Food Allergy Counseling

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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Allergic Girl and Otto

Apropos of this post, this Allergic Girl was invited by Chris, the GM of Otto to sit down with him and Chef Dan to discuss recent events.

It was a genial, educational, and powerful hour. The good-faith gesture to meet, discuss, and continue a positive dining relationship was appreciated. Frankly, I expected no less from this establishment; these are hospitality professionals in every sense of the word. I was especially glad to hear Chef Dan utter the phrase that any diner, but especially an allergic one wants to hear: "we’re here to accommodate you".

Here are some choice highlights of the discussion.

The staff at Otto has had at least one food allergen training by a representative from Food Allergy Initiative Chef Dan [who cooks there Tuesday through Saturday; on his two nights off his sous has the lofty task] went to great lengths to explain the kitchen’s allergen-free policies:

-Clean pans are used for allergic diners.
-Clean bowls are kept off to the side [three to be exact] just for allergic diners.
-Clean knives and cutting boards are used always.
-No gluten-filled pasta water is ever used for GF pasta.
-If a diner brings their favorite GF pizza dough, it will be cooked on a completely clean griddle; clean pizza paddles and clean cutters all washed thoroughly in the dishwasher.
-Diners have brought in GF pasta for Otto to cook, which they do happily.
-Both Chris, the GM and Chef Dan reiterated that the servers and the kitchen staff know their stuff and can respond to an allergic diner’s needs once they know what those needs are.
-To that end, Chef Dan likes the allergy card, really likes it. You know the card which you can find for free here and if you want to pay for one, here.

All great stuff and I was glad to hear it straight from the Chef’s and management’s mouths.

There were some lingering howevers however:

-They couldn't explain why the reservationists didn’t know that Otto carries gluten-free pasta or why I wasn’t connected immediately to a manager who would’ve quelled any food allergy concerns when I called.
-Additionally, they didn't know why our server had no clue that Otto served gluten-free pasta. They did discuss bringing back their food allergen trainer for a refresher course. Quite right.
-No one could figure out why both my dining companion and I became ill. Given their careful food handling practices as outlined above, I suggested it might be the pasta. Furthermore, I mentioned that in the GF community Tinkyada is the GF pasta of choice, as far as I know. I asked if they had done any field tests of Bionaturae before using it. The answer was, “ No.” [As per this convo, Chef is going to try the Tinkyada.]
-Chef Dan said they hadn’t had any complaints about the GF pasta thus far. I asked how many diners to whom they serve the GF pasta are regulars.
“None.” he said.
“Then who’s going to complain? If these diners are tourists, they’re gone the next day. If they live here, they just won't come back.” To which they couldn’t really argue.

Given the slight confusion surrounding GF pasta, I suggested it might be worth having some GF bloggers in to try the GF pasta and give Otto a fuller picture of the issues at hand.

So I’m organizing a GF pasta party at Otto after the July 4th holiday. Stay tuned for the results.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ratatouille

The love of fine cuisine + Pixar animation + the brilliance of Brad Bird = Ratatouille. I’m so excited to see it I can’t wait!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fancy Food Show

Did I mention: I’m going to be at the Fancy Food Show at the Javits next weekend. Should be very interesting to see what natural and organic offerings abound or are absent. Some chat has already begun as reported by eater.com.

More on that in two weeks.

110 in the Shade

Took in a matinee yesterday [courtesy of TDF] whilst the Upper East Side had a blackout and trains were stuck underground. And then the rains came last night; wind whipping, trees swaying, lightning, thunder, and big juicy drops.

And what did I see but the musical version of "The Rainmaker". How apt.

I cannot tell a lie; I only went to see Audra. I hadn’t seen the NYT review, which was actually a bit kinder to the supporting cast than I would have been [e.g the man singing “File” was flat and singing under the notes], but no matter I was going to see her regardless of the review.

And I was not disappointed. Like seeing any great craftsperson at work, she was a pleasure to watch.

Worth catching if you’re in NYC especially as you can get half price or cheaper seats.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Spice Market

With all of this recent blogging about restaurants that are well intentioned but don’t get quite the nuances of the whole allergic thing, sometimes I make it easier on everyone, especially myself, and I don’t even order.

But I still go.

Take Sunday night for example. Some friends of a friend were in town from Paris. We had a late supper reservation for 8 at Spice Market, Vongerichten’s spot in the Meat Packing district, the one that serves his version of Asian street food. I’ve never been mainly because I don’t think it’s fair to go to a restaurant like this and expect them to be able to make this Allergic Girl something allergen-free when basically their entire kitchen is one potential hive.

Actually, I’ve never been to any of Vongerichten’s restaurants, not even the older ones like JoJo or Vong. They always struck me as very fishy, elegantly experimental, and ultimately the home base of a celebrity chef. As Chef Zeitouni pointed out, for a person with food allergies, it’s important to identify a restaurant where the food and the customer take center stage versus the chef’s personal vision. He said it more eloquently but basically when the chef dictates what he/she wants you to eat, if you have food allergies you can be in serious trouble.

So on this night, instead of calling ahead and having a discussion with the reservationist and then the manager and then the server and then hoping that whatever plain thing I had ordered didn’t come steamed with “just a little nuoc mam ” or feeling so spooked about the whole endeavor that I ordered but didn’t eat anything and felt starved and deprived, I simply cut out the middle man and had dinner at home.

A lovely dinner of spinach rice pasta with blanched sugar snap peas, sautéed with some olive oil inspired by the sweet peas I picked up at the market on Saturday and this recipe. [I think the pureeing and the straining is a bit much so I cut that out and didn’t have any garlic on hand, but I made a version of it.]

The evening went so much smoother with me not eating.

Of course, I would have rather eaten with the group, especially as they were oohhing and aahhing, saying it was better then any resto in Paris. And here’s a cool/funny thing: after my neighbor offered me a dish of noodles with shrimp, then lobster and then the salmon sashimi and I kept saying “Je suis allergique”, this prompted a deep Franco-American [meaning I spoke my poor French and she spoke her much better English] discussion of her allergies [to melon, les chats, pollen, les arbres] which was fascinating and that she also takes cortisone for them [as I take Advair ]. We bonded. [Salut Stephanie!]

I can hear you already: “Why don’t you do this all of the time, eat at home and save myself time, money, worry, and potential illness?”

To that I say, because it’s no fun that way! Not that this is a game to see which resto will make me sick, but I’m not going to not go out because I have a few allergies.

I am going to make smart choices about when it’s appropriate to explain the Allergic Girl sitch and when, irregardless of a kitchen’s best efforts, I know I won’t feel comfortable with what comes out of their swinging doors.

I always have the opt-out-of-dinner choice but I use it sparingly. I reserve it for times when it’s a group event, the choice of resto is out of my control, or the resto chosen is one that involves a cuisine that just spells trouble [Asian street food being an extreme but excellent example of that difficult cuisine for me]. The rest of the time, as you know, I go out to dinner hoping for the best and am usually rewarded with a wonderful meal.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Van Gogh at the Neue Gallerie

A few weekends ago, I caught the tail end of the Charlie Rose show about the Van Gogh exhibit at the Neue .

So I gathered a gaggle of girls, and moms, and went to see this very manageable show on Sunday. Spread out over two floors of a converted Fifth Avenue mansion, [which is almost worth the steep $15 admission fee] the second floor is really the treat.

One picture in particular, I wish I could find a representation of it, just blew mind with its kinetic yet restful beauty. A garden scene with butterflies; it reminded me very much of last weekend’s beach excursion and garden tour.

If you have a chance to catch the exhibit before it closes this weekend, do.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Otto Responds

To recap: in April, I stopped by Otto to say hey to a manager friend. When he asked why I hadn’t been in to dine in ages I said because I’m gluten-free.

He said, “We have gluten-free pasta now. You can have it with any of the sauces we make.”

“Great,” I said and planned a date to try it out.

Mother’s Day, I returned with four mothers/daughters for dinner, one of whom is also gluten-free. The dinning experience was a comedy of errors, [look in the comments section] which ended with both this Allergic Girl and my GF friend having tummy distress that evening.

After finishing Heat, I wrote a post theorizing that perhaps they used gluten-filled water in the gluten-free pasta sauce; why else would this Allergic Girl and her GF friend become ill?

Eater picked up the post which is how I suspect the GM of Otto found the post and sent in this response:

“In regards to “Otto Pizzeria and Gluten-Free,” we agree that it makes no sense that you became ill after eating "Bionaturae" gluten-free pasta at Otto, unless it was the high content of soy in this particular pasta that aggravated your stomach. Food allergy prevention has always been something that we take very seriously, and every Mario Batali employee from the cooks to the dishwashers and servers is trained to be understanding of cross-contamination dangers. We assure you that we know we cannot use gluten-filled water to sauce the gluten-free pasta and we prevent this by always using separate pans, water, and utensils not only for gluten-free pasta preparation, but for any potential allergy in the kitchen. We do regret that you associate Otto with the upset stomach you had after your dinner here, and are left confused by your mention that you lead a soy-free lifestyle to help your overall allergies. The gluten-free pasta made by "Bionaturae" does indeed contain high soy content as you know from posting it on your blog. Had we known you were soy free as well we would have suggested you dine without the pasta option. I apologize for the confusion and your tender tummy. Sincerely, CC, General Manager of Otto Enoteca Pizzeria.”

Below is my response:

Dear Otto GM,

Thank you for your considered comment. I appreciate your insights; however, I have a few points I’d like to clarify.

Regarding soy and me: I’m not allergic to soy, if I were I never would have tried the pasta as even a small amount of soy could have resulted in serious consequences. What I have is a soy intolerance-it upsets my tummy when eaten in large quantities. I eat two tablespoons of soy sauce about twice a month without any incident. Whilst I did read the label, soy was not the first ingredient, nor the second, nor the third but the fourth that I recall [and double checked online], which means it should have been a “low” amount of soy flour not “high” as you mention. However, as you mention, soy might have been the culprit and not any cross-contamination issues in regards to my tummy.

**However, the presence of soy flour does not help to explain why the second diner at the table, who does not have any soy issues, was also quite ill after her gluten-free pasta dinner at OTTO?**

As for training your staff, I’m very glad to hear they’re aware of the dangers of cross contamination. However, the night of this fateful dinner, Mother’s day evening, two reservationists NOR our waitress knew what gluten-free pasta was or that OTTO served it. I had to insist that it was a manager who told me about the GF pasta, at which point our waitress found some and brought out the bag for me to see.

Did these three staff members miss the gluten-free pasta memo or the training on the dangers of food allergies and cross-contamination and just happen to be on duty that night? All three?

Dear GM: Before this Mother’s Day dinner, I had had very positive experiences at OTTO and I was excited about the steps MB was taking to provide a gluten-free meal. I’d like to get back on the positive track.

I would welcome an opportunity to talk to you about this in person, to set the record straight for any future GF diner.

Feel free to email me, allergicgirl@gmail.com.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

On Wednesday, my local greenmarket had the last of the fresh strawberries and fresh rhubarb. Today, whilst waiting for the cable guy and the exterminator, I thought I’d whip up a crumble with Gluten-free Pantry Crumble mix. It has sugar in it but I’m only going to have a little; I’ll most likely bring it to a publishing potluck dinner party on Saturday.

Here’s a picture of my mise en place mid-action:


UPDATE: Sigh. This is the worst crumble I've ever made; it's also the first GF crumble I've made. I made a last minute switcheroo from rhubarb to blueberries but I don't think that's the issue, although rhubarb acts as a thickener.

The crumble never crumbled-it's like sludge, sweet berry sludge.

And it's waaaaay too sweet; I'm so not used to sugar.

Perhaps the butter was too warm when I cut it into the rice flour mixture; perhaps the strawberries were too fresh, if that's possible, too watery. What to do with this sweet mistake? If I were eating ice cream this would be a great accompaniment but alas not for me right now. Hmmmm, gonna have to get creative with this.

What do you do with your cooking mistakes?

Yoga in Times Square

Did you hear about this unique event yesterday morning? I would have gone had I but known, it would have been fun to be part of a yoga-in.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rant Alert

This is a rant pure and simple. If you don’t want to read some rage then move on because ranting begins below:

If I have to go kitchen by kitchen, manager by manager, then so be it. But when are people going to learn that I know what’s best for me, not you? That my allergies aren’t a preference: as in I don’t LIKE nuts versus nuts will make me ILL? That plain means plain, not a little sauce, not a touch of dressing, not with a chopped walnut flourish that looks pretty.

Plain. Nothing. Nada.

How can I make it plainer?

Case in point, for lunch today I ordered a tomato and mozzerella salad at the spot I’ve been coming to for a few days a week for the last few months. I order this salad all the time. I order it plain-no dressing, no nothing. And I always give them the Allergic Girl spiel unless it’s one of my favorite waiters, like Rob or Miguel who understand the sitch.

Today it was someone I hadn’t seen before. I told him the story and all seemed cool and clear.

Until my salad comes decidedly not plain.

Why? Where did my order, very simple order for a plain salad, where did it go awry?

First, I went to find my waiter. He was MIA. A manager approached me once he saw the distressed look on my face. Actually it probably read more angry/determined than distressed. I told him I had ordered a plain salad that came very un-plain. A cluster of waiters suddenly formed around us as the manager looked for the right waiter to blame.

Once my waiter arrived I repeated the issue firmly and with a soupcon of I’m about to explode on you.

“When I asked for this salad plain, I asked because I have food allergies. This is not merely a preference, I need this to be plain, nothing on it. If your kitchen is not able to handle my request or feels it ruins the integrity of their dish, I understand, just tell me I will take my business elsewhere. But I have been coming here for a long time, and it seems this kitchen doesn’t believe I really need my food to be plain.”

At this point I see the waiter has gone back and is showing the lunch ticket to chef. The manager is apologizing and backtracking and saying he doesn’t know what went wrong but the kitchen should be able to handle it my request. The waiter returns to show me the ticket that has **allergies** written all over it.

I thank him for his diligence and ask them both what the hell is wrong with the kitchen? Seriously? This isn’t rhetorical. What is wrong with a kitchen that disregards a lunch ticket? Keeping in mind that the ticket was correct and there were three tables filled in the whole dining room i.e. it was empty. There was no lunch rush; it was a lunch crawl-meaning the chef had plenty of time to read the ticket and understand it.

No one had an answer as to why it wasn’t read or misread or ignored.

Are you getting bored of these tales? I know I am. Today, I’ve just had it with people that think they know what I need better than I do.

Mark my words, this will not be the last time I have this conversation with this kitchen. They really don’t get it.

And on this absolutley gorgeous day I seriously spazzed out. [I only mention the day because something about a pretty day makes me wonder how could anyone be angry or sad, anything but feel as glorious inside as it is outside. But sometimes you just need to rant, even when it's nice out].

PS Two waiters just came by to giggle with me about the "plain salad debacle". The whole thing was a bit ridiculous. I was told the kitchen staff got a serious dress-down. So maybe this time they will get it. We shall see.

Triangolo

The company was excellent; the dinner made me a little unwell, sleepy, and I was suddenly slurring my words a little. Odd right? And no, I didn’t drink.

I had grilled Portobello mushroom salad, a taste of some Italian-style chicken livers, and a Caprese salad.

About halfway through my first Portobello mushroom, I started to feel a little funny. Not hive-y nor itchy, although I did start to sneeze like some pollen has just blown in, but I was struck by extreme fatigue, the kind where you feel drugged.

I’ve had this before from food, not often, not in a while but I recognized it immediately as what I think is a form of an allergic reaction.

I don’t have data to back it up. Nor a name for it. All I have is this anecdote that halfway through this lovely dinner with old family friends, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t enter the conversation; I had entered fogland. It wasn't pleasant, especially as the conversation about a 4-week stay in New Zealand.

PS: I just found this article about allergic fatigue related to mold/fungus. Could this have been due to the mushroom which is a fungus? Seems unlikely but maybe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Louie's Westside Cafe

Went to a cozy food tasting on the upper west side last night and uncovered one of the many Cheers like establishments sprinkled throughout the city. As the UWS is so not my ‘hood, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Louie’s. But after last night's visit, I'm looking forward to becoming a regular.

Upon entering, I was greeted by both Chef Rich, the mayo-master for the evening, and the owner, lithe Louie [yes, she’s a she!]. It helped that Shari, the resto’s publicist was the one who invited me and was there as well. Still, they seemed a very friendly, welcoming group.

Here’s the evening’s itinerary, blurry after one sip of white wine, oh dear.


And here is Chef Rich making mayonnaise:

Love those tattooed knuckles!

Here’s the group riveted during the demo:


And here’s the wine guy, Remy:

We discovered we both grew up NYC-kids-small world.

Here’s what I had three helpings of, I mean a few, small dainty tastings of: chicken salad and filet mignon with mayo.


Chef Rich was on hand to tell me exactly what was in everything. Love that! They also served salmon and shrimp salads which of course were not served to me. We talked about my possible future visit, about which Chef Rich asssured me it would be no problem to feed me something allergen-free and yummy.

Chef Rich and Louie’s, you have a date!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Otto Pizzeria and Gluten-free

After supposedly eating gluten-free at Otto, I was ill, as was another gluten-free gal at the table. It made no sense, the waitress showed us the bag of Italian gluten-free pasta they'd be using and I ordered something very simple: cacio e pepe.

Now that I've finished reading Heat, I think I know why. [Heat is the book by Bill Buford where he quits his job at the New Yorker, works at Babbo for a year, traces Mario's culinary career and life, and does some traveling, eating, and cooking in Italy and writes about all of it with a dash of self-deprecation and alot of humor. It's a fine read; I suggest taking it out of the library.] I already knew how Mario cooks, having followed his career since eating at Po in the spring of 1994. I knew he typically uses pasta water in his pasta sauces as a thickener. In my naïveté, I believed that if a chef was using gluten-free pasta for people who are gluten-free he would NOT slosh the same gluten-filled pasta water into the sauce.

Now this is *merely conjecture* but owing to the fact that I had major tummy upset after a dinner of gluten-free pasta [which never happens at home] I have to conclude that using said gluten-free pasta DID NOT include a gluten-free training on why it would be important NOT to use "regular" pasta water when making a sauce for gluten-free folks.

This is not good. Get those people some serious training!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fear and the Hamptons

So if you haven’t already guessed I’m a bit of a nervous Nellie. And it’s no wonder after living a lifetime with allergies and asthma. Always being prepared is second nature coupled with a lurking expectation for the worst-case scenario i.e. something will make me unwell.

This is all to explain why going to my friend’s house was a deal for me. Not a huge deal, not a big deal, but a deal nonetheless. Would I get allergic to the cats that were no longer there? Would I get allergic or asthmatic to something else in the house that would necessitate a drive back to the city in the middle night? Don’t laugh, it happened on too many family trips or outings where I would become so allergic that back home we’d go, or I’d be medicated to the gills and frankly no fun.

This trip like many others before it were a confirmation of the fact that A: I’m not as allergic as I was 25 years ago [AMEN!] and B: when I push through my fears, I am always rewarded.

Always. Not occasionally. Not sometimes. Not once in a blue moon enough to keep me striving but ALWAYS.

When I push through my hesitation, my nervousness, my anticipatory fear [because often the fear is about anticipating the worst case scenario-see, how insidious it all is?] it’s worth it. The rewards are there waiting, even if it’s merely saying I pushed through.

So here are some pictures of a gorgeous day on Friday. We went to
Mecox beach, where the bay and the ocean practically meet. Think 4pm, hot sun, cool ocean breeze, empty beach, white sand, a 5 year old scampering about looking for crab legs [what was left after the seagulls had picked them clean] and me with my camera phone. Heavenly.






Friday, June 15, 2007

Where I'm Eating Lunch


No allergies overnight and this is this Allergic Girl's reward: eating a yummy lunch, outside, under the canape, overlooking the blooming flower beds, beyond which the pool beckons- we'll swim later tonight.

Delicious.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bridgehampton

I’m allergic to dogs and cats; I have been since I was a toddler. And not just runny eyes and sneezing but asthma. Bad asthma, which can last for days and leave me open to further infection. Fun.

Does this sound familiar to you? If you or a loved one is like me, then you know: the best medicine is stay away! But avoidance isn’t always possible [see airplane rides or hotels in Miami Beach or the South of France, etc..]

What most people who don’t have allergies don’t get is that putting your dog, for example, in the other room doesn’t make my allergies less - the dog lives in the house, hangs out on the couches, drools over everything, sheds everywhere. Thanks for the offer but that won’t work.

“Only a little” seems to be the non-allergic person’s understanding of allergies; a little won’t make you sick, just a little is okay. With allergies, a little can do all the damage of a ton. A little dog? Doesn’t matter. Allergies abound.

I’ve missed out on literally hundreds of events because of these allergies. But as I’ve gotten older and my allergies and asthma have lessened I’ve taken more and more chances, pushed myself to stay 10 minutes at a doggie party versus not going at all.

Which leads me to this weekend. A dear friend invited me out to her formerly kitty and doggy infested home for the weekend. Due to a kitty allergic former boyfriend, she had cleared out everything animal related and redid the house completely she assured me: mattresses, couches, towels, everything.

So I’m making an attempt and going to a formerly infested home to stay. Eek! For a four-day weekend! Double-eek! It may not work, I may get sick and come home [which I hope not]. But on the other hand I may have a lovely long weekend in the Hamptons and have challenged myself to push my limits, trust that the house is truly de-kittified, and have a nice time!

Wish me luck!

Sopranos

Because I raised the Sopranos issue a few weeks back when it started up again, just one word about the ending: brilliant.

Here's a quote that a friend sent:" 'It is the most subversive television series ever because it makes you like the monster,' said Mr. Bogdanovich, who was still mulling the last scene. 'You don’t know what you’re waiting for. It’s the perfect use of suspense. You are trapped, not wanting anything to happen, but wanting something to happen. It’s very vicious. You’re left with any number of imaginings. What the f*** happened? Which shows you’re bloodthirsty also'."

Here’s some dialogue about it.

But again I say: finally a TV finale that doesn’t completely wimp out. Yes, I mean you SATC!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Green Drinks

This Allergic Girl went to a surprisingly fun event last night. Surprising because cocktail parties in New York can be notoriously clique-y affairs: clumps of people never breaking eye contact with the friends they brought; impossible to break into.

But this was all that a networking event should be: a venue with multiple spaces that allowed for great flow[it was at The Park ]; name tags so you could remember names and see what companies people work with/for; and participants who came to talk to people they didn’t already know!

It was a friendly, open group, many on the entreprenurial side, many in their mid-30s, all green focused. Say hey to some new friends: Jim, Mike, Eugene, Gil, Gary.

There are Green Drinks in many cities but if you don’t see yours listed, you could start one!

Provence NYC by Bruni

Frank Bruni and this Allergic Girl finally agree on something: Provence; ‘tis pretty but not quite there yet foodwise. Shame that since our visit six weeks ago they haven’t pulled it together.

At that time, I said I’d try back in a few weeks. But the reality of the New York scene is there are too many new places to try so I haven’t even thought of going back. Maybe by the fall, when the front room will be at it’s coziest I’ll give it another try. On a date.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Creature Comforts

This Allergic Girl's favorite clay-mation guys have finally migrated to the US. And CBS has picked them up! You may know them as the brilliant team behind the Wallace and Gromit movies or Chicken Run.

They started out making shorts, taking interviews with regular folks about benign topics and animating them with animal characters. [They also did some ads for utility companies in the UK that were funny].

My family especially giggles at the Brazilian jaguar [I think that’s what it is] taking about needing “space” and how he likes to eat “meat”.

You gotta watch. Simply brilliant!

City Bakery and Wheat-Free

Well, it seems Murray heard this AG about getting down with some vegan goodies [including wheat-free] but the sound waves must have gotten muddled because he didn’t quite get it-replacing wheat flour is just the beginning.

Here’s an update from the street via Ms. Scones: “So I was at City Bakery today buying some overpriced fruit salad, and I saw that they have these new "wheat-free" apple miso muffins. Interesting development, but it doesn't do that much good for celiacs if they're not gluten free. I asked if they were GF in addition to being WF, and the clerk was entirely baffled. I asked if there might be oats in it, and she didn't know.”

C’mon Murray, what’s the point of bothering to make a wheat-free muffin and not training your staff? It’s not like wheat-free is the new “low-carb diet”. Wheat is one of the FDA’s 8 major allergens. For celiacs, all gluten needs to be avoided. For gluten-sensitive folks like me, I don’t need the tummy issues for a couple of days, thank you very much.

Poor effort on City bakery’s part. And over-priced? They’ll have to do better to get my business.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gramercy Tavern

Bruni’s been doing some quirky reviews of late by visiting city Teflons: joints that regardless of any review, good, bad, or indifferent, will still do great covers. Two weeks ago it was the beloved Katz's. Last week, it was the beloved Gramercy Tavern and less surprisingly Brun-meister left the three stars it garnered under William Grimes.

His NYT review is a love letter of sorts; I’m glad to see it because it’s a long-time favorite resto of this Allergic Girl. Not because the food is allergen-free. Hardly. But as Bruni points out: “The service … with its trademark blend of coddling and unpretentiousness, a mix that Gramercy nailed well before other restaurants...explains a lot about diners’ loyalty to the restaurant.”

That service component makes all the difference especially for a diner with food allergies. In the last few years, I took so many clients to the front diner room for a lunch that I even had a favorite waitress who remembered my dietary needs. Gotta love that.

Hmm so what's this post about? I think I’m just thinking aloud about Bruni, kind of a virtual head-scratch: what is his grand plan review-wise? What is the Times thinking? Where is this all going? Who will he hit next?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sesame Candy, Again

Sometimes cutting corners works (although at this moment I can’t think of an instance when that’s true). Sometimes it really doesn't. Last week, I thought I could fudge my way through a simple recipe for sesame candy.

And then I wrote this: " This is the recipe I made, a variation of it. I halved it by eyeball but I don’t recommend that because the texture isn’t quite right. And to be perfectly frank, I choose the rice syrup because the honey I have is raw and expensive so I wanted to save it. But the candy has a slightly but not wholly unpleasant bitter after taste: could be the sesame seeds, which tasted that way raw, or the rice syrup, maybe that happens when it cooks down. And I only cooked it to soft-ball stage, perhaps it should have cooked longer because they aren’t really hard candies but soft wilt-y things. Next time I will choose honey and do the recipe correctly, to hard-ball stage."

Not content to leave well enough alone, I made this recipe again using the correct measurements, honey not rice syrup, and cooked it to a hard-ball stage.

Boy oh boy the candy of my childhood is now cooling in a pan by the windowsill. No bitterness [must have been the rice syrup once cooked] and very honey-esque. It had been so long since I’d had it, I forgot that honey was the essential flavoring for this treat.

So just an update for you all. Candy making, like baking needs exact recipe-following. No fudging and this includes your truly!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Anything but Love

My beautiful, talented, and truly inspirational friend Isabel’s movie is on Lifetime Movie Network this week so excuse me if I gush a little. I’m just so proud of her accomplishments. Check it out if you love cabaret, standards, or a sweet love story.

Oh and fabulous costumes.

I visited her on the set the day they were shooting the girls peeking in on Eartha Kitt’s set. Everyone came that day, even the actors who weren’t needed on set; Eartha is just that hot. Cameron, who played Greg, was there, carrying his new baby boy, so cute. And of course we were all in awe of the amazing Miss Kitt meowing her stuff on the stage.

I was with Isabel in the makeshift dressing room. Her costumers, on an independent film budget, pulled together all vintage pieces, all the time. Every outfit is a one of a kind and a perfect fit for Miss Is.

Oh did I mention she kisses former brat-packer Andrew McCarthy? Of Pretty in Pink fame, who didn’t want to kiss him in 1986? We had a little giggle about that (and yeah, he’s a good kisser).

When you see this movie you see a woman, Isabel, who wouldn’t take, “No, you can’t” for an answer. Who had a dream and literally made it happen. One of the many reasons she inspires me every day.

She makes it happen. She makes her LIFE happen. With grace.

That’s my girl.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Romance of Magno Rubio

Saw an excellent ensemble performance last night about Filipino migrant workers, The Romance of Magno Rubio. If you live in city, it’s worth checking out this revival before it leaves June 17. Here's the TONY review.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sesame Candy

I have this very distinct childhood memory of my dad handing me sesame candy wrapped in clear cellophane whilst we retrieved the car from the garage. I don’t know where he got them, probably some candy distributor near his office on Lower Broadway [there was no Tribeca yet]. They were so yummy, sweet, crunchy, toasty, and very simple. I haven’t had any since childhood and these days I don't know that I would trust a factory made product as most likely they also, yes, process nuts.

So what to do with a surfeit of organic rice bran syrup and organic sesame seeds in the cupboard and a lovely childhood memory? Make sesame candy of course. And it’s gluten-free. And nut-free. And dairy-free. It has two ingredients. Seriously. Ok three if you include heat. And so easy to make. I took a break from my desk and in ten minutes I had candy cooling on my windowsill.

There are several variations on how to make it from a few different cultures . I bet Bureka Boy has a recipe too.

A few caveats: this is the recipe I made, a variation of it. I halved it by eyeball but I don’t recommend that because the texture isn’t quite right. And to be perfectly frank, I choose the rice syrup because the honey I have is raw and expensive so I wanted to save it. But the candy has a slightly but not wholly unpleasant bitter after taste: could be the sesame seeds, which tasted that way raw, or the rice syrup, maybe that happens when it cooks down. And I only cooked it to soft-ball stage, perhaps it should have cooked longer because they aren’t really hard candies but soft wilt-y things. Next time I will choose honey and do the recipe correctly, to hard-ball stage.

Monday, June 04, 2007

CFL Light Bulbs

Last time I was at Costco, a well-priced six pack of the new light bulbs called to me. I had been thinking about buying some, especially since I had gone to that Green talk. So when I saw them on the shelf, it was a no-brainer.

That same night “blinko!” a kitchen bulb blew as I flicked on the switch. I thought I would start green light bulb revolution in my house slowly, replacing the bulbs as they blew but not before; why waste perfectly good bulbs until their time? So feeling very pro-earth, I screwed in the bulbs, turned on the lights, and presto change-o, I was instantly transported to every office I’ve worked in. In my very own kitchen.

Not good.

I should have done some homework about the light quality of the new CFLs. I thought they must have improved that harsh blue white light, you know the one that makes nothing look good. The ones I bought from Costco, Conserv Energy are fine for the kitchen but I have to admit, and this is the un-Green part, I don’t think I can put them anywhere else. I like a warm light: I have pink bulbs in most sockets (especially the bathroom) as they cast a warm, cozy glow that makes everyone look great. And these are just too harsh white not warm white.

I’m not giving up on the CFL concept yet; I’m committed to doing what I can for the earth. But I don’t want my apartment to have that office-y glow.

Funnily enough, last week I met a former retail lighting product designer who said that the CFL bulbs he bought at Target are warm and the light quality not harsh or ultra white as mine are. Now this is a light professional saying this so the right energy-saving bulb must be out there.

I must have just bought the wrong ones. No matter. Next time, homework first, Home Depot or Target or Energy Federation second, and no impulse CFL purchases.

Anyone need a couple of great kitchen CFLs? I have four left…

Friday, June 01, 2007

Go Dairy Free

Do you know about Go Dairy Free?

When I started this blog last summer and was looking for some dairy-free sites, I stumbled upon this super resource. Alisa, Ms. GDF, has a serious milk allergy and created this site for others like her who really need to be dairy-free or bad things happen.

Although I had a mild milk allergy as a baby, I quickly outgrew that and heartily enjoyed ice cream, cheese, yogurt-everything milky for years. That is until 2004 when my body’s chemistry changed and serious tummy issue ensued. After doing all kinds of tests for all kinds of things, including celiac in 2004-2005, which were negative, one of the things my GI suggested was that I might be lactose intolerant [or wheat intolerant, as one of the tests came back positive for wheat issues]. He said it happens, you can lose your ability to digest milk as you age.

Lovely.

However, I was VERY attached to milk and was reluctant to give it up. So I didn’t. Foolish girl. It was only in 2005 after giving up wheat [and still having tummy distress] that I gave up milk. And sugar. And soy. And after about 18 months things slowly started to improve tummy-wise.

I was completely dairy-free, May 2005 through March 2007. After a lot of rice milk in my tea, I rethought the lactose intolerant thing. It wasn’t so much a rethink as I was desperate for milk in my tea. And I only wanted a little milk. This clearly doesn’t work if you are allergic: a little of an allergen can do a lot of damage. But to TEST for a potential intolerance, I could handle a stomachache to find out if lactose intolerance was or wasn’t the issue [essentially a protein versus sugars thing]. And huzzah, Lactaid works for me; I'm lactose intolerant. One thing solved. So I get to have a little milk in my tea and some hard cheese a couple of times a month but other than that I'm "dairy-low".

And I still appreciate a great dairy-free resource. For you who are allergic, have allergic children, are vegan, or have done an elimination diet [as I have] check out Go Diary Free if you haven’t already. You'll find some of my posts over there too!