing from readers. I love it when you share your thoughts and opinions with me (as you did, most recently, on the issue of the celiac pill that is currently in medical trials), and when you take the time to write about a restaurant that serves great gluten-free meals. A few readers have contributed complete Reader Reports, in some cases about a trip they’ve taken and in others about their hometown. Either way, the effort and information is very much appreciated — by me, and by many other people.

I’m launching the first-ever Gluten-Free Guidebook Reader Report Contest because I’d like to hear from more of you. The rules are simple: write a Reader Report about gluten-free restaurants and shops in the place where you live, or a place you’ve visited. Each report that you write must be at least 300 words, and each one you write will get you entered into a random draw for a guidebook giveaway: the winner will receive a copy of my Frommer’s Toronto 2010 and Frommer’s Canada. There’s no limit to the number of Reader Reports you can write: if you send one, you’ll be entered in the drawing once, if you send five reports you’ll be entered five times.

For examples of great Reader Reports that have run in the past, take a look at these examples: Buenos Aires, Amman, Hawaii, and Las Vegas. There’s a range of styles, and there’s no one right way to do it. Remember, any information you share is going to be valuable to other gluten-intolerant people.

By entering this contest, you automatically give me the right to publish your Reader Report 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). Please let me know if you would like only your first name to be published with your Reader Report; if you do not specify this, your first and last name will be used.

The deadline for entries is June 7, June 30, 2010. Entries must be e-mailed to glutenfreeguidebook [at] gmail [dot] com; please put “Reader Report Contest” in the subject. This contest is open to readers around the world, except where prohibited by law. I look forward to reading your Reader Reports!

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Speaking of contests, voting is open for the Spinetingler Awards until April 30th. My short story “Insatiable” is a finalist for a Best Short Story Award. Please visit the site, look at the contenders, and vote for your favorite story using this online ballot.

A Sweet Passover for Celiacs

What does it say about me that one of the holidays I most look forward to is Passover, and I’m not even Jewish? But I do live in New York, where the holiday is widely observed. Many grocery stores have a special section set up for the occasion, and that’s normally a goldmine for gluten-free items. Passover — also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread — generally prohibits the consumption of grains (rice and beans are also on the forbidden list for Ashkenazi Jews). I say “mostly” since one staple of the regular Passover diet is matzo, an unleavened bread that’s made from wheat. That means anything made with matzo — such as matzo-ball soup, gefilte fish, and any product made with matzo meal — isn’t celiac-safe.

Still, options abound, especially when it comes to treats. Passover desserts range from traditional macaroons to raspberry rolls, chocolate-covered marshmallows to fudge brownies, and marble loaf cake to chocolate-chip cookies. One brand that I’ve grown to know well over the past few years is Shabtai Gourmet, a bakery that is entirely gluten-free; they are also dairy- caesin- and soy-free, and their products are certified kosher. If you live in the continental USA, they offer free mail-order delivery of their products. Take a look at their offerings at [web] www.shabtai-gourmet.com, or call [tel] 516-652-5671.

There are other companies that prepare gluten-free items for Passover, such as Manischewitz (which makes potato starch noodles) and Dr. Prager (which makes spinach-and-potato pancakes). Nancy Lapid, About.com’s celiac guide, prepared a great list of items to watch for in “The Jewish Holiday of Passover: A Gluten-Free Bonanza.”

Finally, thanks to Google, I’ve learned that there’s even gluten-free matzo available now. Created by a rabbi based in England, Shemura Oat Matzos are gluten-free and meet the strict requirements of Passover foods (the oats are literally watched as they’re baked, to ensure that they don’t rise). The product is available in the US and Canada, as well as Australia, South Africa, Belgium, England, and Israel. Shops that sell it in North America include:

Kosher Cajun [address] 3519 Severn Avenue, Metairie, Louisiana [tel] 504-888-2010 [web] www.koshercajun.com

Fishman’s Delicatessen & Bakery [address] 4100 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, Minnesota [tel] 952-926-5611 [web] www.fishmanskosher.com

Also, Kosher.com will ship orders anywhere in the US. I wish everyone who celebrates the holiday a very sweet Passover.

UPDATE 04/03/2010: I’ve found a few articles — and recipes — that are well worth checking out:

A Happy — and Gluten-Free — Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, my husband and I are doing what we usually do: taking the train down to Philadelphia to celebrate the holiday with family. While I won’t have the chance to sample any of Philly’s many celiac-friendly restaurants, I’ve got a special event to attend. My husband’s cousin Joanna and her husband, Seth, host a family party that spans four generations. They are always careful and considerate hosts, and while I can’t eat every dish at Thanksgiving dinner, most items are gluten-free.

I also have to tell you that Joanna is an expert cook and an entrepreneur who opened Yo Dogs in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, earlier this year. Yo Dogs is a gourmet hot dog, burger, and salad place, which also caters events. If you’ve got a craving for a dog and you want it on a gluten-free roll (and maybe dressed with cheddar, avocado, and mushrooms), check it out. Yo Dogs [address] 1014 E. Willow Grove Ave., Wyndmoor, PA 19038 [tel] 215-233-DOGS (3647) [web] www.eatyodogs.com.

Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for those on the gluten-free diet, and for people with food allergies. Shauna James Ahern, the Gluten-Free Girl, shares some wonderful advice — and recipes — on her blog. Sure Foods Living provides great tips about what celiacs and food-allergic people should watch out for. Nancy Lapid, About.com’s guide to celiac disease, has a terrific roundup of Thanksgiving-related links. (Until I saw Nancy’s list, I had no idea that NPR had covered the subject of a gluten-free Thanksgiving this year.)

Lately, I’ve been seeing some great gluten-free recipes from sources that don’t specifically serve the celiac market. Janet Rudolph, the woman behind the wonderful Dying for Chocolate blog, has published some of my favorites. Another great source is Canadian House and Home magazine, which has an archive of recipes available for free on its website. The website has a special Thanksgiving section for its many American readers. While you can’t search by “gluten-free,” take a browse to see what’s available. Finally, Canadian Living magazine’s online recipe archive does let you search by the term “gluten-free,” and you’ll find everything from a mouth-watering cardamom shortbread to egg crepes with smoked salmon.

Wishing everyone a very happy Thanksgiving!

Reader Reports for Celiac Awareness Month

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October is Celiac Awareness Month, so there’s an uptick in coverage about the disorder and generally about gluten intolerance. A couple of the better pieces that have been published lately: “Gluten-Free: Is It for Me?” by Daphne Oz on Oprah.com and “Why Common Foods May Hurt Your Health” by Dr. Jon LaPook on The Huffington Post.

Everyone knows it’s Halloween at the end of this month, but parents of children with celiac disease and/or food allergies need to hear about the Halloween candy list that’s available from Sure Foods Living. Keep in mind that this list was compiled using American sources. Canadian parents, when you read that Smarties are free of gluten, know that this is not true of the popular Nestlé treat, but of an American candy that is unrelated but shares the name. Also this month, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness hosts a Gluten-Free Cooking Spree in San Francisco. It will take place on October 30th; check the NFCA site for details and ticket information.

Some Gluten-Free Guidebook readers also have advice to share. Carolina, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, recommends one gluten-free spot:

There is a place called CeliGourmet here in Buenos Aires that sells food to take out. It has all sorts of things, such as crepes, tarts, pizzas, sandwiches, empanadas (typical local food). There are also many kinds of cake, like cheesecake, chocolate cake, tiramisu, etc., and a variety of breads. There are two stores: one in General Paunero 1927 – Martinez (like half an hour out of town) tel, 4798-2990, and one in Thames 1633 – Palermo Soho, in town, tel 4831-5162.

To my ear, Buenos Aires sounds more and more like a gluten-free paradise. Reader Silvia Basualdo Róvere shared some local restaurants in this post and in this one. If you visit Buenos Aires, check out Oleo, a website that allows you to search for city restaurants that serve gluten-free meals (“comidas para celiacos”). There are currently 300 places on the list!

Another reader, Sybil, left an incredibly helpful comment on my post “Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Eaton Centre.” In it, she mentioned that the Druxy’s Famous Deli in Toronto’s Commerce Court kept gluten-free bread in its freezer. I’d never heard about Druxy’s offering gluten-free options, but Peter Druxerman, the company’s vice-president of marketing, confirmed it. Right now it’s just a test program — the only Druxy’s with gluten-free bread is the one in Commerce Court — but it’s one that Druxerman says the company would like to expand.

Next summer, if you’re visiting Ontario’s spectacular Stratford Festival, take a tip from another reader, Marilyn, who shared this:

We twice visited the festival last summer, and we were able to order ahead, by phone or online, for a gluten-free picnic lunch that we picked up from the Festival Theatre lunch bar. We found the food and beverage supervisor very helpful in discussing options, and the food was excellent!

If you go, the Festival Theatre Café is located at 55 Queen Street, Stratford, [tel] 1-800-567-1600 or 519-271-4040. According to the website, picnic lunches need to be ordered at least 48 hours in advance.

Many thanks to Carolina, Sybil, and Marilyn for their terrific tips. Please keep them coming!

Roundup: Gluten-Free Summer

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I’m always grateful when the Gluten-Free Guidebook gets coverage in the media, and so it was a thrill when the site got a mention in the July issue of the JourneyWoman newsletter. If you travel solo, for work or for pleasure, JourneyWoman is an amazing resource (and while some of its tips are certainly geared towards women, many apply to men, too; just sign up on the site to receive the free newsletter via e-mail).

I heard from several people as a result of JourneyWoman’s coverage, and wanted to mention a tip I got from Barbara Collins, who had a fantastic experience with Holland America:

I read about your site in JourneyWoman Newsletter.  I recently got back from a cruise to Alaska with the Holland America cruise line.  When I signed up for the cruise, they had the possibility to indicate special dietary needs.  In fact, I am not celiac, but do have a severe allergy to wheat and a lesser intolerance for gluten.  But I am even more complicated in that I am also allergic to dairy and eggs.

Holland America took this very seriously and every day gave me the menu for the following day from which I made my choices.  They then prepared that menu specially for me not including any of the ingredients to which I was allergic or intolerant.  In fact, I was surprised one evening when I ordered something Asian and my dining partner had the same thing, but hers had a drizzle of soy sauce and mine didn’t.  It was then that I found out that soy sauce contains wheat!

They had quite a good selection of gluten free products as well (bread, muffins, pancakes, etc.). I would definitely recommend this cruise line for anyone with any special dietary needs.

In other news, GF Patisserie, which I’ve written about before, turns one this month. I haven’t had the chance to visit this dedicated gluten-free bakery in Cochrane, Alberta, but I’ve heard only wonderful things about it. If you happen to be in the area (it’s a short drive from Calgary), you’re invited to the bakery on Saturday, August 8th for some celiac-safe birthday cake with founder Victoria Edlinger and her husband, Peter (who writes the Celiac Husband blog).

If you’re in Los Angeles, you might want to check out the SunPower Natural Cafe in Studio City. It’s an organic, vegan raw-food restaurant where all of the desserts are gluten-free, including the tiramisu, cookies, and the “un-cheesecake.” And if you’re near Hackettstown, New Jersey, stop by the Donaldson Farms roadside stand, which my friend Charlie just told me about. The stand is open daily from 8am to 6pm from May 1st to November 26th, and its offerings include fresh fruit, fresh-cut flowers, and fresh-baked gluten-free treats.

Do you have a favorite spot that I should include on the Gluten-Free Guidebook? Please let me know about it.

Roundup: Celiac Disease in the News

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Have you noticed an uptick in the number of news items about celiac disease this week? May is Celiac Awareness Month, so organizations such as the Gluten Intolerance Group and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness are promoting their message in the media. But I’m also chalking up the sudden flurry of stories to the celebrity effect: Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the hosts of ABC’s “The View,” has just published a book about celiac disease, which she was diagnosed with in 2002. The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide is filled with advice about living with the disorder. There’s not much that’s new here for celiacs already familiar with the gluten-free diet and with potential non-food pitfalls (such as lipsticks that contain gluten), but this is a good resource for the newly diagnosed celiac/gluten-intolerant person who is still coming to terms with the diagnosis.

Also, the book’s introduction is by Dr. Peter Green (author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic), and it’s terrific. In it, he addresses the issue of gluten-sensitive people who don’t test positive for celiac disease, but whose bodies are sickened by gluten nonetheless. I’ve met Dr. Green in person, and he speaks convincingly about the fact that many people are negatively affected by gluten, not just the 1 in 133 who have celiac disease. Food for thought — and an issue everyone should read about.

The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America is celebrating Celiac Awareness Month in a special way: its Chef to Plate International Awareness Campaign has restaurants in 30 states offering gluten-free menu options. Some of the participating eateries are chains, including Cheeseburger in Paradise, Garlic Jim’s Famous Gourmet Pizza, Outback Steakhouse, and P.F. Chang’s. In some states, such as Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas, the only restaurants listed are chains (GIG’s list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive listing of celiac-friendly restaurants, just ones that are participating in this particular program). In New York, most of the participants — including Bistango, Nizza, Lilli & Loo, GustOrganics, Friedmans Lunch, Sambuca, and Opus — are independent operations. One of the most impressive lists of Chef to Plate participants is for Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. I haven’t visited lately, but remember The Noodle Box and the Canoe Brewpub from a while back.

One more thing: a new resource called Gluten-Free Maps caught my eye on Twitter. It’s a smart site that blends Google Maps technology with user-generated suggestions. You can go there to check out what’s in your neighborhood, or you can map the location of a restaurant you’ve dined at successfully. If you’re searching for a gluten-free meal at home or while traveling, it’s another place to look.

Turkey, Travel… and Thanksgiving

My fellow New Yorkers are preoccupied with turkey this week, since it’s Thanksgiving on Thursday, but I’m obsessed with an entirely different Turkey. My trip there was memorable for many reasons. The sheer volume of ancient Greco-Roman sites floored me, even though I’d previously read that Turkey has more Roman ruins than Italy. I visited a few (Ephesus, Pergamum, Aphrodisias, and Hierapolis) and was amazed again and again by their beauty and grandeur. I saw great museums (Istanbul’s Archaeology Museum was simply incredible), and magnificent houses of worship, such as Sultanahmet’s Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (the latter was a church, then a mosque, and now a museum, but it’s a place of beauty whatever you call it). There is so much to see in Turkey, and I only scratched the surface by visiting the Aegean Coast and Istanbul in my 12 days there.

On the dining front, Turkey presents a challenge for the gluten-intolerant. Bread is such a staple of the diet, and wheat sneaks into a wide range of products (for example, the rice cakes I found in supermarkets contained wheat). Restaurant menus are filled with dishes that contain wheat, from stews and soups to kebabs that are wrapped in a wheat shell. However, there was one very important factor that made dining in Turkey possible for me: the Turkish people I met were wonderful hosts, and everyone — from the busiest restaurant to the simplest cafe — was willing to go out of their way to help me dine safely.

I also had the good fortune to correspond with — and later meet — Oya Özden, the founder and president of the Living With Celiac Association of Turkey. She sent me a celiac disease information card, written in Turkish, that I could show to chefs and other restaurant staff. She also gave me some general guidelines about dining in Turkey. Some of her tips:

  • Question everything you eat, because flour is used so much in Turkish cuisine
  • Mezes, or appetizers, are prepared in different ways in different restaurants; the simple artichoke and olive oil meze you had in one spot may have flour added to it in another
  • Rice pilav is common on menus, but beware — it often has orzo pasta mixed in with it (the pasta is sometimes much darker than the rice, but I also saw versions where the difference in color was subtle and would be easy to miss)
  • Grilled fish served without sauce is a safe choice, but beware of cross-contamination from kofta (small meatballs made with wheat) that could be cooked on the same grill

The lesson was to be vigilant, particularly because wheat is used so commonly that restaurant staff might overlook it. I learned that the hard way on my first night in Turkey, when I was accidentally ‘glutened’ by the dining room of the small hotel I stayed at in Selçuk. My mistake was in taking the word of a staff member who was a native English speaker (since my Turkish is very limited, I thought I was on safe ground explaining my dietary restrictions to someone who spoke the same language). She assured me that the rice pilav was just rice. When the plate was set in front of me, I noticed that the rice had slightly darker bits of… something… mixed in. “Are you sure this is just rice? There’s no pasta in this?” I asked, and was reassured that it was rice. One bite later and I knew that there was more than just rice in the dish. Orzo pasta, as it turned out.

It was a disappointing way to start the trip, but it was a good reminder to proceed very cautiously. Everywhere else I ate, for the rest of the trip, did come up with great gluten-free fare for me — and you’ll be hearing more about that in the weeks to come. In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. And for readers who are celebrating their first gluten-free Thanksgiving, check out this excellent post from Shauna James Ahern at Gluten-Free Girl.

Roundup: North American Gluten-Free News

I love it when people tell me about their great gluten-free dining experiences. One reader, whose husband has celiac disease, contacted me about their dinner at Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago. They were deeply impressed by the thoughtfulness of the staff. It was clear from the start of their meal, when the restaurant’s manager came to their table to talk, that the restaurant took gluten-free dining seriously. Because the chef was concerned about cross-contamination (apparently the chilies in some sauces were flash-fried in a deep fryer, and could have been exposed to gluten particles), the two gluten-free dishes that made their way to the table were variations of menu items. Topolobampo’s sommelier also did a fine job pairing wines with the special dishes. The reader wrote:

We travel and eat out extensively and have never come across this level of dedication and exemplary service. The manager kept apologizing that our meal was going to take a little longer than normal. It was unreal and did not break the bank either…

Another reader wrote to tell me about Leaf Cuisine, a Los Angeles restaurant that is virtually the only place where she will dine out (in addition to being gluten intolerant, she has allergies to casein and corn). Leaf Cuisine is a raw-food restaurant, meaning that none of the food is heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. All of the menu items are vegan and reasonably priced. The restaurant also sells some of its creations in local stores (including several Whole Foods outlets in Los Angeles) and offers courses in raw-food preparation.

One reader told me about a website created by her daughter. It’s a wonderful resource called Gluten-Free Ontario, and if you’re traveling anywhere in the province, take a look at it. The long list of cities represented includes Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Barrie, London, and Sault Sainte Marie. A lot of work has gone into the site, and the results will help many people make decisions about dining out.

Finally, I wanted to alert U.S. readers that a couple of medical centers are offering free screening for celiac disease. This past Saturday, the West Virginia Gluten Intolerance Group and the Department of Pediatrics at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University worked with the Cabell-Huntington Hospital to provide free blood screening (I wish I’d heard about it earlier, and I hope that they will repeat this event in future). The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center offers an annual day of free screening; the next one will be on October 18, 2008. That may sound like a long way off, but participants need to pre-register by calling [tel] 773-702-7593 after August 15, 2008. For a calendar of events of interest to the gluten-intolerant, including free blood screenings, check out the calendar at Gluten-Free Forum. For a list of the Gluten Intolerance Group’s branches and partner offices, click here.