Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, Psychotherapist; Specialist in Food Allergy Management, Speaking At Mylan Specialty / EpiPen Event (© Noel Malcolm 2013)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Little Giant, NYC

*AS OF 2012 CLOSED*

A couple of weeks back I was invited to attend a cooking event/fund raiser for the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. You can read about that event, see some pictures and get the recipes at MyAllergyNetwork.com.

Whilst there I sat next to the lovely, recently celiac disease diagnosed Sanae. She mentioned that she ate at Little Giant all the time and they were very careful with special needs. She also mentioned that she was friendly with the owner/chef Tasha. I said let’s go!

The night of our sojourn, massive snow was predicted [it turned into rain] and one hour before dinner was the first time I looked closely at the Little Giant menu online. Nuts, nuts everywhere: hazelnuts, pistachio, pine nuts. Oy, oy, oy! Everywhere. How was this going to work? Why did I wait until the last minute to look? Sigh. I almost backed out.

But I didn’t.

I spoke with Sanae who told me she had spoken to the chef again that afternoon and had emailed her my list of allergies and intolerances. That made me feel better. And going to diner with someone as kind and as understanding as Sanae, who has celiac disease, helped.

Sanae is safe.

Finding a safe person with whom to dine is half the battle of dining out with special dietary needs. By "safe" I mean, someone non-judgmental; who gets that you will be talking extensively to the kitchen to get what you need; that you may indeed order everything on the side; or that you may punk out and not eat anything at all if you don’t feel comfortable. Also a plus when dining out with special needs is someone whom you can trust if you do feel ill; who understands either that you need to go home NOW or how to help you administer medication and then help you get home or to the hospital.

Enlist safe people to be in your camp, rooting for you and your health; someone who is understanding, calm, helpful: safe. As you may have already guessed I have many of those people in my life; I meet more every day. I feel incredibly lucky to have them and I encourage you to enlist those around you to eat safely with you!

Back to Little Giant. Our reservation was nice and early, 6:30pm, so there was plenty of time to go over The Allergic Girl list with the Chef. Go early, it helps to talk with management before they get too busy. Chef Tasha was kind enough to sit and chat for 20 minutes about the ingredients of each dish that might or might not be Allergic Girl friendly. Thank you Chef Tasha!

Little Giant makes everything in-house, so accommodating my allergies was relatively simple for Chef Tasha to do. When you are dealing with a restaurant and a chef that really cares both about their food and their customer’s special needs, it’s a great step in the right direction. This isn’t to say accidents don’t happen with orders and miscommunications of all sorts. They do. All the time. If you eat out you need to be prepared for that probability. Bring your allergy card, like the ones from SelectWisely.com and bring your charming self to that table. Tasha put my concerns at ease with her reassuring manner and an understanding of allergies and the cross contamination fears.

I choose the house-made sausages smothered with onions and a warm lentil salad. To start I had a plate of their house made pickles; I do love veggies in brine. Everything was delish, and completely Allergic Girl safe. I’m looking forward to returning in the New Year to try Little Giant's short ribs; braised meat holds a special place in my heart and my stomach.

Little Giant
85 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
t. 212.226.5047

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Crave on 42nd, NYC

Shari and I checked out Crave on 42nd last night in the freezing rain. I was warmly welcomed by Chef Dave Martin, himself, Top Chef alum and now Executive Chef of this westerly outpost.

I mentioned that I had meant to call in about my Allergic Girl needs. Quick as a flash, Chef Dave picked up a pad and paper, wrote down my allergies, went through the menu in his mind, aloud, about what they use in the kitchen typically: no nut oils and nuts easy to stay away from; no soybean oil and a dedicated fryer with fresh oil today; no flour thickeners in the soups or in sauces; fish/shellfish obvious to avoid.

“Cool,” he said, “Look over the menu and tell me what looks good to you and then I can make any modifications necessary. But this won’t be a problem.”

Excellent. I had a tender, juicy roasted chicken with roasted asparagus. The chopped salad looked good as well as the chicken burger, which is one my list to try next time. Chef Dave Martin, brought out some home made pickles for us to sample for the new burger he is creating [he’s in the bun-testing stage]. The pickles were sweet and slightly spiced, allspice and tumeric added an interesting dimension to the brine. I love sweet pickles and these made me very happy.

Located at the end of theater row on 12th avenue and west 42nd street, this American bistro would be an easy pre-theater dinner pick. With Chef Dave Martin's gracious and welcoming attitude, I’m looking forward to returning, especially to try that burger with pickles!


Crave on 42nd
650 WEST 42ND STREET,
NEAR 12TH AVENUE, NYC, NY 10036
212.564.9588

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Second Avenue Deli, NYC

I wanted the brisket.

I've been thinking about it, having a sense memory of it. I'd even invoked a quasi-Proustian experience of it: tender, perfectly seasoned, never dry, not fatty—it was an exceptional brisket and I’ve been waiting for two years to enjoy it once more.

So, I asked the waitress how the brisket was on Christmas Eve day.

She said, “Everyone’s ordering pastrami.”

“Hmm. May I have a taste of the brisket, please?”

She did not look happy. She replied, “They’re real busy up there, they may not do it. But I’ll ask.”

If you’ve ever been into a real Jewish deli, you know this is a customary request. Often at the old Second Avenue Deli, the waiter/waitress or counter person would ask if you’d want a taste of whatever you were considering. Now that I think of it, counter men often just handed out tastes, it’s good business: it gets the customer excited about the product, it shows that the deli is proud of their product and a free taste makes even the grumpiest customer happy.

Similarly native New Yorker and equally Deli loving, Bo Young, my lunch companion, and I looked at each other. This wasn’t the waitress of the old Second Avenue Deli. I mean there’s funny-surly-server as in “you’re a colorful character” and then there’s less-funny-harried-sever who makes you think they're doing you a favor, as in, "I can’t be bothered.”

True, on Christmas Eve day, when Bo Young and I made the pilgrimage, the first of many I hope, we waited online for 30 minutes; the tables were jammed; the bus boys looked like this was their first time busing; and the health salad and pickles that come gratis had to be requested, twice. Shonde I know. Still, we persevered.

And the waitress brought me a taste. Yay. Here it is after we gobbled most of it down.

She was right, it wasn't great; I ordered the pastrami.

So the food, the food! I know, you’re dying to know. I was too. Especially after all the recent press: The New York Times, New York Magazine and its blog, Grub Street, Save the Deli, The Jewish Week. Oy, they've all weighed in.

Let me say this first and foremost: It’s been open a week. One week. If I’m going to rekindle this deli love affair I think, to be fair, I need to give them time to get on their feet. However, if you’re reading between the lines then you’d be right, it wasn’t exactly as I remembered.

This brisket on Christmas Eve day 2007 was not the brisket of my memory which was Christmas December 2005, days before its unexpected closure. It wasn’t bad, in fact it was quite edible. However, both Bo Young and I found it dry, and bland. It didn’t glisten. It didn’t melt.

But we didn’t give up.

I had the half soup and sammy. My soup was chicken consume with rice and carrots. It wasn't as day-glo yellow as its predecessor; the beloved dillweed was scant in flavor as was the chicken flavor, and it too was bland:


Bo Young had the "Heart Attack", pastrami wedged between potato latkes.

I had a half pastrami sammy. We both thought the pastrami was tasty but our cuts were the crumbled ends and overly fatty. There’s great pastrami fat and then there’s just fat fat.

The health salad, my precious, was pretty good, the cabbage fresh and sliced thin, sweet and vinegary, but again not oh-my-god-I’ve-been-transported-back-in-time-great.

Here’s our spread on Christmas Eve day at the newly revived Second Avenue Deli.


And here's the bill, speaking of coronaries.


The upshot? When the lines have died down, the service will be less harried and confused; when the cuts become more flavorful and the seasonings adjusted, I shall happily return and reevaluate.

2nd Avenue Deli
162 E. 33rd St.,
New York, NY 10016
nr. Third Ave.
212-677-0606

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Allergic Girl and Padma Lakshmi

When I was in Miami for the Miami Book Fair International, I had a chance to interview Miss Top Chef herself: Padma Lakshmi. Her new cookbook, TANGY TART HOT & SWEET was just pubbed and she’s been on tour promoting it like crazy. [Bravo also just finished shooting the next season of Top Chef in Chicago -- get ready. PS: It’s a three week shoot--no wonder they're all so exhausted by the end!]Because I know you want to know: Yes, she is that beautiful (even with the sniffles which she had during that weekend); yes, she is that cool and smart; and yes, the girl can cook!

You can get the spicy low-down on Foodfit.com.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lilli and Loo, NYC

UPDATE 2009: After multiple mistakes involving food allergy orders (egg, soy, fish etc), I believe Lilli & Loo and its sister Lilli 57 are safe primarily for the gluten-free community. As always, double check with your server or the owner/manager about your individual needs.

Gluten-Guide had written Lilli and Loo’s up recently and invited me to join her there for a GF meal. I begged off because Chinese food has been a no-no, er, forever; the cross-contamination possibilities are simply too great when everything is cooked in one wok.

Then Vanessa, celiac gal, gluten-free menu innovator/creator and daughter of the co-owner of Lilli and Loo’s invited me to lunch last week to give their new GF menu a road test.

Still, I hesitated.

This may not be obvious if you’re new to my blog and read only recent posts about my bopping around the city, seemingly eating freely around town, but I ALWAYS have trepidation about trying a new restaurant or a new dish. I mean, I ate at home before going to a black-tie dinner at the Waldorf last week because I didn’t trust that even at a Food Allergy Ball I could eat safely. I was happily surprised at the Waldorf's level of service and accommodation [Thanks Waldorf!] but that’s not usually the case.

So why do it? Why try a new dish, a new chef, a new resto? Even if it means I eat a safe meal at home and have a glass of Pellegrino with friends, I'm going out!

After a childhood of “I can’ts”, I want an adulthood of “I cans” in all forms!

**

Vanessa and I emailed about creating an AG specific menu which allowed me to try out Lilli and Loo’s allergen-friendly recipes, dishes, and training.

Over lunch, Vanessa and I talked about her long struggle with nebulous symptoms that escaped diagnosis until she met with the dream team of Dr. Peter Green and Anne Lee at the Celiac Disease Center. That was 5 years ago and many of her symptoms have cleared up, some have not. However, her diagnosis has helped her loved ones grasp her very real condition. Thus her idea for creating a menu that she could eat in her family’s wheat-focused restaurants was born.

In conjunction with Maggie and Alfred, the co-owners of Lilli and Loo, and the ones to talk to if you plan on dining there anytime soon, they three came up with a GF menu. GIG was brought in to do the training necessary to get on the GFRAP program. The GF menu has been kept small and focused so it maintains its GF and allergy-friendly integrity. Because Vanessa has celiac disease and understands the pitfalls of eating out, she is committed to the notion that any restaurant that has a GF menu must be a “safe haven” for those that want to dine there. Brava Vanessa!

Lilli and Loo’s allergen-friendly menu means:
-The kitchen is aware about the 8 major allergies as outlined by the FDA.
-Everything is made to order in a segregated part of the kitchen.
-They specialize in a gluten-free menu but can accommodate other allergies.
-There is no cross contamination.
-Every member of the staff, from the busboy on up is educated about special dietary needs. They are trained to be welcoming and understanding about those needs and there are no eye-rolls.

Here’s what I ate.

GF egg-drop soup:


Teryaki Pomegranate chicken, sauce on the side, natch:


Chicken fried rice:


My happy plate:


How did they do?

I have to say, they did really well on all fronts. My lunch was delicious, gluten and allergen-free, if not a bit chicken focused. That was probably because I didn’t tell Vanessa that I ate red meat. Regardless, I realized I hadn’t eaten fried rice in almost 20 years [17 years as a vegetarian, 3 as a GF person and a lifetime of fears of a contaminated kitchen where seafood lurks everywhere!], so I went crazy for the stuff. So much so, I went back a couple of days later to have it all over again.

Christmas Day, where am I going to be?
Lilli And Loo's
with the GF chicken fried rice of love. Thank you Vanessa and Maggie and Alfred for creating a GF/allergen-friendly Chinese food alternative!


Lilli And Loo

792 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10021
Tel:212-421-7800
Fax:212-421-8700

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gluten Free Holiday Cooking Class at Cooking by the Book

Two weeks ago I was invited to attend a benefit for the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. The benefit was an activity and a dinner: a gluten-free gourmet cooking class held at Cooking By the Book where we ate our efforts. Yum!

You can read about the evening at MyAllergyNetwork.com as well as get the gourmet gluten-free recipes from the evening's cooking lesson.

Enjoy!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Namaste Foods, Blondies

I’ve been dreaming about these since I read Alisa's post, from GoDairyFree, about making them.

A few weeks back I was at an upstate Price Chopper. They have a new natural foods section and they carried many of the Namaste mixes. Woo hoo! I can never seem to find them at the Union Square Whole Foods, my usual haunt. I happily bought the Blondie mix to try. For days, I kept taking them down from the shelf and placing them back; when to make an entire 9x13 pan of Blondies and to whom should I feed them?

Ms. GlutenFreeGuide invited to me a holiday party and after going through the entire menu to make sure there were Allergic Girl friendly snacks (thanks again, Ms. GlutenFreeGuide !), she asked if I’d like to bring an AG friendly dessert. Aha, this was the perfect excuse to make the Namaste Blondies, see how they really taste and also bring them somewhere else so I didn’t end up eating the entire pan myself.

Truth be known, Ms. GoDairyFree's post looked so inviting, that after I mixed the mix, spread it in a pan and sprinkled some Enjoy Life chocolate chips on top, I couldn't help but take some pix to try and replicate her money shot.

Namaste and Enjoy Life , what a marriage!


My-pan's-in-the-oven shot:


The finished goodies:


And the taste result? Oh. My. God. The Namaste Blondie mix delivers a truly decadent result.

I had to bring the entire 9x13 pan to the party save one or two squares which brought share with my theater buddies the next night who kept saying, "How did you make these? They're what? Gluten-free?" People were swooning.

The Namaste Blondie mix is definitely swoon-worthy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Food Allergy Companies in the New York Times

I love when our cause gets national attention. Some of my favorite companies got some great publicity recently in the New York Times. Have a read.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Second Avenue is Coming Soon

Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king! December 17 by all bloggy accounts is the date of the rebirth, re-opening of the King of Delis: Second Avenue Deli.

All hail the King.

Next Monday.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Food Allergy Ball

Last night, I attended the 10th annual Food Allergy Ball at the Waldorf Astoria which raises money for the Food Allergy Initiative. Over 1000 attendees and 5 million dollars were raised to help find a cure for food allergies. Fantastic! It was an inspiring event.

Now to the most important question: what did we eat? Well, being an Allergic Girl who doesn’t like to hedge her bets, I ate a 100% safe dinner at home early [veggie chili with brown rice]. Yes. Even though this was the Food Allergy Ball, it seemed a good idea to eat at home. I wanted to enjoy myself and not worry about being hungry.

My instinct served me well as the menu was not particularly THIS Allergic Girl friendly:
-Chicken pate [made with flour]
-Salmon en croute [salmon=death and pastry is wheat]
-Various desserts that all had chocolate [from an unknown source], eggs, dairy, and/or wheat or some combo therein.
-There was a vegetarian option, which were veggies en croute [with eggplant which equals itchy throat for me].

Ah well. I can’t blame them; salmon is a tried and true benefit dish and the Waldorf Astoria was feeding 1000 people!

However, what was completely Allergic Girl friendly, and an innovative surprise, was that the ingredient to each and every dish served was available on the evening program! I have never seen that before and it put me at ease knowing exactly what was in every dish [even though I wouldn’t be eating any of it].

So what happened after I explained to my table captain that I was unable to eat anything on their menu including the veggie option? He went to talk with the chef and promptly returned saying some very magical words:

“Tell us exactly what you can eat and we will make it for you.”

“Anything?”

“Yes. Anything, the chef will make you whatever you like.”

That response from the kitchen rocked my Allergic Girl world!

As I had just eaten, I asked for a simple fruit plate. However, as I’m allergic to certain fruits I told him “exactly” what I wanted [I felt like such a queen!]: grapes, apples, oranges, pears and berries. In a flash, a beautiful square large plate was delivered with a flourish with exactly those fruits, [no more, no cookie, no powdered sugar—you know how chefs love to add on!]. I happily dug in as my table mates looked on with envy. [It has happened that more than once when I’ve gotten a special order, especially at an event like a wedding or a benefit, others often ask if they can have it too because it looks so good!]

The evening program lasted until well after 930pm and by that point I was starting to get peckish. As the salmon was being served, O Captain, My Captain came by to again inquire: “What may we make for you, Madame? Anything you'd like, the Chef will prepare”. I really just wanted a little something. So I asked for a burger. Yes, a humble burger in a sea of en croute. With some steamed veggies. My captain was off with my request and returned with a burger fit for an Allergic Queen.

Here’s the proof in candlelight:

Folks, I have to tell you this guy made my night. He couldn’t have been more solicitous or kind; I already called the Waldorf this morning to tell them what a great job he did! And Devin who kept me company through drinks did too. And Megha, my lovely tablemate with the severely walnut-allergic brother did as well.

It was a great event for a great cause made better by an allergen-free dinner!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Executive Chef Jeffrey Brana, The Raleigh Hotel

At The Raleigh Hotel, in early November, I had a great sit-down with Executive Chef Jeffrey Brana about food allergies. Chef’s anaphylactically allergic to the fungus family. You can read that interview and his tips about navigating the dining experience on MyAllergyNetwork.com.

**

After the interview, Chef Brana treated me to a very juicy burger, so yum! I mean, juice dripping down my chin good.

When he suggested I return later that week when they were rolling out his menu how could I say no? I happily returned and brought friends.

Oy, oy oy. Note to self: don’t go to a resto’s first night when they are rolling out a new menu, with new staff--it was an expensive, small comedy of errors. At least The Raleigh Hotel is a gorgeous outdoor dining spot; hard to complain when you are under the stars and palms trees.

For you fellow allergic diners, the crucial part of the story is what all of that comedy/tragedy going on I didn’t get allergic to anything. The staff was very careful with my needs and my dinner. I had the chicken, which was succulent. It was cooked in a modified sous vide method, served in a winey au jus and chanterelle sauce:

Super yum. Thank you again GM Nick and Chef Brana!

If the juicy juice burger and succulent chicken are any indication of future goodness coming out of The Raleigh Hotel's kitchen, I look forward to eating allergen-free there again very soon.

Raleigh Hotel
1775 Collins Avenue,
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
Phone: (305) 534-6300
Fax: (305) 538-8140
Info@Raleighhotel.com

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Allergic Girl and Life Coaching/Counseling

Back at my Allergic Girl one-year anniversary, I mentioned there were big things planned for year two, so here goes!

I’m a licensed social worker and psychotherapist trained and experienced working with adults, children, couples and groups. One of my biggest announcements in year two is: I started my private coaching and counseling practice! I'm helping people like us, those that have food allergies and food restrictions.

**

Many of you write to me privately asking how I’m able to eat out so often with food allergies and food intolerances. I’ll tell you: a lifetime of experiences with allergies and my social work training has enabled me to talk with anyone and get the service and information I need.

Now I help others develop the same clarity and confidence!

• Do you feel limited by your food allergies or food intolerances?
• Do you restrict yourself from enjoying a meal in a restaurant?
• Did you discover something you’ve eaten your entire life now makes you ill?
• Are you embarrassed to tell friends why you can’t share their meal or eat at their house?
• Does it seem like no one understands your dietary needs without judgment?
• Do you believe it would be helpful to have someone who understands you to talk to on a regular basis to work through food issues as well as other life goals?


If the answer is YES to any of these questions, coaching may help you get to that next step in advocating for your needs, educating those around you, feeling confident about being in social situations and eating allergen-free! Contact me by email to schedule a free sample coaching session to see if we would work well together.

SESSIONS FEATURE:

• Achievable goal-setting based upon your needs
• Building up your existing strengths
• Ongoing support
• Assistance with food choices, grocery shopping and meal planning
• Learning how to create a “safe” person and “safe” places
• Resources: books, websites, organizations, support groups
• Ancillary service referrals available: psychotherapy, acupuncture, nutritionist, yoga, and doctors/allergists
• Field trips in NYC available

BENEFITS FROM COACHING:

As a direct result of working with me you will experience:

• An increased confidence eating away from your safe zones
• A heightened ability to communicate your needs to everyone
• A strengthened support system
• A decrease in overall anxiety around food allergies and intolerances

Coaching can be conducted by either telephone or in person if you live in the New York area. Contact me by email to schedule a free sample coaching session to see if we would work well together.

Happy Allergen-free Eating!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bob Fisher, Frommers.com

Recently, I had a chance to sit down with world traveler and fellow food allergic person [he has peanut allergies], Bob Fisher.

The man travels the world.

With food allergies.

He is my new hero.

You can read the interview online at MyAllergyNetwork.com.

I hope you find him as inspiring as I do!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Quality Meats

Recently, a date took me to Quality Meats for our first dinner together. Before we went, I called and spoke with the manager on duty, Mauricio, who assured me that the staff took allergies very seriously and the chef would be pleased to accommodate me. Rah!

Up entering Quality Meats, the manager on duty, Jody, told me Mauricio had apprised them of the Allergic girl situation, he had made notes in the computer and that Chef Drew would come by our table personally to discuss the menu. Fantastic!

Upon sitting down a warm and smiley Chef Drew indeed came over to our table, walked me through the whole menu, telling me what was Allergic girl safe. Sadly, not too, too much. For example, they use the fryers for everything, and a lot of the sides were in some delicious way fried. However, we settled on a nice filet mignon and some steamed asparagus, which were done perfectly. No allergic or food intolerance issues, and I was able to thoroughly enjoy my date. [PS because I know you're going to ask, the next date fizzled. Ah well.] The Executive Chef Craig Koketsu came by our table after the meal to check in make sure everything was fine, and executed without any issue, which it was.

Thank you Quality Meats!

I left Quality Meats thinking: this can’t be a fluke. I’m certain I'm not simply stumbling upon the “right” chefs, or just the few sympathetic chefs out there. There is a true understanding of the issue afoot! And there seems to be a real desire to feed patrons safely.

It only gets better if people with allergies like us continue to patronize restaurants, let them know what we want and how to feed us and return often and tell friends.

Quality Meats
57 W. 58th St.,
New York, NY 10019
212-371-7777

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hervé This at The James Beard Foundation

I had the pleasure of attending a lunchtime lecture at the the James Beard House by Hervé This, as part of their Beard on Books series held at the James Beard House, a very cool, if not terminally skinny townhouse. Seriously, you have to take a deep inhale and practically turn sideways to make it up the stairs.

Haven’t heard of Hervé This? Don’t worry I hadn’t either. However, I’d bet that you've heard of molecular gastronomy, that kind of cooking favored by Chef Wylie Dufrense and Chef Ferran Adria in Spain; it was even utilized by Chef Marcel Vingeron, Top Chef contestant in season two. Well, Hervé, is the veritable pere of Molecular Gastronomy. Did I mention that he’s a chemist, not a chef. Confused?

Hervé This made a very important distinction between molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking. Molecular gastronomy is the science behind how food works; molecular cooking [what Dufrense and Adria and others do] is the artistic application of the scientific knowledge that molecular gastronomy has uncovered.

Hervé This went on to explain that in 1980, yes 27 years ago, he started fooling around with the idea [or idée as he said in his Maurice Chevalier accent] of how food works. Hervé This [pronounced Tees in case you ever run into him], took a scientific approach to uncovering the chemical mysteries behind food and more specifically unraveling commonly held beliefs about how food works. He started collecting those commonly held beliefs, i.e. old wives tales, renaming them “culinary precisions” and currently has 25,000 recorded. Very soon they will be put up on the internet, on the site of the Institute where he works. The site is in French, natch, but he said NYU was picking up on his lead and collecting American old wives tales about cooking as I write this. [Grub Street has a round-up of Hervé This's other activities around town this week.]

It was a very cool short lecture on this new, old, cutting edge of collective food knowledge and culinary skill.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Whole Foods and Gluten-free Mixes

Have you noticed something interesting going on over at your local Whole Foods gluten-free product aisle?

A few months ago, I noticed that Whole Foods had introduced their 365 brand of gluten-free cake, pancake and bread mixes alongside the name brands I trust: Gluten-Free Pantry and Cherrybrook Kitchen. “Great,” I thought, “More GF products on the market equals robust competition”. Hmm seems Whole Foods would rather have a monopoly as they have been quietly not restocking the competition. That might STILL be okay with me IF their line had the same properties as the brands I trust: mainly that they are gluten-free as well as tree-nut free. But as they aren’t this development is not so great.

The only way to change this? Let Whole Foods know what we, their consumer base, wants. Email them, talk to the manager in the store—let them know what products you and your family need!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fran Costigan at The Institute of Culinary Education

Happy Thanksgiving!

My contribution to this week of turkey and over-stuffing is to tell you all about a vegan cupcake class I was invited to attend last Friday and I have a special recipe surprise! [PS you could try this yummy vegan GF treat this holiday].

**

I had taken a vegan dessert class about 10 years ago at the Natural Gourmet School with vegan dessert pioneer Fran Costigan and it was wonderful. Maple syrup was the main sweetener and everything we made came out moist and flavorful. Even then, she was using all natural and organic products--this is why she’s a pioneer folks!

The next time I saw Fran Costigan wasn’t until a few months ago, at the Steve Ettlinger’s Twinkie Deconstructed event, where she made a vegan version of the American classic Twinkie to great raves.

So you can imagine my delight when I was invited to attend Fran Costigan's "Great Vegan Cupcakes" class at the Institute of Culinary Education and learn about how to make dessert without butter, eggs or diary.

**

Fran Costigan is a classically trained pastry chef and thus she utilizes classic baking techniques.

-Her recipes directions call for precise measuring. As Fran says: “measure, measure, measure” to get consistent results every time you bake.

-Her method of measuring is the “dip and sweep”: dip the measuring cup into the flour and sweep your knife across to get an exact amount that isn’t packed.

-She suggests pre-heating your oven and having not one but two oven thermometers to gauge the exact temp of your oven and thus cook your treats to perfection.

-We used the French method of preparing our recipes called “mise en place” meaning to put everything in place before you start cooking/baking.

-She reminded us all to mix dry ingredients first then wet ingredient and don't combine the two until mixed first.

-She keeps all of her oils, nuts/seeds and flours in the fridge especially as natural/organic products can turn rancid quickly.

**

The class is welcomed by a fruit and bread plate [Assistant Erica made me a special bread-free fruit plate]:


Our organic ingredient and spice pantry:


Here’s the mise en place for the baking tools:


Here's the mise en place for our Vanilla Berry Cupcake:



Vanilla Berry Cupcakes ready to go into a pre-heated oven:


Many hands frosting cupcakes together:


A group meal at the end of class:


(From Left to Right) Assistants Victoria and Erica:



**
As a special treat, exclusively for Allergic Girl readers, I have the gluten-free cupcake recipe that Fran developed, which can be made into a cake as well as cupcakes.

GLUTEN FREE WHEAT FREE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
Yield: 2 1/4 cups batter
This recipe is an adaptation of my most popular chocolate cake: My Chocolate Cake to Live For. Over the years, I have met so many people who are gluten intolerant and allergic that I just had to give this GF baking mix a try. The batter is extremely thin, but bakes up into a delicious, deeply chocolate, moist cake that anyone will enjoy.

Ingredients

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa
1/4 cup light organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup organic canola oil
1/2 cup pure maple syrup, Grade A Dark Amber
1 cup chocolate or vanilla soy milk or rice milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar


1. Position a rack just above the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Oil the cups and top of a standard muffin tin. If you choose to line the tins with paper liners, only the top of the tin needs to be oiled.
2. Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the baking mix, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to the strainer. Tap the strainer against the palm of your hand to sift the ingredients into the bowl. Stir with a wire whisk to distribute the ingredients.
3. Whisk the oil, maple syrup, soy milk, vanilla extract, and vinegar in a separate medium bowl until well blended. Pour into the dry mixture and stir with a whisk until the batter is smooth. This batter is extremely thin. It is odd, but don’t panic. You will notice a bean smell but this dissipates during baking.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cups, filing each about 3/4 full. Pour 1/3 cup water into any empty cups to insure even baking.
5. Bake for 13 to 15minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen (the tops will be flat), and a cake tester inserted in the centers of the cakes comes out clean or with only a few moist crumbs.
6. Cool the tin on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife between the cupcakes and the inside of the cups and lift each onto the rack. Cool completely.

Notes: They are deeply chocolate and keep well in the freezer. Most tasters detected a flavor they liked—nuts? Liqueur I was asked, but not one thought gluten free.

Ice the cupcakes after they are cool [chilled is best] with any favorite icing:

Suggested Icings: Soy creamer or coconut milk ganache or Chocolate Cream Filling & Frosting, both found in More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, by Fran Costigan


**

Thank you to Fran’s two assistants Victoria and Erica for a great job. I must extend an extra special Allergic Girl shout-out to Erica who is gluten-intolerant as well. Erica, knowing I had food allergies/intolerance, made it her business to make sure I had some fruit to start the class that hadn’t touched any nuts or bread. Then when it came time for the end of class meal, instructed another student on careful clean prep making sure I had an uncontaminated salad to eat. Erica was my allergen-sensitive angel, THANK YOU ERICA!

**

Fran Costigan's next class at ICE is “Decadent Creamy Dairy-free Pure Chocolate Desserts”, Tues Dec 3, 10am-2pm. In addition, I will be interviewing Fran in February which will be available over at HealthCentral.com. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Allergy-Free Cookbook by Alice Sherwood

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Alice Sherwood, author of ALLERGY FREE COOKBOOK, [published by DK Publishing] for HealthCentral.com. The two-part interview can be found on MyAllergyNetwork.com.

If you are a newly diagnosed food allergic or food intolerant person, or have a newly diagnosed child with allergies or have any allergic loved ones, I suggest checking Alice Sherwood's ALLERGY FREE COOKBOOK out.

Sherwood’s recipes eliminate the big four [gluten, eggs, dairy and nuts] allergens with clever substitutions and easy to read instructions. Have a look at this page from her book [courtesy of DK Publishing/Alice Sherwood's ALLERGY FREE COOKBOOK]:

Additionally, Sherwood has a bright and positive attitude about eating well and cooking for food allergies/intolerances.

Enjoy!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Allergic Girl's Birthday Celebrations

My birthday is this month and I had my annual Allergic Girl birthday celebration, joined by beloved friends and family. This year, I hired La Fonda Boricua to cater. Whilst watching people go back for third helpings [!] I knew I had made the right dinner choice. Here’s the menu which satisfied both the vegetarians and the meatatarians:

White rice
Yellow rice with pigeon peas
Black beans
Red beans
Fried sweet plantains
[all vegetarian]

Baked chicken
Oxtail stew
Goat stew
[for the meat eaters!]

And a green salad.

For dessert, there were strawberries and black grapes and two chocolate cakes: one glutinous and one gluten-free.

After I blew out the candles [yes I still make a wish, world peace hasn't happened yet, has it?] and the cakes were cut, I heard my dad ask, over the din: “Did you make this cake? This ‘gluten-free’ cake?”

“Um, yes. From a mix but yeah I made it, yeah,” I replied.

“It so good! I mean really so much better than the one with gluten!”

This was my dad's way of announcing to the guests at my birthday party that my one layer gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free cake, Cherrybrook Kitchen’s chocolate cake and white frosting was better than the Costco chocolate cake that usually gets raves.

What a surprising yay!

My cake, which was moist with a tender crumb, tasted like an Oreo cookie. Or what I think an Oreo would taste like if it were a cake. Or what my memory of an Oreo tastes like. I didn’t taste the “other” cake but my creation disappeared and I still have half of Costco cake left.

I think I may have turned some of my friends and family to the GF side of life, pretty easy to do with cake that was delicious. Thank you Cherrybrook Kitchen for making an easy vegan mix [I made the frosting with butter but you could make that vegan too] which was perfect for my meat-eaters, Indian vegetarian friends, my Kosher vegan auntie, and those that were wheat allergic, egg allergic and this Allergic Birthday Girl.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Standard Hotel, Miami

The end of the property at 8am, looking toward downtown Miami.

**

Looking toward the bay from the pool at dusk.


**

I stayed at The Standard, Miami once before in April 2006, a few months after they opened. It was still in the very soft opening stage and there were issues: parts of the spa were out of order; service was spotty when they showed up at all; the pool temperature was either too warm or off completely; and my room had a major caterpillar infestation.

Despite this, last year, I found a Chef who fed me safely, bellmen/waiters/housekeeping who were lovely and I was able to broker a truce between the caterpillar hoard and me.

And to top it off, I fell in love with the hotel with all of its charm and quirks.

Set off the main South Beach drag and tucked away on one of the many small islands in Biscayne Bay, the former Lido was transformed two years ago by the Andre Balazs group into its current state.

The vision for this hotel is a spa/hotel that utilizes water as a therapy/treatment. Hence, there are the three pools: the main pool, hot tub and Arctic plunge. Here's a view looking back toward the hotel from the pool:

There is a spa in the main building with a Turkish style Hamam, eucalyptus steam room, large sauna, and a wall of sound shower [which, sadly, hasn't worked the two times I've stayed here].

The rooms are Scandinavian style, all blond wood and big white beds. There was a lack of shelf space but they've added Ikea roll-away drawers and some folding tables to compensate.

I wrote about the cuisine at The Lido earlier this week: it’s clean, flavorful, organic and local. And they do their best to make it allergic girl, allergic person friendly!

However, speaking of allergies: Balazs’ property is doggy friendly. They allow little dogs at this hotel, in the rooms and on the property. When I first stayed there last year, I thought “uh-oh” this might be a problem. I NEVER opt to stay at hotels that are doggy-friendly, just the opposite. But I took a chance here and I’m glad I did.

As I mentioned the rooms are sparsely decorated, no rugs, wood floors with cotton sheets [and a cotton coverlet for me, no feather duvet] washed regularly if requested. There’s air conditioning and the windows open so there’s ventilation. I was able to request a room where no doggy has stayed and they hotel was able to honor that request as they said they only allow dogs in certain rooms. I've never had an issue doggy-wise.

Overall, I think this is best deal in South Beach: it's serene, it's a spa and I can eat allergen-free!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Prime 112

The good news: the staff at Prime 112 was quite conscientious about taking care of my allergies. The communication between the manager and our waitress was excellent. She knew all about the allergic girl sitch before I sat down. (I had called ahead).

The bad news: there was little save the steak on the menu that was truly safe to eat at Prime 112. For example, the broccoli was steamed in the same steamer with the lobster and the truffled French fries were fried in the same fryer with the walnut-crusted goat cheese croutons.

This is not a place set-up to make special meals, and on a Saturday, night probably less so. To be fair, when I called ahead to discuss my food allergies with the general manager, she said as much. However, we booked a 6pm dinner reservation [us and the blue hairs of Miami Beach] and decided to try it with the manager's blessing that this would be the safest time. If I had felt uncomfortable it would have been still early enough to go elsewhere and eat well if necessary.

I had heard so many great things about Prime 112 and it’s so difficult to get a dinner reservation and the waitress was so on top of everything, I ordered the steak and hoped for the best.

Here’s a picture of what arrived:


It was aged, which is not my favorite taste. It was the NY Strip, which is not my favorite cut. It had a lot of sinewy flesh, possibly the result of an inferior piece of meat. I ate charbroiled edges that had been salted and were well done and left a huge tasteless hunk of pink on my plate.

It was not a great steak.

The waitress, although sweet and doing her very best kept giving me “oh your poor thing” looks. She never actually said this but the downward cast glances and the back rubbing [yes, she rubbed my back three times] said it all. I appreciated that she understood the importance of the task at hand, that is feeding a severely allergic person, but pity isn’t a great approach.

So upshot: I would not recommend Prime 112 for allergic diners nor would I recommend it to any diner. It’s a pretty place but not worth the hype or moolah.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Miami Book Fair International 2007, A Food Panel

I attended a very interesting panel at the Miami Book Fair International on Saturday entitled "Why We Eat The Way We Eat Now".

The standing room only audience pictured here

and I listened to the three panelists pictured here

discuss “Why We Eat What We Eat”. The panel included David Kamp, Laura Shapiro, and Molly O’Neill. This illustrious panel was moderated by Marcel Escoffier.

Here are Molly and David conversing in low tones

before they launched into a discussion about how we as Americans got here; how we became the eaters we are now.

David Kamp asserted that our current culinary tastes were formed by Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, and James Beard and that the new food movements aren’t elitist as many claim/bemoan. He asked: what’s wrong with better/higher quality food that’s more readily available? He also wondered aloud why Americans have such a dysfunctional relationship with food. To wit: Americans will happily wait on line for a $400 iphone; however, when Kamp suggested that Americans should spend $5 a week more on their food budget, they cried that don’t have the cash.

Laura Shapiro's comments focused upon Julia Child and Julia’s relationship with food. According to Shapiro, Julia wanted to change Americans relationship with food from the outset. She wanted Americans to “get in there with their food”. Julia made this notion particularly famous when she told her audience: “you’re alone in the kitchen; who’s going to see” after she flipped a potato pancake which splattered everywhere, broke in two and she patched it up. According to Shapiro’s exhaustive research, Julia’s lasting message was: Trust food.

Molly O’Neill asserted that in our supposedly classless society, food tastes are a determinant of class. She relayed how her mother would look down upon the neighbor children whose mother gave them coca cola for breakfast. She then talked about the earliest known American food writing, colonists waxing poetic about the American bounty and their feelings of entitlements to partake in it.

Overall, it was dynamic discussion about class, taste-makers, politics and our current collective relationship with food in America.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Lido at the Standard, Miami

Ever since my interview with Executive Chef Mark Zeitouni of the Lido at the Standard Hotel last March, I knew I was in great hands when I want to eat allergen-free in South Beach, Florida.

That is saying a lot -- this is another fishy coastal town, like Newport, RI. Floridians love their fish which, as you may know, is very un-fish-allergic girl friendly. (Quite a boon for the gluten-free folks though.) In my few past visits to the palm tree swaying, tanned, hard body paradise, I’ve had a very difficult time finding something safe and yummy to eat. That’s why you see only one recommended spot in Palm Beach. Meal mishaps thy name has been Miami.

Until now.

Now I have a new go-to spot in South Beach. Executive Chef Mark Zeitouni, his Chef de Cuisine Dennis and Sous Chef Chris have taken great care of me whilst I’ve been hanging in South Beach for the Miami Book Fair International.

**Did you notice the names I mentioned? These are the people with whom I’ve had a personal discussion about food allergies; they understand, they care and they get it! If you go to dine at The Lido at the Standard, Miami or any of the places I've recommended say "Hi!" to the manager, you'll already know their name. Please, call ahead, talk to the chef, you'll know their name too. Really, they're willing, wanting, waiting to hear from you and create something yummy, just for you.**

On this trip to The Standard, I’ve eaten most meals a l'hotel. Costly, I know but the food here is organic, natural and prepared very cleanly. And they've totally taken care of me and my allergies!

I have had eggs and potatoes for breakfast or organic steel cut oats with honey; Greek salads with chickpeas or feta; and mini turkey burgers or beef burgers with a side salad, no bun of course. For dinner, I’ve especially enjoyed a very moist breast of chicken with simply grilled haricot verts with lemon juice, olive oil. (The recipe for the chicken will be forthcoming ASAP).

Here are some pix.

Breakfast:


$5 corn on the cob but oh so good:



Salad with chickpeas poolside:


If you're in Miami or planning a trip, stop in to The Lido at the Standard, Miami say Hi to Chef Mark and enjoy!

The Lido at the Standard, Miami
40 Island Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
tel: 305.653.1717

Saturday, November 10, 2007

David's Cafe, Miami Beach

Had a light dinner last night at this South Beach mainstay, David's Cafe.

An allergy card in Spanish would have come in VERY handy at this place [note to self] as only the host spoke English enough to understand "allergies".

This being the case I kept it simple with black beans and rice which were delish.


My dining companion had pork chops with sauteed onions, white rice and sweet plantains which as she ate she kept "mmmm'ing" to herself. Always a good sign.


This review is truly only a mention versus a full on review. I wasn't prepared not to be able to communicate with the staff. Next time I'm down in South Beach, I will go with an allergy card and really try some Cuban cuisine.

David's Cafe
1654 Meridian Avenue
South Beach, FL 33139
tel: 305.672.8707

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Provisional" Status

You may see that on many of my recommended restos I've placed a [PROVISIONAL] note. This refers to the fact that I've been there only ONCE and even though I liked it, ate safely, talked with the owner/manager/chef, still it's only been tested by me ONCE.

Most restaurants I will frequent multiple times before I write them up. However, sometimes I've had such a great, welcoming experience the first time that I want to make sure you all know about it.

Especially with these provisional restaurants, PLEASE check with the restaurant first before going as chefs change, so do menus, owners, managers and attitudes towards the special request diner.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Restaurantspeak

Now I’m up for a good rant as much as the next guy. But something is off. Since when is a rant an article? Op Ed piece, sure, bring it on. But front page news in the Dining Out section of the New York Times?

In today’s NYT, Bruni takes on “restaurantspeak” as patronizing and obnoxious. (What would we do without Orwell's 1984 to guide us in newspeak?) No real argument there.

But is it newsworthy?

I think his wry observations might have been better placed on his Diner’s Journal blog rather than as an actual article.

I'm not ranting, just saying.

Still, have a read. If you dine out often you’ll recognize your evening out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Miami Book Fair International 2007

“Who knew”, as one person said when I mentioned that I was going to the Miami Book Festival . “Who knew we have books in Miami?!”

True, there’s only the ONE great little bookstore on Lincoln Road that has all the hottest titles and stays open late; no mega stores here in South Beach, baby! But there’s a whole Miami Book Festival in the first week of November every year. Everyone is here: Rosie O’Donnell is hawking her new book, Celebrity Detox; Jenna Bush is talking tonight about a children’s book she wrote; and even authors I worked with whilst in publishing are passing through. (Hey, Abby Thomas! BTW the way her book is a truly beautifully honest look at how Abby dealt with her husband’s head trauma injury. Funny, sad, smart, elegant: a great read.)

This week, I'm amongst the literati and in attendance of one of the biggest book fests around. Specifically I’ll be talking with some food and health book authors for both Allergic Girl and Health Central.

So, stay tuned for more this week and next!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sambuca, NYC

Kelly, Ms. Celiac Chick, and I had a fun dinner the other night at Sambuca. This was my first time there but I needn’t have been concerned, the Chick knew everyone and they knew her. So cool.

The manager David was very helpful and our waiter CJ gets extra points [and a BIG tip from me] for his allergen-friendly attitude, knowledge, and communication with the kitchen. Just one example, CJ offered to bring over ingredient listings for their home-made GF dinner rolls. Offered! Before I even requested. Fantastic Sambuca.

Here’s their gluten-free menu.

The food is family style and the restaurant is very family oriented: large portions, large groups and children are welcome, even encouraged. The Chick and shared a mixed salad. We both got GF dinner rolls and dipped them in olive. What a missed pleasure that was]. I had Tinkyada pasta with olive oil, LOTS of garlic, and steamed broccoli, it felt like the old days of eating out at an neighborhood Italian restaurant. The portion was so huge, even though I ordered the individual bowl, I had leftovers for days.

I was surprised by how comfortable, how understood and accepted I felt when I ordered. This is no small thing folks for an allergic diner or anyone with special needs. Above the GF food [which was yummy, heavy, garlicky and about par for an Italian American resto, GF or no], I left feeling happy to have a place where there was no eye-roll but just pure understanding and great service.


Sambuca
20 West 72nd Street
New York City, 10023
Telephone: 212.787.5656

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Worry-Free Dinner in NYC?

So I have this idea to put out to my fellow New Yorkers with food allergies and food intolerances.

Would any of you who live in NYC or nearby be interested in getting together for a pre-paid, prix-fixe meal that would be allergen-friendly and worry-free? Either a dinner during the week or possibly a weekend brunch?

Allergic/intolerant/special needs diners are the most loyal patrons a restaurant can hope to attract. I know many of you are anxious about eating out at a new place but this would be a way to expand our dining horizons, meet new people who understand why you want the "sauce on the side", and have a yummy dining experience.

Let me know, leave a comment or send me an email: allergicgirl@gmail.com.

PS: It's finally here: Worry-Free Dinners!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Island Cafe Bar, NYC

Last Wednesday I was treated to a friends and family evening at Island Cafe Bar in Long Island City, Queens.

Island opened about six months ago with some buzz given that a former contestant from Top Chef was chefing there. Then I didn't hear much about it until this summer, and this invite for dinner came along with news of a new chef: Chef Dan Morales.

A sit-down, fixed menu fall tasting was on offer that evening, showcasing their new chef; however, a pre-set menu is not necessarily allergic girl or guy friendly. Regardless, I thought I'd go look at the space, have a drink, mingle, see what was what.

I wasn't disappointed by the space. Nestled in Long Island City, just over the 59th street bridge, in a residential neighborhood, this two-story building is an oasis. The space features white washed walls, white pillows and furniture, soft candlelight, double height ceilings, lanterns, tall clay urns and blond wood beams. The vibe is Miami Beach meets Mykonos.

Because the room was so inviting, I thought, "Maybe I will try some food." After speaking with two out of the three owners about the allergic girl sitch, my mind was put more at ease about trying a dish or two. (I'm never completely at ease until I eat without incident, I'm sure you know what I mean).

One part-owner John is also the Maitre D'Hotel at the St. Regis in midtown Manhattan. He said he's very used to handling all kinds of food allergy requests. On a more personal note, he told me that his niece has very severe food allergies, and traveling with her involves all kinds of separate pots and pans. Aha! Here is a man who really seemed to get the cross contamination issue. Excellent!

Then I spoke to Tim, part-owner number two, about the menu and what was allergic girl safe. He was only too happy to accommodate me, reminding me that "there is always a way" to accommodate a patron's requests or needs, dietary or allergic or otherwise. They have three grills where meat and fish are grilled separately and three Fryolators, two for calamari and one for squash blossoms etc.. It was that point in the conversation when he happily offered to fry something separately for me or anyone with allergies.

His statement, "there's always a way," resonated in my ears all evening.

These two men made it clear they have years of experience working in the food service biz (as Tim reminded me he's in the SERVICE industry) and aren't frightened off by a special request or two. Both owners said they have special requests all the time and they both made a point of reminding me that their job is to make the customer happy and feed them safely.

This business attitude is music to an allergic girl's ears and I wanted to make sure you all heard it too. You never need to patronize a restaurant that will not accommodate you as they are plenty of wonderful restaurants that will. Go out there, get to know your local business owners, your Maitre D's, your managers and servers: find the ones who want your business and want to feed you safely.

What did this allergic girl end up having? I had the Australian lamb chops, which were delectable, grilled simply with a bit of salt and pepper, tender and tasty. Funnily enough, they seemed to take a very long time to show up. Tim came over apologizing saying the waiter made a mistake and brought my dish to another diner - with shellfish and nut allergies! Totally proving their point that they get special requests and allergic diners all the time. How funny!

The upshot: I admire the owners respectful and understanding attitude towards allergies and special requests; the space is inviting, it had the kind of light that made everyone look great, relaxed and happy [or was that free flowing wine?]; and next time I find myself in Long Island City I would definitely stop in to try more of their nouveau Greek menu.

If you want to try out Island Cafe Bar for yourself here are the guys to talk with: From left to right, Tim, Shari their publicist, and John.


Island Cafe Bar
35-15 36th Street
Long Island City,
NY 11106
Main: 718.433.0690

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Food Allergies on The Today Show

I love it when mainstream media covers food allergies.

The Today Show did two segments on food allergies this morning.

One segment in the 8am hour about women and food allergies -- video here.

And another segment just now about deadly peanut allergies -- video here. (thanks Ruth!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lunch with Chef Michael Lomonaco

OK, I didn’t exactly dine WITH Executive Chef Michael Lomonaco but he was nearby, ensuring every dish was Allergic Girl friendly. Really. This is the kind of place that keeps a file on you and not in the Stasi way but in the “this customer can’t eat such and such” kind of way. They knew all about my dietary restrictions and allergic girl needs before I said a word based on my past few visits: the file, honey, the file. Gotta love that!

Now why lunch you ask? Lunch is an insider secret of this foodie town. Bruni did a story on lunches recently so did Ed Levine. The upshot: you can go to a great restaurant, helmed by a superstar chef, eat delicious food and can get a rezzie, all with ease at lunchtime. Porter House is no exception to this secret and even more, they have a special that's a great deal: three courses for $24. On offer is a terrific hanger steak, usually not my favorite cut of meat but I had a taste of this one and it was tender as could be.

See the October menu below [courtesy of PHNY]:


Also, have a peek at my steak tartare appetizer picture (excusing the amateur quality, pls). This was my first raw meat foray and it was outstanding: clean, fresh, well-seasoned and minus the anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, and egg for yours truly.


PHNY is an elegant, comfortable room that’s not too uptight. The staff is welcoming, knowledgeable, and friendly. The steaks are all natural beef from Brandt. And if that weren’t enough, they make handcut potato chips in a dedicated fryer.

Simply stated: Porter House New York is meticulous about special dietary or allergic needs: they fully disclose ingredients, they explain their cooking methods, and the staff is well-trained on food issues. It makes me wonder why other restos and food establishments can't be as easy an experience for an allergic girl.

Porter House New York
10 Columbus Cir
New York, NY 10019
(212) 823-9500

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Babycakes NYC

Babycakes NYC: A Final Word

An interesting set of events occurred over the last few weeks between this Allergic Girl and Babycakes NYC.

A friend, knowing I have multiple food allergies/sensitivities and this blog, made a generous email introduction to a colleague who works at the PR firm that is now representing Babycakes NYC. My friend was completely unaware of my past history with Babycakes NYC but I followed up with her friend, thinking this might be a golden opportunity for some allergen-free healing.

After I explained my past history with the bakery, the publicist said she would, “…pass along your questions to owner Erin McKenna to her to allow her an opportunity to address them.”

Great!

However, I still felt mistrustful of the owner and the bakery based upon my previous experiences and my questions reflected that level of lingering mistrust. Below is a sample of what I sent.

**

Question: Is your bakery nut-free?

Question: Do you still use spelt as a wheat-free cupcake option? [NOTE this is from the Babycakes website.]

Question: Please tell me about your staff training on food allergens. Who conducts your training? How often?

Question: If a consumer needs more allergen information than the website or sales staff can provide, who can they contact?

**

This was the reply I received: “Erin does not wish to participate in this Q&A as she reviewed the site and does not feel comfortable giving any further information to you at this time. I apologize as I know you have been waiting for these answers, but unfortunately, Erin is not willing to participate”.

Sigh. That's a shame. It could have been the start of a beautiful allergen-free friendship.

Shame too because many of you write in asking about an allergy-friendly bakery in NYC. I would've liked to recommend Babycakes NYC. I’d like to eat there myself; but I can’t feel comfortable and safe when I don’t know what I’m eating, how it’s been prepared, or how the staff is trained about allergies.

So, my final word on Babycakes NYC: I can not patronize, endorse nor recommend any establishment, especially one advertising itself as allergen-friendly, that does not have transparent food safety and business practices.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gluten-Free at the Institute of Culinary Education

Last Friday, I attended the Institute of Culinary Education’s first gluten-free cooking class taught by two sisters with celiac. Here are their bios:

"Keri Danziger MS, CCC-SLP, has had a hate/hate relationship with food her entire life which ended with a diagnosis of celiac disease in 2005. Since her diagnosis she has changed her view on food and eating, including learning to cook and actively educating herself and others regarding gluten intolerance and treatment of other autoimmune diseases. She has over a decade of teaching experience across disciplines and currently is a medical speech pathologist specializing in feeding and swallowing disorders at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, New York."

"Lauren Danziger, a 2005 graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, has always loved cooking and entertaining from a very early age. It was only a month after graduating from ICE, while working at Prune Restaurant that she realized that she too had celiac disease. Confused about how to eat and cook as a Celiac, she began the challenging journey of living and cooking in a gluten-filled world. Today she looks forward to helping others have their gluten-free cake and eat it too! Lauren currently works full-time as an international meeting planner for a financial firm in New York City and is a volunteer chef for City Harvest."

**

The class was mucho fun! It was wonderful to be in a room of 20 people (16 participants, 2 instructors, the kitchen helper and me), all of whom were either celiac or gluten intolerant -- and all of whom understood what one participant Erica called having a “celiac moment”, the tummy rumbles or the three-day embargo on wellness after eating something with gluten by mistake.

**

Lauren, the ICE grad, went over recipes and basic cooking techniques and then we broke down into four groups of four to begin preparing recipes.

Here's the welcoming plate that ICE presents at every class, minus the bread and tree-nuts that are the standard fare:


I was a floater, talking with participants, chopping here, listening to people’s stores of illness and wellness there.

Here’s our gang doing prep and Brendan de-veining a shrimp:


Here's Andrea chopping an onion with the technique Lauren had just demo'd:


Here's Ned julienning some veggies:


**

After prepping we got down to the business of cooking, sauteeing, stirring, mixing and baking. It was a bit chaotic as everyone had different culinary skills, levels of comfort in the kicthen, and varying relationships with food. One particpant said this portion of the class felt like TOP CHEF as everyone was scurrying around to find ingredients, bowls were dropping, food was frying.

Before you knew it we were sitting at the table with gluten free beer, [Dragons’ Gold made from sorghum and too sweet for my taste].


Whilst sampling the beer, Keri, speech pathologist and lecturer, broadly outlined the definitions of food intolerance, allergy, and sensitivity; the definition of celiac disease; where gluten can be found; issues of contamination in the one’s home and when eating out; and how to stay safe. (PS:Did you know people who have celiac disease often have other autoimmune disorders like Grave’s disease, or thyroid disease?)

**

Then it was time to eat [for everyone but me sadly, all fishy and nutty]. Here's what was cooked: Salad with Gluten-Free Citrus-Dijon Vinaigrette Dressing; Cornmeal Fritters with Chipotle Dipping Sauce; Sea Bass en Papillote over Julienned Vegetables with Stewed Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers; Spicy Shrimp and Vegetable Risotto; Almond Dacquoise Cake with Whipped Cream and Marinated Berries; and Fudgy Chocolate Walnut Chews.

**If you want any of the recipes, just let me know, I have them on a word doc.**

Here’s what the finished plate looked like:


**

Participants expressed pleasure at their gluten-free creations, hungry for more time with one another and more time to cook and play with food. I hope Institute of Culinary Education has more GF classes, I think they'd do very well. (Is there a cooking school near you? Ask them if they plan on having any recreational classes that cater to the gluten-free or food allergic community. The more people that request these types of classes, the more likely they will be offered.)

**

Thank you to the Institue of Culinary Education, Lisa, Lauren and Keri for a great gluten-free time!