Food Allergy Counseling

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

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Zagat

Love your Zagat but dislike shelling out the shekels? Write in your votes for your favorite NYC haunt and get a free Zagat! Really. (From my buddies at Foodcandy .)

“From now until May 13, those who go to ZAGAT.com/vote and participate in the NYC Restaurants survey will be mailed a copy of the upcoming 2008 NYC Restaurants guide.

We count on avid New York diners to provide the reviews and ratings you find in the books and online at ZAGAT.com. I can't think of a better place to reach out to those people than here on FoodCandy.com.

Note: you can submit ratings and reviews all year long, but only until May 13th will you be able to get a free guide for your time. So what are you waiting for? www.ZAGAT.com/vote”

Cherrybrook Kitchen

Cherrybrook Kitchen was kind enough to send along some of their new gluten-free mixes for an Allergic Girl tasting. They sent GF sugar cookies, GF chocolate chip cookie, and GF chocolate cake with GF chocolate icing. [If you recall, I had a small incident with the GF chocolate chip cookie dough-I gobbled the whole thing, in it’s pure raw form, pre-tasting. So I replaced it.] The mixes can be made with dairy or without; I made them with butter and Lactaid milk for this particular tasting crowd.

The usual suspects helped me to taste test: Dani, yoga enthusiast, sometime raw foodie, and healthy eater; and Bo, Anusara yoga teacher, nutrition counselor, and healthy eater.

And here’s the caveat that they both mentioned post-tasting: they aren’t GF and don’t have extensive [or any] food allergies. Apparently, food tastes different to them. [Next time I think I’m gonna have to a shout-out to all NYC based bloggers, GF, and allergic eaters to join me so we can get a tasting that way.]

My thinking in having both allergic and non-allergic tasters is that I want to know if the stuff can stand up to all eaters not just specialized ones. But I’m also recognizing that my taste has changed and adapted to my current diet. Textures that bothered these tasters barely registered to me.

Packaging: the box was instantly recognizable by the tasters but not by name. So it was mentioned that the logo could be more pronounced. The kiddie characters were also liked by all.

The bigger winner overall: the GF chocolate cake with the GF chocolate icing [which was especially loved].

Positives: “doesn’t scream vegan”, “tastes like a good Duncan Hines ”, “would serve it to a mixed GF/non-GF crowd without hesitation”, “would be thrilled to find this cake to serve to an allergic child”, “would be happy if this was my birthday cake.”

Slightly less positives: “has a slight mealy-ness”. This will be a running theme with the GF products and I suspect is an issue with which many companies who make GF mixes need to contend.

Second place were the cookies, both varieties. The gluten eaters really did not like the cookies; I really did.

About the chocolate chip cookies, the GF eaters said: “light tasting”, “taste is good”, “slightly unpleasant mealy mouthfeel”, “don’t look like Tollhouse ”, “crumbly but not unpleasant”.

About the sugar cookies, the GF eaters said: “tastes like a pecan sandie without the pecan”, “it’s a better cookie base than the chocolate chip.”

This Allergic Girl thought the chocolate chip cookie *was* reminiscent of a Tollhouse : the buttery and chocolate chip aromas hit my nose just before biting into the cookie. Very Tollhouse. The sugar cookies were equally yummy and butter-y. After it was pointed out to me, I detected a very slight crumbly/mealy factor in the cookie finish, but it was almost undetectable and certainly not bothersome nor did it detract from the integrity of the cookie.

The Allergic Girl upshot: I love this company; their gluten-free, nut-free dessert mixes are fantastic; their website is easy to navigate; and most importantly, their allergen-free practices are clear, the ingredient list available, they answer their emails, and they are available nationally at a reasonable price point.

Cherrybrook Kitchen, thank you!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fanelli Cafe

The burger crawl continues. Why so many burgers these days for this Allergic Girl? Burgers and steak are usually and consistently nut and fish free, and it’s easy enough to order sans bun. The only exception to this new rule is if I’m in an overly fishy joint: often the grill is encrusted with the residue of a thousand overfished seas. In that case, a steak in a clean pan please. Which, funnily enough, has been refused me once recently: the kitchen said it was too afraid that its pans weren’t actually clean. Sigh.

Tried Fanelli’s Sunday night. We chose it because neither of us had ever been and we wanted to try something new. It claims to be the second oldest establishment in NYC. [Who's the first? McSorely’s perhaps? Or Pete’s Tavern? ] It was busy but not crazed with neighborhood/aging-hipster/Euro-tourist types. In this "seat yourself" world, we were able to score a cozy table. By the swinging kitchen door. We soon moved to an even cozier corner away from the door. Whew. Enter stage left red and white checked table cloths, a waitress who vacillated between attentive to forgetful, a caraf of vino and then, there were the burgers.

If I had read the AHT review pre-tasting, I might not have gone. AHT had a better, juicier, tastier experience at both Fanelli’s and Corner Bistro but in the final analysis I think we’re in agreement: neither is a destination burger. Both Corner's and Fanelli's burgers were on the tasteless side, not particularly beefy, not particularly juicy, and not super interesting burger-wise.

I wouldn’t run back, but no allergens present either.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Five Points Restaurant

Shari and I went to a lovely brunch on Saturday where we engaged in a good foodie gos over an excellent eggy brunch. (Shhh, she knows a contestant on the third installment of Top Chef [which I can't yet reveal] . And less shhh, Top Chef fave Chef Dave Martin will be chefing at Lola [formerly of 19th street], which is reopening next month in Soho.)

Onto to Five Points. Here are five reasons to go back:

1. Busy, happening, dressy, well-heeled be-patroned brunch. On a Saturday.

2. Our server Dennis rocked. Was sweet, patient, communicative and adorable [which isn’t a requirement but helps]. And after brunch, he told me he has a bad shellfish allergy himself [which isn’t a requirement but totally helps].

3. Dennis also told me on the DL that they have new management, which was very evident from his training and how he handled my concerns. They get it. And the kitchen gets it. Rah!

4. We weren’t rushed. We were still there after the brunch crowd was way gone and the servers were having their family meal . And we didn’t get the “get out of here” side glances.

5. Our dishes were terrific! Worthy of a second visit. I had the baked eggs with polenta, roasted tomatoes and ricotta. (Shari had baked eggs with lox.) Extra bonus: the baked egg dishes come in their own ceramic platter [less possibility for contamination, no?]. It was totally delicious and no fish nor nuts [nor gluten, soy or sugar] anywhere in sight.

Frankly, I was surprised. I’ve been to Five Points a few times over the years since it opened in 1999 and I don’t recall it being either remarkable or particularly friendly to allergic people or friendly in general. Here’s where new management was also evident. Staff was friendly, room abuzz, and food yummy. So much so, I’m more curious about their sister restaurant Cookshop on 10th avenue that I’ve heard and read much about but hadn’t thought to run to [see above comment]. Similarly, I’m now more curious about what the team is going to do with the beloved Provence on MacDougal that they will be re-opening imminently [see the third item].

PS Just spoke with Bo who had almost the identical positive experience, including same waiter and same egg dish on Sunday.

PPS Grub Street broke the SHHH about Top Chef Season Three.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Lives of Others

Much better than the trailer led me to believe, a hair less “amazing” then everyone’s been raving about – still worth catching if it’s playing near you or when it comes out on video. Here’s the NYT review . And the Oscar winning speech.

Getting in was a Comedy of the Unmannered. Jeez. Upper East Side ladies and gents, and I mean over the age of 55, with furs and jewels and nose jobs and hair-dos actually bum rushing the line. There was pushing, shoving, and cheating. From some of the wealthier denizens of NYC. Bad behavior and poor form. A laughable display, all to get a seat. And PS there was a huge crowd waiting in a hot line but it was far from sold out, tons of great seats to be had once we all shoved our way in. [I’m including myself in there only inasmuch as I was caught up in the middle of a pushy throng].

Brecht at Liederkranz

Friday night, my vocal coach, Peggy Atkinson, directed this production of Brecht’s Seven Deadly Sins and Mahagonny that was staged this weekend at Liederkranz . [Coincidently, the site where I took acting lessons from a Method acting teacher and student of Lee Strasberg in the 1980s. Imagine a grade-schooler doing The Method . ]

New York is a city that is incredibly rich in culture of all kinds at all price points and appreciation levels. Friday night was a small production to mainly an audience of Liederkranz members and friends of the actors, most of whom were recent Juilliard grads.

My brief review: I had no expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. It was fun, not a dreary and laborious as Brecht can get. Some of the “dancing” was stilted; some of the singing was good; some of the acting/singing was too earnest [read: hard to watch]. But I was glad to see it and to support Pegs. [I had seen last season’s nominated Threepenny at Studio 54 last season and wasn’t enraptured. And I wasn’t alone: the audience actually sighed had a collective yawn at intermission. Perhaps I’m not a Brecht fan, I haven’t seen enough to make an informed decision yet].

Friday, March 23, 2007

Twinkie, Deconstructed

I didn’t read Fast Food Nation [but we both can for free with this google books link, so cool]. I figured that since I don’t eat fast food (they were never on my list of guilty pleasures- fluff , yes, Filet O-Fish , no) no need to read about it.

Wrong-o.

Now that I’ve finished Twinkie, Deconstructed I may have to go back and give it a read. I was riveted by Ettlinger’s descriptions of the physical processing that goes into some of our most common foods: the combines and computers, the machines and the tubes, vats, barns silos, trucks, scientists…

Here are some fun facts from Twinkie, Deconstructed :

Wheat flour dust is highly explosive [as is custard powder, instant coffee, dried milk, potato powder and soup powder].

Ferrous sulfate or the iron in enriched wheat flour come from iron ore mines as well as being a byproduct of crude oil [petroleum].

Cane/beet sugar and its derivatives have many industrial uses: as a flame retardant and plasticizer in polyurethane foam, as ink for printing on plastic bags, for curing tobacco, for cleaning out cement mixers, for soaking moisture in wounds and it can be substituted for charcoal in gunpowder or mixed with saltpeter for make smoke bombs.

Corn and its derivatives [half of which are genetically modified to resist a widely used herbicide] contribute to over 600 industrial and food products including auto fuel, pharmaceuticals, plastic fibers, starches, sweet drinks, and snack cakes.

One derivative of corn syrup, glucose, can be found in Twinkies as well as tobacco, shoe leather, adhesives, concrete, air fresheners, hand lotion and perfume.

Another derivative, cornstarch makes more cardboard than cake.

Soybean oil is also used to make paint, rubber, caulk, adhesive tape, leather softeners and diesel fuel.

Cellulose fiber is used in rayon, cellophane, sausage casing, cigarette filters and paint additives; LCD panels, wide screen plasma TVs, and outdoor billboards. Only pure gum is reserved for food.

Cellulose gum can be found in bulk laxatives, cosmetics, toothpaste, denture adhesives and ceramic glaze; other forms of the gum are used in diapers, napkins, drilling fluids, liquid detergents.

Soda ash, the sodium in baking soda is mined Trona and is the basic chemical ingredient in glass and soap.

Phosphorus one of three main components of baking powder explodes upon contact with air.

Polysorbate 60 is an incredibly complicated processed emulsifier comprised of sorbitol a corn based sweetener; stearic acid from palm tree oil [a main ingredient in soap]; and ethylene oxide-the main ingredient in PET plastics!

If I hadn’t already eliminated most processed foods, after reading this book, I would start, immediately. Except, and there is a huge except here, as you can read this stuff is in food as well as the non-edibles in your home, the office, in your kids’ toys: in every aspect of your life. Unless you literally go and live in a cave you are, we are, part of a larger system.

Ok, Duh, you already know this, I already know this. But lately I’ve been experiencing a deeper level of awareness. Have you? Perhaps it’s due in part of the latest wave of literature [and the uptrickle to the Zeitgeist ] about organics, food processing, and the environment that have really taken hold in the new century; this cry of alarm about our eco-system, how we’ve broken it, how we can mend it. Yoga, vegetarianism, organics, recycling, feminism [yes, I’m gonna throw that in there too] are no longer counter-culture and this can only mean good and positive things for us as a collective whole.

And yeah, no more Twinkies for you .

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Books, Blookers, Blog Stock Market Oh My!

A small mid-morning snack - Happy Spring!

-Who else is excited for Harry Potter’s final installment this summer? Scholastic has gone that extra green step to commit to using recycled paper [up to 30% ] for this project. Having worked in book publishing I know a tiny bit about how books are manufactured [mainly in china, it’s cheaper] and to get a company to go green is no small feat.

The Man Booker prize in England is like the Oscars for books, with money attached. Now, there's the Blookers , cash prizes for the best books based on blogs.

Speaking of blogs, have you seen this? A virtual blog stock market ?!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sugar

This Allergic Girl has been processed sugar-free for almost two years now. I’ll eat or use organic Maple syrup and raw [i.e. NOT boiled, filtered, and otherwise fussed with] honey; a box of raw sugar rests in my cupboard for guests and the small amount of baking I’ve done of late. I was never a huge table sugar eater but damn if it’s not in everything: ketchup to Boca Chik’n patties, whole wheat bread and vitamin waters . [Speaking of pernicious sweetners, Accidental Hedonist has made a list of products with the dreaded High Fructose Corn Syrup , the evil of all evils sweet-wise.] Cutting out all processed sugars is a larger task than one might initially assume. But after a few months of systematically deleting overly processed, overly sugared and overly processed sugared foods, my body adapted happily and I haven’t missed them.

Or so I thought.

Sunday night, I slipped. Or rather, Sunday night I realized that over the past few weeks my processed sugar-free diet had been breeched.

Sunday night, I spooned my way to unhealth eating raw gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough. Right out of the bowl.

Oh the healthy-eater shame.

Since I’ve been on a product review jag, sugar or “evaporated cane juice” has been creeping slowly, slyly, but stealthfully back into my otherwise very healthy diet. Without my really realizing it.

For an Allergic Girl tasting I’m conducting this weekend, I decided to pre-mix the cookie batter. I was testing the raw product, almost on autopilot, until I realized I had "tested" about 1/4 of a cup of raw chocolate cookie dough in fingerfuls! It was a sweetly familiar activity, a lovely childhood memory; I haven’t licked a bowl in years

Next thing I knew, Rome was over [one more episode left, sigh], it was 10pm, and the dinner salad I had prepared was still in the kitchen, untouched and wilting. I missed dinner entirely. Why? Because the mix’s second ingredient after white rice flour is brownulated sugar; the third ingredient is evaporated cane juice i.e sugar. My body said, “Ooh, eat more more more!” Which I did almost without thinking; I was sated, without eating anything nutritious.

Sugar is evil as Michael Schwartz said to me in South Beach: I knew that. I know it’s evil and I don’t have ANY of that in my diet. Fiddle dee dee.

Well, major wake up call time. The last few weeks, I’ve been tasting and pre-tasting trials of excellent nut-free/gluten-free products that weren’t “evaporated cane juice” free. And I’ve gotten a taste of the evil stuff. So much so when I came home from work last night, where did I go but straight to the fridge to spoon some raw cookie dough! Good news for the Cherrybrook Kitchen, whose excellent products I’m tasting [and have done some pre-tasting-they’re nut-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free and very raw-dough-spoonable] but after this final tasting I’m going to need a sugar detox and clean diet reboot.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Stand

AS OF 2010 - OWNER CHANGE

The unofficial burger crawl continues.

I went to the Stand thrice in the last 30 days. Bruni had given it a decent review and burgers are on my safe list: no nuts, no fish.

And after three visits, Stand might my new burger spot. I even tried to get Josh to go last night after the Twinkie party but he was set on Old Town Bar [which presented a perfectly acceptable specimen].

All three times I’ve gone, I’ve had the burger salad: three, three-ounce minis skewered, over a bed of Caesar salad [minus the Caesar for me]. The burgers are well seasoned, cooked perfectly medium and juicy [hard to do with the little guys who can overcook easier]. And at $12 bucks are at a decent price point. I haven’t had the fries, but the half-sours which are made in house are delish. Overall, good stuff.

Twinkie, Deconstructed

I’m reading Twinkie, Deconstructed right now, review soon, and last night I attended the book party at McNally Robinson .

Fran Costigan made vegan Twinkies, Gramercy Tavern also made a version which were preferred by the under 4 foot set, and there were the real Twinkies, which were practically licked off the plates. I, of course, didn’t indulge because there was no gluten-free version. I still think vegan should somehow mean GF but it really doesn’t. [And sometimes, like today, I think this blog may cover the stuff I don’t do/eat as much as it covers what I do do/eat…]

Lo, it turned into a minor media frenzy: Nightline was there filming, Huffington Post and the New York Inquirer were milling about, Jim O’Connor from The Secret Life of on Food Network was in the crowd looking dashing [I mean really, he is so hot in person I couldn’t even say hello-sometimes extreme hotness renders me speechless].

What I've read of the book so far, now I'm up to the chapter on bleached white flour, is a bit like Fast Food Nation for the twinkie. Perhaps it may inspire a generation to put down the twink and pick up a carrot. One can dream.

Company

Had an afternoon delight mid-week and saw the recent revival of Company . Staged by the same director who did the stripped down version of Sweeny Todd , I must admit there was something quite imaginative and different and thrilling about watching the actors sing, act, and play instruments. The orchestra was the play, there is no pit; the players are the song and the songs are classics.

I saw an understudy for the main role, who was terrific [as understudies very often are]. The performers were uneven, as one would expect given the demands of this production: some sang better then acted, some played their instrument better than they acted, etc. But, but the nature of the undertaking was awesome. And it’s Sondheim. From “Bobby, Baby” to “Being Alive” to “Ladies who Lunch”, I’m sure it due to my 70s childhood and musical theater training, but it was like hearing old friends.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Latex Gloves

I had seen the eater.com clip Monday about Schiller’s and was just too grossed out to pass it along. It also looks a bit hoax-y to me so I didn’t link to it. And I think I was in some denial; I spent my birthday there in November and just yuck, yuck, yuckity yuck. But the latex glove article in today’s New York Times reminds me of one reason I’m anti-glove. [Which is a different concern than latex allergies, which are also on the rise! Dear friend Bo , and Isabel I just discovered, actually have this issue and have had nightmarish responses to latex.]

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the bagel guy [pre-gluten-free-ness obviously] make a very nice everything with a schmear and top it with lox. Nothing outrageous there, quite normal in fact. And yes, he’s wearing gloves, as any good establishment will insist upon. But what he doesn’t realize, because he can’t feel it, is that he’s getting very intimate with said lox. As in lox slime all over his gloves. When he takes my order he can’t possibly know that he will be passing along highly toxic materials on to my bagel. How could he know because he can’t feel that his hands are dirty! Because in effect they aren’t, they’re safe and clean in the glove. And the glove that has turned orange with lox-y goo doesn’t concern him, because they’re gloves and not his hand. So he’s still thinking, “My hand are clean-I’m using safe practices here.” And then, he moves to make me something! With those lox-y, gooey, fishy killer hands! PS I’m very allergic to salmon. Of course, I politely ask him to change his gloves and hope that he hasn’t slimed too many implements that will be making my bagel.

How many times does that happen behind the scenes? Too, too many I fear. Oh dear, what is the answer? Constant hand washing is difficult to regulate so is constant glove changing. And as latex allergies, that is allergies to the latex itself, are on the rise, asking food handlers to wear them might be asking them to risk their health. I don’t have an answer here; is there a good answer?

Foods Matter

I wrote an article for Foods Matter about, what else, eating allergen-free in NYC. And Go Dairy Free has it posted on their web site. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Babycakes NYC - Chocolate Crumb Cake

Saturday night the weather was less chilly [finally!], so we strolled down to Babycakes . File it under everyone deserves a second chance, sometimes even a third to get it right. And damn it, I’m curious. Since they posted their ingredients on line, all except the cupcakes-chalk it up to their copycat paranoia fears-I have even more reason to go try the GF vegan goodness.

The place was packed, and it’s a sliver of a joint on Broome. They had a small placard on the door announcing they were one of the BEST OFs from New York Magazine , but I can’t find them in this year’s pick. No matter, they won for cupcake last year and with all of the recent press, they are selling like vegan hotcakes.

Perhaps it’s precisely due to the press, including the canola conundrum, and the influx of new customers, that the signage has gotten a little clearer; e.g. delineating the distinctions between spelt-full [ancient wheat] and a gluten-free product. And the staff was a hair more articulate, though still rough and punk around the edges [it’s so un-punk to put a link to Miriam Webster for “Punk”, it made me giggle doing it, which maybe is punk: to subvert the subversive? Hmmm]: “Gluten-free is the second rack only.”

They were sold out of several items, great for them, but less for me to try. I bought a small slice of the double chocolate crumb cake [which officially has no crumb ]. I had it for breakfast on Sunday.

I almost hate to say it because their business practices have been entirely inconsistent, but the cake was good, really good: chocolatey, not too sweet, dense and fudgey. I’d buy a whole one and I think non-vegan, gluten-eating folks would be happy to eat it.

Hmmm, so I officially like the chocolate cake. I still don’t like them, exactly, but drats, I liked the cake. Maybe I'll try something else soon.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Chef Mark Zeitouni

The SOBE Food Fest love is still rolling in. Before I left Miami, I sat down with Executive Chef Mark Zeitouni in The Lido, the sun filled restaurant of the renovated and Balazsed hotel, The Standard Miami. I had the pleasure of staying there last Spring and I can’t wait to return. I dream about luxuriating in their big white beds and warming up on the Turkish Hammam in the spa. Can you tell, I have a small crush on The Standard. Don’t laugh, you can have a crush on a hotel.

Whilst I was there last time their resident Chef, Matt Boudrow, borrowed from another Balazs property, Sunset Beach , took care of my dining needs. As his mother has a shellfish allergy, I didn’t have to do too much explaining of the seriousness of food allergies. Hallelujah. He made me breakfast and dinner for three days and not one problem.

Mark Zeitouni took over as Executive Chef last summer and has made the spot his own. Recognizing at a young age that Western cuisine was entirely too heavy and leaves a diner feeling sluggish, he turned to lighter fare: Asian and currently, Mediterranean. His food is healthy, with an emphasis on high quality and organic meats, unprocessed foods, and organic wines.

And did I mention, he’s a true Mensch. I swear, that makes any dish taste better.

We talked about how a diner with food sensitivities can get what they need.

-Chef suggests that a diner should firstly understand the delineation between going to a restaurant that is a vehicle for a star chef versus a restaurant that caters to the diner. A star chef will serve you what he/she wants. It will probably be outstanding, but as a diner with specific needs it will not necessarily be what you need. Pick a place that caters to the diner, not the other way around.

-Plan ahead. Ask the reservationist to ask the Chef if they wouldn’t mind catering to your request. Remind the waitstaff when you arrive of that request. Smooth the staff, as they will be nourishing your body during the next hour or two.

-Once you are at a restaurant that caters to its clients, Chef recommends using the card . Yes, the allergy card . As the waiter is your main line of communication to the kitchen, as well as the reverse, your allergies/sensitivities can get lost in translation. The card with your requests clearly stated will cut out the middleman and potential for mistakes that can lead to disaster.

-Speaking of your waiter, Chef recommends enlisting them. Charm them, be sweet to them, get them on your side so they understand fully the seriousness of the request and the consequences if the request is forgotten, lost, misunderstood, or otherwise overlooked. Sound familiar? If that fails or if you feel your needs are not being heard or if your needs are not understood then leave. Yup, go elsewhere.

-In all things special needs-y, Chef and I agree: honey works better than vinegar. A softer approach works better than hysterical demands. And if after approaching with gentleness your needs aren’t heard, leave.

The upshot: come prepared, charm the staff, if you can’t get what you need, go to another restaurant where you can.

Thanks for the great tips Chef Mark Zeitouni ! See you in the Hammam.

Bowery Hotel and More

On my way to Soho House to meet Isabel to do some writing this morning, I saw that Kingsford is set up for a major cookout in Madison Square Park , site of my former life as an editor. I wondered if Aaron Sanchez would be a part of it as he mentioned that company specifically at NYDISH . And lo, the website says yes. Looks like a fun event, if you’re in the ‘hood, and have time.

And had a peek at The Bowery Hotel on Saturday. [I’m still mourning the loss of my favorite gas station that was formerly on that site.] Run by the Maritime Hotel boys, there’s no doubt it will be an instant hit.

And slightly older news, but Patricia Yeo [she of a yummy allergen-free, made-with-love steak dinner ] is striking out on her own to a revamped Monkey Bar . It will be exciting to see what she creates!

Rebecca’s Nut Free Responds

Given my testers’ experience with Rebecca’s Nut Free , I wanted to give them an opportunity to respond to the review. Here’s owner and Rebecca’s mom’s reply. It includes a generous free-shipping discount so you can try the goods yourself:

“Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your review, and we do appreciate your input. We strive to make our packaging functional and cost-effective. Our logo is definitely child-like and unsophisticated - Rebecca drew it when she was 8. I love it - it serves to help us focus on why we started Rebecca’s Nut-Free, how it is a labor of love, and is a constant reminder of all of our young customers. We are not a huge commercial enterprise, but a small mom-run bakery with a unique and personal understanding of our customer’s challenges. Our goal is to improve the quality of life of the families we serve, albeit in a small way.

“We are sorry that your testers did not enjoy the product. We have countless testimonials from customers who are delighted with our cookies, brownies, and granola. We do have a relatively short shelf live on our products as we use no preservatives; to help this, our products freeze well and keep for 4 months in the freezer.

“Again, we appreciate your feedback and applaud your service to the food allergy community. Please offer your blog-guests a special coupon (just type AllergicGirl at checkout) for free US shipping on any order over $20 at www.rebeccasnutfree.com. (good until May 31, 2007)

Best to you, Rebecca’s Mom”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

An Die Musik

Attended a wonderful chamber music concert Sunday afternoon where a dear family friend played the piano. The program was called “The Russian Heart”, music by Shostakovich, Arensky, Handel, and Schumann. The Schumann and Arensky were my favorites. Classical music, chamber music in particular, just makes me happy-simply joyful.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Rebecca’s Nut-free

It’s so exciting to see how many companies are producing nut-free goodies. Just in the last 2-3 years, their numbers seem to have increased ten-fold. So, yay for choice and options for food allergy-sufferers!

Rebecca’s Nut Free, whose website was launched in 2005, was kind enough to send me some samples to taste test with my trusty panel: Dani, yoga enthusiast, sometime raw foodie, and healthy eater; and Bo, Anusara yoga teacher, nutrition counselor, and healthy eater. I couldn’t indulge as Rebecca’s Nut Free uses wheat, soy, dairy, and sugar in their line.

In a nutshell, pardon the pun, the product isn’t quite there yet.



Firstly, the packaging. We enjoy food with all of our senses; if only our eyes were doing the choosing, we’d have passed these by. The treats came in plastic industrial mini-ziplocs that were nestled in larger industrial plastic packaging. We could see the cookies but they were crumbled and dry looking. The company’s icon seemed unsophisticated to us, which we hoped was not an indication of the quality of the product. Unfortunately, it was.

Onto the goods: Rebecca’s Nut Free sent sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, biscotti, a granola bar, and some brownie bites.

The granola bar was rated the highest: “toothsome, dense, tastes like homemade. But there is a lot of competition out on the market that’s better, made with better ingredients.”

The brownie bites came in second-ish: “cakey” but they had a “weird aftertaste.”

And everything else…was simply not good. The sugar cookies that were crumbled in the package were “dry”, “flavorless”, and tasted like "uncooked dough”; the chocolate chip cookies were also “dry” and “flavorless,” and tasters said, “it’s not a good cookie nor a good recipe”; the biscotti were “mealy” and “not good.”

Given the tasters experience, I can’t recommend these treats. Perhaps we got a bad batch? Perhaps the recipes need tweaking? I applaud Rebecca’s Nut Free for creating nut-free goodies but the product/recipes/design need some work, especially with so many competitors on the market.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Asthma Friendly Certification

How cool is this? Kids today, really so lucky!

Where's The Beef?

So, Ms. Bay posted this comment on the Brandt beef posting earlier this week:

"I like your alliteration! Unfortunately neither natural nor organic mean a darn thing about the quality of life the animals have or the environmental impact of their raising. For the healthiest and least destructive (to the animals and environment) meat you need to look for grass-fed and free range. Most of the companies that say their meat is "natural" keep their animals locked up in facilities that are so awful it almost makes me want to go vegan sometimes. This is why I am eating less meat these days. I'll save my money to eat the expensive stuff that's truly ethical and not destroying the earth even if it means I need to eat veggie 75% of the time. Don't even get me started on the double trouble of being an ethical shopper and kosher! Vegetarianism looks more and more appealing.

But oh, that beef stew I had for lunch... so good!"

Good point. So I contacted the Brandt beef folks to see what they had to say as it's a concern for many readers and eaters of meat [me included]. Here's their reply:

"As farmers, the Brandt family believes they are stewards of the land, and as such are responsible for how they treat the earth and their animals to benefit future generations. Brandt Beef prides itself on using the best and most humane techniques of animal husbandry known today, which includes raising their animals in a stress-free and comfortable environment. Looking for key words on labels does not guarantee that the producer follows humane animal husbandry practices -- you really have to get to know the producer you’re buying from. Brandt Beef regularly invites chefs, distributors and retailers to visit its operation to see its practices first hand. Additionally, Brandt Beef is actively encouraging chefs to use the whole animal, not just select cuts, which further minimize waste and environmental impact."

Ms. Bay, maybe you and I should take a trip to LA and check it out!

Chinese Bat Mitzvah

Not allergy related, I just really liked this story.

Jennifer Saunders

For those of you who believe that Hugh Laurie is a fresh face, yes I’m a-mocking you , Jennifer Saunders , [her husband was a Young One ] part of the same Oxbridge generation of comedic actors as Hugh, is coming out with another show to be shown on BBC America this Friday. Now, that is truly Ab Fab!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Babycakes NYC

Well now, a little national TV coverage and Babycakes NYC posts their bakery goods ingredient list. [Although cupcakes and frosting ingredients are oddly absent, hmmm.] Good for them - it's about time!

Perhaps I shall give them a second chance [here’s a detail of the first]; everyone deserves a second chance, no?

Chez Tze

I don’t think I’ve been to a dinner party since last October where I wasn’t doing the main cooking. And last night I cooked not one thing; I was at Chez Tze. No, it’s not the hottest Franco-Asian gastropub; it's the apartment of Jonathan, one of two brothers who took it upon themselves to feed me a gluten-free, tree-nut free, soy-free meal as part of a series of dinner parties they’re throwing.

In discussing the necessary menu modifications and disallowments, Jonathan, main chef for the night, reassured me that he was perfectly happy to make adjustments to the menu because the food was secondary to the company.

I swooned a little.

Are more people like this and I just don’t know them? Or have friends and new acquaintances always been like this? Or have they had the potential to have such a great attitude and I just never gave them the chance or trusted enough to let new friends feed me? Very possibly.

I go out all the time to let strangers feed me but I feel like there is a deeper level of trust to let new friends feed you, or me for that matter. I admit I was a little nervous, until I reminded myself of the above mantra “Strangers feed me all the time and I do fine.”

We had dinner in the eat-in kitchen, such a lovely rarity to experience in NYC and I was put at ease as I watched the flurry of careful preparations: separate pans, separate dishes, asking of questions and voicing of concerns.

The menu:

Starter: Quesadilla made with corn tortilla for me, spinach wheat for others - filled with jack cheese and two kinds of sausage. And a mango salsa, that I heard had a spectacular Humpty moment.

Main: me, rib eye with garlic/ginger marinade and broiled. Others, filet mignon in green curry.

Sides: me, steamed basmati rice. Others, coconut risotto. And a veggie stir fry, mine was plain, others, I don’t quite know. Looked good though.

Dessert: very tasty blackberries, the fresh homemade whipped cream mentioned in the below post and a David Glass GF chocolate cake, that I didn’t have because it had soy. And some port wine that made me a little tipsy. Really David, it did!

I think I'm ready for more of this-more trust, more eating dinner at friend's houses. More, more, more!

Dairy-Free, Not So Much

Small admission, and I need to change the subtitle of this blog.

Since discovering, through trial and tummy error, that I am, in fact, lactose intolerant and Lactaid works pretty darn well, my dairy-free-ness isn't as hard core as it has been these past two years. I have some Lactaid milk in my tea in the morning. I can have some hard cheese like a tablespoon or two of high quality imported parmesan and not have crazy tummy trouble. And last night I had some real whipped cream. Now that kinda did a small number on the ole tum even after popping a couple of Lactaid tablets, but no so much that I’m out of commission for any length of time. Or rather I ignored the discomfort. [Not something one can generally do with an allergy or a serious sensitivity].

So in truth, dairy-free is more of a choice that I can unchoose at any time, kinda -sorta. Just FYI.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Brandt Beef

Yesterday, at the International Restaurant & Food Service Show, I had a chance to meet and talk with the third generation California Cattlemen cuties of Brandt beef. These guys are seriously passionate about their natural meat. And it shows in the quality of their herd’s muscle. I had a few slices of a strip steak and could have gobbled the whole delectable thing!

Mark Brandt was kind enough to describe the difference between organic and natural as it pertains to their product.

To be labeled organic would involve the animals eating food/feed from soil/land that has been organic for two years –no pesticides etc for two years.

Natural means Brandt’s animals “…are fed a vegetarian corn-based diet for more than 300 days without the use of antibiotics or growth promoting hormones.” [Brandtbeef.com]

He also explained a process whereby they use owls [!] as natural predators for pests. By flooding the soil, bugs rise to the surface wherein the owls feed: bugs be gone. And they use the owl droppings as fertilizer. Cycle of life stuff.

So why did they start focusing on this truly natural process? Another Brandt Junior told me sotto voce that their dad developed nerve damage after years of pouring a highly toxic de-wormer on the cattle. This was the lightning bolt: they immediately ceased using that product and transformed their practices.

You will be seeing and hearing a lot more about this niche meat producer as their rib eye was just was pronounced Best Newfangled Beef [sic] in New York Magazine. This means I really must make a trip to Chef Michael Lomonaco’s new spot Porter House. Oy, I can hear my wallet groaning already.

[They are also the meat behind Josie's , Better Burger , Dean & Deluca , and the revamped Craftsteak.]

Monday, March 05, 2007

Allergy-Free Love

My friend, Ms. Scones is planning an allergy-free wedding. How cool is that?!

International Restaurant & Food Service Show

Some morning International Restaurant & Food Service Show amuse bouches before I head back to hear Danny Meyer speak.

Have you ever had speck at 10AM? These guys were slicing it up and doling it out. And it’s organic!

The Red Jacket Orchard guy [they’re at the Saturday Green Market ] - his mother is allergic to 30 things, and his girlfriend is allergic as well. Small allergic world.

The EIC of Chocolatier having a tete a tete with the Guittard chocolate boys.

A pastry competition that looks a lot like an outtake from Food Network Pastry Challenge . Lots of tall, whimsical confectionary concoctions, my favorite of which was a chocolate tiki guy.

Aisles and aisles of chef uniforms; computers with touch screens for your dinner order; cappuccino/espresso makers; baked goods that don’t appear to be from central processing but they *so* are; lots of soft serve machines, and a whole pizza pavilion, with, I kid you not, some Sopranos types "bada-binging".

Rhythm touch was there-electronic acu-therapy. What they’re doing at this show, I have no idea.

The Mendy’s guys speaking the only Hebrew I would hear all day. Not that I would expect to be hearing alot anyway.

Vinegar drink sound yummy? It was being pushed, I mean offered, in the Japan Pavillion, as well as Green tea drinks, dried fish things, and a lot of pictures of young pretty Japanese girls [both cartoon and real models] drinking cups of something “health” related.

I bumped in the Candle Café folks. Co-owner Joy teaches nutrition at my old grammar school, talk about small world!

And I did my mitzvah for the day, turning in a cell phone I found in the bathroom stalls to security. I hope they found the owner.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spooked

Thanks to all of you who write in remarking how much this Allergic Girl gets out.

It’s true, I go often, about five nights a week. Firstly I’m single. Restaurants are a major source of socializing, whether with dates or with friends. So allergies or no, I get out there. Secondly, I like going out. I live in a great foodie town and there’s no reason I should be eating at home, alone in my room.

But this isn’t to say I don’t have run-ins with my inner colt – that part of me that gets skittish and can’t be calmed. It happens.

Like a few years back whilst eating at the Ivy in LA with my then Boyfriend. He was pushing me to try their famous wheat bread, which arrives to your table steaming hot. [Those were still during the gluten-full, lacto-ovo vegetarian years where, in a pinch, I could make do with a big salad and a portion of the breadbasket for dinner.] Why the hard sell? Because he really liked the bread and wanted me to like it too. So I asked our server what was in the bread.

“It’s a secret recipe. I can’t tell you.”

“But, I have food allergies and I can’t eat it without knowing what’s in it.”

“Sorry Ma’am. It’s a secret family recipe and I can’t divulge its ingredients. If you tell me what you’re allergic to, I can tell you if it’s in there.”

“Well, tree-nuts mainly.”

“There are no tree-nuts in the bread.” And off he walked.

Any of you who have allergies or sensitivities or have read even one post of this blog will know that wasn’t going to be good enough. This is when Boyfriend got a little insistent.

“He said it had no nuts. Try it. It’s really so good, I know you’re gonna love it”

“Thanks but I can’t. I don’t what’s in it.”

Power play ensued: Eat it. No, I can’t eat it.

And the main reason I couldn’t/wouldn’t eat it was: I got spooked. And once I get into that place, I’m done. It’s partly, no it’s mainly, a trust thing. I didn’t trust the server, my main line of communication to what was in my food. So I was done. Spooked and I couldn’t get un-spooked.

[FYI: When Boyfriend and I made up later than night he told me he just really wanted me to enjoy it and was upset for me that I couldn’t eat all of the things he could enjoy. "I know," was all I could reply.]

Or a more recent example, Monday, lunch at the Regent . I ordered a simple Greek salad, dressing on the side. Of course it came dressed. The waiter told me that the dressing HAD BEEN walnut oil [which was not labeled on the menu] until he told them “no nuts”. So they dressed it in something else and sent it out to me.

I looked at the salad, wilting in the hot sun and the salad looked back at me, and whispered: “Spin the roulette wheel - try me.”

Ok, the salad didn’t actually speak to me but I had officially entered Spooksville, population: moi. I didn’t trust the kitchen nor this salad. What did they put on it? Are they sure no walnut oil was tossed in for good measure? Things on the plate were also marinated [which wasn’t stated on the menu] and that spooked me as well. The waiter apologized, another waiter came over, said they’d re-make it with everything on the side. But I was done, cooked, officially scared off a Greek salad.

I’ve accepted that this will happen from time to time. The spooked thing. And after talking with so many chefs the previous weekend in SOBE I know that this feeling, this gut feeling, is not unreasonable to trust. It may kinda equal a pain in the ass but I’d rather that than a trip to the hospital.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Palm Beach Grill

My father, stepmother, and even I have been working 12 hours days in separate parts of the house and haven’t really seen much of each other whilst I’ve been here. So tonight we made a reservation and trouped to the Palm Beach Grill for the only reservation we could get last minute: 5:30pm.

Yah, a bit early but the place was packed and not just by blue-haired old ladies, although there was a tres elegant specimen of Palm Beach-hood, dining seule at a window table-very “I vant to be alone”. The bar was busy. Young families were eating together. Attractive, well-groomed older gentlemen with sweaters draped over their pink Oxford shirts were dining with women in large chunky necklaces throwing back clear and icy drinks.

The dining room is the essence of wasp-y elegance. Dark wood detailing, warm overhead lighting, and white cloth draped tables. I felt like we had just come off a beach day in Southampton- very Polo. Every server smiled warmly: the young women had neat hair and white teeth; the young men were tanned and lifeguard hot, and I bet named Chip. Or perhaps Skip.

I was lucky to have the GM, Christina, seat us. I gave her my Allergic Girl spiel and she was very understanding, listening closely and well. When our server came over she was also very clear about the kitchen’s abilities, even telling me that the side of “Beets” [stated plain on the menu] was tossed with walnuts and walnut oil! Eek! But here was an awake server. Excellent!

I split a NY strip steak and had veggies steamed on the side. And it was great. Simple, elegant, and delicious.

I had a nice chat with Christina after my meal. They have an open kitchen, a walk through-able kitchen, and I got the full tour. Beautifully shined cooper grill hoods, a white marble plating station, and slender muted lighting fixtures. It looked better designed than my apartment. But in the walk-through, I saw how many nuts they really cook with: they were silver bowls with different kinds of nuts on the marble used as last minute garnishes and a tub of walnuts in the salad section. Eek and double eek!

But I had no issues, no problems. I had a wonderfully yummy, allergen-free meal that was created in a fishy, nutty kitchen. [Actually a lot of the dishes were nutty. Almost all of the deserts had nuts and they fry in peanut oil but nowhere did it say anything about that on the menu. Hmm, something to think about changing Palm Beach Grill.] How? The staff at Palm Beach Grill [quietly part of the Houston’s chain of restaurants] really listened closely to my needs, communicated with me, and communicated with the kitchen. It seems like such an obvious and simple thing to do but it doesn’t always happen. And when it doesn’t disaster can ensue.

Given this yummy meal and attentive staff, I think I found my new Palm Beach haunt. That is if I can ever get another reservation.

UPDATE: I was able to return January 2009 to the same great service and attention to keeping my dinner allergen-free. Damon is the new GM, ask for him directly.

Friday, March 02, 2007

GF at WF

This first thing I did when I got to my dad's area was find the Whole Foods. There's one in Boca , with an armed member of the local po-po hanging out. Why? Because shoppers’ wallets kept going walkabout. In Boca.

Past the armed guard, there in the deli section, was a tall wooden cabinet containing WF freshly baked GF goods.

We don’t have that in NYC. Unless they’re hiding it, or it’s not in the Union Square location, my most frequent haunt of choice. So I’m wondering, why doesn’t NYC get these dedicated GF goodies? Or have I just been blind to them?

Fellow NYC WF foodies , do we have this?

Speaking of Whole Foods, when is the Organicapalooza going to come to NYC? This event and these two should take it on the road. I’d buy tickets for an Organic smackdown [even if it was a let-down].

Forget what I just wrote and go listen to the podcast…

Thursday, March 01, 2007

International Restaurant & Food Service Show

Yup, I’m going to another food show . It will be veeeerrry interesting to see what the food service folks have to say about allergies and food sensitivities.

And quite a contrast from SOBE spectacles like this:


That is a pooped out mime, who just got down from dancing on the platform. I don't even know what product he was pushing, except creepy Harlequin or how not to dress for Halloween.

Phobias

Are phobias the new sexy? Or the basis for the new successful? Which in turn is quite sexy.

Within the last month, two incredibly successful and public people have revealed a private shame: they’re phobic. [They probably don’t over-alliterate as I just did though.] Allen Shawn is multi-phobic. And Paula Deen is a former agoraphobe.

I applaud them both for bringing some light to issues millions of us struggle with.

Did you catch that? I said “us”. Yup, I manage phobias as well. Claustro- being a big one.

An admission: I don’t take the NYC subway . The thought of being stuck under there, just the thought of it, makes me a little ill.

Another one: I love going to opera, theater, movies but I have to sit on the aisle. Yup, really. I push myself to sit off the aisle whenever I can but generally the less people around me the better. [Worst offender Alice Tully has no center aisle, hate that!]

New Year’s Eve in Times Square -not for me, ever.

Driving on the open road, with nothing around you, for hours that doesn’t sound like a great idea to me. No hospital? For hours? What if I get sick, allergic, asthmatic-what then? Yup, panic ensues.

I firmly believe that there is a strong correlational component between asthma/allergies and panic. If you couldn’t breathe, trust me, you’d feel panicky. And knowing that nourishing yourself could lead to a trip to the hospital? Yup some general anxiety there too.

I wonder if other allergic/asthmatic people feel like this, manage anxiety, have struggled with panic?