Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Trip Down Memory Lane....

You know, I started this blog all wrong but its too late to fix it now. I erroneously started in the middle, instead of at the beginning.Perhaps, because writing my personal experiences and feelings are so much more difficult for me than my thoughts on a restaurant or a product. It was only when I read my brother's blog http://nyglutenguy.blogspot.com/ and through talking to him lately, now that he is enduring many of the things I went through some years ago, I'm realizing the more personal side of this condition that I had long forgotten and buried.It is from reading his blog and talking with him that I realized I didn't quite introduce myself or how I came to write this blog or who I am or how I came to be Gluten Free.

I have been a diagnosed Celiac for over 3 years now. In many ways I feel established and detached from my initial diagnosis, since living this way has become more routine and a way of life and I've accepted it.However, in many ways I'm still as excited about a new product and as new at this as someone first diagnosed, I guess because living Gluten Free is such an evolving experience. I also, have my times of depression mourning the loss of my former life. I still realize at times the challenges ahead of me and that I face everyday and will for life--until the gluten zapping pill is finally perfected. This condition really can change your life, both for the better and worse. It means that never again will you be able to walk into any restaurant anywhere and eat anything you want. This can be very scary. To think that you are trapped to a life of gluten free food that is not readily available is enough to bring a panic attack on to the most sturdy of character.

However, it isn't all negative and depressing and the optimism should be focused upon here instead of elaborating on the depressing aspects. Many people have such severe symptoms, feel so bad eating gluten and have such debilitation from this condition that one has to be mindful of the positive. If one eats gluten free, one won't die of this condition but will live longer, healthier and better--well as long as gluten free chocolate chip cookies don't become a main dietary staple.One won't need to take a toxic chemical or expensive drug for life; one doesn't have to feel awful everyday and feel sick.Successfully treated--eating gluten free--one will eat healthier(wheat is almost completely devoid of nutrition and not the best food for you anyway despite its widespread use in the modern diet), one will get stronger, will feel better, won't suffer the many different symptoms and attacks that brought us to this new and different diet and with the so many improving products and options, one can enjoy many of the same things that our glutenous brethren also enjoy.Perhaps too, we also come to take each sweet treat, each roll and each piece of pizza with a little more appreciation than most people do as a result.

Like many Celiacs today, I took the long way around to come to my diagnosis. Years of doctors, years of diagnoses, years of different highs and lows-10 years from symptom onset to diagnosis is the average time line. To be honest, the diagnosis, like it is to many, was devastating to me. It meant being different and not in a particularly good way from everyone else. It meant people misunderstanding my very real documented medical condition for just being difficult, picky or extreme--afterall my face doesn't blow up like a balloon so I must not be sick right? It meant a lifelong condition and lifelong fears of illness and perhaps most of all, or least of all, a lifelong adherence to a strict diet that no one else will understand and avoiding what everyone else in society lives on and is incorporated into almost every morsel of food one can buy or order, is addicted to and loves dearly--myself included prior to diagnosis.

It is only now that my brother has come to realize he may have Celiac Disease too that so many of the thoughts, feelings, frustrations and experiences of my first diagnosis have resurfaced.Even though I knew on some level it was all logical and understandable when it was happening to me, the reactions of other people around me had a way of making me doubt whether it was normal to be feeling what I felt and feeling like I was a hypochondriac or being unreasonable following the many precautions and necessary steps prescribed by the medical community, and was so annoying to me. Although I wish no one else and especially someone in my family would have to go through this difficult process, through my brother's diagnosis it has in some ways validated not only my own diagnosis but regretfully my frustrations, fears and difficulties I encountered at the time of my diagnosis by seeing from the outside how someone else also is going through what I did too.I am revisiting all I went through again by watching all he is enduring by adapting his lifestyle to this diagnosis.I feel his frustrations and pains and try to help encourage him as best I can having gone through it, although I know the only true solace will come from time.

I wish he didn't have to endure this confusing, frustrating, whirlwind of a diagnosis and condition; however, I can remember just how it felt to walk into Whole Foods and have no idea where to go, what to do, to have an idea of what is needed but feel overwhelmed by the choices and lack thereof and feel like you are in a different dimension as you try to navigate the aisles looking for something you can eat and feeling almost as if you are writing your own modern version of the Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner, "Food, Food Everywhere and Not a morsel to eat!"

Many things have become more routine to me now. To enter a grocery store, when I have time, to stroll leisurely and not feel so task based of getting gluten free food...to see what the shelves have to offer, to be more open to browsing and seeing which products may be gluten free and also realizing which ones it makes no sense to even bother to look at.This is an experience that really takes practice and improves with time; however, in the moment it feels so overwhelming, frustrating, depressing and daunting while you are roaming the store aimlessly.I can feel his frustration and pain, just as I felt it too and know it will get better, yet also know he will become more accustomed to this process in time.

I don't know if I will write many posts on the emotional toils of this condition. If so, it will no doubt be inspired by the journey my brother is going through now and the many things that it reminds me of in my own journey....I hope it will spark uplifting and encouraging posts for him, even if it is a word or two of solace, support or encouragement or just knowing that he isn't alone in all he's going through. I also intend to provide the honest truth good or bad of what I've learned THUS far being a "Celiac Guy".

Monday, July 2, 2007

A GF CheeseBurger in Paradise...

CheeseBurger In Paradise

I've eaten at this small chain restaurant a few times.It is another great success from the Outback family of restaurants, known for their very good food, reasonable prices and very good gluten free menus.The restaurant is a Jimmy Buffet Themed restaurant and is a lively and interesting albeit a bit hokey atmosphere--especially if you aren't a fan.Buffet music is usually playing and the place is decorated with the Buffet theme of course.The food is mostly cheeseburger and fries food; however, it is very good and does have some alternate selections that may be worth noting as well(I've never been able to resist the bun less burger and fries)and has the fringe benefit of allowing the gluten free diner the luxury of some pretty amazing gluten free fries!! There aren't many locations presently available, but if you are a fan of Buffet or know someone who is, or you are craving some restaurant fries, it is worth the visit.


Who Knew Chinese Could Be Gluten Free?

PF Changs

The very first meal I ate out the first week or two after going gluten free was at this restaurant.I was so depressed, so down and so frustrated at the prospect of having to be restricted, yet my parents so lovingly and with much affection drove an hour to eat at a restaurant when they could have eaten at one 5 minutes away. I remember how good the staff was, and how delicious the fried calamari was(breaded in potato starch) it was awesome.(Sadly, they no longerCheck Spelling will make this dish gluten free since it takes too much to clean the vessels required to ensure TOTAL gluten free status and no cross contamination).The menu is a bit limited, however they do have some very good dishes, my favorite being(and most people's) the chicken lettuce wraps. They provide you with a dish of lettuce leaves and some chicken stir fry.You add that and some rice as well as some special gluten free soy sauce(and if you choose hot mustard and chili sauce), wrap it up and eat it.My description hardly does justice to the taste, but it is surprisingly very good.There are a few dishes you can choose from the very extensive regular menu.The atmosphere is very nice and its a nice place to go when you want someplace a little different and someplace nice, or just some Chinese Food which is hard to come by Gluten Free. They do have a gluten free flourless chocolate dome that is very decadent as well.The staff is USUALLY very knowledgeable about the menu and careful about your selections, although sometimes there are a few mix ups but usually more than not denying you something rather than slipping you a glutenous item.It is always best to question any food in front of you if it is gluten free, to be certain.


The Tried and True Outback Chain...


**NOTE: A new development, some select Outback Locations are Now testing Gluten Free bread, ask the manager of your location you want it, and notify him/her other chains are doing it, and email Outback requesting it.This will no doubt let them know its universally wanted!!

I doubt there is anyone living a gluten free lifestyle that doesn't know Outback has a gluten free menu--despite their lack of advertisement of it.However, for those who are new to gluten free dining, it definitely is worth mention.Outback should be credited as the first chain(to my knowledge)to take Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance and gluten free dining seriously.I do believe that it is because of them that so many others are taking notice, I applaud them sincerely for it.I don't know it as fact, but I have heard that it was due to Celiac Disease being diagnosed very high in the corporate structure(I've heard that a high level employee was, but also that the wife of the CEO was so I'm not sure which is true, if either) that brought the importance of this menu to light. In any event, I know many people, myself included, would be lost without this chain's gluten free menu. I must be honest, not being a steak lover, I ate here pre-gluten free and found little I liked.Post gluten free, I can't say enough about the food, the service and especially their gluten free menu.The menu is located in every restaurant and although you need to ask for it, it looks just like every other menu in the restaurant only it details how to order your selection.Most of the menu is gluten free, although I will say they are lacking a really indulgent appetizer.The ribs are my favorite and delicious, the chicken for some odd reason is also strangely good.I've had their Tilapia and it was very good as well.Basically, almost everything here is very good.The staff is very knowledgeable most times, and often go out of their way to ensure safety--even telling me a few times they needed to check to be sure something I ordered off the menu was gluten free cause they thought it may have changed, I rather them be over careful than under.Whatever you order, I recommend you leave room for their decadent, Chocolate Thunder from Down Under.A flourless chocolate brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce, truly delicious and sure to be loved by gluten and gluten free alike.


Chilis Has Come A Long Way....

A relative newcomer to the world of gluten free dining/menus is Brinker International. They have several chains and they all provide some gluten free support, Chilis is probably the safest of the bunch. I actually started working intensely with the corporate nutritionists at Chilis about a year and a half ago because I used to love their peppercorn burger.They investigated ingredients for me, researched various foods and provided me with a rough idea of what I could eat.As time evolved, I called and emailed them more and they researched more. This evolved into a very limited and rough gluten free menu, that I could email each month to receive updated. I found that as I asked a question, in later revisions that answer became an addition to the menu and so they learned as I learned--frankly, after dealing with so many people unwilling to learn, I can't ask for much more.Now, Chilis has really gotten their act together.Each month they release a new gluten free menu on their website(and often available now in the restaurant), it rarely changes much from the prior month, but nevertheless, if there is an ingredient change or an addition or subtraction due to supplier changes you are sure it will be updated. The menu isn't elaborate, but not bad either. Grilled Burgers, chicken, salmon and you can actually get RICE there, that is very tasty, and ribs that rival Outbacks ribs--of which I'm a big fan of--and they may even surpass them. The staff is hit or miss in terms of understanding Gluten free, I suggest asking for a manager, however, I've been getting less and less "huh?" to my ordering off their gluten free menu than I used to and I'm feeling more comfortable with my order coming out correct than I used to.Overall, a fairly good menu, a fairly good system and while not as safe feeling as other chains, a reasonable feeling of safety from eating there and probably one of the cheapest dining experiences you can expect GF.

PS For those with other allergies, many are also included on the menu.

Limited Menu But Safely Italian


I'm sorry to say, When I could eat pasta, I was never a big fan of this restaurant.I always ordered the pasta, and was always underwhelmed with what came.So when, I became gluten free, I wasn't too upset with not being able to eat at this restaurant.However, I am very grateful to the chain(Part of the Outback family) for providing a gluten free menu that allows me not only to eat here safely, but also to eat here with people who can eat pasta and other glutenous food.The chain seems very knowledgeable about the intricacies of gluten and for this I am thankful for their service.The Salmon and chicken are very good here, but are about the limit of your choices. The food is tasty, the service very prompt and careful.You can get pasta-less soup here, and salads.Not much to say about it other than that.Many locations around, safe food and very tasty, limited choices, great for when someone your with wants Italian.


Seafood Sophistication

Bone Fish Grill

Many of the best restaurants I've found, have been found out of necessity.I found Austin Grill when I was researching a trip into the Maryland area and was desperate for a restaurant that would not only be safe for me but also enjoyable for the person I was travelling with, without much compromise--it was delicious. The same goes with this restaurant. I was looking for a NICE restaurant that I could go to and celebrate an event at, and eat safely, while enjoying a really nice meal. This restaurant far exceeded those expectations. For those who survive on and trust the safety of the Outback Steakhouse Chain, this restaurant is part of the parent group and provide the same safe environment as the steakhouse brethren and consult with the same GIG(Gluten Intolerance Group) as Outback.The similarities end there, however. Unlike the slightly casual decor of Outback, the ambiance of Bonefish is extremely nice, rich dark wood, a nice bar area and table cloths on the tables. The atmosphere feels like a really nice upscale restaurant and not what one might expect from a chain restaurant. The menu, is devoid of appetizers like the Bloomin Onion but replaced with appetizers such as huge bowls of delicious mussels in a cream/butter sauce and best of all gluten free. Most of the menu includes grilled fish with various gluten free sauces(a few aren't so check the menu).They do have a few pasta dishes and other kinds of food.Some are suitable and some aren't, but there are so many GF choices you won't miss those options you can't have, and your glutenous guests will enjoy the options if they aren't seafood fans. The food is delicious and on a subsequent trip one person at my table exclaimed the glutenous pasta was the best she ever had. Overall this is a very nice restaurant for those times you want to dress up and enjoy a nice more formal dinner out, without a huge price tag(comparable to Outback)


Fried Fish at its best....

Legal Seafoods

When I was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease a little over 3 years ago, one of the many things I thought I would never be able to eat again in a restaurant, was fried fish. As a child I can still recall the taste of a fried flounder sandwich served up fresh, hot and crispy on cheap white bread(tastes much better than it sounds) with a side of crispy delicious french fries from my local seafood market.I often scoured the net looking for such a place that may be able to accomodate at least part of this equation, I didn't quite find it, but I did find the Holy Grail of fish places in a most unlikely and a bit obscure places, Legal Seafoods.When I first heard of this, I thought for sure it was unbreaded grilled fish like so many other places.While I love grilled fish, its healthy, nutritious and can be quite tasty, sometimes I just crave the unhealthy, fried, fattening fish of my youth.Legal Seafoods fits the bill, for both fried and unfried tastebuds. The decor of the restaurant is very casual but clean and comfortable--not someplace to get dressed up and celebrate a special occasion. The menu is expansive, they serve all types of fish from grilled, sauteed, steamed etc.At this visit I was most interested in the fried calamari which was breaded with cornmeal.I used to love this dish pre GF diet and enjoyed it for awhile at PF Changs before it was unofficially removed from the off GF menu preparation--more in another blog.It by no means was the same as traditional wheat battered calamari, corn meal is a bit grittier; however, once accustomed to this change, it was very very good.Fried to perfection, crispy and extremely tasty and satisfied my crispy calamari urge to a "T" .The service was very good and I felt comfortable in their competence as well as concern for ensuring the order was placed correctly.I also ordered cajun Seabass as my entree which also was very delicious, albeit a bit too mild and not as spicy as I would have preferred but I can never get anything spicy enough so I'm sure its perfect for most people, and the portions were very nice as well.I finished off the meal with the absolutely best GF chocolate cake I've ever had--availability is subject to local restaurant ordering and not available nationwide.It was SO good, I had to keep inquiring if they were sure it was gluten free, and even called the next day anonymously to ask if they had gluten free desserts to be sure they mentioned the cake. All in all, for the fried fish fan, and even the plain seafood lover, this is a great restaurant with a great menu as well as, if your lucky enough for your local location to have it, a great decadent chocolate dessert.

The Best Keep Secret in Maryland/DC Area

Austin Grill

It was a few years ago, however, I can still remember it like it was yesterday.I first ate at this Southwest themed restaurant several years ago on a road trip to Baltimore and have been reminiscing about the Austin Wings ever since.The Tex Mex style food is absolutely amazing for the Celiac and gluten eater alike. The lively music and cool decor just add to the experience. They have an expansive menu of gluten free items not usually found in a restaurant like grilled wings, enchiladas, fajitas and the like--yes, you can even have them in a corn tortillas not a limp lettuce wrap.I personally recommend a double order of the Austin Wings with whatever entree you choose, they are absolutely addicting!!The staff are extremely friendly and very knowledgeable and concerned about your order being correct and gluten free.Despite the very large gluten free menu and excellent food and service, the Celiac friendly establishment doesn't advertise their GF food nor are there many people who know about this absolutely lively and delicious establishment.They have 3 locations in Maryland, including one in the heart of Baltimore, 2 in Virginia and 1 in DC.I highly recommend it to anyone in the area, and even if you aren't, its worth the drive!!