The Gluten-Free Guidebook Goes to Berlin

Before I went to Berlin for a week in August, a friend warned me that I wasn’t going to like the food. When I asked him why, he described it as “beer, bread, and bratwurst” — which, I have to admit, did not sound appealing, especially to a person with celiac disease. I took his warning to heart and did even more research than I normally do before a trip. The result? I had a week of amazing meals, interspersed by visits to incredible museums, historic landmarks, and breathtaking gardens. Here’s where I ate.

AC Hotel Humbolthain Park: This was my home base in Berlin, and I couldn’t have asked for a better spot to stay. This recently-renovated hotel is located at the edge of a beautiful park, a stone’s throw from Gesundbrunnen station (a major hub for public transit, making it easy to get just about anywhere in this sprawling city). Every morning, one of the thoughtful staff members would bring me a plate from the kitchen with a dark gluten-free bread and a chocolate muffin; there was also a gluten-free cereal from Udi’s on offer. The breakfast buffet items had signs with numbers on them to indicate what allergens they contained (I wasn’t familiar with this system, but I encountered it at several Berlin restaurants, so it appeared to be a popular approach to dealing with food allergies in these parts). I also had dinner here one night when a massive downpour hit the city. My appetizer was a simple green salad paired with parmesan; my main course was pork belly paired with beets and berries and it was incredibly good.

Buschbeck’s: Located on a quiet street in Charlottenburg, this is a lovely restaurant run by a husband-and-wife team. Everything at Buschbeck’s is homemade, and they take food allergies seriously. The menu changes daily and is written (in German only) on a large blackboard in the main dining room. Fortunately, one of the owners patiently explained all of the options in English, and she made it clear that almost everything that wasn’t already gluten-free could be modified to be. I started with a simple beet salad paired up with Parmesan, and had an Argentine steak grilled to perfection with potatoes and veggies. I also had my favorite drink of the trip here, a kir  cocktail. The restaurant doesn’t take credit cards, but the prices are very reasonable. This was one of my favorite nights out in Berlin, and I highly recommend Buschbeck’s — I felt like I was in really good hands here.

Suzette: This Breton creperie was recommended by a friend of a friend, and it’s an absolute delight. It’s located in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, which I’m told was once a grim place in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, but is now an area filled with charming restaurants and boutiques. All of the main-course crepes are made from buckwheat (remember, buckwheat is related to rhubarb and is safe for celiacs; in spite of the name, it’s not wheat!); the dessert crepes are made of flour, but the staff will make gluten-free ones on request. My main course was a crepe of goat cheese, bacon, and tomato… and I may have ended up splitting a second main course with my husband, a three-cheese crepe filled with roquefort, emmenthal, and goat cheese. They were both so delicious, and so was my dessert crepe with caramel and chocolate. (There are a few desserts that can’t be made gluten-free — the ones they set aflame with pear brandy would burn to a crisp atop a buckwheat crepe! — but there are still many options.)

Simela: This pizza place has a couple of locations in Berlin; I ate at the one in Mitte, which has limited seating, but the food was very good. Practically everything on the menu is available gluten-free. The pizza itself was made with a buckwheat base (I noticed a few people online complain about the strong taste of the crust, but I liked it). There are plenty of vegetarian options, and a couple of dairy-free choices, but I went for a dose of cheese and prosciutto, and I loved it. I also had a hearty salad with olives and tomatoes and somehow had no room left for dessert, a decision I still regret.

Cookies Cream: Finding this restaurant is a nightmare: it doesn’t have a proper street address, and locating it requires walking down three adjoining alleyways that look like great places to get murdered (remember, I’m a crime writer; I see killer possibilities everywhere). It’s behind the Westin hotel on the Unter den Linden, but you need to enter from an alley off Behrenstrasse. Fortunately, the innovative food made the trip worth it: Cookies Cream is a glamorous vegetarian restaurant, with red banquette seating and stainless steel accents in a room that otherwise looks industrial. The menu is prix fixe, with your choice of three, four, or five courses. I went with four, starting with a soup of tomato tea and verbena, then a watermelon and artichoke carpaccio, a savory main course of baked eggplant and edamame, and a dessert blending cucumber and juniper (I know that doesn’t sound like a dessert, but it was delicious). Most of the dishes were already gluten-free, and the ones that weren’t were easily modified. Expensive but excellent.

Chay Viet: Berlin has a vibrant restaurant scene featuring cuisines from all corners of the globe. I’d seen this completely vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant mentioned as “gluten-free friendly” on a couple of sites, so I wanted to give it a try. The menu was marked with same allergy-warning system that my hotel used, but it turned out that it was out of date. Fortunately, the server spoke English and was able to guide me in ordering what was actually gluten-free; however, the kitchen’s first attempt at my main dish contained gluten and had to be remade. Overall, the food I had here was excellent — delicious spring rolls, a simple-but-amazing clay-pot dish of sesame rice, a savory curry — but I feel some trepidation making a recommendation to visit. The staff was lovely and helpful, but the misleading menu and kitchen mix-up definitely made me anxious, even though it all worked out in the end.

The Gluten-Free Guidebook Goes to Stockholm

Late this summer, I spent a week in Stockholm and fell in love with the city. Several people asked me if there was “enough to do” in Sweden’s capital to justify that long a stay (most seemed to think of Stockholm as a weekend destination for those en route to Copenhagen). I can happily report that a week was barely enough to scratch the surface. Stockholm is blessed with great museums (the Vasa was my favorite); several palaces, including the historic castle in the Old City and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of  Drottningholm, where the Swedish Royal Family now lives; and it has gorgeous architecture and parks and public art installations. Even the subway system serves as a kind of roving art gallery, at least in the downtown stations I saw. The fact that Stockholm is spread across a series of islands gives it a physical beauty that is simply breathtaking.

And then there’s the food.

To say that Stockholm is a haven for those who eat gluten-free is an understatement. Everywhere I went, people were familiar with celiac disease, aware of potential cross-contamination issues, and willing to help. It was, quite possibly, the most relaxed I’ve felt traveling since I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004. I didn’t use any of the Swedish-translated cards I brought along; everyone I met spoke at least some English, and the Swedish word for gluten-free — glutenfrei — got an immediate reaction everywhere I went. Here are some of the places I recommend:

Hotel Birger Jarl: This was my home away from home in Stockholm. Located where the neighborhoods of Vasastan and Norrmalm meet, the hotel was on a quiet street, but close to every amenity I could want and only a 10-minute walk from the busy city center. It served the most satisfying buffet breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel, with signs indicating what was gluten-free and steps taken to prevent cross-contamination (for example, GF bread was on a separate table from wheat bread). I had dinner at the Birger Jarl’s restaurant one night and was impressed; several menu items are indicated as gluten-free, but others could be modified.

Tranan: This historic restaurant in Vasastan opened in 1929, and it’s not hard to understand why it’s perennially popular. The setting is elegant, the food is excellent, and the service is superlative. When I told the waiter that I have celiac disease, his face lit up. He carefully went over the long menu with me, then brought me some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever tasted, served hot. Tranan serves classic bistro fare with a Swedish twist (there’s plenty of herring on the menu). My steak tartare was paired with truffles, Parmesan, and almonds, and it was perfect.

Hemma Vasastan: “Hemma” means home in Swedish, and this charming restaurant wants diners to feel as comfortable as if they were dining at home (minus the work, of course). The server brought me my own gluten-free bread basket, which contained both a warm toast and a traditional crispbread. My goat cheese starter salad was delicious, as was my Arctic char with asparagus risotto. This was also the spot that introduced me to Briska pear cider, one of my favorite finds of the trip.

Lilla Ego: This tiny spot in the Vasastan neighborhood was the trendiest spot I visited. It’s featured in a Michelin guidebook and is often booked a month in advance, but I was lucked into a reservation for two by being flexible on dates (I ate there on a Tuesday night). The service is friendly but casual, which belies the ambitious, innovative cuisine. My favorite dish of the evening was actually dessert, a goat-cheese creme brulée that had hot and cold layers, plus macadamia nuts for good measure. It was a perfect mix of savory and sweet.

Vurma: This casual spot seemed to be very popular with locals, judging from the number of people dining on the open-air patio with their dogs). It’s located in Ostermalm, which had some of the most stunning architecture in the city. I dined here my first night in town (after failing to sleep on the overnight flight), so I have to trust my notes instead of my memory: “Salmon with potatoes & mint sauce = perfection.”

Da Peppe: The small island of Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s historic heart, but that doesn’t make it any less of a tourist trap. I was warned in advance about how hard it can be to find good food here, and I struck out on my first two attempts. Then I lucked out by finding Da Peppe, which stocks corn pasta for gluten-free guests, as is happy to make any other required accommodations. My chicken penne was served with a chili-infused cream sauce that turned up the heat in a rich but tantalizing way.

McDonald’s: It’s been 13 years since I’ve eaten at McDonald’s (I was diagnosed with celiac disease back in 2004). I was curious when I heard that many Swedish McDonald’s restaurants offer gluten-free Big Macs. I tried one at a busy kiosk in the city center on my first day in town, and I was impressed by the steps taken to avoid cross-contamination. And yes, the Big Mac tasted just the same as I remembered. (PS to McDonald’s: If you can manage this in Stockholm, why don’t you give it a try in some North American cities?)

Breaking the Language Barrier

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

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!

The Gluten-Free Guidebook Turns Five!

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!

The Next One to Fall

If you’ve followed this blog for any time at all, you know I’m not just a travel writer with celiac disease — I’m also an award-winning crime novelist! My second mystery, The Next One to Fall, is being released today in the U.S. and Canada. I’m thrilled to say the early reviews have been fantastic. According to Publishers Weekly, “The rich history and geography of Peru add depth to an engrossing mystery that constantly keeps the reader guessing.” Library Journal says, “Davidson’s follow-up to her Anthony Award-winning debut (The Damage Done) will leave you breathless.”

My book tour will take me to Houston (Feb. 17th), Austin (Feb. 18th), Scottsdale (Feb. 21st), Glendale AZ (Feb. 22nd), Huntington NY (Feb. 28), Hamilton ON (Mar. 7th), Toronto (Mar. 8th), Denver (Mar. 23rd), Los Angeles (Mar. 25th), San Diego (Mar. 26th), Thousand Oaks CA (Mar 28th), and San Francisco (Apr. 2nd). Here’s the complete schedule. If anyone has suggestions or recommendations for restaurants that serve good gluten-free meals in these cities, I’d love to hear them. Also, please come out to say hello if I visit your city!

By the way, if you’re in the New York City area, consider yourself invited to my launch party at The Mysterious Bookshop. That’s this Wednesday night, Feb. 15th, at 6:30pm. All are welcome!

One more thing: THE NEXT ONE TO FALL is set entirely in Peru, which I visited in the fall of 2007. It was that trip that convinced me to start the Gluten-Free Guidebook early in 2008. It’s amazing how much it influenced me. Peru still stands out in my mind as the most incredible place I’ve ever visited. Check out my slideshow to see some of the reasons why.

Lessons From the Road

I’m back from my book tour for THE DAMAGE DONE! The past couple of months have been a whirlwind. My debut novel came out on September 28th, and I had a party that night in New York City. Since then, I’ve attended two conferences (Bouchercon and Noircon), had bookstore and/or library events in a dozen cities (including Houston, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Pittsburgh and Toronto), and had six events in New York City alone. Also, I was writing my second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, which will be published by Forge in fall 2011 (I turned the manuscript in to my editor last Wednesday). There’s been a lot of work on the publicity front, too. This past weekend, I was honored to discover that the Los Angeles Times featured THE DAMAGE DONE as one the the books the paper is recommending for the holidays. Reviews of the book have been wonderful. There are also a number of interviews with me (many include coverage of the Gluten-Free Guidebook as well).

As tiring as it is to be on the road so much, there was a lot that was wonderful about it, too. I’ve had the chance to collect information about a lot of great restaurants, bakeries and shops, and I’ll be writing about those over the next few weeks. I also had the chance to meet some Gluten-Free Guidebook readers, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. Some observations from the last few weeks:

  • Phoenix/Scottsdale Is a Great Destination for Gluten-Free Foodies: I was expecting to find terrific Mexican cooking here (and I found it), but I didn’t realize just how diverse and sophisticated the dining scene is in Phoenix and Scottsdale. One tip-off: Phoenix Magazine, which had its “Best New Restaurants” issue on newsstands while I was in town; its list of hotspots included the Pomegranate Café ([address] 4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 28, Phoenix [tel] 480-706-7472 [web] www.pomegranatecafe.com), which offers vegetarian, vegan, and raw dishes. Not everything there is gluten-free (there are spelt tortillas, for example), but most of it is, including a decadent cheesecake.
  • People Are Very Kind: I was surprised, over and over again, by how thoughtful people were. Just after I arrived in San Francisco, a writer friend (Joshua Corin, author of WHILE GALILEO PREYS) sent me a message about a gluten-free bakery he’d found in the Ferry Building (the wonderful Mariposa Baking Co., which I’ll have more to say about later). Before I went to Los Angeles, another writer friend (Rebecca Cantrell, author of A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES) recommended a restaurant across the street from The Mystery Bookstore, where I was reading. A friend of a friend passed along recommendations for Houston. In Pittsburgh, the lovely couple that owns Mystery Lovers Bookshop researched gluten-free restaurants in the area so that they could take me out to dinner while I was in town. While I was in Phoenix/Scottsdale, I got to meet the lovely Liisa (who wrote a Reader Report about her trip to Hawaii a while back), and she gave me a list of very accommodating local restaurants.
  • Still, Never Travel Unprepared: My hotel in Houston, the Four Points Sheraton, left a lot to be desired. That was especially true on the food front. As one employee said to me, when I started to ask about gluten-free options: “What, do you want me to explain what’s in a steak to you?” I was very glad I had protein bars, pistachios, and fruit along with me.
  • Fast Food Chains Are Catching On: At Houston’s Hobby Airport, my only dining option turned out to be Wendy’s, which offers gluten-free salads. At Philadelphia’s Central Station, I was able to pick up dinner at Cosi. At Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, I was able to have dinner at Paradise Bakery Café. To tell the truth, the employees at each of these places didn’t know what gluten-free was and had to get a manager, but each turned out to have a list (in Cosi’s case, a giant binder) of nutritional information for people with food allergies or gluten intolerance.

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If you’d like to read THE DAMAGE DONE, the first three chapters are available for free online. The book is available from independent mystery booksellers across North America, as well as from IndieBoundAmazonBarnes & NobleBordersPowell’s, and — in Canada — Indigo/Chapters. Signed copies are available from The Mystery BookstoreMurder by the BookThe Poisoned Pen, and The Mysterious Bookshop.

On the [Book Tour] Road Again

I’ve finished the first part of my book tour for The Damage Done, with events in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Huntington Beach, CA. But I leave tomorrow for the next leg of it. Here’s where I’m headed:

Of the places I’m going, I know Toronto well, and I’m aware of many places I can get gluten-free meals in Philadelphia. But Houston and Scottsdale, I don’t. If anyone has any suggestions for where to eat while I’m in these places, please let me know!

Also, I’m incredibly grateful for the warm response my novel has received! The Damage Done has been praised as a “razor sharp mystery debut… a great portrait of sisterly love, despite a dysfunctional past, as well as a highly satisfying mystery” by Publishers Weekly, “a tale of nonstop action with a nice final twist” by Booklist, and “one of the best debuts I’ve read in years” by Jon Jordan of Crimespree Magazine. The Globe & Mail has also given it a great review. If you’re a mystery or thriller fan — or know someone who is — I hope you’ll check out the book!

Book Tour for The Damage Done

You’ve heard me mention my debut crime novel, The Damage Done. Today is the day that it’s released in the U.S. and in Canada! (If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I discovered it already on the shelves of the Barnes & Noble in Union Square on Friday night). The reviews have been terrific, with Publishers Weekly calling The Damage Done a “razor sharp mystery debut.” If you’d like to read the first three chapters, here’s an excerpt.

I’m touring extensively to promote the book. My stops include Pittsburgh (Oct. 2nd), Boston (Oct. 7th), San Francisco (Oct. 18th), Los Angeles (Oct 19th), Huntington Beach (Oct. 21st), Houston (Oct. 30th), Phoenix/Scottsdale (Nov. 2nd), and Philadelphia (Nov. 7th). Here’s the schedule of tour dates, which still has cities being added to it (including Austin and Toronto). Now I need your advice: can anyone recommend restaurants that serve good gluten-free meals in these cities? I would be grateful for any advice. And please come out to meet me when I visit your city!

I also have several events in New York City: tonight there’s a book party at Partners & Crime; on Oct. 11th, there’s a reading at McNally Jackson; and on Oct. 12th, I’m speaking on a panel at NYU about how to get a book deal. All of these events are free and open to the public. I hope to meet many of you in person this fall!

Accessing the Archives

Lately I’ve been getting e-mails from people who’ve recently discovered the Gluten-Free Guidebook. That’s always welcome, but some of these messages have been a little… odd. One asked for information about restaurants in Turkey. Another asked specifically about Istanbul. Another about Barcelona. Yet another wanted restaurant suggestions for New York City. In each case, I stared at the e-mail, wondering why the person had bothered to write to me when the information they were looking for was available on the site. It’s not as if I keep a secret cache of restaurant names. If I know about a place, it’s almost certainly on the site. Then I got an e-mail praising the site, but adding that it would be even better if there were a search box.

I was baffled. There is a search box. It’s right above the tag cloud. You know, the one filled with place names — like Turkey and Spain and New York City — that help people quickly locate what they’re looking for.

But it hit me suddenly that people are having trouble finding what they need on the site. There’s so much information packed into it, that it can make a specific restaurant harder to find — especially if English isn’t your first language.

So, to make the Gluten-Free Guidebook easier to search, I’ve restructured the sidebar that runs down the right side of the page. The search box has been moved up, so that it’s immediately visible when you open the homepage. Underneath it is the tag cloud, which has the names of places (such as Istanbul, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Toronto, and New York), that have been featured on the site frequently. But the tag cloud isn’t all-inclusive. To find information about a city that doesn’t appear in the tag cloud, such as Barcelona, just type it into the search box. All posts that include Barcelona will come up in your search.

There are more than two years of posts on the site, and I hope that these changes will make it easier to access all of that information. If it doesn’t come up in the search box, it’s not on the site.

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After my last post, about why the Reader Report Contest needs more entries, I received a couple more. That’s great, particularly because all of the entries I’ve received at this point are about places that haven’t been featured on the site before. I’m grateful to the people who’ve written them for sharing such helpful information. But most of the people reading this post still haven’t entered. The deadline is June 30, 2010. The guidelines are here. Wherever you are, I look forward to reading your Reader Reports.