In the Shadow of the Acropolis

Seeing the Acropolis up close was a dream come true for me. No matter how many times you view a place in photographs or videos, there’s nothing like experiencing it in person. And the Acropolis is particularly alluring because you catch sight of it from different angles as you stroll around the sprawling metropolis that is Athens. Day or night, it’s a joy to behold.

The Acropolis holds a series of treasures. The entry gate, called the Propylaea, was designed to inspire awe. Just beyond it is the Temple of Athena Nike, which represented the goddess as the victorious protector of her namesake city. Step further inside and you’ll find the Erechtheion — a temple famous for its six stone guardians, the Caryatids — and the Parthenon itself, dedicated to Athena the Virgin. Built between 450 BC and 440 BC, it was the largest Doric temple in Greece.

If you want to see the glorious statues and carved reliefs that once graced the Parthenon, there are two places to look. One is the British Museum, which houses the Elgin Marbles, a collection that includes friezes from the Parthenon and one of the Caryatids from the Erechtheion. (The return of this collection is the subject of ongoing debate and discussion between Greece and Britain.) The second place to look is the stunning modern museum at the foot of the Acropolis.

Built atop Roman and Byzantine ruins, the Acropolis Museum opened in 2009 to showcase both art and history. It does so beautifully, with original statues excavated from under the Parthenon, and with impeccable copies of the works that were removed by Lord Elgin. The top floor of the building is devoted to the carved marble panels of the Parthenon. Even though you know you are looking at copies (the museum is scrupulous about noting that), the scenes — depicting warring deities, centaurs, Amazons, and the fall of Troy — are breathtaking.

There was another wonder at the foot of the Acropolis, just across from the museum…. 

Read the full post on Substack.

Exploring Barcelona With Rick Steves

Let me admit a certain amount of bias upfront: I spent a decade writing guidebooks for Frommer’s Travel Guides, so I’m predisposed to believe guidebooks are useful. But in recent years, that belief has taken a beating. Even before the pandemic, guidebooks were an endangered species, since a growing cohort of travelers think they can get everything they need from the Internet. That led to guidebooks being updated less frequently, which undermined their utility. More recently, guidebooks have been getting a bad reputation thanks to what the New York Times calls “a new form of travel scam: shoddy guidebooks that appear to be compiled with the help of generative artificial intelligence, self-published and bolstered by sham reviews, that have proliferated in recent months on Amazon.”

When I was planning my trip to Barcelona this spring, I’d pretty much sworn off guidebooks. This would be my fifth trip to the Catalonian capital, and I felt like I knew my way around the city reasonably well. But when I glanced at the latest guidebook options, I noticed that Rick Steves had a recently updated guide to the city. On impulse, I decided to buy it.

Friends, I’m so glad I did.

Read the rest of this post on Substack

On Tour for ONE SMALL SACRIFICE

My fifth novel, One Small Sacrifice, won’t be out until June, but it has been selected by Amazon for its First Reads program for May! If you live in the US, UK, or Australia—and you have Amazon Prime—you can download my new book for FREE right now. (If you don’t have Prime, the Kindle edition is on sale for $1.99; if you want a hardcover, it’s on sale for $9.99 this month.) The book just got a starred review from Library Journal; I hope you’ll check it out.

A new novel means it’s time to hit the road again. So far, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Vancouver for a conference, Denver’s Tattered Cover, Scottsdale’s Poisoned Pen, and Houston’s Murder by the Book. Here are some of the restaurants I found along the way:

Nightingale (Vancouver): Reading this hot spot’s menu in advance made me nervous, because it stipulates, “We politely decline all requests to modify menu items.” I wondered what this would mean for anyone dining with food allergies or intolerances, but local friends promised that it was terrific. They were right! Our waiter took the time to create an annotated menu for me, marking all of the gluten-free offerings (a friend I was dining with is lactose intolerant, and they were able to accommodate this easily, too). My mushroom risotto with truffle oil and pecorino was the stuff of dreams.

Watercourse (Denver): This restaurant bills itself as Denver’s first vegan restaurant. The menu carefully notes GF (made without gluten), GFO (gluten-free optional), SF (made without soy), SFO (soy-free optional), CN (contains nuts), and NFO (but-free optional). I highly recommend the Brussels Sprouts Salad (GF, NFO), with kale, pomegranate, grilled apple, maple dijon, balsamic reduction, and candied walnuts. The Smoky Rose cocktail was also fabulous.

Irma’s Southwest (Houston): I have to credit my wonderful editor for finding this spot. I hadn’t heard of Irma Galvan before, but her restaurants are a Houston legend (Irma opened a tiny sandwich shop in 1988, switched to Mexican cuisine, and never looked back). This delicious outpost doesn’t have a long menu, but what they do, they do really well (chile con queso, fajitas, enchilandas…).

I’ll be at the St. Louis County Library on Tuesday, May 14th at 7pm, and at Ben McNally Books in Toronto on Thursday, May 16th at 6pm. If you’re in either place, I hope you’ll come say hello!

Gluten-Free at Ste. Anne’s Spa

Back when I worked for Frommer’s, writing travel guides about Canada, Ste. Anne’s Spa was a favorite day trip. Just ninety minutes east of Toronto, in Grafton, Ontario, this luxurious retreat is surrounded by some 400 acres of scenic countryside. Those grounds include an apiary, rolling hills where cattle graze, and extensive gardens filled with herbs, greens and vegetables. All of this farm-to-table bounty made the spa a popular destination for gourmands, and I’m delighted to learn that Ste. Anne’s Bakery has just been given the official seal of approval by the Gluten-Free Certification Program (GFCP).

This is not to say that Ste. Anne’s only recently started baking sweet gluten-free treats. For the past four years, they have offered gluten-free cakes (such as lemon cheesecake, Devil’s Food, and Opera cake), cookies, pies, jams, chocolates, fruit butters, and butter tarts. (The Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour — yes, there really is such a thing! — includes Ste. Anne’s as its only gluten-free stop.) There’s also a savory quiche of the day as well as a long list of breads (including basil focaccia, lavash, cinnamon raisin, and five-seed bread). What’s new is the GFCP’s certification, guaranteeing celiac safety. The bakery is 100% gluten-free, so there is no risk of cross-contamination.

I always thought the main attraction of Ste. Anne’s was its elegant spa and hotel. But the next time I visit, I’m making a beeline for the bakery!

Dining on the Book Tour

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My first standalone thriller, Blood Always Tells, just came out in paperback. (It’s actually my fourth novel, but it’s the first one that isn’t part of the mystery series I also write.) When Macmillan’s Tor/Forge division first published it last year, I went on a whirlwind tour across North America, which gave me the opportunity to suss out some celiac-safe places to eat… though no time to write about them! But I kept notes and want to share a few favorites that stand out in my memory.

Pizza Fusion in Denver, Colorado

The restaurant’s tagline is, “You like pizza. We have pizza. Let’s be friends.” And Pizza Fusion is ready to be friends with everyone — including celiacs, vegans, and lactose-intolerant types. Ingredients are organic and locally sourced, whenever possible. In addition to exceptional pizzas, there are gluten-free salads (I recommend the pear and gorgonzola) and desserts. In addition to wonderful food, Pizza Fusion is ecologically aware (here’s a list of its impressive eco-initiatives), and the Denver outpost I dined at is operated by the Coalition for the Homeless. Food that tastes good and does good? That’s the best. (Plus, it’s not far from the Tattered Cover!)

Bistro 241 in Delray Beach, Florida

The truth is, I ended up at Bistro 241 because it was a few doors down from Murder on the Beach, a terrific independent bookstore, and there was a terrible storm raging the night of my event. I was literally looking for the first indoor spot that was open for dinner, and I lucked into this one. There’s no gluten-free menu, but the restaurant’s owner is familiar with the GF diet and willing to make modifications wherever necessary (substituting a variety of veggies for the pita bread in the Mediterranean Plate, for example). A number of dishes, including the delicious chicken paillard, require no modification at all.

Sauce Pizza & Wine in Phoenix, Arizona

I should be embarrassed to admit that I like eating at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, but I’m not. Sauce Pizza & Wine is phenomenal. The gluten-free pepperoni-and-porcini pizza is so good that I’m already looking forward to my next visit. (Take note: Sauce has several locations throughout Arizona, including Tucson, Chandler, Mesa, and Scottsdale.)

Old Town Tortilla Factory in Scottsdale, Arizona

I have plenty of reasons to recommend the Old Town Tortilla Factory. Great Mexican food? Check. Dedicated gluten-free menu? Check. Neon-bright margaritas? Check. A short walk away from the fabulous Poisoned Pen Bookstore? Check. What more could you want?

Cafe Zuzu at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona

On my first first to the fabulous Hotel Valley Ho in 2010, Cafe Zuzu didn’t have a gluten-free menu, though it did have well-trained, thoughtful staff who were able to make recommendations and accommodations (which I wrote about previously). While the staff is still terrific, I’m pleased to say that the restaurant now has a dedicated GF menu, complete with roasted cornish hen, grilled lamb, and blackened shrimp. Best of all, my beloved tomato burrata is now served with rice bread.

Z’Tejas in Austin, Texas

Yes, it’s a chain (with outposts in California and Arizona as well), but its proximity to BookPeople and solid Southwestern food (and margaritas) make it a must-visit in Austin. Z’Tejas‘s dedicated gluten-free menu isn’t large, but it includes several vegetarian options (not always easy to find in these parts).

Il Fornello in Toronto, Ontario

This local Italian chain always stocks rice pasta and gluten-free Quejos pizza crust at all of its locations. Il Fornello also offers great salads (the naturally gluten-free Roma salad is a solid bet, with its mix of greens, goat cheese, walnuts, and roasted peppers), and a reasonably priced list of wines by the glass, including several from Ontario wineries.

Reader Report: Gluten-Free in St. Maarten

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One of the most amazing things about creating the Gluten-Free Guidebook is that it’s introduced me to so many terrific people. A case in point: my friend Liisa P., a reader who lives in Arizona. I had the great pleasure of meeting her in person for the first time when I was on tour for my debut novel, The Damage Done, and I’ve been lucky enough to see her on each book tour since (my fourth novel, Blood Always Tells, came out in April). Liisa has written a Reader Report about Hawaii for the Gluten-Free Guidebook in the past. Here, she shares her experience in St. Maarten. Thanks so much, Liisa!

LIISA’S REPORT ON ST. MAARTEN

We all know that eating Gluten Free can be hard and no one wants to be limited while travelling. So that’s why we share and connect in a network of bloggers, readers, and travelers to make it easier! I’ve been gluten free for 10 years and am lovin’ it!

972898_10152239155959279_1301815938_nDutch St. Maarten is more Americanized and friendly (imho) than the French side (Sint Martin) so you’re going to have more luck there. My advice… stay somewhere with a kitchen. We stayed at the beautiful Divi Little Bay Resort. Full kitchen. Go to the grocery store and to cut down on your meals out. Grocery stores have mostly the same food we do… just less of it. It’s not a gigantic Costco… it’s a regular grocery store.

The *BEST* place to eat on the island for gluten free, hands down, is Pizza Galley. They offer gluten-free crusts and a harbor view. Hard to beat! They don’t open till dusk and are open seasonally but have great pizza options (try the Jamaican).

Everywhere else on the Dutch side tried to be accommodating and salads ended up being the name of the day.  The French side… 10313936_10152239155909279_1587506073_nfuhget about… the one bright spot would be the small family restaurants, harbor side, in Marigot such as Le Chanteclair in the SXM Marine.  These provided knowledgeable and accommodating staff.

I never went hungry and never needed my emergency protein bar. Safe and happy travels!

All photos courtesy of Liisa P. She is pictured at the top (second from the right) with friends at the Pizza Galley.

Reader Report: Burleson and Fort Worth, Texas

I’d like to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who entered the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest. It means a lot to have readers sharing their own expertise with traveling and dining out gluten-free. This one from Cynthia Ross is particularly terrific. Thanks so much, Cynthia!

Burleson and Fort Worth by Cynthia Ross

What can be more stressful than moving halfway across the country? Leaving everything you know and soon after learning you must also entirely change the way you eat. After relocating to Texas from California, I was already skeptical that I could find the fresh organic vegetables and free-from junk food that I was accustomed buying. Then I learned I had to give up gluten and dairy. The only place these things were available when I left Texas 14 years ago was in Whole Foods Market and that is quite a drive from our little town. Fortunately we do have some options.

HEB in Burleson has a reasonable selection of gluten-free, organic, and natural products. However, their organic fresh produce section is not up to par in my opinion. Their organic fruit is often not fresh enough to last more than a day or two and the selection of organic fruits and vegetables is slim. There is also a small 24-hour market called Tiger Farms, which has a good selection of gluten-free food and stocks fresh organic vegetables purchased from the Dallas Farmers Market each week. Their produce tends to be much fresher, better quality, and less expensive than HEB.

Eating out is a little tougher. Although there are restaurants with gluten-free menus in the area, they seem to cater to those on the diet by choice. The responses to my queries about the prevention of cross-contamination make me very leery of eating around here. But hope is not lost! Fort Worth is a mere 25 minutes away.

After living without sushi for over a year, we discovered Shinjuku Station near downtown Fort Worth. Not only do they have a dedicated gluten-free menu (delicious!), they only choose fish that are sustainably fished and use very fresh ingredients. The owners, chef, and wait staff is very knowledgeable, completely understanding of our food issues, and never make us feel like we are a bother. They always make us feel welcome and I know I am safe eating there.

A couple of other places we enjoy are the Mellow Mushroom near TCU and Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth. The Mellow Mushroom has a dedicated gluten-free pizza menu with a gluten-free vegan crust. It is better than most gluten-free pizzas that I’ve tried but I quickly get bored with it. I’m sure it would be much better with cheese but I can’t have it and cannot stand vegan cheese. Sorry, but there is no substitute for real cheese. If you do eat here, make sure you confirm that your pizza is gluten-free when they bring it to your table. Mistakes have happened.

Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth has upscale Mexican cuisine. It is delicious. The prices are decent and they are very accommodating. The chips, salsa and guacamole are gluten-free and they have a dedicated gluten-free menu. If you are also dairy intolerant, the chef can make those items without the dairy products. I especially enjoy their steak or chicken fajitas. A bonus is that margaritas, champagne and wine are half-price on Thursdays during happy hour.

That said, my favorite gluten-free place is my own kitchen. My husband and I are both good cooks – he has only accidentally poisoned me once. I can eat our cooking without fear and my “limitations” have forced me to become more adventurous in my food choices. By taking our own food with us, we can eat whenever and wherever we want which can lead to some interesting adventures. Just this weekend, we popped into Luckenback, TX on a whim to eat our lunch and discovered there was a Waylon Jennings birthday celebration. If we had gone to a restaurant, I would never have learned what “Chicken-poop bingo” was or met that cool steer named “Tumbleweed.”

Gluten-Free Around NYC’s Grand Hyatt

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There’s not a lot of good I can say about a New York City summer, but one highlight is always ThrillerFest. It’s been described as “summer camp for thriller readers, fans, writers and industry professionals.” Every year, it brings some of my favorite writers to the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan for several days. In the past, other gluten-free attendees have asked me where to dine in the area, and I wanted to share my list, since there are a lot of conferences at the Grand Hyatt throughout the year. I’ve also mapped out the locations with Google Maps. If you find spots to add, please let me know!

S’mac: There’s now an outpost of this delicious, reasonably priced mac-and-cheese restaurant in Murray Hill. It’s a nine-block walk south of the Grand Hyatt, or you can hop on the 6 train at 42nd Street and travel one stop downtown to 33rd Street. It’s well worth it. Given that conference meals can take place at weird times, this is a great spot to keep in mind, since it’s open from 11am to 11pm daily (closing time is 1am on Friday and Saturday nights).

Dig Inn: This health-focused local chain has a few tables, but mostly it does a take-out business. Its 275 Madison location starts serving breakfast at 7am, then switches to a combined lunch/dinner menu for the rest of the day (until 9pm). Check out this chart for GF and allergy information, as well as vegan options.

Chipotle: This is my go-to fast-food spot. Avoid the tortillas, which are made with wheat flour, but the burrito bowl and all its potential ingredients are gluten-free. The chain provides some helpful food-allergy information on its site. There are three locations within a stone’s throw of the Grand Hyatt: 150 East 44th St. (between Lexington and Third), 274 Madison Avenue (between 39th and 40th), and 9 West 42nd Street (between Fifth and Sixth).

Hale & Hearty: I know it’s hot out, but if you’re still craving soup for lunch, this chain has an outpost in Grand Central itself. Daily options change, but you can usually count on a gluten-free broccoli cheddar and the GF and dairy-free Thai chicken.

4Food: Usually, I only mention spots I’ve visited, but this one was just recommended to me. 4Food makes everything from scratch, including its gluten-free pressed-rice bun. I’m looking forward to checking it out!

Bloom’s Deli: I have to be honest: while I love basic diner food, I’m not thrilled with what’s served up here. Still, I appreciate that the place offers a gluten-free menu, which includes omelets, pancakes, burgers and sandwiches.

Bistango: Almost every item on the menu of this Italian restaurant in Murray Hill can be prepared in a gluten-free version. There’s plenty of gluten-free pizza and pasta dishes, as well as meatier offerings like  rack of lamb. What really makes a meal at Bistango stand out is the graciousness of its staff. The owner, Anthony, goes back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, talking to everyone and making sure that diners are comfortable. This is a gem.

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. It’s a little far to go for lunch, but a great spot for a post-conference dinner.

Dos Caminos: If I’m having dinner with a group that includes people with various food allergies and intolerances, this is one of my favorite spots. The cuisine is modern Mexican, and the service is incredibly accommodating.

Pip’s Place — The Gluten-Free Cakery: I’m not going to recommend that you have a slice of banana layer cake, a chocolate cupcake, or a raspberry pinwheel cookie for lunch… but if you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, this dedicated gluten-free bakery is just the spot, especially since it’s only three blocks south of the Grand Hyatt.

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The Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest is open until July 15th. Enter now!

Reader Report: Lucifer’s Pizza in Los Angeles

While I was in Los Angeles in March on my book tour, I heard about a great gluten-free pizza place called Lucifer’s, but I didn’t have time to check it out. Fortunately, reader Laura Smith did, and she wrote this report for the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest (which will be open to entries until July 15, 2013, so send yours in soon!).

Lucifer’s Pizza by Laura Smith

I visited Los Angeles, California, for 2 weeks in April and went for pizza to Lucifer’s. It is one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten, including pre-gluten free! The crust was crispy and sooo very flavorful. Many people order it instead of the regular because it tastes so yummy. I had the Hot Chick (chicken, black pepper, pepperoni, green bell pepper, garlic, onion, tomato & hot chili sauce) personal size and ate it all! The flavors were so perfectly matched with the meat,carmelized onion, peppers and sauce and after four years of going without a good pizza I was in heaven. I cannot recommend it enough. Lucifer’s also offers dairy-free options for the cheese. Their gluten-free crusts are from Venice Bakery and you can order them online. 5 stars for this pizza!

Reader Report: A Gluten Free Adventure in the Junction (Toronto)

I was so excited to read Helen Nelson’s contest entry for the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest (now extended to July 15, 2013, since I disappeared down the rabbit hole while editing my fourth novel…). I’ve known Helen for several years through an amazing group called Sisters in Crime, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in crime fiction (in spite of the name, it’s just as welcoming to men as it is women). Helen is a talented writer, and I really appreciate her using her talents to share information about gluten-free spots in the Junction, a gentrifying neighborhood in Toronto. Many, many thanks, Helen! (PS Contest rules are here. A big thank you to all who have entered the contest so far. Looking forward to reading more reader reports!)

Helen Nelson: Toronto — A Gluten Free Adventure in the Junction 

In the Junction?

Yes, indeed the Junction has changed. No longer hosting the last remaining Woolworth’s store, a hodge podge of strange little stores and donut shops, it now hosts many of the things that make a neighbourhood fun and funky and dare I say even trendy?

My young niece and I embarked on our gluten free breakfast, lunch and treats hunt at around 10 on a Saturday morning. We started off at Bunner’s Bakery, just a little west of High Park Avenue and Dundas. Bunner’s is a vegan and gluten-free bakery. So for me that’s a bonus as in addition to no gluten, there is also no dairy! There we picked up a pumpkin and chocolate chip muffin, a couple of cinnamon buns, some butter tarts, some chocolate chip sandwich cookies and a loaf of bread that was still hot out of the oven. And we liked it all! OK, the cinnamon bun was too much for me. I couldn’t finish it. Although my husband ate his, we decided that next time we’ll get one and split it! A word of warning — get there early! They were selling out of the bread at a rapid rate. Another word of warning — their Supersonic Gypsy Cookie (which gets huge raves), has oats. So glad I asked before I bought and chowed down! They do have a book you can look at that lists their ingredients. And they are promising a recipe book soon!

For lunch we ventured out again to Gabby’s — right at High Park and Dundas. We eat here often. They have a huge menu with lots of selections and a separate menu that is gluten free. Yes!!! Sadly for me a lot on that menu has dairy, but there are a few things that I can have. In the past I’ve had their burger, ribs, a salad plate and sweet potato fries. Today I had a chicken sandwich (on a GF bun). The chicken and the stuff inside the sandwich is great. The bun, well its a bit dry and crumbly, but I’ve found that is all too often the case since I’ve found I can’t really do gluten (or most grains anyway) any more, a few weeks back. Too bad Bunner’s doesn’t actually make buns! My niece had macaroni and cheese and a bunch of my sweet potato fries. Decidedly NOT GF! But she enjoyed her meal! They have a few too many TV screens for my tastes, but the varied menu with GF items and the food quality makes up for that.

Then we walked back a few steps west along Dundas to Delight Chocolates. They sell some unfriendly stuff — like ice cream and brownies. But mainly they sell chocolate! And they offer many chocolate options that are completely dairy free and soy free. No flour or grains either! Its all fair trade and organic too! For those who can have dairy they also sell hot chocolate that apparently is to die for! For those who are able to do dairy (and others too) they also sell fair trade organic coffee.

There is also The Beet, an organic food café, and The Sweet Potato, an organic grocery store, both within about a block. I haven’t checked these out in a while, but I’ll venture to guess that they have lots of GF options as well!