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!

Dining With Conviction in Toronto

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Last week I wrote about how I ended up at a (wonderful) Turkish tourist trap. This week, I’m fessing up about falling for a gimmick. Not just any gimmick, mind you. There’s a short list of chefs whom I admire and will follow to whatever new venture they dream up. Toronto’s Marc Thuet is on that list. I’ve dined — gluten-free — at his various restaurants over the past few years. That’s how I ended up at Conviction.

What’s the gimmick? The name provides a clue: all of the kitchen crew and serving staff at Conviction have served time in jail. The concept is so cute that there’s a reality show being filmed about the restaurant. A sign out front warns that entering the restaurant implies a willingness to appear on-camera. (In fairness, I should add that filming was going on while I was there, but the TV crew wasn’t intrusive at all.) Still, dining at a place that boasts about the illicit pasts of its staff raises a few eyebrows — and questions. My practical friend Stephanie, who suggested checking out the restaurant, texted me before we met there: “Bring cash. We are NOT paying with credit cards!”

There are a few things you can count on at any Marc Thuet restaurant. One is a charming setting; two is impressive service; and three is fine food. All three are in evidence at Conviction. The dining room is an airy white atelier enlivened by red chairs, crimson flowers, and scarlet chandeliers. Service is thoughtful and helpful; while my server didn’t seem to be familiar with celiac disease, it took only a few minutes to coordinate with the kitchen about what I could have for dinner. The food was fantastic: I started with a simple green salad made special with the addition of a well-aged sheep’s milk cheese, and then had Ontario-raised lamb with ratatouille. The menu is short, but everything on it is farm-fresh, or made from scratch on the premises.

I’ve suggested the restaurant to a few people since, and have heard only good reports. I’m gaining confidence in Conviction. The next time I dine there, I may even pay with a credit card.

Conviction [address] 609 King Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada [tel] 416-603-2999 [web] www.convictionrestaurant.com

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Some fiction news: My short story “Insatiable” was published by the online journal Beat to a Pulp. BTAP’s editor, David Cranmer, interviewed me, and asked me about the Gluten-Free Guidebook, among other things. Also, my story “Beast” just took first prize in a crime fiction contest called the Watery Grave Invitational.

Reader Reports: Gluten-Free Paris and More

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I often get questions from readers looking for recommendations about where to dine gluten-free in destinations that I haven’t visited (or, at least, haven’t visited since being diagnosed with celiac disease). I make the same suggestion to all of them, which is to check out the Gluten-Free Guidebook Group on Facebook. The great thing about this group is that it has a discussion board where people can ask questions and share recommendations. I’ve been impressed by how helpful people are, and I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed their time to the group.

One popular destination that people often ask about is Paris, a place I haven’t visited in the past five years. Fortunately, reader Ellen Maycock has, and she shared her very helpful suggestions with the Facebook group. She was enthusiastic about one Parisian restaurant in particular:

I’m just back from Paris. I highly recommend a totally GF restaurant, in Montmartre! It is Des Si et des Mets, located at 63, rue Lepic in the 18th. Metro stops Abesses or Blanche, phone 01.42.55.19.61. I had two excellent meals there. What a treat to be able to order *anything* from the menu! Our waitress one evening said she was a celiac. I don’t know if they speak English, but they were extremely friendly. (You might want to bring a small dictionary to translate the menu.) The *entire* restaurant is gluten-free, so you don’t need to worry about cross-contamination. The prices are moderate for Paris — you can get a very nice 3-course meal for 26 euros.

Ellen also had some helpful general recommendations for celiacs who visit Paris:

If you have any cooking facilities, you’ll be in good shape. There’s a great organic market every Sunday morning on the Blvd. Raspail. I found GF items in the Monoprix (major grocery chain), and in some health food stores. I was told about good bread in Naturalia, but didn’t try any.

I was anxious about dealing with GF in Paris — my first trip there after my diagnosis in January — but I felt very well (better than in the States).

Other readers have written recently to share their gluten-free discoveries. One couple, Lynne and Ernie, passed along a terrific recommendation for the Niagara region:

Cafe Amore (211 Martindale Road in St. Catharines, Ontario) is our favorite restaurant. They have rice pasta and all the sauces are gluten-free. They have gluten-free desserts and amazing dinner rolls. They are all very aware of cross-contamination issues and are more than helpful when it comes to ordering a safe gluten-free meal. This is a place that is worth spending time at while visiting the Niagara area.

Another reader, Nadine, wrote to share a couple of discoveries she’d made:

I have a recommendation for a restaurant in La Jolla, California: George’s at the Cove. I had a fish taco that was out of this world delicious. It was one of the restaurant’s specialties and my server told me it was gluten-free. Also, there is a bakery in the small town of Bristol, New Hampshire: Cornucopia Catering and Bakery. It bakes gluten-free breads and pastries. It’s the only bakery for miles and their products are worth the trip. I’ve had their cinnamon buns and a pecan bread, which were fantastic.

One more recommendation came from my friend Danyael Halprin, a journalist who lives in Calgary. She told me about a dedicated gluten-free restaurant called A Tasty Menu. Its offerings include plenty for vegans and vegetarians, and the lactose intolerant. There’s also a special menu for kids.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has contributed suggestions and recommendations. Please keep them coming!

A Dedicated Gluten-Free Ontario Bakery

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A while back, I wrote about the impressive array of gluten-free groceries at the Specialty Food Shop at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. The store isn’t just for celiacs, and not all of its products are gluten-free. But located in its aisles are gluten-free North American brands such as Glutino, Mi-Del, Enjoy Life, and Kinnikinnick, and international ones such as Australia’s Orgran and Germany’s Glutano. There are plenty of treats — cookies of all descriptions, ice-cream cones, snack bars — as well as healthier fare, including pastas, cereals, breads, soup bases and mixes, baking products, and frozen dinners.

The Specialty Food Shop introduced me to a Canadian bakery that I’d never heard of before, but a taste of El Peto‘s unbelievably delicious butter tarts made me want to get to know them better. Founded in 1988, the company is a Swiss-style bakery and a dedicated gluten-free facility. Since El Peto is located in Cambridge, Ontario — about an hour’s drive west of Toronto, close to the charming theater town of Stratford — I decided to visit the last time I was in the area.

El Peto is “free” of so many ingredients, I started to wonder what they do bake with. It’s not only entirely wheat-free and gluten-free, it also offers corn-free, yeast-free, milk-free, egg-free, peanut-free and trans fat-free foods. Their product range includes breads and pizza crusts, muffins and pies, hot and cold cereals, cake mixes and cookies, and their own milled flours, made with ingredients such as romano beans, chickpeas, quinoa, potato, and brown rice. Their company store also stocks gluten-free products from other manufacturers, such as pastas from Tinkyada and Gogo Quinoa (a Bolivian fair-trade company), waffle ice-cream cones and wafers from Barkat, and soup cubes from Celifibr.

Then there are, of course, El Peto’s wonderful butter tarts. It turns out that other types of tarts are also available — pecan, lemon, raspberry — and that there are unfilled tart shells, too. El Peto’s prices are reasonable, but the best news is that you don’t need to visit to shop there. You can order via the online store. El Peto’s products are also turning up more frequently in mainstream grocery stores — those butter tarts can now be found at the Loblaws Superstore in Toronto, along with breads, rolls, and mixes.

El Peto [address] 65 Saltsman Drive, Cambridge, Ontario [tel] 800-387-4064 or 519-650-4614 [fax] 519-650-5692 [web] www.elpeto.com

Dining at the Royal Ontario Museum’s C5

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I have mixed feelings about the Royal Ontario Museum‘s redesigned building. From Bloor Street West, Daniel Libeskind’s crystal is aggressively fabulous. It’s an übermodern work of jutting glass and steel, and you can’t miss it, even from a mile away. The interior of the crystal is another story. In spite of its towering ceilings, it lacks the grandeur of the façade and resembles a whitewashed warehouse. This is not to say that the collections aren’t breathtaking. I particularly love the Chinese galleries, which feature an intact Ming tomb as well as the Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art. The ROM also has wonderful galleries devoted to ancient Egypt and Greece, and its perennially popular dinosaur collection. But the building is disappointing on the inside.

The exception is C5, the Royal Ontario Museum’s beautiful restaurant, which is located on the crystal’s top level. Here the skylights and criss-crossing window segments provide a gorgeous view of the city. The dining room is modern chic: white leather banquettes and chairs for dining, black leather sofas and wing chairs for drinks, and an open kitchen that knows how to pair flavors for maximum impact. This is where I had my most memorable meal on my last visit to Toronto: fresh cod, grilled to perfection and served with a lentil-and-vegetable salad and a tangy mustard sauce. The menu is short, but everything on it is prepared from scratch, and the staff is familiar with celiac disease and food allergies.

Keep in mind, if you visit, that you don’t need to pay admission to the museum to dine here (though I strongly recommend that you visit the collections). Just tell the staff that you’re going to C5, and they’ll point you to an elevator that will whisk you upstairs.

C5 at the Royal Ontario Museum [address] 100 Queen’s Park (at Bloor Street West), Toronto [tel] 416-586-7928 [web] www.C5restaurant.ca

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.

Conference Dining for Celiacs

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I just spent four days at the ThrillerFest conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York. If you’re a fan of mysteries, crime novels, or thrillers — or if you aspire to write them — you may have heard of it. Best-selling writers such as Lee Child, Steve Martini, Lisa Gardner, David Baldacci and Meg Gardiner all spoke at the event (along with many others). It was a fascinating scene.

And yet, what I was really thinking about was lunch.

When I registered for the conference a couple of months ago, there was a place on the online form to add any special notes. I mentioned that I have celiac disease, and that I would need a gluten-free meal for the luncheon on Thursday (other meals weren’t included in the conference, so this was the only one I needed to arrange in advance). I didn’t really expect to hear anything back from the organizers, so 10 days before the conference, I e-mailed them. I told them what I needed, and asked them how I would go about arranging it. They responded promptly and assured me that they would look into it. And so I waited… and waited.

After a couple of reminder e-mails, I got a message from one of the organizers. This is what it said:

I never got an answer back on my question about this. What we have done in past years for the banquet is that you tell your waiter your special requirements when you are seated. If I learn something different, I’ll let you know.

At this, alarm bells went off for me. While a restaurant can come up with a gluten-free meal with no notice, it’s tougher at a catered event. My worst experience on this front was at a conference I attended in Chicago five years ago, just after I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I’d told the organizer what I could and couldn’t have, and she told me I’d be fine. Then, at dinner the first night, I discovered that our meal consisted mainly of pizza. When I cornered the organizer, she was indifferent. “You can eat the toppings on the pizza,” she told me. “You don’t have to eat the crust.”

That was an eye-opener for me. And however ill-informed that conference organizer was, she forced me to realize that even when you explain to someone else what celiac disease is and what you need to avoid, they may not take it as seriously as you do. It was an important lesson.

In the end, my luncheon problem was easily solved, because I got in touch with the catering staff at the Hyatt directly. As with every Hyatt property I’ve visited — from Toronto, Canada to Santiago, Chile — they assured me that it would be no problem to get a gluten-free meal ready for me. And they meant it: I was served a main course of chicken with steamed broccoli and carrots. (Several people I’ve interviewed, including Alice Bast and Vanessa Maltin, have mentioned how helpful and accommodating Hyatt is on the gluten-free front.) But it reminded me that sometimes you really do have to take matters into your own hands.

Luxurious Gluten-Free Dining for Less

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One of my favorite things about my job is that I get to discover and review wonderful places. I was just up in Toronto for my annual Frommer’s guidebook, and I’m happy to report that I found plenty of things worth writing about (including the amazing Frank Gehry renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario — the photo above is of his spiraling showpiece of a staircase). Given the state of the economy, I focused on finding places that are particularly good value for the money. One of the things that’s bothered me over the past few years is that the prices at some restaurants have veered off into the stratosphere; last year, it seemed like many of the new spots that opened were charging upwards of $40 for an entrée. You could argue whether that’s a good idea at any time, but in a recession it just seems wrong.

That’s one of the reasons why I was so happy to discover Madeline’s. Toronto has plenty of famous chefs, but one of the most celebrated is Susur Lee. He closed his flagship Toronto restaurant, Susur, when he moved to New York to open a new restaurant in the Thompson Hotel. However, he promised that he’d replace it with another spot, and Madeline’s is the result. Named for the chef’s mother, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful spot, with a glamorous dining room decorated in a mix of Moroccan, French and Byzantine styles. But the shocker was the menu: almost every entrée is under $20. Coming from one of the most renowned chefs in the city, that’s something unusual. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be any trade-off with the quality of the food (incredible) or the service (outstanding). Why aren’t more chefs doing this? (I should note that the fabulous Jamie Kennedy, another Toronto star chef, has been offering excellent tapas plates at very reasonable prices for some time now; I reviewed the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar last year.)

There were a few things I couldn’t have on Madeline’s menu, but the staff was savvy about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, and had no problem pointing out what would be safe for me. I ended up starting with a portobello mushroom salad that was dressed up with sweet onions, capers, and a poppy vinaigrette. For the main course, I had bison carpaccio with potatoes, chives, garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I passed up dessert (not many gluten-free options there), but went home satisfied — and excited about spreading the word. It’s still an indulgence, but one that felt well worth it.

Madeline’s [address] 601 King Street West (at Portland Street), Toronto [tel] 416-603-2205 [web] www.susur.com/madelines

Roundup: Gluten-Free Advice From Readers

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I was thrilled by the response to last week’s post, “Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Eaton Centre.” Thanks to everyone who took the time to e-mail me or to comment. Many readers passed along their own suggestions of where to find gluten-free meals, and I wanted to share those ideas with you.

One reader, Chelsea, e-mailed me about some Toronto spots that she likes:

Have you checked out Fressen in Toronto? It is a very trendy vegan restaurant that also has a lot of wheat-free options (not fast-food but perhaps you would want to try it, if you haven’t already!). I also like Rice Bar in Kensington Market (also not fast food, but fairly cheap/fast). Also, there is a new wheat-free (and I think gluten-free) bakery on Yonge Street near Lawrence, called Organic Oven. So far I’ve only had a rice-made cupcake from there, but it was very good!

I’ve tried both Fressen and Rice and think they’re great, but I’d never heard of Organic Oven. It turns out that it’s a bakery that’s been operating for the past seven years in Brampton, and which has just opened a completely gluten-free bakery and café on Yonge Street, just north of Lawrence. Organic Oven uses certified organic ingredients, and also produces treats that are vegan, dairy-free, eggless, flourless, low-glycemic and/or diabetic-friendly. I’m looking forward to visiting it the next time I’m in Toronto.

Another reader, Marilyn, shared a couple of spots:

We’ve eaten gluten-free often @ the Salad King just north of the Eaton Centre on the east side of Yonge. It’s very informal & busy but good, cheap, cheerful & we’ve found the servers to be GF-aware… also we’ve stopped for pizza with the GF crust at the Pizza Pizza at 346 Yonge St — though it takes at least 20 minutes for the special order crust.

I’m fond of Pizza Pizza’s gluten-free offerings (which I’ve written about; I should remind everyone that many of their toppings are gluten-free, but not all of them are). I haven’t tried Salad King, so I’ve added it to my list of places to visit next time.

Another reader, Tom, told me about Portions, a company based in Guelph, Ontario, that is apparently the place to get gluten-free baked goods. Portions’ website lists its GF bread-baking schedule, which includes Cinnamon Raisin Loaf and Caraway Pumpernickel Loaf. I don’t know when I’ll next be in Guelph, but now I have a reason to visit soon.

Thanks again to Chelsea, Marilyn, and Tom, and to everyone who has taken the time to contact me or to comment. Please keep the great ideas and suggestions coming! Just before I left Toronto, I had lunch at Epic, a gorgeous restaurant at the Fairmont Royal York (pictured above) — another spot with some great gluten-free options.

Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Eaton Centre

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Last week I met a fellow celiac who asked me what foods I missed the most since going on the gluten-free diet more than five years ago. I had to admit that there’s no one specific thing that I crave. As far as I’m concerned, the major food groups are comprised of chocolate, cheese, fresh fruit, and wine, and being diagnosed with celiac disease hasn’t stopped me from enjoying them (though it has limited my selection of chocolate, since some brands — such as Lindt — are made with malt). I’ve found gluten-free pizza, pasta, croissants, and even butter tarts. But there is one thing I miss, and that’s convenience.

Most people take for granted that if they’re out for hours — or stranded at an airport — they can find a quick meal somewhere. The gluten-intolerant don’t always have that luxury. Last week, when a business lunch in Toronto was cancelled at the last minute, I decided to explore the options. Since I was close to the Eaton Centre, Toronto’s famous shopping complex, I headed there. The news was better than I expected, and I found a few spots that could work for people with celiac disease as well as those with food allergies.

  • Freshii: The beauty of the construct-your-own-meal concept is that it’s usually easier to avoid the trouble spots. Freshii offers salads as well as rice bowls (made with brown rice) and rice-noodle bases, to which you can add fresh, unseasoned ingredients.
  • New York Fries: This Canadian chain serves up fries and only fries, so there’s no chance of cross-contamination in their fryers (an issue that can be a problem at some of the most famous fast-food chains). The fries are cooked in trans-fat-free sunflower oil. One catch: while the fries are gluten-free, some of the seasonings and sauces are not.
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill: Well-known in the U.S. for its gluten-free options, Chipotle is a relatively new player on the Toronto fast-food scene. There are several options for celiacs, and the chain is allergy-aware, too. Take a look at the company’s allergen information, a chart that shows which ingredients contain wheat, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy, as well as gluten. Chipotle is located across the street from the Eaton Centre in Toronto Life Square ([address] 323 Yonge St., Toronto [tel] 416-596-8600).

Does anyone have a go-to spot for when they need a quick, easy gluten-free meal? (Healthy would be great, too, but I know you can’t always have everything!)