Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Vital Juice

Some of my favorite allergen-free goodies are featured in today’s Vital Juice , the newsletter of Revolution Health . Check it out!

The Chod

Something about this is very giggle worthy to me.

Perhaps it’s how seriously the Chod takes himself when I have yet to have a great meal at any of his wildly popular disasters, I mean, restaurants.

Perhaps it draws a snicker because it's such a public bitch-slap fest.

Perhaps because Bruni is just so chill about the whole nonesense, I love a man who takes the highroad, Chod's blog and his general mishegas is even snickerlier. [Yes, I made that word up]

Eater has the run-down of gory deets if you're looking for some lunchtime reading.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

SOBE Food Festival – Withdrawl

I think I’m having SOBE withdrawl. I’m still in Florida, about an hour north in the Palm Beaches and it’s stunning here.


Yes, those are my toes and my iBook. I'm at the edge of the property sitting on some outdoor wicker, having a staring contest with the giant salamander or baby lizard or maybe gecko that is crawling across the chair opposite me. Here he is, now poolside as he scampered to get away from my phone camera.


But. But SOBE is a whole different story. And SOBE filled with foodies and chefs! It was a great time. Okay. Now back to work getting you those chef interviews.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Being

Speaking of bittersweet, I’m sucking the last bit of pleasure out of every last moment here at the Regent . After a few initial blunders , my stay has been wonderful.

I’m sitting poolside as I write this. The clouds have moved in, they’ve predicted rain showers for today but no matter, the pool is still like bathwater and after eating Kobe beef burgers for the last three days, my bikini still fits, so I’m going in. Then packing up, getting into the car, and driving north to Lake Worth where I will be staying and blogging for the rest of the week.

Hotel life has good points and less good ones. One of the better points is that you walk in a stranger and by day two everyone knows your name. They make your business their business. And when they do it well, you feel like you’re coming home. Even better than home, because your only job is to relax, enjoy, be. And when a hotel gets it right, just being is the best thing you can possibly do.

I’m going to be in the pool right now to just be.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

SOBE Food Festival – Sunday Afternoon

By the time I went back, after a quick lunch and a blog post, and an even quicker dip in the delicious Regent pool, I could smell that end of the event smell-people were riled up, giddy, drunk, sated and tired.

This became Bobby Flays’ domain. He had the last seminar of the whole weekend’s event , 5-6pm. I think he was making a grilled lobster with some kind of jerk and coconut sauce or dressing. It was impossible to tell for two reasons. The crowd had become drunk and rowdy, I mean row-dy. And that was throwing the Chef off his game, not a lot, not even a little but just enough so he kept asking what he was doing. It didn’t matter. After a full day of sun and booze, the crowd was nuts.

Bobby: “This is the craziest day of my life… I just came from doing a Kids’ seminar to this…We’re gonna send you all a DVD of this. Because in 10 days from now you’re not gonna believe it.”

They woo hooed when Bobby said: “bowl”, “jerked”, “spicy”, “lobster”, “garlic”, “grill”; when he lifted a beer to his mouth or when he couldn't find a spoon.

Shouts of I LOVE YOU BOBBY disrupted any semi-quiet moment of which there was all of none.

Chants of “throw-down” erupted every few minutes, as did shouts of "Iron Chef” although what that was going to accomplish was unclear.

Bobby not merely handled the collective frat-boy that had reared its u-gly, drunken, shaven head at 5:25pm on Sunday afternoon but he totally tamed the beast. Waves of drunken love poured from the back rows up to his stage kitchen.

Tyler Florence stopped by to pop the cork of a champagne bottle and share a glass in the madness. And Mark Summers of Unwrapped , love that show, helped pass the microphone for the Q&A. The drunken Q&A.

A really good time was had by all, even to the bitter-sweet end.

SOBE Food Festival – Sunday Morning

The lines in the Publix Grand Tasting tents were long. Considering how much liquor was involved, given in small portions but still downed three at a time, people seemed well behaved enough. It’s early yet.

Long lines were a main theme of this festival. Why?
-For the love of the Food Network stars? Certainly.
- For the love of getting endless little plates of different foods from top chefs? Definitely.
- For the love of endless two ounce plastic glasses of mixed cocktails? Oh yeah!
- For the love of that feeling of being in on something special, a new food product, or a new liqueur. Right on.

Speaking of which: Starbucks is now doing a bailey’s ripoff, I mean take off on a cream-based elixir.

A Green Tea Liqueur was being actively promoted and prodigiously poured. Interesting, right? I asked the young lady pouring if it was grain based.
“It’s Green Tea based.”
“ No, I mean what kind of liquor is the drink based on.”
“Um, it’s Green Tea. Um, Green, ya know?”
Yeah, I know.

I spent some quality time in the media tent. There were goody bags to be had. Question: how many magazines and brochures can a person carry? Or would want to carry? In the hot sun? Not that many. I took the Food & Wine and binned, I mean, recycled the rest.

Oh and had a quick chat with Alton Brown’s wife on Saturday: their daughter is allergic to peanuts! Small world.

Grass Lounge

Did I mention that a lot of my landsmen are here? I didn’t realize so many Jewish men took the lessons their Bubbies taught them and made it their business. And they’re all adorable!

Did I also mention that I think Glutenfree Girl is living the ultimate allergic-foodie fantasy: marrying a chef? In my case, finding and marrying a chef who’s also a member of the tribe-oy, I’d be set!

But I totally digress.

Under the big tents, I had a quick chat with Michael Jacobs of Grass Restaurant and Lounge in Miami . They are opening an outpost of the restaurant in the newly renovated Art Deco section of town.

Michael Jacobs: Grass is an evolution-inspired restaurant. Humans are at top of the food chain and we have access to everything. With that in mind, we serve healthy food using all the ingredients available to us.

Allergic Girl: Do you work with local, organic purveryors?

MJ: Yes, absolutely! We use mirco-greens, heirloom tomatoes, “ugly” tomatoes, and hothouse cucumbers. We serve very fresh, very clean, light food. We want the main protein on the plate to speak for itself and not be masked by anything.

AG: What about if someone like me walks in and says “I can’t eat ANY fish, not at all-can you accommodate that?

MJ: Sure, we have meat, we have duck; we have two specific vegetarian dishes. We cater to our clients. We’re very hospitable. We’re paid to be hospitable in this industry and a lot of people forget that. It’s my job to make sure the customer is extremely satisfied, whatever their needs or concerns are. If our team can accomplish it within our boundaries, we’re more than happy to do that.

AG: How can a diner with dietary restrictions get the best and safest meal possible at Grass?

MJ: Firstly, communicate your needs to the reservationist. Then, when you arrive, if it hasn’t been brought to the attention of your server, talk with them or the chef and they will be happy to accommodate you.

Thanks Chef Jacobs! Hope to see you next time I’m down here, your spot looks fantastic!

SOBE Food Festival - BubbleQ

For me, Friday was all about the evening’s event: the BubbleQ .

In a massive, white tent on the beach, Moet & Chandon sponsored a tasting with top NYC and Miami chefs and Al Roker. [Al was hobbling when I saw him in the media area earlier that evening, I don't know why]. I never saw what Al's team was “cooking”; it looked like a photo op for the paying customers.

Upon entry, very tanned and tight young men stood holding magnums of champagne.[Too bad none were holding Balthazars!] Poor things, they were still standing when I left; they asked to go home with me. I didn't know where I’d put them all so I politely declined.

Patrons stood in long, curving lines for small plated portions of goodies; I did not indulge of course. I did giggle though when a woman asked Tom Colicchio if he could introduce her to...Tom Colicchio. To which he replied, "I am Tom."

Jeffrey Chodorow was wandering around, looking displeased. Not surprising given the recent Kobe Club reviews and rebuttals.

And I had a brief chat with Michael Luboff, Executive Chef of Mohegan Sun . When asked if Mohegan accommodates special requests and special needs in their massive casino, entertainment, dining and hotel/spa complex, he replied: “People email us all the time and we can take of every request, no problem. We’re like a mom and pop outfit. Even though we’re big, we can handle special needs; we do it all the time.” Excellent to know!

I met a few other chefs to whom I will be talking and hopefully reviewing their restos in the coming weeks. Mainly about BBQ. Boy oh boy, I can’t wait!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Regent South Beach

Hotel sagas are part of an allergic world, certainly part of mine. I do as much recon as possible before I leave: do you accept pets; do you have allergy-free rooms; do you have non-down bedding? I prepare, bringing medicines, snacks, pillows or pillowcases. And most importantly, I bring a sense of adventure, trust that it will work out, and a flexibility of spirit [but not on pets or down bedding to be sure]. And a sense of humor, which will get one through everything and anything.

I was able to get a room last minute at a new hotel, still in its soft opening, as everything was booked for the The South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Not surprisingly. A concierge from a hotel I had stayed in last year helped me on this one, thanks Edgar! And the reservationist was able to give me a small discounted rate because of that connection, an excellent start!

Part of a larger hotel chain, the Regent is located right at the start of Ocean Drive. I checked into the suite: two bathroom sinks, two flat screen TVs, a large terrace overlooking Ocean Drive, and at a decent rate [for this area]. All seemed good, very good. Minus two minor issues:

-The bed hadn’t been changed as per my request upon our arrival-it was all out down: duvet, pillows, and a feather bed. Housekeeping came up and quickly swapped that out and made a beautiful bed. Great.

- I noticed as the a/c cycled, I was sneezing in perfect time: on sneeze, off no sneeze. Sensing a pattern, I called engineering; they changed the air filters immediately.

Two problems solved, excellent! However, I did mention saga. So, on to day two.

-When I awoke in the morning, I ate a small snack, put it down on the nightstand and upon returning from the bathroom, the half eaten snack was covered in tiny ants and so was the nightstand. Yes. Ants. So a room change and upgrade was offered. Nice. Manager Masato couldn’t have been more helpful. Bellmen came up, repacked the room and moved me.

-Firmly settled in a Penthouse Duplex Suite, complete with rooftop Jacuzzi, I unpacked and settled in to enjoy some serious luxury.

-At the hotel restaurant bar, Table 8, I spoke directly with the Chef de Cuisine Kevin about my needs, who listened and made suggestions for lunch. The Kobe beef burger seemed the easiest and best bet.

-Table 8 has its own celebrity Executive Chef who's involved with the Food Fest this weekend. I saw him walking through the bar and flashed him a warm smile thinking perhaps he would chat about his menu and philosophy. No such luck. He saw me, looked at me blankly and kept walking. It wasn’t even a blank look; it was slightly chilly.

-The plain burger with lettuce and tomato, no bun, no sides, was delicious. BUT it took over 40 minutes to get to me. Why? No reason was given other than the kitchen was busy, at 2:45pm when I ordered it. Busy. A kitchen. Go figure.

-After my return from the afternoon’s events in the Food Fest tents, and upon entering the suite, my nose was assaulted by the stench of raw sewage. Not good. It wasn’t coming from the toilet or the sink; maybe it was in the vents, or in the Jacuzzi upstairs. Night Manager Joseph, with the pretty green eyes, was equally horrified by the odor. He called in engineering teams to figure out the issue and sent some champagne as I went off to a VIP party at the Sagamore.

-Upon my return, the sewage smell had become progressively worse. It was going to take a lot more than champagne to fix the issue. There were no more suites, no more rooms, and the smell was becoming toxic. Joseph worked his managerial magic and found a room on the pool level, ant-free and smell-free. He also discounted the hotel fees accordingly for the two days' trouble.

-Engineers, bell men, maids, housekeeping managers joined in the great move with salsa music blaring in the background. Dancing makes a ridiculous day go by quicker I find. They all settled me into the new room with down-free bedding, new filters in the vents, ice in the ice bucket, clothes on hangers, and finally, an Allergic Girl sleeping allergy-free.

Bottom line: some hotels work incredibly hard to accommodate their guests’ needs; some don’t. I’ve stayed in the big chains, Sheraton I’m talking about you, and it was an allergic disaster from beginning to end. I’ve stayed at a small boutique like Hotel St. Thomas D’Aquin in Paris; modest but you couldn’t ask for a more accommodating hotelier.

It isn’t dependent upon how much money you spend: some hotels just get it right.

It might be too early to tell if the Regent will get it right. Infestations and inexplicable sewage leaks are unacceptable; but a hotel staff making every effort to make it right gets a gold star. I’ll be curious to see what they’re like when they are up and running fully.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Chef Mike Moran

The School of Hospitality Management at FIU was buzzing. Young chefs in their whites flew past me in all directions with cries of, “Yes Chef!” as they finished putting together countless rice krispie treats [at least that what I was paying attention to] for a few thousand who will attend this evening’s “Bubble Q” event at the The South Beach Wine & Food Festival.


Chef Mike Moran, the axis upon which this swirling mass pivots was gracious enough to stop for a few moments and sit with me in one of the empty test kitchens. A father of two healthy eating pre-teens, he has the steady gaze and calm demeanor that of one who’s been through the food trenches and come out on the other side.

He’s been at FIU for 16 years. Before which he was the executive chef to the King and Queen of Jordan, before which he worked in NYC at Windows on the World and La Reserve. He had a distinguished career as a chef before turning to teaching. He’s been involved with the food festival in South Beach since it’s infancy, which was 10 years ago. This is the sixth year the Food Network has been involved.

Mike Moran: Personally, I work under the premise that if you come into my house, you’re my guest. The same goes if you come into my business: you’re my guest. I’ll do everything I can to accommodate you; however, I’m not necessarily putting together a menu with that in mind.

It’s really important in the current industry that operators understand that if someone comes in and they want less oil in a dish or if they have a gluten allergy or if they have a sodium issue, those needs should be accommodated. Most of that information and knowledge and ability to comes from your experience in the trade and it comes from your active learning as a chef or a restauranteur or restaurant owner.

Allergic Girl: Doesn’t that also come from management, that attention to special needs?

MM: Sure. Management is managing the guest experience from beginning to end, and one of the most important details is that the food meets the needs of the guest. I’ve had guests bring their own food in a cryo-vac bag and they ask me to heat it up for them and I know it’s because they have an allergy. My own approach is that I go and talk and say here is what I have on hand and here is what can do for you and try and customize it.

In the age of mega restaurants, I would say that for someone who has an allergy issue, they will probably be accommodated better in a smaller restaurant. If their first visit is earlier in the week, rather than on a weekend, perhaps they can get more personal attention from the chef or the dining manager.

Ultimately, the awareness comes from the customer. If enough customers ask for a soup with less salt, then I’m going to sit down with my team and say this is an issue and we don’t want to make a soup that’s one size fits all, let’s prepare the soup two ways, one with less salt.

AG: The larger restaurants can’t really do that. With 800 covers a night, it makes it virtually impossible for them to react quickly to special needs.

MM: Yes, exactly. I think where we run into problems with this is when people pay lip service to special needs.

AG: Meaning…

MM: Meaning: “Is there any cream in the soup?” “No, it’s ok, don’t worry.” Well, if the person goes ahead and eats the soup that actually has cream, they then may have a severe reaction to it. Someone who’s allergic to shellfish and asks if is there shellfish in a dish and if it can be made without shellfish--we may have used stock in the rice but we didn’t put shellfish in the actual dish. So, there is some confusion there. Like when a customer gets a Caesar salad, there are anchovies in the dressing. If someone is allergic to anchovies, in a lot of restaurants if you ask for a Caesar salad with no anchovies it means they don’t put the two anchovies on the top as a garnish.

[AG: Note to self, don’t order the Caesar salad dressed.]

MM: In larger restaurants that rely on pre-packaged foods, lip service and lack of an understanding management can lead to multiple problems for allergic diners. I’ve been thinking and reading about the rise in food allergies and I wonder if allergies aren’t a reaction to the use of processed foods and the ingredients found in things that are packaged. I don’t think a lot of people realize that anything that’s packaged, that comes in a box or a can, has to be altered in order for it to become palatable and not perishable.

Historically that meant salting, drying or curing which all have an impact on flavor and texture of food and are natural processes. But action has an equal and opposite reaction and maybe, over time, eating overly processed foods can build up and create a reaction in the body, to any one of these non-natural substances. A larger chain restaurant will have to rely on more food that is not made with fresh, unprocessed ingredients.

On a more promising note, Chefs, probably more than anyone else right now, are much more aware of what’s on the horizon. There’s going to be more of a focus, especially with Spanish cuisine coming into its own, on back to simplicity, using those purer ingredients, looking for that better, higher quality fat and using leaner meats.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

SOBE Food Festival - Getting Here

So after a full day of traveling, I’m here. In South Beach. In my room. After a quick dip in the pool this evening, I’m now in a fluffy robe, allergic as hell to something, I don’t know what, and I just took a Benedryl so I will fall into a deep sleep soon. Yay!

It’s been quite a day. We took the first JetBlue flight out of JFK. It was smooth sailing all the way to West Palm. I was wary traveling on JetBlue given last week’s ridiculousness with the weather and the major, major miscommunications. Since that time, I’ve watched as the founder has publicly responded to their worst publicity nightmare. As well as sending out emails extending apologies. They quickly created a flyer bill of rights and seem very motivated to win back their loyal user case. Did you ever hear of Delta doing that? I haven’t. I also think Delta wouldn’t have had such a major problem like that anyway but that’s another story….

I flew into West Palm, picked up a car and drove down to Miami Beach, stopping in north Miami for a very special interview with Chef Mike Moran who is the Chef-Instructor at Florida International University and the Culinary Coordinator of The South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

We talked about the future of food and food service, special needs diners, and how to get the most out of your dining experience. Stay tuned, I will post our discussion tomorrow!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday Munchies

Steven case’s newest venture. One stop shop for health . Kinda very cool.
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Jetblue founder's Mea Culpa. Not good enough. Not yet.
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What’s up with the stuck ?

What’s in your cosmetics?

What’s in your Mop-n-Glow?

What's in your PB? If this isn’t a sign to go natural I don’t know what is.

And people wonder why I have Lysol wipes at my desk ?
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Duh, scientists can have freaky romantic entanglements just like the rest us. Don’t forget, some of these guys and gals were the rocks stars of their day. A threesome with Madame Curie anyone?
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Celiacs, you have REALLY mobilized . Allergy and immunology community take note.
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Drinking and eating in the theater? C’mon. Wearing jeans to see craftspeople perform is bad enough, but to munch whilst they are emoting. Stop. Just stop!
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Talk about food pix ! Everything looks so glistening, shiny, gooey, oozing. I mean that in a good way.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Being Stuck

It used to be one of my bigger fears: being stuck in dead-stopped traffic, in the summer, without a/c.

And then it happened.

This summer, Phil and I were heading south on the FDR when we came to a stop, a dead stop. We turned on 1010 and heard there was a tractor-trailer backed up on the on-ramp by Gracie Mansion . About 20 blocks down. It was early afternoon. The car had no a/c. No air, nothing. Phil put the car in park and settled in for a wait.

What? This is it? We’re just going to sit here? I could see a shady tree a few yards away, over the service road. That’s where I wanted to be, not in a hot car.

We sat for a minute or two before I blurted out, “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Do what?”

“Stay here. In the heat, in this car. Not moving. I hope you don’t mind but I want to get out and sit under that tree. Or catch a cab and meet you at home.”

He shrugged, resigned. It was too hot to do anything else. I explained further, I didn’t want him to think I was abandoning him.

“This is my worst nightmare”, I explained, “being stuck in a hot car on a hot day in traffic not moving. Doesn’t this get you nuts?”

He was rational: “I drive in traffic a lot, [he commutes to work 2 hours a day, in Jersey], I just accept it, there’s not much else you can do.”

As I was considering the concept of acceptance, the cars started to move. And before I knew it we were zipping down the FDR on the way to my apartment, where there was plenty of a/c.

“See? You survived. You conquered your worst nightmare.” He said. And he was right, I did. I think having him with me was very helpful but yeah, my worst nightmare was over.

Until I saw this news item this morning.

I feel heartsick for these people and outraged at Jetblue . All the more because that could be me next Thursday on my way to Miami. Jetblue, what the hell were you thinking not letting these poor people off the damn plane! I’m telling you now, if there’s even a threat of a snowstorm, I’ll take a flight the next damn day. Geez.

You may be wondering what a fear of being in hot, enclosed places, or in the case of the Jetblue flight, hot, enclosed places whilst a snowstorm rages on the tarmac, has to do with food allergies and I’m wondering that a bit myself.

I think it has more to do with panic. For many with asthma, there is a strong correlative with the propensity to panic. Not being able to breathe for days on end from a pernicious asthma attack does that. Food allergies, the possibility or the reality of a food making you sick, or getting sick, is troubling as well.

I think this post has to do with panic and with advocating for your needs. And learning how to do that. And when to do that. And when it’s better to accept what you can’t control [without sounding too 12-steppy, not that there’s anything wrong with that].

-Staying in a restaurant after the Chef says he didn’t know marzipan was made out of almonds? That’s a NO; leave right away.

-Doing the CLOSED MRI even though you really don’t want to, but meditating through it [as I did last Friday] that gets a YES; accept and move on.

-Being forced to stay on airplane for HOURS during a snowstorm? Being disallowed to disembark? After calling the port authority, Jetblue, the transit authority and anyone else you can think of who could get you off that damn flight, hmm I think this one involves invoking a third answer: always bring travel snacks and an emergency Xanax pill. Always.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Suzanne’s Specialties

I discovered Ricemellow fluff a few weeks back and flipped for it. Suzanne’s kindly sent along a few more things to try.

Vanilla Ricemellow Crème
Strawberry Ricemellow Crème
Chocolate Rice Nectar
Just Like Honey Rice Nectar
Organic Agave Nectar
4 Spreadable Fruits: Strawberry, Raspberry, Blueberry, and Apricot

I gathered the usual suspects of tasters to help: Dani, yoga enthusiast, sometime raw foodie, and healthy eater; and Bo, yoga teacher, nutrition counselor, and healthy eater; and yours truly.

The best of the best:

-Vanilla Ricemellow Crème: “I really love this stuff”, “nice texture,” and “it’s not as white [as Fluff] but I’m not bothered by that, I like it better” were phrases heard around the table. Fluff was enjoyed with all natural PB on GF bread [and by the spoonful]. Here’s Dani holding a side-view.

-Chocolate Rice Nectar: “It’s ready for an egg cream,” “it’s a vegan Ubet.” Here’s Dani's knife with some of the gooey stuff, goo-ing. Oh and it's sideways.

-Just Like Honey Rice Nectar: “Very close to honey”, “slightly smoky”, “excellent.”

The second best:
We worked through the spreadable fruits, tasting alone by spoon, then on GF bread.
Strawberry had the best flavor and texture overall.
Raspberry was good but the sugar was missed.
Blueberry was edible.
Apricot was the least liked. Tasters said it was “gelatinous, like baby food”.

The least liked by me [I was the only one who tasted this]: Strawberry Ricemellow tasted chemical, like the way strawberry Quik smells; I found it inedible.

The packaging of the Rice Nectars and jams is artisanal. The facility is completely nut-free and many of their goods are organic.

Overall, terrific organic options, and that vegan Fluff. Oh my! Great work Suzanne’s !

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hockney View of Da Snow

Is Yoga the Next Aerobics?

If my ongoing knee pain [and subsequent inability to yogasize for a few months] is any indication, added to what the surgeon I saw for an initial eval said about the recent spike in yoga related injuries, this may be the future of yoga in America.

Notice I said America? Yoga is a discipline that has been around and in use for thousands of years in India. I doubt the Yogis in India are having repetitive stress injuries from taking this . Of course they don’t have that in India.

Ah Americans, we always take it to the limit .

Let’s It Snow

I woke up to a winter wonderland outside my window. It’s more gray than white but I’ll take it. I love snow. I’ve missed snow. Winter is finally here. Finally. Yay!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sapa

Had an excellent steak dinner at Sapa last Tuesday night. A terrific, I mean really terrific, perfectly seasoned and medium rare rib eye steak with steamed baby greens. I ate the leftovers the next night and had some to share with my neighbor who remarked how extra delicious it was. My dining companion that night had a dish comprised of Ahi Tuna with oxtail stew that was “amazing”.

Before I went, I had a more thorough look the menu online and thought, “Oy, what am I getting myself into?” Sapa features Vietnamese inspired cuisine, really not good for one who has nut and fish allergies. Ahem, that would be me. Even though I met the chef, Patricia Yeo, at NYDISH a couple of weeks back who said she would take care of me, I was still bit nervous. How would I find a dish without fish sauce. Or soy. Or wheat. In a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant? See what I mean?

It’s not fair really, to go into a resto whose cuisine’s main ingredients can make you really ill. And ask them to make you something without any of those ingredients. And then blame them if you get even the tiniest bit ill? Not fair at all which is why I don’t do it. I don’t frequent South East Asian restos or any other cuisine that features bases made from nuts or fish. [Yes, I study cuisines of the world in the my spare time.] I believe in giving everyone a fair shot: me to eat allergy-free, the kitchen to be able to make something allergy-free without too much trouble or bother. And for everyone to have a good time.

Back to Sapa . The spot on West 24th looks like a converted industrial space, as is typical of this area, the former and rapidly contracting flower district. The main room is large and cream colored. The front of the room, by the large bank of windows has low, inset couches, where you can order off the menu; there are cozy banquettes and tables set for two all throughout. Candlelight creates a shimmer that makes everyone look pretty and dewy. A white-lit raw bar anchors the room and often the Chef is prepping within the cube. The music is loud but not intrusive and the place was jammed. On a Tuesday. In February. That alone is impressive.

My fears about what I would eat were legitimized as I went through my spiel with my kind and patient waitress and she told me pretty much everything including most of the meats had a fish sauce marinade in their past. She went back to the kitchen with my requests and out came the manager, Adam, who said that the chef would happily make me some plain chicken or steak. I didn’t expect anything less; however, I did have a small inner sigh of oh darn I wish I could have the chef’s creation and not just a plain piece of steak.

The Chef was on the floor, prepping a yummy looking salad in the lit cube. I went over and thanked her for making me something allergen-free. She said it was not a bother but she had only wished I called earlier so she could prepare something more special. She said she had instructed her manager to call me on Saturday to send me a menu so I could have picked out what I wanted ahead of time. I had been called that morning to confirm the reservation but no menu had been offered nor discussed. Sounded like there was a minor communication breakdown. But it ended well as they were able to accommodate me with a wonderful allergy-free rib eye.

I feel obliged to mention how gracious, accommodating and almost maternal the chef’s attitude was. A meal is always better knowing there’s a caring restaurant behind it: from the reservationists, to the wait staff; to the manager, Adam, and the Chef, Ms. Yeo. Worth noting. Worth returning. And now I know if I want a great steak, allergen-free in a spot where I will look shimmery in the candlelight, I can happily add Sapa to that list.

PS Totally forgot to mention that at the end of the meal our server brought out a tray of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and brought them around to each table in her section. A post-meal treat from the Chef. Nice!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Westminster Dog Show

Ok, ok you caught me: I’m watching pedigreed slobber in High Def! There is a dog lover buried deep in this Allergic Girl. I wish I could set her free!

I’ve heard Singulair can help ⎯ anyone have any experience with this? And just cos I know you’re gonna ask, yes, I tried immunotherapy for over a year and it made me sicker!

So High Def doggies will have to do for now. Oooh working group is up.

South Beach, Here I Come, In 10 Days

One of my favorite conspicuously consumptive spots, South Beach, is hosting an equally consuming event, the Food and Wine, Food Network Food Festival .

A ton of NY and Miami based Chefs will be there as will yours truly getting the skinny on well, everything. I’m going with the express purpose of asking various Chefs, TV Hosts, and anyone who’s in food service in any capacity about how restos can better serve special needs diners, and how we can better help restos help us!

And it will all be broadcast here-Stay tuned!

PS Have I mentioned that I’m so excited? I’m sooooo excited.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Health Salad

BB was kind enough to send along a recipe for mayonaise-less coleslaw after he heard my outcry for the lost health salad. I whipped up a batch a little while ago, it took all of two minutes, and it’s tastes great. [NB: I used sugar in the raw, not processed white sugar].

It’s just not the right taste; it’s not the exact taste.

In this age of Google, I thought maybe someone else out there has found THE recipe. And what I found is Amazon has a copy of the Second Avenue Deli cookbook, and in the “look inside” function, they captured the page with the health salad recipe. THE recipe. Scroll through to page 10. Here it is, in its entirety.

Ok, so the next health salad, I’m gonna go back to the source and see what’s what.

PS After it marinated for a day, the health salad improved dramatically in taste and texture. The sour to sweet ratio is slightly skewed towards sour [2nd ave was sweeter] but on the whole, yummy slaw to have in one's fridge at all times.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

“I’m not hungry, I’ll just pick.”

I have a foodie blog crush on Bureka Boy and here are some greatest hits that I want to make ASAP: Oven baked fries , which look great. A spicy chickpea snack. And last but never least, limey coconut patties made with cold mashed potato. Sounds eh but looks ooooh.

In other news: How does one dehumanize food by applying neato scientific principals? Molecular gastronomy , it’s not just El Bulli anymore [via Grub Street]. Oh men, what will they think of next.

More about blogger summit from NYPost.

Lifetime really is the newtwork for women: have you seen these new workouts?

Eggs that I don’t know if even I could love. Ugh, just the thought. If I don't like these do I have to turn in my Foodie card?

But Oh red, we love you.

Deli, Not Delhi

Save the Deli : why didn't I think of this? Probably in my grief over the recent loss [over a year to be fair] of 2nd avenue deli I was blinded to the possibility. But not this enterprising fellow. He's also writing a book! Smart, very smart. Who wouldn't love to do a national Deli crawl? How much pastrami can one man or woman eat? Seems we'll find out.

In other news, I had read a few weeks back that 2nd Ave deli was relocating to a Murray Hill location. IMHO that isn't the best spot, cheap to be sure, but not well trafficked for deli. But Murray Hill is not far from me, so this isn't a complaint, merely an observation. Really outside of the corner of 10th street and 2nd avenue, what place is gonna be great? Exactly. None.

I admit I'm day-dreaming of sitting down to a half brisket, 1/2 matzoh ball soup combo, with a heap of health salad and downing a Cel-Ray . [Health salad was placed on the table with the menu; it’s basically coleslaw but instead of mayo it had a vinegary sweet dressing. The sweetness made it irresistible.] Ok ok, even though I griped a bit, I'm looking forward to 2ndAve Deli 2.0.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mini-bites

Superbowl? Bah! Puppy bowl . Even Allergic Girl, who is of course allergic to all things puppy, couldn’t resist having this in the background whilst lounging on Sunday. All those different puppy personalities!

Food bloggers article in the NYT.

Food Network is having a party in South Beach . I may have the opportunity to talk to some of the FoodTV stars about allergies and chefing. Stay tuned.

Blue Smoke

There's a persistent but apparently quite true rumor that Blue Smoke , one of the better high-end, if there is such a thing, BBQ joints in town, has a gluten-free menu. What you say, GF BBQ? I know! This must be very new ⎯ two years ago they catered my office Xmas party and it was G-full not G-free. I haven’t been back in ages but have been meaning to amble by for a burger or some que; I’m a big fan of Meyer’s chefing.

Last week, I sent an email inquiry about the secret GF menu and here it is⎯sounds delish!


BLUE SMOKE'S GLUTEN FREE MENU

Iced Oysters on the Half Shell with Spicy Cocktail Sauce each) 2.25
Devilled Eggs with Toasted Almonds and Watercress 6.95 Chipotle Chicken
Wings (NO BLUE CHEESE DIP) 9.95

SALADS
Iceberg Wedges with Spicy Russian dressing 7.50 Classic Caesar Salad
(NO CROUTONS) 7.95 Chopped Salad with Crispy Vegetables, Chick Peas,
and Feta Cheese 8.50

HOMESTYLE FAVORITES
Seared Atlantic Salmon with Tomatillo Sauce, Scallion-Pepper Rice & Pico
de Gallo 19.50 New York Strip Steak with Herb Butter, Grilled Red
Onions and Cottage Fries 26.95

REAL PIT BARBECUE
Smoked "Low and Slow" over Hickory and Apple Woods Kansas City Spareribs
(Saucy) 14.95/22.95 (half rack/full rack) Texas Salt & Pepper Beef Ribs
14.95/22.50 (half rack/full rack)

Applewood-Smoked Chicken w/ Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans (NO ONIONS)
17.95 Sliced Texas Beef Brisket (Lean/ Marbled) with Mashed Potatoes (NO
ONIONS) 16.95

VEGETABLES and SIDES
Mashed Potatoes (NO ONIONS) 4.95
Baked Pit Beans with Pork 4.95
Seasonal vegetable 5.95

Monday, February 05, 2007

Acidophilus Milk?

Acidophilus Milk ? Huh? What? Have you heard of this?

Ok, a friend of mine, a really good close dear friend, swears that Two and a Half Men is a really funny show. Yeah, my dear friend is a guy. But he swears it’s good, so I DVR’d it and watched it and I have yet to find one funny thing about this show. But he keeps calling me on the night it’s airing to remind me about it and then calling me after to make sure I watched it.

Well, tonight I watched it and they kept talking about Acidophilus Milk like this was a normal thing to be buying at the store. Either this is a strictly LA thing, or the writer is a woman or has a wife who has stomach issues and thought talking about the milk would get some kind of laugh, which it did. But I have never seen this on the shelves [although truth be known I'm not a dairy expert these days].

Hmmm, have you seen it, tasted it, used it?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Everybody Eats, Inc.

I should say upfront that I haven’t been much for food substitutions. When I wasn’t eating meat I didn’t eat meat-substitutes. And now that I’m GF, I haven’t been doing too too much of GF breads. Not to say that I didn’t try but the few I could find that weren’t nut laden were simply awful.

This is about to change.

You may have read my GF Challah post or the Newton’s Law post. Why two posts about a GF bakery before the review? Simply put, Everybody Eats has been on my mind all week because they get it. From caring, communicative customer service to excellent quality products, they get it. And I want you to get it too.

Let me back up a bit. Two weeks ago, they sent me some of their gluten-free goodies to try. Here’s what we tasted and what we loved best. The “we” were trusty tasters Dani, yoga enthusiast, sometime raw foodie, and healthy eater; and Bo, yoga teacher, nutrition counselor, and healthy eater; and yours truly, Allergic Girl.

What Everybody Eats sent:
Bagels
Dinner rolls
Banana bread
White bread loaf
French bread loaves
Nut-free Pineapple Rugelach
Challah

And a nice pic of what we tried:

First, an admission - I snuck in a bagel pre-tasting; ok I snuck two. I haven’t had any kind of bread product with yeast in so long I had forgotten the smell, the yummy yeasty smell of bread. The GF bagels reminded me a lot of Lenders, small round, better when baked, perfectly respectable for a bagel. There is only one H&H ; there is no comparison. But for many around the country, Lender’s in your freezer section is an introduction to a NY Jewish mainstay. I was quite pleased and looked forward to the rest of the goodies.

Ok another admission. We didn’t, nay couldn’t, taste everything they sent, there was so much and it was all wonderful, so instead of tasting, well, we ate.

Figuring we could only taste one kind of white bread [and they sent three kinds], we had the rolls. Additionally, we tasted the banana bread, the rugelach, and the challah. [The white bread and French bread are in my freezer and the bagels are in the fridge, I had one with my eggs yesterday, delish!]

The dinner rolls were rated number one. Once heated they crunched! They had a crust! They had the right roll sound! And they tasted great. Rated “excellent” by all tasters.

A close second was the banana bread. A “masterpiece of texture and taste.” “Tastes like regular banana bread but has a lightness that is great.” I had a slice for dessert the other night and wished I hadn’t given most of it to the tasters as a parting gift. Drat.

Tied for third best were the challah and the rugelach.

Quotes about the challah: “It has the right consistency, lightness and it’s eggy.” I thought I could certainly bring this along to the next challah holiday and be able to sop up brisket with it. As you may have read, I spent the week making one inch thick sliced French Toast which was fantastic!

Quotes about the rugelach: “excellent”, “tasty”. “Not too sweet, just the right sweetness.” “It’s heavy tasting but good.” These are made with a cream cheese dough, so I did pop a Lactaid before ingesting and before I knew it, they were gone.

OVERALL THOUGHT: Bo said, “There is nothing that we’ve tasted that I wouldn’t serve to people who are gluten-free and even to those who are not gluten-free.” Needless to say, the plates were licked clean. Everything was delicious. And not one thing made me allergic or upset my tummy.

As you GFers know, good GF products are now more readily available and more are being created every day. Here’s where the customer service issue is very important. Food service is inherently customer service based. Some customer service is perfunctory and some is worse. And then some companies are simply great, worthy of a special acknowledgment. Everybody Eats is one such company. From the first email to a phone message letting me know when the food was on it’s way, they took all of my questions and concerns seriously. They communicated via email quickly, using very clear language and at length. Their gracious customer service, I think, made their products taste better. Seriously.

Thanks Everybody Eats !

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Pollan Article and The Doctor

Enough summit back to food.

So the talk I went to on Monday night by the big, fancy, doctor-man who wrote the Hamptons Diet? Yeah that guy . It seems he totally ripped off the Pollan article from last Sunday.

He mentioned it in passing, as in “they talked this in last Sunday’s Times.” Which barely registered. But today, whilst at the j-o-b, and bored out of my gourd, I was reading Gluten-Free Girl who commented on the article and I thought: I posted it, I should read the whole thing [I had skimmed it pre-post and liked it]. It was still too long for me to spend my precious lunchy 60 minutes on but I skipped to the end. Yes I admit it - I skipped to the end. And the end is great. I wholeheartedly agree so much so that I will post it below in its entirety, it really deserves to be read.

But back to Mr. Ripoff. So, I’m reading and thinking this sounds veeeerrrry familiar. And not just familiar in that I eat this way and have heard these things before from other writers, doctors, health professionals, etc.. But no, I had heard these words live, almost exactly as written. And I heard those words on Monday. Not by the author but by the doctor-man, Mr. Ripoff. Excuse me, Dr. Ripoff. If I wasn’t liking him before, he just dipped down a few more notches to not best pleased.

But here’s Pollan, the hero in this short story and all the good stuff he concludes about how to eat healthfully, from the New York Times .

1. Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.

2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best. Don’t forget that margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim that it was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. When Kellogg’s can boast about its Healthy Heart Strawberry Vanilla cereal bars, health claims have become hopelessly compromised. (The American Heart Association charges food makers for their endorsement.) Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.

3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.

5. Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food — measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond) — costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation. And those of us who can afford to eat well should. Paying more for food well grown in good soils — whether certified organic or not — will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream, and downwind, of the farms where it is grown.

“Eat less” is the most unwelcome advice of all, but in fact the scientific case for eating a lot less than we currently do is compelling. “Calorie restriction” has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and many researchers (including Walter Willett, the Harvard epidemiologist) believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention. Food abundance is a problem, but culture has helped here, too, by promoting the idea of moderation. Once one of the longest-lived people on earth, the Okinawans practiced a principle they called “Hara Hachi Bu”: eat until you are 80 percent full. To make the “eat less” message a bit more palatable, consider that quality may have a bearing on quantity: I don’t know about you, but the better the quality of the food I eat, the less of it I need to feel satisfied. All tomatoes are not created equal.

6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Scientists may disagree on what’s so good about plants — the antioxidants? Fiber? Omega-3s? — but they do agree that they’re probably really good for you and certainly can’t hurt. Also, by eating a plant-based diet, you’ll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods (except seeds) are typically less “energy dense” than the other things you might eat. Vegetarians are healthier than carnivores, but near vegetarians (“flexitarians”) are as healthy as vegetarians. Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he advised treating meat more as a flavoring than a food.

7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies, and some of them travel better than others: Inuit not so well as Italian. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats, as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and alcohol?!) so much as the dietary habits: small portions, no seconds or snacking, communal meals — and the serious pleasure taken in eating. (Worrying about diet can’t possibly be good for you.) Let culture be your guide, not science.

8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be cheap and easy; that food is fuel and not communion. The culture of the kitchen, as embodied in those enduring traditions we call cuisines, contains more wisdom about diet and health than you are apt to find in any nutrition journal or journalism. Plus, the food you grow yourself contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it. So you might want to think about putting down this article now and picking up a spatula or hoe.

9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases. That of course is an argument from nutritionism, but there is a better one, one that takes a broader view of “health.” Biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields. What does that have to do with your health? Everything. The vast monocultures that now feed us require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. Diversifying those fields will mean fewer chemicals, healthier soils, healthier plants and animals and, in turn, healthier people. It’s all connected, which is another way of saying that your health isn’t bordered by your body and that what’s good for the soil is probably good for you, too.

More Summit, PS

Hmmm more blogging by NBC brass, actually by the big guy at WNBC--Adam seemed quite nice to be fair.

And the above link to me? I wonder: was I one of the few who said something non-snarky, or vague enough, that it was quoteable? Hmm, I'm discovering new skills every moment.

Mislabeling at WF

In a sea of unknown faces behind well-known blogs, I saw a known face behind an unknown blog! Ed Hamilton, a writer whose manuscript I evaluated in my former life as a book editor, walked through the crowd on Wednesday as the blogger from Hotel Chelsea . Hey Ed!

After reading my blog, he sent me this harrowing tale of the sugar-free muffins muffins at WH for you all. It seems reading labels may not be enough and that is seriously troubling.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Blogger Summit PS

So I just returned from an all too quick drinkie with Joshy at Houston’s and I’m blogging whilst tipsy. Even before the liquor, it was an interesting day reading the responses from everyone who was there last night. It was a Blog-In: kinda corporate, kinda community [a little bit country…]; a party thrown a little on the cheap, but worth being there.

WNBC did some quick “blogging” of it’s own last night and all day and posted this. I’ve been filled with a new sense of bloggy-comraderie, seeing the faces behind the magic⎯meeting bloggers I’ve only read and bloggers I’ve never read but now have.

Oddly (odd only cos I’m a big talker and am always surprised when I can talk it out but can’t write it out), I can’t seem to access a deeper thought than that and I don’t think that’s due to drink. But others have commented better here and here. And here. And others have even commented better on the comments. Hmm the buzz is wearing off and I can barely remember the point which may have been that there wasn't a point.

NYT Bytes

Food article in Sunday times

Using the broiler --he's right! Except he didn’t mention that when you live in NYC, in a studio apt, anything you cook you will experience for the next 24-48 hours in the air! I’m still living with the smell of Challah French Toast and that wasn’t even broiled.

Furor over tables--Bruni joins the bloggy fray.

Lemons: a great reminder to use lemon juice as a simple saucy compliment for [rice] pasta.