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.

Philadelphia’s Great Gluten-Free Initiative

When you’re deciding where to go out for dinner — whether in your hometown or while traveling — what helps you choose a restaurant? There are a few terrific resources for the gluten intolerant, such as the international restaurant listings offered by Celiac Handbook and the American listings from the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program. There’s also Gluten-Free Maps, a site I discovered recently via Twitter. You might read blogs that are devoted to dealing with celiac disease. But there normally aren’t many mainstream sources that can help the gluten-averse.

That’s why I was so excited to hear about Philadelphia’s amazing initiative. Recently 28 restaurants in and around the city worked with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to complete its Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) program. This NFCA program trains restaurants in everything they need to know about preparing celiac-safe food, including issues such as avoiding cross-contamination and answering diners’ questions and concerns.

The list of participating Philadelphia restaurants is impressive. None of them is entirely gluten free, but a few can boast that a majority of menu items are safe for celiacs (at Distrito, a Mexican hotspot, 90% of the choices are gluten-free). The restaurants are a diverse bunch: there’s Italian (Vetri), Indian (Bindi), tapas (Bar Ferdinand), French (Cochon), and seafood (Little Fish), to name a few. The list includes high-end spots (such as The Palm, an elegant steakhouse), and affordable ones (like the Ugly American). When dining at one of the participating restaurants, it’s still a good idea to let the staff know in advance that you are gluten-intolerant, but once you’re at your table you should be able to relax and enjoy. Not many of the restaurants mention their gluten-free offerings on their own websites; hopefully they’ll update this soon (the Ugly American already has its gluten-free menu online; a few others, such as Cochon, mention that they can accommodate gluten-free diets).

It’s exciting that so many Philadelphia eateries would participate in the GREAT program. I’m also impressed with the fact that the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation is playing an important role in promoting this initiative. The tourism office is showcasing the city’s gluten-free offerings on its website; visitors can read about the restaurants, map their locations, and check out what attractions are nearby. It’s a smart and savvy move, and I wonder how long it will take other cities to catch up.

For more information about gluten-free dining in Philly, visit www.gophila.com/glutenfree.

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I mentioned above that I’d found a new resource via Twitter. I joined a couple of weeks ago, and I’m finding it valuable. If you’re on Twitter, I hope you’ll follow me there at http://twitter.com/hilarydavidson or @hilarydavidson.

The Gluten-Free Guidebook’s First Year

On March 15th, the Gluten-Free Guidebook marked its first anniversary. I’m proud of what’s been created here in the past year. There’s a rich archive of reports about restaurants, hotels, and shops in countries such as Spain, Peru, and Turkey; there’s also plenty of food for thought about dining in North America, from Toronto to San Francisco. Readers have shared information about their travels (and hometowns), making it easier for anyone who follows in their footsteps. (If you’re planning to visit Buenos Aires, Las Vegas, Amman, or Hawaii, read these reports first.) Gluten-free gurus Shauna James Ahern and Vanessa Maltin have let us in on some of their favorite finds on the road. We have a Facebook group to make it easier for readers to connect. I wanted to share a few important things that I’ve learned from writing this blog over the past year:

  1. Never be shy about asking for help: There are so many groups and individuals who are ready — even eager — to help navigate the gluten minefield that travelers face. Before going to a new city or country, locate a celiac awareness group for the area (you’ll find them via Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site and the Association of European Coeliac Societies). Even if the information they have on their website isn’t in your language, e-mail them for advice. If they can, they will help you out.
  2. Trust, but verify: Asking whether a dish has gluten in it is is sometimes not enough. Restaurant staff might forget — or not realize — that a dish has a little flour in it. I’ve run into this problem at home in New York as well as on the road. When in doubt, I ask the staff to tell me what ingredients are in the dish. At one very swanky French bistro in Manhattan, the restaurant manager was stunned when the chef told her that there was wheat flour in almost everything. That same manager had assured me that most of their dishes were safe for me just a few minutes earlier.
  3. Always have celiac information cards handy: I know that people have different preferences as to which cards to use (there are several free options, which you can read about in this post; I like the ones from Celiac Travel). These make travel so much easier — and safer — for celiacs. Be sure to print extra cards, since some invariably get stained or destroyed as you travel. Having extras means you can hand them out to other travelers, too. When I was at a remote lodge in Peru’s Colca Canyon, I met a woman from South Africa whose sister has celiac disease, and she was thrilled to be able to take the card (and the name of the site it was from) back to her.
  4. Have a backup plan: Travel is all about the spirit of adventure — trying new things, discovering new tastes, seeing places you dreamed about. Having celiac disease doesn’t bar you from any of that, but it means you always need to keep the worst-case scenario in mind, because you may find yourself stuck in transit with no gluten-free options available to you. This happened to me on the train from Machu Picchu to Cusco. It was a four-hour ride after a long day of exploring (I’d gotten up before dawn so I could watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu). There was food available for sale on the train — a choice of sandwiches. Fortunately I had gluten-free protein bars and trail mix to tide me over.

Please keep your gluten-free tips and reports coming. I’m excited to see what the next year will bring.

Dining Gluten-Free With Friends in Istanbul

Last weekend I spent some time with a friend I haven’t seen in months. While we were catching up, she asked about my trip to Turkey last November. I told her about the astonishing ancient cities I saw — Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Hierapolis, Pergamum — and about the beauty and history of Istanbul. But I found myself talking even more about Oya Özden and her family.

Oya is the founder of the Living With Celiac Association of Turkey. I contacted her organization before my trip, and she e-mailed 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 (which you can read in this post). While I was in Selçuk, she e-mailed me to ask where I was staying in Istanbul. I told her it was the Erguvan, a boutique hotel in the Sultanahmet district that’s a short walk from Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The next day, Oya e-mailed to say that she had contacted the hotel about my diet. I appreciated her help, but I didn’t realize how much Oya had done for me until I arrived in Istanbul. The staff at the Erguvan actually baked gluten-free pastries for my breakfast, from a recipe provided by Oya. (This was, I should add, in addition to the impressive breakfast buffet at the hotel, which already included gluten-free items such as boiled eggs, fresh fruit, dried fruit, and several types of cheese.)

Oya also invited my husband and me to have dinner with her, her husband, Hasan, and their daughter, Nil. (Oya and Nil are pictured above, with me.) They took us to a banquet hall on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The dining room was full of celebrations (I counted one wedding, one 45th wedding anniversary, and one high-school reunion). There was no set menu; instead Oya had made special arrangements in advance (her celiac support group has met at the banquet hall in the past). For us, the kitchen staff baked gluten-free pide, a substantial bread that looks like a giant waffle; I’d seen it on menus throughout my trip, but this was the first time I was able to try it. There were also appetizers that consisted of a wafer-thin gluten-free bread topped with lamb, parsley, and spices. Oya had arranged for gluten-free mezes, which included hot peppers, yogurt seasoned with garlic, rice-stuffed vegetables, a hot tomato sauce, and a dish of leeks and carrots, all of which were delicious. The main course was lamb, and for dessert there were several treats, including dates filled with cheese. I also tried raki, Turkey’s unofficial national drink, for the first time at dinner (similar to ouzo but not sweet). It was a fabulous evening from start to finish, partly because of the great food but mostly because of the wonderful company.

I realized at dinner that Oya is an incredible activist. After being diagnosed with celiac disease, she went on to form a national organization in a country where the disease is not well known. In addition to providing information and support to adult celiacs, she created a booklet for children to help them understand the disorder and the gluten-free diet (it’s available as a printed booklet as well as on the organization’s website). Oya is also in touch with her counterparts in other European countries and has lobbied Turkey’s government to provide support for celiacs. In Turkey, celiacs now get a government subsidy for certain gluten-free provisions every month. (In North America, I’m grateful just to see celiac-safe products on store shelves, even if they are priced sky high.)

Meeting Oya reinforced for me how important it is for the gluten-intolerant to share information and advice. It also made for the most memorable night of my trip. Thanks again, Oya, Hasan, and Nil!

Erguvan Hotel [address] Aksakal Cad. No: 3, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey [tel] +90 212 4582784 [fax] +90 212 4582788 [e-mail] info@erguvanhotel.com [web] www.erguvanhotel.com

New York City Day by Day… for Celiacs

Back in 2005, I wrote a New York City guidebook for Frommer’s Travel Guides. That slim little volume (it’s all of 192 pages, tiny compared to most guidebooks but a perfect fit for pockets or handbags), New York City Day by Day, was designed to be a cheat sheet to the best of the city. Not only does it highlight the best of the five boroughs, it maps them out for readers in a series of 22 self-guided tours.

As comparatively compact as it is, the book was the most labor-intensive of the 17 guidebooks I’ve written. That’s the reason I’ve been so pleased to see it take on new life recently as an eBook. Better yet — the eBook is available as a free download from different libraries around the United States. I am not sure if every one handles it the same way, but at the New York Public Library, you can download the book as a PDF and read it on both PCs and Macs. The NYPL download is for 21 days, the usual length of time you can borrow a book from the regular collection. Best of all, you don’t need to visit the library to get it — you can download it from the NYPL’s website so long as you have a valid library card. (If your public library offers eBook downloads, but doesn’t yet have New York City Day by Day, you can request it.)

One tough thing about writing the book was that the restaurant reviews had to be kept incredibly short — most are a mere two sentences — which didn’t allow for comments on their celiac-friendliness. As an addendum to the guidebook, I’d like to point out a few of my favorite New York City restaurants. These are all places where I’ve found great gluten-free dining, and I’m happy to report that they’re still in business four years after I did my original research for the book!

  • Blue Smoke: If you love rich, smoky barbecue flavors, you’ve found your heaven. This spot offers special gluten-free, nut-free, and vegetarian menus; [address] 116 East 27th Street, New York [tel] 212-447-7733 [web] www.bluesmoke.com
  • Eleven Madison Park: Elegant dining with farm-fresh ingredients and impeccable service; [address] 11 Madison Avenue, New York [tel] 212-889-0905 [web] www.elevenmadisonpark.com
  • Pure Food and Wine: This Irving Park raw-food restaurant is a vegan gem; here’s a full review; [address] 54 Irving Place, New York [tel] 212-477-1010 [web] www.purefoodandwine.com
  • Rice: Always a delicious spot for brunch; click here for the full review. [address] 2 locations in Manhattan, 2 in Brooklyn [web] www.riceny.com
  • Rosa Mexicano: Excellent Mexican cuisine, much of it naturally gluten free; [address] 3 locations in Manhattan [web] www.rosamexicano.info
  • Ruby Foo’s: It’s impossible for me not to think bordello when I walk into this restaurant — but I come back for its gluten-free menu; [address] 2 locations in Manhattan [web] www.brguestrestaurants.com
  • Tocqueville: This is a splurge spot, but for special occasions it would be hard to imagine anyone taking better care of a gluten-intolerant diner; [address] 1 East 15th Street [tel] 212-647-1515 [web] www.tocquevillerestaurant.com

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Facebook Update: I mentioned in my last post that I would be creating a Facebook group for the Gluten-Free Guidebook. The group is now up and running, and I invite every reader to join. I hope that it will be another helpful resource for you as you plan your travels, as well as a place where we can share information and advice via the messageboard. I look forward to seeing you there!

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: With a Little Help From My Friends

It’s always a pleasure to get restaurant recommendations from readers. But I need to acknowledge another group that has been sending a lot of great information my way: my non-celiac friends. Blessed with eagle eyes, they are sharp when it comes to picking up gluten-free news, and thoughtful when it comes to passing it along.

My friend Leslie, author of The Ladies’ Room Reader Quiz Book: 1,000 Questions and Answers About Women and the Things They Love, has a particularly keen eye. While researching a story on Tampa, Florida, she discovered that the Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant chain (named for the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer enshrined in the National Football League’s Hall of Fame) has an extensive gluten-free menu. Another of her finds is Café Formaggio, a Long Island, NY, restaurant that serves gluten-free pasta, pizza, brownies, and beer. Her most unusual discovery so far has been Chiarelli’s Religious Goods, also on Long Island, which makes gluten-free Communion wafers. Leslie also discovered the impressive Gluten Free Diet Center on Eating Well’s website, which includes extensive information about the diet, many recipes, and a Q&A with the executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group.

Another friend — Yvonne, author of The Everything Family Christmas Book: Stories, Songs, Recipes, Crafts, Traditions, and More — told me about a new cafe in Calgary, Alberta: Primal Grounds Cappuccino Bar & Eatery. It has two locations and a broad list of gluten-free meal options that includes curry pineapple chicken, shepherd’s pie, and beef lasagna, as well as sandwiches that can be prepared with rice bread.

Jenna, who co-writes The Haiku Diaries, found out that Firefly restaurant in Washington, D.C., offers a glamorous menu for gluten-free gourmets, and that Panzano, an Italian restaurant in Denver, bakes gluten-free focaccia. Both properties are owned by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.

Stephanie, who lives in Toronto, passes along the names of celiac-friendly restaurants she hears about from a co-worker who has celiac disease. She was the one who told me about Four, which I wrote about in June. One spot she told me about recently is Mio RistoBar, which is located in Toronto’s Financial District and offers gluten-free pasta and entrees.

Some of my friends find gluten-free spots even when they’re not looking for them. Ellen was taking her kids to the optometrist’s when she passed an Italian restaurant offering a gluten-free menu. It turned out that the restaurant, Sambuca, was one I’ve dined at but haven’t yet written about for this site; it’s an institution on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

As I was finishing off this column, my sister-in-law Michelle e-mailed me about gluten-free recipes from Gourmet magazine, including one for chocolate chip cookies and one for lemon layer cake. The recipes are from Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts, a book that has just been reissued. That reminded me of all of the help I’ve had from certain family members… but that will have to wait for another time.

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I’m leaving for Turkey tomorrow (November 6th), so this blog will be quiet for the next two weeks. But I will be back after that to share my latest finds.

Time for Turkey

It’s official: I’m traveling to Turkey this November. I’ve just started planning the trip, and all I have right now is a return ticket to Istanbul. I’ll be in Turkey for 12 days, and I’m still working on the itinerary. I know I want to spend the better part of a week in Istanbul and a couple of days in and around Ephesus; the rest of the time is still unaccounted for (I’m also thinking about visiting Cappadoccia, or taking a cruise to visit Troy — but with 12 days, not everything can fit into the plan). If you have already visited Turkey and have any recommendations for where to stay, what to see — and especially, where to get a good gluten-free meal — I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, let me tell you what I’ve discovered so far. Neither of my favorite translation sites, Google and BabelFish, offers Turkish-to-English translation at this time, so I’ve been using Babylon, which gets the gyst of things but seems to miss many words. The Celiac Association of Turkey (Colyakla Yasam Dernegi) has a website that is available only in Turkish. (I’ve e-mailed the association for advice, and I’ll let you know what I hear from them.) Fortunately, Celiac Travel, my favorite site for celiac translation cards, has one available in Turkish.

One great resource I’ve found is a website called the Turkey Travel Planner by Tom Brosnahan. I’ve met Tom several times (we’re members of the same writers’ organizations), but it was a pleasant surprise to discover his well-written and comprehensive site. Not only does it cover what to see and do, but there are specific pages of interest to celiacs and the food-allergic: “Gluten Intolerance (Celiac) in Turkey,” “Food Allergies in Turkey,” and “Food Allergy Awareness in Turkey” (there’s also a section for vegetarians).

My Frommer’s colleague Lynn Levine, author of Frommer’s Turkey and Frommer’s Istanbul, also runs a website called Talking Turkey. There’s no celiac-specific information, but there are good overviews about Turkish food and drink, as well as pages devoted to regions of the country, museums, spas, and shopping.

I’ve started reading the Turkish Daily News, a 47-year-old English-language newspaper that can be read online. An article from February 2008 mentions Saf, an Istanbul restaurant where “all dishes are low in salt and fat, raw, organic, gluten free and vegan.” I can’t wait to try it. In the article, Saf’s address is listed as: Akatlar Mah. Cumhuriyet Cad. No:4/6 Club Sporium, Akatlar; the phone numbers listed are 0212 282 79 46 and 0212 282 72 91.

On the Road With Gluten-Free Girl

Even before I interviewed Shauna James Ahern, I felt as if I knew her. That was because of the many incredibly warm, humorous, and inspiring posts she has made on her blog, Gluten-Free Girl, which she created after being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2005. The success of the site led her to publish a book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back… & How You Can Too (Wiley, 2007), which was selected as one of Amazon’s best books of the year. Since going gluten-free, Shauna has met and married the man of her dreams, and in July 2008 she gave birth to a daughter, Lucy. Shauna and her husband, Daniel Ahern, a chef, are currently at work on a new book, Dancing in the Kitchen, about love and food and how they intersect. Shauna is also working on a book she calls Feeding Us, about eating during pregnancy and through a child’s first year of life.

How often do you travel? Normally, it’s at least three or four times a year. Last year I traveled much more because of the book tour, but now that Lucy has arrived I probably won’t travel as much, at least for a while.

Where have you traveled since being diagnosed with celiac disease? I’ve been to New York and Los Angeles many times; also Chicago, Portland [Oregon], San Francisco, Vancouver, Tucson. I also do a lot of local travel around Washington state. Danny and I went to Italy for our honeymoon. It was the biggest surprise to me — everyone thought you couldn’t go there because of all the pizza and pasta, but it was the best place in the world. People care about feeding you very well, and most food over there doesn’t even require gluten, it’s all about what’s fresh and in season. Every drugstore has gluten-free food, and you can bring gluten-free pasta to a restaurant that doesn’t have it and they will cook it for you. I also learned that Italians with celiac disease get two paid work days to go shopping each month!

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? We all know that on planes they don’t feed you. For example, on the flight to Italy they claimed they had a gluten-free meal but they ran out. When I fly I take a yummy grain salad, like a red quinoa or brown rice or millet, with goat cheese. I keep it cold in the fridge so it’s ready to go. When traveling with a baby, you need something you can hold in one hand, like a granola bar. [Editor’s note: For a gluten-free granola-bar recipe from Shauna, click here.]

What other things do you bring with you? I always travel with an iPod and a journal to write in. You get good writing time on a plane!

How do you prepare for a trip? I don’t like to overplan — it’s not like I map out day-by-day where to go — but I like structure, and I never walk into a place blind. I like Google Earth; before we went to Italy, we used to look at towns in Umbria, where we stayed for a week, and to see the road between towns. I research everything. I ask all my friends, and friends of friends, because I really believe in word of mouth. I love guidebooks. I also spend a lot of time Googling. The more you look for a specific town, or a specific neighborhood in a town, the more you find.

Any favorite restaurants? When we were in Umbria, we went to this tiny village, Gubbio. It’s a fortified 12th-century city where nothing has changed in 500 years. A friend told me about this place, a medieval banquet hall called Fornace di Mastro Giorgio, where we ended up having a 3-1/2 hour lunch with friends. It was incredible. [For Shauna’s post about her travels in Italy, click here.] Another of my favorites I found in New York at the start of my book tour: Gramercy Tavern. My husband used to work there, and the fall tasting menu that week was gluten free. We also went to Hearth in the East Village; it was really superb, and made us feel very welcome. In Portland, Oregon, there is a fish-fry place, Hawthorne Fish House, that is entirely gluten-free — you can have fish and chips, onion rings, everything. Portland is incredible for gluten-free food. Seattle is too — I can’t think of many places there where I can’t eat.

Any favorite hotels? A farmhouse-style lodging, Brigolante Agritourism, just outside of Assisi [Italy].

What’s your favorite city to visit? New York. I lived there for years, from 1997 to 2001. I love the Upper West Side. I go to Danal, Gray’s Papaya (where I get a hotdog without the bun), Babycakes, and Tea & Sympathy. Plus I always love discovering something new.

What’s your dream destination? My husband and I both have Irish heritage, and we want to go to Ireland together. I’ve heard it’s got the largest number of diagnosed celiacs in the world.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Don’t approach it with fear. You can’t approach travel that way, and you can’t approach eating that way. Do your research so you have some ideas where to go, but once you’re there, let go and enjoy the place. You can’t shut down your life. Be brave and try everything that’s gluten-free.

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Editor’s note: While Shauna didn’t mention it by name, she knows of another great restaurant that takes excellent care of its gluten-free guests: Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe, where her husband is the executive chef. This well-reviewed spot is known for its romantic ambience, moderate prices, and sensitivity to food allergies.

Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe [address] 4235 E. Madison St., Seattle, WA 98112 [tel] 206-860-1569 [web] www.impromptuwinebar.com

UPDATE (10/21/08): Daniel Ahern is taking a break from the restaurant business, and is no longer cooking at Impromptu. However, he has trained its new chef to cook gluten-free and to keep the kitchen safe from cross-contamination. For Shauna’s post with this news, click here.

Photograph provided courtesy of Shauna James Ahern.

Celiac Travel 101

September 15th marked the six-month anniversary of the Gluten-Free Guidebook. I want to thank everyone who has made it such a success so quickly. Many of you have taken the time to write to me. Some of you have passed along the names of local restaurants or tips about places you’ve visited; others have shared stories about their celiac diagnosis. I love hearing from readers, and I really appreciate any suggestions about travel, restaurants, hotels, and shops that can be shared with other readers.

Some people have written with specific questions about destinations they plan to visit. While I don’t have the time or resources to give recommendations, I wanted to share the process that I go through to research a destination. This happens to be a great time to do it, because I’m currently trying to settle on a place to visit this fall. Here are the steps I take:

  1. Round up the usual suspects. There are several sites that I always refer to before a trip. One is Celiac Handbook, which has listings for restaurants that serve gluten-free meals in countries from Cambodia to Iceland. If I’m traveling in North America, I’ll consult the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program, which has a lengthy list of celiac-friendly restaurants. I also visit Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site, which has information about different cruise lines, links to travel sites, and other travel resources.
  2. Locate the local celiac association. If you’re planning a European trip, check out the Association of European Coeliac Societies. In addition to providing useful information about gluten-free products, there are links to celiac organizations across the continent. (Note that in some countries, such as Belgium and Spain, there is more than one association.)  If you’re traveling to South America, Israel, Turkey, South Africa, or Australia, you’ll find information about celiac associations on Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site. When I need an English translation of a site, I use Google or Babel Fish.
  3. Ask for more information. Once I locate a celiac association at my destination, I e-mail to ask for a list of recommended restaurants and shops (some organizations provide this information on their website). Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language; I’ve found that people are helpful, though it may take more than a week to get an answer.
  4. Line up your language cards. I’ve previously posted about how celiacs can communicate their needs in a foreign tongue. Some of the resources mentioned in that post have gotten even better: for example, Celiac Travel now has 42 translation cards (the latest additions include Flemish, Indonesian, and Korean). I print out several copies to carry with me when I travel.
  5. Work that search engine. It takes time to research the gluten-free possibilities at a particular destination. I type the name of a country plus gluten-free or celiac (also try coeliac); I repeat the process using the name of the region or the name of a city. Do this for Paris and, for example, you’ll find David Lebovitz’s Living the Sweet Life in Paris blog; try Italy, and you’ll find posts from the blog A Gluten-Free Guide.

The best thing that you can do is keep a positive attitude; wherever you choose to go, you will find a way to make it work. Before I went to Peru, I couldn’t find a single online resource in English or Spanish about traveling gluten-free in that country. When I went, I was armed with Spanish translation cards and was delighted to discover how easy it was for a celiac to dine out there. If anyone has a celiac-friendly travel resource that’s helped them plan a trip, I’d love to hear about it.