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!

Scottsdale Is Delicious

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

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

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

Cleveland Rocks!

Last month, I was in Cleveland, Ohio, for Bouchercon, the massive, magnificent crime-fiction conference that takes place in a different North American city every autumn. It was my first visit to the town known as both The Rock ‘n’ Roll Capital of the World (thanks to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was a joy to visit) and The Forest City (a truly apt name — from the plane, Cleveland looked like a forest with gorgeous buildings nestled under the foliage).

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect on the food front, so I was thrilled to discover that gluten-free awareness has hit Cleveland big-time. One restaurant that absolutely wowed me was Lola Bistro, which fans of “Iron Chef” may already have heard of; I don’t watch the show, so the name Michael Symon didn’t mean anything to me. Fortunately, I was hanging out with better-informed people! My friend Katrina Niidas Holm (whose husband is terrific crime novelist Chris F. Holm) is an “Iron Chef” aficionada, and she sussed out the spot and made reservations.

Lola Bistro has very low lighting, so it took a little while for my eyes to adjust and pick out the “GF” notation next to many, many dishes on the menu. (Unfortunately, this isn’t reflected on the version of the menu that’s currently online, but — trust me — there are plenty of gluten-free choices.) I had the root vegetable salad with feta, red onion, dill, Marcona almonds, and mint, followed by the smoked Hampshire pork chop accompanied by a decadently cheesy polenta. You’d better believe Michael Symon is now firmly on my radar.

Lola Bistro [address] 2058 East 4th Street, Cleveland, Ohio [tel]  216-621-5652 [web] lolabistro.com

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News on the crime-fiction front: I was at Bouchercon to talk about my second novel, The Next One to Fall, a thriller set in Peru. It’s out now as a hardcover and an e-book; in February 2013, it will be released in paperback. On March 5, 2013, my third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, will be released by Tor/Forge in the United States and Canada. Want to win an advance copy? There are 10 up for grabs over at GoodReads. Enter the giveaway now.

On Tour in Beautiful British Columbia, Part 2

Last week, I told you about a few of the restaurants I found while I was on a book tour of British Columbia earlier this summer. Here are some more spots I discovered while I was out west. All of them take excellent care of their gluten-free guests!

Sylvia Hotel: This 1912 landmark couldn’t have a more stunning location: it’s nestled next to Vancouver’s gorgeous Stanley Park in English Bay. Its dining room is a perfect mix of formal (wood paneling, low light, and a medieval-looking wrought-iron gate) and casual (cozy seating, friendly service). Even better: the menu is annotated with gluten-free options. Choices include starters such as mussels in a spicy broth; salads like a classic Cobb; and main courses of bean ragout, slow-braised short ribs with potatoes, and crispy salmon with a citrus vinaigrette. [address] 1154 Gilford Street, Vancouver, BC [tel] 604-681-9321

Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant: Normally, I’m leery of restaurants in places as scenic as Richmond’s Steveston Village; after all, the view is such a phenomenal draw that the kitchens don’t have to work hard to lure you in. But the waterfront setting of the Blue Canoe is just one facet of its charm. The staff is celiac-aware and willing to modify most plates (I had the pan-roasted pork chop, which I highly recommend). There’s also a wine list featuring an excellent selection of locally produced vintages that are available by the glass. [address] 3866 Bayview Street, Richmond, BC, V7E 4R7; [tel] 604-275-7811

Yew Restaurant: One of the distinct pleasures of my week in B.C. was catching up with my longtime friend Mika Ryan. We met for lunch before my event at the Chapters store at Robson & Howe, and she took me to the Yew Restaurant at the Four Seasons. It’s a spectacular spot with towering 40-foot ceilings. Still, as impressive as the digs are, my main memories are of great conversation, thoughtful service, and excellent food. Many items on the menu can be prepared in a gluten-free version, such as the wonderful seared Haida Gwaii halibut (complete with lemon, spinach, crème fraiche, spring peas & pickled heirloom carrots). Sadly, I didn’t have room for gluten-free “Quinoa Passion” dessert (panna cotta with passion fruit scented red quinoa plus fresh blueberries and mint). Next time! (PS to vegan friends: the restaurant has plenty of options — and distinct menus — for you.) [address] In the Four Seasons Hotel, 791 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC, V6C 2T4; [tel] 604-692-4939

On Tour in Beautiful British Columbia, Part 1

Last month, I spent a week on a book tour of British Columbia’s lower mainland with three fellow crime writers: Robin Spano, Deryn Collier and Ian Hamilton. We had a couple of events in Vancouver, as well as readings in Burnaby, Richmond, and Squamish. While we were there, we were interviewed for CBC-Radio’s Sunday Edition (you can hear the podcast online). The combination of friendship and fun that week made for wonderful times. Truth be told, so did the food.

Whenever I visit the West Coast — in the US and in Canada — I feel that there’s a solid awareness of food allergies and intolerances. I know that’s not necessarily true everywhere, but it was certainly my experience in BC. Here are some of the restaurants that impressed me:

The Watershed Grill: Situated on the banks of the Squamish River, this low-key, casual spot is accommodating and celiac-savvy (I visited twice, and on each trip, a different staff member went over the menu with me, explaining what I could have and what modifications they could make). The food is simply prepared with very fresh ingredients. Let me recommend the Watershed Salad, a combination of greens, chicken, cranberries, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, carrots and cucumber in a balsamic vinaigrette. [address] 41101 Government Road, Brackendale, BC, V0N 1H0; [tel] 604-898-6665

Olive & Anchor: There’s something wonderful about walking into a restaurant, asking the staff about gluten-free options, and being told that there’s actually a gluten-free menu. That’s what happened to me at this elegant restaurant on Horseshoe Bay. Celiac-safe choices include oysters, grilled chicken, and steak, but since this is a spot renowned for its seafood, I went with the (excellent) snapper. [address] 6418 Bay Street, West Vancouver, BC; [tel] 604-921-8848

Cats Social House: Located on Granville Island (which was gorgeous, even in the rain), this is a lovely spot with a long cocktail list. I didn’t get to try any of the drinks (I was there for lunch), but I did enjoy the gluten-free pad thai. [address] 1540 Old Bridge Street, Vancouver, BC, V6H 3S6; [tel] 604-647-2287

When “Gluten Free” Means “Danger”

By now, you’ve probably heard that Domino’s rolled out a gluten-free pizza a couple of weeks ago. It was a clever marketing ploy, since May is Celiac Awareness Month, and the demand for gluten-free products is growing; the new pizza crust was covered by news organizations including ABC, CBS, NBC and USA Today. Unfortunately, Domino’s move was nothing but a cynical attempt to cash in on gluten-free consumers. Its “gluten free” pizza isn’t actually safe for celiacs or gluten-intolerant people.

If you want to read an account of the debacle, check out these articles from The Consumerist and Nation’s Restaurant News, and this particularly perceptive piece from Daily Finance. At the core of Domino’s problem is that, while they developed a pizza crust that is gluten-free, the company’s sketchy kitchen practices mean that cross-contamination with wheat is pretty much a given. As a result, Domino’s claims the pizza is for people with “mild gluten sensitivity.” Yes, you read that right. Even Daily Finance was stunned: “Seriously? Is this a tease? Why even offer gluten-free crusts without reorienting kitchens to cook them separately from crusts slathered in flour and wheat dough — exactly the ingredients that keep most celiac sufferers from even thinking about ordering a pizza? No wonder the Center for Celiac Research is recommending that those with gluten-related disorders avoid the new Domino’s crusts.”

This isn’t the first time a national chain has marketed a “gluten-free” product that was unsafe — remember California Pizza Kitchen? But to me, the most disheartening part of the Domino’s story is that its gluten-free pizza received a seal of approval from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Specifically, Domino’s received something called an “Amber designation” from the NFCA. What’s an Amber designation? It’s a bizarre middle ground between Green (safe) and Red (unsafe) in the tiered credentialing system the NFCA launched in April 2012. Basically, it means that the NFCA was well aware that Domino’s “gluten-free” pizza wasn’t safe for celiacs, but the organization gave it a seal of approval anyway.

I’d be the first to say that the NFCA has done good work in the past. The organization has a terrific program to educate restaurant staffs about celiac-safe practices. But I will never again be able to look at anything that has received the NFCA’s seal of approval without suspicion. I trusted that an NFCA seal of approval meant a restaurant or product was safe for celiacs; I will never make that mistake again.

Thanks to a tremendous outcry from the celiac and gluten-free community (people like Shirley at GFE) — and a petition organized by the terrific people behind @1in133 — the NFCA has suspended use of its Amber Designation. In its public statement, the NFCA said: “Given the public response and recent developments in this field, NFCA is suspending the use of “Amber” designation to describe a restaurant or foodservices establishment. We will conduct a review to determine the most effective and clearest way to warn the community of the risk of cross-contamination and the use of the phrase ‘Gluten Free.'”

A big part of the problem is that, in the US, there is still no official designation of what gluten free means (the FDA is still working on that). The implications are frightening; to quote the American Celiac Disease Alliance: “Almost everyone with celiac disease or a related gluten-disorder knows that currently there are no gluten free labeling requirements in the United States, and that consumers are routinely misled by inappropriate labeling.”

It seems that Domino’s, and the NFCA, are determined to keep on misleading consumers. When I checked Domino’s updated FAQs about its “gluten-free” pizza after it lost its NFCA “Amber” designation, here’s what I found:

Q: What are the NFCA’s “Great Kitchen Standards” and how is Domino’s rated?

A: The NFCA supports Domino’s efforts to provide a Gluten Free Crust to a national audience and has given Domino’s a “Gluten Free Ingredients” rating. The NFCA granted Domino’s this rating because of our verified ingredients, consumer education approach and customer service training. This means the NFCA and Domino’s do not recommend this pizza for people with celiac disease. However, because the risk for gluten exposure is low, this product may be an option for those with mild gluten sensitivities. While the Gluten Free Crust contains no gluten ingredients, a risk of gluten exposure can occur due to the handcrafted nature of the pizza and the variety of procedures in the kitchen.

I searched the NFCA’s website to find out what a “Gluten Free Ingredients” rating is, and I couldn’t find any mention of it. However, I did find this NFCA statement about Domino’s:

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness supports Domino’s efforts to meet the needs of the gluten-free community. However, we want to make sure all customers are fully informed about Domino’s practices and the potential risks of cross-contact.

Please be advised all of Domino’s menu items, including pizza made with Gluten Free Crust, are prepared in a common kitchen. While the Gluten Free Crust contains no gluten ingredients, there is a risk of gluten exposure. NFCA supports the availability of Gluten Free Crust at Domino’s, but CANNOT recommend the pizza for customers with celiac disease or any gluten-related disorder.

Working with NFCA, Domino’s recognizes its current operational model cannot – beyond all doubt – provide the environment needed to assure those with celiac disease that its pizzas are 100% gluten-free. Domino’s would rather be honest and transparent with what this product is and is not, than risk a consumer ordering this product under false pretenses.

“Honest and transparent” is not at all what I’d call this mess. Not by a long shot.

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!)

On the Road — Again

My second mystery novel, The Next One to Fall, came out on Valentine’s Day, and I’ve been on the road for my book tour almost constantly since then. That’s good news, because I’ve been visiting terrific bookstores, meeting wonderful people, and discovering some great restaurants with gluten-free menus. But I’ve been editing my third novel at the same time, so I’ve had little time to report back (yet) on what I’ve found.

Yesterday, I spoke at Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, California, which I highly recommend checking out if you’re in the area. Afterwards, my friend Anissa suggested a place called Hugo’s Restaurant for dinner. Hugo’s has been around for some time in Studio City and West Hollywood, but its location in Agoura just opened.

The menu at Hugo’s is overwhelming because there are so many gluten-free options. Many choices are naturally gluten-free, while some require modification. The kitchen is well aware of cross-contamination issues and isolates products that contain gluten from those that don’t (they have a similar policy regarding animal products, since many of Hugo’s offerings are vegan or vegetarian).

I had a Caesar salad and a tortilla-encrusted chicken breast with a black-bean salsa (all of it delicious). The menu made me wish I could stay longer. The gluten-free options start with breakfast items — such as pineapple-coconut pancakes — and include sandwiches, salads, soups, and a wide variety of Mexican- and Indian-inspired main courses.

Reading at a terrific store like Mysteries to Die For, followed by dinner with friends at a great restaurant? It doesn’t get better than this. Next stop: Sacramento for the Left Coast Crime conference, then an event at Book Passage in San Francisco on April 2nd and with Mystery Readers International in Berkeley on April 3rd!